Women in Gaming: The Turning of the Tides

It is now 2018 and things are slowly changing…too slowly.

I originally wrote this piece for Issue #015 of the now discontinued Edge Asia magazine. Felt like it wasn’t given enough justice as there’s no room for discussion on a printed magazine. Inspired by the r/GirlGamer subreddit, I’ve decided to edit and add some bits and repost it here.

While things may seem to be getting better for us women in the games world, there’s still a lot of work left to do.

In Issue #014 of Edge Asia, I wrote a feature on a God of War preview event that I went to in Singapore where I had the opportunity to interview Aaron Kaufman of Santa Monica Studios and was one of the first in the world to play the first three hours of the game. What I’d like to mention here is that I was the only female media representative in the room. There were about 20 South East Asian representatives in total, not including those from Singapore as they had a separate session to the rest of the SEA media, and only one female.

Yet, I was one of the handful of people to have played all the God of War titles in that room.

I’m known to be a hardcore Pokémon lover and I will hands-down beat you in Mortal Kombat any day. But yet because I am female, my “gamerness” is always questioned, it is always put to the test. And when I “prove” that know my shit, there is always a look of awe, as if I couldn’t have possibly be an actual gamer. Why do I have to prove myself for something I love to do?

This is the problem.

The problem with being the “gamer girl”

“Game Girl” by sakimichan @ DeviantArt

The problem with being a “gamer girl” is exactly that. My gender is automatically attached to my love of playing video games. No one says “oh, so you’re a gamer boy?” so, why can’t I just be a “gamer” like my male peers?

“But video games are for boys!”

No, no they’re not. And we should stop teaching the younger generation what is and what isn’t for them based on their gender. Video games are for everyone, just like music, art, movies and books are for everyone who wants to enjoy them. The medium doesn’t judge, so why does the community?

Women make up almost half of the total number of gamers worldwide (the exact number fluctuates between 45-50% depending on the outlet) but many of the other half love to point out that some of those women only play mobile games and that’s not “real games”. Is Arena of Valor not a “real game”? How about Pokemon Go? Did Fortnite or PUBG lose its “real game” status after going mobile? You can’t deny that there is definitely a bias there.

In recent years

Remember #Gamergate? I wish I didn’t. An indie game developer, Zoe Quinn, was maliciously attacked for not much reason other than being a female indie developer trying to use video games as a medium for the message that depression is real. As much as the horde of angry, male gamers would like to protest, that is really what the situation is. She was accused of sleeping around with games journalists in order to gain positive reviews of her game Depression Quest. One of the accused was Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson who had outfront denied the relation. Anything he had said about Depression Quest occurred before they even had relations, and there wasn’t even a review of the game! But that didn’t satisfy the horde, they kept coming. Quinn was doxxed and forced to sleep from couch to couch with a barrage of horrible comments.

While #Gamergate happened 4 years ago, female members of the industry are still getting harassed (and fired) is still very much a real thing that still happens in the industry.

In 2016 South Korea, female voice actress Jayeon Kim was fired by Nexon for simply owning a t-shirt that says “Girls Do Not Need A Prince”. In March of this year, a South Korean game dev was fired, for simply retweeting a tweet that contained feminist word ‘hannam’, as her actions were deemed to be ‘anti-social’. None of these companies defended their employees, they succumbed to the horde.

Just recently, Kotaku released a report on the sexist culture of one of the biggest gaming companies out there: Riot Games, creator of the massively popular MOBA League of Legends. Following this, Kristen, a former employee of Riot tweeted a thread about her experiences at Riot along with other former female employees.

“…I had coworkers tell me that Rioters approached them who wanted to stream. He referred them to me but they wanted a man’s opinion. I felt like no one ever listened to me. I just felt like I was screaming into a void for help. I got talked over. I got told to ‘step up and be a leader’…”

Along with that came countless accounts of harassment, abuse and all of them just made it all the more clearer: its 2018 and women are still unwelcome in the communities that they want to love if they’re not “one of the boys”. Women aren’t allowed into the club if they can’t “take a joke” because it’s apparently fine to joke about violating another human being against their will.

In esports, the Overwatch League only has one female player: Kim “Geguri” Se-Yeon, who didn’t have an easy journey to fulfil her dream of becoming a pro-Overwatch player. Her impressive aim was classed as ‘cheating’ – when males of the same skill never get accused, she was threatened with physical violence, and despite her wishes, she gets asked time and time again: “what is it like to be the first female player in the Overwatch League?”

Geguri | Photo credit: Robert Paul (Blizzard Entertainment)

Other genres in the esports scene fair better in terms of representation though, with e-athletes like Ricki Ortiz and Marjorie Bartell being some of the top fighters while CS:GO tourneys have entire teams of women. Though I’m sure they had their fair amount of abuse and harassment thrown at them, all of these women didn’t let that stop them from achieving so much.

At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in 2016, two years ago, it was obvious how much sexism still exists, whether companies want to admit their own faults or not. Microsoft’s GDC party had their attendees greeted by scantily-clad women in tiny schoolgirl outfits dancing on platforms, a choice made not by the party’s venue but by Microsoft themselves. Backlash for that debacle was followed by quite a half-assed apology.

“At Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was not consistent or aligned to our values…”

If you had discussed and agreed to sexualising women at a party representing your company (because let’s be honest, that’s why it happened in the first place), you should question what your values actually are.

Although women take up a large chunk of that gaming pie, it seems that we only make up 22% of the video game industry, according to a survey by the International Game Developers Association. At a Ubisoft press conference during this year’s GDC,after showing a photo of an all-male development team for their new office in Mumbai, a female reporter had asked the male top players in Ubisoft something that a lot of us have been questioning but never brave enough to ask:

“How come there are no women?”

There are, but we don’t see them. We barely see them. 22% in an industry that consists of hundreds of thousands of people is not a lot. At that same press conference, Ubisoft was forced to regurgitate that “27% of their overall leadership roles are held by women”. Let’s break that statement down a little: Ubisoft has over 30 subsidiaries worldwide yet less than 30% of those leadership roles in those 30-plus offices are held by women. That’s not much, if my math is correct. And honestly? That isn’t enough.

Considering the aforementioned statistic that women make up (almost) a majority of total gamers, you would think that we would have a bigger presence in the industry. If you were to ask me “what is enough?”, I would outright tell you it is enough when we see females in those photos. When companies stop ‘reassuring’ us by regurgitating over and over again that they have x-percent of females in leadership roles. Stop saying we are here, show that we are here.

When we stop getting harassed for wanting to play games that we want to play, when we stop getting told what character to play because that’s what “girls should play”, when we stopped becoming scared to flaunt our love for video games for simply the fear of getting harassed…that’s when it’s enough.

We are here

Journey | Produced by Robin Hunicke @ thatgamecompany

Things have changed and they are still changing. Naughty Dog’s third installment to the Uncharted series was written and co-directed by Amy Hennig and the new God of War had Shannon Studstill as executive producer and Yumi Yang as producer. Sony definitely seems to be going in the right direction, giving women the helms they deserve, though I have yet to see other big names do the same. It is definitely more prevalent within indie studios, seen in games like Firewatch (environmental art by Jane Ng) and Journey (produced by Robin Hunicke). Slowly but surely.

The conversation needs to keep going. Everyone needs to keep having the conversation even if and when things change. And I do believe that we will get to a point of change and when we get to that point, we need to keep talking about it to make sure that we never go back.

Once companies that create these stories and worlds within video games that we love to stop sexualising women, be it in games themselves or at conventions. Start normalising and taking pride that women are creating, developing and taking hold of game creation, then and only then would this problem go away. When the people at the top start celebrating the women in the world of video games, then and only then can I truly feel welcome in this community that I love so much.

Featured photo is a screenshot of the game Firewatch by Campo Santo.

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I'm a freelance photographer and writer. I'm using this blog to give myself a platform for the creative freedom in games and tech writing without the fear of analytics.

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