There is a lot being said currently about how many women are out there playing games on their PCs and smartphones. But as in so many other walks of life, you have to be particularly careful when there’s a statistic in the headline. Numbers, when they work, tend to be the boring little bits of hard-core data at the bottom of the page.
If the figures do make it to the headline – as in, 50% of gamers are actually women – Shock! – then the odds are (more numbers) that you’ll need to read the piece especially carefully if you really want to get to know what’s going on.
Shock and care
The first warning note should sound with that shock value. If a statistic doesn’t feel intuitively right, if it doesn’t tally with your own experience and if it really does seem to be in some way shocking then you’re more than entitled to be suspicious. As the old line goes, if 77.6% of statistics are made up for effect, it is 100% true of headlines. Put the two together and you have a perfect combination – quite unlike the world’s craziest sandwiches.
So how many women are out there, actively gaming? What is the proportion of the gaming population that we could write a legitimate headline for? These are legitimate questions.
That’s where we start to enter the dreaded realm of the small print. And there’s another warning – as Tom Waits put it, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away. Amen and Hallelujah to that.
What do the numbers describe?
Hard, verifiable figures are elusive, although we do know that 3% of programmers are women, and that, for example, in the UK only 12% of game designers are women. Those cold, hard facts point to a distinct tendency to go with the stereotype – gaming is what guys do.
But establishing the definition of what constitutes a ‘game’ and hence who counts as a ‘gamer’ is a slippery, difficult-to-pin-down process. Does someone on Kim Kardashian: Hollywood count as a gamer? Do people playing poker online constitute ‘gamers’ – whatever their gender?
If this last example does indeed constitute a part of the gaming community – and there is no obvious reason why it should not – then gaming is a broad church indeed. All of those people are playing online with likeminded individuals and with entertainment as their prime motivation. This sort of all-encompassing definition could just as easily describe someone on FIFA 16 or Assassin’s Creed, as it does someone on PokerStars or even using their Wii for a workout.
Gaming for women
The fact that women are every bit as engaged as men is shown in no uncertain terms by the dedicated women’s pages offered by such prestigious suppliers as the market leading PokerStars, which offers Women’s Sunday poker competitions as well as inspiration and advice from some of the game’s leading female professionals. Clearly, there is a female appetite for what is every bit as stereotypically a male pastime as any point and shoot title you could tilt your handset at.
Of course, any good feminist could point to the lack of any specifically male alternative as the mark of the gender-imbalance in all of this, and it is a difficult case to counter. No matter what the numbers say, if there is a default style of poker environment and there is a female poker environment that can only mean that women are in the minority in the mainstream. But PokerStars’ approach is undoubtedly a necessary first step in the process of establishing gender parity. It perhaps does not suggest a 50-50 gender balance – but it does at least rate as a step towards that ideal.
In 2014, The Wall Street Journal ran with the “Women now make up half of gamers” headline on the back of the Gamescom trade exhibition, pointing to the tremendous rise in the number of women gamers in recent years – particularly on smartphones and the Wii. Women, it seems, are more prone to using the Wii than their male counterparts.
Headlines for sales
But the giveaway came from the suits interviewed who were to a man – and the occasional woman – keen to stress the potential to be exploited by selling their wares to women.
All those headlines could make any reasonably intelligent girl feel as though she was missing out on the latest trend. They could leave her feeling that if she were to ignore those blaring headlines and turn her back on online games she would somehow be out of step with her peers and that maybe she should spend a few dollars to find out what all the fuss was about.
At times like this it is maybe worth remembering that headlines are there for a reason, and that it counts double when there’s a statistic in the headline. It doesn’t matter where in the media you look; it is always worth remembering that the deal just might not be as real as it seems.
Any thoughts on women in the gaming world? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.