When it comes to the battle of the sexes, the playing field has been levelled out in almost every way. Men are opening up more and showing compassion and emotion where before women held the high ground (not to mention using more cosmetic products!), and women are taking over traditionally male-dominated areas, such as professional sports and computer sciences. But there is one area that many consider to be a no-woman’s-land, and that is gaming. But, how true is it that women who game are rare?
Gaming stats often claim that around 50% of gamers are female, arguing that gaming has now become a mainstream activity equally enjoyed by both genders. Statista’s latest analysis shows a 59/42 male/female split. And, the figures show a rise in female players throughout the years. However, the data often contains every form of gaming, which makes it less reliable for specific targeting of different platforms and genres of games. In reality, it seems that some games are played more by men and some more by women, which conflates overall results.
For example, female gamers in the sports video games category are estimated to be only 2% of players according to Quantic Foundry, which may be down to the fact that male sports teams are often the subject of sports games. It could be argued that the lack of female protagonists may skew the results. According to that argument, having no female protagonists available means the game doesn’t open itself up for women wanting to play it. iGaming makes this interesting, however. With reports stating that female online bingo players make up 60-75% of all players (compared to 76% of online poker players being male), and with bingo being counted as a competitive sport, it could be argued that by putting the player in the role of the protagonist (in online bingo, it is you, sometimes through an avatar you create) and therefore removing having to choose a gender, the game opens itself up more to female players. We can’t know for sure if that’s the reason more females choose to play the game of chance in question, though, as traditional gender roles may be providing more opportunities to ladies to play bingo and more men to play poker, through friends and social circles.
Research into 2016’s Pokemon Go craze found that 63% of players were female – and the player profile for targeting demographics was a woman. When people think of gaming, they often think of long marathons of Call of Duty or expansive campaigns on the PC, but gaming is evolving, and as such gamers are evolving with it. Minecraft, a gaming phenomenon that features blocks being used to create worlds and battle opponents online, has almost equivalent gender parity, with 42% of players worldwide being female (58% in the US). Once again, both games feature the player as the protagonist and allow for both female and male avatars.
And then we come to eSports. eSports is a relatively new concept that involves gaming competitively in championships that people can bet on. SuperData research saw that female eSports viewers had risen from 15 to 30% in 2014, but the number is still relatively low compared to figures across the gaming board. The same issue with sports games could be argued to be within eSports, yet with the league open to all genders, why aren’t more women getting involved?
While there are women involved in eSports – for example, Heather “sapphiRe” Mumm, is a top player of Counter-Strike – the visibility just doesn’t come through. Many argue that this is down to eSports companies aiming to target affluent young men as a primary focus, often ignoring women, and therefore losing out on those who want to play. Heather admitted to sometimes lying about her gender when playing as other players accused her of being lying, as a “girl couldn’t be that good.” Much in the same way writers often used initials instead of gendered names (J K Rowling, S J Bolton) as they believe it may even out the playing field, hiding your gender when gaming is certainly something the industry as a whole needs to come together in order to get over.
Gaming is as much a woman’s world as a man’s world – but it depends on the games you’re looking at. Some do better with both genders. Some appeal to the kind of way both men and women like to game. Some are affected by society. Games developers should take gender split research with a pinch of salt and work towards creating a game that appeals equally to both genders, one that appeals to gameplay. It is clear that gaming is, and always has been, a neutral activity, but the connection comes from the top down. By creating games that appeal to the average gamer, gender aside, can help bridge the perceived gap between male and female gamers.