If someone were to ask you what the target market for video games was, odds are your first answer would be “teenaged males,” followed in a close second by “adult males,” with “women of all ages” in a distant third. It’s a perception that’s dominated the gaming market for decades, and it’s in turn led to some downright terrifying trends. Most recently, we saw the Gamergate movement purport to having knowledge of a pro-women/anti-men lean in gaming journalism, and in turn the larger market. Things like this have only served to widen the perception that video games are the realm of men, and men alone.
A recent study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) tells us that this perception is no longer in line with reality. The data from the ESA paints a picture of a target demographic of women that are in fact dominating the market. In fact, 33% of the total game-playing population are adult females, while just 18% are teenaged males. It represents a stark break from the perception of the industry, showing that video games in the modern era carry with them a universal appeal. Most importantly though, it’s data that helps the voices of a significant demographic of gamers be heard.
The Gamergate movement is largely predicated on the idea that women don’t belong in the video gaming fandom. This is of course a ridiculous assumption, but one that pervades even to this day. One needs only look as far as the ESA’s data to understand that there’s a place at the table for everyone. Where in the past, gaming was a realm solely marketed to men, we now see cold, hard proof that the fandom is far more universal than it’s ever been before.
So why has video gaming been a boys club until now? Looking back on the history of the industry, it’s one that’s been focusing on a marketing push toward the more male demographic since it’s inception. Less than favorable depictions of women are prevalent both in older games and even today, all because the perception has been that it doesn’t matter. With the knowledge that a wide swathe of people playing video games in fact do care, the hope is that the composition of video games in terms of storylines and characters will take a decidedly progressive approach.
What this means is focusing on the presence of more autonomous and independent female characters carrying game franchises, rather than being utilized as sex objects as they have in the past. Gender stereotypes in terms of what female vs. male characters are capable of within games have a long way to go. Even the newest Assassin’s Creed, even while offering a playable female character, falls prey to this: The playable man is a brawler capable of leveling hordes of enemies, while the woman’s skills are centered around stealth and avoiding physical altercations.
If the data given to us by the ESA tells us one thing, it’s that the women within the gaming world deserve a voice, especially now that they represent a target market. You can bet this will continue to trend upward, making it that much more important for video games to start adjusting accordingly. As the market shifts, so should the focus of the product itself. The representation is certainly there; now it’s time for our video games to match it in kind.
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