CCE Theses and Dissertations

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Leveling the Playing Field: Gender Inclusive Design for Single and Multiplayer Computer Role-Playing Games

Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Information Systems (DCIS)


College of Engineering and Computing


Maxine Cohen

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell

Committee Member

Elizabeth Hawthorne


computer science, computer skills, CRPG, Fae, feminist studies, games, gaming, gender, gender studies, MMORPG, online games, role playing games, tech industry, technology, video games, women, Xanthia


Women represent 45% of the entire workforce in the United States, but only comprise 26% of the high-tech industry. Early introduction and interest in video games, contributes to computer literacy and self-confidence in terms of computing skills. Socially pervasive gender stereotypes, found in ubiquitous software, specifically games, factor in the alienation of young girls from active participation in computing. Currently marketed gaming software perpetuate this societal bias in the guise of overly-sexualized game avatars, and fail to adequately address documented female gaming preferences.

Gender inclusive design is more a pragmatic approach to ameliorating gender bias, than creating a pink box “girl’s game.” Such games cater solely to stereotypical “female” interests, and are uncomfortably close to the concept of “separate but equal.” In the scope of this research a gender inclusive computer role playing game (CRPG) interface was designed and evaluated. The advantage of a CRPG is that it may be played individually or single player mode, as in the prototypic interface, or allow collaborative game play within a smaller group (2-12) when migrated to a multiplayer online environment. Small groups, involved in CRPG collaborative play, may reduce the incidence of online harassment or intimidation by male players, often encountered by experienced female gamers when engaged in Massively Online Multiplayer games.

The Xanthia: A Fae’s Battle CRPG, was designed with the intent of studying key female preferences outlined in this research. The design utilized a stylized “cute” but strong female protagonist, featured a compelling storyline, and a backstory narrative. The game broached real world environmental issues with an underpinning of moral dilemma in the guise of good versus evil. Competitive but not combat-centric play was utilized in the game design, which enabled leveling up without the demise of the central protagonist. Fantasythemed conflict resulted in transformations of both protagonist and antagonists when a change of state occurred during battle, thus eliminating the violence of gory death scenarios.

This formative study endeavored to examine the underlying reasons for female underrepresentation in the high-tech and computing fields. The CRPG used in the study, incorporated key gender inclusive game elements found in current literature in order to acquire insight into female gaming preferences. Two survey instruments were utilized to gather data from 35 female Barry University students, who had disparate gaming experience, comfort with computers, and academic majors. A pre-game questionnaire pertained to motivations for play, level of gaming expertise, and self-perceived comfort with computing. Additional data were gathered regarding access in early childhood to a gaming console or computer in the participants’ childhood homes and the incidence of tinkering. The female sample pool provided CRPG feedback post-game engagement.

Examination of survey responses indicated that identification with the central female protagonist was a key element in positive game engagement for the majority of the study’s participants. In general, experienced gamers were more apt to tinker with the hidden features of the game. Experienced gamers also enjoyed competitiveness and challenge more than their inexperienced or non-gamer counterparts. The primary component of positive engagement for this female sample group was “fun.” Social interaction was also identified as a motivator for engagement in video game play for participants. Empirical data collected from survey instrumentation suggested that individuals who had the easiest access to video game consoles and computing equipment, participated at greater rate in tinkering in childhood. The participants who tinkered, had a higher self-perception of comfort with computing.



In the version of this dissertation originally published in August 2016, a draft image of a mock-up character was erroneously included on page 50 (Figure 8). The HTML and PDF versions of the publication have been amended to include this non-substantive correction (which relates to an unused/discarded interface). The amendment has no effect on the narrative, data collection, results, conclusions, or any part of this dissertation.

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