Why do so few women play computer games?

I ask because I like to play an occasional game and the women I know think it’s a juvenile pastime. I am not a hard-core gamer. I do not possess an Xbox or a PlayStation, but I do enjoy a strategy or adventure game and I would love to play the Wii.

By games, I do not mean Solitaire or Tetris, or the action-packed Grand Theft Auto. I like Grim Fandango, a fantasy based on Mexican folklore, whose lead character reminds me of Philip Marlowe, the Raymond Chandler detective. I have thoroughly enjoyed Sonic the Hedgehog and an old game called The Neverhood, and my all-time favourite is the Myst series. Different matter that I haven’t managed to reach the end of any of them.

Shekhar Bhatia

I have visited Second Life and taken a tour of the World of Warcraft and, although I find these interesting, I think they require too much time and can also get addictive. I just look for some late-evening or weekend fun.

I am now tempted to buy a copy of Tales of Monkey Island, an adventure game in which the protagonist has to take on the role of a pirate, defeat the villain and rescue his wife. If you have seen the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll get the idea.

I played bits of it when my son was home for Christmas, and would like to order the DVD of the game, but the problem is that whenever I talk about it, I get the when-will-you-grow-up look from my wife. I didn’t try the couples-who-play-together- stay-together line because it has never worked.

I have never understood why watching a B-grade soap on television is considered “relaxing", but playing a computer game where you are actually working your brain is frowned upon as “juvenile" activity. So out of a sense of guilt you end up playing behind closed doors.

Some years ago, when I bought a copy of Tomb Raider for our son, I was told that he was an excuse and that I had got the game because “you just like Lara Croft". You bet I did: She is independent, tough and intelligent and I don’t care if feminist Germaine Greer described her as “a distorted, sexually ambiguous, male fantasy".

I know of only one woman, an ex-IITian, who enjoys video games. She says she used to be a games junkie and had even joined the online gaming website Womengamers.com (their slogan is “Because Women DO Play"). These days she is too busy looking after her young child. I asked her why it is that more women don’t play video games and she said, “Interesting question." She doesn’t have any girlfriends who are into computer games.

Wired differently: Women, it seems, lack the killer instinct.

In the US, the percentage of women gamers is going up. The Entertainment Software Association says 38% of American video-game players and 48% of gaming parents are women. Nearly 25% of all Americans over the age of 50 play video games. Globally, 12 million people play World of Warcraft, the online role-playing game, and that includes a significant number of women.

I spoke with a number of women and the replies ranged from “I don’t know" and “these are boys’ toys" to “maybe women are wired differently". According to Womengamers.com, one reason is the way women are portrayed in computer games. “Many of these female characters continue to be created according to traditional gender stereotypes," says the popular site. And this could be happening because few women are interested in game programming as a career. The gaming world is a male domain and they create characters based on their fantasies.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, US, however, have a different take on why women don’t play games. Their study shows that both men and women are equally skilled to play but the male brain responds differently: “The part of the brain that generates rewarding feelings is more activated in men than women" when they are playing video games. In short, men “tend to be more intrinsically territorial" and have this desire to conquer; women don’t have the killer instinct.

So, it does seem that they are wired differently.

Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.

Write to Shekhar at thesmartlife@livemint.com