Women in Gaming: Is There a Gender Gap?

There’s no question that the stereotypical image of the gamer most people (used to) have was a teenage boy, maybe even a socially awkward one. Although the young, geeky gamer stereotype probably wasn’t as accurate in the first place, even if we take it to have been the case, things have certainly changed. Not only target audiences of video and mind games have shifted but the last few years women have been making a splash in gaming circles, from eSports to poker and even games development.

According to the Entertainment Software Association of America (ESA)’s Essential Facts report for 2016, women make up 41% of gamers. To begin with, that clearly shows that women do game. Moreover, women aged 18 or older represent a greater portion of gamers than men aged 18 or younger, with 31% and 17% respectively. But how much attention is given to women gamers?

Looking into the realm of professional gaming, one indication of women’s contribution is the number of female video gamers on popular streaming platform Twitch.tv, where fans can watch channel owners stream their gaming in real time, accompanied with commentary and sometimes tips and tricks for the game. According to features on Kotaku and The Guardian, among others, an increasing number of women are choosing to stream their games on the website which claims to have 9.7 million active users per month. This is a full-time job for some, as channel owners have the opportunity to make money based on the number of followers and views they have. The most popular female gamers on Twitch as of January 2017 are Loserfruit and DeerNadia, who mainly stream Overwatch and League of Legends games respectively. 

Still on the topic of professional gamers, there’s the interesting realm of eSports – video games played professionally as spectator sports, with audiences that are often in the millions filling up arenas as well as watching online. Female competitive gamers participate both in mixed gender teams and all-female teams. For instance, CLG Red and Ubiunited are both women’s teams that participate in tournaments for games such as first-person shooter Counter Strike: Global Offensive and RPG Dota 2.

Some bold women gamers are also competing on equal terms with men in other types of games: professional poker, for instance, as well as chess. Jennifer Shahade is a chess Grandmaster and two-time United States Champion who even rose to become the sole female member of the board of the World Chess Hall of Fame. Interestingly, Shahade also competes in another mind sport: poker. Together with prominent female poker pros such as Liv Boeree, comedian and presenter Victoria Coren and poker phenomenon Vanessa Selbst – who’s accumulated $11.6 million and 14 career titles in poker tournaments, according to 888poker – they are the “Queens of Hearts” who prove that the highly competitive world of professional poker is by no means off-limits to women – at least not to those who have what it takes and are not afraid to show it.

The other side of the coin is women game developers: According to a recent survey, only 22% of people involved in the creation of games are women. However, it should be acknowledged that that’s more than a 50% increase over only six years. To promote equal opportunities and diversity in approaches and genres as well as careers for females in programming and gaming, initiatives such as the Queen of Code competition have been set up. The book Women in Game Development: Breaking the Glass Level-Cap, published in July 2016, is an interesting source of further information.

Women are definitely still a minority in gaming circles, but the gap seems to be closing. As some commentators argue, acknowledging women’s place in the gaming community as well as the game development industry allows for a more accurate look at gamer demographics, promotes diversity and new ideas in terms of game offerings, and ultimately acknowledges that everyone is free to play what they want, regardless of their gender.