The gaming world is unnecessarily unkind to women
According to a survey, 41 percent of gamers in the United States in 2020 were females. While that number might seem fair, this resemblance to balance has only been achieved in recent times, and the ratio of female gamers in the Bangladeshi gaming community is not even close to this aforementioned number.
It was only in 2022 that the first-ever all-female team represented Bangladesh in the Global eSports Tournament. And it was just in February 2023 that the first female-only eSports competition was organised in the country. Any casual female gamer in Bangladesh would agree that the number of female gamers in this country is painfully low.
There are multiple factors that have contributed and continue to contribute to this gender disparity. The game-developing companies are, to a large extent, to blame for this. Until very recently, most of the commercials launched by these companies saw young boys playing video games. Their marketing strategies target males by specifically portraying them as the ideal demographic to enjoy their content.
Moreover, there is a noticeable lack of proper female representation in video games. Only five percent of all video game protagonists are females, according to a survey conducted by WIRED in 2019. The female characters that do appear in these games are usually over-sexualised. It is understandable, therefore, if females are unwilling to support a game in which they see no proper reflection of their sex.
Even if a person does become interested in a game despite these factors, there are many ways in which the game's community itself can turn them off from playing. Although the phrase has become something of a joke, toxic gamers do in fact exist and they are one of the key reasons why females feel unwelcome in the gaming community.
Misogyny in the gaming community is rife and the way many people justify this is through their belief "women cannot play video games". This reasoning is weak at best and ridiculous at worst.
Every person experiences a growth curve when they begin engaging in an activity and they need to put in time and effort into that activity before they can show actual improvement. However, the gaming community often does not provide the necessary room for new female gamers to build up their skills. If male players see a new female player underperforming, they verbally attack them, using their sex as the crux of the argument as to why they should stop playing.
This can escalate to bullying which can discourage female players from continuing gaming. Thus, many female gamers quit before they can actually hone their skills.
Sometimes, a female gamer's skill level isn't even the reason why they become the target of gendered attacks. For instance, 18-year-old Sanjida Afrin (handle: Littolpotat), a video game streamer who has a large online following, relates, "Besides being bombarded with the 'go back to the kitchen' jokes, I've had to face people suggesting that I have a large following only because I am a female. As if my abilities are not enough to account for the following."
It can, therefore, be hypothesised that the problem, in the eyes of the male gamers targeting female gamers, is not that they are unskilled but simply that they are females.
"Female players usually get patronised a lot at first too," says Sahiba Tasnia Tanushree, an A level student who plays Valorant casually. This patronisation is a result of the male players working on the assumption that a female gamer cannot play.
Another acute problem is the fact that many female gamers become victims of harassment and unsolicited romantic and/or sexual advances. Speaking on this topic, Sahiba further added, "When the other players find out I'm a girl, they turn insanely friendly which, a lot of times, can be borderline creepy. As a female gamer, you get hit on a lot, regardless of how well you play."
The internet's characterisation of female gamers as "e-girls" or "gamer girls" is in large part accountable for this propensity of male gamers making unwanted advances. These terms carry negative connotations as they are often used to suggest that a female gamer is unknowledgeable about games and is playing solely for the attention of other male gamers. The propagation of this image of a "gamer girl" combined with the hypersexualised representation of female characters in games means that many male gamers think it is okay to make untoward comments towards female gamers. If a female gamer refuses these advances, they can become the butt of violent verbal abuse.
Taking all of these aspects into consideration, it is no wonder that many women turn their back on gaming. In the past, the situation was particularly bad as female gamers were few and far between. These problems seem to be mitigating recently, albeit slowly.
Rimsha Iqbal (handle: Uzzieboozie), 23, has represented Bangladesh internationally in multiple tournaments as an eSports athlete. According to her, "In the past, I faced a lot of bias and lost many opportunities due to the numerous obstacles presented before me due to my sex. However, the eSports scene for women is evolving and we feel more welcome now. Many organisations are making an active effort to be inclusive of women in eSports tournaments."
"I would definitely say the biases have decreased since I first started streaming," Sanjida Afrin echoes.
Saying that the bias against women in the gaming world will lift soon is wishful thinking. The gaming community has long been toxic to female players and despite continuous protests, the discrimination against women continues to some degree or another. The gaming world still has a long way to go before it can consider itself to have male and female gamers on equal footing. That being said, it is a source of optimism to know that at least some measures are being taken to address these long-standing issues.
- Wired.com (June 14, 2019). Female Representation in Video Games Isn't Getting Any Better
- National Centre for Biotechnology Information (September 1, 2018). Representation of Women in Video Games: A Systematic Review of Literature in Consideration of Adult Female Wellbeing
- International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (July 23, 2018). Female Gamers' Experience of Online Harassment and Social Support in Online Gaming: A Qualitative Study
Zaima is a struggling student, a failed guitarist and a poet in need of better poetic ideas. Send her your sympathies at [email protected]