Women in Gaming – The triumphs and struggles women face in the world of gaming

Female gamers share their experiences with both notoriety and toxicity in online video game spaces.


Cody Blissett

Photo Illustration by Cody Blissett

Bri Brown, Designer

When thinking of a typical video gamer, one might imagine a middle school boy playing Fortnite with his mom’s permission. One might also think of a middle-aged, greasy man with unkempt facial hair who throws his controller at his TV when he loses his game. 

While men might still make up the majority of video game players, women are turning to consoles and PCs as well. According to Statista, as of March, women make up 49 percent of U.S. video gamers, which is the highest percentage seen so far. 

There are many different reasons why more women are being drawn to the hobby, whether it be the communities made through TikTok and Discord, or even the need to find new hobbies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Either way, with the number of female gamers multiplying, the gaming world is experiencing a sort of renaissance. It isn’t just men shouting at their computer screens anymore; it’s women, people of color, and gender non-conforming people engaging with video games on a massive scale. 

Some women who play video games competitively are beating out a lot of men, oftentimes men who have been playing longer. Women who stream their gameplay on platforms like Twitch and TikTok are seeing more and more viewers flock to their channels – many of whom are women as well. There are also more brand deals for women nowadays, even with big brands like Logitech and Razer. 

Female gamers that just play for fun are also seeing more opportunities, whether it be through social media communities specifically for women in gaming, or through companies trying to cater to women with droves of pink-colored PCs and gaming chairs. 

Sexism in gaming and how it’s dealt with

Despite this revitalization of women in gaming, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. Being a female in a male-dominated industry comes with a lot of hate, stereotypes — like the pink gaming chairs — and undeserved scrutiny. Is it that men are afraid of losing? Partially. 

According to Wired, a technology magazine, the toxic mentality of some male members of the community is also fueled by the anonymity games provide. As stated in the article, because toxicity is so widespread and well-known by gamers who have been playing for years, some players find discriminatory comments okay to say, as long as others are doing it too. 

We see this in a very literal sense in the competitive gaming world. Numerous women who have beaten out male competitors are accused of cheating. They constantly have to prove themselves, often through filming their computer screens, along with their hands while playing, just to show they aren’t hacking or using other equipment to cheat. 

In the worst cases, women even get banned from their accounts and gaming competitions because men assume that they’re cheating in some way, since the standard is simply that women can’t be that good.

In fact, some men don’t even think women should be playing at all. Anabel Aguilar, a student at the University of Iowa and social media manager for eSports at Iowa, said that although she wanted to get into gaming at a young age, it was hard to get the chance to play.

“When I was younger, my uncle and cousin would play Halo all the time,” Aguilar said. “They would barely let me play, because it wasn’t ‘for girls,’ you know the gist of it. They wanted to play, and they were hogging the controllers.” 

Experiencing this kind of discrimination at a young age doesn’t stop girls from wanting to play. Although this sexism is seen often in competitive gaming, it’s also seen during casual gameplay. 

For example, the game Valorant is a competitive, team-based first-person shooter (FPS) where players can choose what type of character to play. Rachel Owens, another student at the University of Iowa and the eSports team’s treasurer, described Valorant as a “cesspool of toxicity and sexism.” She is also a Valorant team captain.

“I’ve heard people say that it takes the worst people from like every game and that’s just the Valorant fan base, and honestly, I have to agree,” Owens said. 

Aguilar echoed the sentiment that discrimination and toxicity are problems in Valorant. Most if not all women who play the game, along with most other competitive games, have negative experiences. Aguilar remembers many of those experiences.

“One of out like 10 games there’s probably someone who throws just because I’m a woman, who purposely calls me slurs,” Aguilar said. “Someone typed in chat describing raping me. It was crazy…I definitely think women in gaming are viewed very differently…assumptions are made that I’m playing with a guy or that I’m being boosted by them because I am a higher rank in the game.”

Owens has had plenty of similar experiences in Valorant. Because of this, she mostly plays on five-person teams with her friends rather than playing with strangers. This way, she can avoid having toxic team members who yell at her for playing in the first place. 

Sometimes, when other women get harassed on Valorant, Owens said, some women decide it’s best to ignore the sexist players. However, she doesn’t agree with this way of thinking.

“There’s this mentality of, just, you know, mute and move on, mute and move on,” Owens said. “It’s like, muting and moving on really just reinforces the behavior…I bet half of these people wouldn’t say the shit that they’re saying if that other person were standing right in front of them. I think this mute and move on mentality really just enables discrimination further.”

Aguilar is someone who doesn’t follow this line of thinking either. She said that when people treat her badly during gameplay, she handles it in a vastly different way. 

“I talk back,” said Aguilar. “I just laugh…that’s what I’ve been doing. Because when you laugh, it makes them feel like an idiot, because they feel like I don’t take them seriously, and they wanna be taken seriously…I just don’t like when nothing is said.”

Toxic comments from men don’t only exist in-game. It can happen at eSports events, competitions, and even in a streamers’ live stream chat. Mia Ermita, also known by her online handle “miamouse,” is a Twitch streamer who mostly plays Valorant but has experience with other FPS games such as Overwatch. 

She started becoming popular through TikTok, where she has amassed over 86,000 followers. The way she handles getting discriminatory comments during her streams has changed over time.

“I definitely used to get a lot more hate in the beginning because I used to let it affect me, and when you let hate affect you, it almost attracts more hate because they see you’re getting a rise out of it,” Ermita said.

Sometimes, the stereotyping of female streamers makes things worse in terms of the hate Ermita receives from viewers. 

“A lot of women get sexualized, I think, in the streaming world, in Twitch culture in general,” Ermita said. “You don’t know how to respond because it’s live, so it’s like, you read this really disturbing sentence.”

However, dealing with sexist viewers is oftentimes easier to handle than with sexist teammates. Live stream chats on Twitch are often moderated, and users who spam messages or type hateful messages can get banned from that streamer’s chat, which Ermita makes use of. However, teammates in-game who spout hateful comments are not as simple to deal with. 

“Whenever someone in game says something, on the other hand, then it affects my gameplay, because they’re in the game with me, I can’t make them leave the game,” Ermita said. “I kinda have to sit there and play it out with them. If they’re in my chat, then I can just say ‘Okay, goodbye, you’re leaving, I’ll never have to see you again.’”

The effects of toxicity

Despite the many different ways women in the gaming community deal with toxic men, sometimes those solutions aren’t enough. Receiving hateful comments, no matter how small they are, can affect anyone, especially when women experience them every time they log on.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m not good enough, even though I think I am,” said Aguilar. “I just lose confidence because I feel like people don’t trust my decision-making as much.”

Aguilar said that although she has confidence in her abilities and that negativity doesn’t typically affect her, there have been times when it really gets to her. There was one time she remembers crying over comments made toward her during gameplay.

“I just started sobbing,” said Aguilar. “I never cry, obviously, but someone just called me a b****, and just kept saying it over and over every time I would try to speak, and I was really upset that day, so it kind of just ruined the whole experience.”

When toxicity gets to the player, it can also affect their ability to play the game, Aguilar said. 

“I think a lot of people telling you you’re not good enough can affect your performance,” she said. “You just perform worse, and then people wonder, ‘Oh, women aren’t doing as great,’ and it’s like because these spaces aren’t safe for them.”

Then, when toxicity affects a woman’s ability to play the game, it gives the toxic players more of a reason to assume the worst of female players. This creates a cycle of discriminatory male gamers, and it’s been this way for years, according to Ermita.

“I think the foundation that the gaming community was built upon was toxicity, and we’re trying to get away from it, it’s just a very, very slow transition,” said Ermita.


Men who contribute to toxicity often target women specifically to ensure they don’t play video games in the first place, Aguilar noted. When women even make one small mistake, men also think it gives them more of a reason to exclude women from gaming.

“If they’re not doing good, then, you know, it’s reinforcing this idea that some men have, that it’s like, ‘video games aren’t a space for women…like men are just naturally better at it,’” Owens said. “And if you make a mistake, if you f*** up once, everyone is going to blame you for it and not your teammates, because you are the odd one out.”

This pressure that is put on women also affects their team as a whole. On games like Valorant where voice chat is used, many women decide to not even use voice chat in order to avoid discriminatory comments. However, since it’s a team-based game, this often results in bad performance across the team. 

Bad performance then reinforces stereotypes made by men; even the stereotypes that have been around for years. Women all across the community hear statements like “Get back in the kitchen,” or “Go cook, go clean.” 

According to Ermita, on the occasion that female gamers are just having a bad day, it’s not about luck according to some men, it’s about not belonging in the first place. Even comments intended to compliment females can be insulting.

“The [comments] that I hate the most, I think, are the backhanded ones,” said Ermita. “So for example, if I’m having a good game, somebody will be like, ‘Wow, you’re really good for a girl’…I don’t want to be complimented in that way that just brings down every other woman.”

Further elongating the nasty cycle of toxicity and discrimination in the gaming community, stereotypes directed at women can affect the decisions women make before they even queue up. For example, a popular stereotype in competitive games is that women usually only play supportive roles that can heal or boost other players. While some women enjoy playing these roles, they often feel as though they shouldn’t do what’s expected of them because it reinforces the idea that women should only play to help men be better. 

Some toxic gamers may assume that these supportive roles are easy since they aren’t as offensive as roles apt for going right up to enemies and fighting them. Owens, however, disagrees: she says that these roles are equally as difficult and that women shouldn’t be forced to stick to roles or specific characters. Owens has always felt pulled in different directions because while she has played supportive roles in the past, she doesn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes women face while gaming.

“Now I’m trying to play everything that’s not like the stereotypically feminine roles and characters just because I don’t want to be looped in with that,” said Owens. “I think women can play anything they f***ing want. And I think it’s stupid to try to, like, have these stereotypes that limit them to these roles.”

Another stereotype seen in competitive gaming is the idea that women only play alongside their boyfriends. It is assumed that women are only good at gaming because their boyfriends are supporting them during gameplay, and that if a woman is playing with a man, it means they must be romantically involved; not just two friends playing games.

Rise in female audiences and representation

Despite the discrimination female gamers face, more women are joining the gaming community every day. Not only are they playing games more, but they’re also joining online communities and watching streamers. 

Ermita has seen her number of female followers and viewers rise recently. At the beginning of 2020, which is when Ermita started streaming, she said her percentage of female viewers and followers was only nine percent. However, that took a dramatic turn.

“It was, I will never forget…like 9 percent female, and then it was like 91 percent male,” said Ermita. “And I was so, like, disappointed, almost because I was scared to think of what these men really thought of me … As quarantine came to an end, I actually saw that 9 percent come to like a 35 percent, which is really crazy.”

Ermita understands this hike in female viewers, especially since she finds herself preferring content made by female gamers over content made by men.

“I definitely feel like I [am more attracted] to another girl’s content than a guy,” said Ermita. “I think I instantly feel safer … I know for the most part, a girl nine out of 10 times isn’t really gonna be creepy towards me, or say some weird thing in my DM.”

Female characters in the games themselves are also being seen more, especially ones that aren’t only known for wearing skimpy clothing. Owens said she has noticed more representation in FPS games; she also noted that Overwatch is one of the first games to have taken those steps with the character Tracer, who is a lesbian, and the “poster child” for increasing feminine representation in video games. 

“It was still a major first step to having more characters that people who haven’t gotten the chance to see themselves in characters from the past, they get to have that now,” Ermita said. 

Gaming communities for women

While better representation may drive more women to play video games, creating safe spaces for women in gaming will also help. This is being done in multiple ways by people in the gaming community. 

For example, gaming communities for women and non-binary people have already begun to form, whether it be on Discord, TikTok, etc. Streamers like Ermita have helped women feel like they belong, and hashtags such as #gamergirl and #cozygamer have created large communities for women on TikTok.

Plenty of gamers agree that while they can form safe spaces for women themselves, gaming companies and developers can, and should, do the same. In fact, some companies are already making advances toward creating these spaces. Even developers of a game like Valorant, where women face hostility all the time, are trying to make things better, whether it’s through investigating claims of discrimination, or actively rewarding players who do a good job of making every player feel welcome.

The Valorant community has also created a virtual space called VCT Game Changers, which is a competitive organization specifically created for women and other marginalized genders to get better at playing while being in a safe space. That way, the players don’t have to worry about being pressured due to discrimination, which helps them to hopefully make it on a Valorant Champions Tour team.

Other organizations are also taking steps to mitigate discrimination. For example, a lifestyle brand and gaming organization called 100 Thieves is creating a spotlight series that highlights female gamers. According to their website, they plan to empower female creators by highlighting them and their content.

While women are getting more opportunities and starting to feel safer in the gaming community, Aguilar is even noticing that more women are coming into the University of Iowa’s new eSports room, called the HawkeyeSports Arcade

“More and more people are interested and coming here to play games, so it’s definitely growing in popularity amongst women,” Aguilar said.

While more and more women are entering the gaming world with the advent of safe spaces and large communities, more can always be done to mitigate discrimination and fight stereotypes. This means all parties in the world of gaming, whether it be casual gamers, eSports players, organizations, or even large companies, need to work together and do everything they can to create safe spaces. 

In a hopefully foreseeable world, safe spaces won’t even be needed, as anyone, regardless of gender or race, will be safe from discrimination while enjoying their favorite video game.