Gamer Girl in Headset with Mic Playing Online Video Game
In 2020, women accounted for nearly 41% of all gamers in the United States. And in Asia, which accounts for 48% of the world’s total gaming revenue, women now make up 40-45% of the Asian gaming population, according to Google and Niko Partners.
Female gamers are on the rise, and numerous studies have sought to understand if female gamers have specific motivations and game play behaviors. Some country-based studies reveal that gaming motivations do differ cross-culturally across genders. In addition to escapism, French female gamers look for competition or to challenge themselves; while French males look to games for coping with stress and for achieving success through competition. A study of Taiwanese gamers reveals females play for achievement and social reasons, while males play to pass the time. In America, it seems female gamers play for achievement and social reasons, to engage socially and maintain relationships. In regards to game playing, a recent study shows that female gamers play all types of game genres (especially popular online games) using different devices and platforms.
If anything, what these studies highlight is the rich complexity of the female gaming population. The question being raised by those seeking full equality of opportunity, treatment and conditions within gaming is whether the industry is adequately structured to serve this growing consumer segment. Organizations such as Women in Games, are advocating for a reimagination of the gaming industry, free of gender discrimination, by addressing the culture from workforce, product and the player community perspectives.
A 2020 study of the top fourteen global gaming companies reveals that 84% of executive positions in the gaming industry are held by men. Outside of the executive ranks, only 24% of those working in the industry are women. Female representation is still a problem. And for those already working in the industry, their gender may work against them. According to a 2015 Gender Balance Workforce Survey reported by the Guardian, amongst women working in the U.K. gaming industry, 45% felt that their gender was a limiting factor in their career progression. In the same survey, 33% of respondents noted that they had experienced direct harassment or bullying because of their gender.
Female character representation in video games is lacking with only 5% of video games showcasing female protagonists. Various studies reveals that gender stereotypes continue to prevail in video games, with female characters often objectified and hypersexualized. And when not depicted in this manner, female characters are often portrayed as a love interest, innocent or needing to be rescued by a male character.
The good news is that the Feminist Frequency, which has tracked the number of female protagonists in video games for the past six years, reported significant improvement in 2020. 18% of games launched last year featured female characters. Whether 2020 was an anomaly or whether it is the beginning of a new trend to showcase female protagonists , free of gender stereotyping, remains to be seen.
Player Community Perspective
The 2014 Gamergate controversy revealed the depth of systematized online harassment against advocates, mainly women, who called for a more inclusive gaming culture. Has the player community become more inclusive since then? According to a recent female gamer survey by market research firm Bryter, abuse or online discrimination continues. Although men and women both experience abuse, female gamers are more likely to experience sexual harassment and being excluded from the game.
How is Gaming Becoming More Inclusive?
Many people within the gaming industry are working to make it more inclusive. Anita Sarkeesian and Carolyn Petit in their recent New York Times article highlighted some players, designers, voice actors and activists who are trying to change the culture in their own ways.
At the national level, the Women in Games Ambassador program, has 12 Corporate and 446 individual ambassadors across the world who are working to support women and girls better understand the games industry Its aim is to double the number of women in games over ten years.
At the industry level, initiatives such as the U.K. based #RaisetheGame encourages companies to create more inclusive working environments, with a focus on creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. Over 100 companies have signed up for this initiative, according to their recently released first annual report, which reports that hiring practices and initiatives to develop more inclusive titles have improved.
And at the company level, several large gaming companies, such as Ubisoft, have been announcing their appointment of senior leaders in diversity and inclusion roles to accelerate their culture shift.
There is still a long way to go, admits many industry insiders, but developing the initiatives and communities of practice is often the first step.
I research and write about digital transformations at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), Switzerland. I bring practical insights and