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July 31, 2017 | by  | in Games |
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Women and Gaming

In 2015, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on people who do and don’t consider themselves gamers. They found that while equal numbers of men and women play games in the United States, the majority of those who considered themselves “gamers” were men. In fact, the study revealed that men and women in the United States alike believe that only men are gamers, including women who themselves play games on a regular basis.

The gaming industry has ballooned, particularly smartphone gaming, and was worth $91 billion in 2016. Despite these increases, the perception of women not being gamers persists, perhaps because women play fewer “traditional” video games like first person shooters. In fact, the Quantic Foundry found that out of 270,000 game players, those who identified as female preferred match-3 games and social simulation games such as The Sims, long credited for drawing women to gaming.

One way to change the perception of women as gamers would be to encourage more women to game. Stephanie Llamas, director of research and insight at SuperData, pointed out to the New York Times last year that the most effective way to draw more women into gaming is to have women on the business side of the industry. Marketing would be easier and more effective in the long run, the idea being that “it’s difficult to understand the demographic if you are not part of that demographic.”

However, the hostility women are met with in the world of games is a heavy deterrent. Jennifer Brandes Hepler, who edited Women in Game Development: Breaking the Glass Level-Cap, illustrated for Polygon that her book intended to highlight the ignorance and hostility faced by women on the business side of games. Hepler said that if anything is clear, “there is no single narrative of ‘being a woman’ in games, but that although the characters change, the setting is the same, and the hostility and ignorance we have all faced continue to be a defining part of many women’s experience of games.”

In short, it seems like there is nothing stopping women from participating in more traditionally “gamer”-type games like Dishonored 2 or Halo (especially given that these games feature powerful and dynamic female characters, such as Cortana and the adult Emily Kaldwin), except the misogyny pervading the community.

Indeed, it must be difficult to get women into the business world of games when female developers and players are harassed on a regular basis. In an article written for the Boston Globe, software engineer Brianna Wu articulated her experiences: “Rape threats, death threats, harassment, having private information about myself posted has become a daily occurrence.”

Unfortunately, the same abuse, as well as casual sexism, extends to female players themselves, particularly online. Sociologist Audrey Brehm found in a study, looking at the relationship between gender and gaming, that the multi-player online RPG World of Warcraft community not only had many instances of harassment toward female players, but also instances of “benevolent sexism”, with many male players viewing women as “delicate”, and feeling obligated to “help” them in the game.

While organisations such as Women in Technology, Women In Games, and Women in Games International attempt to combat such sexism, the experiences of too many female players and business women continue to be negative. Acceptance is a long-time coming, but women have begun to stand up in the tech industry. The will and courage of women to speak out against their abusers, as well as more subtle forms of sexism, is a monumental and fundamental step for achieving equality in the world of games and technology.

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