Opinion: Women in gaming and the turning of the tides

Its 2018. Various countries are celebrating pay equality, women empowerment movements are everywhere but yet, the video games industry has yet to catch up. While we are here, be it in the media or development-side, there aren’t nearly enough of us. Despite what you hear, the video games industry is still very much a man’s world.

It’s not uncommon to hear of gaming-related events where there were only two or three women in the room. When I attended the God of War preview event in Singapore in April, I was the only female media representative in the room. Imagine my surprise and frustration. There were about twenty South East Asian media representatives in total, not including those from Singapore.

I was one of the only people to have played all the God of War console titles. I’m known to be a hardcore Pokémon lover and I will hands-down beat you in Mortal Kombat any day. But yet, my “gamerness” is always questioned, it is always put to the test. And when I “prove” that know my shit, there is always a look of awe. As if I couldn’t possibly be an actual gamer. Why do I have to prove myself for something I love to do?

The problem with being a “gamer girl” is exactly that. My gender is automatically attached to my love of playing video games. No one says “oh, so you’re a gamer boy?”. So why can’t I just be a “gamer” like my male peers? Don’t even get me started with the sexist remarks that comes our way, whether with #Gamergate, within eSports or even during casual play.

“But video games are for boys!”

No, no they’re not. And we should stop teaching the younger generation what is and what isn’t for them. Video games are for everyone, just like music, art, movies and books are for everyone who wants to enjoy them. The medium doesn’t judge, so why does the community?

Women make up almost half of the total number of gamers worldwide (the exact number fluctuates between 45-50% depending on the outlet) but many of the other half love to point out that some of those women only play mobile games and those are not “real games”. Is Arena of Valor not a “real game” then? How about Pokémon Go? Did Fornite or PUBG lose its “real game” status after going mobile? You can’t deny that there is definitely some bias there.

At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in 2016, just two years ago, it was obvious how much sexism still exists, whether companies want to admit their own faults or not. Microsoft’s GDC party had their attendees greeted by scantily-clad women in tiny schoolgirl outfits dancing on platforms, a choice made not by the party’s venue but by Microsoft themselves. Backlash for that debacle was followed by quite the half-assed apology:

“At Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was not consistent or aligned to our values…”

If you had discussed and agreed to sexualising women at a party representing you, you should question what your values actually are.

Although women take up a large chunk of that gaming pie, it seems that we only make up 22% of the video game industry, according to a survey by the International Game Developers Association. At a Ubisoft press conference during this year’s GDC, after showing a photo of an all-male development team for their new studio in Mumbai, a female reporter had asked the male top players in Ubisoft something that a lot of us have been questioning but never brave enough to ask:

“How come there are no women?”

There are, but we don’t see them. We barely see them. 22% in an industry that consists of hundreds of thousands of people is not a lot. At that same press conference, Ubisoft was forced to regurgitate that “27% of their overall leadership roles are held by women”. Let’s break that statement down a little: Ubisoft has over 30 subsidiaries worldwide yet less than 30% of those leadership roles in those 30-plus offices are held by women. That’s not much, if my math is correct. And honestly? That isn’t enough.

Considering the aforementioned statistic that women make up a majority of total gamers, you would think that we would have a bigger presence in the industry. If you were to ask me “what is enough”, I would outright tell you it is enough when we see females in those photos. When companies stop ‘reassuring’ us that they have x-percent of females in leadership roles. Stop saying we are there, show that we are there.

Things have changed and they are still changing. Naughty Dog’s third installment to the Uncharted series was written and co-directed by Amy Hennig and Santa Monica Studio’s new God of War had Shannon Studstill as executive producer and Yumi Yang as producer. Sony definitely seems to be going in the right direction, though I have yet to see other big names do the same. It is definitely more prevalent within indie studios, seen in games like Firewatch (environmental art by Jane Ng) and Journey (produced by Robin Hunicke). Slowly but surely.

The conversation needs to keep going. Everyone needs to keep having the conversation even if and when things change. And I do believe that we will get to a point of change and when we get to that point, we need to keep talking about it to make sure that we never go back.

Once companies that create these stories and worlds within video games that we love to stop sexualising women, be it in games themselves or at conventions, start normalising and taking pride that women are creating, developing and taking hold of game creation, then and only then would this problem go away. Then and only then can I truly feel welcomed in this community that I love so much.