When we think of a gamer, it often connotes stereotypical imagery of the young white cis-het lad playing a shooter game amongst dirty socks and take-out boxes. Yet stereotypes are often outdated nonsense and the stupidity of generalising an entire group of people just because they share only one specific criterion is obvious. In fact, since the 2010s, statistics have shown that sex does not in any way indicate whether someone is more or less likely to play video games, with pretty much an even split.
When you consider that in 2018, top AAA games raked in a record $36 billion in the USA alone, it simply does not make sense for household- name developers to ignore what the statistics suggest is half of their market or half of their future workforce.
When it comes to women in gaming, it is not just the consumer whose voice is being ignored. In 2019, it was reported that only 22% of employees in the gaming industry around the world are women. Compared to men, women are less likely to be in managerial or CEO positions, and several of the leading women in Finish gaming have stated that there is a gender bias when it comes to funding, with male entrepreneurs tending to be taken more seriously. Furthermore, in 2011, a study by the International Games Developers Association found that 73% of the women that do work in the industry have little control in the development stage or in shaping characters or storylines. Despite our commitment to equality in this country, it remains that there is still a significant imbalance. Statistics indicate that 74% are cis men, 61% white/ Caucasian or European, and 81% of employees are heterosexual. Such inequality does not represent our multi-cultural and diverse society and this disproportionate representation is not necessarily indicative of the people looking to find jobs. Both at home and around the world, all-male teams have become too common, and the lack of female voice in the gaming industry only serves to promote the ‘boys club’ image further.
For many years, the stereotype of the ‘gamer’ as being a young man (who must like what all young men like because society says so) has shaped the industry, particularly when it comes to the representation of women and girls in video games. There are still a number of big-name games that sexualise and objectify or normalise violence towards women and girls. In many of the most popular games, women are portrayed as a secondary character in need of rescuing or as a pubescent male fantasy with unrealistic proportions. Despite the success of the reimagined Lara Croft, when it comes to a female character being the heroine, there continues to be an imbalance and it is not improving. In fact, a report by Feminist Frequency found that in 2015, 9% of games at the E3 Gaming Expo had female protagonists, but in 2019, this had dropped to just 5%. Moreover, there is a misconception about what type of games are included in the ‘gaming’ discussion. Whether it is mobile games, new slot machines, consoles or PC games, it is often all encompassed within the same conversation but does not necessarily have the same consumers or creators.
Hoping to bring about change, Women in Games Finland have been working to promote inclusivity in the video game industry since they launched in 2011. Aspiring to ensure equal opportunities for all, they are a non-profit organisation committed to diversifying the video game workforce, with networking events, workshops, and mentoring programs. Their multiple events across the country and throughout the year offer excellent opportunities for women who are aspiring to work in games. Plus, everyone is welcome at all of their events, regardless of gender identity, expression or difference. This year, WiGFi also launched a mentorship program, which aims to match up those who are already succeeding in the industry with those who aspire to be; with the organisation providing support and guidance and nurturing the relationship between the mentor and the mentee.
In the autumn of 2018, Women in Games worked alongside several game industry organisations, including Neogames, IGDA, Finnish Game Jam, and Suomen Pelinkehittäjät, to establish the harassment task force. This involved dealing with issues of harassment through working together, sharing information and knowledge, and providing a one-stop-shop for best practice. This was particularly in response to the 2014 Gamergate issues, in which Internet trolls launched a harassment campaign that targeted video game employees, creators, developer players and journalists. This online hate campaign involved doxing and death threats, as well as further discouraging women to succeed in this male-dominated environment. Ultimately, promoting a zero-tolerance policy on harassment and an inclusive workplace culture would ensure that a more diverse group of employees actually want to work at the company. This need for change also needs to echo also echoes across online gameplay, with streamers and female gamers often being subject to vile and frequently sexist abuse.
However, a need to address the imbalance is not one that seeks out positive discrimination. It remains that developers are often overworked and underpaid, they are expected to work long hours to meet release dates and yet jobs can be few and far between. The competitive nature of the gaming industry means that it can be difficult for anyone to find their dream job, and often people need to move to a new city or country. However, that does not change the issues or address the barriers and getting more women and POC into gaming should be everyone’s priority. From employees to companies and events’ organisers, everyone is responsible for ensuring inclusion.
If you would like more information about the excellent work being done by Women in Games Finland check out their website. Here you can also find more information about becoming a member or supporting their cause. The annual membership fee is just 10 euros and this includes the chance to attend their multiple events and workshops throughout the year. You can also get involved and join the conversation by following WiGFi on Facebook and Twitter.
Image credit: Women in Games, Finland