Gaming is often seen as a man’s world; the world has been quick to consider the industry and culture of video games an arena of masculine and tech-savvy men. But if you dig a little deeper, truth strikes, and you’ll realize the video-game industry isn’t as much of a boys’ club as its loudest trolls want you to think.

In fact, in 2019, the United States had a whopping 46% of female gamers, according to the German marketing and consumer data company Statista. And these women aren’t just playing; they’re breaking grounds and creating games too.

Best women players in the world
Source: Owayo

Even in Asia, the number of females playing video games is increasing at a faster rate than their male rivals. According to data commissioned by Google, the female video gaming community grew by 19% in 2019. With women leveling the playing field across the continent’s key markets, including India, Japan, and China, Asia is now regarded as the global leader of video games, accounting for 48% of the world’s total gaming revenue.

However, this shift in demography didn’t happen overnight. The winds of change towards a more inclusive society began after August 2014, when the Gamergate drama unfolded. Trolls and memes on the internet launched a series of attacks, including doxing, hacking, and warnings of death and sexual violence on social media targeting female video game creators, players, and journalists. But ironically, it was the Gamergate attacks that inspired millions of women to consider carving out a place for themselves within the so-called ‘male-dominated’ industry.

History of Women in Video Games.

Though Gamergate is probably the only major story anyone, outside of gamers, heard about women and gaming, the duo isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. In fact, there was a time in the gaming industry’s history when more women than men were involved. London-based story designer Rhianna Pratchett, whose credits include the ‘Tomb Raider’ series, claims that this trend was evident “during the ’70s and ’80s when the adventure-game genre was quite prolific”. And then came the mega girls’ game movement of the 1990s. Women strived into the creative aspects of the gaming industry and began with creating games that little girls might want to play.

Game for girls to create and print outfits for Barbie dolls
Source: MobyGames

In 1996, Mattel released ‘Barbie Fashion Designer,’ a game that lets girls create and print outfits for their dolls, and it sold more than 500,000 copies in just the first two months after launching. Shortly after, in 1997, gaming company Purple Moon developed Rockett’s New School, a video game that followed a junior high schooler navigating her way through friendships, classes, and general teen-girl drama.

However, the trend of girl-oriented video games lasted for a very short span of time as advances in 3-D graphics sparked the explosion of first-person-shooter games, and the gaming industry forgot to cater to the needs and demands of half of the population.

What the present-day gaming industry looks like?

Post the Gamergate controversy; the gaming world is shifting its attention once again. From the big-money franchises like ‘Tomb Raider,’ ‘Star Wars,’ and ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ to beloved indie games like ‘SteamWorld Heist,’ ‘Transistor,’ ‘Firewatch’ and ‘Night in the Woods,’ today’s games feature more female protagonists, diverse characters and narrative-driven action more than ever. This inclusive approach is appealing and accessible to novice and professional gamers alike, and an influx of women in the industry’s indie game space is the most significant contributing factor to this.

Unlike big-name games with splashy production and marketing budgets, Indie games do not feel the need for such budgets and grandeur. Cross-platforms gaming engines like Unreal Engine and Unity offer free or low-cost services that can turn anyone into a one-woman game-development studio.

Unity offers a platform to develope low-cost or free games
Source: Unity

When the high barrier of entry is removed, there’s more room for new creators, which often drives new trends in the industry. The freedom creators get on these platforms is encouraging people from all backgrounds to try their hands at creating new content that is appealing to a whole different audience. It’s a revolutionary change in the gaming ecosystem.

‘PrinceNapped’, a character-driven mobile video-game is one of the best standing testimonies to this. Created by Ker-Chunk Games, a development studio with three female cofounders, the game smashes a classic cliché as players rescue the prince and not the princess. Another game to have a remarkable contribution towards a more inclusive society is ‘Dream Daddy’, where the main character, a widowed queer single father, moves to a town conveniently populated by attractive single dads. Moreover, the visual novel video game was co-created by then 19-year-old Leighton Gray, who later landed a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2018 for her significant work in the gaming industry.

There’s no hint of doubt that the gaming industry is being influenced by women left and right; in fact, they’re shaping the gaming culture. To name a few, Jade Raymond, founder of Ubisoft Toronto and Motive Studios is now leading the development of Google’s new Stadia gaming platform. Further, ‘SuperBetter,’ the game that helps players manage their real-life health challenges like depression, anxiety, and traumatic brain injury is authored and designed by Jane McGonigal.

Woman develop games that deal with real-life health challenges
Source: SuperBetter

Beyond these successful and encouraging superwomen, there are also growing all-female communities in gaming. For example, the Facebook campaign ‘Women in Gaming’ which is dedicated to featuring women across the gaming world. Further, the initiative launched the hashtag #SheTalksGames and gave women a platform to share their personal stories, challenges, and opportunities they faced while striving through the conversation of women in the gaming industry.

Cinema is another powerful means to spread the right message, and gaming enthusiasts have used it fairly to their benefits. The makers of the ‘Girls Level Up’ documentary launched a new video series- Ask A Developer, thus letting girls around the world ask questions about programming and coding, and developers answer their queries. These communities are seeking to reframe the misogynistic narrative around the gaming industry, which in turn is leading a drive for more women from the games industry to be seen and heard.

The ‘woman problem’ of the gaming industry.

Such dominance in the gaming industry is no cakewalk for women; females are still not overtly welcomed to the world of gaming. In fact, they find themselves at the end of receiving demeaning remarks, negative stereotypes, and sometimes hostility. It’s only fair when a female gamer’s customer experience is no different from that of a man’s. But in reality, no such neutrality exists as the communal nature of gaming allows male gamers to make life pretty unpleasant for their female counterparts.

Women face almost three times more harassment than men when playing online. Women, sometimes, in fear of being considered the weaker opponent, change their identity in the game. They even avoid speaking online mostly as they’re constantly lashed with sexist comments. This is not to say the gaming community in its entirety is this aggressive, but unwanted attention is still a distraction to women just looking to play the game.

Women face harassment and inequality in the gaming industry
Source: MarketPlace

Besides sexist remarks and harassment, sometimes, men will also be unnecessarily forgiving towards a woman, thus demeaning her capability and skewing her results in a game. They’re not considered to be as good as their male counterparts, and hence they suffer the brunt of these negative stereotypes. From gamers to game developers, to women in games, there’s still a long way to go before gaming becomes a gender-equal world.

What the future looks like?

Industry expert and panel host Stephanie Fisher, while addressing the Games Development Conference in California in 2019, said that she belongs to a lost generation of women “who played games growing up.” But what surprised her was that none of her contemporaries ever thought of making a career in the gaming industry for a countless number of reasons.

And as someone who has direct experience of being a female in the gaming industry, it can certainly feel like the odds are against you. But things are finally changing for the better, and while research shows that most people think an average gamer is a heterosexual man, but in the real world, true gamers don’t look like that at all. And recent statistics indicate that in less than a decade, its women and people of colour who will be climbing the leader boards.

Women are increasing in the gaming industry
Source: Game Informer

With this momentum, the tide is finally turning, and positive changes can be seen over time. With more women jumping into the online gaming bandwagon, industry standards are changing. Intel has invested a whopping $300 million dollars towards female diversity in the game division. Not just that, the American company has also committed to double the number of women working as developers in the next decade.

Further, many games are now incorporating strategies in their programming to combat gender bias in their communities. Riot Games, the creators of ‘League of Legends’, have implemented in-game strategies, thus allowing players to know which of their comments are unwanted by the community. The industry has generally become more diverse and inclusive over the years.

Companies are finally aware of the importance of diversity and are dedicated to creating a more inclusive environment now more than ever. Xbox head Phil Spencer devoted and dedicated his entire 2018 D.I.C.E. keynote to this, calling for change and more resources to be put into those areas. Initiatives are also on the rise globally to help young girls and professional women embrace their passion and expand their presence in the gaming world.

This shift in scenario reflects another side to the coin as well; nowadays, employers are more accepting and open-minded when it comes to recruiting women, especially behind the scenes. In contrast to earlier times, when it was clear that women wouldn’t even be allowed to get to the physical interview stage, companies now don’t hire on the grounds of preconceived notions of gender but on peoples’ ability to make games.

Women are crucial to the gaming industry.

Being able to foster such an accepting environment is very crucial to the opportunities that women will get to walk up the ladder in the gaming industry. Fundamentally, gaming is a passion industry, and recent initiatives and movements, alongside the general onus to offer equal opportunities and rights, clearly indicate that the visibility of women in the industry is increasing.

Women in the gaming industry
Source: GamesIndustry

Online gaming culture has a huge role to play in this; social media influencers and YouTube stars are creating powerful social spheres where being a woman in gaming is not only accepted but celebrated, and even branded as ‘inspiring’ and ‘cool’.

But there are still many environments where being a woman can be a major restriction. This mainly stems from longstanding judgements around their capabilities and clichés pertaining to what a female working in gaming should particularly ‘look-like’. The first step is to create a safe and nurturing environment.

If ignorance is one of the biggest barriers to diversity and inclusion, then it starts with how people, especially the oppressed, are treated in the workplace. Once we identify and accept this, we can start having the necessary conversations to lay the groundwork for the bright sparks that are the female game developers and gamers, now and as we move forward.

To retain and foster women in the gaming industry, the right culture needs to be created. One should listen to the experiences women have gone through and really pay attention to what’s going on in your teams; you may be able to identify problems in your environment and end them for once and for all.