Three years ago, a group of present-day seniors merged multiple gaming groups into the umbrella gaming group, the Tufts Gaming Hub, which serves as a center for Tufts students who play video and electronic games competitively or casually. Despite the group’s growth since then, senior Elizabeth Billings said she used to be the only woman who consistently attended the weekly meetings held by Tufts Gaming Hub.
According to Billings, who is the first woman to serve on the group’s executive board, only three women attended the general interest meeting this year, next to the 60+ men that attended. Though the members of the group know that a large gender disparity exists within the Gaming Hub, she said many members also knew of women at Tufts who might enjoy joining the club.
Billings explained that in response to this, she has led an initiative within the organization to increase female participation.
“We were missing a lot of our target audience and with me graduating soon, I wanted to change that because I did not want to graduate and have this club turn into a 100 percent male club,” Billings said. “My goal is to build up this community before I leave so we can transition into having more equal distribution within our club.”
The disparity between female participation in Tufts Gaming Hub and the number of women with an interest in gaming at Tufts reflects larger trends in national gaming culture. While men and women are almost equally likely to have reported playing video games, gaming is still perceived as a male-dominated activity, and many prominent women gamers have reported facing sexism and harassment from other gamers online.
Former president of the Gaming Hub, Erik Poppleton, said he recognized the issue of underrepresentation of women in the club.
“Elizabeth is the face we need to extend our audience, because we definitely have a missing demographic,” Poppleton, a senior, said.
With support from the other members of the group’s executive board, Billings created a subgroup of the Tufts Gaming Hub on Facebook called “Women Who Game at Tufts” early on in the semester. At first, Billings said she was the only one posting in the group.
“[It has been] slowly growing and now members of the online group are interacting with each other,” she said. “Even this past week, there have been more posts discussing gaming and more people are engaging with each other.”
She added that as of now, there are more than forty members in the Facebook group. However, she stressed that the Facebook group, as well as any real-life interactions or meetings that come out of it, are still in their formative stages.
“We are in an initial planning phase of finding a balance between reaching out to women gamers, but not excluding our whole gaming population,” Billings said. “There is a lot of looking for things and finding and engaging with other people who have similar interests.”
Billings said she believes that fewer women identify as “gamers” due to stereotypes associated with the word. In fact, despite roughly equal gaming habits by men and women, the same Pew Research Center study showed that men are more than twice as likely to identify as gamers than women.
“’Gamer’ has a negative connotation,” she said. “I purposely phrased the Facebook group as ‘Women who Game’ instead of ‘Women Gamers’ because a lot of people who only play games casually don’t really associate with the label. Some people don’t feel like it’s part of their identity, [and] there is a disparity [among] who identifies as a gamer based on their gender.”
Billings also emphasized that the Tufts Gaming Hub is evolving into a club where people of all gaming abilities are included and wanted. Poppleton spoke about this in relation to the nature of the group’s weekly meetings.
“The meetings can be a little bit intense, which can be intimidating if you are not as familiar with the gaming scene,” Poppleton said.
However, the club is excited about its efforts to include more people overall, and is hoping that more female members will join the club, he said.
In addition to the weekly meetings, Billings said she wants to host other events to promote the sub-group specifically for women.
“We are deciding if we want to have an open forum for women who game or perhaps a panel of women on campus who do things related to gaming,” Billings said. “There are a lot of people who do stuff on the creative side of gaming. Some people do fan art for games they play. One person I know does voice dubs of things related to games. We want to be able to tie in all aspects of gaming.”
Junior Meg Kenneally said she welcomed the creation of this group after describing instances and comments that originally made her feel alienated from the group, especially seeing as she was sometimes the only woman gamer in a room full of men.
“Women who game face a lot of discrimination issues in terms of games that they can access and games that are not harmful, so when I saw the group on Facebook, I said, ‘Absolutely, add me to this group!’” she said. “Now, I can get together with other women who enjoy gaming.”
Kenneally pointed out that many times the games that are played do not realistically portray women, and that many people’s identities are pushed to the periphery when it comes to character representation. She hopes that this sub-group will become a safe place where people of varying identities can feel heard when it comes to their opinions on gaming and how they want to see gaming progress in the future, not just as a hobby but also as a professional field.
“Women who Game at Tufts opens up a community where women can come and talk about their problems with current games: whether these games are truly representative of who women are and how they feel,” Kenneally said. “This can be a forum where other people can ally with you, and we can discuss which companies are moving forward and which ones are not. People can discuss hopes of being game writers and their internships with gaming companies.”
The creation of the sub-group has already provided hope for many women on campus that there will be a place for women to game together and for women to discuss the hardships and drawbacks of the male-dominated gaming world, Kenneally explained.
“Women Who Game at Tufts will help gaming appeal to more audiences and will bring [together] a community that is very much present, yet limited in its voice,” she said.