Pass the controller: Girls like gaming too

By Sarah Gallaher | Staff Writer

Gaming culture has long been a source of misogyny and exclusion.

As far as hobbies go, gaming is incredibly inclusive; it doesn’t require certain physical characteristics for success. However, women still experience backlash for participating in this male-dominated sphere.

“It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” If Link needs a sword to navigate the treacherous waters ahead, women need a sword, a gun and a book of spells. They could probably use a hammer too, but inventory space is limited.

When women declare gaming as their favorite hobby, they are met with immediate judgment from their male counterparts. Many men view gaming as a test of intelligence — something women are incapable of possessing. Therefore, regardless of skill, women become the subject of jokes that undermine their intelligence and turn them into objects of sexual desire.

The issue arose from marketing tactics within the gaming industry that drew distinct lines between “girl games” and “boy games.” Women were expected to enjoy games with traditionally feminine traits, while men were expected to enjoy competition and violence.

This eventually bled into the depiction of female characters in games. Over-exaggerated physical traits sexualized women and prevented women from using these characters without becoming the target of sexual jokes. Female gamers either had to “suck it up” or put on a male appearance and persona to fit in.

Research shows that this is a widespread issue: 20% of female gamers have experienced sexual harassment, while 59% of female gamers opt to hide their gender altogether. These numbers would likely be higher, but many women play casual single-player games that are generally marketed toward women and don’t interact with men in the community on a regular basis.

It seems that these “casual” games are the only safe space for women in the gaming community. Since most games in this category come from indie developers and are single-player or couch co-op, they tend to be less competitive and harbor a more inclusive community.

Games like these often introduce women to gaming, and they make up some of the most popular titles of the past few years. When Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was released in March 2020, copies flew off the shelves and even sold out the Nintendo Switch itself. This proved that making gaming more inclusive benefits both consumers and developers.

Although these types of games are not made exclusively for women, the easy-to-learn game mechanics and emphasis on decoration and customization are appealing to new female gamers. Similar titles, like ConcernedApe’s “Stardew Valley” and Witch Beam’s “Unpacking,” focus on gaming as a fun, relaxing activity rather than a source of stressful competition.

Since games like these have proven popular, the video game industry is becoming more receptive to women partaking in the hobby. Game developers see women as an unreached audience and are responding to their interests accordingly, adding improved female customization options to existing games and including developed female characters in new releases.

The industry is catching up. Girls like gaming too, and developers are beginning to recognize that. It’s time for the community to do the same. Rather than rejecting female gamers, male gamers should welcome them as equal competitors who can contribute to the community as a whole.