Sexism in the games industry starts at home

MetroidSamusGrowing up I had no idea that video games were viewed as a ‘boy thing’.  I was surrounded by girls that played video games – from my sister who would physically fight me or my brother for time on the the home Amiga 500, to girls at school who would trade the latest pirated games with their friends.  Now perhaps its the innocence of youth or my ignorance around gender roles, but games to me were always something everyone of my age group loved.  I lost to as many girls at Street Fighter II as I did boys at the local arcade, and my sister had as many high scores on Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies as I did.  I now have a fiancée that plays as many if not more games than me.  So it came as a bit of a shock once the world was opened up at the onset of the internet, that they were exclusively the realm of boys and men.  It’s also a shame that we inadvertently perpetuate that perception.

Lucius wrote an incredible piece titled Why We Need Women In Video Games which discusses the very real issues of both the representation of females in videogames, and the lack of women making them.  If you haven’t read it I encourage you to do so.  There was also a discussion of the representation of women in video games journalism on the DLC podcast.  Both of those are serious issues that we as a community, and the wider industry, need to address. But this innate sexism starts at home and the way we talk about females playing video games has a serious impact on how the wider community views them.  They are more than just “wives and girlfriends” in need of a “girlfriend mode”.

You see the treatment of women by commentators is that of bystanders that have an inherent ignorance about the hobby.  “She just walked into the room and said ‘what ARE you playing’ before going to cook dinner”.  It is the equivalent of a 1950’s view of women that just wouldn’t be accepted in any other industry.  They may as well “Move along dear and put the baby to bed”.

It’s a problem that the video game industry is one that is dominated by a western male voice, but the bigger problem is that the collective “we” lock women out of the industry by pushing an old-fashioned stereotype – worse still – one that from my experience was never true.  When the games media talk about casual gamers, easy modes and accessibility, they’re talking about, amongst other groups, women.  It’s a narrative about women in the gaming community as second-class citizens – as laypeople – the begins at home.

But there are plenty of women who love games and love talking about games.  At home without my fiancée I wouldn’t have played Mass Effect.  I wouldn’t have played Dragon Age.  I would have never even played The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.  While the mainstream may struggle to either attract, retain, or perhaps boost the profile of women as intelligent and knowledgeable members of the video game community, beneath the surface is a plethora of intelligent and insightful women who love to play games  and love to share their views and opinions (the Very Very Gaming Show is a good example).  So while the mainstream gaming sites’ voice may continue to grow via carbon copies of themselves (as articulated by Samantha Allen), as consumers of the media, we have a say in how women are treated in the industry into the future. We can change the narrative by promoting women as active and equal members of our community – as people who know as much if not more than us.  Just as the sexism starts at home, we can end it the same way.

Oh and speaking of gender roles and stereotypes and how ridiculous they are – I owned a Barbie as a young boy and I turned out fine.




  1. Good article. I played video games my entire life and never really thought about this stuff either until I got older and more aware, I guess. And now that I am forking over my own hard earned money (and limited free time) for video games, I’m definitely going to speak with my wallet when it comes to issues like, most recently, Assassin’s Creed Unity not having female character models.

    I’d also like to add it isn’t necessarily limited to a western male perception… I’ve played a lot of JRPGs that are just as bad, if not worse, when it comes to portraying female characters in very gender-limiting and stereotypical roles.

    1. Absolutely agree on the perception of women. Strangely though the japanese have very sexist stereotypical portrayals of women as characters, but in some ways are very progressive in the actions they perform in terms of plot.

  2. Thank you for this strong article, and we appreciate the compliment too! There’re a number of issues here, many of which are unfortunately work circularly, mutually reinforcing one another. The issues you’ve brought up here to do with how women are often relegated to “girlfriend” status, are of course related to how games are conceived of, made and marketed with the gender makeup of players already in mind.

    The casual/hardcore labels that have become so prominent in recent years are part of that gendered cycle too, and their association with the Wii and phone games is particularly ignorant given that games have always tried to court the “casual” market (is Super Mario Bros a “hardcore” game?). It is just that now it has a stigmatised label attached to it, and with it a whole host of assumptions about which gender plays which sort of game. And game publishers, of course, are only too happy to try and exploit those associations, and they have no incentive to try and change it. Hence Cooking Mama and Assassin’s Creed – the new Barbie and Action Man (or whatever the male equivalent action figure is) for our generation. I’m afraid it’s the best way to go, after all, we’ve got to keep those manchildren manly and the women girly, don’t we! It’s a miracle that you were able to survive the transition from Barbie to hardcore games, Sir Gaulian. Still, you must’ve been the only one, surely!

    1. I think the key really, even more than the portrayal of strong female leads in games, is having more prominent female voices in the games media and in fan circles. Once we start to break the archetype of stereotype of women that the industry bases its flow of money on things will change.

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