Still Think the Female Gamer Majority Only Plays Mobile Games?

Think again.

2015 has become a controversial year for the great debate of whether or not women are actually ‘gamers’, or just casual plebs who stick to Candy Crush on their phones. Despite several studies in recent years disproving that stereotype, ranging from the ESA’s annual report to more independent ones by people like Ashly Burch and researcher and author Rosalind Wiseman, the myth still holds ground in the Internet gaming culture as a whole.

From Pew Research Center, published October 29th and making the rounds on game news sites throughout the week

Well, yet another study has come out, this time by renowned statisticians Pew Research Center, showing that of the nearly two-thousand people polled, 42% of game console owners are women, most of which are between ages 18 and 29, matching up with previous studies performed by the ESA and other organizations. This is compared to only 37% of men. This study explicitly excludes smartphones and social media apps and focuses only on dedicated gaming consoles, and that’s really important because every time one of these studies shows up saying that adult women are in the same percentage or higher as men who play ‘real’ games, the Internet tends to scream back with unfounded points meant to refute and muddle the findings of the professional study.

It's become so common, it's now the subject of ridicule.
It’s become so common, it’s now the subject of ridicule.

The old go-to response to these surveys in recent years has been that women only play casual smart phone games, and because of the mass adoption of casual gaming on the devices, it’s skewing the data. Other arguments range from assuming the women only played on their boyfriend’s devices or that they only own game machines because they bought them for their kids. These people read a headline and go into the article already having made the decision that it must be wrong in some way. It must be flawed. There’s some inherent problem to it or minute detail that must dismiss the whole thing as ‘clickbait’ because it dares to question what they’ve already decided must be right.

Worse than that is how that culture and idea is spread by the games media, who are gamers themselves at heart, reporting on the subject. People who themselves only glanced at the above graphic and skimmed others in the Pew release decry it for factors that, if they’d only spent a moment longer with the source material or done a little bit of that ‘investigative journalism’ thing, they’d have answered their own questions. Another fun fact many are pointing to is that in another of Pew’s polls, focusing on portable gaming, they used very poor wording in their preface paragraph and again in the poll graphic, mentioning the SEGA Genesis. Most people see the graphic (below) and use it as proof that Pew doesn’t know what they’re talking about, citing a home game console as a portable, and therefore the associated poll saying more women own consoles than men must be wrong as well.


If you read the Pew release article, the paragraph above that graphic says “Some 14% of U.S. adults have a portable gaming device such as a PSP or Sega Genesis game player, similar to the share who owned one in 2009”. To the uninitiated, that’s this little device right here, a dedicated portable SEGA Genesis game player:

FunFact: This device is currently the only legal way to play Mega Man: The Wily Wars in North America without importing or still owning a SEGA Channel with the game on it.


The whole point of Pew even mentioning this device was to show that yes, they’re talking about dedicated gaming portables and not smartphones or tablets or other devices. The very example they used to prove their point was immediately used against them by games media and consumers who don’t know what this specific device is, let alone that there’s been several models of it over the years. A very poor choice of words on Pew’s part, yes, but it is NOT evidence that an associated poll, showing something you innately feel must be wrong, actually is. One assumed goof (that turns out, actually isn’t a goof at all) doesn’t automatically negate anything Pew says about gaming, or imply that they don’t know what they’re researching. That’s a logical fallacy.

Many of those game journalists who spread and reinforce this mentality of immediate dismissal don’t even realize that what they’re doing is hurting the overall conversation, and in turn, the very people they otherwise claim to support. The consumers who listen to them, on the other hand, are far more aware that their actions and dismissals and slander are hurting the cause of women being seen as equal in the same consumer space as them. Even girls do it to, it’s not limited to strictly male ‘gamers’. This group of consumers sees these articles and comments either that they don’t believe it because they’ve personally only met a handful of female gamers (agreeing with the dismissal but not being dicks about it), while the other (more vocal) side are shouting about how this is feminist manipulation of the data or trying to reinforce sexist presumptions that they must all be straight women who bought the consoles for their boyfriends or kids because surely a woman would never want to play something for herself, right? These unicorns don’t exist!*

And when you do, you wife her immediately. Can't let any other gamers own such a rare mythical beast.
And when you do, you wife her immediately. Can’t let any other gamers own such a rare mythical beast. (From Destructoid)

These are the same people who will immediately dismiss this article, or any similar thinkpiece dripping with feminist tones, once they find out it was written by a woman, or rather, once they assume what the headline must mean and therefore decide not to read the article at all and instead rant about the presumed premise based on its ‘clickbait’ title. I must just be a sexless man-hating SJW feminist on her rag, right? If I were a guy, I’d be dismissed as being whipped or called a ‘cuck’ for writing anything even hinting at pro-feminist thought. These sorts of articles aren’t for them. They’re set in their dismissal before it even begins, and no studies, research, logic, or even asking for basic respect will persuade them.

Luckily, the industry is trying to break away from those self-fulfilling marketing ploys that created this segregated consumer culture in the first place and instead, has finally started to trust the data. At the last E3 we had a wonderful show (and wonderful reception) of female characters leading their own games and not falling into the pandering schemes of the past by marketing to teenage boys with raging hormones. Instead, they are marketing towards the data: adult women and men who want to see female characters done right and not reduced to the sum of their parts, objects of desire for male characters, or fueled by stories of sexual abuse and subsequent revenge or the ever popular ‘daddy issues’ trope. In general, the data shows that most people want female characters that are as respected by the game’s authors as the male characters they churn out, and some people, according to Burch’s study, simply want some differentiation. Someone new to play as other than the idealized male power fantasy.

Horizon: Zero Dawn's unveiling at E3 2015 shows just how far we've come as an industry. Or just how willing the big companies are to exploit and pander to this 'new' audience. Time will tell.
Horizon: Zero Dawn’s unveiling at E3 2015 shows just how far we’ve come as an industry. Or just how willing the big companies are to exploit and pander to this ‘new’ audience and consumer desire. Time will tell.

But back in the digital world, the vocal and the passive seem to immediately decry any data pointing toward a non-male-dominated gaming world, and decry any criticisms of existing female characters who may be strong but are otherwise completely undermined by objectification, or stripped of their consent, in some way. As an example, Samus Aran can be the badass bounty hunter all she wants, but at the end of the game, you’re still rewarded with seeing her mostly naked if you play well enough. That’s ultimately the incentive of the game: see her in more scantily clad outfits. Nintendo even went a step further by making her skin blue and claiming it’s clothing.

But it's ok because she's empowered, right? ...right?
But it’s ok because she’s empowered, right? …right?

Metroid: Other M is actually a pretty fun action game at its core, despite not being a very ‘Metroidy’ experience, but painting Samus up to look like a porn star while giving her daddy issues and out of character confidence issues undermines any of the high-adrenaline moments of badassery. At the time of Other M‘s release, this disappointment was echoed throughout gaming media and fans alike, but if the same conversation were held today, these same complaints would be decried en masse as feminist SJW nonsense, and the game would solely be judged on its non-atmospheric gameplay and ambitious presentation.


And that’s just one character, of many that people try to throw out as token ‘sexy female characters who are also strong’ to ignore any criticisms to the media we love. I won’t even get into Bayonetta, Lara Croft, or the fact that of the five to ten genuinely positive representations of women in gaming that are thrown out in these arguments to somehow dismiss the criticism, there are hundreds of thousands of male characters who are shown positively, or even neutrally. The argument implies that because there’s a handful of token positive women, it validates the disproportion. It’s the same argument that white people throw out to excuse a racist joke: “I have a black friend so it’s ok”. I also won’t get into the difference between objectification and idealization, a difference between male and female character representation trends that’s been disseminated and discussed many times before.

All of this has been said time and again, usually with threats of violence for simply speaking up or pointing out existing trends. Gaming is a ‘boys club’ due to toy marketing in the 80s and 90s and gaming latching onto those booming brand-new segregation trends in an effort to revive the industry. But once games took hold and broke away from the ‘toy’ association, the marketing didn’t really change. What we’re left with is a generation of gamers who’ve been told all their lives that these wonderful experiences are tailored just for them, yet somehow women have been playing these games all along and they can’t comprehend it because it goes against every subconscious thing that marketing has taught them. Even many women fall into the trap too and decry anyone, male or fellow female, who speaks up against that idea that gaming could possibly be shared equally with positive representations for both binary sexes. The studies keep showing time and again that the industry and its consumer base is maturing, but the attitudes in many of the consumers have not.

That’s part of why this most recent poll is so telling. It’s a national poll with error checks and controls done by one of the best such organizations on the planet. And what’s more telling is that, to them, the difference between 37 percent of men and 42 percent of women owning consoles is considered negligible, and it matches up with data from the same study conducted in 2010. This poll specifically queried adults 18 and over.

The Burch poll went the opposite route and specifically targeted school children across the country, up to age 18. Their study went a step further by directly asking people if they think the current trend of female portrayal is sexist or whether or not they’d like to play as a female character. The data shows, generally speaking, that the older people get, the more they notice troubling trends and the more they would like to play as a female character either for immersion’s sake or just for something different. This is the exact opposite attitudes of the vocal and sometimes violent detractors on the Internet.

The top result on Google is telling in itself. The first page of results also features links to boycotts of Burch for her 'SJW' work.
The top result on Google is telling in itself. The first page of results also features links to boycotts of Burch for her ‘SJW’ work.

What we can infer from all of this is that in general, most gamers want to see the industry evolve and mature and address its mistakes so it can move forward as a whole. We think that inclusion is a wonderful thing that gets more people to experience the wonder and fun we have been so lucky to enjoy, without at all hindering those experiences for ourselves. Most of us gamers were kids when the industry was becoming a massive juggernaut and now we’re in our twenties and thirties, matured and moved on with our lives, and expecting our favorite media to mature with us and evolve over time just as every other entertainment industry has. We, the vast majority of gamers, have grown up and slowly but surely, gaming is growing up too.

But then we have people sending death threats to Jimmy Kimmel because he doesn’t understand the point of watching a game stream.

But hey, maybe this latest poll is just as corrupt and skewed as the countless others because I happen to be female and I own like twenty consoles and they didn’t have a control for that. While we’re at it, let’s keep denying climate change in the face of 97% of all global research on the subject saying it’s real, man-made, and a threat. Adult women can’t possibly make up half of gamers, let alone be the largest demographic. Everyone can’t be gamers like me, right? …right?


*We do, and we’re far more common than you think.

  • MaxRoivas

    It’s refreshing to see someone discuss this honestly and passionately with no indication of implicit biases after running into people who will fly off the handle if you mention anything related to Gamergate or misogyny in the game industry. It was such a chaotic mess of hatred that I can understand why some people who jumped aboard with the Gamergaters thinking they were arguing for ethics in game journalism might still cling to that and think they’re fighting the good fight, but it seems like with articles such as yours, Maddy Myers’, Alexander Leighs’, the Isometric podcast and the video series done by Innuendo Studios, more people would discover those biases and maybe not attack anyone who doesn’t share the same opinions regarding these issues.

    There was an interesting story a few days ago that I actually saw on Facebook’s news feed of all places. Some person accused David Cage and his team, Quantic Dream, of lightening the skin tones of the Arab characters in the recently released PS4 version of Beyond: Two Souls. Cage responded by explaining that it was an issue with lighting and skin shaders as well as some other points. It seems like pseudo-intellectuals are so eager to look clever or hard working that they will attack any perceived wrong they see without educating themselves on the issue first or asking whether they’ve misread the situation. It’s probably why Jerry Seinfeld and other comedians don’t do shows at colleges anymore. So many Gen X people are so uneducated that they don’t even know racism, sexism, or classism when they see it. And when they read something that gets them fired up, they don’t stop and ask why reading this has had that effect on them and whether the author is telling the truth or spinning a web of lies for an ulterior motive.

    • Claeris

      I didn’t know about the Beyond thing, but his reason logically holds water. if you look at the Uncharted collection, just as an example of another ps3 port, skin tones are WAY different and lighting’s changed throughout, save for maybe Uncharted 3, so it doesn’t surprise me that another port is having issues with the same thing. Different hardware, different problems.

      I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Gen X-ers as a whole, though. I think it’s more a culture bred from the quick spread of information. At least partially. Older folks come from a time where news took time to break. When the Watergate scandal happened, people didn’t know until they watched their local nightly news, and more information poured in over the course of weeks via newspapers and those daily news shows. With the internet’s light-speed transfer of information, we expect to know everything there is to know within minutes of a story breaking. In games media, you can see this happen every E3, or as an example, when one site signs an exclusivity deal to reveal information, within seconds of it going live, it’s copied and parroted by every other news outlet around.

      I wouldn’t call them overly sensitive so much as I’d say we’re hyper-aware of our surroundings now. Now, more than ever, people younger and younger learn things that used to take people entire lifetimes: that racism is bad, that blind devotion and silencing of critics is bad, etc etc. Along with that awareness is the immaturity of being too young to recognize when you *don’t* know everything there is to know. We’re so used to knowing everything so fast that we don’t know when to sit back and let the information in. It’s not a new trait at all though, the only part of the equation that’s really changed is that information is faster. People still jumped to conclusions without the full story in the past as well, but now we’re so used to knowing everything fast that we (sometimes safely) assume we’re in the know and the right.

      This applies to gamergate as well. It all started with that rant from Zoey’s ex slandering her and that’s what everyone jumped on and it took off from there. It doesn’t matter that he later retracted his statements or that there’s no proof of collusion or that the supposed review she slept with nathan grayson for never existed in the first place, what matters is what they believe based on initial information and an unwillingness to accept new evidence unless it supports the predetermined narrative. They think they’re fighting the good fight and doing the just thing by attacking ‘SJW’s’ without realizing the hypocrisy that they themselves are fighting for their own twisted version of social justice.

      I think a similar mentality is what led to the stereotypical college campus safe space thing. The difference being that they’re actually based on legitimate concerns, like over-abundant campus rape and the ongoing racially charged death threats triggering walkouts. The dismissal from the ‘older generation’ is just the latest in unfounded assumptions that this generation is entitled and whiney and cynical and just needs to stop crying about rape and racism and violence against trans people and ‘get over it’. The response to that mentality is, sorry, thanks to the mass information of the internet, people are more aware and more empathetic than ever before in human history. They may sound like they’re bitching, but they’ve evolved socially far more rapidly than the previous generations, thanks to instant communication with other cultures and histories. There may be an elitist immature mentality that comes from any college-age brat thinking they know everything for being in college now, as it has always been with that group throughout history, but the heart and initiative is in the right place. They’re just progressing faster that everyone’s ready for.

      Sorry for the rant and all but that’s a complex and interesting issue and it all bleeds together to me. The gaters aren’t the same as the ‘college safe space whiners’, but that’s a venn diagram and there’s bleedover. On the other hand, the people trying to ‘protect games from feminists’ are the same as people trying to ‘protect guns from obama’.

    • Claeris

      oh, and another point that the video series touched on is that by saying something they like has something wrong about it, you’re saying they’re wrong for enjoying it. It’s a childish emotional response to being criticized but that’s how everyone reacts on some level. Some people just learn how to handle it better and turn criticism into something constructive, through empathy in understanding where the criticism is coming from, rather than the emotional ‘fight’ response of ‘you’re wrong because you think I’m wrong and I clearly don’t think I’m wrong so therefore you must be wrong and how dare you attack me’. Feminists aren’t coming for your games to take them away and make them worse, all we want is for people to recognize and understand that even something you like can have very problematic flaws. Maybe the reason I don’t like X game is BECAUSE of that flaw. Maybe it just hinders the enjoyment for me and millions others. You might not see it as a problem because it might not directly affect you or you happen to actually like it. Example: giant boobs with ridiculous jiggle physics make me uncomfortable and sad when I see that developers went out of their way to put something in just for perverted reasons, whereas joe blow might like that because lol boobs are fun and wow look at them bounce! So I speak up about it and say that’s not cool, and because joe blow happened to like it, and he doesn’t want to acknowledge a flaw or worse, acknowledges it but refuses to admit anything can or should be done about it, he thinks I’m attacking him and his way of life. That I’m the evil one trying to ruin his games and take them away. Really all I want is to enjoy games without seeing people like me reflected in the game and reduced to jiggly bits for someone else’s enjoyment. It’s silly that a valid criticism is met with such a harsh and sometimes violent reaction. But of course I’m just some feminist man-hating neo-nazi tumblerina SJW on her rag so anything I say daring to question the status quo or predetermined narrative of *my* critics, everything I say is immediately dismissed. There’s a serious lack of empathy going on.