Women in Gaming
Women in Gaming is a concept emphasizing women's role, or lack thereof, as video game players or characters. While men have continuously been both the driving force and target audience behind the creation of video games, the female gamer population has grown. Video games are increasingly encompassing characteristics that of female interest, and the gaming environment is slowly becoming a more gender-neutral playing field. Game designers have become increasingly aware of gamers' difficulties in accepting gender representations in game play. Though, gamers recognize that men and women play a varied selection of games, many of which cannot be categorized by sex, however the portrayal of gender still exists in the more gender-neutral games. The portrayal of women in games becomes ethically charged as gaming's prevalence increases and as virtual images begin to directly mirror the living world.
- 1 History
- 2 Emergence of Female Gaming Culture
- 3 Acceptance of Female Gamers
- 4 Current Preferences of Women Gamers
- 5 Video Games with Female Main Characters
- 6 Characteristics of Female Characters in Video Games
- 7 Ethical Concerns
- 8 External Links
- 9 References
There are many arguments developed by researchers, software developers, and females alike, that seek to explain why women have been absent from the gaming scene until recent years. Theories include:
- The difference in social characteristics between females and males
- The appeal of game content to women
- How women are portrayed in gaming
One explanation for women's absence in the history of gaming is that because gaming is considered to be asocial, females (which are typically more sociable than men) are less likely to find the appeal in gaming. Historically, many women place a greater concern for domestic and/or social activities, rather than leisure activities like gameplay. Therefore, women have not exerted as much time or effort towards becoming active members of the gaming world, preferring social interaction in the physical world.
Additionally, due to certain social constructs, the male population is more likely to be introduced to games at an early age. According to the studies of Bryce & Rutter, males have traditionally had more access to and control over leisure spaces such as video arcades and sports venues. It has also been argued that males are more likely to learn through action.
Women today still live in a patriarchal society. As a result, men are stereotypically socially constructed to be "powerful," "aggressive," and "strong," while women are "passive" and "quiet". Because of these stereotypes, women tend to play fewer video games, as games have traditionally been marketed as fit for the masculine, violent and aggressive. Men are also usually portrayed as more powerful and aggressive characters in video games, while women are generally represented as less important characters. Because of this, many games have not been appealing to women. The gender stereotyping found in many video games today consists of the absence of female characters, female characters that are less important than male characters, aggression towards female characters, and eroticism of female characters. All of these tendencies have produced an environment where female representation falls victim to male supremacy. The representation of women in these games are likely to deter women from participating in these games, to begin with, which creates a cycle in which women are not represented in the gaming world..
Historically, the content of games has not always been appealing to women, since games were being marketed predominantly for males. However, game content is changing and more games either encourage women to play or are considered gender neutral. The 1980s brought about drastic changes to the gaming environment, as it introduced several groundbreaking genres, such as adventure, platform, racing and role-playing games. The varying styles of gameplay encouraged a more diverse gamer population, catering to many different interests and skills, but many games today are still of a violent nature.
Women as Victims or Objects
- Women are depicted both as the quest object to be saved and as the reward of the self same quest
- Relegated to the status of children
- Difficult for women to identify with both active player and passive object
- Hostility ("orientalized" view of females/women)
- Discrimination (i.e., gender racism or sexism)
- Cultural conservatism in terms of 'Tradition' [i.e. Tradition of Video Gaming geared, created by and for Males], in a historiographic/nostolgia-sense
- Copycat of video games and in terms of acting out violence toward/against Women
- Economic/Money-based "considerations angle" toward all of this
- Theoretical view (i.e. wanting to showcase/market toward females and end discriminatory practices/stereotypes) but in actuality not enough difference in the "bottom-line" (an argumentive-dilemna)
- Lack of "true" proof that girls/females are truly engaged with or into video games (rationale/"excuse" of video-game makers/developers)
Emergence of Female Gaming Culture
First Games Targeting Female Audiences
In 1997, Mattel released Barbie Fashion Designer, one of the first games that targeted a female audience. Barbie Fashion Designer sold over 600,000 copies and is considered to be the first entertainment software to capture a mass female market. The tremendous success of this game started a movement towards the development and production of games designed specifically for girls. Applications such as Barbie Fashion Designer, American Girl interactive software, and the Nancy Drew adventure games did remarkably well and their success is attributed to the high appeal of real life, everyday characters to the female population.
Women in Gaming Today
While all studies confirm that men still dominate the virtual gaming world women are becoming a more active part of the community and have even dispersed into their own subgroups. According to the Entertainment Software Association, roughly 40% of all video game players are female. In addition, the female population represents over 43% of online players and are the fastest growing demographic in the gaming industry. Such distinctions among the female population have been made based on different reasons for gaming, varying interests and preferable gaming genres. These subclasses of female gamers can be defined as Power-gamers, Moderate-gamers and Non-gamers.
Women in Professional Gaming
The PMS (Pandora's Mighty Soldiers) clan was formed in 2002 by twin sisters Amber Dalton and Amy Brady. The PMS clan has an international roster of over 500 ladies and is one of several professional female gaming organizations.
In August of 2004, a team of professional female gamers around the United States formed a group named, The Frag Dolls. They had been recruited by Ubisoft to promote their games and represent the presence of women in the game industry. They have participated in gaming events and tournaments. Their popularity grew after they won the Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow tournament in 2004. The genres of games that they play range from shooters (Halo 3) to music (Guitar Hero 2). In 2007, they ranked 11th place overall in the Major League Gaming season in Rainbow Six Vegas making them the first all-female team to make Semi-Professional status in Major League Gaming history.
Women in Game Engineering
As of December 2011, a survey conducted that only around 12% of game engineers are women. The number of women who work as game engineers is predicted to increase as games on social media sites and mobile devices become more and more popular. The Nintendo Wii console and sites like Facebook are becoming popular with the younger generations which is opening up many different positions for women in game engineering. They are able to offer a different perspective in the gaming world.
Acceptance of Female Gamers
x-play and Morgan Webb
The long-time host Morgan Webb of the G4's show on computer games, x-play, was initially viewed not as a gamer but as a television personality. Her reception as a host only implied that she had been added to the show for her gender and looks, not her gaming ability. The view that Webb was added purely for her gender was long lasting and a popular discussion topic relating to her and the show was whether or not she possessed gaming skills. Eventually, the constant questioning of Webb's abilities in viewer submitted mail led the subject to be treated like a joke. It is unclear what caused the shift in perception, but Webb now garners bona fide gamer status. Though following a non-nude yet eroticized picture spread in a magazine, she is also seen as a sex symbol.
Female Gamers and Multiplayer
Women face a challenge of not being accepted as "real" gamers by portions of the male gaming community. One reason for this is a belief that females only expressed interest in videogames to gain the attention of males. Part of the explanation used to justify this perspective is the claim there are no females that play games. However, an alternative explanation is that women will hide information that reveals themselves as female to male gamers as a way to avoid harassment. In physical environments, harassment can take the form of crude comments and overt sexual harassment. Online harassment is more intense and consists of voice chat, private messages, and occasional pictures of genitalia. These messages often progress in tone from soliciting sexual contact to insulting the recipient upon refusing the sender's advances. The Tumblr blogs Fat, Ugly, or Slutty and Not In The Kitchen Anymore were started to document this phenomenon. Although Microsoft plans on implementing a zero-tolerance policy towards this harassment on Xbox Live, this does not affect issue on other platforms. Another reason why the male gaming community does not consider female gamers is because they often use gaming as an excuse to make a monetary profit instead of playing for the sake of entertainment. For example, female gamers make money out of skinning/modding by creating skins for female gamers only.  Harassment towards female players is a prevalent issue and has many female gamers have created clans as support structures that communicate an oppositional female identity which often include top gear female gamers who dominate male teams. Many women of color are also harassed and they have created women-of-color clans who use aggressive griefing tactics to fight back racism/sexist comments. 
Professional Female Gamers
On June 14, 2011, the professional StarCraft II team SlayerS Clan added Eve, the first female professional gamer, to their roster. Many SlayerS and StarCraft II fans were outraged by the new addition to the team roster, as they felt that Eve was under qualified compared to the other members of SlayerS and that she was simply recruited due to her gender. The drama surrounding the situation grew very quickly, and Eve began receiving numerous inappropriate and abusive tweets and letters from detractors. Eventually, the SlayerS team manager, Jessica, decided to resort to legal action against many of those who harassed Eve.
In 2016, Remilia, League of Legends' professional scene's only female player, left her team, allegedly due to harassment from the gaming community. In addition to being a female League of Legends professional player, she was also transgender, leading to her experiencing twofold harassment from the gaming community.
On April 20th, 2017, it was announced that the all-girls college Stephens College would be the first university with an all-female eSports program. The first team that will be a part of this will be an Overwatch team to compete in the Overwatch Tespa tournament (Blizzard Entertainment's collegiate tournament program) in Fall 2017.
Websites like gamergirl.com provides a way for women to colonize and exchange ideas about games, and their role in the gaming world.
Current Preferences of Women Gamers
Various studies of female preferences in game design, conducted by various research groups such as the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation Commission on Technology, Gender and Teacher Education, reveal that game preferences of women consist of, but are not limited to:
- Positive action
- Use of strategies and skills
- Ability to design and create
While there are many similarities among female gaming preferences, the most prominent are communication, collaboration, and positive representation. Games, especially those online, are beginning to adopt these characteristics in an attempt to draw in greater female participation. For example, EverQuest (EQ) provides appropriate levels of challenge, collaboration, communication, self-selection of roles, and exploration; all of which appeal to a female audience. Such elements as narratives, ability to self-select roles, interactive challenges, collaboration and community are all drawing in a higher percentage of female players.
In addition to focus groups and observational studies, much research has gone into evaluating television viewing and reading preferences among females. Common themes that are of interest to females are those involving romance, family relationships, and realistic settings. With emphasis on the drama of human relationships, video games have the potential to be even more successful by allowing women to apply their social and emotional revelations from the game to their actual lives.
Video Games with Female Main Characters
Examples of prominent female characters in video games:
Characteristics of Female Characters in Video Games
Many video games have a lack of female characters or players. Since the creation of video games, female characters have primarily been included in story-lines as objects, and often portrayed as victims. Some examples include: The Legend of Zelda: Occarina of Time where Ganondorf, the antagonist, kidnaps Princess Zelda as part of the story line, and gamers control Link to save her; Super Mario(Series) where Bowser, the antagonist, kidnaps Princess Peach, and gamers control Mario to rescue her; and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles where Shredder, the antagonist, kidnaps April O'Neil, and four ninja turtles attempt to save her as a mission.
When female characters were first introduced into games populated by male characters, many of them were not given the same or equal abilities. Abilities include mostly skills like speed, strength, or flexibility. For example, in Super Smash Brothers, female characters, such as Princess Peach and Samus, are often slower or less powerful than their male counterparts. However, this stigma changed over time. In the 1993 game Super Mario Bros. 2, Princess Peach had the unique ability of flotation, allowing her to make jumps that the other characters could not..
Many video games also depict aggression towards female characters. Some games, such as Quake and Doom, have been accused of crossing a line with the inclusion of dialogue and actions that enable sexual harassment towards women. In other games such as Grand Theft Auto IV there are numerous women characters who are prostitutes and can be killed by the males.
When female characters are present in the game, their role is usually not as significant as males. Females are generally background characters or characters that are not relevant or important to the story line. Their actions do not have as a significant impact compared to others (usually males). Many female characters are non-playable that are only see as part of the environment or landscape of the game. Because many female characters are non-playable characters, they are not given an identity or voice to express themselves. Females with no identity are only seen as decoration or objects for males to enjoy.
A common criticism of video games is the unrealistic representation and objectification of female characters. Many critics note specific stereotypes such as women as objects of a predominantly male desire, a double-Standard (sexual objectivism is applied to women only), and female characters having unrealistic body types. For example, Lara Croft from the game Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, has unrealistic, arguably impossible, body proportions.
Certain video games developers have gone to great lengths to sexually objectify female characters. Developers from the fighting game series Dead or Alive focused heavily on creating accurate breast physics and increasing the sexual appeal of female characters in the fifth iteration of the game. In addition, the same creators produced the Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball game.
The movement of breasts, particularly in fighting games, is often discussed as an example of sexualization of women in video games. A myriad of factors determines the mobility of breasts in games, including sex appeal, processing power, and return on investment.
Most games that use 3D models operate using textures (called skins) which move according to a digitized bone structure. In order for breasts to move independently from the torso, they must have bones devoted to them. Simulated springs may allow these bones to respond to movement, but in most game engines such springs are built to support rigid body physics, whereas more realistic renderings utilize soft body physics. Rigid bodies are often used despite their lack of realism due to processing constraints.
Patricia Hernandez, editor of Kotaku, notes that one reason for unrealistic breast physics is due to the fear that more subtle implementations will be glossed over by the player base:
- A couple of developers described situations to me where people took breast physics too far on purpose, because if they put the work into making sure breasts can move, they're probably going to want people to actually notice it. This phenomenon is not exclusive to breasts. If a developer puts time into any detail in a game, they probably want players to notice it. That's why we get development videos about how a game handles things like wind, or how a character's cape sways: these aren't the sort of things that truly determine the quality of the game, but they are things actual humans likely spent a lot of time implementing.
Hernandez also mentions that both exaggerated and conservative physics have led to criticism among women:
- The developers actually received feedback from women who saw the game. While it may not be typical for most studios to do this, in this case, research was conducted because there weren't many women game developers on the team that could weigh in on the subject. "Across the board, [the response from women] wasn't a neutral response, it was a negative response," Alex said. Curiously, the negative response occurred both when the physics were unrealistic, and when the physics were turned off. It seems as if there's a very fine line to walk when it comes to breast physics: they can't be too exaggerated or too toned down without having people feel as if something is wrong."
Image and Identity
The ethical concerns in portraying women in gaming revolve around projection and perception. Both work in tandem to inform gamers not only of accepted social roles for women, but how women should be viewed, and ultimately what a woman should look like. While the link between virtual violence and real violence has proven to be illusive, the issues of women's self-identity can be directly linked to how women are portrayed visually in popular media. Since self-identity is informed through social cues, human beings understand their own self-identity and role in society through what they are conditionally exposed to. Since the advent of television and other visual technologies, females have continuously been exposed to gender stereotypes through commercial advertisements, movies, games, and other media. One particular example is the subtle effect of continuous exposure to predominantly Caucasian dolls and actresses in lead roles. The effect of this conditional exposure was observed during experiments when young girls of all ethnicities preferred Caucasian dolls and overwhelmingly identified such dolls as the pretty dolls. While playing with dolls by boys and girls is informed by accepted social roles, in games the autonomy of non-player beings have the potential of projecting norms. Furthermore, the body image of virtual women, regardless of how unrealistic, sets standards and expectations for both men and women.
Because gaming has historically been regarded as a male dominated activity, women who play games often feel ostracized and shamed for attempting to participate in a traditionally male hobby. Those who do play games are often assumed to be playing stereotypical "woman" games. One such game is The Sims.
Significance of Emergence
Apart from attempts and incremental successes by developers and marketing teams to seek out and create a market for female gamers, there are other significant implications for this emerging group of gamers. The Information Society that exists today has brought about a vast increase in computer use and knowledge share throughout the world. Where as literacy used to be defined in terms of possessing the ability to read and write, there now exists a requirement to be knowledgeable about emerging technologies as well - computer literacy.
Computer games are commonly the first and dominant form of interaction children have with technology. These games are likely to promote an interest in technology, among both males and females, and can serve as a direct lead-in to computer literacy.. However, there is some concern as to whether this apparent correlation between gaming and computer literacy will place females at a disadvantage, not only in their educational experience but in their future career endeavors.
Past trends indicate that boys adopt gaming habits early in their adolescence, where as females, for the most part, do not latch on to games until young adulthood; some females ceasing to find an interest in video games at any point in life. Although it may be a stretch to say that this delayed emergence into the gaming environment could extend the time and/or education required for a female to become proficient with computers and technology, it does delay the of interest in technology in young girls to be generally after boys. Young girls and boys can find other ways to become computer literate with the amount of social media apps that exists today, but the pull of computer games for young children is a way for children to learn and have fun. The dominant male gender themed games thus make it difficult for young girls to do so. In addition, lack of video game use among females could have even greater implications on career interests and choices. If the desire to better understand technology does not emerge early on in females, it is highly probable that the IT Industry will continue to be dominated by men.
In August of 2014, Zoe Quinn, the creator of Depression Quest, began having her personal information made public on the Internet. She received countless prank calls, threatening e-mails, abusive tweets, and death threats. The game Depression Quest was released in 2013. This game takes the player through the journey of a young adult who is suffering from depression. The game shows the player chunks of texts that set up various scenarios where the player must choose a certain option. For example, there will be a scenario where the player is invited to go out with friends but isn’t feeling well. Do you choose to go to the party because your friend invited you or do you stay home and rest up? As soon as the game was released, Quinn began receiving hate mail and criticism for the game. Some said that it should not even be considered a game because it doesn’t entertain anyone and it’s boring.
The situation escalated when Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni wrote several blog posts that said that Quinn cheated on him with some men who worked in the gaming industry or games journalism. People began using the hashtag, #gamergate on Twitter to discuss what was happening. A lot of criticism has come from the fact that a woman who created a video game was receiving harassment and the man who wrote these blogs about these claims did not receive any hate or criticism. Some have said that instances like #gamergate will begin to pave the way for the end of gamers. They have said that there is a big shift in video game audiences and the gamer identity cannot contain and include every person who is playing games, therefore, it will no longer exist. The #GamerGate has made it hard for women and other minorities to talk openly about these issues as their solutions tend to be worse than the problem. People believe that the attacks on Zoe Quinn had come from people who believed in the very traditional sense of the gamer identity but with more games like Depression Quest being released, Quinn and others will continue to break down the gamer identity. Some have also said that these attacks were rooted in the fact that Quinn was a woman who was creating video games – something that is not commonly seen. Many sites were noting that the attacks on Quinn were gender related out of fear that Depression Quest would be the start of not only female developers but anyone else of any race, gender, or sexual orientation getting into the gaming industry who was not welcome in the past.