I peered over my brother’s shoulder in wonderment as he collaborated with others to defeat the king black dragon on the online multiplayer roleplaying world called RuneScape. After years of observing my two brothers play, I had finally had enough of watching from the background and mustered up the courage to create my own account. I was initially embarrassed to tell people about my passion because of the negative responses I would receive – “Girls can’t game,” “You probably don’t even play well,” or “You just game for attention.” However, as I got older I realized the only way to change these perceptions was to voice that I was a woman who enjoyed gaming and that it is okay for any girl to have these same passions and feelings regardless of their skill level. I took up these challenges and encourage other women to do the same because by embracing differences and channeling our energy into them, we can all help to break the stereotypes placed on women throughout past generations.
Previously, it was rare to find other female gamers, especially on console. This had to do with both the lack of players but also the lack of courage many women had to voice their passion. I remember not having a mic for the longest time because I would always get targeted for being a different gender.
However, if you delve deeper into statistics, the Internet Advertising Bureau shows that women actually do make up a large part of the demographic and that they have made up half of the gaming population since 2010, growing to 52% currently. According to newzoo customer insights, core gaming, where you consider gaming as an important part of your life and spend a significant amount of your free time towards it, is still slightly skewed towards men who make up 70% of this population. I believe this has to do with the “boy’s only” culture, which stems off of the initial years of video from gaming. For example, in 1988, only 20% of gamers were women. With time, however, this imbalance has shrunk and can shrink even more.
Recently, there have been great strides for women in gaming. For example, Overwatch and Fortnite have incorporated various female characters without an emphasis on oversexualization – something many other video games have chosen to focus on in order to market towards the male population. Although there has been steady growth with women representation and diversity, many elements need to be put in place to help bridge the rest of the gap within this male-dominated industry. Listed below are some ways the community can be improved:
Representation of women within every sphere – streamers, the characters in the game itself, and finally the leadership within the companies
Being a female gamer myself, I strive to play games that uplift and represent women positively rather than demean them. If others join in on this quest, then the producers will start to notice statistics of the change and shift their focus accordingly in order to make profits. This will result in a more representative environment when playing, and maybe even the development of a more representative leadership board.
In addition, women do not see enough people of their gender within the industry – whether it be online streamers or the characters they are using in the game – and so they have no role model to look up to, leading them to feel unwelcome and sometimes even ostracized by the community. Astonishment or shock by the opposite sex and comments such as, “But can you actually play?” probably doesn’t help either. Nor do certain people within the industry, such as Ubisoft’s technical director who stated that it was a waste of time to create female characters, as it would have “doubled the work” for animators. Or maybe it’s the fact that female executives are rare and that women make less than men in the same job position. Overall, in 2016 there were fewer women CEOs than there were CEOs named David… this simple statistic highlights the tremendous gender disparity in today’s corporate world, which is even more apparent within the tech and video gaming industry.
Initiatives and programs to encourage women to join the field
Diversity within organizations has been shown to improve a company’s overall status, and statistics reveal that teams where women and men are equal gain 41% more revenue. This can help push creativity and involve new ideas that previously wouldn’t have even been mentioned due to groupthink, a phenomenon that happens when a group of people who think similarly don’t consider different alternatives and new ideas, leading to the opposite of good decision-making. Therefore, these programs for change will benefit everyone and the end goal is not a competition of men versus women, but rather a desire for an inclusive environment where diversity thrives and yields benefits for the company.
One great way to encourage women is through social media. An example of this is Facebook’s launch of their Women in Gaming initiative, a space they created for women gamers to share their stories and encourage each other to take leadership positions within the community. Even movements that are not directly related to gaming or the tech industry, such as #MeToo has helped immensely. It has shed a light on the gender disparities within major companies and what many women have to deal with as they try to scale the ladder of leadership.
Other programs include Girls Who Code, Girls Make Games, and many more. These initiatives start with girls from an early age to help them decide whether the tech industry, possibly as a game developer, is the right path for them before the stereotypes get a tight grip and they lose interest. The way we are taught growing up makes women less inclined to join industries such as Tech. These initiatives, however, help to encourage women to close the gender gap. They are safe environments in which a girl can feel comfortable doing something different and build confidence for when they finally enter a mixed atmosphere.
Teaching little girls as they grow up that they can do anything a boy can do (and that a boy can do anything a girl can do)
Destructive gender stereotypes and generalizations begin to seep into a kid’s mind from an early age, and this seed of distinction only grows from there. Growing up, there was always a noticeable difference between genders. I never understood why I had to pick the “girl’s” toy at McDonald’s when I thought the “boy’s” toy was cooler. I loved the color blue but still felt as if I should paint the walls of my room pink. I was given Barbies for Christmas as my brothers received video games. These small things profoundly impact the way a child thinks and can make them learn from an early age that they are not encouraged to do certain things, such as attempting to play video games if they are a girl. Trying to combat these effects with a more gender-neutral approach to different areas of life and parenting in a way that allows the kid to decide on their own whether they want the doll or monster truck could be one factor of many to help with the deeply rooted problem of gender stereotypes.
Having a supportive environment
With the growth of female representation will come a new surge of female players who are proud of their hobby rather than feeling ashamed, and if these female gamers uplift each other this can do wonders for the community. Men can also play a big role, especially within the streaming community, where women typically have trouble with harassment within the chat boxes and gaining equal respect from the community. If we can come together and support each other in productive ways such as mentoring, non-destructive statements during gameplay, and making a clear distinction between what is right and wrong, this can have a tremendous benefit in encouraging women within the community to step up.
All of these concepts can help to slowly chip away at the ongoing stigma that gaming can only be a man’s hobby. When I came home this holiday break, I opened my last gift under the twinkling Christmas tree with excitement and anticipation. It was my very own gaming computer, picked out for me by my brother. My brothers and I are now able to connect our distance as I study across the world from them through our virtual characters in League of Legends and Overwatch, and after a long period of secretly gaming in the room beside theirs, we are finally united.