The video game industry (and its surrounding culture) has been predominately male for a very long time.
In 1988, Playthings, an American trade magazine, reported that females only made up about 21 percent of all the people who played video games, but these statistics are rapidly changing. In 2014, the Entertainment Software Association estimated that 48 percent of gamers were women.
Today, female gamers make up twice as large of a player base as boys (ages 18 and younger) who play video games. The seemingly quintessential groups of gamers, boys and young men, are dramatically outnumbered by the people who, until recently, no one thought actually played video games.
Why, then, are the many women and girls who consider themselves gamers not thought of as such? And why are women often held to higher standards than men in order to prove their passion for video games?
I can’t speak with any authority about the potential answers to these questions or what most men think about women in the gaming industry because I’m not a male gamer. Fortunately, I can speak to what it means to be a female gamer because for as long as I can remember I have loved to play video games.
I grew up playing the Sega Genesis and the original Playstation with my cousins until the Christmas when I got my first video game console, the Nintendo 64.
Throughout the years, I’ve continued to play video games. Today, my consoles of choice are the Playstation 3, Playstation 4 and Nintendo 3DS. The games and the consoles that I’ve played on may have changed, but I’m a still a gamer. I’m sure many other female gamers will agree, but it’s not always easy to admit you like to play video games.
If you aren’t having your hobby or passion completely dismissed for not being “serious” enough, then you’re getting hit on by the guys that suddenly worship the ground you walk on because you like to play video games.
As a girl, it can be both tiring and embarrassing to admit to new people that you play video games. I don’t get the same reactions when I tell people that I like to read or crochet, but video games are a completely different story.
I recall a time when the shirt that I was wearing ended up being something that suggested to other people that I wasn’t a “real gamer.” I was wearing a grey shirt with an abstract version of the owl from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask on it.
For those of you who have played either of these games, you probably know who I am talking about even if you didn’t know his name. The character is well known for being rather annoying, and the long bouts of dialogue he spews at you are often repeated accidentally if you try to push buttons too quickly.
The owl is a very memorable character, even if you are not the biggest fan of the game. I liked my shirt and I bought it because I like the video game that it’s from, but it caused me to briefly question my own passion for video games.
One of my friends, who was also attending the convention, recognized the reference. He asked me if I knew the owl’s name: I didn’t. But I can bet most people don’t know it, because the references for it are rather obscure. (For those of you who are curious, it’s Kaepora Gaebora).
His response was something along the lines of: “Oh, I thought you said you liked The Legend of Zelda?” While I don’t honestly believe that his response was meant to be hurtful, at the time it made me feel really bad. It made me second guess my purchase and the fact that I said I liked the game it was from. Maybe I wasn’t a real fan, because a real fan would have known to look something like that up. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought a shirt that referenced something I didn’t completely understand.
But why should that have made me feel bad? I have every right to own and wear a T-shirt I like even if I don’t know the complete history of the character’s origin.
Looking back at it, it feels dumb to have let something like that bother me. I wasn’t mad about what he said, and I didn’t say anything about it. (In fact, I hope he never reads this article or realizes that it was him that I was talking about.)
But it did hurt, because a small part of his response seemed to be attacking the fact that I played video games. I am a girl who plays video games, but somehow that doesn’t make as much sense to other people as it would if I were a guy.
So why is it that there is still a stereotype that exists that says girls don’t know how to play video games? Or that they can’t play as well as guys?
I’ve played video games for most of my life, but I am still faced with moments that make me think I haven’t been playing them correctly. Is there even a right way to play video games? I don’t think so.
No game developer expects each player who picks up their game to play it the exact same way. And even if they did, each player would notice and recall certain things differently than the next person.
I am a girl, and I play video games. There are thousands of other women out there who are just like me—women who have played video games all their lives or who are just now picking up their very first title. We are all gamers.
We make up a huge portion of the industry, but for some reason there are still girls (myself included) who feel like they don’t belong. Video games are often considered a boy’s or man’s hobby, and while women can play them, we can’t fully appreciate them.
This needs to change. It shouldn’t matter what your gender, age, social standing or anything is, if you play video games and enjoy them, you are a gamer. No one should tell you that you don’t like something enough or make you feel bad for liking the things you do.
I feel a lot more confident in my ability to identity as a female gamer now than I ever have, but there are many women out there who might not feel the same way. The video game industry should encourage everyone to follow their passions. It should be a place where phrases like “I am a girl, and I am a gamer” are an everyday occurrence.