For video game developer and elite professional gamer Stephanie Harvey, her early introduction to the world of gaming was the product of growing up in a household with parents who had an affinity for technology. “I have been very fortunate that I entered the space of gaming in my very young age with the help of my parents,” she remembers. “They were pretty up to date with new tech and they got me every Nintendo consoles that ever came out, followed by computers and so on.”
As Harvey developed a love for the recreational potential of the technology around her, the realization that there were social perceptions packaged into who could game came in her teens. “I didn’t realize gaming was considered “only for boys” until much later. I believe it was when I attended my first Counter-Strike LAN tournament back in 2003 and there was only 3 girls out of 400 people. That’s when it started becoming obvious it wasn’t that common for girls to game and especially compete.”
In the last several years, while the amount of female gamers has increased to over 40% since 2010, the video game industry has yet to overcome the barriers to inclusion that female gamers face. Earlier this year, it was reported that there was a 715% wage gap between female and male gamers. For many outside of the gaming community, the industry’s rampant sexism finally achieved mainstream recognition with the international coverage around #GamerGate, an aggressive coordinated harassment campaign that targeted several women in the video game industry.
Harvey pinpoints the challenges in the gaming community as an extension and result of the same power structures that have impeded equal treatment for women in other institutions. “I don’t believe it is specifically the combination of women and gaming that makes the environments so hostile, I think it is more a combination of minority and the internet.”
“The world wide web still hasn’t solved its toxicity and anonymity issues. Bullying is about attacking the weak, the minority, the difference, and when you bring that to gaming, where you are most likely gonna have to use voice chat to communicate with your teammates, then women become easy targets.”
But the rise of radical social action in other communities has also seen women like Stephanie Harvey take crucial steps in upending the challenges in the genre, and paving a new future of the industry. After joining Check Six Divas in 2005, Harvey went on to win several gaming competitions with multiple teams, while picking up the title of “Canada’s Smartest Person” along the way.
Two years ago, along with a team of other professional female gamers like Anna Prosser Robinson, Harvey founded Missclicks, an online community with a mandate to improve the gaming community from the inside out: “Missclicks is a community working toward a future where all people can participate in geek and gaming culture without fear of prejudice or mistreatment; enjoying acceptance and opportunity. Our tenets of support [are] authenticity, advocacy, unity and bravery.” Of the 2.2 million channels on Twitch, Missclicks was one of the first to lead with a clear and concise direction, “build up, never tear down.” The next generation of gamers is already around the corner,” Harvey contines. “And they don’t have the stigmas we used to have regarding gaming.”
Here are Stephanie Harvey’s 6 tips for challenging the gender imbalance in gaming:
- A negative attitude bring a negative environment, be the one that keeps the momentum up and encourages others to have fun by being nice first.
- Don’t compare yourself and your progress to others, everyone faces different issues and opportunities, focus on your journey.
Be happy for someone’s else success, there is place for other successful people in the world, let it inspire you instead of bringing you down.
- Keep trying to learn and push yourself to be better, this helped me stay motivated and make me a stronger human.
- Soft skills are super important in gaming (whether you are playing the games, making the games, etc.) Being a positive leader and knowing how to communicate efficiently is crucial.
- The vocal minority will always be the haters and trolls, take it and leave it, as hard as it sound, you cannot let them win and let them affect you.