Women are playing more video games than ever before. Through the introduction of new technologies, platforms and distribution channels, video games have become more accessible and enjoyable for audiences beyond the traditional ‘teenage male’ demographic. This paper examines both the historic and current research on gender in gaming and the concurrent trends within this field.
Recent studies show that woman, in addition to the general public are gaming in ever increasing numbers. A 2011 Entertainment Software Association (ESA) survey shows that currently 42% of all game players are female 1. Although this rise strongly coincides with the growing popularity of mobile and social games, woman are also becoming increasingly active in the traditionally male dominated genres such as multiplayer online role-playing games (MMO’s) 2.
Most of the historic research on gender in video games seems to have only covered a limited amount of topics. However, this trend does appear to be coming to an end in more ground-breaking recent studies. Academic research has traditionally focused predominantly on the image of women in video games and its effects on gamers. Another popular research topic focused mainly on woman’s interests in video games or lack thereof. Although these studies do provide valuable insights, much of the research has been suffering from excessive re-citation 3 which fail to properly account for developing trends. Current research is breaking away from the traditional models which have been looking predominantly at the mechanical differences between men and women and are instead focussing their attention on more cultural gender differences.
Though applicable to the wider media at large, many studies support the notion that sexually themed video games and their subsequent displays of female objectification increase the likelihood for males to behave inappropriate toward woman in social situations 4,5. The negative effects of hyper-sexualisation and gender stereotyping are however not limited to men. Research on women exposed to similar characters and stereo-typing concluded that women exposed these characters were more likely to demonstrate a negative self-concept than women exposed to non-sexualized characters 6. Although there has been a strong rise in the amount of strong/ independent female characters in the past decade (a trend aptly named the “Lara Phenomenon” 7 after the Lara Croft character popularized by the ‘Tomb Raider’ game series). There has not been a significant decrease in gender stereotypes. The defining feature of the typical female character often remains her sexuality (Dill and Thill 2007; Yao, et al. 2010; Behm-Morawitz et al. 2009) diminishing the empowerment offered by her strong character .
There are various factors driving the ‘women’s interest’ research on gender in gaming, as there are both financial and social incentives to even the playing field. For the gaming industry; discovering ‘what woman want’ is...