How Female Gamers Are Changing the Landscape

by | Jan 26, 2022 | Brands, Gaming Commerce, Mobile Games, Publishers

Up until quite recently, gaming, (like most fields, if we’re being honest) was exclusively a man’s world. The only women who typically stood out in gaming were the scantily-clad (magical or dumb af) secondary characters, whose giant breasts were their sole memorable quality. Of course, there have always been women gamers, but they’ve largely been a minority until maybe a decade ago when numbers began to rise. And rise they did – drastically. Lo and behold, by 2020, women accounted for 40% of all gamers in the US, and 45% of the Asian gaming population. Asia, it should be noted, accounts for 48% of the world’s total gaming revenue. That’s some major girl power.  

Female gamers continue to rise in numbers, and several studies highlighting the complexity of the female gamer population have sought to understand whether female gamers have specific motivations and game play behaviors that are different from those of male players. Women, it seems, play largely for the challenge, competition, sense of achievement, and even social standing, whereas the majority of male gamers cite entertainment, killing time, and de-stressing as their main reasons for gaming. Recent studies also show that female gamers play all types of game genres (especially MMO games) using different devices and platforms.
Gamers in every sense of the word, right? But is the gaming industry adequately structured to serve this massive consumer segment? The answer, as expected, is a resounding NO. 

It’s well-known by everyone in the gaming community and industry: Women aren’t considered ‘real’ gamers, are often dissed and ridiculed, and face discrimination on a daily basis – both professionally and in-game.

Let’s start with some straight & simple numbers: It’s 2022 and in-game female character representation remains hugely lacking, with just 5% of video games showcasing female protagonists, and the same old exaggerated gender stereotypes continue to prevail. The majority of female characters are STILL largely objectified and hypersexualized (Sure, Lara kicks ass, but it’s the boobs you’ll notice first). They can be strong, wily, evil – and sometimes even intelligent – but they’re gonna look like porn stars doing it! It’s that, or the pure & prudish damsel in distress (also half-naked, but with ‘save me!’ Bambi eyes).

While organizations like Women in Games, are advocating for changes within the industry and the eradication of gender discrimination, sexualization, and dumbed-down stereotypes, games are proving to be slow on the uptake. There is some good news, however: Feminist Frequency reported significant improvement in 2021, with 18% of games launched featuring female characters. They’re not all MAIN characters, of course, but that’s a step in the right direction, and hopefully a new trend toward showcasing female protagonists free of the lame old stereotyping.

Baby steps being what they are, however, means that the gamer community is still largely a ‘boy’s club’, where female gamers are much more likely to experience humiliation, abuse, sexual harassment and plain old exclusion from games. If you’ve tried to play with a guild on Discord, you’ve either been ridiculed, been told you play like a girl, or told to send nudes. Only because you’re female. Who would have imagined a thousand years ago, that the strongest shield to hide behind in the unimaginable future would be a computer screen?!

Experts are saying the necessary change can only come from inside the gaming industry itself, looking to studio execs to initiate serious change within the workforce that will ripple outwards to the gaming culture.

This past summer’s class action legal suit against Blizzard Entertainment (one of the world’s biggest game publishers) for its mistreatment of female employees and ‘frat boy’ workplace culture, is a good start. In a classic case of life imitating art, female representation in the gaming industry is still a problem too, with women holding only 16% of executive positions, and only 24% of non-executive jobs. In an effort to create a more inclusive workforce that’s free of harassment and offers equal opportunities (and pay) to women, organizations like UK-based Raise the Game are encouraging companies to focus on diversity, inclusion, and improve hiring practices. So far, close to 200 gaming companies have taken the pledge and joined this initiative, and large companies like Square Enix, Ubisoft, and Sega are taking bold steps to accelerate this cultural shift in-house.

Clearly, there is a long way to go (isn’t there always?), but with female gamer numbers continuing to rise steadily, stronger female representation and inclusion in esports events, and female streamers using their influencer powers for good, women and girls are starting to make bigger and wilder waves throughout the gamerverse. If our grandmas fought for equality and burned their bras in protest, we too can shed the digital corsets our avatars wear under their armors and stand up for our place within our community. God knows we’ve leveled up enough to earn it.