Video games: Where are the women?

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Video games: Where are the women?

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With more than 36 million fans in France, video games have become an essential leisure activity for half of the French population. Whether on a computer, console or telephone, many gamers find video games a source of fun, adventure and exchange. For a long time confined to a niche audience, video games have managed to seduce many fans over the years with a diversified offer and a flourishing economic strike force. Despite its strong popularity, the world of video games is regularly criticized for its lack of inclusiveness. From the lack of strong female avatars, to the under-representation of women in the video game industry, to the harassment of women by certain groups of gamers or developers, the video game industry is still far from being a model of inclusion.


A difficult representation for women as players

Long perceived as a predominantly male hobby, video games are increasingly attracting a female audience. According to the annual report of the Leisure Software Publishers’ Union, the current share of women among regular gamers is now over 51%. Despite the fact that women are in the majority, they remain largely under-represented as characters in mainstream games.

To illustrate this reality, reporter Madeline Messer of The Washington Post conducted a survey on the representation of female characters in mobile games in 2015 and the results are stark. Of the 50 most popular mobile games, 98% of those with gender-identifiable characters featured freely playable male protagonists. On the contrary, only 46% of these games offered players the opportunity to play as female characters, and in 85% of cases, players had to pay an average of $7.53 to play them. This is, on average, a higher price than the game in question.

The representation of female characters in video games also recurrently reflects latent sexism: from hypersexualisation (Lara Croft in Tomb Rider), to the stereotypical ” damsel in distress” (Princess Peach in the Mario games or Princess Zelda in the eponymous games). A 2016 study of 571 games released between 1984 and 2014 found that the sexualisation of female characters was at its peak between 1990 and 2005, then declined significantly. One reason for this is the ever-increasing proportion of female gamers in publishers’ target audiences.

Some studies have also shown that gender representation in video games has a direct impact on how they are perceived in reality. For example, in one conducted in 2017 on 1266 gamers by Quantic Foundry, the results indicated that 89% of female gamers and 65% of male gamers considered the presence of female protagonists in video games to be extremely important.

In reality, even if this balancing act remains laborious, some studios have taken the lead and now offer heroines far from stereotypes, such as Naughty Dog with the character of Ellie in The Last of Us 2, Guerilla Games with the character of Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn or Ninja Theory with the character of Senua in the Hellblade gamv series.


Video game job industry is still resistant to change

Although the representation of female characters seems to be evolving with the appearance of new, more inclusive licenses, video game professions are still as masculine as ever. Even though they represent more than half of the players, women are not very present in production jobs (14%) and are often implicitly directed towards less technical jobs. Even if the figures are improving (in 1989, the American magazine Variety estimated the proportion of women in the video game industry at 3%), the progress remains too slow compared to other professions.

The main reason for this great disparity is that girls are conditioned from an early age. This social phenomenon, known as the “Pygmalion effect”, shows that the more we are encouraged in a specific area, the more our confidence in succeeding in that area increases. In contrast, the “Golem effect” indicates that low expectations of an individual are likely to result in lower performance.

To combat this conditioning, most of the players in the field need to do some in-depth work, especially in video game schools where women only occupy 20% of the places. The main goal is to identify the stereotypes and professional obstacles that women encounter throughout their careers to allow for better integration into this industry.


Misogyny still embedded in the gaming community

One of the major obstacles to the inclusion of women is the sexism that still plagues part of the video game community. Seven years after the Gamergate affair, which saw violent harassment campaigns against female developers, journalists or simple gamers led by other gamers close to 4Chan and the American alt-right, misogyny in the industry still persists. After Riot Games and Ubisoft (two of the major video game publishers), it is now the turn of Activision Blizzard, another giant in the industry, to be accused of having fostered a culture of harassment against a backdrop of inequality in career management.

Testimonies include “male employees proudly arriving at work drunk, playing video games for long periods of time during office hours and delegating work to women. They joke about their sexual relationships, talk openly about women’s bodies and joke about rape.” Senior managers have also been implicated for shielding such behaviour internally or for participating themselves.

Another recent event illustrates the extent to which sexism remains entrenched in certain gaming communities. In the game The Last of Us 2 developed by the American studio Naughty Dog, the two playable characters are the opposite of male standards.

The heroine, Ellie, is openly gay and Abby is portrayed in the opposite way to the usual standards of hypersexualisation (non-gendered clothes, prominent muscles, little or no shape). The Naughty Dog studio, and more specifically the game’s director Neil Druckmann, has long been willing to change the stereotypes inherent in video game clichés.

These risks have been welcomed by most gamers and professionals, but part of the community, very close to the instigators of Gamergate, have called for a boycott of the game and the studio for “Rainbow propaganda”. For them, The Last Of Us 2 is just a propaganda tool to promote ideologies that have nothing to do with video games. And their methods have not changed since the Gamergate affair: harassment, viral campaign of discrediting, even slander online.


Women in Games France: an organisation fighting for the inclusion of women in the video game industry

In order to support this dynamic of female inclusion in the video game industry, several initiatives exist like WomenInGamesFrance. This non-profit organisation was created in 2017 by several players in the video game industry (developers, programmers, communication officers…) and defends a greater gender mix in the industry. For Morgane Falaize, the organisation’s president since 2021: ” The goal when the organisation was created was to double the share of women in the video game professions in 10 years. Four years later, we already know that this goal will be very difficult to achieve, but we are redoubling our efforts to raise awareness”.

To achieve this, Women in Games France has set three objectives. The first one is to help the professional development of women and non-gendered people who wish to invest in video game professions. By offering resources such as guides, deontological charters or training courses given by professionals in the field (for computer code, for example), the nonprofit wants to show that technical jobs are not reserved exclusively for men.

Through training, the second objective is to give more visibility to female profiles in the industry by giving women more responsibility in the creative process of video games.

The third objective involves raising awareness within video game schools. A charter aimed at encouraging gender diversity is thus being drawn up in 2019 by the CNC and representatives of the main players in the French video game industry (companies, schools, SELL, SNJV, independents…). The latter is based on 7 key points including the prevention of any form of discrimination, violence / harassment, or fragility related to gender / sexual orientation, the development of male / female statistics or the promotion of equality and devices in place to encourage greater inclusion.

For the organisation and its president, the efforts are starting to bear fruit: ” In video game schools, we feel a stronger feminist commitment with girls who are determined to do their job and break stereotypes.” However, according to Morgane Falaize, it is still too early to claim victory: ” Our goal will be reached when our organisation no longer needs to exist. This fight we are leading for inclusiveness in video games is still long, but we hope that one day full gender diversity will be effective and that we will be able to concentrate solely on our profession and our passion: video games”.


Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 France License.


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