Australia Women make up half of Australia's online gaming community but still struggle to be seen
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The most common image associated with gamers who live stream their activity online is a teenage boy or young male gamer, broadcasting live from their bedroom.
The perception of men being the main stars and the target audience of the video game industry is a well-worn stereotype, but it no longer reflects what is really going on.
The reality is that the face of Australian gamers looks and sounds more like Haughty Chicken, a 58-year-old streamer from Melbourne.
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She's been gaming for more than 40 years but ventured into live streaming during the city's first lockdown in 2020.
Her first challenge was coming up with a memorable username.
"An artist had done a drawing of a chicken with a suit on, and I thought 'Oh well that's ridiculous. What a haughty looking chicken he is'," she said.
"And I thought, 'Goodness, haughty chicken, that's either going to be so silly that no-one will like it … or it's so silly that everyone will love it'."
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People loved it so much she has amassed more than 10,000 followers on live streaming platform Twitch and became a platform partner.
She wears a red bow in all her streams in homage to the drawing that was once her avatar.
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"Especially during a pandemic, I didn't realise how important it was for people to connect and come to a safe space," she said.
"And I say safe space because often when I was first researching on Twitch, I found places that were toxic or misogynistic, or it was about the sort of gameplay that I don't do anymore."
Women like Haughty Chicken represent a growing norm in Australia's video gaming population.
Data from Digital Australia's 2020 Report says that women over the age of 18 make up 47 per cent of the country's gamers.
And the latest research from Nielsen shows that women account for 59 per cent of the 1.8 billion hours Australians spent playing video games in 2020.
That includes a variety of games, ranging from playing a casual free game on a smartphone to playing professionally on games like Fortnite, a multiplayer battle royale game.
Despite these numbers being roughly in line both with the Australian population and global trends, female gamers still face hurdles from a male-dominated industry that has yet to catch up.
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Dr Selen Türkay is a computer science lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology whose research is looking into how gaming communities are forming in Australia.
"Women do have barriers towards joining in gaming communities compared to men, due to stereotypes and toxic behaviours towards women … which unfortunately keeps coming up again and again," she said.
She said sexism and toxic masculinity were common reasons women seek each other out online.
"It's a safer environment, it's more casual and fun versus playing with male counterparts where it's more stressful," Dr Türkay said.
"Not only from the toxic and negative behaviours but also [the] mental state of men being more competitive."
Battling perception female gamers aren't as good
This is a problem Dhayana Sena, an ambassador for gaming company Xbox, knows all too well.
She created a space specifically for women.
"I created women of Xbox because Xbox as a whole has an amazing community, but at the same time there were no spaces that were exclusive for women and those that identify as being female to be supported by other females," Ms Sena said.
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It was her passion for equality and diversity in the corporate world that led her to the online gaming space.
She tried creating a community from scratch after speaking to women who chose to leave their online profiles gender ambiguous to avoid harassment, stereotypes and abuse.
"Women coming together is really powerful because we're able to support one another and help amplify each other," Ms Sena said.
"My hope is that with enough women coming together, one day we can just eradicate all this negativity around [the idea] if you're a female gamer, you're terrible."
But the reaction from male gamers who discovered her community has been mixed.
While there are a growing number of men who share and interact with her content in a positive way, there has been some backlash.
"It's a challenge because a lot of men feel that … 'Why should women have these exclusive groups and things that are just for women, why can't men have the same opportunities?'," she said.
It is part of a catch 22 situation that Dr Türkay says women are increasingly trapped in, that could have ramifications in a professional and competitive capacity.
"This puts women in a negative loop for them to not get into communities, so they do seek more women-inclusive communities," she said.
"We want to play with women, we enjoy that and we want women-only leagues, but we don't want to be seen as exclusive."
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Being an 'older' gamer has its own challenges
For Haughty Chicken, being an older woman online has also opened her up to ageist abuse.
"Some [people] are very toxic, I've had threats of violence because I'm there, [asking] why am I taking the space of a younger person because they deserve to be there [but] I do not," she said.
"There's this perception of what an older gamer can and can't do, and so people will often come into my channel and immediately try to help me.
"They think I don't know, or they think I've just discovered gaming, that one makes me smile a lot."
While there are signs of change with more women like Haughty Chicken and Ms Sena making waves in the industry, there is a long way to go to improve visibility.
Dr Türkay sees the impact representation has through QUT's dedicated esports academy for competitive gaming, which does have strong involvement from women.
"If our young women don't see role models out there that they can look up to, that is painting a really dire picture for young women who are interested in gaming," she said.
For her part, Haughty Chicken said gamers needed to accept that older women were already in the space and they are planning to stay.
"I'd like to see more representation, in terms of cultural diversity, greater representation of females and of course different ages," she said.
"Our wisdom and our experience matters, I think."
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