It's time we accept the fact that, with balance, video games are good for you for a number of reasons. They can improve hand-eye coordination, teach problem-solving skills, enhance creativity, and even help kids make friends.
Sadly, however, there’s still a common misconception that only boys participate in gaming with any seriousness, and as such, even the most well-meaning articles about the benefits of video games are focused mostly on male gamers.
Do girls play video games?
Yes, of course—59% of girls ages 13–17 are in fact playing video games.
Zynga says more than half of the players of their games are female.
And, just released by the Entertainment Software Association, the median age of gamers today is 33, and that group is made up of a near even gender split of 54% male and 46% female players. (Read more about the 2019 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry.)
Even with those stats, and more and more girls in eSports, there is still the assumption that girls don’t exist in public gaming spaces. It's damaging, in more ways than one.
Excluding girls damages gamers of all genders
The myth that girls aren’t playing video games reinforces the exclusivity of gaming spaces,—telling girls they don’t belong and telling boys it’s okay to make girls feel that way. It’s more than girls feeling unwelcome, too, as many female gamers are left feeling unaccepted and even unsafe in their gaming communities.
So, what can we do? It begins with asking the right questions. It's clear and obvious girls are playing video games, so the question should turn to, “Wow, what can we do to change the dialogue?”
To start, let’s take a look at some numbers:
48% of the total gaming population is female. Almost exactly half!
36% of the above statistic are adult women (over 18 years old). This is double the only
17% of total gamers who are teenage boys (the typical target demographic of the gaming industry).
Out of the 59% of teenage girls playing video games, “47 percent say they never play online. Another 27 percent say they never even play with someone else in the same room.”
Only 9% of teenage girls playing video games will use voice chat.
That’s a lot of statistics. What do they mean? In a nutshell, female gamers make up the largest percentage of the gaming community to date, even larger than teenage boys, and yet they have the smallest, almost non-existent voice, literally and figuratively.
The gaming community—especially online gaming—can be an actively unwelcoming place for female gamers.
Barbara Dunkelman, Director of Social and Community Marketing at a video game production company called Rooster Teeth, has experienced it firsthand.
“Any video I’m in on the internet gets slews of comments of people making inappropriate comments about [me], or cutting [me] down, or commenting on [my] appearance,” she says in this Marie Claire article. “Something that basically just happens to women and that guys never have to see or deal with.”
However, there is hope. The next generation of gamers appears to be more progressive than any before them. A 2015 study of students ages 11–18 revealed that 39% of boys preferred to play games as male protagonists and 60% of girls preferred female. This means girls want to play as female characters, and boys have much less preference, and would even welcome a female character.
The study also found that 86% of boys say they want to see more girls playing games. So not only are the next generation of boys more accepting of female protagonists, they’re more accepting of girls in the community too.
The majority of young people playing video games want to share their hobby with their peers, regardless of gender, and all want to use these gaming spaces as safe places to express themselves.
Excluding girls damages the industry
Excluding half the population from the gaming conversation prevents girls from reaping the benefits listed at the beginning of this post. It discourages them from pursuing tech hobbies and then careers, which in turn limits the variety of games being produced, and thus perpetuates the cycle.
Stephanie Bendixen, a video game critic, notes that at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) she attends every year, it’s a huge challenge to find a game development team that has interviews with women.
“Usually, of the 40 or so developers we speak to at the Expo in total, about four or five of them are women,” she writes in this news article. That’s only 10%—an extremely small sampling in a large group of industry professionals.
Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie, a game and technology consultant, talked about the lack of playable female characters in video games in a similar post: “I didn’t really realise [sic], I think, how important it is that if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
If young female gamers are playing games where they’re forced to play as a male protagonist, it sends a clear, if subconscious, message: girls don’t game. You’re not here, you’re not represented, you don’t exist in this space, you don’t belong. Girls receive this message and apply it not only to their hobbies but also to their future careers.
Then they also see that lack of representation in the number of women working in the industry: only 11% of game designers and a scant 3% of game programmers are women.
According to Dave Bisceglia, a video game developer and chief executive of The Tap Lab, before women started working at the company, “the all-male design team had trouble designing female avatars…. When you build games for a male and female audience, you need men and women working on the games.”
Excluding women from professional game design is how we get, for example, Lara Croft, one of the most famously sexualized female video game characters ever, and how—after twenty years—she was finally redesigned with more realistic body proportions and (*gasp*) pants to wear instead of her typical extremely short shorts. And the best part is both female and male gamers loved the change.
For a truly balanced video game industry, we need to level the gender playing field.
What can we do?
There are possibly hundreds of articles and studies and pieces of information about video games and the rise of female players—this is excellent. The more we talk about the harassment female gamers face, the other- and self-imposed silence they endure to avoid said harassment while playing and developing games, and the daily struggles they face even while not gaming, hopefully, the closer we can get to finding solutions to these problems.
Solutions like greater visibility of female gaming industry leaders. Open letters to the gaming community asking for everyone to call out and stop harassment when it’s spotted. Female-founded and run indie game studios like Her Interactive and Silicon Sisters. But honestly, and possibly most importantly, simply teaching our youngsters about acceptance and respect (though they seem to be doing quite well already).
If we can teach our young boys to treat their female gaming peers with welcome and positive regard; if we can explain to them that they should stick up for any player when they hear gender-based insults about gaming skill (regardless of to whom the insults are directed); if we can instill in them a sense of inclusiveness in their gaming spaces, it could go a long way toward helping mold their attitudes about “girl gamers,” so when they encounter a female voice in their headset while playing Call of Duty, they don’t even blink.
Girls need new lessons too. If we can give our young girls video game consoles as toys in addition to dolls and makeup kits; if we can encourage their technology-driven dreams; if we can give them the tools and the confidence to stick up for themselves; and especially if we can provide safe spaces in which they can flex their gaming muscles, it could go a long way toward eliminating the fear many girls have about turning on those headsets in the first place, and letting their voices be heard.
Let’s change the dialogue together. Let’s give female gamers the mic.
Join us for camp this summer and show your child, regardless of gender, how fun, inclusive, and beneficial playing and creating video games can be. Whether you choose our co-ed iD Tech Camps and Academies or our girls-only option, Alexa Café, our game design courses are a great way to learn the basics and get exposure to the endless possibilities of the gaming industry.