Rarely is a video-game launch attended by teenage girls. But at the launch of School 26, a new game for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Android, half of the crowd were girls between the ages of 12 and 16.
Vancouver’s Silicon Sisters, already bucking trends with its mandate to create games for girls and women, wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, according to CEO Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, the game was created for them.
Gershkovitch cofounded Silicon Sisters last year with Kirsten Forbes, who’s the company’s chief operating officer. The two of them are a fearless and dynamic team with a clear perspective on the need they are filling.
At the School 26 launch at Silicon Sisters’ studio in Gastown on April 20, Gershkovitch told the Georgia Straight that she and Forbes spent their first six months in business developing a bible for the games they want to make. “We pulled research from all of the institutions that have been researching games,” she explained, “and learned what girls and women want, and how they play differently.”
That's why, when asked to categorize School 26, she hesitated. “We don’t think the games they want to play have been built,” she said. Genre is irrelevant. “We want to build things that connect with the female brain.”
In School 26, players take on the guise of a young girl who is just starting at a new high school. The goal is to navigate the social dynamics. It’s simple to play—tapping the touchscreen with a fingertip is all you ever need to do—and the game is quite varied. You have to respond to conversations with appropriate emotional responses, answer quizzes like those that used to be in teen magazines (Tiger Beat, anyone?), and use your character’s special sensory powers to affect the emotions of your classmates by playing a card-matching and memory game.
The ultimate objective is to become friends with your classmates by sharing your feelings with them and by empathizing with them. Winning the game is difficult because of the nuanced emotional responses required.
Forbes, who came up with the emotional mechanic that is the core of School 26, says being good at it requires social mastery. Succeeding necessitates knowing how to respond to a character ending up in the hospital after a night of binge drinking, for example.
And while the events that occur in the game may seem adult to many, Gershkovitch said that these are things that girls are dealing with every day. “We wanted a realistic scenario where we didn’t dumb anything down, where the content is real,” she said. “Girls are faced with some pretty tough stuff these days.”