Thanks for being here! This is the transcript of the Women and Video Games episode of Interesting Things. If you’d prefer to have a listen, click here. Otherwise, continue reading.
Hi all. Thanks for tuning in to the very first episode of the Interesting Things podcast. Are these things actually interesting? Maybe not, but I seem to think so. I’m your host, Dayle Beazley, and for this episode of Interesting Things, I’ll be focusing on women in video games. Now, this is such a broad topic, I know, but it’s something which definitely needs to be spoken about more. Now, I’ll be talking about a lot of things in this podcast, so all the resources I’ve used will be linked in the bio. Now, I’m also going to give a trigger warning for any listeners out there. Later in this episode, I’ll speak about allegations of sexual harassment and abuse within the workplace. If this is something which you’re not comfortable hearing, please please please click off. I’ve added some resources in the description in case this has or will bring forward any negative feelings or anything like that. With all that being said, let’s just jump into it.
So, I’ll start from the beginning. Historically, women are significant in the making of video games. In the late 70s and 80s, Roberta Williams began designing graphic adventure games to be played on PC. Roberta had experience with story-telling and reading, while her husband Ken had experience in computer programming. In the years between 1979 and 1998, Roberta created 22 graphic adventure games, while also co-founding the American video game development company, Sierra On-Line. Despite Roberta retiring in 1999, her legacy has lived on, with Roberta consistently being named as one of the most influential people in computer game history. Most recently, she was awarded the Pioneer Award at the 20th Game Developers Choice Awards in March of 2020.
While Roberta is easily the most referenced woman when talking about the history of video game development, she’s obviously not the only important woman in video game history. In the 1960s, Mabel Addis, a fourth-grade teacher, designed a text-based strategy video game called The Sumerian Game, which has been described as the first game with a narrative.
You’ve also got Dona Bailey who co-created Centipede in the early 80s, Ellen Beeman who co-founded the industry group Women in Games international, Danielle Bunten Berry who also designed and programmed games in the 80s including M.U.L.E and the Seven Cities of Gold, as well as countless others. Have a look at the links in the description below to see even more awesome women doing awesome video game things.
So needless to say, women are out there making video games and they are out there making a difference in the video game industry.
But, are women playing video games? The short answer—yes. The long answer—abso-fucking-lutely yes, they are.
Looking at the stats, 47% of people who play video games in Australia are women. In the United States in 2020, 41% of people who play video games are women, with 59% being men. I’d like to note here, I can’t for the life of me find any information on the statistics of non-binary people or people who don’t identify as female or male. If you have any information on this, please please please attach some resources in the comments or reach out to me on social media. I’d love to read more about it.
Despite almost half the people who play video games being women, we really don’t get that much representation when looking at AAA games.
AAA games being games which are distinguished by their high development and marketing budgets, and being produced and distributed by mid-sized or major publishers. Examples of AAA games include Call of Duty, Bioshock, Fifa, and World of Warcraft. In contrast to AAA games, you have indie games which are generally made by individuals or small development teams without the financial support that larger publishers have access to. Some well-known examples of indie games include Untitled Goose Game, Minecraft, Stardew Valley, and Rust.
When looking at the stats surrounding indie games, there’s really not much to go off. It seems that women have much more representation in indie games than they do AAA games. Some people even criticise indie game publishers for the representation of women, with one Reddit user even posting their critique to r/truegaming. The post is titled, and I quote, ‘There are to many female protagonists in indie games nowadays [No Sexism]’. For the sake of equality, I felt it important to include criticism towards the point of this podcast, even if was just for a good laugh.
Back to AAA games.
Feminist Frequency released some statistics surrounding E3 2019, with their findings showing that only around 5% of game protagonists were female, with 22% being male and the other 73% of games offering multiple options, having gender ambiguous protagonists, or was categorised as N/A. The percentage of female protagonists showcased at E3 has actually dropped over the last five years, with 9% of protagonists being female at E3 in 2015.
One thing which is really cool and really important to note here is that in the last five years, the percentage of games which offer multiple options for protagonists has increased significantly, going from 46% in 2015 to 66% in 2019. By having the option of choosing your own character or skin, you also have the option to explore your own personal identity. By changing your character’s gender, you’re actually given the freedom to express yourself which you may not have in every day life. Taking a look online, many people across Reddit and other forums have expressed their fondness in playing different genders in video games. Not only does it allow them to try new things in a safe way, but it allows them to express themselves without the judgement we may receive in real life. For some people, this is the closest they can come to being their true selves.
Some women even choose to play as male characters to simply avoid the criticism and harassment that they may normally receive when playing online. On the flip side however, some people, primarily teenage boys, use this to their advantage, playing as the opposite gender to get help from other players or to get rare items, often enforcing the stereotype that women are less skilled and are seeking preferential treatment.
So, you know that women are playing video games, and you know women aren’t often in video games, but do many women work in the industry?
Yeah, no, Not really, no.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016, there are only 734 people working in video game development in Australia, with only 110 of which being women. That means women make up only 15% of people working in game development in Australia. However, worldwide in 2019, that number is slightly different, with 24% of game developers being female and 5% identifying as transgender or ‘other’.
There are a few reasons for this. One, STEM is a male-dominated field which is targeted towards males, which is an issue far deeper than this. Two, women just aren’t getting hired in the field, perhaps due to sexism or perhaps due to other reasons. That, I can’t say for sure. And thirdly, when women are hired in the field, they’re not being treated properly. And why would you want to join an industry when you know you’ll be treated as lesser simply because of your gender?
What do I mean by that, you may wonder?
Well, buckle up kids. This is a big one.
You’ve probably heard of the allegations surrounding Ubisoft earlier this year. If you missed it, here’s the run down. Ubisoft is one of the largest video game publishers in the world. Earlier this year, allegations of sexual misconduct came out surrounding the company. Over a dozen people came forward making public claims about the sexual harassment and abuse they received while working there. More than three dozen former or current Ubisoft employees said that these issues had been ongoing for several years, with the issues occasionally being taken seriously, but were, for the most part, ignored or mishandled. The atmosphere at Ubisoft has been described as hostile towards women, with staff allegedly making misogynistic or racist comments, with senior executives even making sexual advances and inappropriately touching staff. There is so much to this story, with the issues going back years and years, looking at people within positions of power at Ubisoft. I encourage you to take a read of the resources in the description, because it’s impossible to summarise such a horrific situation.
Let’s look back to 2018 and Riot Games, where female job candidates were knocked back for no reason, where female employees were constantly harassed, and the company’s culture puts female employees at a disadvantage. Three women described being groomed for promotions, one woman saw an email thread about what it would be like to quote, ‘penetrate her’, and both male and female sources have claimed to see unsolicited dick pics from bosses or colleagues. The list of allegations goes on—lists of who men would sleep with being passed around the office, one man having his genitalia grabbed by a male senior leader, and so on. I encourage you to go read the entire investigation undertaken by Kotaku.
So, why don’t many women work in the gaming industry?
Speaking from a personal level now, I can’t see myself willingly entering that kind of workplace. There have been reports of women who haven’t been harassed or abused, but are still affected by the unconscious bias that exists when working in video games—being spoken over, feeling isolated, being paid less, etc. Taking a look online, there are women who have the passion, drive, and excitement to join the industry, but are scared for their safety and wellbeing. Looking back to what I was saying earlier in the podcast, women aren’t even represented well. Statistically, they’re barely represented at all, and when they are, they’re often written poorly, over-sexualised, or exist only to aid the male players or males within the story.
I understand these aren’t issues unique to women, with people of colour or people within the LGBT+ community experiencing the same issues, if not to a worse extent.
The issues of sexism and discrimination are seeded far deeper than just the video game industry, I know, but it’s undeniable that women aren’t receiving enough representation in actual video games and in the industry itself. One thing which is really great about the internet is that we all have platforms, and we’re all able to voice our opinions. So if you’re angry at the representation women are receiving, or if you’re angry at how we’re being represented in the industry, don’t be afraid to say so. When all of our voices come together, hopefully some kind of changes can be made.
Thanks for listening to the first episode of Interesting Things. If you have any things that you find interesting, let me know, and I might just cover it in an upcoming episode. All the resources are in the description below and I encourage you to have a read. Thanks for listening. Bye.