After fifty years of the hobby’s existence, women now make up around 46% of the video game-playing population. Significant thought that number might be, that single datum doesn’t express the full potential of women in gaming.
Gaming is a massive part of modern life, a rich tapestry containing things like playing games, developing them, esports, streaming, and mundane nitty gritty, like marketing and sales. There are also many communities aiming to increase awareness of lingering issues or helping parents navigate age restrictions.
This complex, tirelessly working machine has been growing ever since the second half of the 70s and the release of the first version of Pong. For a long time, all the related fields were heavily male-dominated.
Things are changing, however, and quite fast. Indeed, women are starting to represent a significant part of the industry and the hobby. Of course, and regrettably, they still encounter obstacles. Many would admit that even just trying to enjoy their favorite online game can end up being a bad experience. But, on the other hand, no other sector experiences gender balancing as rapid as gaming does. And we can all safely say that women in gaming are on the rise and show no signs of slowing down.
Breaking Down Gender Stereotypes: The Journey of Female Gamers
Despite the popular misconception, women became involved in playing (and making!) video games much earlier than a year, or even ten years, ago. According to Entertainment Software Association (ESA) research, female gamers in the 90s, although obviously a minority, still constituted 10–25% of the gaming population, depending on the country. In the first decade of the 21st century, this ratio increased to an impressive 40%.
The reasons for that rise include modern developers recognizing female preferences and providing thematically diverse content. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of titles in the past offered exclusively male-oriented gameplay and theming, featuring strong male protagonists and oversexualized female characters. Icons such as Lara Croft, Samus Aran, or now forgotten Cate Archer were few far between.
Studies show that the more inclusive video games there are, the more women play, since the preferences of each gender tend to gravitate towards different design philosophies and available genres. When surveyed about the key reasons for gaming, women chose Completion (17%), Fantasy (16%), and Design-based Games (15%). Among men, these categories ranked behind favored motivations of Competition (14%), Destruction (11.9%). Completion returned at 10% and third place, while Fantasy scored just 9%, and Design-based game a meager 6%.
In this comparison, women often pick titles that provide in-game communication, character development, immersive plots, and role-playing experience. But according to Variety’s 2013 statistics, female gamers also enjoy violent video games traditionally viewed as typically male-oriented, like Halo (30% of female gamers), Call of Duty (20%), and Grand Theft Auto (15%).
All this data suggests women want to play a diverse range of available genres, and despite many obstacles like discrimination or harassment – they do it. The once obvious differences in gender distribution across genres begin to blur.
The esports and streaming scene is another proof that female gamers represent a massive part of the entire industry. Canadian professional gamer Sasha Hostyn (Scarlett) is now the highest-paid female player in the world. She began her career without a sponsor or team by winning Playhem’s Sponsor Me! Tournament in 2012, which sponsored her later participation in IPL 4 in Las Vegas. Now she is ranked 294th in the world and 9th in Canada among players playing Starcraft II – one of the most competitive titles ever.
Among other experienced players is Christine Chi (Potter). She’s an outstanding player known for winning over half a dozen competitions playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. She earned recognition as one of the most skilled gamers when it comes to FPS competitions.
Yet another notable gamer, most notably playing Rainbow Six Siege and CS: GO, is Stephanie Harvey, who now works hard toward introducing better diversity and inclusion in gaming.
But it’s not just pro gamers who make the difference. A great example is Ronda Rousey – a phenomenal MMA fighter and casual player (big Nintendo fan) starring in many titles like WWE 2K19 and raising awareness about women’s status in gaming.
Overcoming Challenges: Unveiling the Gender Gap in Gaming
Although female gaming is rising, the Bryter Female Survey 2020 reveals some concerning statistics about gender disparities in the industry.
The conclusions are undeniable – although harassment and abuse affect both genders almost equally, women are more likely to give up playing games as a result of such events. 68% of male and 58% of female gamers have ever experienced abuse from other players – which is most common when playing online and chatting in forum discussions.
So what makes women quit gaming? This group is more exposed to sexual harassment, gender exclusion, and receiving inappropriate content. As a result, 14% of female gamers give up online gaming altogether, 31% hide their gender, and 33% avoid speaking in a voice chat. In contrast, male gamers are more likely to perceive abuse as harmless fun, an aspect of the environment, and a natural part of online gaming.[Bryter – Female Gamers Survey 2020] This difference of perspectives is a major obstacle, even when taken at face value.
But this is still not the end of the barriers. Due to the social stigma, only 6% of women consider themselves gamers, while male players are more than twice likely to describe themselves as such. Another is the lack of representation, as only 18% of video games provide a valid female protagonist.[V] Big titles like The Witcher and Assassin’s Creed feature only between 10–30% speaking time for female characters.
In the game development industry itself there is also the issue of the gender pay gap revealing dramatic differences – for example in 2013 in the US, women working in the gaming industry made 86 cents for every dollar earned by men.
But these tendencies are gradually changing. Companies can use professional guides to promote inclusivity and equality to create a positive workplace experience. They are increasingly aware that an open dialogue with female audiences, rather than a marketing strategy, can encourage them to play games. Representation is also improving, as more main characters are female. Among the best examples, we can provide Ellie from The Last of Us, or Aloy from the Horizon series. Many games with customizable characters feature well-received and popular female options, including Shepard from Mass Effect or V from Cyberpunk 2077.
Empowering Communities: Women-Centric Initiatives and Their Impact
All these shifts and changes in attitude would be impossible without a massive component – the community aspect.
Female gamers can use the support of many organizations and movements aimed at restoring gender balance in the workplace, promoting diversity in game development, studying statistics, and recruiting women to the gaming industry. Among the most recognized are WIGJ (Women In Games Jobs), Women in Games International, and WIGSIG (Women In Games Special Interest Group).
In addition to the above, there are a few equally useful online groups and communities, like r/GirlGamers on Reddit, Black Girl Gamers on Facebook, Twitch, Twitter, and YouTube, and the BroadcastHER movement providing grants and scholarships to women and girls dreaming of working in the industry.
While men still outnumber women in esports, several groups are working to make it more inclusive. Females interested in this career can reach out to Women In Esports, promoting all women in the industry and sharing equality awareness. The Swedish Female Legends community does whatever it takes to invite more female gamers to try themselves at women’s League of Legends tournaments.
Streamers continue to spread awareness about the changes in gaming as well. Dutch streamer GlitchKraft is a non-binary creator on Twitch discussing diversity subjects in the community, while female streamers like Storymodebae, BrookeAB, Ninjayla, or AvaGG are obvious choices for anyone who would love to learn more about the fight against harassment and the current situation of women in gaming.
Leveling Up: Opportunities for Women in the Gaming Industry
Today women make up about 25% of all employees in the industry. While some companies proved they are still learning how to do better, many others have already fulfilled that goal. Women are 33% of employees at Bungie, 40% at Zynga and 26% at CD Projekt RED. Many other gaming-related companies focus on hiring more women, including SuperGaming, Gamezop, Gamestacy, and G2A.COM – which has almost 40% women (50% of the executive team constitutes of women) while employing over 400 people.
This imbalance originated from factors like long-term cultural reinforcement and the toxicity of male-dominated academic environments.
Thanks to the changing attitudes, now there are plenty of career resources for women providing the tools they need to learn more about their potential in gaming. Various grants, scholarships, and competitions aid new development opportunities in need of financial support.
Fig is the perfect place to crowdfund any indie title. Next College Student Athlete offers esports scholarships, and WomenIn Scholarship helps women pursue careers in interactive arts-related professions. Those who want to code may be interested in checking out She Codes, Black Girls Code, or Women Who Code. There are also tech-oriented communities like Girl Geek Academy, Women in Games Conference, and Global Gaming Women.
Women in need of support can refer to initiatives such as Games and Online Harassment Online or Checkpoint, dedicated to aid anyone dealing with abuse in the gaming environment.
Bringing more women into the gaming industry is not just a matter of courtesy or equality, as everyone can benefit from such a positive change.
Female developers mean increased customer diversity and fresh perspectives. They can inspire their male colleagues to create a productive workplace and identify creative opportunities in new areas. More women in the industry mean less toxicity generated by cultivating old habits. And a diverse audience demographic is a simple way to generate more revenue.
Esports and the entire industry will continue to grow, nevertheless. In ten or twenty years, we will witness technological and social breakthroughs that have not had a chance to happen so far. Among the most noticeable and welcomed — or even obvious — will be the greater presence of women playing online, participating in esports competitions, feeling included, and earning equal pay.
But it all depends on the changes that occur right now. Women collaborate to reach adequate inclusivity, diversity, a gender-balanced ecosystem, and equal opportunities for future generations. Companies need to become more flexible, excited, and open to new possibilities. No other industry is developing as fast as gaming, and it can be set a precedent of better practices for similar fields encountering the same challenges.
This moment of transition is now, and the only dramatic change it will bring is a wealth of benefits for everyone.
Graphics data source: