Women in Gaming at UCI

By Alexander Bond, Shannon Chan
Photographs by Chrisline Raymundo

In the field of gaming, it is believed that the number of male players overshadow the number of female players. However, such an ideology has proven to be false as the population of male and female players are, in fact, quite balanced. Thus, the question is raised - if the numbers are equal, why do women continue to be excluded from competitive spaces and how do we increase the involvement of women in the video game industry?

Held at UCI on February 2nd in association with the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, UCI eSports, and Women’s Empowerment Initiative, the Women in Gaming Panel discussed the influence of the representation of women in gaming and the concept of inclusive gaming.

Rachel Quirico Prominent eSports host and streamer, Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico, relays to the audience that “the biggest misconception is that all gamer girls are ‘one type of person’”

Amanda Cullen, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Informatics, acted as moderator for the panel. Featured alongside her were system designer at Schell Games, Heidi McDonald, prominent Twitch streamer, Rumay “Hafu” Wang, UCI alumni and eSports Arena coordinator Kathy Chiang, Cyber Sports Network eSports host, Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico, and USC Ph.D. student Lena Uszkoreit, who is currently researching the effects of female streamers within the “female gamer” archetype.

As the panel progressed, three topics emerged as the forefront of issues concerning inclusive gaming. Starting with the myths surrounding women in the industry, Rachel Quirico did not waste any time in mentioning how “the biggest misconception is that all gamer girls are ‘one type of person.’” Far too long has the gaming community held the idea that there is only “one way to be a girl gamer,” Quirico added, “[the reason being] only for attention and to snag guys.” Such a perspective seems to perpetuate an almost negative view towards girl streamers that result in a stereotype of how “girls are not as good as guys in games” - leading them to feel a “stereotype threat” Lena Uszkoreit tagged on.

“I pretended to be a 19 year old when I was, in reality, a small 10 year old.”

This dilemma not only affects how girls view themselves, it is prominent to the point where “People made a big deal about me being a girl, [so I] pretended to be 19 years old when I was, in reality, a small 10 year old,” explained Kathy Chiang when asked about her first encounter with video games. This lead to the second dilemma - why is it that some girls feel the need to hide their identities when playing games?

Kathy Chiang eSports Arena Coordinator Kathy Chiang talks about hiding her identity as a girl when she was a young gamer

“I remember when I first got introduced to a game, WoW (World of Warcraft),” reminisced Rumay “Hafu” Wang. “There was a group of 20 people in this one chatroom - all guys - and I decided to say ‘hey,’ but the moment I said that, it was like everyone just shut up. ‘Is it a girl? Or is it a boy?’ they asked. Later on, they found out I was a girl and everyone wanted to help me. I thought I was so cool,” she said humorously. “But then I realized - oh I wasn’t that cool, I just have a vagina.” Of course, Hafu did not mean that all the guys in gaming were trying to “get in her pants” just because she was a girl, and she made sure to emphasize that point during her speech.

“I freaking hate the term white knighting,” she said irritably. “That term is thrown around so much in gaming.” The streamer continues, “If you stick up for a girl [and are a guy], you are labeled as a ‘virgin white knight’ [whether or not you are genuinely nice].”

On platforms such as Twitch.tv, a live streaming site, streamers/broadcasters interact with their viewers live via Twitch chat and sometimes play games with them. With an overwhelming majority of male viewers on Twitch, female streamers are often subjected to the scrutiny of their physical appearance, voice, and gameplay. Online anonymity makes it easier for people to say what they want regardless of how progressive or destructive a statement may be. Some viewers then proceed to make sexist, offensive, and overall negative remarks the moment they see something that confirms their bias against and perception of female gamers. Occasionally, there will be those who stand up for the streamers and as a result be labeled “white knights.”

“It eventually places the white-knight into another category like gamer grill.”

Lena Uszkoreit

Adding to Hafu’s words, Uszkoreit explained how the term is almost as if it’s a “call out saying you are different from us. It eventually places the white knight into another category like gamer grill.”

So then emerged the third issue: how can the stereotypes of girls in gaming be combatted when males are singled out and labeled if they attempt to stand up for something they believe in? Is there something wrong with defending a female in response to a sexist statement? Is standing up against hateful speech towards any gender (male, female, non-binary) the incorrect response in gaming culture?

Heidi McDonald "Only 13 percent of women are game developers,” says Heidi McDonald of Schell Games

An answer has yet to be solidified, but the first way to start involves social media outlets in the gaming industry. “When I reached number one in the world on WoW, an article came out about me. They said ‘best female gamer,’” Hafu had said, “Rather than giving me credit, they tacked on the gender thing. I felt my entire career was focused on me being a girl, you know?” Perhaps if the outlets focused more on skill and hard work rather than the gender of the individual who reached the top, people would be more willing to accept that girls are on the same level as boys through skill rather than believe that other people are “boosting them” in games.

Not only through media outlets but also in workplaces, Heidi McDonald, creative director at iThrive Games, sheds light on how she is frequently mistaken about her work position. When customers are surprised that a woman can be part of a video game company and not be in the “HR or Marketing” team or even there just visiting a boyfriend, it illustrates the warped sense of perception some have on gender in the gaming industry. “Only 13 percent of women are game developers” McDonald relayed sadly. “I wish I had gotten into video game development earlier. It had never occurred to me that it was a job,” she explained when asked what she would have done different to achieve what she had now. For McDonald, “All it took was for somebody to show me that this is available to me.”

Rumay Wang

“I felt my entire career was focused on me being a girl, you know?”

Although there has been an increase in awareness about women pursuing gaming careers, it continues to be prevalent that many believe that in order to work in the gaming industry, employers scout out those who excel in the games themselves. When asked, Quirico proceeded to negate such a popular belief with her own experience. “If you want to work in video games,” she started, “we don’t need people full of potential. We need people who can screw up and know not to do it again.”

Looking at it from a different perspective, Hafu also agreed but stated that there was a positive aspect to screwing up. “I love losing because it means you can get better,” she said confidently. McDonald then offered her own insight. “The difference between succeeding and not succeeding is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Bravery is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. You aren’t going to go anywhere if you don’t take risks.”

The main takeaway is not that the culture of gaming and its predominantly male community are innately misogynistic. There are many who make being involved with gaming a fulfilling and enjoyable experience. Thinking the worst of others in communities that we want to see grow and be associated with only promotes toxic behavior. The takeaway from the panel was that sexism, among other forms of prejudice, still exists within gaming, but we can improve the quality of the culture and community by being more mindful of our actions and progressive with our values.

“The difference between succeeding and not succeeding is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”

And although it is true that failing is one important part of learning, one significant trait rises above all. Whether you are an individual hoping to enter the gaming industry or one who is already in it, the most important thought to remember is that even if you face obstacles in pursuing your desired career, always stay positive. As Hafu concluded, to be the flag of eSports, “Don’t be a turd!”