Here’s a little known fact: women and girls make up roughly 50% of gamers. That’s an even gender split in the gaming world, yet it’s still one of the more male dominated and sexist domains. Luckily, the organization the*gameHERs plans to change that, offering women, girls, and male allies a safe and inspiring place for their gaming goals.
The co-founders, who call themselves “ four incredibly passionate, nerdy women,” saw a real need for inclusivity. the*gameHERs site mission statement states it simply: “This is a sexist-free space for the casual players, the hardcore gamers, the techies, the streamers, the designers, the cosplayers, the developers, and programmers. Our mission is to advance the role, voice, image, and power of all the*gameHERs in the gaming world. We welcome all humans who value this mission.”
the*gameHERs Was Born From a Pivotal Moment
Sometimes there’s a gradual buildup for a movement, but in the*gameHERs’ case, it happened in a flash. Heather Ouida, CEO and Co-founder, was in an “overly air-conditioned conference room of Goldman Sachs’ The Future of Esports and Video Games Conference in September of 2019, when a sea change occurred.
“Niles Heron, industry expert and co-founder of PopDog walked onto the stage and looked out onto a sea of mostly men and told the audience that he couldn’t bear to see another billion dollar industry run by men and that we need more diversity and women having power, influence and a say in gaming. Considering 50% of this billion dollar market is women, the idea for the*gameHERs was born,” Ouida tells Parentology.
Getting Beyond the Sexism
It wasn’t long ago that the entrenched gaming sexism boiled over. In 2014, Gamergate hit. Indie game designer Zoe Quinn released a game, Depression Quest, centered around her own experiences with depression. Soon after, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend made online accusations that she had slept her way to success. Although she vigorously denied the unfounded claims, she was subjected to persecution online, including rape and death threats. Her home address was published, and she was forced to vacate her home.
This frightening harassment extended to other successful gaming women, including Anita Sarkeesian and Jenn Frank. It was a time of reckoning and self examination in the gaming industry.
Since then, conditions have improved. “We have had incredible support from the men in our community! In addition to Niles Heron inspiring us to create this community, one of the very first people to tweet about our company was Rob Wiethoff, who plays John Marston is Red Dead Redemption 2! Since then, we’ve had many amazing men be allies and support us in our mission. In fact, we had one of our community members named Paul, write an very detailed article on how men can be better allies to women in gaming,” Quida says.
Now, video games with a more female sensibility are more common, and accepted. One writer for the*gameHERs blog, Catherine Negron, touched on some of these issues in her blog:
“In recent years, we have seen more games featuring female and POC leads. While it’s not exactly a new thing, the way they are portrayed from then versus now, is new. Things have gotten better. Writers have become better at showing emotional strength in both their male and female characters. Both of these games showcase women who are both strong physically and emotionally. They aren’t afraid to show their full complexity. It doesn’t make them weak and it doesn’t detract from the story the developers are trying to tell,” Negron wrote.
the*gameHERs Presents Gaming As Community
There’s been some research, notably a Norwegian study, that gaming for girls (especially ages 10-12) leads to reduced social skills. While gaming can become addictive, there is also evidence that it contributes other important skills.
“I think anything done or in this case “played” too much can be unhealthy,” Ouida notes. As Dr. Karen Rancourt goes on to say in her blog on the*gameHES site, “Interestingly, Peter Gray, Ph.D., a research professor in educational psychology at Boston College, has identified several cognitive benefits of kids’ playing video games, including: improves coordination, problem-solving skills, enhances memory, improves attention and concentration, improves the brain’s speed, enhances multitasking skills and improves social skills.”
the*gameHERs team coordinator Leah MacLaughlin has reaped great rewards from gaming. “Gaming has introduced me to a whole new community, and provided a new way of socializing. I’ve made so many friends, both in real life and online because of video games, and I truly am grateful for all of them. Additionally, it’s opened up so many doors that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” MacLaughlin tells Parentology.
She also has an empowering message for all the girls just getting started in the gaming world.
“My biggest advice to women and girls who want to game is just go for it. I think a lot of people, women especially, feel like gaming isn’t for them. Some might feel like it’s a man’s activity. Others sometimes feel like it has to be competitive, or they must be insanely good, or have the best setup, but none of that is true. Gaming should be done for the purpose of having fun. If you’re competitive that’s awesome, or if you’re an amazing player, be proud, but if you’re not, you still have a place in gaming. Never let anyone gatekeep you,” MacLaughlin says.