Lai Jing Xuan
Gaming as a Woman
When I was younger, I would clamber onto the chair beside my father’s, eager to watch whatever game he had planned to play that night. Whether it was Bioshock, Battlefield, or Left 4 Dead, I would watch, starry-eyed, as my father defeated zombies and soldiers. Of course, it didn’t take me long to start gaming myself.
Younger me watching my father play video games. (Source)
For the first few years of my gaming journey, I enjoyed playing against other players in online games such as Call of Duty and Minecraft. When I chanced upon a game called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, I was immediately charmed by the teamwork aspect of the game. It is a first-person shooter game with two main goals — plant the bomb as a terrorist or counter this attack as a counter-terrorist. And thus, keen with excitement, I used the in-game microphone for the first time.
The barrage of sexual and misogynistic insults haunted my gaming experience for the next few years. Excitement turned into nervousness whenever I gamed with strangers. Joy turned into disappointment whenever strangers mindlessly yelled insults into the microphone. All because I was a woman who was supposedly invading their male gaming space. But has the gaming community only ever been occupied by men?
Women’s impact on the Video Gaming Industry
Many assume that the gaming space had been dominated only by men since the creation of video games, but this is entirely untrue. Did you know that many women helped shape the gaming industry into what it is today?
Carol Shaw is one of those women who changed the gaming sphere. She is the first full-time female video game designer and programmer. She invented the beloved best-selling Atari game “River Raid”, alongside many other projects such as 3D Tic-Tac-Toe.
Roberta Williams is another pioneer in the industry, co-creating a graphic adventure game titled “Mystery House”. Alongside her husband, the couple launched the graphical adventure game genre. By her retirement, she is credited with over 30 video games that she wrote and designed.
With so many women making their mark in the early video game industry, why do we have the impression that “video games are for boys”?
Well, looking back, the answer is obvious once we look at how video games are marketed. While many women enjoyed playing video games, the industry failed to market to women. Instead, games are marketed toward men, effectively isolating the female market.
From the mid-'80s to ‘90s, in an effort to better their marketing tactic, developers focused on specific target groups to sell their products. Nintendo had to make a choice between which gender to appeal to and eventually settled on the male audience. Thus, they named their first console the “Game Boy”.
Additionally, marketing included stereotypical male-focused activities. To make things worse, companies used the sexualisation of female characters to appeal to the male audience. Even games with a female protagonist are promoted to men, with characters such as the famed Lara Croft having unrealistic body proportions.
Lien shared in a Polygon article that “industries tend to look beyond their existing target demographic only when the market has become totally saturated.” Hence, we can see a recent shift in how games are marketed as companies realise that there exists a market for women.
This shift is game-changing (pun intended), allowing gaming companies to reap more profits from a wider audience as well as female gamers to feel accepted in this community. However, this shift leads to another form of problematic marketing.
Problems with Female-Centric Games
Dress up games, cooking games, puzzle games, this website has them all. Some of us may remember coming back from school, eager to browse the wide variety of games on girlsgogames.com. I still remember hearing of the website for the very first time, eyes gleaming at the catalogue of free games from different genres. The legendary “Sara’s Cooking Class” series had me hooked, as I spent hours upon hours making biscuits and cakes.
However, these innocent games weren’t the only type of game in the girlsgogames catalogue. Unfortunately, there exists a nasty variation of games that serve only to sexualise different female characters. A character often depicted in this unsightly and repulsive sexualisation is Elsa from the Frozen movies. Obviously, using a character well-loved by young girls is an efficient way to promote your game on the site. But it is disturbing how many of these games show female characters either pregnant or beaten up in a promiscuous position.
The stereotyping of women and romanticisation of “damsels in distress” are unfitting themes for children's games and are borderline creepy. It is troubling that young tweens are absorbing these stereotypes and objectification at such a young age. This may even lead to lower self-worth as they grow into adulthood. Beyond the disturbing sexualisation of female characters, female gamers also face constant misogyny.
Misogyny in Gaming Today
With more and more women being interested in gaming, the differential treatment between genders worsens. The misogyny towards female gamers in online games is unavoidable. Sometimes, they are mocked simply for being a woman, with phrases such as “go back to the kitchen” being yelled at them. Sometimes, they are sexualised, being asked to do sexual things over voice comms.
Either way, once these women expose their gender, their gameplay experience cannot be normal. A video titled “The Female Experience | Valorant” highlights how the female player has to endure constant attacks from fellow teammates even though they’re just trying to play the game.
This misogyny breeds in communities where being mean or sexual towards female gamers is seen as comedic. Twitch is a live-streaming platform where many creators stream their gaming experiences. Unfortunately, many Twitch streamers have toxic communities that laugh along with their misogynistic jokes instead of defending them.
Recently, streamer IShowSpeed went viral for his demeaning language towards women on a game called Valorant. Thankfully, the streamer was banned on Valorant after the clip went viral. But this man continues to have a platform where he repeatedly attacks minority groups without consequence. Additionally, IShowSpeed is only one of the many misogynistic gamers in the gaming community.
Women in Gaming Today
There are so many talented female live streamers who are dominating platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. These women show us that ladies can make a career out of gaming as well.
Pokimane is a streamer on Twitch known for her League of Legends and Fortnite content. She has won many awards for her work as a streamer, such as the Shorty Awards and the Streamer Awards. Even under constant attacks by misogynistic haters and fellow male streamers in the community, she continues to shine on the platform.
Pokimane isn’t the only well-known female streamer. Other women such as LilyPichu and Valkyrae have also made their mark on the gaming industry with their live streams.
At the end of the day, it would be difficult to completely eradicate misogyny in the gaming community, just as it would be difficult to eradicate misogyny from our everyday lives. A step forward in fostering a more welcoming community would be to stand up against sexist attacks if you ever see them in-game, and to show your support towards female gamers.
Video games are not gendered, and I hope for anyone who has an interest in them to go for it.