GamerGate, ‘Fake Gamer Girls’ and Princess Elsa: How Important Are Female Gamers?

Anyone even remotely involved in the gaming scene right now knows that women love gaming, just as much as men. Studies have shown time and time again that women make up half of video gaming’s audience. However, the industry still seems to be ignoring this enormous chunk of their market. What’s going on?

It seems that women aren’t taken seriously, both by the industry and by fellow fans. The rise of the ‘fake gamer girl’ meme has almost become completely out of hand, with guides being published on how to spot a ‘fake nerd girl’, and women being harassed at conventions and online, being made to prove their devotion to gaming. Meanwhile, developers continue to put out games featuring women that only serve as bait to their imagined teen boy audience, and those who try to flesh out their female characters face a steep uphill climb.

Often, this attitude has been taken to the extreme. Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the ‘Tropes vs. Women’ series of videos exploring the treatment of women in video games, has suffered huge backlash from male gamers. The issue came to a head when Sarkeesian was due to give a talk at the 2014 Game Developer’s Choice Awards, when anonymous bomb threats were made. The hate culminated in GamerGate, where women involved in game development were subjected to misogynistic attacks, including threats of rape and murder.

This is the extreme end of the spectrum, but there is certainly constant disdain for women who play video games. Many report playing multiplayer games with male sounding usernames, or with their microphones turned off, in order to avoid attacks from male players. With the onset of mobile games, many have been seen as, and aggressively marketed as, ‘girl’s games’. To many, mobile gaming isn’t seen as ‘real gaming’, and so has been dismissed as something that ‘real gamers’ can safely ignore.

With all of this going on, it’s easy to believe that women are being driven out of gaming entirely. However, a recent study of gamers aged 11-16 by Rosalind Wiseman and Ashly Burch has shown otherwise. Presenting at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Diego last month, their study showed that more than 80% of the girls they questioned played games, and that they played a wide variety of games. Mobile titles were well represented at 32%, but 47% said they played puzzle and adventure titles, and 36% played RPGs.

They also challenged the perception that people don’t want to play as a female character in their games. On questioning their students, the boys said they’d be happy to play as a woman, and the girls stated they wanted more characters that they could relate to. Burch pointed out the popularity of the character of Elsa from Frozen, saying that ‘Girls don’t have superheroes to look up to. That’s why Elsa resonates so much with them.’

So what does this mean for gaming? It’s obvious that the industry is, by and large, ignoring their female fanbase, and that’s ridiculous. Ignoring them means that they’re locking themselves out of huge amounts of revenue, and at the end of the day the aim of any industry is to make money. When women are being ignored, it’s not by simply forgetting about them in making and marketing their products, it’s allowing for the harassment of women online, or in game, to continue. Things are turning around, slowly. GamerGate has shown how dangerous this attitude can be, when left unchecked. More games are being made that treat women as people, rather than sex objects. Eventually, with any luck, gaming will be a safe space for everybody.

Posted in Blog & News.