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Women in Gaming

There’s a lot of heat around the way women are represented in games as well as our place in the gaming industry. On the whole, people are glad to see a growing number of women playing and making games, but there are still some struggling with acceptance. And while some games do an admirable job of creating strong female characters, a lot of the major titles are still lagging behind. But even disregarding the gender equality issues explored in the media lately, there’s no doubt that women in gaming face certain challenges. As a woman who’s played games her entire life, and is working towards a career in the industry, my life has been shaped by issues of identity within the community.

The biggest issue I’ve faced as a woman who plays games isn’t sexism or abuse – I’ve been harassed by a guy online once and a lot more people came to my defence than screamed at me to add them. The hardest part of being a gamer has been expressing my passion for the medium to some of the most important people in my life. My mum didn’t love that I played so many games as a kid, and I think she was a bit shocked when I told her I was going to be studying them at uni. None of my closest friends are gamers, and for the most part I’ve stopped talking to them about games. Not because it makes me feel excluded but because I know they have no idea what I’m talking about! So for a long time I didn’t have an outlet for discussing video games, and I always desperately wanted one.

The life-long desire to share my love of gaming is a big part of what made me want to become a video games journalist. These days, some of my happiest moments come from the times I send Novastream reviews to my mum. Since I’ve started writing for the site, every article has given me a chance to share a part of myself with all the non-gamers that I love.

Anya is every bit BJ’s equal in Wolfenstein: The New Order

Anya is every bit BJ’s equal in Wolfenstein: The New Order

I’ve also struggled with the sense that I need to justify my interest in gaming, as a career choice but especially a hobby, because I’m a woman. Writing my dissertation on video games gave me a chance to show that all the time and effort I’d put into games was worthwhile. Months of tireless work and a lifetime of investment paid off when I could point to respected academics like Janet Murray, Miguel Sicart, and Tom Bissell and explain how I was expanding on their work. My Honours supervisor is an amazing and inspiring woman, but she had no idea about games or what made them special. When she was interested in my research and acknowledged video games as a powerful narrative form, I remember feeling a huge sense of pride, relief, and success.

But this is still hard for some people to grasp. The other day I was telling a neighbour about this article and she asked why any nice young lady would like video games? The reason is simple: they give me an experience that nothing can match. I love immersing myself in fantasy worlds, and games offer this escape in a way no other medium can. It’s doesn’t matter that I’m a girl – I just love being told stories and getting the privilege to participate in them!

Sadly, the stereotype that games are a man’s medium is still prevalent in our society. Last year I wrote a uni assignment on the rhetoric at work in the Gamergate controversy. When I started research I thought the issue was silly but working towards a real solution, but by the end of the essay I was convinced it had devolved into a screaming match between two sides who wouldn’t take no for an answer, no matter the consequence for the industry. The whole thing seems ridiculous and harmful, and I want nothing more to do with it. That being said, of course I believe that games should work to portray more realistic and positive female characters. And, happily, some games do an outstanding job of this! Anya and Caroline in Wolfenstein: The New Order are just as integral to the resistance as BJ, and Frau Engel is a terrifying villain without compromise; Lara Croft burst back into our lives as an unstoppable whirlwind of ability and strength of will in the rebooted Tomb Raider; a female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect is the saviour of the galaxy and lacks nothing that a male Shepard possesses. In fact, BioWare games in general are brilliant examples of gender equality. Mass Effect 2 shows off Miranda’s sex appeal every chance it gets, but she isn’t defined by it: she’s incredibly smart, a formidable player in galactic intrigue, and a powerful ally for Shepard. Dragon Age: Inquisition features a cast of ambitious and talented women, as Novastream’s own Zahra discussed. Characters like this make me proud to be a girl gamer, because they give me positive female characters to identify with and form connections with.

Miranda

Miranda’s as threatening as she is beautiful

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of problems with the representation of women in games. Women in GTA V are only ever prostitutes and “bitches” put in the game for a male audience’s violent comedic outlet. The Witcher 3 has positive female characters, but the sex cards in the first game are a childishly hyper-sexualised approach to women. Geralt having sex with lots of women makes sense in a narrative context, but there’s no in-game justification for his collection of the middle ages equivalent to naked snapchats. The cards only serve to appeal to players, and young male players at that.

For the first time in the franchise’s AAA release history, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate will feature a playable female character (Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation gave us Aveline as a playable character, but the fact that this instalment was relegated to a PS Vita release should show how little effort Ubisoft put into this attempt at gender equality). However, a report from Kotaku claims that Evie will only be playable for roughly 20% of the game. I understand the marketing logic behind this choice, with the series having a predominately male audience, but with the demographic of the gaming industry constantly shifting to include more and more women, this won’t be a valid excuse for much longer.

I felt pretty gross getting this screenshot but at least I didn’t shoot the dancer once she was done

I felt pretty gross getting this screenshot but at least I didn’t shoot the dancer once she was done

Personally, I don’t often get offended by gender imbalanced in games, but even so, I’d love to see them continue to change. There are more and more women getting involved in all aspects of the industry, and I’m sure they’d agree when I say that I want more realistic women in games, both to represent us and for us to identify with. This isn’t a case of wholesome versus sexy – I love seeing a kick-ass lady flaunting what she’s got – just don’t make a woman’s appearance her defining characteristic.

The gender imbalances in the gaming community had a big influence on the kinds of friends I made when I was younger. In primary school I was very much a tomboy and I had more guy friends than girls, mostly because I recognised boys as my chance to talk about video games. But I realised in my last years of high school that playing games and doing girly things aren’t mutually exclusive. I still don’t have a lot of female friends who game, but all my ladies are amazingly geeky about something. I met Lauren when she saw my Star Wars pencil case one day at school, and she owns what I’m sure is the world’s largest collection of Marvel shirts and lounge pants; Bridgette knows more about Girls than Lena Dunham herself and may even love Han Solo more than I do; I get roughly one snapchat a week from Jess who can’t wait to show off her new art supplies; Mel has the most intense reactions to TV shows and we spent our afternoons after school binging on Veronica Mars and Fringe. I love seeing them geek out about their thing, and even when we’re not talking about video games it satisfies the part of me that wants to express a passion for something.

Lara Croft has no time for looking glamorous when she’s fighting for her life

Lara Croft has no time for looking glamorous when she’s fighting for her life

That being said, games have also been the cornerstone of some of my strongest relationships. One of my best friendships in high school started when I asked a guy to help me build a computer, and we were inseparable for years. I met some of my closest friends at college when they saw the giant KOTOR poster on my wall, and Mass Effect 3 is what led to my boyfriend and I going on our first date (we made a bet that whoever finished the series last would take the other out for coffee. I won, but I think that was his plan all along). So even though a mutual appreciation for games isn’t as important to me as I once thought it was, they’re still an important part of my life.

Games are an amazing medium that welcome anyone with open arms. There’s still work to be done to achieve equality in games, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be positive experiences for women. Being a gamer has given me some amazing experiences in life. I’ve made lots of friends playing games, and I’ve become a part of some very friendly and supportive communities. But no woman – no person – who plays games is defined by that interest. Girl gamers aren’t spectacles, we’re just people who want interactive and immersive experiences. When these experiences get gender representation right, they can lead to some powerful responses. So I’m going to keep striving for equality in games for as long as I’m involved in the industry, and I’m excited to see where we end up in the next few years.

 

Article by Alana Young

Twitter: @alana_groffle

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