Since their development in the early 1940s/1950s, video games have been seen as a ‘boy’s toy’. Over the past few years, the amount of female gamers has increased, though the online gaming community is still dominated by males. According to a recent survey, there is approximately a ratio of 40/60 female to male gamers.

Jennifer Allen, a 26-year-old gamer from Swansea, has been a gamer since she was five years old. She thinks that the amount of female and male gamers depends on the genre of the title: “First Person Shooters are dominated by men, although I think a lot of women stay quiet over voice coms.

“With Massively Multiplayer Online titles, I reckon it’s more balanced. That’s a world where it doesn’t matter what gender you are in real life though as for the most part I don’t think anyone cares, as long as you know how to play your character.”

Stereotypically, girl gamers will play the likes of Barbie: Horse Adventures and Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue, two titles with a target audience of young females, as well as other titles in the ‘casual’ genre. However, as Jennifer illustrated, there are many females that play the ‘hardcore’ titles.

To highlight female gamers playing such titles, special gaming communities have been set up specifically for the gender. GamerChix, organised by the Xbox community managers, has a ladies night every Wednesday dedicated to bring girl gamers together by playing a specific game. The night is generally well received by most female gamers.

However, Jennifer has very little interest in such communities and events. She insists that “female gaming communities aren’t anything to do with equality really, they just reinforce the divide. I want to play a game and no one thinks: ‘A girl playing a game!?’ I’d much rather be thought of as a gamer, the same as anyone else.”

Groups, such as these, are often on the end of abuse from male gamers. Websites such as “Fat, Ugly or Slutty,” ran by three female gamers, highlights some of the abuse that women receive on a regular basis, often referring to girls in sexual terms and about sexual parts.

Jennifer has “had a few problems with abuse” but felt it was just “people being stupid over voice coms.” She continued: “I’m pretty careful where I play and only tend to chat if I’m with friends. It’s not worth the hassle otherwise. I’m quite lucky though, I’ve heard of people who have had a lot more trouble than me.”

To overcome such problems, Jennifer’s advice to other female gamers while playing online is to “have slightly thick skin. Always remember there’s a mute button, and don’t get too wound up. Most of all: don’t play up to the gender thing, don’t flirt or be all girly, it’s silly. You’re playing a game for fun, not to find a date.”

The portrayal of women in video games is quite similar to that of female gamers, often living up to the ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype that has been around for hundreds of years. Characters, such as Princess Peach (Mario series) and Cortana (Halo series), reinforce the stereotype, having to await rescues from the game’s hero in a romantic plot in the game.

On the flip side, in more recent years, there have been some strong female characters in video games. Faith (Mirror’s Edge), Joanna Dark (Perfect Dark series) and Jill Valentine (Resident Evil series) are all examples of such characters.

Jennifer believes that “women still feel like they’re there to be saved by men or to be the love interest.” However, she does feel progress has been made: “It’s getting there though. It wasn’t that long ago that women hardly featured at all so at least they exist in bigger roles.”

Another feature that is common in video games starring women is the sexualisation of the characters. One game that has come under criticism for such objectification is Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider series that has been developed with an unrealistic breast size. Likewise, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball came under fire for showing the women in bikinis as eye candy, rather than for the sport itself.

While female gamers are on the rise, they are still being treated differently than male gamers get treated. Whether the equality between male and female gamers will balance out in the future is unknown, but what we do know is that it’s getting better. The same can be said for the women’s portrayal in video games which, like the female gamers themselves, is also becoming more equal.

Posted on: Console Monster
Date: 30th June 2011