December 30th, 2005

Up today as part of The Escapist‘s Casual Friday, you’ll find an article of mine called “Puppies Aren’t for Sissies,” all about how, over the past year, Nintendogs has defied cultural, economic, and gender expectations in the video game industry. Hardcore gamers shutting down Halo to drool over virtual puppies… Who knew?

Tags: Blog

15 Responses to ““Puppies Aren’t for Sissies””

  1. Brummbar Says:

    FIRST! (Dontcha hate when people do that?)

    Can somebody show me a copy of this list of “gender expectations” that I’m supposedly violating because I like fuzzy widdle kittens and such?

    I keep hearing about the Guy Code over and over again… yet I seem to have spent my entire (male) life disregarding it with no ill effect or social ostracism whatsoever. And it’s not like I grew up in some hippie commune or other “alterative” family, either. My home-maker mom and car-dealer dad raised my brother and I in suburban environs right out of Central Casting.

    Maybe Nintendogs is just a bad game example for making this particular point? Who doesn’t like dogs, fer crine out loud? Doglove transcends age and gender. (Wow, could that be read the wrong way…)

  2. MD² Says:

    “Who doesn't like dogs, fer crine out loud?”

    *Shyly raises hand.*

    On a similar note, from recent experience, I’m the one my friends call when they want to dispose of kittens that didn’t find homes.

    As for the “Guy Code”, I guess it depends in which part of the world and/or society you’re living.
    I remember last time I went back to Mauritania some guy telling me I had “des mains de pédé” (“fag hands”) i.e my hands weren’t as callous and hardened as his, which were used in the fields 8 hours a day.
    More closely the kids in my neighbourhood unable to make the difference between politeness and weakness, then between weakness and homosexuality (here you’re a fag for talking like the kids in the rich neighbourhoods, i.e “proper” grammatical french).
    The guy code is present mainly in poor parts, but it’s still very strong.

    I’d love to see a comlplete exact listing of them "gender expectations", but I fear as soon as a system is decoded by the main stream, it is recoded in another form to fit the same role.

  3. Paul Jenkins Says:

    While I enjoyed your article, I think that you might be mistaken in your assertions. I’ve been looking for data to back up the idea that Nintendogs has been selling widely to the hard core male gamer crowd, and maybe I’m just missing it.

    Here’s what I have found:

    Nintendogs has been the most popular game with the female gamer demographic ever, selling 50% to females. That’s 1 million copies (give or take).

    While that still leave a million men playing the game, they don’t typically fall into the “standard gamer” target.

    Nintendo wasn’t interested in selling to established gamers, so much as expanding the audience to a younger demographic that is more likely to be stable and continuous customers. They succeeded madly, and very much deserve the praise they’ve gotten (as well as the piles of cash).

    While I don’t disagree that the game has encroached into the hard core gamer demographic slightly, I’m afraid that I’ll need you to, as a close female gamer friend said, “show me where quake fraggers are talking about stroking their nintendogs pugs.”

    Nintendo has pulled off a wonderful game, and deserves praise, not because they’ve effected social change, but because they’ve tapped into a resource that most companies are ignoring due to risk aversion: Generation Y.

  4. Bonnie Says:

    A list of gender expectations, aye? Well, first off, I hear your (implied) criticism that maybe we’ve been talking about gender expectations a bit too much lately, and I almost promise that my next two Escapist pieces have nothing to do with them :-). As for what they are… To some extent they’re outlined in the piece (though not exactly labeled as such), mainly that men are expected to like “manly” things, not cute things. Also, as far as gaming goes, than men are supposed to be more interested in goal-oriented play. Why don’t you feel those expectations weighing down on you? In part, it’s because they exist more strongly as a general cultural phenomenon than rules for any one life. Also, like MD^2 mentioned, your individual situation impacts your perception. Think, at least, of common social markers, like TV and movies. A guy who loves puppies, unless he loves puppies in hopes of getting in someone’s pants, would be seen as unmanly.

    Paul, I think you raise a good point, one that isn’t clarified as well as I would have liked in the piece. Mainly though, I think the answer is that Nintendogs is unique, not because it has hands down converted the hardcore community, but because it has such a diverse following, which includes, significantly, a segment of the hardcore. With that said, I personally know a number of self-proclaimed hardcore gamers (most of whom are game writers, since those are the people I come in contact with most often) who have gone soft over Nintendogs. The interesting thing, for me, has been watching their transformation. For example, while I worked for Planet GameCube, I was privy to all the email conversations between staff members as they went from total skepticism to excitement and pride. Also, I’ve witnessed a number of forum threads in which posters started off with comments like “puppies are gay” and ended up with “Nintendogs looks awesome.” I’d say, in some ways, it’s almost more an overall statement about the hardcore industry than gamer numbers; the industry and the media sets the precedent and the tone for individual gamers, and they have some very positive things to say.

  5. Paul Jenkins Says:

    Thanks for clarififying, Bonnie. As I said before, I thoroughly enjoyed your article, as it was both concise and timely. It got me interested enough to actually put in some research myself, when my gut instinct would have said, “Wow! Nintendogs finally tapped into the power of girl gamers.”

    While my gut instinct was generally right, more specifically I was amazed by the same things you were. The diversity of the audience. To an extent I already knew about this — I’ve heard my parents, who are both in their 60’s remark about their interest in the game. But I try to keep an open mind and avoid anecdotal evidence until I can back it up with facts.

    I can’t wait to see what you write about next! (As he surfs over to wired to find your previous entries’ article)


    Oh, and Happy New Year!

  6. Bonnie Says:

    Happy New Year to you too, Paul! Hope you enjoy what you find :-).

  7. Brummbar Says:

    “A guy who loves puppies, unless he loves puppies in hopes of getting in someone's pants, would be seen as unmanly.”

    Years back, I coined a term for what you’re describing: “Dobbling,” named for the Lloyd Dobbler character in the film SAY ANYTHING. Dobbling is the pretense of “sensitivity” and defying gender roles and expectations for the purpose of getting a desired woman to lower her guard.

    My love of puppies is noble and pure, though.

  8. Bonnie Says:

    Nice term – it’s got that “doubling” sort of thing going on, which makes sense. Plus, it’s a word that sorely lacking from the English language.

    “My love of puppies is noble and pure”… even that sounds somehow wrong :-).

  9. DKNY Says:

    Hi! Just discovered your blog via Escapist, and am greatly enjoying going through the archives…

    I’m a recent DS, and Nintendogs convert—up until now, I’ve been… well, I’m not really “hardcore”, but definitely spent many hours on Halo 2 and other FPSes (FPS’s? What is the plural, anyway?). And while I really liked your article, I did want to correct one misconception: that Nintendogs has no objective/gameplay element.

    The gameplay, of course, is the contests—obedience, frisbee, and agility. Certainly there’s more to the game than that, but those are the things you musst develop (the dog’s) skills for, the obstacles that you have to overcome. And those were definitely crucial in getting me, and I think a lot of players, into the experience. Much of the genius of Nintendogs, I think, is its successful fusion of pet sim with objective-based gameplay, which is crucial to it’s achivement of the Holy Grail of game sales—50/50 gender parity. If it had just been a dog sim, I don’t think it would’ve had the success it has, especially among boys, but with the contests, it creates the kind of skill-acquisition and objective ranking that I think defines the male gamer’s notion of pleasure.

  10. Bonnie Says:

    Hi DKNY, so glad that you liked the piece, and that you’re having a good time on the site. You’re right that there are smaller objectives in Nintendogs – and it’s interesting that you say that, as a gamer, you wouldn’t have been so into the game without them – but the reason I said it has no objective (and the reason many critics have called it a “non-game”) is because there’s no overall objective; there’s no way to officially win the game. That’s often something that’s important to hardcore, or just male, players.

  11. DKNY Says:

    Ah, comment chatting…

    It’s true that there’s no ultimate “win’ for Nintendogs (except, perhaps, buying one of everything, including the apartment remodels). But there’s definitely goals, and most importantly, success and failure, which I think is crucial in distinguishing Nintendogs from previous generations of pet sims.

    I’d actually say Animal Crossing is a much more prominent case of a non-game—not only is there no end point, there doesn’t really seem to be much of a distinction (I’ve just started, so this is all pretty preliminary) between success and failure, thereby undermining pretty much the foundational concept of Game. So far, I’m waiting to see whether it’s Zen mellowness sucks me in, or whether I’ll end up agreeing with certain (male) friends of mine who say: “Why do I want to play a game where you can’t kill anything and there’s no point?”

  12. Bonnie Says:

    The “Why do I want to play a game where you can’t kill anything” point comes up a lot, in reference to Nintendogs too. I’m hoping to talk about it more later on here at the blog, but it’s been interesting: all of my male semi-gamer friends who have looked at the game have spent two seconds playing and half and hour trying to figure out how to kill my dogs in strange and grotesque ways. Cuteness inspires rage, I guess.

  13. DKNY Says:

    I don’t think that it’s the dogs cuteness that inspires rage, actually—I don’t think the attempts to kill the dog are driven by rage. I think it’s more that for most guys, much of the appeal of games is the chance to do things they can’t do in life. And the number-one thing that people can’t do in life but want to do a lot is kill (especially if they drive in Boston). There’s other reasons for the prevelance of violence in games, many of them purely technical, but that, I think, is the biggie. Jack Thompson isn’t entirely wrong when he calls games “murder simulators” (though I think he’s very wrong in the relation between simulation and real life). If developers could create a first-person shooter where you could paste on the face of your boss, it’d be the best-selling game *ever*. As for why men have such an urge to kill, well, a quick re-read of “Civilization and Its Discontents” will clarify that right quick.

    For all that, though— my male friends have mostly been completely smitten with Nintendogs—more so than some of my female friends, who find it “creepy” (my girlfriend, fortunately, finds it adorable—not the game, but the fact that I’m so into it). I wonder if that’s partly because I live in New York, where, like Japan, few people have apartments big enough to accomodate a dog. If you have real dogs around, the software puppies might just seem pathetic, but here, people are dog-starved enough that they’ll accept the substitute.

  14. DKNY Says:

    P.S.: Though violence is a perennial topic in game discussion, I think it’s worth noting the second half of the line I quoted; much of what bugs (male) gamers about these titles is not just the lack of violence, but also—maybe even more so—the pointlessness of them. This is what I was saying earlier—that for male gamers, the real drug of gaming is the accomplishment of goals, the sense of success (and attendant possibility of failure). Part of the genius of the Wario games is how well they manipulate that with a constant stream of unlockables—a player who feels like he’s constantly getting rewarded will keep playing forever. Nintendogs sidesteps the pointlessness problem that afflicts a lot of sims with the contests, unlockables, and money system. After three days of play, my inner jury is still out on Animal Crossing.

  15. Bonnie Says:

    Sorry, that “rage” bit was meant as a joke. I agree with what you’re saying, DKNY, that video games allow us an outlet for violence/murder we don’t get in real life, and that makes sense when you’re blowing the crap out of enemy aliens or gun-wielding bad guys. But with puppies, it seems somehow different. In the case of Nintendogs, I would say it’s more a matter of games giving an outlet for our inner sadism.

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