The Stigma of Mobile Games Excludes Women From the Gaming Community

Glu Mobile

I’m 15 and it’s lunchtime at school. My friends and I (all of us females) are holed up in a small corner near our lockers. We have our phones open and are obsessively playing the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game. All our characters have matching names like we’re part of a secret sisterhood only traceable in the digital realm. For a small moment in time we’re completely enthralled, frantically asking each other to help complete tasks in the game.

We’re slowly brought back to reality when some boys in our year group walk past and stop to see what we’re doing, thoroughly amused at the sight of a group of girls gaming.

“That’s so funny!”

“Play a real game!”

It’s not long before we turn our phones off and put them away.

We learnt quickly that it wasn’t only embarrassing that we were girls playing a ‘feminine’ game, but also that we were playing a mobile game.

It’s not exactly a secret that mobile games are the black sheep of the gaming world, the lesser cousin of PC and console games. When I asked my brother what he thought about mobile gaming, he stopped, let out a laugh and said, “gaming on a mobile is like an artist trying to draw on an etch-a-sketch.”

And it’s a sentiment that’s felt by many. There are plenty of reasons that gamers dislike mobile gaming as a whole. Some find that the quality isn’t as good compared to the PC and console versions of games. Others feel like there are too many advertisements and simplistic cash grabs. No matter what the reason, it certainly feels like the community doesn’t consider mobile games as a valid form of gaming.

But the negative connotations of mobile games can potentially be contributing to gender inequality.

Female gamers have always been around, and they’ve become more popular on platforms like YouTube and Twitch in the last few years. But it’s on mobile gaming platforms that you’ll find a huge number of female gamers. The Change the Game survey commissioned by Google Play in 2019 found that 49 per cent of all mobile gamers were female. This same survey found that 64 per cent of women preferred mobile gaming over other platforms.

Matt Brocklehurst, Head of Apps at Google Asia Pacific told the BBC that “more and more female gamers are drawn to the fun, flexibility and freedom that mobile gaming affords”.

And while there are plenty of women who game on the PC or console, I can relate to the flexibility of mobile games. After a long day of work, it’s so easy to jump on my phone on the train home and escape into one of the many narrative-led games on my phone. It’s cathartic and relaxing for me to escape into another world, even if it is the one of Angry Birds. And sometimes my commute home is one of the only times I get a chance to game.

Unfortunately, the negative bias about mobile gaming, coupled with the existing gender bias in the industry, means that many female gamers struggle to identify themselves as just that — gamers. According to Change the Game, 57 per cent of men who play mobile games identify as gamers whereas only 29 per cent of women did the same.

Doctor Shira Chess, a professor and researcher of media and gaming, said in the survey: “I think that women just don’t feel that the [gaming] space is meant for them. They might think that one small part is meant for them. But not all of it”.

It’s not a surprise for me to learn that women don’t feel there’s space for them. If a 15-year-old me can’t even play the Kim Kardashian game without being ridiculed, how can adult women start identifying as gamers in a community that doesn’t recognise them as that?

Much like in PC and console gaming, there needs to be a safe space in the mobile gaming space for women to feel accepted. Female representation has so often been left out of the gaming narrative, which is why it’s important that more and more women feel comfortable joining a Discord group or finding a gaming community online.

As for the way we think about mobile gaming, that needs to change! It’s 2021 and there are a huge variety of quality games that you can easily download on your phone and play from anywhere. Games like AFK Arena, Genshin Impact and Call of Duty: Mobile are just a few mobile games with great specs and good controller support. And slowly, the mobile gaming narrative has already begun to change.

It’s been a while since I’ve played Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, but there are a plethora of other mobile games that brighten my mood after a long day, like Among Us, Pokémon Go, the Love Island game and even The Sims on mobile.

Fifteen-year-old me didn’t think of myself as a gamer. But adult me? She’s got no problem telling anyone that she loves mobile gaming.

Emma Ruben is a writer living and writing on Whadjuk Boodjar. She’s on Instagram and Twitter where she chats about reading, writing and other high-brow topics like reality TV.

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