Women in gaming: How far has the industry come?

6 min read
38

International Women’s Day was last week and as you can imagine, social media was flourishing with posts praising women past, present and future. For one day, the world celebrated women for all they have accomplished. Even brands got in on the action, giving their own advertising-soaked toasts to women.

Women have come a long way from the days of prolific sexist advertising or not even being able to vote. Despite all this, there is still a long, long way to go. From the gender pay gap to a society that still retains so many harmful, patriarchal values, there are still so many battles to be fought. Battles that women really shouldn’t be fighting in 2017.

Women In Gaming

It has been as perilous a journey for women in the digital world as it has been in the real one. Gaming has been notorious for being unwelcoming to women and a boys’ club. It’s made evident with the constant objectification of female characters and the lack of female protagonists. You feel it in the language used and the jokes that are considered commonplace within many gaming communities.

The rise of Gamergate brought it all to a head, of sorts, with large swathes of gamers unleashing vitriol at many women in the gaming scene. It brought mainstream media to take a look at the hostility women faced in gaming on a daily basis, both in communities and in the gaming industry itself. In a way, it forced the gaming world to take an honest look at itself and the culture it perpetuated.

Much like how Zuma has often been a catalyst propelling citizens and opposition parties to demand change, Gamergate helped propel voices of various women and their allies as they sought to take on the gaming culture and create a more inclusive space for not just themselves, but everyone.

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Through controversy, mistakes, perseverance, dedication and anger, there have been strong voices leading the charge to make gaming more inclusive and representative. All thse emotions helped to fuel the voices that continue to battle for women’s rights and respect in gaming.

So in 2017, where are women in the gaming world, compared to the past?

Women in 2017

For a long while, Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft was one of the few female protagonists the gaming world could hold up as an example of something to be proud of. Somewhat. Since then, the cast of female protagonists has grown and made for some compelling and inspiring characters.

From Dishonored 2 to Horizon to Mirror’s Edge, more and more women are holding the reins. Outdated and problematic female tropes are being left behind and instead we get thought out, fully developed characters with backstories and depth.

Overwatch has become a beacon of light in the narrative around diversity and representation and they continue this charge when discussing representation of women, women of all backgrounds. Overwatch has women of colour, women that represent the LGBTQ community and who knows what else they have in store. The makers of Overwatch have repeatedly stated that they never intended to create a vastly diverse game, they just wanted great characters, but even they should be able to appreciate the impact their design decisions have made for many underrepresented groups in gaming, especially women.

In the gaming scene as well, a lot of growth can be seen. During Gamergate, many male colleagues were accused of silently watching as their female counterparts were metaphorically dragged through the social media mud by angry mobs.

Since then, more and more people are calling out sexism in the scene. Colin Moriarty, co-founder of Kinda Funny Vids, wrote a tasteless joke on International Women’s Day and was rightfully called out for it. (Despite the backlash, he has yet to apologise or remove the tweet) Even the beacon that is Overwatch was called out for its suggestive pose it gave one of its characters, Tracer, and how quickly they retraced their steps and apologised.

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You look at the opportunities women in the local scene are creating for others and showing what is possible. You look at Sam Wright, paving the way within eSports with Mettlestate. You look at the fact that a woman is the president of the MSSA – although we all have reservations about the organisation, there is some reason for cautious optimism.

A lot has changed for the better in the gaming scene for women, but it’s not enough. Celebrating and appreciating women once a year is not enough. Sprinkling female protagonists in some AAA games is not enough. Calling out the odd sexist joke isn’t enough.

There are still so many battles to be fought and problematic behaviour to tackle and solve. Whilst there have been a lot of improvements, there is still so much more to be done and we should all be actively fighting for that. There is a lot of opportunity in 2017 to make some real strides in this regard. Let’s not wait for a catalyst like Gamergate to happen again before we really push for equality and a culture we can all participate in and be proud of.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: March 13, 2017

Glenn Kisela

I've always loved video games as well as writing, so mixing the two together was inevitable. When I'm not doing that, I do photography and design. I'm also a big fan of English Cricket. Ask me about the ICC.

  • Glenn, I have to correct you on two things please.

    1. “Gamergate helped propel voices of various women and their allies as they sought to take on the gaming culture and create a more inclusive space for not just themselves, but everyone.”

    Let’s just clarify that GamerGate started out as a bunch of people calling for answers when a few gaming journalists were outed amidst allegations of trading sexual favours for coverage and preferential review scores. I have the videos and the dates to prove that this was the original intention. The media then bastardised the movement and it spiralled outwards from there, and ever since GamerGate has been painted with an unfair brush (it’s ironic because feminists or religious people will argue that radicals in their circles are outliers and must be ignored but the media took the outliers of GamerGate and put them front and centre).

    Furthermore, the biggest winners of GamerGate (besides gamers for actually getting the ethical review policies they asked for in the first place) were the women who were front and centre. Anita Sarkeesian went on Colbert and she and Zoe Quinn both went and spoke at the United Nations regarding online harassment. Meanwhile the likes of Brianna Wu (whom you’ve previously mentioned in your columns) used the opportunity to springboard herself to infamy by faking (and getting caught) threats to herself, and using these to elevate her career (she continues to do this, most recently claiming she was hacked by Russia).

    A lot of women stood on the side of GamerGate, and they were raked through the coals for it (I have the references if you’d like). Odd, given that those who opposed GamerGate explicitly did so because media claimed it was GamerGate that was attacking women. Now I don’t stand on the “pro-GamerGate” side nor do I stand against it, but in the interest of fair reporting this must be noted (and continues to fail to be, in most publications – not that I’m surprised).

    That’s one.

    2. “Even the beacon that is Overwatch was called out for its suggestive pose it gave one of its characters, Tracer, and how quickly they retraced their steps and apologised.”

    I would argue that this is not necessarily a good thing. The Tracer backlash began because of a forum post query that then went viral and, as with many of these things, escalated wildly from there. Blizzard’s decision to adhere to the change, given that they usually ignore these, tells me they either felt it was a harmless change to make, or (and you may disagree but this is where I think their heads were) they wanted to avoid the backlash and outcry that would come from this small thing that they could easily change.

    This is not okay. This is infringing upon creative freedom (where it is not harmful, of course). And this basically gives the message that if you claim to be self-righteous enough then you can bully creators into changing THEIR WORK for your ends. Now I love Overwatch, I’ve put in hundreds of hours and Pharah and Ana are my favourite characters (they are the Egyptian Goddesses of the game <3), but there are bigger problems in Overwatch than Tracer's butt being shown in a victory pose THAT YOU COULD SIMPLY OPT NOT TO USE (apologies for the caps, I don't know if I can use italics here).

    I'm with you in wanting good representation for women (although I'm of the opinion that it has always been there, and is simply improving in quality, not quantity – the only difference is nowadays media is paying more careful attention to it, so it's showing a bit more and gives the illusion of being a higher quantity) and I think it would be really great if there was something for everyone (although I do draw the line at "why doesn't this game that appeases literally millions not appease to specifically me" because come on now) but I just want to ensure we're all on the same page here.

    It's my opinion that, besides the outliers (the trolls and radicals who can't be reasoned with ANYWAY), everyone wants the same thing. We just don't all see eye-to-eye on the means and methods of achieving that, and then we end up radicalising and "other"ing those who don't share exactly our viewpoint. Anyway thanks for the article, and I hope this comment isn't too much. <3

    • Banana Jim’s Final Form!

      Beautiful summation!

  • Apparently the wage gap between males and females is a myth propagated by false data. When comparing apples to apples the wage gap disappears.

    And I think all that Gamergate accomplished in the end was ensuring that the tangerine menace became the head of America. Deep in my conspiracy brain I feel that Gamergate was just a test run to see how vile and putrid people could be before the mainstream reacted.

    And what they learnt was that they could be amazingly putrid with no real backlash and once the mainstream media came onboard all you had to do was call it #FakeNews and carry on being the vile little scum you always were and get away with it.

    I don’t like people asking Colin to take down his tweet, it’s freedom of speech. If you or others don’t like the joke and get offended.. so what? If his colleagues really hate it they can boot him from the show. But a small (in reality) echo chamber of anger isn’t going to change anything.

    • Zoe Hawkins

      for every “debunking the wage gap” article I’ve seen, i’ve seen another arguing that THAT article was the one using false data. I still believe in it primarily because of in-company stats and stories I’ve seen. Obviously not all companies, not all industries, etc etc, but the reality is that women and men are treated differently in the workplace, and rewarded for their work in different ways.

      also, i agree – #GamerGate was absolutely a test run. I even wrote about it. 😛
      http://www.criticalhit.net/gaming/gamergate-silence-helped-elect-trump-truths/

      • I’m a strong believer in men and women being different and seeing things differently. I don’t think it’s a social construct I think it’s evolution and that is why more men (in general) prefer to receive a financial bonuses over a fully paid spa weekend.

        In one of my jobs my entire team was rewarded for their hard work with a whole day of pampering by our female boss.. WORST.BONUS.EVER

        I literally had to call my wife to come save me from this insanity 🙂

        There are more than enough powerful women in business and government to prove that #NotAllWomen just want to be housewives, but at the same time a large portion of ladies do want to be housewives and that very basic example is one of the reasons of the supposed wage gap.

      • D W

        No Zoey, there is no “false data”. The only debate is over whether it is indeed a “wage gap” or an “earnings gap”. The former is highly illegal and has been so for decades and the latter describes choices that men and woman tend to make in their studies/family lives/careers and the effect this has on their potential earnings (not wages) when averaged out.

        Like it or not women (on average) still tend to study less marketable/lower earning fields, make choices to drop out of the workplace to become caregivers or prioritize family over work, which can make them less effective choices for promotion/higher levels of work responsibility. This is simply a fact and can be seen in any working environment. I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to tell those woman they made the WRONG choice as I’m all about personal freedoms.

        Having spent most of my working life in a corporate environment and seeing the choices my colleagues and previous fellow students made/make has made it very obvious to me that these choices have a far larger role in what we EARN than our genders do.

      • BakedBagel

        If the wage gap was at all real, people would be in prison for it.

    • HvR

      Would like to see the breakdown (gender vs wage vs years experience) in SA stats.

      I suspect (no proof just observation in the my little field experience) that in the tech and engineering sectors you will actually see the reverse, with parastatals and universities jumping over each other to offer women who graduate with scarce skills jobs and bursaries usually at above average remuneration over the last decade. I also believe this is one of the main reasons that is why the number of women entering the private sector has been so low.

      But as the social stigma (which both men and women of the past is to blame for) of women in tech and by extention gaming is slowly evaporating, the number of girls that choose a career in these areas will increase and spread over to the private sector.

  • Zoe Hawkins

    Thanks for writing this, Glenn – I agree that it’s important to celebrate the successes and also demand more. I think Aloy and Lara serve as important reminders that franchises can have female leads, used all over their marketing material, and be successful.

    That said, I would have liked more suggestions of what exactly people can do to help women in gaming. Too often we are told that we need to do MORE to help women, PoC, etc, but without tangible examples, people can feel alienated or like their current efforts are undermined or go without validation.

    As an example: I like that this community is so welcoming towards women, but could probably use fewer “make me a sandwich” jokes – they aren’t offensive so much as tired and boring forms of sexist humor. Feel free to make jokes, just make sure they are worth it. 😛 Just be aware of how you talk to people of all genders, orientations, races – if you’d be comfy with your sibling being talked to that way, it’s probably okay (unless you have a terrible relationship, then forget that analogy). Most siblings know how to tease each other and have fun, without crossing the line. At least, I hope so. 🙂

    • Magoo

      Thank you for saying this so politely.

    • Don’t worry. We have all matured and now only make jokes about that one scene in Deadpool with him and the unicorn. 😛

  • Skittle

    Before triggered comments (from all perspectives) start appearing, remember to take a deep breath and think before you ink

    • Magoo

      I do what I want.

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      That reminds me, I want another tattoo.

  • Magoo

    For those who don’t know, Colin’s tweet was “Ah. Peace and quiet. #ADayWithoutWomen”

    I can’t even gather the words to express how pathetic it is that someone can be genuinely offended by an innocent little joke like this. Everyone makes sexist jokes all the time. Put on your adult pants and lighten the fuck up.

    • MonsterCheddar

      Its the Offended generation, Bru. If you ask them that they will first get offended and then switch the room lights on. Humour doesn’t exist anymore, because it offends everyone.

    • miaau

      You mean, I was sexist (cause I was happy) when my wife and kids went out and left me alone last weekend, for a whole 4 hours…. Ah,, yes, now that was some uninterrupted game time.

      Nah, stuff it. Too busy with real life

  • Joannah Christine Stewart

    I’ve worked in the Esports and gaming community in SA for 4 years now and I’ve never once run into a man who’s wanted to bring me down in any way. In fact they have always been rather supportive and seen myself and the women around them as equals.

    I actually find that women’s biggest enemies are women themselves.

    • miaau

      Hi, very curious person here (man, if it matters, right?). What do you do in Esports and the gaming community? I ask because, while I play games, I know nothing of the Esports scene in SA.

      IF I had more time (business and very young family tend to destroy my time schedules) I would like to become more involved and play certain games at tournaments and watch others. Not just chess (which I love) but some other games, like Tekken, just for the fun, i.e. will never really be able to compete.

      • Joannah Christine Stewart

        I do a lot of things really but mostly I am in social media and event planning. You should add me on Facebook and I’ll be happy to show you around. If you’re into console gaming you should follow Zombiegamer. Google zombiegamer and you will find their site. ACGL is another good one to followhelp for that.

        • miaau

          Thanks, I will look out for Zombiegamer and ACGL

          Um, I am only on this site and Disqus. I have no other social media presence. But thank you for the offer.

          Funny, my wife seems to spend 1/3 of her free time on various social media platforms, interacting, helping people, sharing parenting woes / triumphs, that sort of thing. I play chess and Xbox games.

          • Joannah Christine Stewart

            Lol. You should get her to sign you up for Twitter. You can find a lot of the local gaming community there.

  • Overwatch. Oh please!

    Play any Bioware game and you got everything you need from female protagonist to tons of LBGT appeasement.

    Okay maybe not the Star Wars stuff but that had more to do with George than it did with Bioware.

    That is literally all I want to say about this topic as I am getting tired of these articles and would rather game than read it.

    Also FEMSHEP FOR LIFE YO!

    • miaau

      There is / was no other than FEMSHEP

  • Craig “CrAiGiSh” Dodd

    This article reminds me a of CS:GO game I played the other night.

    Had a girl on our team and when another player yelled at her (CS:GO yell, not gender or insult yell).

    She replied, “I’m a girl, how can you talk to me like that?”

    To which the guy replied, “Your not a girl, your a gamer and when playing CS:GO talking to each other like this comes with the territory.”

    Gets you thinking 😛

    • yeah, most people online are assholes who need a good ass whipping.

      • Craig “CrAiGiSh” Dodd

        True.

        But again, they guy wasn’t yelling at her because she was a girl – not trying to create the wrong idea.

        Hard story to tell – its one of those, “you had to be there” type of deal.

        • Deceased

          Nope – just have to have had experienced such a situation yourself to understand – had a few DotA games back in the addiction days that went like that, and it’s a sad affair…

          Imagine asking a gamer, in a team, who’s not pulling their weight, if they want special treatment or equal treatment? With the response being “equal treatment” – but the moment some random kaked her out she threw a fit and went jungling for the rest of the game…

          ( Yes, men, women, and squeakers *ehem ehem* I mean kids of all shapes, sizes colors and sexual orientations do this and it all boils down to: “Do you want special treatment or equal treatment?” )

          You can’t ask for equal treatment and then get all pissy when you’re not up to the task at hand … also, I reiterate, MEN ALSO do this 😐

    • D W

      “Treat my like an equal until I decide I want to be treated differently”

      Yeah, we’ve all seen it.

    • miaau

      I hold open doors for woman, I stand when a woman enter the room, that sort of thing. I will also help unpack the trolley of an elderly woman, for example, or something like that. Sometimes, much appreciated, other times…… Door ripped from my hand angrily, I DO NOT NEED YOU.

      Now, I just do as I was taught growing up, that is all I can do.

  • Deceased

    Glenn, bro, I’m sorry – I cannot help but cringe at the topics of your articles 🙁
    Even though they’re superbly well written and do articulate what you’re trying to say well ( at least, I think they do ) – the topics are the issue.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I want to have gaming be a “white boys club” or anything, but rather, I believe we’ve moved past:
    1. Gender diversity in gaming
    2. Racial diversity in gaming
    3. Age diversity in gaming
    4. ( insert whatever else discrimination there is )

    The reason for me saying this is that the issue has already been covered ( not only by Lags/CH – but by other news-related sites ) and at this point it could be viewed as a wound…

    Think about it – we should let it dry, form a scab and heal – instead, we’re ( I’m not saying you personally ) poking at it and preventing this – we’re keeping the wound open with these types of articles 🙁

    Keep in mind, please, that this is only my opinion and it’s HIGHLY likely that I’m so out of touch with “reality” that I don’t see this constantly or as a problem anymore – because as I’ve commented on almost every single one of your articles that I’ve had the pleasure of reading ( and I sincerely mean that ), “A true gamer doesn’t care about anything there is to discriminate against, because at the end of the day, we’re all gamers”.

    Oh Mighty Gavin – can’t Glenn write an article about how wonderful an open world game is ( such as TW3 or the new Zelda game ) – I think this man will rock the socks off articulating what he’s experiencing in the game… Unless he wants to write about discrimination 🙁

    • Deceased

      Yes, I get the article is a nod that we’re moving in the right direction, but there’s an undertone to it that I just can’t let slip 🙁

      ( Again, sorry dude, I know and get that you’re probably assigned to write about these types of topics – I really don’t dislike your articles )

    • Dresden

      Well said sir!

  • Sageville

    Kinda disappointing to see such negative comments about an overall positive development in an article….

  • Cat

    Glenn I would like to ask a question, are you going into politics as it seems all your articles are geared towards that premise?

  • miaau

    Yeah, but no.

    Mass Effect, from 1, had a female lead, well voiced and characterised. I am not even aware of a male lead for that game.

    Also, Dragon Age, in my experience, only woman leads. (ok, ok, that is me, I always create woman chars)

    BUT, seriously,Glenn as some other have commented below, your choice of topics, while of interest, seem to be a bit on the “one side”, always about race / gender / minorities / majorities rights et al. And I do enjoy those, as written by you. Do you know why? You can write, you really can. Engaging, well thought out (although sometimes a bit more research could help) and, very importantly, good grasp of the written language AND how to keep the pace going.

    So, what about some other topics from you? What about something topical about HOW games are developed, process followed, from idea, to concept, business case, approval, re-write, development, feedback, that sort of thing? Perhaps find a studio that will take you through that. Just a suggestion.

  • Banana Jim’s Final Form!

    Fuehrer Anita has moved onto other things, and I doubt she’ll be back in gaming. Gaming was always a stepping stone for her and her rainbow-haired ilk.

    My personal assessment has always been that identity politics (ironically) set gender and race relations back at least 30 years. Gaming would have naturally become more inclusive as it became more mainstream and global. After all, eventually market forces would dictate what games would sell, and since gaming was already spilling over from what’s usually considered “white or male dominated” genres, “inclusivity” would have come naturally. It would have had to, if game developers wanted to sell their games beyond Europe, North America and Japan. Hollywood has discovered this as well. If you want Chinese audiences to care about your movies, you have to make a concerted effort to embrace Chinese viewers. Similarly, if gaming is to grow in Africa, the middle East, South America, etc. You have to start making games that would appeal to those who wanted something a bit more relateable.

    Instead, by trying to force it, it’s merely fostered resistance against “well-meaning” and “dismally out-of-touch” progressives – and thus a generally right-leaning counter-culture was sparked. It will take years to repair the damage that the left has inflicted on itself and on gaming as a culture.

  • Neptunium

    We’ve come far enough that articles like this are laughed at and not taken seriously.

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