Games for Women: Hidden in Plain Sight

Have you ever noticed that the types of games on offer in retail game shops are just different from the games you can pick up on sites like Steam? If you’ve read about a game in your magazine/ website/ bboard of choice then the chances are that you’ll see it on shelves eventually. But especially in the PC market (assuming your game shop has any PC games at all), there’s a whole slew of games taking up shelf space that no hardcore gaming site ever mentions.

(Yes I realise it is counter-intuitive to be talking about brick and mortar shops when Steam has a crazy-good Summer sale on at the moment.)

This is partly due to the arcane mechanisms of game distributors (Puzzle Quest simply wasn’t in shops over here for example, despite the likelihood that it would have sold in bucketloads). But if we assume that shops don’t put boxes on shelves just for the fun of it, we also have to assume that lots of people are buying games that are practically invisible to the ‘typical online gamer’.

I am of course talking about puzzle games, and hidden object games in particular. Ever seen those adventure type PC games in boxes on shelves – probably about detectives, or historical mysteries? You won’t see them reviewed in ‘respectable’ gaming magazines. They know fine well that their core audience isn’t interested. But the non-core audience is happy enough with Phoenix Wright, Professor Layton, Puzzle Quest and various other popular DS games, and spends money to prove it. It feels to me as if games on the DS have more leeway to branch out. Gamers seem to have accepted that ‘women play puzzle games on the DS’. But put a hidden object/ puzzle/ mystery game on a PC and no one wants to know. Bizarre, isn’t it? lists many of the more popular games. I’d suggest anyone who likes the Professor Layton style of gaming take a look through the list. It is tricky to find reviews online though, or to know which are the best of the genre. (If you have played any hidden object games or want to share any favourites, please feel free!)

There are also plenty of indie games ploughing the puzzle-gameplay furrow. Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, for example, is a hidden object/ puzzle game with a supernatural-romantic storyline. The demo gave me strong vibes of being a cross between Professor Layton and Gabriel Knight (this is a good thing, by the way.) The developers worked very closely with the writer all the way through development – a winning and far too unusual combination – and are very clear that they’re aiming their game at female players who like romance novels and playing puzzle games.

In theory, this should be a HUGE potential audience. So why are these types of games always sidelined in the gaming press? Who is reviewing them? Where are the communities of gamers who enjoy them? Why do hidden object games have to be so …. hidden?