I wish I didn’t have to write this. I wish games journalism was about just that, writing about games. Sadly, in this Sarkeesian, “fake gamer girl”, #GamerGate, “white knight” world of gaming journalism that we now inhabit, the whole argument about the role of women within games and the gaming industry has all become somewhat muddled and confused. As a woman and a gamer I wanted to weigh in my thoughts on the whole thing, and hopefully clarify a few things for people.
First things first, I wanted to address the title. Last year an oft-quoted ESA study announced that women make up 47% of people who play video games. However, in this definition, they include everyone from the people who play Candy Crush on the way to work, to that guy who spent 8,000 hours playing Battlefield.
While freemium, casual and mobile gamers are certainly a key area of gamers where huge amounts of money can be made, when people talk about sexism and misogyny in video games they are not talking about Temple Run or that Kim Kardasian game. Mostly, they are talking about the huge amount of PC and console games where 98% of developers are male, and they develop and market to their core gamer audience.
If we are looking at this group of core gamers which developers are targeting, we can see that the picture is currently vastly male. A study of freshmen at UCLA found that 80% of female respondents stated that they play less than 1 hour of video games a week , while only 35% of male respondents could say the same. In terms of hardcore gamers, those playing more than 20 hours of video games a week, 87% of these a male and just 13% are female.
While this study clearly has its problems only surveying young, educated Americans, it is a sample of what modern gaming America looks like, and it shows that only 20% of women play video games at all, and only 0.6% of women are hardcore gamers. But why aren’t women interested?
There are so many arguments out there to do with feminism, misogyny and social justice, that I really find it hard to wrap my head around them. From the notion that women are being chased away from video game development and discussion by many angry male gaming groups, to the idea that misogyny and sexism apparent in video game development and marketing is keeping women at bay, there seems to be every argument on the spectrum which involves everyone else doing bad things and totally ignores a women’s agency and ability to state a preference.
There is a lot of talk of harassment of women gamers by male gamers. This goes from the death threats that Anita Sarkeesian has received, #GamerGate, which exposed and destroyed Zoe Quinn’s influence in the industry, and the sexual harassment that many female gamers receive when revealing their gender on online games. While these are all serious topics and problems within the gaming industry and ones that need to be dealt with, they are not the reason that women don’t play video games. I can bet you that if I asked 100 of my non-gaming female friends about any of these 3 topics, that I would be met with 100 confused looks. Maybe a few would recognise a name, or a news story, but for the most part, women not involved in video gaming have no clue as to these controversies, and they are not preventing them from picking up a controller.
So let’s have a look at all this misogyny and sexism. You only have to look at the breast mechanics in Team Ninja’s Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball 2 trailer to realise that no woman had any hand in its developing or marketing process. Nowadays, many games from first person shooters such as Call of Duty or Halo to simple RPGs, which could appeal to women, such as Bayonetta or the latest Tomb Raider are solely designed and targeted towards men. But you only have to look at the above statistics to see why that is the case.
Some would argue that something of the chicken and the egg could have come into play here. But if you look back deep into video game history at titles such as Pong, Pacman, Space Invaders and Tetris, you can tell that these are clearly gender neutral. And even if you go more further forward in time to Mario, Sonic, Pokémon and any of the other hundreds of game titles of the 90s, most of them could appeal to men or women. Men simply gravitated towards video games, while most women went on to other pursuits and so video game development and marketing followed this trend.
While I am aware of how terrible anecdotal evidence is as a source I can only tell you of my own experiences. Women receiving rape threats over Xbox live is not the reason I don’t play CoD. I don’t play CoD because I find it entirely dull. Jiggling boobs don’t prevent me from playing DoA; repetitive moves, guarding issues and boring characters do. The ability to murder hookers never prevented me from enjoying wrecking expensive cars in the Grand Theft Auto series, and tropes of a damsel in distress coupled with a male protagonist never stopped me from kicking Bowser’s spiky ass. The vast majority of women I know don’t play video games. They don’t play these video games because they have little to no interest in them.
The answer to this much speculated question is as obvious and shallow as it seems. Why don’t most women play video games? Because they simply don’t want to.
The views expressed in this article explicitly belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of, nor should be attributed to, GameSided as an organization.