Gender in Middle School Educational Games

Title : Gender differences in game activity preferences of middle school children: implications for educational game design (Kinzie, 2008)

Summary : This is one of my favorite papers. It describes a survey of 42 middle schoolers on their interest in game mechanics and elements. Demographic details:

  • Average age: 12-years old
  • Grade: 60% in sixth, 14% in seventh, and 21% in eighth
  • Ethncity: 64% white, 12% asian american, 10% african american, 2% hispanic, 12% other
  • Most regularly played video games


  • Gender of their character :
    • 7% students wanted a “genderless alien”
    • The rest wanted their own gender.
  • Age of their character:
    • 64% wanted a slightly older character (13-20 years old)
    • 30% wanted a 20-30 year old
    • 8% wanted less than 13 years old
    • No one wanted older than 30 years
  • Build of male characters:
    • 61% wanted a “muscular” build
    • 34% wanted a “fit” build
    • 5% wanted a “slight” build
  • Build of female characters:
    • 61% wanted a “fit” build
    • 24% wanted a “slight” build
    • 14% wanted a “muscular” build
    • Girls were significantly more likely than boys to want a “slight” build
  • Ethnicity:
    • 81% of White students wanted a white character
    • Insufficient data to draw conclusions from other ethnicity, but they seemed to have more variability
  • Choice of opponent:
    • “Evil Overlord”: 50% of the students overall (66% of the boys)
    • “Rival group of kids”: 29% of the students overall (50% of the girls)
    • “Powerful government”, “Neighborhood Bully”: Appealed to no one
  • Who would you want to save?:
    • “People your own age”: 43% overall (46% of boys)
    • “Young children”: 33% overall (56% of boys)
    • “Adults”: 14% overall
    • “Senior Citizens”: 10% overall
  • What do you want to save?:
    • “All living things on the planet”: 51% overall (63% of boys)
    • “Individual animals”, “Individual people”, “All the people in a city”: otherwise evenly distributed
  • Where do you want the game to take place?:
    • “Street Scene”: 48%
    • “Sports playing field”: 21%
    • “Shopping Mall”: 17%
    • “Large meadow with pond”: 14%
  • What do you do when you’re stuck?:
    • “Methodically try different ways to solve the problem”: 50%
    • “Hints from a guide”: 21%
    • “Discovering the answer through trial and error”: 14%
    • “Being given the answer”: 14%

Beyond these simple questions, they also asked students about activity modes (e.g., Explorative, Social, Creative, etc.,). They were looking at students general preferences between the modes and specific attitudes towards individual modes.

  • To appeal to both genders: emphasize Explorative and Problem-Solving play
  • To appeal more to girls: emphasize Creative play
  • To appeal more to boys: emphasize Active and Strategic play

My Thoughts

Weaknesses :

  • Relatively small population size
  • Relied entirely on self-report
  • This kind of survey is highly susceptible to cultural normalization

The biggest take-away : Boys and girls have some things in common, but they definitely don’t look at the world the same. Ask your opposite-gendered friends if your game idea appeals to them. Of course, keep in mind that appealing to existing social norms might also reinforce negative ones; you might try pushing student’s expectations a little.

Formal Abstract

Educators and learning theorists suggest that play is one of the most important venues for learning, and games a useful educational tool. This study considers game activity preferences of middle school-aged children, so that educational games might be made more appealing to them. Based on children’s activity modes identified in our prior research, we developed the Educational Game Preferences Survey, which collects information on children’s preferences for play activity modes, their attitudes about each activity mode, and their preferences for game characters, settings, and forms of help. Survey results suggest the appeal of the Explorative mode of play for all children, especially girls. Gender differences in children’s preferences and attitudes for Active, Strategic, and Creative play modes were also found. We close with recommendations for game design to appeal to both boys and girls, as well as for boys and girls individually, to build engagement and hopefully lead to learning.


  1. Kinzie, M. B., & Joseph, D. R. (2008). Gender differences in game activity preferences of middle school children: implications for educational game design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(5-6), 643-663.