It’s time to talk about gender and video games…again.
Video games have been a part of popular culture for more than three decades now. From mobile games to AAA developed titles, video games are absolutely everywhere. Despite their popularity with consumers, they still lack female representation, both in terms of developers and protagonists.
The industry has grown and changed over time. While video games used to be considered a more “masculine” hobby, women have slowly been breaking into the industry and creating their own unique works. Having women’s perspectives on stories and games is extremely valuable; in 2018, it was estimated that around 46% of people who played games were women. The gender gap is closing, and women are finally carving out a niche for themselves.
Women have been the directors or leaders of some of the most commercially successful games ever, such as the Uncharted series, women still make up only 22% of the game development community. At e3 2019 (gaming’s biggest trade show) Feminist Frequency partnered with WIRED in order to reflect on how much representation women had both as protagonists of games, and as presenters on stage. Only 21% of the presenters at the days long event were women; only 5% of the games showcased had exclusively female protagonists.
Samantha Kalman, developer of indie music game Sentris and in the dev team who made Astroneer, reflected on her experiences at Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East before her debut game, Sentris, was released. A male player approached her booth, played her game, and then directed all the relevant questions about the game to her friend and helper. When the player finally turned his attention towards her, after being directed numerous times by the helper, he employed a different tone with her.
“This is like, one in hundreds of thousands of people over three years,” she clarified, reflecting that her experience wasn’t too negatively impacted by sexism, but that there were small things that differentiated her experience.
She also pointed out that she was lucky to work with mostly teams of women – specifically for Astroneer. Kalman noticed that when she’d pitch her game – either for funding or for other business ventures- she tended to not be as successful unless there was another woman in the room.
Women feeling more welcome in the games industry, or if they are supported by other women, means that the industry can grow and thrive. Diversity is the key to the future, and while the demographics of developers or game protagonists don’t exactly reflect that yet, there is still so much room for change.
With women making up almost half the gaming community, it makes sense that games would begin to reflect the changing industry. Some games are made for women in mind now, and some are made with women in starring roles. Game developers and game studios have begun to really open up their workplace to women in the hopes of diversifying their output. Programmers run camps in order to encourage girls to get into video game creation.
Some women game developers reflected on their experience as women in the field in an IGN piece. There seemed to be a consensus that they felt like game development was more of an ideal than an actual career choice, with the article specifically mentioning:
“Many women were discouraged from their passion to get into video games at a young age, or had no idea that it was a career they could pursue at all. “
Which clearly illustrates both the importance of women supporting one another in the field, but also for schools and the industry itself to make the community feel welcoming to women, rather than potentially isolating or belittling.
The industry, however, is changing. Women play more games than ever before now, with Canada reaching 50/50 in terms of gender demographics last year, according to Statista. Women are being portrayed in games more often as well, and while there may not be as many as we would like, the characters we do have are well-developed, have personality, and are just as compelling.
Women joining the games’ industry is altogether a positive movement. It doesn’t just make a better community, or give us better characters in our games, it gives us quality games with quality stories. More voices, more ideas, more points of view. There’s no reason for anyone who loves video games to be upset about the changing demographics or communities, when in the end all that will lead to better, richer, interactive experiences.
Bio: Keitha Sims-Korba is a 26 year old journalism student who has a passion for video games, movies and all forms of media. And gender studies. You can find her crying about Star Wars 24/7 on Twitter.