Creating Digital Safe Spaces for Women Gamers

Editor’s Note: We are happy to introduce Jay-Ann Lopez to the GiN Family. She will be taking over the Eurofiles column for Chella moving forward. Many of you may already know Jay-Ann as she is the founder of the popular Black Girl Gamers group. This week Jay-Ann talks a little bit about her efforts to support women who game, and why part of that effort involves creating a safe space for female gamers to come together and enjoy their favorite pastime.

We are tickled that Jay-Ann is joining us here at GiN. Please give her a warm welcome!

For years, my relationship with gaming was filled with tick box decisions, reminiscent of the ‘if this, then that’ choices we used to make in choose-your-own-adventure books. If you’re a gamer and a woman, then you’re inherently not good at games and are playing for the attention of a man, or you are now attractive and must be married by tomorrow morn! If you’re a gamer, a woman and Black; you’re indulging in a hobby that is associated with “whiteness,” or you’re a “unicorn” or you’re not really a gamer or…you must be married by tomorrow morn!

I’m not alone in my experiences; I share them with the over 5,000 members of the gaming community I founded, Black Girl Gamers, a safe space for Black Women who game. Over years of running this community, I’ve been privy to a multitude of women’s experiences in gaming spaces both online and offline and how this manifests in the gaming industry as a whole. Black Girl Gamers is the largest of its kind and has been so critical to Women’s voices and experience in gaming. It makes us feel safe, welcomed and seen. Much like similar communities such as the Girl Gamers subreddit, Guild Wars 2 Girls – these spaces help us alleviate the stress that can come with being a female gamer, however online spaces can’t always counteract offline experiences.

Women have always been gamers since the inception of the concept and, in fact, our numbers are increasing, thanks to the emergence of mobile gaming. But our negative experiences aren’t subsiding. We’re still targeted, undermined and underrepresented in comparison to our male counterparts, especially if you are also a Black or a Woman of Colour. One thing is clear, digital safe spaces are great but we need physical ones too. In the same way men can, we need to be able to connect, share, play and laugh.

Connecting with other like-minded gamers IRL can be so exciting and gratifying, especially when you share similar experiences and interests – this premise alone brings thousands of gamers to TwitchCon in California and various other conventions. Over recent years, an immense interest has grown in gaming from non-gaming related brands, such as Sephora, MAC Make Up, Asos, JD Sports, and Louis Vuitton. The newfound interest brings the possibility to bring Women Only digital safe spaces to life, much to the dismay of the men who take their ability to be represented at Conventions, LAN parties and Expos in high numbers for granted.

Women only gaming events are growing in popularity and taking back ownership of our portrayal and experiences in gaming and media worldwide. The biggest silencer to the critics of Women Only events is that, Fernando Pereira, who happens to be a man, understood the desperate need and founded Girl Gamer eSports Festival; a multi-city event that brings together girl gamers with an interest in eSports in locations around the world. My own community, Black Girl Gamers, hosted various mixed gender events in the UK in 2019 and is kicking off 2020 with a novel and fresh women and non-binary only event – Gamer Girls’ Night In – a collaboration with fellow diversity focused gaming platform, Nnesaga, and Facebook, combining gaming with beauty and fashion.

This is an overdue blend of interests that many women gamers have felt they had to keep separate, in fear of their interest in beauty perceivably undermining their interest in gaming. When promoting the event, the response was overwhelming. 70 tickets were reserved within three hours and the next 40 tickets were reserved within three minutes. Not to mention the outpouring of messages and tweets on Twitter and Instagram to release more tickets and bring the event to the United States. Another important takeaway from the response to Gamer Girls’ Night In was the interest of women who game but did not feel they could call themselves a “gamer”; the years of gatekeeping in the industry have even seeped into the minds of those who wished to game more. The response was the strongest indicator of how few gaming events catered to the varied perspectives of Women gamers and took unabashed ownership of that space.

I welcome women only spaces and the progressive impact they will have not only on my community but me personally. The redefinition of our gaming experiences online and offline are as equally important as each other to allow us to insist on our presence in the industry. With the rise of social media and the increased access to brands; now is the best time to explore how we want to express our relationship to games and our community within this space. We do not have to worry about being judged for a supposed “clash” between our interests, we can craft our own spaces and add our own flavor to what it means to be a gamer without tick box decisions.

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