Gender Equality Sells: Women in the Games Industry

Drew WelchLeave a Comment

Women face occupational segregation in nearly every industry. The majority of women in the United States work in male-dominated workspaces, where they are relegated to traditionally ‘feminine’ roles, such as the marketing or administration divisions, rarely seeing opportunities for advancement.[1] The games industry—in particular—is one of the most egregious offenders of this. A 2011 study by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) showed 73% of women in the industry work outside the main jobs of developing games, which means that they have little voice in the content, interactions styles, character representation, and reward systems involved in games.[2] In their 2017 Developer Satisfaction Survey, IGDA reported 75 % of respondents were male, gleaning little change in representation over the last 6 years.[3] Many publishers and developers have either pleaded ignorance of this issue or have ignored it entirely, leading to games that fulfill only male fantasies and interests. These games use non-playable, female characters as background decoration, exploiting their sexuality or victimhood to infuse edgy or racy flavoring into game worlds.[4] Video games as such have gained a reputation for being a ‘boys’ only club,’ that welcomes and caters mostly to men. In fact, many game companies might agree to this—albeit behind closed-doors—as their first-person shooters and action games do just that. Due to the lack of women in creative roles, resulting from misogynistic segregation practices, and games that fail to be more inclusive, many women do not play games made by major developers. The majority of game publishers and studios appear to believe that making cognizant and inclusive design choices in their games will result in lower sales and revenue (as result of alienating their male player-base), but in reality, the opposite is true.

In a study conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), it was discovered that occupational segregation based on gender or race is the strongest influence on young people’s choice of career, as many people tend to choose jobs that represent their own gender.[5] Occupational segregation damages not just individuals, but businesses and the economy as well because it contributes to skill deficits, a recognized issue by the government.[6] For example, in the games industry there has been a consistent shortage of programmers for years. Bringing more women into the creative roles on production teams will not only fill these positions—thus increasing productivity and potentially revenue—but their role in the creation of games will lead to more inclusive experiences that will appeal women. Additionally, their presence in the industry will encourage other women to enter this line of work, leading to a positively reinforced cycle of inclusivity and revenue.

In fact, the number of women within the industry has greatly increased with about 22% of game developers identifying as female as of 2015, nearly double from the last time a study was conducted on the matter in 2009.[7] At the same time—and likely not coincidentally—more inclusive mobile titles, such as Candy Crush Saga and 2048, have led to increases in the number of female gamers over 50 in the United States by 32% between 2012 and 2013. Additionally, a 2014 study saw over 5 million American women report playing on their consoles at least five days a week.[8] “Women have helped make gaming one of the country’s fastest-growing entertainment moneymakers,” says Drew Harwell of the Washington Post, and this is made strikingly clear if one looks at the revenue of a game like Candy Crush Saga, which rakes in well over a billion dollars every year. This revenue mainly comes from the approximately 93 million people who play the game on a daily basis, 60% of which are women, many spending thousands of dollars on this app, individually.[9] The change in gender makeup has created a revolving door effect, in which women who enter the industry during this time contribute directly—and indirectly—to changes in the design of games. This important determinant has led to more women playing games, and more revenue than ever before. Yet, the issue still remains, as most mobile games are designed to work for anyone due to the ubiquitous nature of smartphones. Most other games fail to have the same inclusivity, causing the ’boys’ only club’ monicker to linger.

Many games continue to slander, exploit, and assault women in their worlds, and spite of the progress made in inclusive design. The reason for this is that many of these women are entering studios and publishing houses that have heavy male-centric work environments and “[…] women in male dominated occupations have been found to receive less support than men […] in female-dominated occupations.”[10] Furthermore, many women “[moderate] their gender role identity in order to fit into the [male-dominated] industry, [so] greater numbers of women entering will not necessarily lead to a more female friendly working environment.”[11] In a recent report, Julie Prescott and Jan Bogg state that senior-level creative roles should be filled with more female employees.[12] This would discourage gender stereotypes, sexual exploitation, and the normalization of violence against women both in the work place and in games.[13] This would make women far more visible and influential both within the industry and the media. It would also allow for more interaction between genders in the work place, which would help to alleviate gender stereotypes, which grow from a lack of understanding. Due to both this increased inter-gender mingling and the increased advocacy power that comes from key creative roles, less sexist methods for generating atmosphere and effect in game worlds and narratives will be developed. Moreover, these women will gain valuable experience in repressing the patriarchy, and serve as valuable role models for future women entering the industry.[14] Overall, this strategy would more quickly increase the number of female gamers across all types of games—from mobile to console and physical games—leading to new revenue streams across the industry.

However, some publishers and studios are anxious that this rapid change may alienate its predominately male consumer base, as it may seem the focus of their development is to pander to women. To these detractors, Drew Harkell cites Joost van Dreunen, an analyst working for SuperData, who explains that these changes will not alienate the male player base, as people do not play games just to live out male power fantasies or find titillation in the objectification of women. Instead, most are drawn to games because “[…] you get this little, private space where you get to be the master of your own universe, the star of your own movie, whatever that means to you […] That appeals equally to both boys and girls. They all just want to play.”[15] Not to mention, the gender binary has not been around for all of history, so this artificial division of games into ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ products is not gospel. Games have not, and will not, always be designed to simply satisfy one part of the binary, and in the future will be designed more androgynously. Many games have chosen to try and rectify this imbalance by catering to women specifically, but they fix nothing as they rely on gender stereotypes as reference for their content, such as Cooking Mama, which is marketed towards women and forces players to labor in the kitchen, making meals for the family again and again. Of course, this is not to insinuate that there won’t be first-person shooters or cooking games anymore, but that games of all kinds will be developed to have features that appeal to both men and women without relying on the crutch of gender stereotypes.

Thus, publishers and studios should not fear that developing their games to be more inclusive will damage their male consumer base, or negatively affect their revenue and sales. Many developers have already begun to incorporate these changes into their production teams, such as 343 Industries, who hired Kiki Wolfkill to be an executive producer on the Halo Reclaimer series, as well as serve as spokesperson and presenter for these titles during press events. Wolfkill’s presence on the team—and in the media—shows that the development team is looking towards creating a more welcoming experience and community for all genders. Though this is a relatively small step in making a series like Halo a truly androgynous product, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Michael Pachter, an analyst at the investment firm Wedbush Securities, commented on this in an article in the LA Times, “We […] used to have, on hardcore games, an audience maybe 20 years ago that was 5% women. It’s probably 25% now […]”[16] Van Dreunen echoes this when he explains how “the girl who plays ‘Minecraft,’ expressed in hours per day or dollars per month, [is just as important] as the next guy over who plays ‘Counter-Strike’ […]”[17] Thus, the industry is slowly building momentum towards making higher quality games that are inclusive, free of the violence and exploitation of women that is too often used as narrative texturing for today’s games. Though it might seem distant, the future is very bright for the games industry, and for the women who will make its future titles and earn its riches.

 

[1] Prescott, Julie, and Jan Bogg. “Segregation in a Male-Dominated Industry: Women Working in the Computer Games Industry.” International Journal of Gender, Science, and Technology 3.1 (2011): 205-27. Open University. International Journal of Gender, Science, and Technology, 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <http://genderandset.open.ac.uk/index.php/genderandset/article/view/122/259>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.igda.org/page/dss2017?

[4] Feministfrequency. “Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games.” YouTube. YouTube, 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5i_RPr9DwMA&index=7&list=PLn4ob_5_ttEaA_vc8F3fjzE62esf9yP61>.

[5] Prescott, Julie, and Jan Bogg. “Segregation in a Male-Dominated Industry: Women Working in the Computer Games Industry.” International Journal of Gender, Science, and Technology 3.1 (2011): 205-27.

[6] Ibid.

[7]  Brownstein, Andrew. “Women Get in the Game.” Women Get in the Game. American Association of University Women, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <http://www.aauw.org/2015/03/24/women-get-in-the-game/>.

[8] Harwell, Drew. “More Women Play Video Games Than Boys, and Other Surprising Facts Lost in The Mess of Gamergate.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 17 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2014/10/17/more-women-play-video-games-than-boys-and-other-surprising-facts-lost-in-the-mess-of-gamergate/>.

[9] Mason, Mike. “Demographic Breakdown of Mobile Gamers.” Magmic. Magmic Inc., 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. <http://developers.magmic.com/demographic-breakdown-casual-mid-core-hard-core-mobile-gamers/>.

[10] Prescott, Julie, and Jan Bogg. “Segregation in a Male-Dominated Industry: Women Working in the Computer Games Industry.” International Journal of Gender, Science, and Technology 3.1 (2011): 205-27.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Harwell, Drew. “More Women Play Video Games Than Boys, and Other Surprising Facts Lost in The Mess of Gamergate.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 17 Oct. 2014.

[16]  Martens, Todd. “The Player ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 3’ Puts a Female Soldier on the Battlefield. What Took so Long?” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 7 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/herocomplex/la-et-hc-the-player-call-of-duty-20151107-story.html>.

[17] Harwell, Drew. “More Women Play Video Games Than Boys, and Other Surprising Facts Lost in The Mess of Gamergate.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 17 Oct. 2014.

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