The theme of our workshop quotes a variation of the title of a seminal and widely popular book “From Barbie to Mortal Kombat” edited by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins in 1998 which followed a meeting organized in 1996 at MIT. Until that time, both industry and research endorsed myths about females and gaming. On the one hand, software companies did not believe that there was a commercial market for girls. On the other hand, researchers did not fully recognize the study of game design and play as a resource for understanding how learners and women, in particular, engage in STEM.  The title refers to the popular game Mortal Kombat – a fighting game played mostly by men and boys, and to the BarbieFashion Designer game. In 1996, the Barbie game challenged the myth that girls do not like computer games — it was the commercially most successful software package that Christmas season, and it was designed for girls! The book challenged the myth that research on games is not useful, as the chapters provided insight into learning, technology, design, and gender studies.

We propose to examine what has happened beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat. Our goal is to continue the conversation, integrate new findings, and outline a new research agenda. The year 2006 will mark a decade after the first conference and the time is right to revisit and review the field again for what has changed and what has stayed the same. Questions we want to address, among others, include:

Did and do we have another commercial success like Barbie Fashion Designer?

Are there now more women in the software and game industry?

Do women participate in the Internet?

How are girls using technology?

What kinds of games do girls like to play?

What are the implications for the classroom of how children learn with games?

How do schools, after school programs, and computer technology centers use games to engage girls with technology, and how can they improve?

The need for an updated version of the original workshop is clear. Several significant changes in game access, genres, and features have happened since 1996:

  • More Computers. When pink software packages like Barbie Fashion Designer™ came onto the market in the mid 90’s, most applications run on individual desktop computers. Multi-media CD-ROM applications dominated the market. Since 1996, we have had a significant increase in computers at home, and now more than 80% of American households feature at least one, if not more, computers.

  • More Internet. The World Wide Web had just made its public appearance in the early 90’s, and few computers at home had Internet access. Now the Internet is accessible from many points (not just home) where it trails only slightly behind computer ownership.

  • New Genres. The Internet also prompted the appearance of a new genre of computer games, Massively Multi-player Online Games (MMOGs), which some claim involve more women players. These games engage thousands of concurrent players within virtual worlds.

  • New Features. Many software games now feature customization features unheard of 10 years ago.  They provide level and character editors that let players create their own characters and content.  These features not only extend the playability of the games, but also increase engagement of the players.

  • New Platforms. Game consoles are now regular household appliances which provide families with DVD player capability and soon internet access as well.

While there have been many changes in the computer and software market, female participation has not kept up at the same rate and presents a much more mixed picture (AAUW, 2000). According to the latest media survey (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005), while girls and women have increased their use of the Internet and personal computers as much as men have, the number of women in the IT and game industry has not changed significantly. Over the last ten years, the number of women enrolling in college has increased to surpass that of men. While numbers in the sciences have gone up, women are still vastly underrepresented in computer science and the game industry – in these two fields women are virtually unseen and unheard of both in academia and business.

This workshop that will examine new issues around gender, games and computing and develop an agenda for the next generation of research informed by current national and international issues and perspectives:

•     Questioning Gender Stereotypes: We will expand the discussion about gender and gaming by summarizing what we know about how females and males use and are portrayed in games. The goal is to identify existing stereotypes about what men and women like. Currently, there is a tendency to pitch women’s interests as diametrically opposed to those of men. We hope to break open these stereotypes and examine where there are overlaps and where men and women do not follow assumed preferences.

•     Making (and Playing) Games: To promote a change in women’s participation in IT and games, many have argued that we need different approaches to teaching computer science that involve collaboration and game design and production. Several projects have worked with women and children in order to develop alternative types of games that offer a range of game playing styles. We will summarize these projects, including examples from academia and industry, and discuss the implications of the findings for transforming the game industry.

•     Moving beyond Commercial Games: Serious games, mobile games, casual games, and games for learning extend the discussion beyond entertainment and commercial concerns. More women than men play online casual games. Several studies found that older girls were more likely to prefer learning games.  Gender differences in play patterns are an emerging area of study, including the relationship between gender, play patterns, and learning. We will summarize and discuss the implications of research on play and new technologies.

•     Expanding Boundaries: We recognize that the discussion of gender, games and computing is not limited to the Northern American hemisphere. Mobile phones, TXTing, and mobile gaming are more available and more advanced in Europe and Asia than in the United States. In Taiwan, young males play games in Internet cafes instead of in the home, to be with peers and away from parents and for faster Internet connection. We will summarize existing research on gender and games beyond U.S. boundaries in order to illuminate the roles of culture, context, and gender.