Video games have been around since the 70’s and have become increasingly popular for kids and adults with each new game development, but when we think about video game players, who comes to mind? The stigma is that the industry is male-dominated–filled with adolescent boys and adult men who play first-person shooters. While part of this stigma may be true, it’s important to remember that women and girls are gamers too!
According to an Entertainment Software Association (ESA) report from 2016, nearly half, or 41%, of game players are female. What’s more, women 18 years and older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population at 31%, while boys under18 represent just 17%.
Girls have been playing games (on PCs or game consoles) since the beginning, but the number of female gamers surged in the early 2000’s when massively multiplayer online (MMO) and VR games like The Sims and Neopets were introduced. Fast forward to recent years with the development of mobile and social media games like Candy Crush and Farmville. These games are inspiring young girls to learn more about the industry.
Catherine Varner, a Senior Statistical Data Analyst for Epic Games, got her start playing League of Legends in 2010. She loved the idea of being able to play against real people online, instead of playing against a computer-generated opponent. Combine that with her data analyst background and it was her recipe for success; “I figured if there was some way that I could find a career that combined games that I was playing with the data techniques that I was interested in, that would be the best combination of things.”
Varner says there are a lot of women in the gaming industry, but not in the types of creative roles she’d like to see them in. Many of the women she has worked with have been involved in HR, marketing or administrative positions. Meanwhile, game development and engineering departments are definitely more male-dominated.
The reason behind the lack of females in the video game development process could be a variety of things. Many women have been outraged at the way female characters are portrayed in video games. In Blizzard Entertainment’s original World of Warcraft, for example, female characters were very scantily-dressed and were often given less compelling storylines.
However, Blizzard and other companies are now making strides to connect to more girls by creating more complex female characters in their newest games. “If you look at Overwatch, their most recent game, all the female characters in that one all have distinct identities and even the ones that are more sexualized have a character concept that matches that look,” Varner explains.
So, how can playing video games get girls interested in a future in coding? It all starts with realizing they can make a career out of something they love doing. Varner says:
People realize ‘oh, this is what goes into game development.’ It takes designers, engineers, and artists and all of that whole realm of job potential and when you are really engrossed in gaming as a player, you start to realize those components. So, I think that as younger and younger girls start to play games that take a lot of development power, they can say ‘oh, I can fit into this industry too!’
Some especially fearless young women are combating traditional gaming and making their own content-by women, for women. In 2015, two teen coders, Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser, created their own app called Tampon Run. The Super Mario for the ‘Girl Squad’ generation, Tampon Run is less about taking on bad guys and more about breaking down the stigma around menstruation, one flying tampon at a time.
With more companies realizing the potential to reach broader audiences and creating content that appeals to both genders and remarkable girl gamers like these, the statistics of female gamers are only expected to rise, once and for all narrowing the gender gap in STEM careers.