TechMunch: Why are you surprised I’m a gamer? And why does it matter in our industry?

Hello everyone. My name is Leona and I am a gamer. And for some reason, that declaration still feels awkward.

It feels awkward because there is still a slightly clinging assumption that a gamer is exactly what my title suggests, a guy who lives in the basement of his mum’s house. He’s probably overweight from consuming too much sugar, he’s probably emotionally immature and probably socially awkward. Most of you have never met me personally, but I hope that none of you think I am any of those things (though I do admit to taking far too much sugar in my tea).

You know what the weird thing is? I am more representative of the gaming community than the above example; a study published in 2014 revealed that 52% of UK gamers are women.

Why the disconnect?

Boys and men have always been encouraged to pursue technical fields. So when the first ever video game was created in 1958, the interest was in the software, a male dominated sphere of interest.

Then gaming developed beyond the first pixelated ping-pong games and began to develop narratives, starting to engage in escapism. Computerizing the imaginary experiences of tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons provided young boys with a means to live vicariously through characters deliberately unlike themselves. They could be stronger as well as smarter than their bullies.

So it’s not difficult to see where the stereotype comes from. The question is why does it endure? Why, when I self-identify as a gamer, does it continue to elicit shock?

This isn’t to say that the perception of gamers has not shifted at all. Those who have read my last blog will know that I like to illustrate my points through TV references and I plan to do the same now. People who have not watched/read Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ please look away now.

In the world of ‘American Gods’, there is a character called Technical Boy. Technical Boy is essentially a representation of the generation who grew up with the internet and embodies many similar tropes to that of the stereotypical gamer. He is described as an acne ridden, overweight and indignant teenager.

Anyone who has seen the brilliant new Amazon Prime series knows that Technical Boy now looks more like this. The series creators made a conscious decision to update his image to reflect the new perceived image of gamers.

But I don’t look like that either. People aren’t surprised that I’m a gamer because I don’t buy clothes that look like they’re made by Apple or because I’m not overweight and have skin problems.

It’s because I’m a girl.

Women have continually been the unaddressed demographic in gaming and when they do attract attention it is usually not positive. Even people beyond the gaming community have heard of the infamous Gamergate controversy.

But why does this matter for us, the people sat in meeting rooms trying to brainstorm game changing campaigns for the consumer market? Gaming as a medium has continued to mature and experiment, branching out into various genres that attract different audiences. Yet, for some reason, many people still seem to forget or just outright ignore half of the market.

That’s crazy! Especially when you look at how successful inclusive campaigns can be.

Mass Effect 3, a game that lets you choose the gender of the player character, made the news for having a reversible cover for the video game box. If you played the female character, you could switch the cover around to depict the female protagonist. Bioware, the developers of the Mass Effect series, only continued to make waves when they made Jennifer Hale, the voice actor of the female protagonist, the focus point of the first teaser of the next installment instead of the male protagonist, as is usually the norm even in games where you can choose your gender.

It can be so successful when done right and when people dig a little deeper and see that gamers are not just men and often not immature (though admittedly not always…).

I love gaming because of the interactive narratives and worlds. In no other entertainment medium are you as involved in the experience than in gaming. And if you recognize that there are a lot of gamers like me out there and include me in your campaigns, I’m much more likely to buy your stuff over this.

Leona Hayhoe, Account Executive, Technology