Who are the players?
If you were to picture a typical gamer, you might think of a teenage lad overdue a shower, eyes fixed on a screen in the early hours of the morning, with an energy drink in hand and 20-button mouse in the other.
It’s an easy assumption to make from a brief glance at gritty games marketing. From Call of Duty to Clash Royale, and everything in between, different kinds of video games now form a part of millions of lives.
With more adult women making up the gaming population than teenage boys, the average gamer may be quite different to what you’d initially expect. Of the 4,000 households surveyed in the ESA’s Annual Report, 41% of players were women, while boys under 18 made up just 18 percent of the gaming population.
Meet the experts
Sotware engineer, Rare
PhD Student, researching Christ figures in video games
PR, Marketing and events manager, GameSessions
Inclusions Officer, Sheffield University Gaming Society
"Gaming is very different to what people think.
We need to start dropping that idea of the teenager in the basement.
It's everyone now."
- Emily Marlow, PhD Researcher at the University of Sheffield
While women make up a large percentage of the gaming population, the most popular console and PC games largely sideline and under-represent women and minority groups. In 2017, of the 100 top selling retail games in the UK, only five featured female lead characters.
Certain genres tend to favour men as well. Quantic Foundry found that sports, racing and shooter games were among those least popular with women, while simulators, role-play and puzzle games were the most popular.
Games with more diversity and choice can attract a similarly more diverse audience. Jessica says “it’s definitely more compelling to see people like you in games, and I’m more interested in playing games where I am able to play as a female character.”
For example, a lot of role-play games (RPGs) allow for a significant level of player customisation, which Emily argues makes for the best example of progress with representation.
“When you’re in an RPG you can be anyone you want, and they offer a level of freedom that a lot of first person games don’t. When you play Bioshock Infinite, you’re Booker Dewitt, you can’t change that - you’re always him. Whereas in RPGs you can be pretty much anyone.”
Player agency can set games apart from other media, facilitating inclusion through character customisation and choice. However the diversity of games doesn’t translate to the advertising of some of the most popular games. Of the top 100 retail games in 2017, just one in five featured a woman on the box, compared with 56 which featured only men - even though 42 of the games featured some kind of gender option.
"Developers are starting to wake up to the reality that diverse games are good business.
And not only that - they're fulfilling."
- Jessica Baker, Rare Software Engineer
'Girl Gamers': Challenging stereotypes
Games development itself remains largely male dominated too. An international study on game developers concluded that sexism in the workforce, games themselves and the broad gaming community still remains a ‘significant challenge’.
More than half of the respondents blame sexism among gamers as a factor influencing negative perceptions of the industry.
Laura experienced some resistance when she joined the Sheffield University Gaming Society (SLUGS) six years ago. “People would interrogate me about the games I said I played, looking to trip me up, as if they were hoping to discover I wasn’t a real gamer.”
But the number of women joining the industry is on the rise. Of 3,000 developers surveyed, 22 percent were female, compared with 11.5% in a similar study in 2005.
When Jessica joined Rare she was the only female engineer. “Now there are three of us and it's definitely something the company is putting in active measures to help.
“They give a lot of support for existing diverse staff too, which is a huge deal because there’s a lot of talk about getting young girls into the games industry, but not very much about support for those already in the industry to help them get to senior levels and close the wage gap.
“It will take active efforts to continue this upward trend in female game developers, so it’s great to genuinely see work going into supporting existing professionals, alongside inspiring potential ones.”