A Focus Group

Girl Talk




December 17, 1999: Laura Groppe has said that 30% of her company revolves around research. Part of that research is focus groups, in which teen girls play with Girl Games products and talk about the parts they like, the parts they hate, or the parts they don't understand. As part of the research for their horoscope-centered sequel to Teen Digital Diva, Girl Games convened three teen girls in their target audience, all of whom are home-schooled. Their experience with technology, like their ages, varies greatly. Seventeen-year-old Autumn* is a veteran gamer who admits to growing up online. Outspoken and confident in her ideas, she had no problem offering opinions on anything from Shakespeare to Doom. Although more soft-spoken, Sandra is a creative and vocal 15-year-old with a thick streak of pink running down the left side of her elbow-length blond hair. The youngest, 13-year-old Julie, spent most of the time absorbed by the game itself. The three giggled excitedly while playing a numerology section that rated compatibility with boys, but the makeover portion was dismissed as being for "younger girls." Research analyst Beth Miller gave me the freedom to engage them in disussion, and using Teen Digital Diva as a starting point, we quickly spiraled off into conversations about boys, teen magazines, and what video games mean in the days post-Columbine. This is only a portion of that conversation.

AC: Why do boys play more games than you?

Autumn: They're the hunters and gatherers and we're the nurturers. (Laughs). No, I think it's societal. I think they're brought up to play with GI Joes and we're brought up to play with dolls. The later thing is that we play with this [points to Teen Digital Diva] and they play with Doom.

Sandra: Games are marketed toward boys more than girls. You see commercials with the guys yelling at the screen.

Autumn: Lara Croft -- I mean, what girl wants to play a game where she's Lara Croft? Guys just like [Tomb Raider's] Lara Croft because she's hot. All these guys that I know are obsessed with her. She's a game! She's digital! She doesn't even look as realistic as a Disney character! That just bothers me. The whole trend bothers me -- the whole trend of guys being obsessed with going to play games where they can kill people. Like that's what they'd rather do than come talk to us or have a conversation or watch a movie.

Sandra: I think girls are more reality-oriented. -- I don't like shooting games, I like more -- playing games. Like card games.

AC: Do you guys spend a lot of time online?

Autumn and Sandra: Yeah.

AC: What do you like to do?

Sandra: Mostly talk to my friends. E-mail.

Julie: I don't have access to the Internet at home. But when I do get online, it's mostly for research.

Autumn: I do a lot of e-mail. I get 150 e-mails a day.

AC: 150 e-mails a day?

Autumn: I belong to a lot of mailing lists. I have my Web site.

AC: What's on there?

Autumn: A bunch of information about me, pictures of me, my writing and photography, and I have a big Lady and the Tramp site, and I have a big site dedicated to Ophelia.

AC: Why Ophelia?

Autumn: I played her once, and I just got kind of obsessed with her. I really like Shakespeare. And I think she's like the most interesting Shakespeare character that I've seen.

AC: So when you guys are online, do you go to chat rooms?

Autumn: I was one of those kids, when I was 12, and all my friends were people I knew online. I did a lot of chat rooms when I was younger. I just got tired of that taking over my life. I know a lot of teenagers who have made the decision to cut off how much they use their computer. Because they feel like it's taking over their life. I've gone from meeting all these people online and now, there's only two people I talk to [online] that I don't know in real life.

AC: So what magazines do you guys read?

Julie: Moxie Girl.

Sandra: Staccato, Teen People, sometimes Time.

Autumn: Twist. They use a lot of input from the readers. I appreciate that. Teen magazines can be kind of obnoxious.

AC: What do you mean obnoxious?

Autumn: They blur the line between what they're selling to you and what they're informing you of.

Sandra: They kind of stereotype girls. Half of it is about makeup and fashion. I don't want to be told about that.

AC: What other things do you want magazines to cover?

Sandra: Well, Staccato isn't even like that. It's stories for teens. Short stories, and some of them are written by teens. It's not dumbed down, and it's not just for girls. I like Teen People because it's about celebrities; it's kind of an escape. And it's not just for girls.

Julie: Moxie Girl has articles about sports and health.

Autumn: I think the editors are amusing. They make fun of celebrities.

Sandra: Most teen magazines never make fun of celebrities.

Autumn: They never make fun of anything. That's my problem with most teen magazines. They don't have a sense of humor about anything. They take everything really seriously.

AC: Here's a question you've all heard, but I'll ask it anyway. After the shootings at Columbine, a lot of debate centered on whether or not violent video games contributed to the boys' outburst. What do you think about that?

Julia: I think it glorifies it.

Sandra: It does. And actually, my brother will play video games all day, and he'll just be so ornery and I don't know if it's the violence or the mindlessness of it.

Autumn: But I hate writing it off to one specific thing. It's so many different factors. It's not that video games cause violence. It's that people became desensitized to violence, and that ended up in video games, and that's just a tiny part of the desensitization of violence. And that's only a tiny little part of why there are school shootings. After Columbine, I talked to so many kids online, and parents were so shocked, but a lot of the reaction from kids was, "I can see where they're coming from." And people hear that, and they're like, we need to suspend those kids.

Sandra: Or arrest them.

Autumn: But a lot of kids feel that way. It's not that they go to school and shoot people, it's that they understand. And that's sort of scary.


* names have been changed


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