The relationship between gender and video games has been studied at length over the last decade. Data taken from across the globe reveals that nearly half of all gamers are women. The latest report from Statista (2019) states that 46% of gamers in the United States are girl gamers, although figures have fluctuated between 38% and 48% over the last decade.
Similarly, data published in 2014 by the Statista Research Department revealed that women accounted for 52% of the gaming audience in the United Kingdom. There are now an estimated one billion girl gamers in the world, so why is the stereotype that games are a pastime for teenage boys still so prominent?
Marketing tactics used in the gaming industry
Video game marketing is strongly directed at a male audience. This dates back to the 1980s when statistically, boys were more likely to be involved with new technology and more willing to purchase video and console games. Girls have always played video games, but they were never the majority. So, the message was clear: video games were for boys.
Most marketers will explain that trying to target a general audience for a campaign is a bad idea as it dilutes the marketing message. People want a product that has been designed exclusively for them. So, most marketers choose the audience with the highest demand, define that audience and focus on securing customers with a strongly focused marketing campaign, which avoids watering down the brand.
Moreover, first-person shooters, action games and sports games have dominated the market since the early 1990s. They are also some of the most visible kinds of video games, which are often front-and-centre in retail shops and plastered all over our television screens, whether it be adverts or on the news. These games have traditionally been played by boys, reinforcing the stereotype that video games are not for girls.
There are plenty of games which are considered as “girl’s games”. These games also receive a considerable amount of airtime but are often not thought of as “proper” games. Interestingly, games which attract a more diverse or female-based audience are just as popular as hardcore shooting or action games but are in some way considered less legitimate.
What kind of games are girl gamers playing?
Certain games seem to appeal more to girl gamers than their genre competitors. Data derived by Quantric Foundry in 2017 found that gamers who play Match 3 (like Candy Crush Saga) and Family or Farm Sim are most likely to be female. At the other end of the scale, Tactical Shooter and Sports Games are least likely to be played by women.
According to Quantic Foundry, the primary motivations of why people play video games differ, depending on gender. Another study carried out in 2016 found that while men frequently want to compete with others and destroy things, women often wanted to complete challenges and immerse themselves in other worlds. This is not to say that girls don’t play violent, shooter-type games; they absolutely do and in increasing numbers. Rather, significantly more men engage in violent games than women do.
In some ways, these statistics could be misleading, as they don’t give an indication of how many women play each genre, just the percentage of women that play vs. men. There are also certain games that can skew the results of genre popularity slightly, making some genres seem more popular than they are.
“Proper games” vs. “girl games”
Over the past few years, the very notion of what a game is has broadened to be more inclusive and accessible to a wider audience other than just teenage boys. Some of the most popular games are mobile games, which have been driven by a female consumer base. Word games, puzzles and trivia are among the most popular games, although they are often not considered “proper” games.
When we think of gaming, we tend to think of video games involving aggressive behaviour and weaponry. These types of games are considered “proper” games by traditional gamers. Curiously, it seems that word games and puzzles that appeal to women are considered lesser in the hardcore gaming world. It’s also important to consider whether women play mobile games because they enjoy them more, or if it’s because they have historically been told that video games are not for them.
Despite the obvious gender divide in the gaming world, the gap is becoming less prominent with increasing numbers of girls and women from all ages and backgrounds finding respite in video gaming. Furthermore, the gaming industry is now realising that there are different ways to consume games, beyond just playing them. Many people prefer to watch gaming streams or watch their friends play, rather than play themselves. For this reason, it may be wise to gather data which includes “gaming enthusiasts” rather than just the “gamers” themselves, to create a more accurate picture of consumer culture in the gaming world.
What does the future hold for girl gamers?
The continued visibility of violent videogames and the marketing strategies associated with such games continues to reinforce the stereotype of gamers being adolescent boys and men. Despite improved diversification, girl gamers are still hugely underrepresented and are often an overlooked subdivision within the gaming industry. With gaming increasingly becoming part of popular culture and with girls making up around half of the gaming audience, is it time the gaming industry started behaving as such?