‘Gamer Girls’: More Than a Derogatory Label

When it comes to video gaming, women are seen as marginal in two ways. Firstly, women represent a minority of the industry's consumerist audience and secondly, the representation of women within video games is sexist. For the purposes of this article, the focus will be on the former.

The video game industry has largely been marketed towards men since its boom with the release of consoles such as the N64 in the 1980s; it is extremely rare that a game is created (at least in the western industry) which includes a larger female cast of characters than their male counterparts. One aspect of the video game industry that has been largely of concern is marketing. Men are often the intended target of marketers and therefore the focus of advertisements caters towards what they desire and expect from a game. Usually this involves first-person shooters, an intricate levelling system and laborious plot. However, such an assumption is in itself sexist. Why is it that violence is considered an overtly masculine trait that only men can enjoy? World of Warcraft, Mass Effect, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed - the list of male-oriented fantasy/sci-fi violence games is endless. The ethical debate concerning violence in video games aside, why is that companies are decidedly marketing fashion, dancing and simulation games as ‘Video Games for Girls’ and those incorporating war, violence and sport as ‘Video Games for Boys' ? Such categories suggest that it is still acceptable in modern twenty-first century society to separate genders with stereotypical labels. Herein lies the issue.

Marketing creates a distinction between genders, ignoring the individualism of gamers and reducing them to a clichéd representation of their gender. The industry works under the assumption that men play more video games: therefore men become the target audience and marketers insist on including guns and profanities simply because "they are more manly".

However, whilst in early studies the male:female ratio barely reached a 79:21 split (Playthings, 1988), more recent studies are demonstrating that the ratio is becoming much more balanced. A recent study depicting the international gamer gender ratio for 2012 shows that western locations, such as the UK and the US, demonstrate a more even 54:46 and 53:47 split. However, other countries are in fact experiencing a boom in a female audience, highlighting a bias in the other direction, such as Japan’s 34:66 split. These statistics suggest that video game producers and marketers aren’t focusing on their consumer data if they’re showing a bias to stereotypical male-oriented gaming styles.

My first ever video games were Pokemon Blue and Jak & Daxter, though my most recent two have been The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and TellTale’s Game of Thrones. Both utilise controlled male protagonists, all contain fantasy violence (albeit varying degrees of such) and yet even as a woman, I thoroughly enjoyed all. Yet according to many website’s game categorisations, these games are not marketed towards my gender and subsequently suggest they are unsuitable for me. Women can therefore feel isolated in male dominated videogame platforms, but there is also a much more personal side of gaming that deters women. From personal experience, one reason that women are deterred from video games is due to the misogyny they experience on multiplayer platforms. In the 2010s, the multiplayer platform has become more popular than ever. Better graphics, a larger pool of players and an increased ease of international connection results in high competition between gamers. It’s a natural progression. However, such a progression has meant that unfortunately the minority gender receives slander from the majority gender.

Once a keen player myself, I eagerly joined the ‘new’ multiplayer platforms that didn’t involve USB or infrared connections between handheld devices. However, upon entering and exploring this new environment, I was met with various forms of verbal abuse and prejudice. I’d either be bombarded by male players excited that a female had entered their virtual world for sexual reasons or be attacked with profanities telling me to, in other words, leave because my gender meant that I was terrible at the game and therefore would underperform to a group’s success in achieving their goal. Regardless of my individual skill, I wasn’t welcome nor comfortable in such an environment.

To quote a friend and delve further into such assumptions, his argument was: ‘Gamer girls are two things. Sluts or nerds.’ I am not hesitant to say how offensive such a statement is, considering it was from a friend, but it also highlights an important and yet casual prejudice in the field. Even the term ‘gamer girls’ is becoming counterproductive. To isolate and label based on one’s gender is a modern issue, even if the intentions are to create pride for female gamers, it automatically highlights their difference to the anticipated norm. It is so common for a male gamer to label female gamers’ skill and intentions simply based on gender. This emphasises how attitudes towards women in gaming aren’t merely the fault of the creators and marketers but also of the players themselves. How are women expected to feel comfortable playing a video game when they enter a world of prejudice and slander before even pressing ‘X’ or ‘A’? Whilst the technological revolution has rapidly advanced and outperformed other industries, it is clear that the attitudes of those involved in the process are still relatively old-fashioned. Ultimately, the issue is not of creating gender balance within the industry’s gamers, but of creating an environment where members of both genders can feel welcome and comfortable playing video games.


Edited by Sarah Holmes


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