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Women in Video Games

I’ve become increasingly aware of how widespread sexism is in the gaming industry over the past four years I’ve been active in the community. Women face a ton of online harassment due to their interest in gaming. Unbeknownst to some people, women make up 45% of the United States gaming demographic. In other words, there are almost as many women playing games as there are men. If that’s the case, why do women receive negative treatment in the community? What can we do to put an end to it?

Sexism in Character Representation

Part of the problem arose due to the past representation of women in video games. The over-sexualization of women characters was part of what drew people to a game. One of the most known examples of this is Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider series. In the late 90s, Croft started as a polygonal model with a thin waist and neck and impractical shorts. Her model evolved over the years to look less pointy and more human, but she was still given a low cut crop top to accentuate her curvy figure.

Evolution of Lara Croft from the 90s to the present day. Courtesy Of Future Game Releases.

In the 2013 reboot, developers gave Croft practical pants, a better tank top, and a proportional body. Unfortunately, most women characters from the past have yet to see a remodel such as Croft’s. Games like Street Fighter and Soulcalibur still use sexualization to appeal to the male demographic.

Online Harassment

Not only are women facing the sexualization of their gender through the character they play, but harassment is directed at them by a portion of their male peers. Women who play Overwatch or League of Legends have more often than not found themselves at the receiving end of offensive jokes, foul language, and discouragement. It’s difficult for women to participate and enjoy online gaming because of comments like these.

Steps Towards Improvement

It may be simpler than we think to combat sexism in the video game industry. Some companies and players are already taking steps to improve inclusion. Games like The Last of Us, The Walking Dead, and Horizon Zero Dawn all have women protagonists who are enjoyable to play not because of their over-sexualization, but because they all have goals, drive, and grit that make them relatable characters.

Clementine from The Walking Dead. Courtesy of SYFY WIRE.

When harassment occurs, women need players in online communities to step up. We can start to change the narrative if we stand up for each other. By teaching others the appropriate way to handle a situation like this, we can educate part of the player base who may not know how to help. Players will stop harassing women if other players tell them it’s not okay. That is the system we’ve built.