Report: Nearly half of gamers are women

Computer gaming skill provokes abuse of female players

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The computer gaming industry has a problem: Even as a new survey confirms that women make up almost half of the gamer population, female players say they are often made to feel like a despised and disrespected minority, regularly meeting with hostility and scorn in the male-dominated culture of video and computer games.

Jenny Haniver, a freelance artist in Wisconsin, plays “Call of Duty” every night for an average of two hours. Every time fellow gamers realize she is a woman, she said, they make surprised, derogatory or sexually suggestive comments.

“When they see my name pop up, they’re like, ‘Oh holy [expletive]! There’s a woman in the room,’ or when they hear my voice, ‘Oh, she sounds so [expletive] hot!’” Ms. Haniver said.

“It goes from that, to if you win a game, they think you’re cheating or that it’s not really you playing, and they think it’s your boyfriend or your husband, because there’s no possible way a woman could be playing that well. The responses are varied. Some people tell you you should be in the kitchen. It’s kind of bizarre.”

In 2010, assigned to do an art installation piece at her Wisconsin university highlighting a social issue, she decided to focus on the sexism and harassment she regularly encountered through gaming. She recorded the audio of her interactions with other players and launched a website, Not in the Kitchen Anymore (www.notinthekitchenanymore.com), to share some of the more choice put-downs.

“It’s disheartening to experience it frequently,” Ms. Haniver said, while noting that the harassment only comes from a minority of gamers. “It’s annoying because they’re making a big deal about your gender. … I just like to play games too. My gender has nothing to do with it.”

Exploding stereotypes

Gaming isn’t just for teenage boys holed up in basements these days. Women are expanding in the gamer world and now make up 45 percent of all U.S. gamers, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Entertainment Software Association. The 2012 figure is actually down slightly from 47 percent in 2011, but confirms an upward trend for female players from 38 percent in 2006. Women 18 or older now represent 31 percent of gamers, while boys 17 or younger only represent 19 percent.

ESA spokesman Rich Taylor said the study challenges many stereotypes of “who a gamer is.” He said sexual harassment should not be tolerated and that the industry is looking to a “self-policing community” with gamers identifying other gamers who are behaving inappropriately.

Mr. Taylor, an avid gamer himself, said he enjoys playing a variety of games with his two teenage children.

“My son and I have an ongoing soccer rivalry, while my daughter and I team up and take on zombies,” he said. “Every now and then, I get my wife to participate and do something like ‘Just Dance’ or ‘Rock Band’ or a game like that.”

Games have expanded to include entire families like Mr. Taylor’s. The average U.S. household now has two gamers and owns at least one dedicated game console, PC or smartphone, according to the ESA survey. About one-third of parents play computer or video games with their children at least once a week.

“I just wanted to be with them and to know what they were doing,” said Jeffrey Hsueh, a financial officer from Fremont, Calif., who regularly played the computer game “GunBound” with his daughter, son and nephew when they were in their early teenage years.

Mr. Hsueh said “GunBound” was a way to be a part of his children’s lives, and that he also worried about them chatting with strangers online. “There’s lots of people out there, and I don’t know them at all,” he said. “I think most parents worry about that.”

His daughter Allison is finishing her third year at the University of California, Riverside. Now 21, Allison still plays computer games — mainly, “League of Legends” and “Borderlands 2.”

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