D. Yvette Wohn
Associate Professor, Director of Social Interaction Lab, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Many people think the gaming industry is not a place for women, or that men are the only ones playing games. While there are undoubtedly numerous challenges associated with being a woman in a field that used to be male-dominated, it does not mean that women are uninterested in gaming.
I do not want to underplay the severe issues regarding gender discrimination — it is very much a real thing, extensively documented, and a problem that we as a society are still trying to figure out. However, as we look to the future and the potential career opportunities that lie ahead for our children, it is also important to consider the past. There was a time when women were not taught to read or write, but now literacy is for everyone, and the great rise of literary women does not diminish the contributions of men.
Gaming is in a stage of transition, and while the industry has yet to catch up in terms of female representation in the workforce, studies of actual game players indicate that the gender differences that we once thought existed no longer apply.
These changes are relatively recent — just 15 years ago, scholars were reporting that women are motivated to play social games, while men are more likely to be achievement-oriented. In my own research, I have tried to identify these gender differences and I just can’t find it. If anything, I found that for certain games, women are more achievement-motivated than men, and that men are equally as wanting of social interactions as women.
The field of gaming, just as with most areas of our society, is evolving. As the proportion of women players has increased over the past decade, play motivations have changed as well.
If anything, generalizing the effects of gender is problematic as a whole. Gender is at least in part a social construct and is heavily dependent on the contextual norms of a particular virtual environment, which include the culture and mechanics of the game. Some women may like casual and collaborative games, and others may be more interested in competitive games, and there are many different types of games in between.
If you have any doubts about women’s performance, hop on to Twitch and watch professional players, such as AnneMunition, snipe enemies faster than your eyes can identify them.
But it is also important to remember that a career in gaming does not equate with becoming a star player. If you think about the sports industry, star players only represent a fraction of who works in the field. Similarly, in gaming, there are graphic designers, programmers, script writers, marketers, usability testers… the list goes on, and because gaming is evolving, there will be new careers in this field that don’t exist today.
For example, commercial VR games did not exist until a decade ago. Professional gaming, or esports, has a 20-some year history. Given that the game industry is larger than the sports and film industries combined, it seems silly that one would dismiss an entire lucrative field under the misconception that it is unsuitable for women.