Girls in Gaming: Breaking the Stereotypes
I’ve never been a gamer.
I’ve played plenty of games, to be sure. I’ve even been completely obsessed with some games, to the point where every waking hour outside of work or school was spent playing them. But I’ve never felt like a gamer.
Part of the reason I’ve never felt like a gamer, even at the heights of my gaming, is because I never felt like I fit the image of a “typical” gamer. I’m not a socially awkward, sex-deprived teenage boy or fat old guy with questionable hygiene and diet consisting of Mountain Dew and Hot Pockets, I would think. I’m not a gamer. I just play games sometimes.
At the time, I was probably in my mid-teens, and only slightly aware of how untrue this stereotype was. Anyone who identified as a gamer, in my teenage mind, fit into at least part of this stereotype and, since I didn’t, I couldn’t possibly be a gamer.
Of course, the thing about stereotypes is that they’re not exactly representative of an entire population. Sure, there are gamers who fit that description, but they’re the exception, not the rule. There are gamers with social lives that would make mine look like I’m a hermit, gamers in happy, healthy relationships, gamers with great hygiene, gamers who would never pick up a can of Mountain Dew, gamers who are neither a teenage boy nor a fat old guy.
And, of course, there are gamers who aren’t even male…
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reports, in their 2012 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry (graphic below), that 47 percent of all players are female, and adult women comprise a greater portion of the gaming population than teenage boys (age 17 and under). This statistic gets ripped apart by some critics, though, who argue that the numbers are diluted because the survey takes into account casual gamers as well as hardcore gamers – people who play Angry Birds while riding the bus as well as people who dedicate hours to raids in World of Warcraft. Hardcore gamers, critics argue, are usually not female.
At least, not yet.
With improvements in storytelling, graphics quality and realism, games like Mass Effect and Call of Duty are quickly gaining popularity across all demographics – including women, as pointed out by Andrew Reiner, executive editor of Game Informer magazine in an interview with the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune. As their appeal and popularity increase, it only makes sense that more women will identify as “hardcore” gamers.
Additionally, the spread of mobile gaming is making games more accessible to more people – you no longer have to buy a console, you can just buy a smartphone, which you were probably going to buy anyway – which, of course, includes women, again. Meanwhile, more hardcore games are coming to mobile platforms. It’s pretty easy to do the math – more hardcore games available to more people, including women, can only mean that more women will play more hardcore games, and more will become hardcore gamers.
So, critics, just give it some time. That statistic will be more valid before you know it.
Now, like I said, I’m not a gamer. Even now, I don’t even think I qualify as a casual gamer most of the time — I play Words with Friends on the bus and have been known to sink an evening into the Sims 3, but I’m definitely more of an Internet nerd than a gamer (I spend hours online, it can’t be good for me).
However, I do know what it’s like to be in an industry where women are in the super-minority; my first professional job was as a “junior software engineer,” later revised to “CSS/HTML specialist.” Essentially, I was an early-twenty-something female software developer, surrounded by my male counterparts. It’s not easy. The odds seem like they’re against you; you’re in uncharted territory and some of the natives are not very pleased that you’re there. There were plenty of times when my abilities were doubted just because I wasn’t your typical software engineer, and I learned plenty of methods of dealing with that sort of feedback, especially when it brimmed with sexism. Talking to some of my close friends, who happen to be female gamers, a lot of the methods translate pretty well into gaming, so I decided, hey, why not write some of these up? And while the “female gamer” population is still growing, maybe they’ll help some of my fellow ladies break through the sexism in gaming like I have through the sexism in my job.
So I decided to start a little mini series here on the PlayHaven blog, chronicling what it’s like to be women in gaming, what obstacles and stereotypes must be overcome and the multitude of opportunities to overcome those obstacles. I’ll examine topics like what it’s like to be a “girl gamer,” what game companies can keep in mind to broaden their audience, what female gamers can do when faced with sexism in-game. Of course, I’d love to hear from gamers — female and male alike — as well as individuals in the game development industry; tell me your thoughts on these issues! I’m looking forward to exploring this topic with all of you.