Not just boys’ toys: the growth of the girl gamer

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If you are a fan of musician Annie Clark’s band, St Vincent you may recall the thought-provoking interview she gave to Rolling Stone last year.  In it she questioned society’s penchant for gender construction: “We get handed down these ideas of gender and sexuality: You’re supposed to be this or that. What happens if you float around the cracks and don’t fit into these narrowly prescribed things?”

Contrary to popular assumptions, video games have started ‘floating’ around said cracks more and more in recent years and are less and less deserving of that horrific stereotype, ‘boys’ toys’. Indeed, a survey conducted last year by the Internet Advertising  Bureau  (IAB)  found  that women now make up  over  52 percent of the UK video game audience; the total number of British ‘gamers’ now equals 33.5 million. Though it may take a dissertation to fully explain these figures (and several more to explain why much of society would be surprised by them), there are a few pithy explanations available. The most common is the ever-expanding mobile games market.  Mobile games have proved a growing bastion of accessibility in recent years; their lower price levels and more intuitive controls are often cited as an explanation for this. Another potential factor is that many of the biggest games in this increasingly popular genre are less gender specific than their console counterparts; the Trivia Crack app, for example, hardly reeks of gender specificity. Contrast this to one of the biggest games on the console market, FIFA, which does not offer a single playable women’s team.

The IAB’s figures, if we are not careful, could create another stereotype: the notion that the vast majority of ‘girl-gamers’ are not proper gamers: they don’t play console titles. Of course we could get involved in a whole – almost certainly pointless – debate about what constitutes a ‘proper game’. Fortunately, however, the IAB stats preclude this argument, suggesting that the majority of female gamers do indeed play console titles.

If we look there are a number of feasible explanations for this rise.  Consoles and their games are becoming more accessible for everyone, not just women. The Nintendo Wii which has sold over 100 million units, and its successor, the Wii U, has, like mobile games, been credited for dissolving barriers to access with accessible controls. Indeed, I would hazard a guess that the only game in which many of us have had to even begin to try in order to best our extended family’s  novice gaming abilities is Wii Sports. The point being that games in general are becoming more for everyone and around half of those people that make up ‘everyone’ are  women (a cutting edge revelation, I know).

Another reason for the growth in console use is, perhaps, the growing number of playable female protagonists occupying the medium.  Research conducted by games website IGN revealed that the number of female characters in video games increased by 4 per cent between 2012 and 2013. Furthermore, it seems that the female characters which are being created for the big consoles are (at least slightly) more three dimensional than they used to be: one only needs to compare Lara Croft circa 1996 and the Lara Croft of today to see this.

Still, no matter how you explain it perhaps the most important thing to take away from this growth is to realise that it reflects a revival in widespread female gaming, not a beginning. As Tracy Lien argues in her Polygon article ‘No Girls Allowed’, video games did not begin as male dominated medium; over time it merely became artificially constructed as such by misjudged marketing campaigns.  Furthermore, other analysts have even suggested that the extent to which games have ever been dominated by men has in itself been overestimated; unbalanced media coverage, such as this article, may be part of the reason…

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