Do girls game? And do they game seriously – as in save up for triple A titles, or are they just happy to tinker around with free games on their mobile phones? The statistics seem to suggest that at least 50% of all gamers are girls ... although when it comes to professional gaming, as well as female representation in decision making roles within the gaming industry, the numbers drop drastically.
Why is this the case? Are females not as adept as males when it comes to critical thinking, strategy and good reflexes? Do boys not want the girls to join in? StarLifestyle Tech quizzed a few people for a quick scan of the Malaysian gaming horizon.
Clash of the genders
Azlan Ismail, acting secretary of eSports Malaysia (ESM), admitted that the organisation does not have any female members in its committee, but feels that this problem is not confined to Malaysia.
“I believe the gaming industry as a whole has an uphill battle to fight with regards to female representation. Level Up KL had a Women In Gaming seminar and many of the stories shared there were eye-opening. Our female artists and developers also go through a lot from a young age to pursue their passion, many are discouraged and abandon their path in the face of ridicule and pressure from their male peers,” Azlan shares.
“The gaming industry does not have a good name and often times has a ‘bro culture’ that cannot be ignored,” Azlan says. “We see a lot of anecdotal evidence from sites like Glassdoor of the major gaming studios to more prominent news like harassment lawsuits being brought forward.”
Glassdoor is a site that lets employees and former employees review a company anonymously.
Azlan says that while steps have been taken to address this and more stories are starting to come out, there is still a lot of work to be done.
He hopes that ESM will be able to strike a balance in building up the women’s agenda in eSports in Malaysia, but doesn’t want to go overboard and create women-only leagues simply to fit this quota.
“We unequivocally believe in the equality of men and women in eSports. You cannot claim physicality as a ‘barrier’ to entry for eSports because your mental acuity accounts for more than your physical fitness. We do not want to create a separate national league only for women because we want to bridge the divide ... not make it greater.”
ESM is aware, however, that women often state their discomfort in playing online because of some undesirable traits they have to deal with.
He says: “We have to make women feel more comfortable in taking part in tournaments be it online or offline, so we may support the creation of tournaments geared only towards women where women can feel comfortable playing with their own gender, opening up further opportunities for them.”
Azlan also reminded women out there that in order to be a part of the ESM committee, one must be nominated by each of its representative states in the elections.
“To this end, I would ask all women to actively participate in the different eSport state bodies by becoming members and taking part in meetings and in the communities,” he says.
Twenty-nine-year-old Ramona Azween from Subang Jaya, Selangor, has been playing in local leagues for over a decade and says that there never used to be separate leagues for males and females in the past, so she always had to play in boys’ teams.
“It wasn’t easy, but I was up for the challenge,” says Ramona, who grew up with two brothers and jokes that she “never played with Barbies”.
“As gaming was not about one’s physical abilities, I never felt that I was at any disadvantage. It was all to do with being consistent, having the right practice schedule, getting enough food and sleep, and nothing to do if I was a girl or a boy.”
Nonetheless, Ramona revealed that she would often get harassed both online and offline for being a girl gamer. She always took it in her stride because she thinks of herself as an athlete – she knows what she wants and doesn’t let anything get in the way.
“In fact, it may have even helped me, because it spurred me to want to become a better player,” she says.
The full-time professional gamer and influencer explains that she has been an active Counter Strike: Global Offensive player for 15 years but her goals have changed along the way.
“The reason why I am still actively playing is because I feel the need to share my experience and knowledge with a new generation of players who share the same passion as me,” she says.
Ramona says these days it is no longer just about playing games and wanting to achieve success in tournaments.
“I also want to make sure that if I were to retire soon, I would have done my part and made a difference for the female gamers community here,” she says.
Is there a future for women in eSports? Ramona is hopeful that more women and girls would choose gaming as their hobby and their passion.
“I have witnessed a positive change among girls in the local eSports scene,” she says. “Now, there are more girls embracing this sport. I believe this has happened because we have better Internet access, wider exposure to eSports and also because of current social media trends.”
Lecturer Alyshia Chin from Bandar Sunway, Selangor, has been gaming since she was 14.
“I started with Harry Potter games back on the PlayStation 2 up till Kingdom Hearts. I also used to dabble a little in Age Of Empires on PC, thanks to my dad’s interest in the game,” Chin says, adding that these days she plays games like Detroit: Become Human, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the Assassin’s Creed series, Vampyr, Horizon Zero Dawn, Odin Sphere and Until Dawn.
Chin says that what interests her are mainly action adventure games with a good story line. She also mainly plays on the PlayStation 4 although she recently restarted PC gaming again with Overwatch and The Wolf Among Us.
The 27-year-old reckons that there are somewhat equal opportunities for both men and women in gaming.
“Granted it is still known as a genre for boys. But thankfully, girls are now getting the same recognition (if not more because they are fewer in numbers) as the guys when it comes to even competitive gaming,” she says. “I also know a lot of women who are studying game development, game art, and also working in the gaming industry. So I think we are moving to equal ground.”
Chin shares that she has been lucky enough to have met quite a lot of guys who are not biased.
“We’re just gamers. Our genders do not dictate our skills in gaming. If anything, sometimes the guys show even more appreciation when you’re actually good at a game, whether or not that has to do with my gender, I would not know,” she says.
Twenty-eight year old Ashley Boay Mei Ying, who currently works with AirAsia’s Inflight team, remembers developing an interest in gaming when she was just four!
“That’s when I received my very own 1st edition Game Boy,” she says. “I have always liked playing challenging and competitive games. Back then, there wasn’t a thing called eSports, but we would still play videogames with our friends and compete against each other.”
The Penangite started getting into the eSports scene in 2009 with Dota, a multiplayer online battle arena videogame where two teams of five players defend their own base from the other team.
Boay finds that more and more women are becoming interested in eSports, attending gaming events and that female eSports players are gaining popularity.
“All-female teams such as Grills Gaming (GG), a Malaysian all-girl Dota 2 team and MBT.Valkyrie, Malaysia’s first all-female Overwatch team, have created empowering environments that promote gender equality in this often male-dominated space,” she shares, adding major eSports events such as the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) have an exclusive women’s division and that too has encouraged an increase in acceptance of women in eSports.
Since joining the AirAsia Allstars Esports Club in 2017, Boay has taken part in two big competitions – the Selangor Cyber Games 2017 and Aorus Dota 2 Gigabyte.
“I’ve been in the quarter-finals in Aorus Dota 2 Gigabyte and I hope I can inspire other women and showcase where eSports can take them,” she shares.
Aubrey Sarah Yong, 26, co-founder and videographer for interactive solutions company Southpaw MY, has been gaming for nearly 13 years and is an affiliated streamer on Twitch.
“I mostly play single-player RPGs (role-playing games) such as The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher, but when I play with friends it is either Overwatch or PUBG,” she offers, adding that she has encountered some negativity in gaming towards girls.
“It’s normally just meaningless, derogatory slurs for just being female. I believe a majority of these attacks are from prepubescent boys who are still discovering themselves knowing they can misbehave on the Internet without consequences! There are also strange predators, too, which constantly puts me on edge whenever I’m live streaming. Luckily there are security measures to take when one encounters such people.”
Summer Liew is a full-time game streamer from Damansara, Selangor, who shares her live gameplay with fans on Facebook and Instagram in order to earn an income from brand sponsors, advertisements and subscription.
“I started off being a lifestyle live streamer when I was in university, back then my family didn’t understand what I was doing until I explained the concept of live streaming to them. So when I moved on to full-time game streaming they supported me because they understand it now,” Liew says.
Liew started gaming with Dota 2, and now she focuses on PUBG (PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds) Mobile and other games such as Mobile Legends, Apex Legends, and has over 10k followers on social media. The 24-year-old feels that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to gaming.
“It’s a matter of skills and concentration as well as practice,” she says, adding that she has quite a number of female friends who are gamers and they are active in the gaming community. “We support each other, even if we play different games,” she says.
Shanice Choo, a student who is passionate about eSports, says that she was fortunate to have supportive family members who always treated her and her brother equally.
“I did not receive a negative response from my parents when I said I wanted to pursue eSports professionally,” shares Choo, 19.
Despite the fair treatment Choo receives at home, it was not always the case in the virtual world.
“During my initial years of gaming, I came across a few people who would react to me differently in games when they found out I was a girl. However, I find the majority of gamers to be welcoming and respectful,” adds the KL local.
Choo shares that in her gaming experience, she has noticed very few female teams pursuing eSports in Malaysia but hopes that through her team Sphynx’s participation and victory in the World Electronic Sports Games South East-Asia tournament last year, more female gamers would be inspired to pursue eSports professionally and represent the country at global competitions.
Slaying the stereotype
Do the lady gamers ever get bothered by the portrayal of women in games – they most often are either someone who needs saving, way too sexy for their shirts or simply there as a love interest.
Yong finds it unfortunate that a majority of people are preoccupied with the objectification of women in games.
“Granted, there may be games which stigmatise women for being incompetent or as a sex object, or even an easy target in a story, but there are other games such as Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed Liberation and the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 that do not carry such stereotypical traits,” she says.
Boay adds that since gaming is now undeniably a part of the current generation’s cultural mainstream, she hopes that the gaming experience will evolve to be more relatable and respectful, especially in portraying female characters because “games are for everyone, regardless of gender”.
Chin is mindful, too, that female characters always receive more attention from the audience, and often for the wrong reasons. But the wise lady says she has no complaints.
“Perhaps I’ve chosen to be exposed to games where the females are given amazing backstories and designs, games like The Witcher 3 (with Yennefer, Triss) where the characters are shown to have strength, grace, grit, poise; and also Overwatch, where I admire characters like Ashe, Symmetra and Mercy (for their backstories) ... I feel like the game designers have given a lot of thought on how women are portrayed into the games these days.”
Chin added that in a game like Horizon Zero Dawn, the main character (and only playable character) is Aloy, a girl who had to grow up under hard circumstances, and the player has to take her, the Chosen One, through a series of obstacles to save her world.
“Her character and costume are beautifully designed and she is as capable as many a male main character in other games. So I really do feel that we’re moving into a more equal ground as time passes when it comes to the portrayal and representation of women in games,” Chin shares, admitting there still is an obvious skew towards male protagonists.
“I would love a few more games where female characters are the main playable roles, they always make them so badass in their own way that it always impresses me. I do feel that game designers are getting there.”
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