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Not just a man's game… How games have become more accessible and open to female gamers

Co-founder and CEO of GameTree Dana Sydorenko talks toxicity in games, the challenges faced by female gamers and how we can make a more accessible gaming community
Not just a man's game… How games have become more accessible and open to female gamers
  • With billions of women gaming worldwide and many working within the industry, it’s important that we change this narrative and create environments in which everyone feels welcomed.
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The video games market and its communities often still fall into the false idea that women aren’t playing video games. This results in many games being created with only men in mind and environments that can feel unwelcoming to female gamers. But with billions of women gaming worldwide and many working within the industry, it’s important that we change this narrative and create environments in which everyone feels welcomed.

Here, GameTree CEO and co-founder, Dana Sydorenko discusses toxicity in gaming and stereotypes. Sydorenko also speaks out on how studios can help create a better future for the gaming industry and how to battle the gender imbalance.

A quiet revolution is reshaping the landscape in the vast gaming universe, where pixels collide and stories unfold. This journey, guided by personal experiences, takes you on an expedition through the world of gaming.

Amidst this exploration, it's fascinating to note the stark contrast between the longstanding stereotype that men predominantly enjoy video games and reality. Females comprise 46% of the 3.2 billion gamers worldwide. However, their representation remains limited, with a study of the top fourteen global gaming companies revealing that men hold 84% of executive positions in the gaming industry.

Our mission is to shed light on the journeys of female gamers, challenge the status quo, and navigate the persistent sexism that exists within gaming communities.

“68% of gamers face physical threats, stalking, and harassment.”
Dana Sydorenko

Toxicity in gaming: an unseen foe

Beneath the neon glow of virtual realities lies an insidious foe – toxicity. Gaming communities, playgrounds for 3.2 billion players, bear witness to the harsh reality: 68% of gamers face physical threats, stalking, and harassment. This article delves into the disconcerting statistics, with 67% of players contemplating abandoning their digital quests due to toxicity.

Challenges faced by female gamers

Navigating the expansive realm of gaming is a journey marked by pixels, narratives, and, unfortunately, the lurking shadows of toxicity. The stories we encounter, like the one shared above, echo the harsh reality countless female gamers face. Messages pour in daily, painting a vivid picture of the challenges they endure.

GameTree stands as a beacon, a platform striving to return the voice to girls in the gaming world. The overwhelming scale of toxicity is staggering; a shocking 71% of female gamers choose silence in voice chats, fearing the spectre of harassment, belittlement, or expulsion from the server. This statistic is not just a number; it represents the stifled voices and experiences of a vast community.

The struggle is real, and it hits close to home. As a gamer, I've been immersed in the gaming world for as long as I can remember. At 18, my life took an unexpected turn when I joined the Ukrainian army and served as a paramedic on the front lines during the Russian-Ukrainian war. The experiences left me feeling isolated and depressed, seeking solace in the virtual realms of online games.

However, even in these digital havens, toxicity and harassment lurked. I, too, faced the cruelty of fellow gamers, witnessing firsthand the challenges, particularly those encountered by female gamers. It became apparent that something needed to change.

My co-founder and I embarked on a mission, investing thousands of hours in research to decipher the complexities of toxicity in gaming. Our findings were translated into the GameTree’s algorithm, a revolutionary solution rooted in the belief that the toxicity problem stems from a mismatch between players. The key to resolving this issue lies in better curation, connecting individuals with like-minded gamers with similar values and interests. It's not just about pairing players randomly but fostering connections that transcend the digital realm, where friendships can flourish.

The journey wasn't just about developing a platform; it was a commitment to creating a haven for gamers - a space where the mosaic of cultures, stories, and aspirations is seen and fully immersed.

“Despite long-held stereotypes that have portrayed gaming as a domain dominated by men, women are no longer hidden away in the shadows.”
Dana Sydorenko

The statistics highlighting the challenges faced by female gamers underscore the pressing need for initiatives that combat these problems. As the gaming community grapples with toxicity, it's essential to recognise that behind every number is a personal story that we aim to reshape and redefine. It's a story of empowerment, of finding refuge in the digital realms, and, most importantly, of building connections beyond the gaming screen's confines.

Breaking Pixels and Stereotypes

A fascinating story about the growing number of women who are playing video games emerges as we navigate the ever-expanding digital landscapes and wield our controllers. Despite long-held stereotypes that have portrayed gaming as a domain dominated by men, women are no longer hidden away in the shadows. Instead, they are asserting their place as professional gamers and developers. One of the most well-known players in StarCraft II, Sasha "Scarlett" Hostin broke stereotypes and opened the door for other female gamers with her dominance. Nevertheless, it's critical to recognise the bravery of every female player for navigating the undeveloped and underrepresented world of women's esports, regardless of their level of success.

Navigating the gender disbalance

Equal representation is necessary for a balanced viewpoint, particularly among game developers. Historically, the industry-oriented products toward male desires and games made by men for men helped to maintain a gender imbalance. In order to achieve equality, the industry must support female gamers and establish female leagues in order to address enduring issues. An accurate picture of the industry is painted by recognising the persistence of sexism and toxicity while also celebrating successes.

Systematic efforts against sexism

Though there are signs of progress toward inclusivity in the constantly changing gaming industry, the journey is far from over. Leaders in the industry like Riot are a good example of how game studios are doing a great job of fostering an inclusive environment for game development. They also try to create a more balanced in-game dynamic by using less sexualised and more men-oriented characters. But it's important to understand that these developments are still in their early stages and are merely the first steps toward a more equal digital environment.

The problem at hand resonates throughout the entire entertainment landscape and goes beyond the gaming industry. Frequently, businesses, networks, and programs are primarily run and owned by men, which feeds into a stereotype that objectifies and sexualises female gamers. Because of this profit-driven motivation, gaming girls are frequently portrayed as weak, foolish, and immature. This presents a serious obstacle for female gamers, particularly those who play professionally, hindering their ability to be taken seriously.

It’s important to actively promote safe gaming environments in the face of this turbulent environment, acting as a bastion of change. Our platform is at the forefront of concerted efforts to combat sexism, along with other gaming studios that have acknowledged the problem. An important turning point in the gaming narrative is reached when inclusive environments are promoted, and clear guidelines are established. These programs act as change agents, showing the way toward a gaming community that is more welcoming and inclusive.

Recognising the issue is the first step, and the gaming industry is actively trying to change the narrative by working with sites like GameTree. Although the journey is still ongoing, the commitment to change is unwavering: it is to create gaming environments free from bias and stereotypes that hinder people of all genders from thriving.

Heroines in gaming: a new dawn

A notable change in the gaming industry's narrative is the rise of strong female characters. The rise of strong female characters who defy gender norms is encouraging and indicative of positive changes. Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn stands out among these amazing characters as a symbol of resilience and empowerment.

Aloy's personality is evidence of how the game narrative is constantly changing. Aloy defies the antiquated clichés that frequently depict female characters as helpless damsels in distress. She does not need saving, nor does she give in to the pressure of conforming to stereotypical ideas of what it means to be a woman. Her resilience stems from her ability to take on obstacles head-on rather than from dressing in a tiny dress or meeting conventional beauty standards.

What is discovered in the vast realm of video games reveals a change in progress. Women's role in gaming is dynamically depicted in the narrative, from navigating toxicity to challenging stereotypes.

“The world is changing gradually, but working together we can overcome these difficulties.”
Dana Sydorenko

The difficulties ingrained in female gamers' lives - from intimidation to harassment - create a moving story that inspires compassion and understanding. Although the progress made is highlighted by success stories and the paths blazed by trailblazers, the ongoing struggle is kept starkly visible by the holy war surrounding women in gaming.

Although it acknowledges that there is still sexism in video games, the conclusion is optimistic. The world is changing gradually, but working together we can overcome these difficulties. The message is clear: creating a gaming environment where players of all genders feel safe, welcome, and accepted requires strict anti-harassment policies, more representation in game development, and platforms that prioritise safe spaces. One pixel at a time, the story illustrates how gaming continues to evolve and break free from the constraints of gender norms.

Edited by Paige Cook