Girl gamers make their play

With gaming culture on the rise in recent years, there is an enduring assumption that the video game sector is male-dominated. This is not the case, writes Emily Swain.

The Witcher 3, Batman Telltale series, Pokémon GO and Overwatch – these are just some of the games that Jessie Azzopardi spends her time playing – and yes she’s female.

“The gaming community has been male dominated for so long, and that’s only really changed the past few years. I think it’s the same as nerd culture and comics in society,” says Jessie.

Over the past decade, the stereotypes that video games are only intended for male youths is slowly being eroded by female gamers in society, which makes it clear that gaming is not only for young males.

Most gamers in Australia are adults, in fact, the average age of players in Australia is 33, according to an Australian-based study released in August.

The 2016 Digital Australia report by Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) and Bond University shows a rapid growth from 2005 to 2016 of female participation in the gaming community.

In 2005 a mere three in 10 gamers were female. Today 47 per cent of video gamers identify as females – a significant change in just over a decade.

According to the study, 98 percent of all households surveyed owned gaming devices, with consoles and PCs most commonly used – a steady growth since the figures released back in 2005.

People are using digital media as a means of entertainment, relaxation and for educational purposes, with 89 per cent of parents surveyed using games to educate their children.

Although women now make up almost half of video game players in Australia, the gaming community, and in particular men, are understood to be somewhat hostile towards women.

Jessie Azzopardi says she has been a victim of the hostility within the gaming community on a number of occasions, and recalls being treated completely differently by other online gamers when she revealed her gender.

“Over the years of online gameplay when guys have realised I’m a girl I have been inundated with friend requests. I’ve had men ask for pictures and have sent many inappropriate things to me,” said Jessie.

The antagonism did not stop via online gaming. It even continued at Jessie’s part-time job at a game store, where co-workers did not think she fitted the gaming type.

“I had someone completely not want to talk to me (while working in a video game store) because he ‘didn’t think I’d know’ about the Call of Duty series when I had played them all, calling me a gamer girl,” said Jessie, who now manages a gaming and pop culture store.

The term ‘Gamer Girl’ is a phrase often used in the gaming community to label a female as not being a true gamer, implying she only uses gaming as more of a tool to impress males.

Jayden Fenton, a long time gamer and a huge supporter of gender equality, has seen the term ‘Gamer Girl’ used while playing games.

“The term ‘Gamer girl’ is probably the biggest stereotype females face. It’s a term used for a female who doesn’t play games or plays for attention.”

“I remember back when I played Call of Duty, if a girl was to be on microphone she would be instantly judged and told she is just using her boyfriend’s console,” said Jayden.

Despite the massive shift in the proportion of female gamers, the stereotype that women are  inferior gamers is not only incorrect, it discourages women from playing.

‘Aussie Girl Gamers’ is a group that was created by Rachell Campbell back in 2013 that sets out to accept female gamers and appreciate them in social media, particularly Facebook.

In 2016, the group is now a place for gamers of all genders, nationalities and backgrounds to come together with a common love and hobby – gaming.

“Despite the progress that has been made in recent years, gaming is still considered a male dominant activity.”

“When a guy says ‘I play video games’ it’s seen as fairly normal but when it’s a female it’s a huge shock,” said Rachell.

Rachell has on numerous occasion experienced the same hostility that Jessie has experienced in video game stores with workers and fellow customers treating both women differently.

“I know when I walk into a game store I notice people stop and look. And I even get asked if I’m shopping for my boyfriend, as if I couldn’t possibly be shopping for myself.”

“I believe this kind of thinking has made a lot of female gamers I guess hide out in a way. They don’t like to feel judged or silly.”

Jessie, Jayden and Rachell are all passionate about the issue and share the same belief that it the judgement and hostility stems from a range of reasons.

Rachell believes the change starts in society. “Our society really needs to be more open minded and understand that females can like video games.”

Jessie says it stems from the individual. “Realising that girls are out there doing the same thing guys are. Don’t just assume because someone is female they don’t know or have an interest in something.”

Jayden believes it comes down to how people are brought up. “Raise children to be considerate, realise when you are saying something wrong. And more importantly, just be a gamer. It’s all about the fun. Not the gender.”

With more girl gaming groups such as Girl Geek Academy and individuals such as Jayden, Jessie and Rachell who support equality, there are signs of gender equality is possible in the gaming community.