Games in Education: Getting Girls in the Game

Games in Education: Getting Girls in the Game


Engaging girls with games in education

If asked to describe a typical gamer, most people would probably describe a teenage boy playing games in his parents’ basement. Stereotypes do not always match reality, however. Most game players engage in social play by playing either with another person or online, and girls make up 47% of all gamers. What research has shown is that girls are drawn to games for different reasons than boys and that the factors that motivate girls to play are also important aspects of learning. Researchers are investigating how to create games in education that motivate girls and encourage all students in learning.

There are two key factors that motivate girls to play games context and relationship. Girls enjoy games that allow them to solve problems in context and they prefer games with real world applications.  They are also more drawn to games that include the collaborative aspects of social media and help them achieve something they see as making a positive difference in the real world.  While drawn to games that include crossover characters from other media such as books or movies, girls also prefer games that closely simulate the real world.

One example of a game designed to engage girls is “Martha’s Marvelous Machines,” a collaborative project between Second Avenue Learning and the Rochester Institute of Technology. The researchers tested the physical science game with a group of middle school girls to find out if the game would increase their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Researchers discovered that when they were able to connect concepts such as springs and levers to real world situations, player’s engagement dramatically increased. When concepts were connected to a real world context, girls were talking about physics or game play 76% of the time and were only off topic 5% of the time. Urban, suburban, and rural students all demonstrated significantly increased STEM affiliation after playing the game.

The challenge is bringing those concepts into the classroom. The social and creative aspects of gaming attract girls, but educators may see the social interactivity as distracting from learning.  However, allowing students to engage with a subject through a game prior to instruction on the topic actually increases student interest and engagement in the lesson. Games designed to appeal to girls may help interest girls in STEM subjects, but they also help all students develop the problem solving and collaborative skills they will need to function in the workplace.

What differences do you see in how boys and girls approach gaming?  How can we design educational games to appeal to both boys and girls?

Image by superkimbo


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  1. In the article by Nakamura, R, and Wirman, H. Girlish Counter-Playing Tactics. Game Studies 5, 1 (2005), the following 10 tactics were detected:

    Female characters. This includes playing with a female character. In some cases, it is even better of all characters are female

    Character development – allow for the creation of the character. This relates to some of the game mechanics of power and some dynamics as well.

    Social relations – in games that have chat abilities of other social features, girls are by far more likely to focus their attention on them, than males.

    Non-violence. There are conflicting research here but most supports the preference for non-violence.


    Caring – girls want to take care of their character in the game

    Realistic setting – as opposed to some fantasy setup. In a restaurant game, the restaurant needs to look like one.

    Peaceful pace – Girl players have a preference to games in which they are able to play with comfortable speed that is not too high.

    Story – there needs to be a story. Females pay more attention to the narrative than male players.

    Alternative pathways – the game should be playable in different ways. Similar to explorer type of player.

  2. When you said girls make up 47% of gamers, I would have to disagree. Whilst it might be true that those 47% play games, most of what they play are games such as bejeweled and omgpop games (which makes sense because there’s a lot of social interaction involved in these games). Very rarely will you see a girl pick up a game such as Halo or Call of Duty or maybe Starcraft, but those are the most common amongst us boys, and when people mention ‘gamer’ they usually refer to people playing those sorts of games (not games like chess, bejeweled etc).

    Also, back to your point as using games as a teaching mechanism, I believe this is usually a bad idea. Games and studying do not mix unfortunately. Although it may be possible to create a game which incorporates learning, the amount of time it takes to learn by playing games is several times the amount it takes by studying. However, this does not mean gaming should be totally removed from the classroom. I do believe gaming is a great way to teach CONCEPTS. Just like movies, you can walk away from finishing a game, feeling moved and seeing things in a new light. It’s difficult to do but masterful game creators can do it.

    This is a topic which I’m interested in, and I’ll be posting about it on my blog:
    I truly believe gaming can help many common issues such as stress, motivation, depression and possibly things such as bullying too.

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