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Women gamers lagged in past, heard in future

The first Google result that appears when “girl LGBT YouTube gamers” is searched is a 2009 video from YouTuber Blunty, titled “Lesbian Gamer Girl is an Idiot.” It’s a reminder of how male-dominated gaming is and how women—particularly marginalized women—are viewed as lesser in the field.

This is one of many problems that women gamers have because of how video games have been viewed in the past.

Despite the challenges they've faced, women are and have always been an active part of the gaming community. (Alli Rickards/The Signpost)

It wasn’t always this way. When video games first started out, systems were marketed toward everyone, regardless of their gender. More men did play video games than women, but it wasn’t considered odd that girls would be playing in the arcade with their mothers. However, that changed after the video game crash of 1983.

Before this, the market had been saturated with too many titles, many of which were low-quality or hacks of previously released games. Video games were now risky purchases, for both retailers and consumers, and sales started to decline.

Nintendo was able to overcome this by changing one thing: how they marketed their systems and games.

Nintendo started to market their system as a toy, rather than a console. It worked. By changing their marketing strategy, they were able to make profits on their gaming systems. Other companies in the industry took note and began to aggressively research their demographics.

Their research found that more boys played video games, but it wasn’t because girls didn’t like to play video games. At the time, consoles were new technology, and generally, boys were encouraged to engage and be involved with it. Additionally, the industry was heavily male-dominated, so while they weren’t intentionally trying to exclude women, this perspective meant that genres that women were more interested in, such as puzzle games and farming simulations, weren’t as prominent.

As a result, video game marketing took a drastic turn during the ’90s. Only boys and men were featured in advertisements. Women, if they were included, were only sex objects. Because of this marketing, video game companies assumed that only men would be interested in playing video games and therefore continued to only advertise to men, which led to mostly men buying video games and created a cycle of biased advertising.

When combined with the idea that Bejewled, FarmVille and other similar games aren’t “real games,” it’s no surprise that women have been pushed out of gaming spaces and met with toxicity for encroaching on a space perceived as only being for men.

While women gamers have become more visible, marketing today still struggles to portray them on an even playing field.

According to Statista—a website dedicated to statistics and industry studies—in 2019, males made up 54 percent of YouTube’s gamers. The figures have leveled out throughout the years; during YouTube’s 2006 debut, 62 percent of gamers were male.

However, 46 percent of recommended gaming videos do not highlight women gamers. This is because Google’s algorithm spotlights content from those who have a higher subscriber count rather than by what content the creators put out.

Women are creating content and bring new perspectives to the gaming community, but it often goes unnoticed. YouTube’s algorithm tends to sexualize female gamers rather than promote them on an equal level as men.

When “female gamers” is searched, one of the top videos is “10 Most Beautiful Gamers On Twitch.” It’s the same problem as what happened in the ’90s. Women have their own passions for gaming but are still being relegated to being sex objects.

YouTuber Yasmin Hasiri made a video in 2013 explaining her frustrations with lesbian gamers being marginalized on YouTube.

“One of the hard things about being a lesbian gamer is how ridiculously underrepresented we are,” Hasiri said in the video.

Hasiri said female gamers are overlooked, but so are gay gamers as a whole.

When you combine the two identities, she said, “they’re basically non-existent.”

Lesbian gamers tend to not state their identities in the titles, thumbnails or hashtags of their videos. This makes their channels harder to discover, causing a lack of visibility.

It may be that they don’t want to alienate audiences with personal details, but it could also be a safety measure. Harassment and threats are common occurrences with being a girl gamer. Adding an LGBT identity on top of that opens the floodgates for even more aggression from other bigoted gamers. There is a plethora of videos demonstrating the harassment women face when these—usually—male gamers discover their identity.

However, that doesn’t stop them from being a significant part of the gaming community. Being able to listen to diverse voices makes all of us more well-rounded people.

Before YouTube and other social media outlets, it was difficult to find people with wildly different backgrounds than your own. Now, though, viewers can search anything that interests them, and they will find those they can bond with and have necessary conversations they might not have otherwise.

According to “Adweek” journalist Megan O’Neill, YouTube “is opening up new doors for people who were once ignorant to the world around them to become aware of cultures around the globe and to see that there are all sorts of interesting people living on our planet.”

However, if YouTube’s algorithms keep recommending videos that belittle and shame these diverse voices, then the voices of the interesting people on our planet will be silenced by those who don’t want to acknowledge that there is diversity in gaming.

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