Women are playing more video games than ever before. Traditionally, video games were considered to be a predominantly male leisure activity1,2. However, with the introduction of new technologies, designs, platforms and distribution channels, video games have become more accessible and enjoyable for audiences beyond the traditional ‘teenage male’ demographic 1. This paper examines both the historic and current research on gender in gaming and the emerging trends within the gaming industry.
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 female3. 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 ‘Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games’ (MMORPG)4. Because of this increase, it is important to examine the historic and current research trends that address gender in gaming.
While there is a recent increase in the number of women playing video games, most of the traditional research in the field of gender in gaming examined only a limited number of issues and methods and fail to account for recent cultural developments. However, recent studies are ending this tendency, as they are starting to examine a variety of topics that are filling the voids left by older studies. Academic research has traditionally focused predominantly on the image of women in video games and their effects on the individuals playing these games. Another popular research topic focused on woman’s interests or lack thereof in video games. Although these studies do provide valuable insights, much of the research suffers from excessive re-citation 5 which fails to properly account for recent and developing trends. By relying heavily on older findings and methods, misconceptions about female gamers have long been able to prevail within the field. Modern approaches are breaking away from traditional studies which looked predominantly at the mechanical differences between men and women, and are instead focussing their attention on accessibility and cultural differences.
Traditionally, the image and portrayal of women in video games is one of the most popular issues to examine. Regardless of being sexually-oriented or not, most video games feature hyper-sexualised female characters6. Though applicable to the wider media at large, many studies support the notion that sexually themed video games and their subsequent display of female objectification increases the likelihood for males to behave inappropriate toward woman in social situations 6,7. However, the negative effects of hyper-sexualisation and gender stereotyping are not limited to men. Research on women exposed to similar game characters and stereotypes concluded that women exposed these characters were more likely to...