Women and video games
The complex relationship between women and video games has received extensive academic, corporate, and social attention. Female gamers have traditionally represented a distinct minority of total gamers, although studies show considerably high numbers (47% of the gamer population according to the ESA ). Advocates for increasing the number of female gamers stress the problems attending disenfranchisement of females from one of the fastest-growing cultural realms as well as the largely untapped nature of the female gamer market. Efforts to include greater female participation in the medium have addressed the problems of gendered advertising, social stereotyping, and the dearth of female video game creators (coders, developers, producers, etc.). Debate has also been provoked regarding whether the proper course of the industry should be to create female-targeted games in parallel with male-targeted games or whether gender-neutral games should be the ultimate goal. After decades of gender disparity among players, the gap between number of male and female gamers is today closing.
Socially, the term "girl gamer" has also received attention both from advocates who largely use it as a reappropriated term as well as from those that argue against its use by characterizing it as a counterproductive or offensive term. Stereotypes and generalities about the "girl gamer" as a figure of the gaming scene have become common within the video game culture.
- 1 Women in the games industry
- 2 Female gamers as a demographic
- 3 Notable women in the video game industry
- 4 Support groups for women in the video game industry
- 5 "Girl gamers"
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Women in the games industry
The role of women in the games industry—as professionals and as consumers—has been extensively explored by numerous academic and business groups. Women represent approximately half the population in 2013 but in 2009 were observed to constitute a small percentage of video game players.
Gender disparity as a problem
The recognition that the gender disparity in video games is a problem has come separately from academic and social theory groups and from corporate marketing groups. The concept that video games are a form of art is one that has begun to gain force in the later half of the 2000s with the US National Endowment for the Arts recognizing games as a form of art in May 2011, for example, and the Supreme Court of the United States holding video games to be a protected form of speech in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association. In viewing video games as cultural artifacts and the industry as a cultural industry, the disenfranchisement of women from the medium is regarded as negatively impacting the female voice in the industry and the woman's capacity to take part in the cultural dialogue that gaming inspires. In short it is comparable to cutting women out of any other cultural medium like the fields of film, music, or literature. From an education perspective, certain gaming genres particularly lacking in female players such as the first-person shooter game have been shown to increase spacial skills thereby giving advantages to players of the games that are currently skewed along gender lines. Video games have also been determined to provide an easy lead-in to computer literacy for children and correlations have been drawn between male video gaming and the predominance of male workers within the computer industry. With the increasing importance of tech jobs in the 21st century and the increased role of online networking, the lack of female video game players suggests a loss of future career opportunities for women.
Lack of female game creation/development
The majority of the people who work on game development teams are men As a result the team's best efforts often result in a game that closely matches the male perspective and expectations. Researchers have identified that one of the best ways to increase the percentage of female players comes from the aspect of authorship (either in-game as with Neopets and Whyville, or indirectly as with the Harry Potter series' inclusion of Hermione as a playable character subsequent to fan requests). Female gaming is on the rise but the industry is still a male-dominated one and some researchers argue that the female perspective is necessary to vitalize the industry. For this reason, groups like WomenGamers.com (founded 1999) are seeking to increase female gamer demographics by giving scholarships to girls considering getting into game development, and game developers like Check Six Games, Her Interactive, GirlGames, GirlTech, Silicon Sisters and Purple Moon have openly courted female coders and developers.
Regarding elements of game design, areas such as gameplay, mechanics, and similar features have been described as gender neutral, however presentational aspects of games have been identified as strongly gender-linked. Specifically, gaming is often seen as fantasy and escapism in which empathy and identification with the character is much more easily achieved if the character shares the same gender as the player. Gamers of both genders tend to crave realism and the more realistic the gender of the character, the easier it is for a player to identify with the character. An academic study in 2010, however, found that 85% of playable characters in video games are male. Erin Hamilton argues that part of the problem comes from the difficulty in "juxtaposing femininity and feminism in a good video game." When female characters do appear in video games, they are often regarded as presenting unhealthy messages concerning unrealistic body images and provocative sexual and violent behaviors for players of both genders. Stereotypical female behaviors such as giggling or sighing are often presented non-ironically, and this leads young children (especially girls who identify with the female character) to think that this is how girls are supposed to look and act. Furthermore, over-sexualized depictions of scantily clad female video game characters such as Tomb Raider's Lara Croft aren't appealing to many girls.
Another aspect of game design that has been identified as negatively impacting female gamer ratios is the degree of expertise with gaming conventions and familiarity with game controls required to play the game. In-game tutorials have been found to bring both sexes into games faster, and new controllers such as Nintendo's Wii Remote, Microsoft's Kinect, and the various rhythm game controllers have affected demographics by making games easier to pick up and by providing a level playing-field.
Gendered marketing and studies
As the video game industry has risen to prominence as a market sector, advertisements and specialty press have also gained a foothold, however these secondary industries are often directed almost entirely at young men in their 20s. Whereas in the early days of the industry a lack of advertising and reporting (including gender-specific marketing) allowed for closer sharing of the market between males and females, the male-targeted marketing of the modern era (including male-targeted and typically male-staffed video game boutiques) has the effect of boosting male gamer ratios over female ratios.
Industry studies on the lack of females in gaming have also suffered at times from biases of interpretation. Kevin Kelly of Joystiq has suggested that a high degree of circular reasoning is evident when male developers use focus groups and research numbers to determine what kinds of games girls play. After making a bad game that targets those areas suggested by the marketing research, the game's lack of popularity among both genders is often attributed to the incorrect prejudice that "girls don't play games" rather than the true underlying problems such as poor quality and playability of the game. Whereas market data and research are important to reveal that markets exist, argues Kelly, they shouldn't be the guiding factor in how to make a game that appeals to girls. The argument has also been advanced that emphasis on market research is often skewed by the participants in the study. In studies on male gamers of the baby boomer generation, for example, players displayed a marked aversion to violence. The incorrect conclusion that could be drawn from this result—that men dislike violent games—may also be comparable to incorrect conclusions drawn from some female-oriented gaming studies.
Social and cultural attitudes
Critics attribute the seeming lack of female interest in video games to the negative portrayal of women in video games and to misogynistic attitudes common among professional and hardcore gamers. A 2012 Twitter discussion among women working in games, collated under the hashtag #1reasonwhy, indicated that sexist practices such as the oversexualization of female characters, disinterest in topics that matter to women as well as workplace harassment and unequal pay for men and women were common in the games industry.
Gender biases have entered mainstream culture as well leading to the recognition that when males and females are responding to gaming surveys, context and the nature of the person or group posing the question matters to a considerable degree with males publicly disavowing playing games like Dance Dance Revolution while privately playing the game and females disavowing gaming in any form while privately playing video games. Female gamers also face the problem of having few or no role models of the same gender. This makes some of them feel that they should edit their femininity in order to maintain credibility as a gamer, and that they must fit into the caricatured role of the "girl gamer" in order to be accepted.
Some critics have identified parents as partially to blame for perpetuating some of the stereotypes that female gamers face as boys are bought gifts like Xboxes while girls are bought girl-focused games like Barbie or educational games. Furthermore, the purchase of games for children is infrequently accompanied by parental oversight and so parents are often unaware of over-sexualized and other negative images relating to women characters in games. Comparable to a rite of passage, negative stereotyping of all female video game players as "girl gamers" quite often come from male gamers who have themselves been negatively stereotyped by the broader society. The solution to the problem of societal pigeonholing of female gamers is often identified as interventionist work such as the insertion of women into the industry. Activism and specifically female-targeted LAN parties in Scandinavia have helped boost female game playing.
In examining game play habits at Internet cafés, South Korea has seen a rise in female gamers publicly playing games such as Lineage, however in other Asian countries this kind of public female gaming has remained rare. Furthermore, games such as Tamagotchi are seen as a gender neutral in Japan but have been regarded as girls' games in the West. Female trends in one country may be indicators of changes in others, however. The rise of female Lineage players in Korea, for example, has led to increased number of female Lineage players in Taiwan. In Japan the rise of cute culture and its associated marketing has made gaming accessible for girls, and this trend has also carried over to Taiwan and recently China (both countries previously having focused mostly on MMOs and where parents usually place harsher restrictions on daughters than on sons).
Differences between the genders
Some differences between gamers may also have to do with fundamental taste differences between the sexes, and a few game genres have traditionally seen higher female gamer percentages than the others. There has been persistent female interest, for example, in action-adventure games. This has more recently translated into an interest in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Second Life. Women have also been shown to prefer role-playing game to first-person shooters. While male audiences prefer fast-paced explosive action and combat, women tend to prefer in-game communication and interpersonal relationships (character development and plot dynamics). In-game activities may also differ between the sexes in games with less linear plots such as the Grand Theft Auto series. It has been suggested that developers can learn what girls want in a game by observing similarities in how different girl teams will react to and modify a game if given the opportunity.
Some males in MMO's are more oriented to achievement based play while females choose to become more social. Most females play video games when a male is present. Typically playing with the other gender can be viewed as a partnership for both players and can improve their online communication with one another.
On the other hand, some critics have suggested that genre preferences aren't as important a difference between the genders as the quality of the games played. Women are often characterized as preferring story-driven games or constructive games like The Sims or Civilization, but some seem to like first person shooters as well.
In addressing the future of the medium, many researchers have argued for the improvement of the gaming industry to appeal to a more general gender-neutral audience and others have suggested that the appeal should be directed to females in particular. Producers and designers are split about how best to capture the female market with some pushing for a gender-neutral market and others pushing for a future with male-targeted games as well as female-targeted games. Developers are also appealing to a wider demographic by focusing not so much on appealing to one gender or the other but by creating games with a more powerful story line. In the past, "girl games" have frequently been created by adapting girl-oriented material in other media like The Baby-sitters Club, Barbie, and Nancy Drew while leaving male-targeted genres such as sport and driving sims, role playing games, and first person shooters to the boys. This has begun to change, however, with the expansion of entrepreneurial feminism and the concept of "games by girls for girls" that has been embraced by companies such as HerInteractive, GirlGames, GirlTech, Silicon Sisters and Purple Moon—all video gaming start ups that are female owned and largely female staffed. Creating games designed with regard to sociological, psychological, and cognitive research into girls' cultural interests, such companies hope to awaken a female-only market emphasizing fundamental differences between what girls want and what boys want in gaming. The movement to expand the existing market to include females through the development of gender-neutral games has also had a number of advocates. Critics have proposed that female gamers, especially older female gamers prefer gender-neutral games such as Tetris, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, the King's Quest games, The Sims, or Civilization to "girl games". One of the earliest attempts to broaden the market to include females could be seen in Sega's use of the increased number of female protagonists in fighting games. Other examples of this include games like Mass Effect 3, which includes a female option for the main character which many gamers, men and women alike, have started to turn to, Remember Me, and the Last of Us. These games decided to use strong female characters in important roles which was often met with a great deal of resistance. Examination of IGN's Big Games at E3 2012 and Big Games at E3 2013 shows growth of the female protagonist in video games, rising 4% from 2012 to 2013. Other efforts outside of making games with female characters have also started to occur. One example is that Women in Games International has teamed up with the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles in order to create the first video game patch which the two organizations hope will encourage Girl Scouts to develop an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. This trend has continued through the efforts of Nintendo in its release of the Wii. Nintendo's shift from emphasis on core gamers (i.e. male gamers) to a broader audience has been recognized as making eminent financial good sense as it is more lucrative to target the untapped female gamer market share than to restrict marketing to males alone. Indeed the Wii's success with female gamers has been seen as closely related to the fact that the console is gender neutral and targeted to the field at large rather than at females solely.
Female gamers as a demographic
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According to a study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association in 2012, "Forty-seven percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (30 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent)."
Entertainment Software Association’s 2013 study found that 45% of game players are female, 2% decrease from last year’s figures. However, women 18 years or older represent 31% of the game-playing population, one percent higher than last year, while boys 17 years and younger represent 19% of the game-playing population. Women over 18 are one of the fastest growing demographics in the gaming industry and the percentage of females in gaming has continued to grow considering only 38% of the gaming population was female in 2006.
Not only is the general female gaming population growing, but the spread of this population is expanding over many facets of gaming.
A 2010 study by the Entertainment Software Association had found that the percentage of women playing online had risen to 42%, up several percent since 2004. The same 2010 study showed that 46% of game purchasers were female, and this figure increased to 48% by 2012.
According to a survey done in 2004 by the Entertainment Software Association, 25 percent of console players and 39 percent of PC game players were women. According to a survey conducted by EEDAR, 60 percent of female gamers played on mobile devices. The survey also found that 63 percent of these female mobile gamers played online multiplayer mobile games.
The age range of female gamers is widening as well. Seventy percent of females between 12 and 24 years of age play games. Sixty-one percent of females between 45 and 64 years of age play games, while only 57% of males in the same age group play games.
Game play is now becoming more popular among families. Sixteen percent of gamers play with their parents, 32% play with other family members, and 16% play with their spouse or significant other. Thirty-five percent of parents play games with their children every week and 58% of parents play with their children at least once a month.
In 1989, females constituted only 3% of the gaming industry. Today, in 2013, that number has gone up to 12%. Gary Carr, the creative director of Lionhead Studios, predicts that within the next 5 to 10 years, the games development workforce will be 50% female. Despite the increasing number of females in the gaming industry, females in the industry receive an average of 27% less income than their male counterparts (the study does not take education level and job responsibilities into account).
In recognition of the importance of the issues of women and girls as game developers and players, the International Game Developers Association, an association of companies and individuals in the games industry, has formed a Special Interest Group for Women in Game Development. This is an active field of discussion and a topic in many conferences in the video gaming industry.
Notable women in the video game industry
Carol Shaw is noted as the first female video game designer, breaking the ice for other women in the video game industry. Shaw began as an Atari employee, designing and programing 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe (1979) for the Atari 2600. Shaw later joined Activision where she designed Happy Trails for the Intellivision and River Raid for the Atari 800 and Atari 5200 for which she is most widely known. Additionally, she designed an unreleased Polo game in 1978 and worked on the game Super Breakout. Now retired, Shaw lives in California with her husband, Ralph Merkle.
Shaw is credited on the following games:
- 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe (1979), Atari, Inc.
- Video Checkers (1980), Atari, Inc.
- River Raid (1982), Activision, Inc.
- Happy Trails (1983), Activision, Inc.
- River Raid II (1988), Activision Publishing, Inc.
- Intellivision Rocks (2001), Intellivision Productions Inc.
- Polo (2002)
- Activision Anthology (2002), Activision Publishing, Inc.
- Activision Hits Remixed (2006), Activision Publishing, Inc.
Kellee Santiago is a video game designer and producer. While studying at the Interactive Media Program of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, Santiago produced the game Cloud which was developed by Jenova Chen and a team of students. After graduating, Santiago and Chen founded Thatgamecompany, and Santiago took on the role of president. The studio’s first two games, which Santiago produced, are Flow and Flower (2009). These games are most notable because they foster an experience that focuses on something other than competition, which makes her games quite unique. Santiago’s games are also different because they allow a player to control the wind or an aquatic microorganism. Flower ranked among Sony’s top 10 PlayStation games for two years in a row and the PlayStation 3 follow-up game, Journey (2012), won several video game awards last year as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Original Soundtrack. Santiago announced in 2012 that she would leave Thatgamecompany. Additionally she is a backer for the Indie Fund, which invests in independent video games, is a TED fellow, and is the head of developer relations for OUYA.
Kellee Santiago at the Game Developers Conference in 2010
Santiago is credited on the following games:
- WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006 (2005). THQ Inc.
- Karaoke Revolution Party (2005), Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.
- Guitar Hero (2005), RedOctane, Inc.
- Cloud (2005), USC Interactive Media
- Happy Feet (2006), Midway Home Entertainment, Inc.
- Darfur is Dying (2006)
- CMT Presents: Karaoke Revolution Country (2006), Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.
- The Ant Bully (2006), Midway Home Entertainment, Inc.
- The Winter Solstice (2007), Vertigo Games
- Braid (2008), Microsoft Game studios
- Flower (2009), Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd.
- The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (2010), 2K Play
- Q.U.B.E. (2011), Toxic Games
- The Unfinished Swan (2012), Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc.
- Journey (2012), Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc.
- Dear Esther (2012), thechineseroom
- Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine (2013), Majesco Entertainment Company
- Gone Home (2013), Fulbright Company LLC, The
Lebanese entrepreneur Reine Abbas is best known as a co-founder/partner of Wixel Studios. Abbas began in the video game industry with six years as head of the art department in DigiPen Institute of Technology/AKE for six years during which time she worked on several projects including game production and illustration (in both 2D and 3D), character design, and modeling as well as other artistic projects. Her expertise includes not only digital painting but training in the traditional arts as well. In 2008, along with Ziad Feghali and Karim Abi Saleh, Reine Abbas worked to found Wizel Studios. Wixel is one of Lebanon’s first ever gaming companies. Their latest game, Survival Race: Life or Power Plants, a game available both for iOS and Android, focuses on “post-global warming Middle East with two unlikely Arab heroes: Salem, the young Saudi wheelie stunt champion and Abu Ahmad, a middle-aged botanist.”
Julie Uhrman is best known as the CEO and founder of OUYA. Uhrman has worked in the gaming industry for ten years at companies like IGN, GameFly and Vivendi Universal during which time she oversaw digital distribution and business development. In 2012, Uhrman founded the OUYA project to create an Android based games console that would allow Indie developers to make games for the TV. Development for the project was funded by Kickstarter and raised $8.5 million, making it the second-highest earning project in Kickstarter’s history. The console was released to the general public on June 25, 2013 and was one of the most anticipated video game consoles to come out in years. Soon the Android and open source console will be available at Amazon, Best Buy, Gamestop, and Target. Additionally Uhrman plans to put out a new version of the product (which sells for $99) every year.
Uhrman was credited on the following games:
- The Simpsons: Hit & Run (2003), Vivendi Universal Games, Inc.
- Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter (2003), Black Label Games
- The Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring (2003), Sierra Entertainment, Inc.
- Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (2003), Universal Interactive Inc.
- Hunter: The Reckoning – Redeemer (2003), Vivendi Universal Games, Inc.
- Hulk (2003), Universal Interactive Inc., Vivendi Universal Games, Inc.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds (2003), Vivendi Universal Games, Inc.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003), Universal Interactive Inc.
- Red Ninja: End of Honor (2005), Vivendi Universal Games Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd.
Heather Kelley is a media artist and video game designer, most famous as the founder of Perfect Plum, a start-up specializing for software for women. Kelley also came up with the well-known iPhone app OhMiBod Remote. Kelly is also a co-founder of the Kokoromi experimental game collective for which she curates the annual Gamma social gaming event which showcases the best current indie games. Kelley has also worked as a game design researcher at the Hexagram institute and previously was a “Game Life artist” at the Firehouse center for the Arts. She also served as the creative director at the Emergent Media center at Champlain College. Additionally, Kelley has been involved in game-based efforts to put a stop to gender violence and held the role of co-chair at the IGDA Women in Games Development Special Interest Group.
Heather Kelley in 2012
Kelley is credited on the following games:
- Let’s Talk About Me (1995), Simon & Schuster Interactive
- Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004), Eidos, Inc.
- Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005), Ubisoft, Inc.
- Star Wars: Lethal Alliance (2006), Ubisoft, Inc.
- High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut! (2007), Disney Interactive Studios
- Today I Die (2009)
- Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor (2009), Tiger Style LLC
- 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness (2009), Kloonigames Ltd
- Waking Mars (2012), Tiger Style LLC
- Fez (2012), Microsoft Studios, Trapdoor, Inc.
Support groups for women in the video game industry
WIGSIG (Women In Games Special Interest Group)
WIGSIG is a special interest group of IDGA (International Game Developers Association). The group was formed in order to foster a positive impact on the game industry regarding gender balance in the workplace and/or marketplace. It provides a community, resources, and opportunities for people in the gaming industry. It also works to assess the numbers of the women in the games industry and tracks the changes of these numbers over time. Additionally, it works to recruit women into the games industry and make the field more attractive to women while providing them with the support and connections they need to be successful.
WIGJ (Women In Games Jobs)
WIGJ is a group that works to recruit, preserve, and provide support for the advancement of women in the games industry by positively and energetically endorsing female role models and providing encouragement and information to women interested in working in the gaming field. The group was incorporated under the UK’s Companies Act 2006 on June 2, 2011 as a “not for profit” or Community Interest Company. Companies in the game development industry have, in recent years, been seeking to balance the gender ratios on development teams and consoles like the Wii and Nintendo DS have seen increased numbers of female players. In addition to using this growing interest in women in the game developing industry, WIGJ works to put more women in traditional game development with less stigma attached to them. WIGJ seeks to help women find their place within the growing and rewarding field of game development.
"Girl gamers" or "gamer girls" is a label for women who regularly play video games, role-playing games, or other games. While some critics have advocated use of the label as a reappropriated term, others have described the term as unhelpful, offensive, and even harmful or misleading. The word "girl", for example, has been seen as an inherently age-linked term that glosses over the difference between women over 30 and younger women. The term "girl gamer" rather than simply "gamer" has also been described as perpetuating the minority position of female gamers. For many critics uncomfortable with the term "girl gamer", its over-embracement may lead to the perpetuation of negative stereotypes of female gamers as oversexualized, casual, and sometimes defiant or confrontational. This in turn can result in poor game design. These critics submit that there is no single definition of a female gamer, and that women gamers are as diverse as any other group of people.
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- Brenda Brathwaite
- Corrinne Yu
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- Anita Sarkeesian
- Sheri Graner Ray
- Roberta Williams
- Heavy Rain
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