In 2014, UKIE published data that shocked many: women make up 48% of UK gamers. There was no doubt that females were dominating social and mobile gaming, with Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds and Farmville their casual gaming domain.
In a UK study published in the Guardian, the stereotype that women are casual gamers has been rightfully challenged. According to the study, 47% of female gamers polled had played a disc-based game in the last six months, and 68% had played an online game. 56% of female gamers have played on a console.
I have played computer games throughout most of my life. My cousins and I were able to successfully identify the ‘best cousin’ by hammering buttons during our StreetFighter days. I can remember weeks of trying to complete Level 1 of Superfrog on the Amiga. I believe that Tetris has taught me more about packing a suitcase than life ever will.
I often feel alone in the category of female gamer. None of my females friends play computer games and the ones that did, stopped as soon as they had children. So, the statistic presented by the UKIE shocked me. I find myself wondering about the women who don’t game…and why?
Here are some of my conclusions:
• Sexual harassment – Harassment is rife in gaming, even for men. A quick search through Youtube or Reddit will produce a vast number of recorded gameplay that shows players verbally abusing and forcing them to partake in activities that can only be described as virtual rape. Once a gamer is identified as female, she can be subjected to vile verbal abuse. There may be a belief that women can’t deal with the level of abuse in gaming.
• Under-representation – Without a doubt, there are a lack of games that feature a female lead character. Those that do, often present an unattainable and stereotypical image of the female form. We’ve all heard of Lara Croft, right? Her balloon-like breasts and non-existent waist makes her unlike any women I’ve ever met. This may be symptomatic of the lack of females working within the gaming industry. It is estimated that only 12% of the gamer workforce is women.
• Performance anxiety – In another study, which asserts that almost 60% of girls say they play games on a computer, console, or cellphone, 47% say they never play online. Only 28% of the girls who play video games online use voice chat to talk to other players. Why? It may be for the harassment reasons mentioned above. Or maybe girls just don’t feel confident having their voices heard online.
• Violence – According to Variety, 30% of women enjoy playing violent video games, with 20% of women playing Call of Duty and 15% of them enjoying Grand Theft Auto (GTA). I’ll admit to thoroughly enjoying playing GTA, though it feels more of a confession than a statement. I am a proud feminist and some of the contents of GTA conflict with my values. I often question whether loving GTA makes me a bad feminist.
There are probably many other reasons, but this writer does not want to put you off gaming. And as said by the Guardian, women are playing video games.
And that makes me happy; video games are an art-form – the worlds created in a lot of games are stunning. Take Guildwars and SkyRim, for example – there is no denying that the game developers here have incredible talent.
Some games have significant effects on psychological well-being and can encourage increased cognitive skill. A study from 2008 found that intelligence relevant to a person’s ability to think, reason and problem-solve under pressure improved in adults who practised certain brain-training video games.
As a sufferer of anxiety and depression, I have found games like Sims 4, Depression Quest and The Novelist to have had a significant positive effect while I was experiencing negative episodes. According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, games with minimal interfaces, short-term commitments and a high degree of accessibility can improve players’ moods, promote relaxation, and ward off anxiety.
I believe females involving themselves in the world of gaming is what is needed to change the industry. In the past decade, we have seen a significant change in the type of games that are out there.
There are many reasons why you, as a female, may choose not to play computer games, which is perfectly fine. But I hope that one of those reasons isn’t because you think they are for boys.
Words: Mel Green
Image: Suzie Mason