Recent studies find disconnect in number of women in gaming who identify as “gamers”

NOT JUST A GAME:
Senior Morgan Strohm watches a video game on her computer. According to her, there is a social disconnect between women  who game and those who label themselves as “gamers.”
CAROLYN ZHANG // PHOTO

NOT JUST A GAME: Senior Morgan Strohm watches a video game on her computer. According to her, there is a social disconnect between women who game and those who label themselves as “gamers.” CAROLYN ZHANG // PHOTO

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On Wednesday afternoons, students gather in Room E227, the classroom of Michael O’Toole, head sponsor of Nintendo Club. One student pulls a Wii U out of a closet and hooks it up to the projector.

Another weekly meeting of Nintendo Club commences. The students begin a round of “Mario Kart.” In the back, senior Morgan Strohm, the only girl present at this meeting, watches on.

“My brother is the one who taught me to play video games. It started out with ‘Sly Cooper’ and ‘Spyro,’ and then it kind of just led to ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Call of Duty,’” she said. “I do play video games here and there with my brother. But, my brother is the one who’s more of a gamer.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.42.09 AM copyStrohm isn’t the only female fan of video games who said she feels disconnected from the “gamer” identity. According to a 2015 study conducted by Pew Research, while the number of men and women who play video games is roughly equal, more than twice as many men consider themselves “gamers.”

Strohm said problems with women in gaming begin with stereotypes.

“It’s a societal norm where men are more likely to play games,” she said. “It’s kind of like with colors. Pink naturally goes with girls, blue with boys. Gaming isn’t really viewed as a girly thing to do.”

However, Sam Sinder, video game enthusiast and junior, has a different viewpoint. To her, the reason women don’t possess a larger presence in the gaming community comes down to what games are popular.

“Some of the games (that are popular) just aren’t appealing to women. If they were, I think that women would get themselves into gaming more often,” she said.

The findings of the Pew Research study may also reflect a larger problem facing the video game community with unfriendliness toward women.

Many high-profile women in the gaming community have received harassment from male gamers. Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples was the harassment of game developer Zoë Quinn. She was accused of using her relationships with men in the gaming industry to promote her own games, a scandal known as “Gamergate.”

This harassment drove Quinn from her home and caused her to be unable to continue to develop her games.

O’Toole cited this specific incident as an example of the large problems facing female involvement in the gaming community.

“The media almost either ignored (Gamergate), or because a lot of writers of video games happen to be male, they kind of took the side of the males who were making these (harassing) comments,” he said.

Another problem facing women in the gaming community is the content of the games themselves. A vast majority of games feature male protagonists, often considered the “default” character. This can make it difficult for women to identify with the trials of the male main characters that seem to dominate the scene.

“Every game I’ve ever played has been with men who rob and steal and are doing missions for a mafia. So, there’s nothing I really identify with,” Sinder said.

Even when women are present in games, there are still problems. O’Toole, who teaches lessons in his sociology class on the portrayal of women in games, said he sees many negative portrayals of women in games.

“Women are generally a prize of some sort (in games); they appear very helpless. They’re generally who you are supposed to win in the game, or you’re rescuing them.” O’Toole said, “Even the women who are supposed to be strong female characters are so disproportionately built that if they were true forms they probably wouldn’t be able to run, jump or swim.”

He said women are often sexualized through skimpy, unrealistic outfits, an observation shared by Strohm, who said she finds female characters often have outfits unsuited for the situations they’re in.

“Realistically, if that character was fighting in real life, then it’s more than likely she’ll get hurt because she only has something to cover her chest and her waist.” she said.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.39.27 AM copySinder, however, said the portrayal of women in the games she played didn’t really bother her.

Despite these issues, more and more women said they have found acceptance in the video game community, reflecting a larger trend of all types of media becoming more open to women. JT Doyle, vice president of Nintendo Club, self-identified gamer and junior, said he believes women are just as valid members of the video game community as anyone else.

“Video games are for everybody,” he said. “Whoever wants to play video games, they can be a gamer.”

In Sinder’s experience, this analysis is valid. She said she has never personally experienced sexism from the gaming community.

“I think that (women) have the same opportunities that men can have. I can go into a video game store without getting discriminated (against),” she said.

Strohm said she can also see a positive trend going on.

Strohm said, “Since this is a time period where people are starting to break out into their own identities (more easily), it’s a lot easier these days to be able to say as a girl, ‘Oh, I like to play video games.’”

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