It’s never easy to whip up a list of video game recommendations for women and girls. That’s because identifying games as titles of interest “for men” or “for women” does more harm than good. Male gamers are often stereotyped as lovers of war games featuring rattling machine guns, whereas women are expected to to stick to puzzle games. Girls are offered games about babies and horses.
And yet, there’s nothing wrong with men liking first-person shooters, women enjoying casual games, or girls wanting to care for virtual pets. It’s just beneficial to let every gamer of every gender know that the variety of genres available stretches to the horizon and beyond. So if you have a female or female-identifying friend who is interested in gaming but has never gotten into it or is stuck in a genre rut, these unique games break cemented stereotypes about gaming being a violent, male-oriented pastime.
Super Mario Kart (Various Nintendo Consoles): The Mario Kart series is pretty easy to get into. In fact, other than Tetris, it’s hard to think of a more widely-recognized “casual” series. The question is, which version of Mario Kart is ideal for females–if any? Well, honestly, there is no ideal version. Some fans of the series have commented that the Wii installment is ideal for beginners and holds the most mass appeal because of the inclusion of the Wii Wheel accessory and the ability to race your Miis. Others will argue that the Nintendo DS and/or GameCube installments are the most well-balanced in the series. And then there’s just the nostalgic appeal of the original SNES game. Long story short: It’s really hard to go wrong with Mario Kart.
Katamari Damacy (PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP): The fun-loving Katamari Damacy series will change anyone’s perspective on–well, everything. The series’ gameplay involves rolling a tiny ball across the world picking up random 3D objects (including household foodstuffs, furniture and more) until it becomes an enormous ball of stuff, but that’s only half the story. The series’ presentation, music, graphics and writing are so bizarre, so fun to experience that any non-gamer who picks any of the games up will become a fan instantly.
LittleBigPlanet (PlayStation 3): Candy-colored platform-hopping outings starring roly-poly rag doll heroes, the LittleBigPlanet games are a huge draw for people who love to create given the ability to build your own stages, worlds and challenges, not to mention people who just love to play through fun game levels. Plus, they offer endless replay value with the ability to download others’ creations.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (Nintendo DS, XBox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network): This little gem from Ubisoft is a Nintendo DS puzzle game that also includes a nice chunk of strategy and fantasy role-playing. An updated HD version was recently released for XBLA and PSN. It’s cute, it’s funny, and it’s maddeningly addictive, offering surprising depth, yet play that’s easy to pick up and get absorbed in for hours on end.
Portal 2 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Mac): Valve has produced another physics-based puzzle gaming triumph, as if there was ever any doubt. Portal 2 plays much like the original Portal, inasmuch as the player must use a gun capable of generation portable wormholes to rip holes in walls (for science) and teleport objects and individuals to seemingly inaccessible distant locales. It’s a simple mechanic, but unspeakably fun to play with.
The Sims 3 (PC, Mac): The Sims 3, a virtual dollhouse wherein you control little computer people’s lives that also happens to be one of the best-selling PC games of all time, has been cited often as a game that carries special appeal to a female audience. It’s an extremely easy game to play, but simultaneously compelling: Regardless of your gender, it’s hard not to get attached to the little dudes and dudettes whose lives you control like an all-seeing God. That’s why you need to do the right thing and teach your Sims that it’s appropriate to leave their babies on the floor or on the stovetop.
Elite Beat Agents (Nintendo DS): Elite Beat Agents is a light-hearted music and rhythm game that has its roots in a Japanese series called Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, and scores points for its approachability and genial nature, making it a solid choice for the gaming neophyte. Nintendo did a particularly thorough job with the title’s localization and published a game that never really took off, but is still well-regarded for its colorful graphics and sense of humor.
Nintendogs + Cats (Nintendo 3DS): The Nintendogs series of virtual pet simulators are relaxing, fun, and too adorable for words. Offhand, it’s easy to say that Nintendogs + Cats is ideal for a female audience because it encourages the player to love and nurture her pet, but frankly, games featuring puppies and kittens are for everyone. Everyone except heartless monsters.
The Phoenix Wright Series (Nintendo DS, Wii): Who knew that law and order could be so compelling, or so funny? The Phoenix Wright games, storytelling oriented adventures set in a fictional courtroom and justice system, are easy to play through and fun to read, thanks to a bizarre cast of characters that still manages to tug on your heartstrings at the right moments. Oh, but don’t use the games to prepare for a law career. That won’t end well.
The Professor Layton Series (Nintendo DS): Professor Hershel Layton is impossible to hate: He’s dashing, he wears a top hat, an he defends his car when no-one else will. His puzzle game series, filled with logic and math brainteasers, is also presented charmingly with the help of fully-animated cutscenes that look like they’re from a Herge cartoon. Who says puzzle games have to be all about blocks and boxes?