This Week in Gaming History: Women have always been gamers0 Comments
The topic of women in the video game world is sometimes a polarizing topic today. Headlines often tout the fact that around half of video game players today are women, statistics that some choose to deny. Others, both within the mainstream media and gaming culture itself, act as if this is some sort of new development. The truth is, women have always been gamers and have always made up a considerable percentage of those who game. For whatever reasons, the media seems to forget that almost as often as they forget that the debate over violent video games has existed for decades. Forgetting history, however, doesn't change the facts.
Much like the debate over violent video games, the topic of women gamers goes back to the very first decade of consumer video games themselves. In 1977, arcade company Gremlin introduced Hustle, a game most players today would call Snake. To promote the game, Gremlin took two expert players around the country, issuing an open challenge to anyone who thought they could beat the Hustle experts. Few people succeeded, with Gremlin's champions winning almost all of the 1,240 challenges they faced in the 12-city tour. The names of the Gremlin gaming gurus were Sabrina Osment and Lynn Reid, both women. Technically speaking, the duo could be and probably should be considered the first-ever professional gamers, a tag that instead has been tied to a male gamer for quite some time.When the North American video game industry boomed in 1981, so did the topic of women gamers. Apparently unaware of Gremlin's Hustle experts, various media across the country noted that women were coming into video arcades in droves. The topic made the cover of Electronic Games Magazine in 1982 while operator reports on the perceived phenomena appeared in the pages of Play Meter Magazine and Replay Magazine, as well as various books at the time. Games such as Pac-Man and Centipede are most often credited for being the draw, but no games at the time seriously appealed to more than one demographic than the other. In fact, the longest standing "world record" video game score belongs to a woman named Laura Curran, who set the all-time score on Exidy's Star Fire on January 4, 1982.
Following the North American Video Game Crash of the mid-1980s, the industry seemed to once again hit the selective memory button in regards to this topic. As the Nintendo Entertainment System exploded in popularity in the second half of that decade, video games were once again considered toys meant only for young boys. Information in various video game magazines, however, countered this claim as the pages of publications such as Nintendo Power and GamePro saw numerous listings of high scores by women and reader letters from both men and women alike who were enjoying that new era of video gaming.
Howard Phillips, the face of Nintendo of America during this time period, made mention of the misconceptions about both age and gender of video gamers in a television news report in 1990. In the report, Phillips even seems to think that the female gender was new to the video game world, but nonetheless tried to shake the misconception on camera, stating that girls and women were making up 30 percent of their consumer base. At the time, Nintendo held an insane 90 percent of the North American video game console market, meaning their customer demographics could be seen as representative of the industry as a whole at the time.
The women of the NES era, like Osment, Reid and Curran before them, were also anything but casual players. Several girls and women won their age categories in various cities on the Nintendo World Championships 1990 tour, including Heather Martin, Colleen Cardas and Donna Thomas. The winning players in each age group in each city had to win out over thousands of participants on a three-game gauntlet including Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer and Tetris.
However, once again, the facts did not overcome the fiction. For whatever reasons, video game marketing throughout the 1990s was unquestionably aiming for the young male demographic, which is perhaps why it is believed today that women gamers are somehow something new to the industry. Modern media and many gaming discussion groups continue to act as if women are somehow something new to the industry, when in fact they have been a significant part of it since the very start. In time, perhaps this misconception can be fully snuffed out and the history of video gaming demographics can finally be seen as it actually happened.