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I began following competitive gaming, or Esports, around the time when Starcraft 2 came out on July 27th, 2010. Later that year, I began to get into fighting games with Super Street Fighter 4, and I began to go to local meetups to improve my skills and abilities as well as make new relationships, that I still have to this day. For a couple of years, I played competitively in my scene, traveled to tournaments in my state, and watched players at the highest level, compete for thousands of dollars on twitch.tv. Another way I participated within the community, was when I began the Video Games Club at the University of Miami to have people meet and play competitively. The fighting game community prides itself as being incredibly diverse, but with the current political climate and the abundance of women’s marches, I noticed that the ratio of players is heavily skewed toward men. Gaming communities other than the FGC, such as League of Legends and Dota, also have this uneven ratio, specifically at the highest level of play. This brings me to my question. Why are women so underrepresented at the highest level of gaming, where skill and not gender is said to be the most important aspect of a player?
To begin answering this question I made a search on one of the FIU databases with the three keywords esports, female, and video games. One of the articles I found published in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues is named “Women’s Experience in esports: Gendered Differences in Peer and Spectator Feedback During Competitive Video Game Play”. This article is very valuable because it directly analyzes and discusses the experiences that women have during competitive play that I believe may be why there is a lack of females in eSports. The researchers Omar Ruvalcaba, Jeffrey Shulze, Angela Kim, Sara Berenzki, and Mark Otten conducted two studies. In the first study, the researchers analyzed gender differences in online gamers’ experiences with feedback from other players and spectators during online play. The second study analyzed gender differences observed during gameplay of streamers that are male and female and the comments directed towards them on Twitch.tv. I found the results intriguing because the researchers went against my preconceived notions, where the data says that women did not receive more negative comments from men during online play like I thought they would and in fact received more positive comments. However, women did receive ten times the amount of sexual comments from commenters while streaming to Twitch. This leads me to believe that the question may be more complex than I originally thought and that this study may have benefited from live observations at events than adhering to strictly online gameplay.
After I read the first article, I wanted to see an example that was more focused on an individual’s experience than that of a group. I performed a search looking for high profile women in eSports, and I immediately came upon a woman named Kim Se-Yeon, also known as Geguri who plays in the Overwatch League. An article I found within a book named Feminist Media Studies titled “I play to win!”: Geguri as a (post)feminist icon in esports” details Geguri’s rise to become a feminist icon in gaming but also exemplifies how women in esports are not given the same opportunities to fail and are “trained to support sexist structures and focus on their flaws as individuals”. The article also states that women, like Geguri, often feel the need to reject feminism and adopt a post-feminism mentality to mitigate the negative attention from male gamers. This article helped my understanding of exactly what kind of harassment that women can go through in the world of esports and leads me to believe that this is a contributing factor to why women are underrepresented. However, because esports is such a meritocracy and that esports is under the umbrella of “gaming” that there must be issues within the gaming industry and not just esports.
My search to see if there is a larger issue led me to information that went against the ideas that I have had about gaming in general. I learned that women make up a large amount of the population that consider themselves gamers, however that they do not play the same types of games that males tend to play. This point was made clear in Aleks Krotoski’s article “Chicks and Joysticks – an Exploration of Women and Gaming” found in ELSPA White Paper which was reproduced in Male and Female Roles in the article “Males and Females Both Embrace Gaming Technology. Krotoski uses this article to “examine the role of women in computer gaming, as an audience and as contributors to the future of interactive entertainment. It will show that women are a mounting force behind the scenes and at the tills and that their inclusion is ushering in the era of games as a mass-market phenomenon”. In Krotoski’s article she shows how although boys were the predominant players of games in the 80’s, companies arose, such as HerInteractive and Purple Moon Interactive, that saw the potential of girls in the market and began to create games intended to be purchased by girls. Krotoski details that women’s choice in games differs from the major categories of shooter and sports simulation and instead reflects the desire to use technology to learn skills about themselves and to enjoy the good plot, rich characterizations, and choice in how they pursue goals, and a variety of other reasons.
Upon reading this article the reason why women are not playing competitive games is slowly becoming clearer to me. One of the reasons why I thought there isn’t representation is because women are just not playing games. This article shows me that that reasoning is false and that women are playing games, just not the games that men tend to play. That is not to say that they don’t play competitive games at all like Krotoski says in her article there is subculture of women that are playing games such as Quake and Counter-Strike which are predominately “boys” games. However, most female gamers seem to have begun to shy away from these types of games in preference of games that involve heavy plot or are more “casual”.
As I continued my research another article caught my eye that started reinforcing the idea that more women are beginning to game. The article in question, which I found on the Opposing View Points database, is written by John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade, and is titled “Video Games Transcend Gender Roles”. In this article Beck describes a survey they conducted as well as interviews that they had with college students. The data they received is complex, stating that most men thought that women played much less than men or not at all. It also stated that men were more likely to say that they played games during their teenage years while women were less inclined to say that they played during their teenage years, even though the data showed that nearly 40 percent of all gamers are women. What I find interesting about this article is that it questions if gaming will be as split amongst the genders as traditional sports are. The article states that “Video games, on the other hand, are more and more a common ground for the sexes. Brothers and sisters will sit in the same room and play video games for hours on end”. I find that this is very important because it shows that although there may not be many competitive female gamers right now it can potentially change in the future with the increase of female gamers in general. I think this article also gives a different point of view from the previous article where it states that women tend to play different games than men. Here it says that games are beginning to bring the genders together and ignore gender roles which implies that women and men are in fact playing more of the same games than we think.
After finding a lot of information about experiences women have during online play, as a professional gamer, and in general the types of games that women play, I decided I wanted to look more into an event that I had heard about a few months ago. The final two articles I found I feel are very closely related to each other. The first article, which is written by Jennifer Jenson and Suzanne de Castel, is titled “Online Games, Gender and Feminism”, which can be found in The International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society, details how being a feminist means to often “challenge persisting biological determinist approaches that cast women and girls as less able than their male counterparts when it comes to both making and playing games”. The second article is written by the journalist Megan Condis of The New York Times and is titled “The Strange Saga of a female Gamer” talks about the event that I mentioned earlier. In her article she talks about an Overwatch player named Ellie, who appeared out of nowhere as a very strong player in the Overwatch scene and immediately became a tempting recruit for the Contender team Second Win. Ellie immediately became scrutinized because of the fact she wanted to keep her real identity a secret to avoid the harassment that other female professionals often receive. However, the scene refused to let her be and began harassing her and calling for doxing. This situation led Ellie to decide to quit and leave the scene. However, as it turns out Ellie was not actually a real person and was instead a front for a male professional Overwatch player named The Punisher, who created her as a social experiment.
The reason why I find these articles closely linked is because the article “Online Games, Gender and Feminism” speaks about women having to prove themselves constantly and that is exactly what was being asked of Ellie. The fact that Ellie was a fake account is irrelevant in my opinion because “she” started to be harassed before it was found out that she wasn’t a real person. This is a prime example why females can be hesitant to join the larger competitive scene. I think the article written by Condis provides me with great examples to refine my ideas into a thesis, especially after it details how the esports scene has driven out other female players such as MagicAmy because of accusations that she wasn’t who she said she was.
Throughout my research I have been shown that the reasoning behind the lack of female players at the highest level of gaming is a far more complex issues that I thought originally. In some articles I found that women are harassed more often than men when playing online and offline games but that they also receive a lot more encouragement as well. I have also found that women are a driving force behind what kind of games are being made by developers because of their desire to play games that are not competitively charged and are driven more by plot, characterization, and characters that they feel that can be represented by. I think to find an answer to my question I will need to do more research into the types of games being made for and played by women as well as what types of games are marketed to both sexes. I also believe that I need to investigate more real-life examples of women within the esports world to better understand the types of experience that they have. However, I do feel I have a general answer to my question. I think that the lack of female esports players is largely do to esports being a meritocracy that scrutinizes women more than men because they are viewed as being inferior. I also believe that in general women tend to gravitate more towards mobile and “casual” games as opposed to traditional video games that are marketed towards men.
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