That female gamers are underrepresented on YouTube should come as no shock to anyone who watches gaming videos on YouTube. It’s virtually all men, all the time. Just do a search on any popular video game, and then try to find a video from a female gamer in the top search results–it usually takes at least a few pages of results to yield a single one, except when searching on a handful of games that are disproportionately popular with women (but even then, there are usually only a few results by women).
While there are a variety of complicated social and cultural reasons for this discrepancy, there is one specific contributing factor that hasn’t been talked about much yet: the types of videos most female gamers make.
YouTube’s gaming authorities are almost all male
Most popular gamers on YouTube create game commentary of some sort–whether it’s satire, game guides, critical analysis of a particular topic, or reviews–and these videos comprise some of the most popular content on YouTube. While there are a handful of women who regularly making these kind of commentary videos–including Anita Sarkeesian, Alanah Pearce, PressHearttoContinue, EmmaExeGames, Celestial Flare, and iamfallfromgrace, to name a few–the vast majority of gaming commentary videos are made by men. Around 99%, I’d guess, based on my own experiences trying to find these kinds of videos by women on YouTube over the last few months.
If you’re still not sure what I’m referring to, here’s an example of a good commentary video by PushingUpRoses:
And here’s one by SkyLarkin:
Also check out PressHeartToContinue’s thoughts about YouTube Red, EmmaExegames’s review of Until Dawn, TradeChat’s Top 11 Retro Games, iamfallfromgrace’s take on the PS4 vs XboxOne, or Celestial Flare’s tips on how to get the best k/d ratio in Call of Duty.
These examples aside, most female gamers on YouTube–including most of the 19 most-subscribed women on YouTube–primarily make vlogs (humorous or chatty videos about various aspects of their personal life), Let’s Plays, or Unboxing videos. There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of videos, of course, and they’re great for building a following over time. But those videos appeal to a narrower audience (people interested in that specific game), aren’t inherently viral the way that commentary videos are, and don’t (usually) contribute to broader gaming conversations.
Plenty of men make vlogs, Let’s Plays and Unboxing videos, too, of course–but men are also making commentary videos, which foster broader discussion and inform many gamers’ decisions, as well as which topics the gaming media focuses on.
This means almost all our gaming “authority figures” on YouTube are men. When the YouTube community and its billions of monthly views weigh in on whether a particular game is worth buying, or what to think about a particular gaming controversy, almost all the voices are male.
Given that video has become the go-to source for information and guidance for many people, especially Millennials, that’s a problem for anyone who believes games and games criticism benefit from a diversity of voices and perspectives.
Unfortunately, this is also consistent with how difficult it is to find written game reviews by women–depending on the game, it can vary from a few, to one, to none, with women far more likely to show up among reviews of indie games. But there are other factors at work with written reviews that are tied up with the publication and the industry, such as whether men are more likely to get assigned reviews, the percentage of professional freelancers who are women, how much they’re paid, etc.
The lack of commentary videos made by women, on the other hand, can be almost entirely chalked up to one thing: not enough women are making them.
Why women don’t make these kinds of videos is more complicated, but here are three significant factors.
1. Fear of harassment
Video is a visual medium, and while it doesn’t require you to be in front of the camera, an on-camera persona is usually important to building your brand on YouTube. While men are allowed to look all sorts of ways and still be successful, women generally need to fit within a narrow band of conventional attractiveness or at best they’ll be ignored, and at worse, publicly harassed and shamed. But women who are conventionally attractive are also likely to attract unwanted attention based on their appearance, not their opinions, so it’s a no-win situation. (Some women do exploit their physical appearance to grow their following, but they’re in the minority.)
There are a few women who regularly make commentary and review videos AND appear on camera. But they are vastly outnumbered by women making on- or off-camera vlogs, Let’s Play and Unboxing videos.
The recent high-profile GamerGate-type harassment aimed at many female gamers with strong opinions has contributed, too. We’ve lost several strong female voices in the gaming community because of this, and there are countless more who decided to never even try because they didn’t want to subject themselves to that kind of abuse. How many of us know of at least one woman who considered getting into games journalism or video commentary and decided not to risk it because of the fear of harassment? I can think of three women just off the top of my head, whom you’ve probably never heard of and now probably never will.
Whether you appear on camera or not, it’s a lot more work to create commentary or review videos than it is to create vlogs, Let’s Play or Unboxing videos. The former usually requires pre-planned scripts, analytical and logical arguments, and a lot of video editing; the latter is much more freestyle and free-flowing, with no script required and often not much video editing, either. Since making gaming videos is a hobby for most people, not everyone wants to devote the extra time that commentary videos require.
You also don’t have to “defend” a Let’s Play video, but a critic or commentator needs to be able to articulate their arguments with facts and/or persuasive logic. You also have to be able to accept (constructive) criticism, and to make mistakes.
Finally, making commentary or review videos requires taking more of a risk and putting yourself in the spotlight, which many people are loathe to do even without the extra hassle women have to deal with.
In short: it’s just easier and less stressful to make vlogs, Let’s Plays, and Unboxing videos than commentary videos. There’s less work involved, and you’re not making an assertion you have to back up–you can just rely on your personality and gameplay to carry the day.
3. Lack of confidence
Making commentary or review videos first requires the creator to see themselves as an authority on the subject, and then to publicly assert that authority. This requires experience to some degree, but more than anything it requires confidence. And that’s something many women lack in general, for several reasons that basically come down to how we’re socialized–our culture, lack of role models, the fact that men are often threatened by women in authority etc. Individual personality, is also a factor, too, obviously.
Suffice it to say, women’s general lack of confidence compared to men is a problem that isn’t limited to gaming videos, and it isn’t easily overcome. But it can be done, with encouragement, the right attitude, and support.
Women need to make more commentary videos
The gaming community obviously needs to fix the harassment issue, in order to minimize the gender-specific abuse experienced by women who express opinions about games.
But while we’re working on this problem, women need to make more commentary videos. We need to stop limiting our videos to the personal realm–aka vlogs, Let’s Plays, and Unboxing videos–and start sharing our opinions on the broader topics and issues gamers are talking and thinking about.
Here’s how you can be part of the solution:
1. If you’re a woman and a YouTube gamer, make commentary videos! Even if it’s only a supplement to your Let’s Play videos. Don’t like multiplayer-only games? Find the the lack of maps on Battlefront a problem? Think The Witcher 3’s female characters are just misunderstood? Let your viewers know why. Believe Undertale is the best game you’ve ever played? Review it on YouTube instead of making another Let’s Play video of it. Or do both.
If you’re already taking the time to regularly make Let’s Play videos, cut back on a few and invest in creating a series of commentary videos instead. In addition to benefiting the broader gaming discussions by adding your voice to them, this is also one of the best ways for most female YouTube gamers to get more visibility and grow their channel. It won’t make you a success overnight–you’re still competing against a jillion other YouTube gamers–but it will set you apart.
(And while I’m making requests: try to cover the AAA games once in awhile, and not just indies. The ratio of commentary videos made by men vs. women is even worse than the overall average when it comes to the industry’s most popular games.)
2. If you’re a man or a woman who likes to watch gaming videos on YouTube, make a point to seek out, support and share good commentary and review videos made by women. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to do our best at remeshed.com to promote those videos whenever we come across them.