Georgia Lewis finds out if gaming really is a man’s world.
It's easy to dismiss gaming as something best left to teenage boys in smelly bedrooms and lonely men whose bedrooms probably don’t smell much better. On top of such lazy stereotypes, the 2014 Gamergate scandal did nothing to promote the idea that the world of gaming was a safe, welcoming place for women. Thousands of people in the gamer community undertook a targeted campaign of harassment and horrific threats towards outspoken women. It started with the harassment of Zoe Quinn, a games developer, who created an interactive game that dealt with the experience of depression, and the abuse of women spread and escalated from there.
But given that the global gaming industry was worth $138.4 billion in 2021, surely the people spending the money can’t all be boys and men who are either lonely, misogynistic or a combination of both? My experience of gaming is mostly wandering in on my husband (who I hasten to add is not lonely, misogynistic or smelly!) while he is on the PlayStation and asking such insightful questions as “Are you winning?” or “Would that actually happen in real life?”. So, I talked to three women who have found their own happy places as gamers and urge other women to give gaming a chance.
Why do women play video games?
Coco Konski, a writer and broadcaster, and Natasha McManus, who hosts JMTV, an inclusive gaming community, and Aisha Yaqub, the Dubai-based head of PR for a technology company, all enjoy the positive mental health effects of gaming.
“Relieving anxiety” is the main reason Los Angeles-based Coco says she enjoys gaming. It is something she can focus on without worrying about the pressures of her busy life.
For Natasha, gaming was a lifeline after she graduated from university in 2015. She was having a hard time finding a job, she didn’t have many friends at the time, and her mental health was suffering.
“I ended up joining a Mario Kart [a series of racing games] gaming group and now I have lifelong friends from it,” she told me. “I am thankful for this group because it opened a massive door for me with opportunities in relation to gaming.”
The opportunities included commentating on live matches in the NPUK Squid League, a UK-based Nintendo gaming competition, on her Twitch channel, which led to commentating live for Nintendo UK.
Aisha has been playing video games since childhood and sees it as a “positive coping mechanism” as well as a wonderful aesthetic experience.
“The main word for me would be ‘fun’”, she said. “I enjoy games a lot more these days because of the technological advancements … the visuals are strikingly beautiful and realistic, so you get drawn in and the experience is surreal and more entertaining.”
But what about the sexism of gaming?
Coco, Natasha or Aisha have no time for sexism in gaming and all find ways to rise above it so it doesn’t affect their experiences. I asked them all if they feel safe as female gamers and their responses were overwhelmingly positive and defiant.
“There is always going to be the type of men who don’t think women can game, who mock and insult us,” said Coco. “I just choose to ignore those people – why would I pay attention to someone who brings negativity into my life? I refuse to let such people deter me from gaming.”
Natasha said that by surrounding herself with “likeminded individuals” and joining “welcoming and loving communities”, she enjoys positive gaming experiences. With her online community, JMTV, she said that sometimes trolls will join the chat and make inappropriate comments about her gender and sexuality, but added that there are moderators and friends who will help her deal with any toxic behaviour.
For Aisha, she said there is nothing to worry about when she plays single-player games, but she is mindful of safety when she plays online multiplayer games.
“So many times, I have been hit on by men – and some women – on PlayStation Network, sending me vulgar, disgusting messages, obscene photos and weird meet-up requests,” Aisha told me. “I was naive at the beginning and then I changed my display from my own picture to an avatar – I still get the odd message here and there, but it is a much safer experience.”
However, Aisha offers words of warning for women who want to try their hand at gaming: “Online multiplayer gaming with chat rooms is a dark place, filled with trolls, stalkers and harassers. I think people should be vigilant and careful – there was a recent case in Pakistan where a minor girl was groomed by a prostitution gang through a chat function.”
For some women, living with a gamer can pique interest in video games, while others might just want to treat themselves to a console and see what all the fuss is about. According to IFSE, Europe’s gaming industry body, 47% of European gamers are women and in the US, the American Association of Retired Persons found that 49% of women over 50 play some form of video game regularly, compared to 40% of men in the same age group.
Currently, the most popular gaming consoles – therefore the consoles with the most readily available games – are Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4, XBox One S and Sega Genesis.
I asked Coco, Natasha and Aisha for their recommendations to help other women join the growing ranks of female gamers.
Coco: “I think it’s up to you and what you’re into. For example, I’m really into the Mario Kart games and role player games. And I absolutely love video games such as Silent Hill [a survival horror game where the character of Harry Mason has to find his missing daughter, Cheryl].”
Natasha: “I recommend the Splatoon franchise [third-person shooter games set in an alternative Earth] – these are lovely communities. There is a third game coming out in September, but it is a Nintendo exclusive. My other recommendations would be the Horizon franchise, which has two games available on PlayStation. This is the first game where Aloy, the female lead character, was not sexualised with her appearance. The men allow her to take the lead as a strong personality – I can very much relate to Aloy as there are so many similarities between our personalities and characteristics.”
Aisha: I just finished Red Dead Redemption 2 [an action-adventure survival game] – the world is immersive and beautiful and the storyline is punchy and emotional. I also like Elden Ring [an action role-playing game]. It is a very challenging game, but worth it. In general, my go-to game series are Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Tomb Raider and Uncharted because I have a penchant for adventure and action games.”