A recent study, plus interviews and incidents have demonstrated the continual discrimination that women in gaming endure. Simrunjit Bans is a social activist who writes articles on a range of issues, and we are delighted that he has penned this article for Women in Games…

Video games, from the smallest to largest platforms, have captured the attention of the global populace for a significant period of modern history.

It has gone from being a solitary activity to one that can connect people from the far reaches of the globe, forming an immersive, wondrous and adventurous pastime, or even a competitive activity. It can garner teamwork, comradery and experiences which can last a lifetime, as you battle to achieve common objectives.

On the other hand, there is a much darker side to gaming. A persistent side which has reared its ugly head time and time again. That of misogyny, sexism and abuse.

Women, whose presence on either side of the gaming set-up, have had an ever-increasing role in the gaming world. What does this look like, what are their experiences and what progress has been made in incorporating women into every aspect of the gaming ecosystem?

An Ever-Expanding Base

According to Forbes, around 45% of gamers across the globe identify as women. In addition, a gaming centred venture capitalist fund, Lumikai, alongside Amazon Web Services, earlier this year released the State of India Gaming Report 2022.

The report examined 2,240 smartphone users across genders, ages and locations. The findings highlighted that, on average, women spent more time per week playing games (11.2 hours) than men (10.2 hours) registered by men.

Furthermore, another study, the 2021 Women Mobile Gaming Report, uncovered that women form 43% of smartphone gamers, India, as published by InMobi, the marketing platform.

Even behind the screens, transformations are happening.

According to Swayambika Sachar (aka Sway), who captains the team that were recently victorious in the all-women National Esports Championship: “It’s evolving as women developers, streamers, and gamers gain prominence and respect”.

In contrast, however, while forming an ever-increasing population within the gaming world, women’s experiences have, at times, oscillated between far from ideal to downright abusive, with said population remaining quite small, in certain areas, even behind the screen.

Experiences In Front Of & Behind The Screen

Dedicated to gender diversity promotion in gaming, the organisation Women in Games recently asserted that the industry is actually “going backwards”.

This statement follows Gamers Developers Conference (GDC) attendees, in particular women, divulging accounts of drink spiking and abuse, which appears to be a chronic issue for every GDC event.

Marie Claire Isaaman, Women in Games CEO, wrote the statement that: “None of this is okay, none of this should be happening.”

She went to call on the organisers of GDC, at of other events, to:  “Work with Women in Games so that we can help them make these events safe spaces for all… When the day comes that a woman at a global games conference doesn’t have to wonder whether she will be safe when she has a business meeting, alone, with a man – that’s when our work will be done.”

The GDC previously stated to TheGamer that it “severely condemns” the alleged actions taken place for the duration of the event. They strongly requested that those affected reach out to the police, so that there is “hope the perpetrators will be found”.

Within the gaming experience itself, Isaaman commented that: “Toxicity within gaming is on the rise and is particularly prevalent in female gamers’ experience… As a result, female gamers are often discouraged from playing the games they love… The experiences that girls and women encounter are often much darker and threatening. Sexist stereotypes and being aggressively quizzed about their gaming skills often lead to more violent verbal abuse and threats of rape.”

Furthermore, Isaaman remarked on the transfer of online harassment to the real world, with a World of warcraft streamer having been stalked by a police officer, who has since pleaded guilty to the charges levelled against them, and prior to this was one of her Twitch moderators.

Another case, centring around another streamer, Amouranth, had a similar experience forcing her to take large security measures in order to safeguard her home from stalkers. One of whom even followed and approached her at TwitchCon, raising queries regarding the event’s security level.

Even within a workplace setting, there are issues that require addressing.

The Israeli GamesIS association and the ‘Women in Gaming’ community conducted the commission of a new report on women’s status within the gaming industry, to find that women form a fraction (10 to 20%) of the overall workforce in the majority of development teams at Israeli gaming organisations.

Additionally they found that one in every four women quizzed, including 241 women from the tech industry (50% from other sectors and 50% from gaming), stated that, in their R&D team, they were the only females.

Those who took part in the survey were further questioned if they had been in receipt of a pay rise in the past year, with 72% of those women who operated alongside other women, answering in the affirmative. Meanwhile, among those females who were the only women in their team, a 42% minority said that they had.

Furthermore, the report demonstrated that while women form 42% of junior roles, their presence reduces the further up the organisational structure, with only 21% of senior board members within the gaming industry being women and 43% of those who responded believing that more women are employed in other high-tech sectors, as opposed to in the gaming sector itself.

Lastly, 58% of respondents maintain a belief that greater company investment in women’s recruitment should occur.

Such a lack of presence, support and having to be on the receiving end of abuse, whether verbal or physical, has had, and continues to have, an impact on women in gaming.

Focusing on the latter points, one way to exemplify women’s horrific experiences in front of the screen can be observed in two social experiments that were conducted, which produced abhorrent, if not surprising, results.

Social Experiments

Through Their Eyes

Brave Together, the mental health initiative, joined forces with Maybelline New York in order to start a novel campaign illuminating abuse targeting female-identifying gamers and women across the globe.

Termed ‘Through Their Eyes’, the campaign additionally entailed a social experiment where in ‘Drew ‘DrewD0g’’ and ‘Joel ‘JoelBergs’ Bergs’, male-identifying gamers, equipped the use of devices that altered their voices and exclusive player profiles in order to look and sound more feminine whilst playing online. To no-one’s surprise, the experiment resulted in both players enduring corrosive harassment.

They were advised to ‘get back to the sink’, address the other player as ‘daddy’ or told: “Bitch, shut your mouth”.

Furthermore, certain competitors refused to engage in a verbal discourse with them, or even went so far as immediately leaving gaming sessions when they spoke on chat.

Women in Games Argentina

Another case was Women in Games Argentina undertaking a study examining the experience of female gamers, in order to demonstrate the differences between males and females online team based PvP gaming experiences.

The study entailed a number of Argentinian streamers playing Valorant, firstly utilising their natural voices and, subsequently, equipping a voice modulator that made them sound more feminine.

While the video was, for its entirety, in Spanish, Dualshockers and Google were able to assist with the translation.

The video begins with some testimonials from women gamers, one of whom talked about not being taken seriously in online gaming sessions, with another stating that, often, she feels panic prior to equipping in-game voice communications.

Following this, the male players enter the frame and play some Valorant matches with the voice modulator activated.

The video then plays host to each male streamer having to suffer from insults, belligerence and downright rudeness, with Google even refusing to translate certain words spoken during the matches.

What’s alarming is that, in the video, these comments were probably the least misogynistic heard, as one person advised the male streamer to exit the game and return to the kitchen, with another stating that “all women” should just die.

Having to handle a persistent stream of insults is bad enough, however being perceived as a woman had a real difference in the way in which each team functioned.

Take Alredito, a streamer, whose in-game performance reversed with the voice modulator activated, said: “I don’t even want to imagine having to live an experience like this every day”. Tasher and Lucius, other streamers, proffered similar sentiments.

While horrific, action is being taken in certain areas of the ecosystem in order to tackle the symptoms of entrenched stereotypes and misogyny on either side of the gaming screen, with certain attitudes reflecting this.

On the Positive Side

Gamezop has introduced policies including resume anonymising (as to restrict knowledge of a candidate’s gender), a diverse interview panel, zero tolerance for harassment and discrimination and equal pay for equal work.

The Co-founder of Gamezop, Gaurav Agarwal, stated that another vital step in the gender gap being bridged is by having women in leadership roles.

SuperGaming’s co-founder and CEO, Roby John, claims that representation of female characters is very far from where the standard should be, with there still being a widespread portrayal of women as helpless accessories. He went to say that: “During community play tests, we ask women players their opinions on subjects such as the themes and the movements of the characters”.

Feedback on two of their female characters, Morni and Heena, were positive, due to women being happy to observe powerful and strong women, compared to the normal sexualised tropes.

Even the aforementioned Israeli GamesIS association report propagates that organisations are functioning transparently along with exemplifying that gender discrimination does not exist in regards to specific work environment, salary and opportunities of promotion.

Moreover, the report additionally analysed women’s opinions around workplace equality, with only 9% of them believing that their work environment is not amicable towards women, along with only 17% believing that gender impacts their opportunities for promotion.

Other groups have even called for others to recognise the abuse women suffer in gaming, in order for it to be highlighted and, subsequently, tackled. For example, in sounding a call for players, in particular male players, to speak out when abuse occurs, Maybelline New York Campaign wants to develop more inclusive spaces for games.

Women in the gaming ecosystem, whether in front or behind the screen, have, and continue to, endure abuse, sexism and stereotypes which can have harmful and long-lasting material effects.

On the other hand, with their being a focus upon highlighting and tackling such abuses, progress can be made in order to develop a world where the gaming experience is a joyous one for all.

Progress across the board is not uniform, and a vigilance needs to be maintained, however the action is being taken.

Photo by Fredrick Tendong on Unsplash