And thus begun an article in the May 1999 issue of PC Zone, entitled How To Get Your Girlfriend Into Games. Written by one David McCandless, who, like a number of PC Zone writers - including a certain Charlie Brooker, a certain Rhianna Pratchett, and some bloke called Paul Rose - would go on to be better known for other things, it was typical of the era's attitude towards women and games.
In short: it was seen that girls rarely played video games, and certainly never played PC games.
I'd love to say that times have changed, but while you would never seen an article published like this today, you don't need me to tell you that far too many awful men are still trying to ring-fence gaming as an exclusive boys' club. Tellingly, a 2018 US study found that 48% of gamers are women, and it's much the same story globally; in the UK it's 46%, 49% in Finland, 47% in Australia...
However, somewhat tellingly, only 6% of women gamers identify as a "gamer", in comparison to 15% of men. Which is a whole bag of worms when it comes to men with a weak sense of identity making "gamer" their entire sense of self, and feeling threatened by females encroaching on that, and whose dysfunctional sexuality means they get a weird dopamine hit when making aggressive sexual comments while shielded behind a veil of anonymity.
Anyhow. We know all about that, and I've not got the energy today to deal with a load of loveless limpdicks calling me a soyboy and a cuck.
Let's dive into the article.
"You've been playing games for years, but just imagine what they must look like from a non-gamer's point of view. They suck.
"The graphics are crap. Look out of your window - that's good graphics. These just look shoddy and blocky in comparison. And what's with all the violence? Why do you have to kill everybody? Why can't you just talk to them? And what are these locations? Cathedrals? Dungeons? Catacombs? God, it's all so dark and depressing. And why are there so many blokes in these games? And what the hell am I doing spending hours playing this when I could be out talking to people, reading books, watching films, living life...?
"This is how girls think. Girls and games rarely mix.
"They rarely mix because you - man, boy, bloke, fellow, chap, me lad - you designed them. Unlike most other examples of popular culture, computer games are predominantly designed and programmed by blokes and so inevitably appeal to men and the male tick-list of desirable experiences: being a superhero, being competitive, being murderous, and doing things fast."
McCandless is no idiot, though he was perhaps hamstrung by the nature of the brief he was working with. The very fact the article was printed in the first place is problematic, not least because he makes a huge, sweeping, assumption by stating "This is how girls think".
Yeah, 'cos in my experience, "girls" really love it when men tell them what they're thinking. Heck, I'm barely a girl, and if anybody says to me something along the lines of "I know what you're like..." I'm liable to administer a sharp jab to the thorax.
McCandless at least identifies why "girlfriends" might not be interested in games, with the following: "Why are there so many blokes in these games?" and "Computer games are predominantly designed and programmed by blokes."
That has improved in the last 20 years; another 2018 study suggested that 23% of people working in games development in the US now identify as female. That's certainly better than in 1999, when the figure was in single digits, but there's still a long way to go. Besides, any female games developer or journalist who draws attention to themselves seems to become a target for the usual abuse.
"Half-Life: The hazard course is a particularly good starting point. It takes a while to get going but once they're hooked, they'll never stop.
"Tomb Raider III: Despite what feminists say about her bosoms, girls like playing girls. Especially strong, agile ones.
"Motocross Madness: Great driving game set 'outside', with hyper-realistic graphics. Exhilarating and amusing.
"Creatures 2: Yeah, yeah, they 'get to raise babies'. Easy joke.
"Worms: Because you can name the worms and then blow them up.
"Quake II: Multiplayer especially. They'll hate it at first but try and try again. They'll get it.
"Grim Fandango: Interactive, movie-like, funny, with a plethora of locations and mysteries. How much more girly can a game get?"
I admit that I'm not sure I entirely understand the rationale behind any of those, which seem to have been chosen entirely at random. Lara Croft may have been marketed as a feminist icon, but she was still designed by men, wore hot pants and a tight top which accentuated her impossible breasts. Certainly, however, she seems to have appealed to female gamers simply by virtue of there being so few female protagonists in games at that point.
Last year, eSports presented Elle Osili-Wood told i-D magazine: "I watched my cousin play the first game and I just fell in love with this kickass woman -- all I wanted to do was run around exploring and fighting and being ridiculously cool.”
So, in that respect, maybe McCandless was onto something with that one.
"No-one wants their first introduction to games to happen in the midst of a smeg pit. Clear the mugs away. Wipe all those shavings and toenails off your desk. Clear the cigarette butts, bits of paper, Blu-tack and Coke cans out of the way. Get a nice clean mouse - not one clogged up with three months' worth of dried skin.
"Clean all those manky half-moons of crap off the keys on your keyboard, too. Use Stanislavski's Circles Of Attention technique to minimise her distraction. Turn off the main light in your room and erect a side light which creates a pool of illumination around your computer.
"This makes the computer screen the centre of focus and mutes any peripheral distractions. In short, she has nowhere to look if she gets bored."
He recommends the following:
"Don't use jargon. Ramp up any 'interactive' elements (talking, speaking, puzzle-solving). Play down hyper-violent aspects (flying globules of gibbage, explosions with true particles, realistic death throes). Once she's over her initial reluctance, she'll be as bloodthirsty as anyone, but you have to get her there first."
To get her playing your recommended games, McCandless wants you to downplay anything which might scare her off.
For Half-Life, he recommends you avoid saying: "Next-generation first-person shoot 'em up with strong narrative elements" and should try: "Oh, it's an amazing unfolding story with you playing the central character."
For Worms Armageddon he suggests that instead of describing it as being like "That tank game you used to play in school where you'd enter the trajectory and balance it against wind speed" and tell her "It's like Tetris."
"She says: 'I'm crap.'"
You say: 'No, you're not just schooled in the conventions of this medium.'
She says: 'Oh, I can't do it.'
You say: 'It took me a while to get the hang of it, too.'
She says: 'What's the point? I don't get it. I'm not doing it anymore.'
You say: 'There's a really brilliant bit coming up. Just stick at it.'
She says: 'I'm bored.'
You say: 'There's a bit like Tetris coming up in a sec.'
She says: 'Where's the bit like Tetris.'
You say: 'It's coming in a minute, okay?'
Women really like Tetris, apparently. Though, let's face it, if it had been made by the same people as Tomb Raider the blocks would be falling breasts, and it'd be called Titres, and be held up as a stirringl example of Girl Power.
"It is a psychological fact that people will do things they don't want to if there's a reward for them at the end. You may have to trade. Say you'll go to see a film with subtitles with her if she spends an hour playing games. Or that you'll cook something other than corned beef curry. Or that you will finally pull out those dirty socks that are stuck like cardboard behind the radiator.
"There has to be a trade. You don't get something for nothing.
"Hopefully, to use an unfortunate comparison, like Pavlov's dog, every time she hears the ping of the SimCity 3000 menu options or the splattery fine red mist of giblets hitting cobblestones in Quake, she'll start salivating."
AGE: 27 JOB: Make-up artist
STANCE ON COMPUTER GAMES BEFORE: "Boring waste of time. A typically mindless male pursuit"
STANCE AFTER: "No different The kind of thing you do in the absence of any other stimulation or activity. When you're trapped in the house and there's no alternative It makes me want to go and read a book."
VERDICT: Thoroughly resisted conversion to the Dark Side.
AGE: 27 JOB: Hairdresser
STANCE BEFORE: "I've played puzzley games like Tetris. I get quite addicted, but how blokes can play them for hours or weeks strikes me as strange."
STANCE AFTER: "It's tempting once I get started."
VERDICT: Not much change.
"I showed her Quake without the 3Dfx and then with, and she said ttiey were both the same and the 3Dfx card was a waste of money. I caught her playing on my eldest daughter's PC once and guess what she was doing - typing in WingDings and then changing the size and colour." - Stuart Lawrence
"My girlfriend detests pretty much all games, though she'll happily play Puzzle Bobble 2 for ages. I showed her Quake II once and she thought it was crap. 'That's really unrealistic - how can you possibly spend hours playing it? What's the attraction?' I tried to explain about it being fun, skilful and pleasurable (short-range shotgun blasts to the head), but she just doesn't get it. I'm in marketing and she's in accountancy. Is this an explanation?" - Anon
However, probably no doubt surprising PC Zone's editorial team, they also got some responses from female readers:
"I'm a girl. I really enjoy shooting all the idiots with my rocket launcher in Quake IT. I also like Half-Life Carmageddon Grand Theft Auto However, I also Little Big Adventure Tomb Raider Diablo "It does surprise me that more girls don't seem to enjoy killing things with big weapons. When I first entered the PC Zone chatsite, I was asked (insultingly) if the games I liked were Solitaire and Barbie Hall Designer Well, l have news for you blokes - come over here and suck on my BFG," - Pianoforte 98
Pianoforte 98 there, demonstrating that not much has changed in the intervening 20 years.
"Blokes don't like talking about their emotions and girls can't park. Crass sweeping generalisations or statistically proven sweeping generalisations? A variety of behavioural differences have been reported for men and women, and researchers have zoned in on 'parallel parking' as an example of the differences between male and female thought processes. Men can often 'see' the space, in 3D, in their brains.
"Women can perceive the gap, but need to talk about it in order to understand its relationship with the length of their car. They ask themselves questions and come to a conclusion, which takes longer than the male approach, which is just to pile in there and use the alarms of the vehicles in front and behind to judge distances. This car-parking phenomenon also has an influence on the way women perceive computer games.
"For some women, the 3D space and layout of an area in a game like Quake is not immediately obvious to them. Tunnels which lead off from a room, or even the entire architecture of the room itself, may be 'invisible'.
"This Is not, as your grandfather no doubt maintains, because 'women are stupid' but simply because they have a tendency to perceive 'negative space', the gaps between objects rather than the objects themselves.
"The widely-held belief that women only like adventure games can be explained by recent studies, which found that women spend 43 minutes a day making personal calls and men only 22. Women speak, on average, 9,000 words a day, while men utter a mere 2,000.
"Generally speaking, women communicate more and enjoy the act of talking and interacting more than men. Anyway, before you start moaning about crap girl gamers or bad parking arguments, remember this: until six weeks Into your mother's pregnancy, you were a girl. Then your defective X chromosome kicked in. Everything went haywire and for some reason your nipples weren't absorbed. Your clitoris, however, remained and grew and grew into your penis. Just remember that."
Not sure what he's trying to say at the end there, given most of the article has gone to lengths to highlight the differences McCandless perceives between males and females, but there you go.
Primarily, I suspect, because our readership was very clearly made up of teenage boys and young men, and we were all part of an institutionalised problem, where gaming simply didn't invite girls in. Not because games as an idea didn't appeal to them, but because they were told in problematic articles such as this one that they didn't like games, and were written by men.
PC Zone was by no means the only publication to perpetuate the myth - and at least one other British games magazine had a regular feature, where readers were invited to send in photos of their girlfriends. Which should tell you all you need to know.
Plus, as McCandless points out in his introduction, the sorts of games that were made back then - and predominantly still are today, let's face it - were the product of men, and from a male perspective.