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MIT Conference to Explore Gender, Computer Games

"From Barbie to Mortal Combat"


From Barbie to Mortal Kombat, a conference on gender and computer games, will be held:

Date: Saturday, April 5, 1997

Time: 9:00am to 7:00pm

Where: MIT campus, in Killian Hall

For more information, please call the Program in Women's Studies at MIT 617-253-8844

"From Barbie to Mortal Kombat," a conference at MIT on gender and computer games, will explore the consequences of girls' lesser and later access to computer play than boys now enjoy.

MIT Professor Justine Cassell of the Media Lab, one of the presenters at "Barbie to Kombat," said, "The current concern comes from two directions. First, the numbers of women in computer science and technology-related fields are not increasing the way we would like them to. Second, the industry senses that games attractive to girls could be a real money-maker."

Established companies and start-ups were inspired by the huge success of Mattel's Barbie Fashion Designer CD-ROM, yet girls still make up only 15-17% of the computer game market.

"Future consequences of how technology is now presented and used include a vicious circle of fewer girls' being interested in computer games, leading to fewer women working in computer science and technology fields. Which leads to fewer women developing computer games and fewer girls being interested in technology," Professor Cassell noted.

Professor Cassell especially encouraged girls from junior and senior high schools to "use the morning session critiques to weigh what the industry is presenting. Then ask, `What stereotypes of girlhood is
your game encouraging?' "

Industry representatives at Saturday's conference will include Nancie Martin of Mattel; Lee McEnany of Sega; Heather Kelly, of Girl Games, and Marsha Kinder, of Intertext Media. They will demonstrate new products between 2 and 4 pm.

Professor Cassell and Media Lab groups will present games designed to draw girls to computer technology starting at 4:30 pm.

Jennifer Glos, an MIT research assistant at the Media Lab, will demonstrate a game technology that uses storytelling as an activity a child and a computer can play together.

Her computer game is hidden within the belly of a large stuffed elephant -- a creature that appeals to the cuddling and storytelling aspects of play. Ms. Elephant can be used by one child or shared among a group of children.

Ms. Glos is currently working on developing a toy company, RoseBud, whose goal is to design "technological toys" geared to drawing girls, ages 8 to 16, into technology.

"Computers are an extremely flexible technology. Girls should be able to appropriate that technology for their own purpose," said Glos.

The conference is sponsored by the Program in Women's Studies; the Program in Film and Media Studies; the Media Lab; the Program in Science, Technology, and Society; Dean Robert Brown, School of Engineering, and Dean Philip Khoury, School of Humanities and Social Science.

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