Mention a gamer and you probably picture a spotty male teenager with limited social skills hunched over his screen in a darkened room.
While that might have been a fair description 30 years ago, the present-day fact is that women account for more than half of all gamers. Gaming has become a hugely popular pastime for people of both sexes and all ages, particularly with rise of games on smartphones and social media.
This is particularly true here in Australia. Back in 2013, a report on Social Media News described Australia as a nation of gamers and this applies as much to women as men in a country that is often cited as a standard bearer for women in all areas of technology.
Toys for the boys
Despite the statistics, the image of video gaming as a male-dominated hobby is one that is hard to shake off. Perhaps this is due in part to the gender gap that still exists within the game design industry – just look at games like Warcraft, where the lead role is a muscle-bound superman, and the roles of women are over-sexualised and generally limited to waiting around in revealing clothing till their macho hero comes to the rescue.
There are numerous other examples and one research thesis identified that fewer than 20% of characters in video games are female.
The rise of women in gaming
However, the times are definitely changing. As more women have developed a love of gaming as a way to wind down and relax, so more women are rising through the ranks and forging successful careers in the industry, leading to what must be seen as a long-overdue change in the whole nature of game design.
The popularity of games like Farmville is a case in point. This has been a huge hit among gamers of both sexes, but, like the chick flick, is seen as something of a guilty pleasure by many male players.
A huge amount of credit for this lies at the feet of women like EA Mobile’s Creative Director Chelsea Howe.
Farmville is just one of the enormously successful games that she created, and she is seen as something of a pioneer in bringing a female perspective to the world of game design.
A long road ahead
While the landscape is certainly changing, it can still seem like a male-dominated virtual world out there for female gamers. The online gaming community can sometimes feel more like the 1950s than the 2010s.
Perhaps it is the perceived anonymity that leads some gamers to indulge in crudity and suggestive comments as soon as they realise one of their fellow gamers is female.
Just like in the real world, it takes time to change long-held habits and misconceptions, but in the end, the virtual world is a space that anyone should be able to occupy, regardless of sex, age, race or any other factor.