Unpacking the Origin Stories of Women in Gaming

Woman-presenting person PC gaming

It’s 2023 and the world is still surprised that female gamers exist. I’m 90% sure you just rolled your eyes reading that and thought, “Really? Way to be dramatic.” But as much as the culture has shifted around women in gaming, all it can take is one uninformed comment to cut us down to size, leaving us feeling small and worthless. And that’s exactly what happened to me while attending PAX, Australia’s biggest gaming convention.

With this being my first PAX, I arrived not knowing a lot of people. My game plan for the three-day convention was mainly work-related, so when there was an opportunity to browse the expo hall with some mutual friends, I jumped at the chance. While looking around, I decided to enter a competition, with the prize being a decked-out PC build. All it took was scanning a QR code and entering a couple of details — no witty 25 words or less submission required.

Just as I had finished inputting my details, I overheard a male voice saying, “Hey, Isha. If you win, you’re going to give that PC to me, right?”

I replied, “Uh, no. I would keep it for myself. Why?”

“Well, because this is your first time at PAX. So I figured you’re not really a gamer.”

But I am a gamer. I’ve loved video games ever since I was a kid and the passion has extended to adulthood. So, what’s the deal? What credentials do I need to have to be considered a “gamer”?

I immediately felt the darkness of my imposter syndrome creeping into my brain and weighing me down with thoughts like, “What the hell are you doing here? You don’t know enough about video games. No one wants you here. Go home.”

I’ll acknowledge that this man most likely didn’t understand the weight of his comment. I mean, how could he? He doesn’t know me, I don’t know him. It was meant to be a joke, right? But like so many women who have been in a similar situation where our gaming credentials have been questioned, I didn’t find it funny. Instead, I left the expo hall feeling deflated and out of my depth.

So, what happened next? 

The rest of PAX was a whole lot of fun. I got to play a bunch of games, I met and interviewed so many incredible people, I racked up a shit tonne of steps, and I stepped out of my comfort zone to create some kick-ass content that I’m proud of. But the main reason why I was able to achieve any of this, especially after being engulfed in the darkness of imposter syndrome, was the unity and healing I experienced after speaking (and bonding) with so many women at PAX. Talking to them reminded me of why I’m so passionate about video games in the first place.

So, with that in mind, here are the origin stories of six Aussie gamers I interviewed, including the reasons behind why they play video games and the changes they’d like to see for women in the industry. Hopefully, they’ll inspire you like they did me.

TrianaOCE, Twitch streamer and esports host and interviewer

What does gaming mean to you: 

For tiny baby Triana, character selection in video games was really important. I often found myself gravitating towards female characters instead of the male ones — but playing as a female seemed scary. Back then, as a child, I didn’t know how to articulate why it felt weird for me to play as a girl. If only I could have told my younger self, “You dummy, it’s because you’re a trans woman — and you’re going to find that out later in life.”

That kind of playfulness and exploration was something that ended up meaning a lot to me as a kid because I didn’t have the language to express those feelings yet. That’s the core of gaming for me. It’s a really easy way to find new ways to express yourself and pretend to be different people for a little while, or escape whatever you’re doing now and find out who else you could be.

I stream once a week and having that online community is really special. There are people who watch from Canada, there are people who watch from North America, there are people who tune in from the deep south in the USA — you know, places that I have never been and at the moment, given some of the laws being passed in the US, I’m not likely to ever go to. But I get to kind of be part of their world and they get to be part of mine.

One of my main connections to the industry is in esports. In esports, there are no rules that say that every team has to be a men’s team or that every player has to be a men’s player — and yet, there are very rare occurrences where a woman is on a top-flight professional team.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of two instances. Now, the fact that I can only think of two examples where a woman had made it to the top level of esports, and it’s 2023, is wild to me. There are a lot of organisations doing great work for marginalised gender-focused leagues so that women can get esports experience. But what needs to change at that top level is the players — I’m thinking of men putting together a team and who say something like, “Oh, we don’t want a woman on our team, because they throw off the vibes, it’d be weird.” There are teams that I can’t share names of where there have been discussions of “Hey, look, let’s put this woman into this team,” and the players have said, “If you do that, we’ll leave.” 

It’s so archaic and it’s so baked into the culture. Hopefully, we’ll see that culture shift as these leagues for women and marginalised genders begin to grow and these female players pop off. We need to have that culture open up so people of all sorts of genders can be in the same team. That’s the future and that’s the long-term goal. 

Doomcutie, Creator and host of “Confessions Of A Gamer Girl”

What does gaming mean to you:

Gaming means belonging. I’m going to say that cliché thing, but women in games receive the brunt of the toxicity from online and multiplayer gaming spaces. No matter what game I’ve playing or what community I’m in, I’ve always tried to bring positivity — but not everyone’s like that. So I decided that I needed to go ahead and carve out this space for myself.

That’s a roundabout way of saying why I love gaming, and also why I love creating “Confessions Of A Gamer Girl” [an all-female gaming podcast aimed at empowering, informing, and entertaining women in gaming]. I’ve guest-starred on international gaming podcasts and male-dominated podcasts here in Australia, but it just never felt quite right. All the topics that I wanted to talk about seemed frivolous. But I know for a fact, and I have many listeners that can attest to that, that people actually do want to want to listen to what women have to talk about.

My goal isn’t to sit there and hate men in gaming. On the podcast, we get to be really open and vulnerable — and I think when people can safely do that, especially within the gaming community, that’s when amazing connections can be formed. Your background, your race, your sexual orientation, it doesn’t matter. I think if we can all be accepting of one another, that is my main goal.

There are many changes I would like to see, but a couple of things came up in the [online RPG] esports community. So, Team Liquid’s Eve Ascension tournament is a big deal — it’s sponsored and all of the teams are women. I went through their Reddit and the amount of disgusting comments I saw about that — like “Why is it only for women?”

Essentially, I don’t think men realise the kind of culture that they’ve created around competitive gaming. The fact of the matter is this isn’t about women and men. Unlike racing, sprinting, swimming or anything like that, this [competing in esports] is a mental thing. So, women should be able to join in with the teams. The thing is, the culture has become so masculine. Women don’t feel comfortable. So I hope that changes within esports — especially for women. I hope to see more mixed teams too.

MissDeusGeek, Content creator and founder of “Women Of Xbox

What does gaming mean to you:

It’s evolved over the years, but one thing that’s always stuck out is how it brings people together. For me, gaming is a way to connect with other people. That’s why I love doing what I do — I get to meet so many lovely people from all over the world.

I’d like to see more diversity in the way brands promote their products. So, in the sense of working with different talent, content creators and professionals from a vast array of backgrounds. It’s so important in terms of representation to see different people being promoted, being worked with and having that inspire others — either the younger generation who want to work in this space or even others in the industry who feel, maybe because of their race or their background, they aren’t able to do what they really want to do and pursue their passions.

Brands need to start moving away from the traditional content creators that they’ve always worked with and try new, diverse talent. As an Asian woman, I love seeing an Indian streamer or presenter on-screen. It’s just so exciting. And I think gaming is the easiest industry to do that in because there are no real barriers.

Elysa, Twitch streamer

What does gaming mean to you

Gaming is my way to escape reality, have fun and clock off from the outside world. I’ve always loved to game, but growing up, my parents were so against it. My auntie and grandma were the ones who nurtured my gaming passion. For my 13th birthday, I remember really wanting a console. Mum and Dad were like “Uh-uh, absolutely not,” but then my auntie and grandma went behind their backs and surprised me with it. I’m very appreciative of having them foster my love for gaming because now, as an adult, I’m doing streaming and all these other things. My parents have come around and now think it’s very cool.

It would be to accept women as humans in the gaming space and not single us out as a woman in gaming. We are all equal — gender doesn’t have to define someone in the gaming industry. I think a lot of people side-eye, look down or dismiss women who may be better than a lot of male creators out there. So hey, if women are popping off and doing good, don’t focus on the fact that they’re a woman — focus on what they’re good at. We’re all gamers in the end.

T10Nat, Twitch streamer and former games developer

What does gaming mean to you:

I’m a very simple person. Gaming is just playing a game, whether that’s an interactive simulator or a longform which you spend 16 hours on. It’s just enjoying it or you can rage quit — it’s up to you.

In terms of the Twitch community, that space has been extremely supportive. You can have a few bad eggs, but the majority of people are very nice and very supportive. People uplift each other and are happy to see you succeed. It’s an enlightening and very warm feeling to have. Especially when a lot of people are starting from the same slate.

Character design because women are very sexualised in video games. If the chick is in an outfit and she’s an assassin, she is not going to wear god-damn heels. Take that out. Why is she in high-heeled boots? How is she going to fight someone? Give her sneakers. Give her tactical clothing, oh my gosh! She’s not going to do a roundhouse kick in high heels. How is she going to run? That’s what I would change. 

Shaye Hayes, Senior Animation and Game Design Lecturer and Twitch streamer

What does gaming mean to you:

Gaming is a really strange thing. The more you do it, the more you learn about it. Originally, you might start for a bit of fun and entertainment, but then it’s actually social interaction. Despite whatever differences, disabilities, struggles, whatever people have, it doesn’t matter. You can’t see that, we’re just gaming together. It removes all of those barriers. On top of that, you learn real skills. It’s really underestimated, but the skills you learn from leading a team in [battle arena games] or in shooter games are legitimately transferable to real life. 

I started off streaming and I thought “It’s just a bit of fun, it probably won’t go anywhere” — but my community kept on growing. Now it’s been three years and more people are joining. They’re so supportive. I do charity streams — and one time, in two hours, we had already hit my goal of $4500. I was like “What the hell?!” These communities come together and they are so supportive and genuinely want to help you — I love it so much.

I’d like to see the expectations match for all genders. Women have to battle through discrimination just to get to the starting point. This applies to game development, competitive gaming, and game streaming. I was thinking about this the other day, my birthday is coming up and I don’t want to mention my age because of comments I’ve received on stream in the past. On the other hand, many male streamers I follow are very open about their age and don’t receive the same types of comments.

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