'45 percent of gamers are women. But in every other way, they’re still not equal to men'

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Mirrors Edge Catalyst, Dishonored 2...more and more games have females as leads. But the gaming world is still too much of a boy's club

*This piece was first published on Economy

45% of video gamers, and 46% of game purchasers, are women. More complex storylines, more personalized characters, more acceptance of ‘geekiness’ as something to be proud of and a wider variety of games available are just a few of the reasons why gaming is no longer being seen as a boys-only club.

Women are finding their place in the gaming world.

GirlGamerGaB, a YouTuber and gamer with 60,000 subscribers, is excited about the change. “More and more I feel like it is normal for a woman to play video games too. It's no longer "a guy thing". Growing up I often heard "What, you play video games?! That's so awesome, girls never play video games!", but now when you tell someone you play video games you'd sooner get the question what kind of games you're into, which is really nice.”

And yet, even the fantasy world still isn’t equal.

But from gamers, to game developers, to women in games, we still have a long way to go before gaming becomes an gender-equal world.

...for women who play games:

On paper, a female gamer’s customer experience should be no different to that of a man’s. In practice, the communal nature of gaming means that male gamers can make life pretty unpleasant for a female gamer… a ‘side effect’ of the product she didn’t sign up for.

Women face roughly three times more harassment than men when playing online. Gamer and YouTuber Yasmin Uddin (known as Yammy xox) said she experienced sexism first hand, “mostly during games like Call of Duty and Gears of War. I was ashamed to speak in online game chat as I felt as if I’d be ridiculed for my voice.... I’d be told to ‘get back into the kitchen.”

It’s not always that aggressive – but unwanted attention is still a distraction to women just looking to play the game. “A lot of people try to make flirty conversation whenever they find out I’m a female gamer, and ask for my personal details, like Facebook or Skype,” says Hayley W, an avid gamer.

And sometimes, men will be unnecessarily forgiving towards a woman – skewing her results in the game. “They’re a lot more forgiving to me if I make mistakes. They assume I’m not as good as them and sometimes give me game money in an attempt to flirt.”

...for women in games:

In a make-believe universe where anything is possible, is it really so hard to picture female characters without pinched waists, hourglass curves, and tiny, tiny skirts? Despite managing to come up with a seemingly endless amount of alternate worlds and fantastical societies, games often fall back on the same old tropes of women wearing clothes which, if you think about it, are highly impractical for the things they’re expected to do within the game.

Still, things are improving: a recent survey pointed to a decrease in the sexualization of female protagonists in games over the last eight years. More and more women are being given three dimensional roles and complex personalities. Just give them some clothes, too?

...for women in the gaming industry:

Most games are created by men, for men. Governments around the world are talking about the lack of women in STEM (science, tech, engineering, maths) – for the gaming world, the problem manifests itself in fewer female coders and developers to create games.

Those who do make it into the industry, face lower salaries for doing – you guessed it – exactly the same job – women in gaming in the US, for example, make 86 cents for every dollar made by a man in the industry.

Women working in gaming have also been known to face vicious and sexist abuse from gamers – you need only to look at the #GamerGate controversy, where several women working in the industry faced an orchestrated online campaign of misogynistic harassment and threats, to see that the cost of working in gaming for women is higher than just the pay gap.

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...but things are changing:

With the recognition that almost an equal number of women and men are playing video games, the gaming world is slowly realizing it’s got to change.

After #GamerGate, Intel pledged $300 million towards a programme called ‘Diversity in Technology’.  Support groups have sprung up across the gaming community, offering a protective network for women working in the industry, promoting diversity in video game development, and encouraging girls to get involved in gaming and STEM.

With more women working behind the scenes in creating games, more diverse women represented in games, and more women playing games and hosting gaming channels, more and more girls are being encouraged to get into gaming. Major studios are no longer afraid to turn away from traditionally male-dominated games to ones starring female leads – Mirror’s Edge, Catalyst, and Dishonored 2 are just a few examples.

Being a female gamer on YouTube has definitely enabled many girls to feel as if they aren't alone," Yasmin says. "Many of my young audience [she has 90,000 subscribers] comment telling me that they aspire to open a channel like mine and show the world their passion for games, and just knowing that makes me feel incredibly happy!”

Yasmin is part of an ever growing community of female gamers is making their voices heard – women can play games, they can star in them, and then can even make their own.

 

*This piece was first published on Economy

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