“Miss Representation:” Women in Gaming

By: Jo Rochelle

Video games have been around since 1940 when Edward U. Condon’s invented a computer that played the game Nim, where players take turns picking up at least one matchstick from a pile and try to avoid picking up the last matchstick. In 1962, Steve Russell, a student at MIT, invented the first computer-based video game, Spacewar!. Tetris was created in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov, a Russian mathematician. Aside from making video game history, what do the people involved in these events have in common? They’re all men.

Video games have often been associated with guys, usually between the ages of 18 and 30. While many people think that the majority of gamers are guys, a recent Pew Research study showed that forty-two percent of women surveyed owned a game console, such as Xbox or Playstation, compared to males’ thirty-seven percent. That then begs the question: Why are major companies targeting the minority of consumers?

In addition to being overlooked despite being the majority of people that own game consoles, women generally make up very little of game development staff. They are also frequently oversexualized as consumers. The idea of a “gamer girl” is one where a female needlessly dresses provocatively and either knows very little about gaming or enjoys everything males enjoy. This is incredibly damaging, as it perpetuates the sexual objectification of women: the viewing of women as little more than objects for male pleasure. Mr. Bullock, founder of the Game Art and Design Academy at Heritage, commented: “Every human being born on the face of this earth comes from a woman. So why is it that men, who have mothers, and sisters, and daughters, and wives, and aunts, make video games and oversexualize the women? They totally objectify them. That’s wrong.”

It only gets worse when looking at female videogame characters. For example, Lara Croft, heroine of the Tomb Raider series and one of the first female main characters in a video game, is dressed in skintight clothing that’s hardly practical. “A lot of women in video games can be oversexualized,” said Abby White, a junior in the Game Art and Design Academy.  “There are some games that make them look like normal people, but a lot of them just oversexualize females, like with them being in clothes that wouldn’t even help with the situation they’re in.”

The good news is that as time passes, women are  becoming more included in the gaming industry. Indie companies, like Bethesda (responsible for the Fallout series), generally have a more diverse staff and better represent females in their games. “Any game that’s very story driven usually doesn’t objectify women,” Abby White says, “like Uncharted or The Last of Us. Mass Effect does a good job of [not oversexualizing women].” As videogames progress, more females express an interest in the industry, providing an interesting, and hopefully, more inclusive perspective.