Gamer girl – prejudice versus reality

April 13, 2021

text: Adina Apetrei

illustration: Diana Vişinescu

Call of Duty, FIFA, Fortnite (or PUBG, if you finished high school in 2017-2018), Minecraft, GTA, League of Legends, Counterstrike… Let's be serious, you don't have to have played them to know about them. Even if you only heard of them when the guys were breaking the video card in the computer lab after cracking the admin password, it's impossible not to sound familiar. In fact, this should come as no surprise since gaming has become a $78+ billion industry, according to TechJury (2017).

Video games are a real career for many people today, they have risen above the status of a hobby. I'm not just referring to the developers who create these games, but mostly to the users, to those who play them. The spectrum is huge, from videos on YouTube or Twitch to practically becoming the paid image of a company - all these new career concepts contribute to the growing popularity of video games among amateurs as well. Professionals also participate in so-called esports competitions, i.e. team video games, and these are watched by the public just like "normal" sports. The 2020 Hearthstone World Championship had a total prize pool of half a million dollars, League of Legends went much further, with the prize for first place at Worlds being over $800,000. It's clear that video games have outgrown their strictly recreational function, becoming an entire industry.

However, there are also many criticisms of the gaming industry. The most widespread objections are related to the fact that could be addictive or incites aggressive behavior. Plus, it's clear that video games have a reputation to say the least when it comes to female representation. Whether we're looking strictly at female characters appearing in games or including stereotypes about girls who are into video games, one thing is clear: the early days were marked by constant hypersexualization. The women who appeared in the games were either more naked than clothed, or had completely absurd body proportions, or usually both. Meanwhile, things have started to normalize, characters can be relevant in gameplay beyond how they were drawn by the developers, and "gamer girl" is no longer a phrase that automatically conjures up anything other than, well, a girl who likes video games. Some time ago it was believed that girls could not be interested in a game unless they were trying to win over a boy, to show him that they were interested in the same things as him. Despite this stereotype, the term "gamer girl" has been actively used by many gaming fans specifically to remove the stigma surrounding it. Thus, they pointed out that it would be a mistake for all girls who are passionate about gaming to be directly associated with a certain image, in turn hypersexualized for no reason or focused on the desire to attract a man.

So, we can safely say that the gaming world is becoming more and more open to women. Concretely, the figures show that the audience is quite balanced, since in 2018 and 2019 approx. 45% of the users were.. female users. Perhaps it seems surprising, given that (male) gamers are much more visible, both online and offline. As I said at the beginning, I think many of you associate video games more with the male gender. But 2020 brought women's gaming into the spotlight, when everyone's eyes were on Rachell "Valkyrae" Hofstetter: Valkyrae had the fastest growing gamer in YouTube history and thus became the most famous woman in the gaming area. Although her popularity has sometimes been countered by sexism, that hasn't stopped her from winning Content Creator of the Year at The Game Awards following her massive online success.

Valkyrae is neither the first nor the only woman to make gaming history. Many years before that, Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn was the first winner of a Starcraft II world tournament, and in 2016 she entered the Guinness Book of Records as the highest-earning woman in video games in the world.

Beyond gaming personalities, developers are also making changes in how they represent and include women in the video games they build. Little by little, the female presence can no longer be ignored; in fact, we don't even want to ignore it anymore, since women make a significant contribution behind the scenes of many such companies.

For example, Electronic Arts, the company that produces FIFA (via EA Sports), also has The Sims series under its tutelage, which first appeared in early 2000. In March, EA introduced to the public some of the women who contribute to the creation The Sims in the article Women Make The Sims Every Day, giving them the opportunity to tell their video game story and inspire other girls to consider a career in game development. The Sims series may be popular especially among girls, but EA is not the only company with initiatives of this kind. Ubisoft Romania has created a mentoring opportunity, Womxn Develop, available on both the programming and game design branches. Age of Empires has created an in-game event with the theme Women of History (Women in History) and thus included the celebration of women directly in the game. There are certainly many ways to change the general perception of women in gaming, in small or large steps.

It's clear, this industry is not (anymore) only for men, but for everyone. Especially now, when the world of gaming is growing rapidly, representation plays a special role. With the help of passionate, inspiring women who want to use their talent and enthusiasm to create video games, the role of the female element will become more and more relevant both in gameplay and behind the scenes.

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