Saturday, July 4, 2009

Playing like a Girl

Why is it that women don’t play video games? Is it because most genres don’t appeal to them? Is it because women would generally rather hang out with friends in person than sit in front of their televisions or computer monitors? Is it because women are naturally less skilled at video games? Do they have less developed “twitch” responses? It doesn’t really matter what you personally believe as the fact remains that women are continuously seen as a minority in the gaming world – and a large minority at that. The statistics vary: 20% of women own gaming consoles, 50% of players in MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft are women, women represent 38% of the gaming market, women represent 12% of the video game industry.


42.7/49/98 percent of statistics are made up on the spot and/or manipulated to better reflect a particular agenda.

Truth is, I don’t think there is a way to truly know how many women out there play video games on a regular basis. All I know is that there is a very strong assumption that the number is very low and normally confined to specific games and consoles. Or, that women only play games to make their boyfriends/husbands/partners happy. If you need more examples of this, go ahead and type “girl gamer” in Google Images and see what you get.

To share recent anecdote with you, I currently work part-time at a café. During a slow period, I got to talking with a co-worker of mine about a game I had recently started playing: Dead Space. Now, I’m a big fan of survival horror games and, accordingly, am no stranger to the genre. My co-worker on the other hand was not a horror enthusiast – he prefers sport and war related games. So as I try to convince him to give Dead Space a chance this customer starts laughing, looks and me and says, “I can’t believe I’m hearing a girl talk about Dead Space!”. I looked at him, not really sure of what to say, and just smiled and laughed back. On his way out, he turned back to me and said, “if you think Dead Space is scary, you should try playing F.E.A.R. Now that’s a scary game!” There was something about the tone of his voice that didn’t sit well with me. It was as if he was assuming that my playing such a game must have been a fluke. Quickly, I said back to him, “yeah, I’ve given F.E.A.R a shot but I’m not a big fan of the game mechanics. I recently finished Condemned 2 though and that it was pretty enjoyable.” He laughed again and walked out.

Now, I could have been reacting too sensitively but when every time you mention that you play video games you’re met with shock and skepticism, it wears on you.

Here’s a news flash: most women do not need specific games geared toward them. We don’t all want to play Cooking Mama or Katamari. Some of us do, and that’s perfectly fine, but just like men we want options. What we need is to not see women objectified so blatantly in video games. Don’t make the only female characters in your games stupid or overtly sexual or whose sole duty is to remain captured while awaiting rescue. Valve Studios continues to set fantastic examples with characters like Zoey from Left 4 Dead and Alex Vance from Half Life 2 who wear flat shoes, plain hair, and play key roles in their respective stories. This isn't to say that female characters should be forbidden from expressing themselves sexually, I just feel that some balance is needed.

Most of all though, stop simply assuming that we have no interest in strategy, sport, horror, racing, adventure, or action games. When it comes to gaming I think many women are perfectly capable of being “just one of the guys”. Our thumbs work just as well as theirs.


  1. Have you heard of Leigh Alexander? I think you would really enjoy her writing.

    Her blog is and she routinely talks about the kinds of issues you seem to be interested in talking about here on the blog. Just recently she wrote about Women Audiences and Characters.

    Keep up the great work. =)

  2. Thanks for the link, Ben. That's definitely a blog we'll have to keep an eye on.

  3. I agree with Lynsey, 100%. I'm kind of embarrassed that I had not heard of her until now. Thank you very much for the link!

  4. Since you moved pretty quickly from "how many girls play games?" to "we want options for good female characters", I was wondering whether you were the type who picks a character as an idealization / role model, or as a set of statistics. (For example, in Street Fighter, idealization types will pick Chun Li for girls and Ken for boys; statistics types will pick the highest Agility ranking, even if it's a twelve-year-old crossdresser.)

  5. That's a fantastic question, Robyrt! I wish I had seen it sooner. I'm going to move that discussion to our forums. Please feel free to comment and add to it.