Why Aren’t There More Female Gamers?

by Contributing Columnist

As much as gaming may be building its reputation as an artform year-on-year, there is always, it seems, going to be a chasm between its popularity as a pastime and its acceptance as a legitimate cultural phenomenon. Part of this is a reverse recency bias – it’s not been around for as long as painting or sculpture, or cinema and even prestige TV, so it lacks a certain amount of legacy. Part is surely what some people would consider the vulgarity of the medium – most popular games involve some level of violence and noise. And part of it would seem to relate to an image problem.

The problem in question is that, despite an increase in outreach and a definite generational change in the way gaming is viewed, the sphere is still considered to be male-dominated. In the modern era, that’s a toxic reputation to have garnered, and a difficult one to shake off. So it is worth asking the question of why it seems to be so persistent: is there enough effort to make gaming a female-friendly zone?

Does the gaming world see it as a problem?

There has been no shortage of controversy over how female gamers are viewed in parts of the gaming world (fraternity seems like a loaded term). And while the accusations of sexism in gaming have revolved mostly around a small, troublesome minority of gamers on social media, it has certainly been off-putting to women and girls who would otherwise be keen to get involved. Recent years have seen more women getting involved in developing games, and the expected outcome of this will be that games appealing to women will increase in volume and quality. Software houses, at least, seem to be gaining awareness that there is an issue to address – although recent news stories indicate it’s a lesson that still needs to be learned.

Is gaming an inherently “male” pastime?

Some people would no doubt argue that there will always be industries that skew towards one demographic in their popularity. However, if you pause for a moment and think about industries that have been considered “female”, how true is the cliche? Many, if not most, of the big-name chefs are male, and the same can be said of fashion design. While a number of female celebrities are avid gamers, the esports world is still overwhelmingly male. Part of the problem may be that female gamers are focused on as female gamers, even when their achievements transcend gender.

Does the gaming industry need to do better at attracting women and girls?

Change sometimes happens slower than we’d like, and when an industry has a reputation, as gaming does in terms of female reach, it can be off-putting to people. This impact can be reinforced if the industry then becomes more attractive to the wrong kind of people. Female game developers could design the best game imaginable, and misogynistic gamers would find fault with it.

This makes it all the more important that female players, whether they’re streaming on Twitch from their favorite pink gaming chair or winning esports tournaments against all-comers, are made to feel like part of the club by gamers and developers alike. Increasing numbers of male gamers are more than comfortable playing a game with a female protagonist – so this is an avenue developers should explore further.

Is there a danger of pandering?

Some female players – particularly those who picked up on console gaming way back when it was first popular – argue that the focus on bringing more women into the field risks being seen as “pandering”. And there is little doubt that if a game being “for women” becomes its sole selling point, then it doesn’t do much for what should be the ultimate goal: integrating a female audience that can be just as comfortable in the gaming world as any male player. However, as long as gaming leans away from “pinkwashing” and more towards developing a gender-blind outlook, pandering doesn’t need to be an issue.

It is possible that gaming will always be an area more occupied by men than by women, but it’s by no means inevitable. There is no specific scientific advantage to being a man when it comes to things such as anticipation, manual dexterity or creative problem solving, all of which are important in gaming, so as long as enough male gamers and developers are prepared to see female counterparts as their equals, there is every reason why the imbalance should continue to correct itself – which would be good news for everyone.

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