As gamers, we know that play is often a bastion of creativity. Innovation is born of experimentation and trial and error. It takes collaboration, teamwork, and diligence to build or achieve something great. But all too often, free-form play of this type is reserved for men–tied to the “inherit” drive for competition, and unrestricted access to resources, given social privilege and permission to take whatever it is they want.
Unsurprisingly, women tapping into competitive play seems to have extraordinary success in the workplace. Recent EY research has explored the connection between women who play sports and their success in business, citing studies that found 94% of women in the C-Suite had participated in college sports. That’s a staggering, almost unbelievable number. But it doesn’t seem to be an entitled attitude getting them there.
We play to learn and to build our social understanding. We play to demonstrate skill and to activate our reward centers. We play to accomplish goals as a team.
As girl gamers, we have a lot in common with athletes. So how do we ignite these attributes that lead lady athletes to be CEOs and CFOs and apply them to our careers? How do we mitigate the conditions of the gaming world as they’ve been presented to us and still reap the benefits other women do from playing competitive sports–and use them to launch us into the upper echelons of IRL?
The EY study looked for common skills gained from sport that made all of those women qualified to become Chief Officers. It pointed to a strong work ethic, being a team player, and determination as key qualities of female athletes. It also suggests that participation in sports yields leadership traits like motivational skills, the ability to see projects through completion, and team-building. Finally, many of the studies participants described themselves as “competitive.”
A lot of these things should sound familiar to us. From solo experiences, we gain increased critical thinking, decision-making, patience, and problem solving. For those who play in any sort of group setting, we recognize the need to be team players, to know our roles, and to motivate our teammates when necessary. We often have a commitment to a team, we play competitively, and we’re certainly determined to overcome challenge. We have to learn to mesh well with others while shining in our individual responsibilities.
But despite the growing numbers of women experimenting with or actively playing games, we’re still disengaging from its ownership. We don’t speak in VoIP settings. We relegate ourselves to support roles (don’t get me wrong–I love healing, but there’s an associated passivity). When I’m playing in an online setting, I worry that if my damage isn’t top of the charts or if I accidentally stand in fire, I may as well quit on the spot.
And these, these, are often the prohibitive factors for women.
We’re conditioned to believe we’re not worthy. We have collective impostor syndrome. We’re burdened by our belief that we’re not worthy or ready or the right fit, and we quit or silence ourselves or one another. And so on.
In sports, women and men compete separately for biological reasons. But with video games, we don’t have those physical differences prompting us to build separate leagues for the sake of fairness. There’s no skill gap to justify these anxieties like there would be with traditional sports; we’re simply socialized to interact with games differently than men are.
Games are rife with opportunities for personal development. Despite my apprehension to engage, I became a leader in an MMO. In that role, I learned more applicable skills for my career than I have from any other experience to date; if I could put “Guild Master” on a resume, I would do it in a heartbeat. Learning and teaching strategy, balancing skill priorities, cultivating team culture for 20 personalities, managing a schedule, recruiting for and building a team, maintaining a website, providing in-game compensation… the list is phenomenally long.
It was one of the most difficult jobs I’ve had in my life, and I’m completely sincere when I say that I draw on those experiences regularly and thoughtfully in my work.
If sports are one avenue to building successful businesswomen, games are a very viable alternative (or complement). We have the potential to share skillsets with the women who are changing the face of the C-Suite, and thereby driving the direction of innovation, economy, and culture.
But to be able to engage with games in the same way those women are engaging with sports, we have to change the conditions of our gaming environments. We have to shift our thinking about how we play. We have to be bold and confident in our abilities, and push boundaries on expectations and skill. We have to be tanks and flag carriers and guild masters.
We have to be researched and outspoken, and we have to flaunt our competitive natures.
We have to own the space.
We can also no longer be proud of being the women outliers. We often like being special; we love being “one of the guys”, and we’re sometimes complicit or worse, participatory, in the exclusion or badgering of other female players. We can participate in group play and build skills in collaboration, determination, and work ethic without diminishing the strength of female coalition; we can do these things together, and can build the worlds that work for us, without the permission of the gatekeepers.
That means we have to share the gift of gaming with our daughters, nieces, and mentees. For young girls, play is the ultimate learning tool, and opening these worlds for them means giving them early ownership. And gaming together with the next generation normalizes sharing the experience with other women.
And yes, we have to continue to talk about the position women occupy in games.
We know that gaming culture is broken, but games aren’t an island, they’re a microcosm. We’re starting to see our conversations turn into actions. Devs are making improvements to access and safety in games–Riot implemented insta-punishments in one of the most toxic gaming environments of all time. Diversity and representation is improving across the board. And two years after GamerGate, Zoe Quinn is moving forward.
It’s inspiring that women executives are able to draw from their sporting experiences. In gaming, there is an abundance of unlocked potential, and a cultural moment beckoning to women.
As games change and continue their evolution into an acclaimed and relevant form of art, as the internet envelops everything we do and the ways that we communicate, maybe we can drive towards a someday when 94% of women executives will nod to their experience with games as a key factor in their success.