Chances are, if you’re a girl and you’ve spent some time in the gaming world, you’ve probably (and unfortunately) been discriminated against. Whether it be the assumption that since we have lady parts we’re suddenly less skilled than our male counterparts, or even the unfortunate occasion when you’ve been asked to make a sandwich after speaking on your chosen voice-chat system, gender discrimination in the gaming world is real and thriving. Putting direct discrimination aside, gender bias in the gaming industry can also be seen through the various ways that video game producers cater heavily towards men, almost seemingly forgetting about women in their marketing appeal and game design at times. Have you ever sat down and looked at the difference in armor between men and women? What about character detail and design in your favorite video game? Or have you ever really paid attention to the dialogue or storyline in the most recent RPG you’ve played? Next time you download a new game, listen up and look a little closer, and you might be surprised at some of the stereotypical gender biases that manifest themselves when you take a deeper glance into the game you’re playing. This article plans to outline how female gamers, the characters they play, and even in-game female NPCs (non-playable characters) are all subject to some form of bias. It will hopefully go on to explain why and how this trend began occurring, and what we can do to start putting a stop to it.
So… where did gaming bias come from? How did we regress from making huge strides on equality in the workplace to going home and separating ourselves on the computer? There are two common answers that you will occasionally see in various articles on the subject:
The first aligns traditional gender roles in regards to upbringing and child rearing to the discrimination seen in the gaming world. They claim that much of this gender bias in the gaming world is due to the “gender-typical” way that boys and girls were raised. The “Boys Club: Girls Keep Out” mentality, these theorists will have you believe it stemmed from the simple fact that boys were taught to play with different toys than girls. Young boys are typically given toys such as trucks, action figures, and video games, while girls are typically given Barbies, EZ-Bake Ovens, and dress-up clothing. When parents form these gender stereotypes at such a young and impressionable age, children grow up to believe that girls are not “supposed” to like video games the same way that boys are not “supposed” to enjoy dressing up and makeup. It makes the girl that was given a video game or the boy that was allowed to dress up an “outlier” in society, something to be mocked and looked down on.
The second theory on “why” has more to do with the female reflection in game design. These theorists claim that the large gaming manufactures cater to men simply because they believe the male gender is more suited to play their video game. A contributor for the MIT Press and an expert on the large gaming industry, T. L. Taylor, claimed that large video game companies automatically assume that women have an “aversion to competition” and men are “better at first person shooter games because they were historically the hunters of the tribe”. If you’re a women in the gaming industry, there are many little hints dropped by these big gaming manufacturers that you’re simply “not part of the club”. In a recent article by Amy Kaufman of the Boston Globe, it is claimed that “women video game programmers earn an average of $10,000 a year less than their male counterparts, according to a salary survey published in 2011 by Gamer Developer magazine, and women designers make $12,000 less”. These historic, archaic ways of thinking show that while the gaming industry is making huge strides in their technology (i. e. the oculus rift, virtual reality, innovative controllers, etc) they remain in the Stone Age in regards to their views on equality and women.
Both of these arguments remark on the “natures” of boys vs. girls, and they both are built on assumptions that boys and girls are not only physically different, but mentally and emotionally different. Unfortunately the same can be seen in the e-sports world as well. Last year many feathers were ruffled after an announcement by the Finnish tournament “Assembly Summer 2014” where they stated that women were not allowed in their tournament, claiming “the decision to divide male and female competitions was made in accordance with international sports authorities, as part of our effort to promote e-Sports as a legitimate sport”. Yes. Read that again. It was done as part of their effort to promote e-Sports as a legitimate sport… Meaning that if women were to compete, it would somehow lower the legitimacy of e-gaming as a sport. This is complete nonsense as sports are typically divided in “legitimate sports” (if we are going to use that term) based on the base lines that men and women and physically different, and therefore competition between the both wouldn’t be appropriate. This is completely true and acceptable, sports have been functioning this way forever for a reason. However, competitive gaming is not a physical sport. Gaming, for the most part, is a game of intellect and strategy, both things that men and women do not differ on. Men and women have been competing together in academic competitions such as spelling bees, debate clubs, chess tournaments, etc, for ages. Gaming competitions should be no different. This is just another excuse to separate men and women in the gaming world even more.
So how can we go about fixing this problem? I believe the first steps begin at the base level: with you and me. Men: I understand that making fun of women in games seems cool and fun, especially if you’re trying to impress in front of your “bros,” but asking a girl to make you a sandwich, or telling her to “meet you later after this game for some fun” does nothing but exasperate the issue and show other men that it is okay to talk like that to women. If you start accepting ladies in the gaming world, others will follow your example. If we start putting down those who are picking fun at women, and building up those standing for equality in gaming, then the masses will follow. I promise. And ladies: don’t be afraid to be passionate about your love for the industry. I know that a lot of the time being a girl in the gaming world can seem frightening and intimidating, especially after recent events this past year, but if you’re truly passionate about something, don’t let anyone, or anything, hold you back from expressing your passion. Rock that Minecraft tee shirt. Sign up for those programming classes. Tweet about feminism and gaming. Start developing games with positive female messages. Do what you want. Actually, no. Do what you love. No one should hold you back or make you feel like an outsider in a world that is definitely big enough for both genders.
While the dark cloud that is Gamer Gate hangs over the gaming world, it is difficult to express yourself as a female in the gaming industry or to voice your opinions on things like gaming journalism; however we cannot be afraid to voice our honest opinions about what we’re passionate about, regardless of sex. Despite the subject or content, if you feel a certain way about something, say something about it. It only takes one brave person to stand up and be the voice of change. This is clearly a subject that people feel strongly about one way or the other, and there are two sides to every argument. It’s not true that every aspect of the gaming world holds a gender bias, but it’s also not true to say that gender bias simply doesn’t exist in the gaming world. If we can see both sides of the picture, we can better understand the issue at hand. I encourage everyone to educate yourself and read more on what is going on in any industry you feel passionate about.
Thanks for reading this week’s installment of The Grind. I really appreciate your support and feedback in my first two articles for Mech Riot, it really means a lot to me, and I hope you will keep it coming! Have an opinion? Discuss it below! Remember to check in next week for the fourth and penultimate installment of The Grind, where I take a deeper look at health and the gaming world, exploring the leaps that the gaming industry is taking to move away from the “couch-potato, no-lifer” stereotype and promote a healthy and active lifestyle.
Taylor, T. L. “Becoming a Player: Networks, Structures, and Imagined Futures.” In Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives in Gender, Games, and Computing, edited by Y. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner, and J. Suns, 50-65. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011.