Girls are Gamers, and They’re Changing the Game
How many times have you heard someone say, “Video games aren’t for girls!”…? If you never have, you’re really lucky, and surrounded by great people! But whether it’s on the TV, in advertising, or even in the games themselves, there’s still a huge bias towards boys and men when it comes to marketing video games.
Sadly, that bias extends right into the core of the gaming industry. That’s why so many games are marketed with interestingly dressed women on the cover, or alternatively, big, beefy men who fulfill generalised male power fantasies. These stereotypes aren’t kind to men or women.
However, you may have noticed some changes in recent years. For example, Aloy, the heroine of Horizon, is a wonderfully normal-looking young woman with no revealing clothes or inexplicable makeup. Yet male gamers still flock to Twitter to complain that she’s “not hot enough”. With attitudes like these, is there really a promising future for women as gamers and in the gaming industry?
Women in the Gaming Industry
It might be reassuring to learn that women have always played a crucial role in the gaming industry and its evolution. Remember Centipede? That was the creation of Dona Bailey, a coding and programming expert who worked for Atari way back in the early 1980s. The Sumerian Game, developed by teacher Mabel Addis in the 1960s, used a combination of available technology including slides, computer entry, role-playing, and problem-solving and is considered to be the first fully electronic game and a precursor to modern video games.
Today, there are no limits to how involved women can become in gaming and the gaming industry. From top YouTubers to marketing directors to CEOs of game development tool providers, women are becoming more prevalent in the industry every day. But there are still plenty of challenges and obstructions to success, from the way marketers insist on maintaining their “core” audience of young men, to the media perception that girls simply aren’t as “into” games.
Barriers for Women in Gaming
One of the saddest and most frustrating things for girl gamers is when potentially positive changes get co-opted and used to undermine the integrity of the girl gaming community. “No Mercy” is an Overwatch fan song by popular geek-culture musical outfit, The Living Tombstone. The lyrics of the song rail against the idea that girls should only play support, i.e., they should be healers, helpers, and not go on the offensive. The woman sings, “I’m not gonna be any kind of support,” and, “Your tears are what I live for.” However, in a bizarre twist, sexist game fans used the song to mock girl gamers and even accuse them of being “fake” gamers.
This cultural phenomenon of believing girls can somehow fake being into games can’t help but lead to younger girls feeling like they don’t “belong”. The technology and gaming industry echoes this sentiment. As of 2021, 61% of developers were men, although the number of women developers recently had its highest jump in figures for at least 7 years. Introducing programming and coding into girls education earlier may help with this, as a well-rounded tech education can spark an early interest in games and game development.
As recently as September 2021, a major games company had to pay $18 million after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accused the firm of various forms of discrimination against women. These included:
· Paying women less than men
· Discrimination during pregnancy
The company publicly acknowledged it could do better and wanted to stamp out discrimination, but it shows that often unless action is taken, women in tech suffer a poor working environment and fewer opportunities.
The Future of Women in Gaming
Despite the challenges faced by women in the gaming industry, there are now plenty of examples of successful women trailblazing their way to the top to inspire our girls in tech.
Jane McGonigal developed SuperBetter, a self-improvement program based on gaming principles like beating “bad guys” and enjoying “power-ups” to improve daily habits. She’s now a best-selling author and TED talk presenter, with hopes that a gaming developer could one day win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Laura Miele is the Chief Studios Office at games giant Electronic Arts. She believes games are critical to problem-solving, collaboration, and creative thinking. She’s also an advocate for gender diversity across the industry.
Tricia Gray is the CEO and co-founder of Our Machinery, a company that builds the tools other games developers need to create games. She has a passion for fairness and respect and employs others who share those values.
Highlighting these and other amazing women in tech to your girls isn’t the only way you can encourage them. If you can interest your girls in STEM subjects like coding or programming from an early age, this can help them realise that’s there’s always a place for girls in tech industries. Encouraging them to join community initiatives aimed at promoting coding for girls can be the key step in supporting your girl gamers on their journey.
With the right tech education from an early age and the resilience to push back against discrimination, women are showing that not only are they part of the game, they’re also changing the game — for good.