Gaming and gender

Girl gamers should aim higher

As I get older I’m finding the “girl gamer” moniker harder to live with. It’s so at odds with how I see myself. There are many playing fields where women are still (sadly) not equal, gaming is young enough for women to not have to make a distinction.

Gaming can be a fractured community as it is without putting gamers of a specific gender above or below anyone else, but that said girl gamers should be demanding more from the game development community.

Girl gamers

My primary problem with the term “girl gamer” is that it sells an entire genders aspirations for our community very short. It’s a well-documented fact that women play games, I think that’s a total given. Girl gamers should be aiming higher. Women who deem themselves as girl gamers shouldn’t just be trying to raise awareness of the fact that they’re playing games, but raising awareness of the fact that women are not adequately reflected at every point of game development. I want more than a mere acknowledgement than I am here, I want more gaming experiences that speak to me, made by like-minded people rather than a team that doesn’t adequately reflect the gaming population guessing at how to accomplish that.

I’m less bothered about proving women play games, I’m more concerned about the near-complete gender bias when it comes to how games are made. More women should be programmers, animators, and developers, if more women are playing games than ever, why are women in game development still mere punctuation in a largely male landscape? The ladies that are there are incredible and making their mark (as a female web developer I know the difficulties well, the two career paths are definitely comparable) but I cannot help but feel the lessened number of female faces means a shortfall in gamings overall output.

For example, it must have a direct effect on how female characters are portrayed in games (there are some great female characters out there, but some consistency would be an ideal starting point). For every empowered female character there are ten or more patronising or insulting ones.

There is a consistent a lack of features that women might desire in a game (basic things, like being able to choose a female avatar), and then the wider consequences of female absenteeism, namely how we as women gamers are treated and perceived in the occasionally brash gaming community (if you think it can be soul-destroying playing a multiplayer FPS online, you can and do often generate more antagonism with a female voice).

A severe lack of female faces

It’s certainly not always easy for a girl to play games, I will acknowledge that. I’ve occasionally been accused of being able to vocalise my love of gaming more because I am a girl, as if somehow the very fact that I am female automatically nulls the stigma associated with playing games. This is a misconception, and is perhaps why the girl gamer movement is so tempting. Gaming is still a very masculine pastime, and I am looked down upon outside of the gaming community as equally as men are – just for slightly different reasons. Namely the fact that I am interested in things that depart from most people’s understanding of the normal feminine persona (if such a thing exists).

I think the games community as a whole (and that means both men and women) should be championing the women who develop and design our games more, so that overall perception of women in games are improved. Girl gamers should refocus their efforts, rather than the championing the role of women who simply play, let’s champion the women who play and create. It’s not my intention to belittle the girl gamer movement any, but we can’t demand better from the game development community if there aren’t enough people (from a mixed background) working hard to learn how to make games and understand the concepts involved.

There are some great women in gaming out there (this may be a subject I have to return to), but I think a good litmus test is how much visibility people outside of a particular industry have. I’ve no doubt that someone outside of the gaming community could mention a couple of key male figures in the game development industry – but how many women could they name? Not many, if any. It’s a sobering thought.

9 replies on “Girl gamers should aim higher”

I believe over time you will see many more female gamers and indeed developers. This is due to the massive push of the ‘casual’ market and the immense appeal and accessibility of ‘apps’ in the mobile and tablet space.

I am certainly noticing far more female gamers and app users and this can only breed more interest in the development side. No matter whether you are male or female, technology is starting to appeal to all no matter how old they are.

Like with many professions, the whole gender comparison will equal out over time with a little faith and a sprinkling of luck 🙂

An interesting take on the subject! I admit, most of the females on the side of game development that I’m aware of are composers. Yoko Shimomura, Micheru Yamane, and plenty others… these are some of the best in the industry, but just affect a game’s music. Outside of that specific field within game development, I have a much harder time coming up with name

I think the problem isn’t people aren’t making games that speak to girls – it’s that they aren’t making games that speak to a wider audience. Try too hard to appeal to one side of the gender divide and you’ll always end up offending someone. I get annoyed with the perception that “girl gamers” like nothing but rhythm action and Animal Crossing (for instance), because it automatically suggests that there are “boy gamers” who have no interest in that stuff. Everything works both ways.

Although I cringe a little when I hear the term ‘girl gamer’ today, I still feel oddly protective over it. Perhaps that’s because it’s how a lot of us female gamers found each other when reaching out over the void of the internet ten, even fifteen years ago.

Balance will come to the video game industry, slowly, unfortunately, but it will come. Over time women will ‘be allowed’ into the inner circle of those who hold sway over the money and development side of things.

As gaming becomes more and more popular amongst women in general, interest in development will rise as well. It is generally the case that as more and more people play games, the more people go into making games for others to enjoy, and so on. It’s why the video game industry is as big as it is now!

Eventually, the vice-like grip that men hold over the entire gaming landscape will lessen, just as it did with many other aspects of society. We saw this with politics (women didn’t have equal voting rights until 1928 in the UK) and sport (women were not allowed to compete in the modern Olympics until Paris 1900), and we still see it today. They still aren’t paid equally or treated with fairness in the working world, which is still completely stupid, but I know we’ll get there at some point.

I just hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Thank you all for your comments.

James – You’re quite right of course, I wrote all this while deeply aware of the issues you’ve raised, I guess it’s just hard to be anything other than impatient.

Jesse – Funny you say that, I had a number of great female composers in my head as I wrote this, but I was also aware of some other great gaming women working as developers and producers. Hope to return to this subject.

Dan – Games are speaking to more and more of a wider audience every day. I think the last 10 years alone show that most adequately. It’s not just about appealing to any given gender. That said the majority of games are biased heavily in favour of the gamer being male, it’s probably something you don’t notice, but I am reminded of it near-daily. I just want the balance addressed.

Tanya – Too true Tanya, and that’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t suggesting that the name be dropped altogether, there are some great communities out there doing some positive things with the moniker.

Fattony12000 – Thank you, I hope so too.

As a (male) feminist, I can say that equality in general is going to be difficult, and gaming is no exception. What people need is not faith in change to come, but to actively work towards it. Much of the world needs to educate itself on sex (in that males and females are not seperate species), especially here in the united states. Just an example, I have seen the word girl thrown around a lot just in this post. I don’t think that all females that play games are teenagers or younger. It sounds like a nitpick I know, but this is just an example of how social inequality subtly reproduces inequality.

In short, I agree with Michelle on many levels. We need more female developers and producers to worm on games, but we need much much more than that for equality. We need everyone to be educated of how behavior is influenced (and attributes to) social norms that reproduce inequality. Gaming is just another realm that exist within a much broader spectrum. Thats my feminist rant for the day. >.>

Hi Kenneth, thank you so much for your thoughts.

Female inequality is something that I am keenly aware of, as I’ve mentioned working in the industry that I do and like the things that I do I am reminded of the poor perception and portrayal of women more than I’d like. Just simple things like opening emails and being addressed as a “sir” with the presumption being that everyone doing my job is a man, or if “madam” is used it’s always placed secondarily to the male title as if to make any female presence pejorative.

This is a subject I’ve wanted to cover for some time, and this a gaming site after all, I had to think about how to write about issues like gender equality, identity and gender bias in a way that the majority of my audience would understand and want to read. As such I hope that you will excuse me for taking a few shortcuts with the primary issue at hand here.

I use the term “girl” deliberately here to vent about a small proportion of gamers who use their gender almost as a “badge to boast with” rather than being genuinely proactive about encouraging genuine female empowerment in our medium.

We are very much on the same page here, cheers. 🙂

I apologize if I came off as harsh, I often go off on rants about social problems online. I have spent some long (probably fruitless) nights schooling/fighting people on youtube about similar issues. I know that the term girl gamer is used on purpose by everyone here, so that wasn’t a personal thing, I was just bringing attention to the subtle influences of our societies and the effect on our language, and how that language returns to mold our society, and so forth.

Anyways, I am really, really glad that you wrote this article, even if it doesn’t rip into the bigger issue at hand. However, I am very aware why you wouldn’t write an article that is about broader gender equality, seeing as any women that fight for their writes to be treated equally (GASP!) are immediately ostracized and labeled as being some type of evil demon or something. The fact that I as a man can call myself a feminist and not receive harsh backlash for it in everyday situations while women are verbally assaulted shows how deep and problematic of a situation that many of our societies are in.

Just because of my anatomy and the privilege that is given to me I can say/do whatever I want with minimal criticism. And any criticism I do get won’t hinder change as much, as in this situation I am in the power majority. It is a sad and difficult pickle that we are all in, just as with other social problems such as racial inequality and sexuality inequality, etc. . . (all of which I rant on just as much). As important as it is to get those in the minority (in terms of power) to be educated on the processes that oppress them, those in the majority are going to have to be educated about it themselves, and then they will have to actually care.

As someone who is in the holy trinity of privilege (white, male, heterosexual) I know how acknowledging that my privilege comes as a direct result of the oppression and subjugation of others can be a difficult thing to accept. As deep and vast as our inequalities may be, there are people in the majority who have the emotional capacity to care enough to fight for change.

Not exactly much about videogames, but I never miss a chance to talk about inequality!

I look forward to analyzing the heck out of gender/race/sexuality relations and portrayals in Mass Effect 3, both in real life and on message boards. Bioware seems to have made a few changes that will undoubtedly cause controversy. Looking at you, Ashley and Femshep.

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