The psychology of gaming: Are we still talking about gender?


There is an assumption that if I say I’m a gamer, we’re talking mobile game Candy Crush, not retro classic Super Metroid (which is not as easy as speed-runners make it look). Women who are brave enough to identify as gamers are often exposed to hostile online gaming environments and are subject to a lot of gatekeeping. There is still the feeling that men decide who ‘gets’ to be a gamer and what a ‘real gamer’ looks like. By now it should be well known that women play games. Statistics from the ESA have shown consistently that women make up a significant percentage of gamers (41% in 2017), and there is even the interesting statistic that there are more female gamers aged 18 and over than there are male gamers under 18. The gamer stereotype of the teenaged boy festering in his parents’ basement is dead.

Or it should be; unfortunately we are not there just yet.

When I recently put out a call for papers as the guest editor for a Special Focus Edition of the Psychology of Women Section Review (a British Psychological Society publication) on gender and gaming, we received an enthusiastic and varied response. Clearly gender is still an important consideration in gaming research; games [and ‘gamer’] academics have a lot to say about it.

What is refreshing about gaming research in psychology conducted in the last few years is that gaming psychologists are starting to move away from a research position that assumes maleness in the gamers they research. Reading the research, you also get the impression that, increasingly, games scholars in psychology are familiar with the gaming communities they study and are even part of them, rather than looking down on gaming from the proverbial ivory tower. It is also reassuring to see gender and gaming explored in a variety of ways, with research doing more than looking for differences and starting to explore the experiences of female gamers from a range of perspectives (e.g. Sunden & Sveningsson, 2012).

But there is more to do. Gender is not just about being male or female; where do trans or non-binary gamers fit in? And how does gender identity intersect with race, ethnicity and sexual orientation to impact on gaming experiences? Notable texts examining these issues tend to be from disciplines other than psychology (see for example Adrienne Shaw’s book ‘Gaming at the edge’ from 2014). To really learn about the spectrum of gaming experiences from a psychological perspective, gender is just the beginning.

The Special Focus issue of the Psychology of Women Section Review on gender and gaming is due out in 2019.

By Jenny Cole