Gaming has come a long way since the days of block controllers and arcade machines, and the community's grown alongside it. With an audience of millions, how do we keep things equal? In this article, we'll take a look at some marginalized groups and study why they haven't been able to break into the gaming industry.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the ways that the gaming industry struggles with diversity and inclusion – and all of the amazing ways that communities not only combat, but overcome them.
As of 2022, the Entertainment Software Association reports that 66% of Americans – roughly 215.5 million people – play video games for at least one hour a week. In that survey, 52% of those respondents identified as male, and 71% identified as white.
Comparatively, in 2021 it was reported that of an overall gaming population of 227 million, 55% of respondents identified as male, and 73% identifying as white. In the year before that, 59% of 214.4 million respondents identified as male, with ethnicity not even being a factor of consideration in the overall report.
While some may not notice or be aware of the marginalization that exists, there are ways that certain communities see a lack of support from the esports industry and developers alike. As a result, many organizations and businesses have created pathways to opportunity so that the gaming industry can continue to be at its largest and most inclusive.
Women in Gaming
Despite 48% of nationwide gamers self-identifying as women, there’s still a massive downtrend of this demographic representing the gaming industry in any space – whether it be as casual players, esports competitors, or even as high-level executives.
In the past few years however, there’s been a public effort for more companies and organizations to increase participation for female gamers, with initiatives and programs that seek to expand the way that the gaming community welcomes those of all identities and backgrounds.
Women in Games for example, a Britain-based non profit organization founded in 2009, began at a time where “women numbered only 6% of the Games Industry workforce.” At their core they act as activists on behalf of female-identifying players, building ways for women to become more involved in gaming and esports alike through partnership programs, ambassador programs, and community platforms that amplify female voices.
It’s not only community organizations that are doing their part either. Gen.G, a Korean multi-gaming team owned by KSV eSports Korea Inc., has established partnerships with several large companies – including Burberry, a British luxury giant, and Procter & Gamble brands Tampax and Always – to increase education and sponsorship of women-led events and teams. In fact, Gen.G and Galorants is recognized as the largest community of female-identifying and nonbinary Valorant players, a game that cites 30% to 40% of its player base being female.
There are ways for female gamers to be represented on an individualized level as well. Those interested in a gaming career like Kenyan pro gamer Sylvia “QueenArrow” Gathoni, the first woman in South Africa to be sponsored by a global brand when she signed on with esports companies XiT Woundz and YUY, oftentimes get their start in playing games through local and major tournaments or online content creation. With the popularization of careers in streaming and influence, many women – especially teenagers and young adults – gravitate towards playing “cozier” games like the 2020 hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Minecraft. Those who participate in competitive entertainment also find community and viewership in titles like the aforementioned Valorant and even League of Legends, where female players dominate the space.
People of Color in Gaming
Another vastly under-represented community in the gaming industry is the amount of players that identify as Black / African-American or Hispanic / Latino. According to U.S. Census data in 2022, 13% and 18.9% of individuals are reportedly Black or Hispanic respectively. While there isn’t a lot of accurate data to convey the amount of Black and Hispanic gamers in the world, the presence of White players has been both obvious and visible – in part due to the lack of awareness or resources for players of color.
The presence of non-white players in the industry has been an overlooked demographic for years now, with an increasing amount of African-American and Hispanic-American people making their voices heard within the gaming industry. While games like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Just Cause’s Rico Rodriguez are modern examples of increased representation in games themselves, the scene itself still has a ways to go in creating more inclusive spaces.
Fortunately, there are organizations and businesses both that cater towards an increase in opportunities for Black and Hispanic identifying individuals. The BIG Foundation, or Black in Gaming Foundation, is “a community dedicated to cultivating, supporting, and promoting Black professionals in the game industry” based in Hayward, California. Through a partnership with IGDA-BIG, the BIG Foundation utilizes a mix of events, presentations, and gaming community engagements to create education and opportunity for all of their members.
Likewise, I Play Games and Color in Gaming are both esports companies that focus on building inclusive communities that highlight black urban gamers. While I Play Games is a Chicago-based esports business founded by tournament organizer Kevin Fair, Color in Gaming is an esports nonprofit organization based in the city of Detroit. At their core, both entities utilize different methods to fulfill similar goals of promoting visibility for marginalized communities.
Outside of organizations like these, sponsorships can still be something difficult – but not impossible – to achieve. Players around the world interested in looking to secure brand sponsorships can look to established players as templates for how to partner with local and global brands alike. Thabo “Yvng Savage” Moloi, a FIFA player on PS4 ranked 73rd in the world, just made history in 2020 as the first-ever player from Africa to be sponsored by Red Bull. Oftentimes solo streamers offer influence in exchange for global partnerships, a method of industry trade that anyone in the space can utilize by leveraging their personal streams and career history.
Latinx in Gaming is a similar organization that “connects Latines across the gaming industry worldwide”; they seek to create a platform for cultural appreciation and representation in games and related content. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage month in 2022, the organization hosted a series of events, appearances, and opportunities, including $30,000 in sponsored grants. The massive event was backed by several giants in the gaming industry, including – but not limited to – longtime partners Twitch, EA, Ubisoft, and Nintendo.
Disabled Individuals in Gaming
In 1986, Nintendo created a hands free controller compatible with the NES – a product identified as being the first piece of mainstream accessible technology in the video gaming world. Since then, several companies, developers, and publishers have taken similar leaps to increase accessibility in the industry, with games like Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 and Gearbox’s Borderlands 2 redefining the way that games become inclusive for all players of all backgrounds.
There’s still a long way to go though, with only 39% of game developers having implemented accessibility measures into their current games, according to a 2022 GDC State of the Game Industry report. While it’s an impressive leap from a previously reported 28% in 2020, with 48% of developers claiming to have not implemented accessibility features at all, it still marks a necessity for further inclusion in games of all kinds.
Organization AbleGamers is one of several changemakers making a stand to change that. With over 18 years of work as pioneers in inclusive play, they’ve created what they describe as the “largest impaneled group of people with disabilities in the world.” Through their efforts they seek to create more inclusive platforms and communities for the gaming industry as a whole, combating the very real likelihood of social isolation for afflicted individuals. This effort has allowed them to bridge the gap between those with disabilities and the overall community, through Peer Counseling, challenge assistance with hardware and software, and training for more than 200 developers on accessibility in games.
Their efforts have also allowed them to work with major developers and companies in the industry, such as Blizzard, Activision, Xbox, PlayStation, and even work reflected in Call of Duty, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft. As of 2020, they’ve been able to certify 113 developers as accessible player practitioners, forever impacting the way that players are allowed to interact with the industry and community at large.
For all the ways that inclusivity continues to be an obstacle for several communities, there are organizations and businesses worldwide that seek to increase accessibility for gamers of all identities and backgrounds, many of which create pipelines of opportunity for historically underrepresented communities. Every year the gaming industry continues to grow, and the individuals able to interact with it grow right alongside it.
It stands to be seen what the future of esports holds, but there are promising avenues and opportunities being created for everyone interested in the industry, regardless of race, age, sexuality, or gender. This marks an exciting precedent for 2023, where we’ll hopefully see more players than ever before changing the world through video games.