The image of the typical gamer has been something of a caricature: a rambunctious teenage male mashing buttons with his friends or a post-college mama’s boy cooped up in his parents’ basement.
Most of us acknowledge these stereotypes as funny exaggerations, but the crux of their humor lies in a key assumption — gamers are still portrayed as fundamentally male.
This hackneyed association has created somewhat of a difficult journey for the female-gamer minority, which isn’t nearly as much of a minority as it used to be.
According to an annual study by the Entertainment Software Association titled “Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry,” the number of female gamers has increased dramatically in the last several years and continues to rise. In 2007, female gamers accounted for approximately 38 percent of the total gaming population. This year that number rose to 42 percent.
Many video game companies continue to find women’s increasing presence in the gaming market startling.
But with such an overpowering female presence, why does this stereotype of the average gamer as your run-of-the-mill male youth still persist? Why is it so hard for the industry and the public to accept the idea of women as active participants rather than just observers?
Unfortunately, it’s not just the game manufacturers that have failed to acknowledge women’s presence. Fellow male gamers continue to criticize female gamers, particularly in the more traditionally “male” gaming environments, such as the war-torn worlds in Call of Duty. Through online gaming, many women have faced gender discrimination, verbal abuse and sexual objectification. On Fan Girl: The Blog, a website dedicated to providing fan girls with a haven to talk about nerdy or traditionally male hobbies, guest blogger Racheal Ambrose discusses her own experience with male online gamers and their assumptions that girls simply don’t like or play games. Several comments on message boards also emphasize how gender-based bias has led some female gamers to opt for more androgynous screen names and avatars to avoid becoming targets of criticism and unwanted sexual attention.
The basic accusations of female inferiority and inexperience stem from the fact that male gamers once made up a much larger fraction of the gaming population and are struggling to accept the evanescence of their position as alpha gamers.
But this attitude might also fall back on a more legitimate reason than just one based on petty egoism. The majority of female gamers are considered casual gamers rather than hardcore, primarily because of women’s active consumption of smart phone and tablet games.
But a July study conducted by Doritos found female gamers enjoyed playing video games more than sex, shopping, working out and taking baths. This study proves that most female gamers, despite their prevalent status as casual gamers, consider video games a significant part of their daily lives and aren’t casual enough to be regarded as a noncommittal group of consumers. Female gamers can create as prosperous a market as male gamers if given the proper platform.
There’s really only one solution to this ongoing neglect of women in the gaming world. Because the industry cannot continue to snub the vast female presence anymore, it should, instead, capitalize on its female followers by targeting them with their marketing efforts.
Fortunately, many companies are already doing just that. In Japan, for example, developers are eager to make money off the nation’s growing female market by producing a greater variety of female-oriented games. One such type of game is the otome, or Japanese romance, which is geared toward female gamers through its amorous storylines.
But not all female gamers are interested in the stereotypically feminine romances. The video game industry is thus responding to this stereotype by creating video games that can appeal to women and men. In Autumn Games’ upcoming 2-D fighter game Skullgirls, several of the female characters are impressively detailed in their combative skills and abilities, which distinguish them from the testosterone-targeted, big-breasted damsels of previous games.
The less overt sexualization of female characters in recent and upcoming video games showcases the gaming industry’s desire to appeal to a diverse female audience rather than just a male one.
Women still have a few more barriers to break down, but the increasing number of female gamers and the gradual changes in the types of games being produced provide hope for the industry’s eventual move away from a male-centered mindset. By developing more female-targeted games and fostering a more welcoming community for female gamers, the gaming market will grow financially and socially.
Hannah Muniz is a junior majoring in creative writing and East Asian languages and cultures. Her column “Game Over” runs Wednesdays.