It was autumn of 2017 when the #MeToo movement shook Hollywood to its core, challenging power structures that hadn’t been questioned since their inception, but in gaming, the revolution is only just beginning. At last year’s Women in Games European Conference - a major annual event attracting hundreds of gamers and industry insiders - it was publicly acknowledged for the first time. Despite a huge rise in female gamers in recent years - women now account for almost 50% of gamers - reports of misogyny and sexism online are rife and in August, game developers Nathalie Lawhead and Zoe Quinn hit headlines after sharing allegations of sexual abuse in the workplace, triggering a slew of others to come forward. “In the last few weeks, sadly, we have experienced a games #MeToo moment,” the CEO of Women in Games, Marie-Claire Isaaman, acknowledged in her keynote speech.
The tide is finally turning, and as more women join the online gaming community, industry standards are changing. Live streaming video service Twitch - the world's leading streaming platform for gamers - has reported a significant rise in women using the service.
Streaming first caught gamers’ attention in 2010 (Felix Kjellberg, AKA PewDiePie, was one of the first to successfully livestream games that same year), with Twitch launching in 2011. Twitch now has over 15 million daily active users and over 200 million users log onto YouTube every day to watch gaming videos and livestreams. While watching on a site like Twitch is free (users can view streams via the website itself or use consoles) it’s estimated around 17,000 of Twitch’s users are now also earning revenue via the service, from sponsors, subscriptions and donations. With women now making up around 35% of the total streamer base. So, what’s life really like as a girl gamer? We asked three women to fill us in.
SAYS? Charleyy Hodson, from South London
“Gaming gives me a sense of purpose and escapism - it’s a way of experiencing worlds and perspectives outside of my own. Puzzle games and platformers help hone mental abilities, too, and I think games like World of Warcraft and The Outer Worlds teach us about being social, patient, strategic and forward-thinking. Gaming has always been in my household. My dad and I would spend ages playing Crash Bandicoot and my sister and I would fight over The Sims. Because I couldn't code or make games, I studied Journalism at University with the aim of reviewing games, which led to appearances on gaming podcasts and various Youtube series. Soon I was streaming on [live streaming platform] Mixer and was headhunted by Xbox UK, where I now work as their community manager and social strategist.
The role means I’m one of the ‘faces’ of Xbox and stream daily as well as uploading to YouTube and appearing on Xbox main stages at huge gaming events. I earn money from my role there, as well as from personal streams and kind donations, too. The way donations work (it’s essentially like ‘tipping’) is via a link to PayPal on my streams - they’re totally voluntary.
Back in the day when my streams were riddled with tech issues, the community chipped in to help me buy and build a new PC via donations - I love that people feel close enough to want to help me. These days, I primarily play Xbox and PC games using my Nintendo Switch when on the move. Typically, I’ll play a few hours each day, but on days where I'm streaming this could jump up to six or more hours. Some of my recent charity livestreams saw me playing for 10 hours straight! If I’m doing something like that, I’ll get an early night’s sleep the night before and have plenty of scheduled breaks and bathroom trips. I plan my snacks too - I always have a litre of water, crisps, fruit and chocolate nearby as well as a plug-in mug-warmer for my tea.
It's also nice to have a ‘family’ online who want to share their passion! The male-to-female player split is pretty even nowadays, but the industry still suffers since males still hold a lot of the more prestigious roles in companies and organisations. While the industry is ‘notoriously male’ from the outside, it’s making huge waves on the inside and I don't think because I'm female I'm at a disadvantage. Gaming does have wider representation issues for people of colour and queer individuals though, and by constantly focusing on women, I think that puts other minorities at a disadvantage.”
SAYS? Mandie Roman, from Los Angeles
“I was a late bloomer when it came to gaming. I owned a Super Nintendo growing up (which came with Donkey Kong Country, my all-time favourite game!) and played at friends’ houses but didn’t really get into it until high school. I started streaming two years ago and predominantly play PC titles. I don’t find it weird that people are watching me - my stream is more ‘hanging out with friends’ than a ‘performance’.
I stream on Twitch for around four hours a day, then play for two hours in the evening alone. I usually have about 20 people viewing when streaming and although I do my hair and makeup for it, I’m pretty casually dressed (they can only see my shoulders and face). When streaming, I only play games I enjoy (viewers absolutely know if you hate it). I earn money from Twitch via channel subscriptions or donations, and most of that goes towards buying games or new equipment.
I suppose what I like about gaming is the competitive nature, although I like playing ‘laid-back’ games like Untitled Goose Game [a stealth puzzle about a goose on the loose] or Donut County [an indie game where players move a mysterious growing hole around to swallow objects]. Alongside gaming, I create video game-inspired jewellery and work in consumer products where I help retailers and manufacturers design and curate upcoming licensed gaming collections. The culture around gaming is definitely changing - we’re seeing more women on development teams which is crucial in creating more inclusive games. I used to be harassed in team chats almost every time I spoke, but it’s pretty infrequent now. I really think we’re headed toward a more inclusive space.”
SAYS? Monika von Köller, from San José, Costa Rica
“As well as gaming in my own time, I’m what’s called a ‘localisation quality assurance tester’ (‘tester’ for short) for Lionbridge Gaming. At Lionbridge, we test games that other companies make (like Warner Bros Games, Good Shepherd, and Microsoft) before those games get sold in international markets. I joined the team this year, and before that I studied Computer Science and Multimedia Technology at the University of Costa Rica. I actually put university on hold to take this opportunity; it was a tough call, but working in the industry has been my dream forever. As a ‘tester’, my job is to play games before they’re released to the public so I’ll go in and play every single move for every character in the game to make sure the game is fun, enjoyable and actually works, as well as ensuring they’re correctly translated in new languages. Growing up I always liked games, but rarely got a chance to play because I didn’t have a console or computer. So, as a teen, I watched a lot of gameplays (watching others playing) on YouTube and Twitch livestreams. I finally got my first console in 2014 and have been playing all kinds of games since - my favourites are Horizon Zero Dawn (the main character Aloy is amazing), The Sims (it gives me all the creative freedom I could want from a game) and the Borderlands franchise (it’s got lots of funny details and is great to play with a friend). People are usually surprised when I tell them what I do - I’ve even been told how ‘strange’ it is that I’m a woman doing this job, but I think the industry is changing, fast.”