The topic of women in gaming has been a source of controversy for years, and continues to raise conflicting and often contraditory opinions from both sides of the gender divide. On Friday, the NYU Game Center hosted an event titled "The New Meta: Women in eSports." Moderated by Lilian 'Milktea" Chen, and including noted female eSport competitors and commentators:
The group discussed their thoughts of the industry, and the realities of being a woman in gaming.
While the event focused primarily on competitive gaming, the topic is still relevant for adventure gamers, where it can be argued that the gender divide among male and female enthusiasts is more evenly distributed than in some other genre's like MMO's, first person shooters, and fighting games.
The panel discussed some of their negative experiences
It should be no surprise that each member of the panel had their fair share of stories of how they had been treated differently, or made to feel uncomfortable because of their gender. Hafu, who was a top level World of Warcraft competitor early in her gaming career, and who now has an extremely popular Twitch stream of Activision's Hearthstone (where her Arena win percentage is an unbelievable 77%) had perhaps the most disturbing instance when during a MLG tournament, learned that one of the teams had the name "We are Going to Rape Hafu." What's worse, the organizers of the event didn't have enough sense to make the team change their name. Needless to say, a fairly disturbing example.
All three women on the panel, who are all active on Youtube or via Twitch streams, talked of the inevitable percentage of vitriol in the chats, where, if one is familiar with these venues, one can't help but note the number of haters with sexist laced remarks.
The realities of being harassed by putting yourself into the public domain, either by posting youtube let's play videos or streaming on twitch is a reflection of the world we live in, and all three members of the panel agreed that part of the solution was furthering the discussion to raise awareness, and leading by example.
Why should there be more women in gaming?
This was one of those areas where there was some clear contradictory responses from the participants. Hafu and Seltzer both commented that having more women in gaming, and participating in eSports events would be great for the "sex lives" of the male participants. The idea being that 2 people who share a passion or interest will make a better couple. Seltzer would add "come on guys? Do you want a tournament that smells like Dorrito farts? Women are the air freshener." Since all three women also talked about the problem of male gamers trying to get too familiar with them, these comments can't help but be seen as somewhat controversial.
More straightforward was their argument that a better representation of women in gaming was rooted in dollars and sense, specifically more sponsorship dollars and advertising. Hard to argue with that one.
Should there be 'Women Only' eSports events?
It would seem that gaming is a competitive arena that shouldn't need specific tournaments just for women, and indeed Hafu was quick to say that she refused to take part in women only tournaments. However, she did agree with Seltzer's point that having women only tournaments, when seen as a community building exercise, was a good thing. For example, akin to bronze league tournaments held for StarCraft II.
Nonetheless, the reality is that the percentage of women competitors at any eSport event is low. The number of women that actually earn a viable income by being a professional gamer is even lower.
There are a handful of exceptions, one of my favorites being Sasha 'Scarlett' Hostyn whose epic victory against South Korean heavyweight Ji Sung "Bomber' Choi at a Red Bull eSports event shows that women do have what it takes to compete with the men.
A must see game!
So what does it all mean?
The reality that there's a wealth of statistics demonstrating a male-centric tilt to video games and eSports in general highlight the need to keep this discussion active. For example, its well known that most development teams are predominantly male, that 80% of playable characters in all games are male, and that depictions of women in games are often 'over the top' and highly sexualized,
It might be a stretch to say, but adventure games is one area of gaming where gender equality may be said to be more prominent. The higher degree of focus on story-driven games lends to a greater awareness of gender depictions and other socially relevant issues. Women like Jane Jenson, and studios like Her Interactive do a good job providing some much needed balance to the overall gender imbalance in gaming, but it remains important for everyone to move the discussion forward.
For More Information and To Support the Panelists
Rachel 'Seltzer' Quirico
Ruma 'Hafu" Wang
Hafu Youtube video "On Girls in Competitive Gaming"
Samantha 'Persia' Hancock