You are a co-founder of Purple Moon. When did you start to have an interest in computers
I got my first job in the computer game business in 1977 in Columbus, Ohio for a little
company that actually preceded the video game boom. And I moved to Atari in 1979 for the
big trip of Atari in the computer game business.
Can you describe the climate at Atari at that time, because Atari was pioneering the
Atari was growing incredibly quickly. In fact, during the first year that I was there,
their revenues quadrupled, and by 1981 they were a US$2-billion company. The company was
filled with very young people, mostly men, and my first job was to work with their brand
new home computer, which was a pretty new idea in those days.
At that time there were few women in this field, especially for computer games. What was
your feeling about working in the computer game field?
There were a few other women in the business in those days. I knew one woman who was
actually a programmer at Atari. But when I started in 1977, I was the only woman at the
consumer electronics show in Chicago and I can remember journalists and other people
coming to take my picture because it was such an unusual thing. Certainly, today it's
completely different. In our company, for example, 41 of our employees are women out of
50. So, times have changed.
And then you were a multimedia consultant for many companies. Can you describe your
After Atari I worked for some other computer game companies. I worked for Acta Vision and
Affix and also took some time off to finish my Ph.D. in theater which was, I believe, the
first doctorate in the world on interactive fantasy. I consulted for Apple Computer for a
few years and among other things developed a book for them on the art of human-computer
interface design that was edited and authored by people at Apple and myself. I consulted
for companies like Lucas Film Games, Paramount New Media, which became Viacom New Media.
And I also started a virtual reality company in 1991 with Scott Fisher to produce virtual
reality public installations primarily in Japan but also in the United States. I joined
Interval Research Corporation in 1992 specifically to conduct research into the question
of gender in technology because of my experiences in the game business and because I had
seen that computer games had been primarily designed for boys throughout my career. So I
wanted to begin to do some real research and figure out why that was true and what we
might be able to do about it.
And when you were inside Interval from the beginning were you thinking of creating
something for girls?
Originally at Interval we wanted to find out what it would take to motivate a girl to
become comfortable with a computer in the same way that video games allow boys to develop
a lot of comfort and facility with the technology. In order to find out what we could
design, we needed to learn everything we could about little girls, about their
preferences, about what they didn't like about the existing computer games, so that we
could build something that really worked for them.
What is your impression of how women use the computer. What is different in their use of
the computer compared to men?
We found in our research at Interval and later at Purple Moon that both boys and girls
feel that video game machines and video games are for boys. These products send the
message that they're for boys. Both boys and girls feel that personal computers can be for
anyone. When we asked girls why they didn't like the computer games that exist now, their
number one reason was that they found the games boring. And when we asked them why, they
said because these characters are not interesting. These are not characters I can imagine
having any relationship with. There's no story here. Girls are very interested in complex
narratives. They like being able to solve a problem a lot of different ways, whereas boys
are interested in games that have a series of solutions which then lead to a high score or
the ability to say that one has mastered them. So there are real differences between what
girls and boys told us they would enjoy in computer games. And at Purple Moon we developed
a kind of game we call Friendship Adventures that is focused on exploration and
discovery, that has characters and stories that are really relevant to girls lives as they
Interval is a research center created by Paul Allen and it is an incubator for new
companies. What's the process for creating a new company inside Interval?
Interval is a technology research company and their product is intellectual property, so
many of the things that are invented at Interval don't become companies. They're
technologies that get licensed or they may just be pure science inventions that will be
used decades later. When there's a research project at Interval that is on its way to
becoming a product company, typically there's a period of advanced development where we
develop prototype products and test them extensively with the audience for the product.
Then we create a business plan and make sure that we can make a successful business, and
then we proceeded to form the company and look for funding. Purple Moon was the first such
company to spin off from Interval. There are now several, and more on the way.
When exactly was Purple Moon formed?
Purple Moon formed as a company in November of 1996. Our research began in 1992, so it was
four years in the making. In 1997 we have released two CD-ROM titles, Rocket's New
School and Secret Paths in the Forest. We also launched a web site, the Purple
Moon web site, in September and we launched a line of merchandise, so we're in three
different businesses, all of which are geared towards girls aged 8-2.
Don't you think that eight is very early to work with the computer, or to have a game or
to interact with the computer? Why did you choose this age range?
We chose to work for girls between the ages of eight and twelve because we know that
they're at greatest risk of moving away from technology when they reach the age of eleven
or twelve, when they reach adolescence. So if we're going to do something that makes them
more comfortable with technology and changes that pattern, we have to reach them before
that age. The average age of video game players among boys is six or seven. And there's a
lot of software, as you know, in the education market for much younger children. There's
no intrinsic reason why a two-year old can't use the computer if the interface is designed
properly. We chose eight to twelve because it was a age where we felt we could make a real
difference in girls' comfort level with technology, that could sustain them through that
adolescent period and their teen years. And we knew that that would make a difference in
the choices that they might be able to make in school and in work.
What are the basic choices that you make for your products?
We deal with issues and questions that girls told us are most important to them in this
period of their lives. They're very interested in their relationships with other girls.
They're interested in their social identity. They're interested in establishing their
inner sense of self. Self-awareness is being developed very strongly during this period of
their lives, so they're searching for what's beautiful and important and true, as well as
trying to understand how to present themselves socially to other girls and experimenting
with different moods and attitudes and ways to behave in the world. We talk to girls about
problems and issues that they think about a lot and try to incorporate those into the
games as well. So, for example, many girls are still concerned that there's something
wrong with their bodies at this age. Almost all girls have concerns about brothers and
sisters, if they have brothers and sisters. In the United States there's a lot of concern
about divorce and the effect of divorce on children. So those are examples of issues that
girls brought to us that we put into the products as issues that the characters get to
face and to work with.
And in the games what kind of adventure can be more feminine?
When Purple Moon talked to the girls about the word "adventure", we got a very
different set of definitions than we got from boys. To a girl, adventure means exploration
and discovery. It doesn't mean winning and losing, particularly. They're strongly focused
on relationships as part of adventures, and part of the goal of an adventure is to
strengthen a relationship or to help another person or to work out a relationship. So
friends are always figuring into their definition of adventure. They love to explore in a
lot of different ways, as opposed to following a single path to the solution of a problem.
We took these characteristics and emphasis on relationships, exploration and discovery,
lots of ways to solve a problem, and incorporated them into our Friendship Adventures.
We have two very different kinds of products. The Rocket's World series is
really focused on the adventure of what it would be like when I'm older. And this is the
make-believe game that girls play all the time. When I'm in high school, what will I be
like? And they make up details of their lives. These are ongoing fantasies. Rocket's
World addresses that play pattern. It gives the girl the opportunity to help a
character who is entering her first day in a brand new school and making decisions about
who her friends are going to be and having sort of the adventure of finding her social
identity in that world. The Secret Paths world is a much quieter, more inner world;
it's about girls' inner fantasies, about their hopes and dreams. It's set in beautiful,
natural environments. You'll meet some of the same characters, but the goal in Secret
Paths is to help those characters with special issues that they need you to help them
figure out how to think about. So, for example, that's where you hear from girls about: My
parents are divorced and I'm really sad, or I feel like I'm too short. Help me solve this
problem. If you choose to help a character, you go on a quest into a magical forest and
find secret stones that have messages for them that will help them with their issues. So,
they are two sides of the girl in the two different lines of products that we have
developed. And we'll be adding some more lines this year that use the same characters and
the same issues.
And do you think, especially for the second products, Secret Parents, that it's
possible to have the same story, the same character, also for Europe or for other markets?
Outside the United States will it be necessary to change not only the language but also
The research that I conducted at Interval and now at Purple Moon was done in the United
States, so I don't claim to understand global culture as an expert, but I will say that
everything we've learned so far suggests that girls in Europe and in the developing world
have a lot of really common problems. We feel that all of the issues that I've just
mentioned to you are issues that girls everywhere deal with. We're especially encouraged
by our visit here, talking to girls and talking to adults in Europe that these products
can mean something to girls everywhere.
Do you believe in virtual communities?
I absolutely believe in virtual communities. The Purple Moon web site is the best example
that I know of. I don't mean to brag, but since we've launched the site in September we've
served 20 million pages. We have 40,000 registered users, girls between the ages of eight
and twelve, most of them. The girls have sent almost two million postcards to each other
on our site. They arrange to meet and swap virtual treasures that they've collected on the
site. They write millions of postcards to us and to our characters. There's no question in
my mind that we've created a place that is an online community for little girls; many,
many more little girls we than we expected are spending a lot of time there. On average a
registered user comes to our site one and a half times a day. She spends about 45 minutes
per visit. She looks at about 52 pages. So these are in-depth visits that are filled with
communication with other girls and with creative activities that will be published back on
the web to the other girls in the audience. That proves to me that virtual communities are
real and that they can exist for audiences that we weren't even sure were on the web yet.
What about the spread of the use of avatars? Don't you think that in the long run they can
provoke the problem of identity?
Our experience at Purple Moon and at Interval suggests that although people do experiment
with different identities when they first join virtual communities, they usually settle
down to a steady identity that's more or less coherent with their own and actual life. I
think that part of pre-adolescence is experimentation with roles and part of what we do at
Purple Moon that we think is helpful for little girls is to give them the opportunity to
see that there are a lot of different choices that we make in our lives all the time,
including choices about how we represent ourselves. So giving them a safe space where they
can experiment and explore identity and personal choice we see as a very positive thing
for them. We also know that the likelihood is that after they've made some exploration,
they're settle down with an identity that's comfortable and safe and pretty close to who
they actually are.
Do you believe in the convergence between multimedia and television and the possibility of
joining the two languages, the language of games, of Internet, and the language of
television, or not?
I don't feel that I'm qualified to predict the future of convergence. I'd love to see it
happen. I think that the media that will emerge in the future will be different from the
ones that we have today but won't necessarily replace them. I think there will always be a
place for linear film and television. I think that there will be genres of interactivity
that are quite different from each other and delivered by different technologies. So I
don't see one master medium emerging; I see greater variety and choice.