Work on gender balance in video games has been going on for years. There are questions about some of the methods, both from sociologists and from female gamers themselves. An example of this is the recent decision by League of Legends to significantly increase the number of female characters. What game officials themselves have called a step towards equal opportunities for men and women.
Speaking to users, Ryan 'Reav3' Mireles, lead gameplay producer of League of Legends at Riot Games, said that according to their statistics, 97% of women who play League of Legends choose exclusively female champions. Since there are currently more male champions than female ones, the developers are ‘finishing’ this statistic evenly, as otherwise, they will be ‘ignoring’ a large portion of the audience, by skimping on the female players. LoL data shows that around 97% of female players are predominantly female champions. Among men, the ratio is 50-50. "Every time we release a male champion, we're neglecting the female players," reports Ryan 'Reav3' Mireles.
League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the MOBA genre. More than 70 million accounts have been registered in the game since its launch. And the number of active players in a month can reach 32 million. League of Legends has 12 million daily players, while the record number of users playing at the same time is 3 million. Finally, in a month, LoL fans collectively spend more than a billion hours in the game. Riot Games claim that its project is the most popular game in the world by this measure. The game is a recognized eSports discipline and is part of the World Cyber Games.
This is why the statement by the producer of this game can be considered a landmark and certainly influences the discussion about the representation of women in gaming. However, influential in what way? Does this kind of quota improve the representation of women in gameplay and visibility in general? The answer is not as obvious as it seems at first glance.
We spoke to an experienced female player, Daria Yen, who has 20+ years experience in various online games. She has been playing in the League itself for over 6 years and is in the Diamond 3 rank. Here's what we learned.
Daria Yen: Video Game Industry in general (albeit already to a lesser extent), and Esports in particular, is still a male-dominated territory. Women in competitive games are often pressured solely on the fact of their gender and not on their skill in the game. This can include direct sexist insults, catcalling, devaluation, and so on. It is getting to the point where girls are starting to use male nicknames in the game to be treated as equals. We should work primarily in this direction so that more girls come to competitive games, they (girls) cease to be something strange in the same LoL game, and increase the chance that among them there will be someone who will declare itself in the cybersport arena.
The current situation, in my opinion, can only increase the tension between female and male players in the League. Of course, there are a huge number of fine and adequate male players, but I can't say that women are completely comfortable in games. That said, the producer's statement itself is rather odd. I'd like to know the methodology of this study, its sample, and stuff. Otherwise, it turns out that the girls do not understand the game, and do not choose champions based on their skillset, and on the type of: "Oh, she has cute ears and a tail, I'll play for her”.
Daria Yen: Oh, I've been playing for about six years. I've never paid attention to the gender of a character. I look at the type and his role in the game. If a character ‘came on', I find out his lore later, after I've already played him. I play mostly midlane and toplane as Yone (1,2k PTS),Yasuo (1,3k PTS), Swain (about 1.5k skill points on them), Katarina, Urgot, and many others. Generally pretty good everywhere except the jungle. Aside from the role in the game, the voice acting is very important to me. If a character's voice is annoying I can't play.
About whether there's anything that hindered me as a woman on these champions. No more than it would have bothered me on any of the others. But of course, I've come across phrases a la ‘girl on midlane, ff15’ many times, but playing as Yasuo you can hear a lot of things just like that)) In the League, as in many other games, it's assumed that for some reason a girl has to play on supports and healers.
Daria Yen: Release champions according to the internal logic of the LoL game, not relying on gender and stuff. League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the world. If a girl is interested in this direction of games, she's likely to see League. I'd hate to see the leading cybersports MOBA turn into Netflix, which is known for its quota policy and the controversy surrounding it. The most ideal option would be to have a talented girl on some cybersport team.
Not accepted on the team for gender balance, but talented and worthy. Many female players would probably feel a sense of belonging. Our mechanism for ‘cheering’ for sports of all kinds is such that during matches we are both unafraid to show our emotions and satisfy the need for ‘competence’. If you bet on a team and it wins, you gain a sense of community with the community and with your favourite player with whom you feel a ‘connection’.
As much as the process of increasing female representation in games seems unequivocally positive, if we see gender equality as a goal, there are several possibilities.
In the first case, it would be a direct correlation: more women mean a better equality situation. In the other, and certainly less desirable option, the correlation will be reversed. In this situation, it is relevant to remember a study that was conducted about another social group - LGBT. It investigated the increase in the representation of LGBT people in films and TV shows over some time and how this affected the level of violence towards this social group. Unfortunately, the researchers found an increase, rather than a decrease, in violence against LGBT people over the study period. Of course, this is not to say that films with gay characters should not be made. But these results do let us know that when working with social groups and other sensitive subjects, we need to proceed very carefully.
Depending on how carefully LoL act, their strategy, and their openness to feedback, several scenarios are possible: from achieving the company's stated goal to achieving the opposite effect. In any case, millions of eyes of gamers and game makers alike will be watching the process launched by the global leader in gaming. And all together will change the world of gaming.