Why ALL gamers matter — my view as a female games analyst

Post by Senior Analyst Stephanie Llamas  

When I was eleven years old, after years of getting Barbies and American Girls for my birthday, I saved up the $50 I needed to  buy a used GameBoy. . Don’t get me wrong – I LOVED Barbies but I also loved the Ninja Turtles and playing Doom on my dad’s PC.  But my Gameboy was the first device I could call my own after years spent playing games on my (mostly male) friend’s consoles.

I dressed like a tomboy in elementary school, swinging by boys’ houses and hoping that would validate me enough so I could play a game of Mortal Combat or be the Bulls in NBA Jam (as a Chicago resident, that never happened). Even when I visited my grandmother’s house, I snuck into my uncle’s room hoping to play Duck Hunt or Legend of Zelda on his SNES, often finding my grandmother had had the same idea.

After years of spectating, hoping for boys to invite me into their inner-circle of gaming, and losing my GameBoy in a rental car, I finally got a Nintendo 64 for my birthday and never looked back. My resume of games ranges from StarCraft to Super Mario 64 to three different Grand Theft Autos. But I also love a quick game of Cut the Rope or, dare I say, Candy Crush Saga during my tedious subway commutes. I wrote my Master’s thesis on video games and now am lucky enough to research games for a living.

Point is, I am a gamer.

But, I am also a woman.

I normally don’t think the two have much to do with each other. I don’t choose my games based on my gender. I don’t exclude games based on it either. I’ve played great games that have still marginalized and degraded women and I’ve put up with the way my gender is represented because I haven’t had a choice otherwise. I also love games with strong women through which I can live vicariously. Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite is one of my favorite video game characters of all time and it truly added value to my experience to feel represented.

It’s true, female gamers once seemed like an anomaly. But I would argue we never actually were. For a long time, we waited to be invited, but many of us were gamers at heart all along.

With the growing popularity of casual platforms, there have been two false assumptions by many. The first is that women gamers are mostly casual gamers. But half of female PC gamers in the U.S. consider themselves to be mid-core or hardcore gamers. It is true that 58% of mobile gamers in the U.S. are women. But it is also true that just over 50% of American PC gamers are women. In fact, women are the largest gaming demographic for PC role-playing games (54%) and they represent almost 40% of MMO and digital console gamers. So to say that women are just casual gamers is empirically false.

The second assumption is that casual gamers can’t be gamers. The majority of casual gamers are women, but what discounts casual gamers as part of the gaming community? Recently, a presentation I did at GDC was posted on Gamasutra, and a commenter named Kirill Steshin wrote, “interesting how mobile users are also called “gamers”, with no prof (sic) why or when they got in this such category.” Well, I’ll be clear on how I, and everyone at SuperData Research, view gamers. It is an inclusive term. A gamer is anyone who plays a video game. This person may have mistaken the word gamer to mean something closer to themselves. Or hardcore gamer, perhaps. Or someone who played video games before smartphones were invented. But gamer does not exclusively mean any of those things, nor do self-defined gamers get to decide what the word means for everyone else. The gamer community is just that – a community of people who love and play games, no matter the device, genre or motivation.

Recently, there has been a lot of debate over both definition of the word gamer and who is permitted to use it. Leigh Alexander recently wrote for the end of “gamers” and, in the midst of #GamerGate, public figures and popular gamers like Felicia DayWill Wheaton and Chris Kluwe have commented on the misogyny and vitriole that has been attached to discussions about women and gaming. However, of the three of them only Felicia Day was trolled, her address posted in the comments section of her post within the hour. In a recent Pew report, half of female Internet users ages 18-24 were called offensive names online, 26% were stalked and 25% were sexually harassed. During my time in that age group, I can sadly say I was included in all three of those statistics, two of which were during activities related to video games.

I’ve never been a fan of playing console games online with a headset, mostly because, without exception, I have been harassed every time I’ve tried. When I heard about Jenny Haniver’s site Not in the Kitchen Anymore, a site chronicling the harassment Jenny experienced playing Call of Duty,I was even more turned off by the idea, becoming less and less inclined to be outward about my participation in the gaming community as I saw how more and more of my female friends were treated. I have long been a follower of Anita Sarkeesian and have a visceral reaction to the harassment I see gone her way just for pointing out tropes in games that do exist and do marginalize female participation. She was not attacked with the same magnitude of hate when she made videos about women and tropes in other traditional media. And it’s because television and movies long ago circumvented the idea of privileged participation. Everyone can be a tv-viewer or a movie-goer, and shows and films can represent different dimensions of entertainment in order to appeal to every kind of viewer. So why can’t games? I, for one, am an avid consumer of video games and would love to see more diversity in the characters and storylines portrayed. It doesn’t mean that what me or my “sistren” want is going to monopolize video game content and the medium will become a banshee cry for feminism. But just as there is diversity in the television shows I choose to watch, I would like the opportunity to choose that for my gaming experience.

Here is where I think this whole issue really lies: the idea of whether gaming can be and is for everyone. When Steshin wrote (and bolded) that I had not given sufficient proof to the idea that mobile gamers are in fact gamers, this stemmed from the propriety mentality of the traditional gamer who has carved out an exclusive sub-culture, relegating anyone who deviates from their strict definition as the oppressive “other” and making them, therefore, unworthy of membership. This is what has led to unflattering stereotypes of anti-social male gamers who play on their PCs in their parents’ basement. And I don’t think any gamer thinks that is representative of the entire gaming community. The video on which Steshin commented was precisely about how everyone can be a gamer. It is not a boy’s club where only those who can appreciate true hardcore games find safe haven from the judgment brought upon them for their refined gaming tastes. It is a place where anyone on any device can enjoy themselves through play. And areas of gaming that were customarily thought to be dominated by men are showing growing participation by women. The wonderful world of eSports has over 180 million streaming viewers, a quarter of which are women. And almost half of female PC gamers in the U.S. stream and/or record gameplay on sites like Twitch and YouTube. So not only have women grown their stake as gamers in general, they have shown a desire to be more active participants to the gaming community as a whole.

While I am a gamer and a woman, I am also a market researcher. My job is to analyze and evaluate the performance of digital game markets, helping companies find the best points of opportunity for their titles. Basically, I help game makers find the people who will participate in and support their games. By no means is it in those companies’ or my best interest to exclude users who want to participate in the products they create. And in that respect, it would be wrong for me, or anyone else, to exclude mobile, female, or any users who play video games from the “gamer” definition.