My little sister told me one day, “I don’t bring up games to boys because I’m not a gamer.” The same sister I watch play at least 3-4 hours of games every week. The same sister who has bought toys based off the games she plays, does drawing based off the games she plays and decorates her room with things from the games she plays. She doesn’t think she is a gamer though.
The prevalence of women in gaming has improved over the years but have perceptions? Speaking to gamers past, present and future about the industry tells you volumes about just how far women have come.
So, what does it mean to be a woman who’s part of the gaming industry in 2017?
Definitely better than it was five years ago but the stigma that we are terrible players and that we are a teeny tiny minority is definitely still present. As an avid gamer myself, I’ve witnessed a lot of discrimination like getting cat called in game, targeted and even outright told that I don’t care about gaming as much just because I’m not able to dedicate the same number of hours as my male friends.
The gaming industry is a huge one and according to New Zoo, a research firm who specialise in gaming, this year roughly $US106.5 billion will be spent on games globally. This figure makes the global revenue from movie box office sales, which was only $US38.3 billion in 2015, pale in comparison. So why, in 2017, is being a woman so taboo?
As a 18-year-old I have only been a part of the community for the last 14 years or so. Someone with much more experience than me is Steven O’Donnell, the host of Good Game Spawn Point, a game review show on ABC. With 10 years’ experience as a game reviewer and many more years as a gamer he’s seen a lot more of the rise of women in gaming.
“When I was a kid I only knew one girl who played video games. Now every kid plays games,” he said.
Out of sheer curiosity I asked a few of my friends about what they thought the percentage female gamers in Australia was and they all answered around 30%. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, a study done by the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (igea) showed that as of last year 68% of Australians play games and 47% of those were female gamers. The idea that the gaming industry is one for men, not something that women really do for fun, is still around though.
“There were female representation and sexualisation issues that I just never thought about, simply because it never crossed my mind, being a man, playing man games for so long,” O’Donnell admitted to me.
I think a lot of other men feel the same. The products were always made by boys then sold to boys as boy’s games and if the lack of female voice in the gaming industry isn’t a problem that affects you it’s probably not something you’re going to notice until it’s pointed out. It’s definitely something that O’Donnell thinks has improved with the increase of women in gaming though.
“Social media and critics speak out when developers and publishers do the wrong thing.”
The gaming industry is only an extremely young one, becoming popular in the 70’s, which does really show just how far it’s come in such a short amount of time.
“As the industry has matured and these issues get more talked about, critics pay more attention and pivot the way they look at games. Games are wonderful, incredible pieces of entertainment and art and they are only going to get more inclusive, expressive and enjoyable.”
“Female gamers are on the rise, that’s for sure.”
So, who is part of this rise?
Definitely the most recent troupe of artists, fresh out of school, who are emerging into the gaming industry. The lovely YouTube and game developer Yasmin Curren, who you can find online as YagmanX, told me what it was like being a woman just emerging into the scene of gaming.
“I have found that it’s harder to be taken seriously,” she said. “I do believe that if you stick to making clean content that doesn’t play on your gender to attract any unwanted attention then this will not last.”
“I feel that it’s only a disadvantage when those perceive it as an advantage to be female in the in the industry.”
It’s not all bad about being a woman in gaming though. “It makes you more employable as companies are trying to become less gender biased.”
The game developers and critics also seem to be really supportive of the surge of female gamers joining the workforce.
“When going to industry events and meeting other game developers, most have been extremely professional and have treated me like any other, male or female.”
Yasmin fell into the industry when she picked up a gaming unit while doing her media diploma. Her original plan was to do film but fell in love with the way stories are told through games.
“I see games as interactive films, breaking through the passive element of watching a film and allowing the audience to really feel involved with the stories being told within them,” she said, voicing many of the things I think about games myself. “The future lays with the merging of these two entertainment platforms.”
“Life can become whatever you want it to be once you let your imagination take over.”
Just like the film industry, it’s important to have female voices as a part of the creation process so that richer stories can be produced with more variation and innovative ideas.
“By becoming more diverse, hiring people from different backgrounds and different ages and genders, companies can gain a wider range of knowledge and different ways of thinking.”
So what are the newest generation of gamers like?
Are the kids at schools more accepting of girls playing games? My little sister is 11 and was introduced to games from a young age. It was curious to see how her experience differed from my own.
“I play to have fun,” she said. “You get to create things and build things.”
She said that she doesn’t talk to boys about games all that often.
“When I talk to boys about Minecraft they just talk about how hardcore they play. Even my cousin talks about his high scores and stuff.”
Curiosity struck me and I asked her what it was like talking to and playing games with her female friends. She immediately sparked up.
“I like playing games with my friends,” she told me. “We give each other advice and recommend games to each other.”
I’m seeing a bit of a difference there. All I can hope is that the gaming industry continues to improve so that people like my little sister don’t feel uncomfortable talking to boys about games, thinking that they’re not good enough or dedicated enough to be a part of an amazing community.