Women’s History Month – Celebrating Women in Gaming

The number of women in gaming – both in the audience and in the industry – is rising rapidly, but there's still plenty to be done to improve representation.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we wanted to explore the topic of Women in Gaming, more specifcially the changes occurring within the video game industry regarding attitudes and inclusion of women. There are some important things currently happening, but we’re also looking towards the future and what work still needs to be done.

In a recent study by UKIE, it was found that 48% of global gamers are women. And what’s more, women make up the bulk of the mobile gaming audience in Europe, with an astounding 53% of all European mobile/tablet players being women. But that’s not all – a large percentage of female gamers play on other platforms (59% for console and 70% for PC), and women also make up some of the most dedicated gamer personas.

Yet despite this clear demand across the globe within the industry itself, female representation isn’t where it could or needs to be, with only 22% of the global gaming industry workforce being female. (IGDA Infographic, June 2014).

Women in Flagship Titles

It’s clear that the gaming landscape is changing, with growing demand from female audiences alongside the already established fans. So how are studios and developers responding? 

In the past, the overwhelming majority of game protagonists were male, but the tides are turning. For the longest time, and in a lot of video games, women were often portrayed as victims or as damsels in distress, acting as little more than a visual add-on, and although this can still sometimes be the case, change is coming.

As a result of better representation within publishers and developers, as well as changes in demand from the audience, we are now seeing more and more authentic female characters that offer depth that we the audience feel we can identify with. They offer us, role models, in some cases, in others they show us real humanity. This is clearest when we look at the likes of characters such as the beloved Ellie from Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed The Last of Us series, and this year’s major hit Horizon Forbidden West with the likes of badass Aloy. 

What still needs to be done

Despite the clear demand from the global gaming community and the changes in protagonist narratives, there are still some major problems in the industry, and work that needs to be done. It often feels like when you look at news within the industry, it has two main focuses: money and major acquisitions, or yet another act of general misconduct and mistreatment from a major industry player towards women.

This goes to show how much is yet to be done to support women within a historically male-dominated industry. Additionally, we can see that, now more than ever, women want representation within the industry – and this isn’t just in terms of characters within the games themselves, but also in positions of power within the studios and the industry at large. Women want opportunities and possibilities within their careers that are equal to their male counterparts.

This is where non-profit organisations like Women in Games come into play. Organisations such as this exist purely to address the issues of gender discrimination, exploitation, bullying, and harassment of women within the industry. Their mission is to get more women into games and esports, saying that it should be framed as a national, international, and strategic priority, and a business case for stronger teams, better insights, and innovative new products. You can read more about their work and events at their website here.

It’s clear that the only real way to address these issues is through education and better representation within not just the games themselves, but the publishers, studios, and supporting businesses within the video game industry.  

The future looks bright

It’s great to see some companies and studios making positive forward steps in the right direction. Xbox, for example, recently announced their new women-led mentoring program. This program has been designed and established to help people pursue a career in gaming by connecting aspiring talent with the female leaders at Xbox, showing women how you can be successful and female within the male-dominated industry.

While there are still many, many challenges, gaming is slowly becoming more inclusive. However, this is still much more work to be done, involving representation, fairness, and allyship by those with privilege wherever possible.