GamingAngels, the brainchild of self-professed geek Trina Schwimmer, seeks to provide a gender-neutral oasis in the hypermasculine field of gaming. Upset with gaming magazines' token female editors -- if there were any women at all -- and the sneers with which the gaming press seemed to regard female gamers, Schwimmer started GamingAngels in 2003. Originally a cosplay site, it quickly blossomed into a place where women could discuss all things geek, from gaming to gadgets to comics. Trina talked with us about her thoughts on gender in gaming and where she sees GamingAngels going. --Dan Nosowitz
Fast Company: Why start GamingAngels?
Trina Schwimmer: I wanted to start GamingAngels 10 years ago, after graduating college, when I found I was spending all my free time gaming because it was cheap, but didn't have very many females to play with. Then about six years ago, I went to an event held by Best Buy where a popular gaming magazine held a panel on getting into game journalism. I asked why there weren't more females writing about games and the all-male panel seriously voiced the opinion that girls only play The Sims. At that panel, I announced GamingAngels and about 10 women came up to me and joined that day. They are all still GA members!
Change is starting to happen and there are many more women writing about games, but still very few given the headlines. The game industry, and particularly marketing companies, need to hear from us as an audience. So much marketing is still aimed at the stereotypical male audience because the industry knows how to market to young men. But as a community we need to challenge them to change. Some of those ads are offensive and will turn off women from the company, if not the game.
FC: How do you decide what to cover?
TS: On GamingAngels.com. we cover "all things geek." Because we feel that a hobby in games can lead to other interests that have traditionally been thought of as male dominated—comics, books, Japanese manga/anime, iPhone games, video games, technology, and tabletop and CCG gaming—we cover them as well. We also provide convention and event coverage. We generally decide to cover something if we have the bandwidth and volunteer staff that is passionate about the subject. We write opinion pieces, news, and reviews. Sometimes we request items to review and sometimes a company offers us product to review. We always let our readers know when we have received a review copy. We are fortunate that we have staff across the U.S., the U.K., and in Australia, so we can attend a wide variety of events.
FC: How does your coverage differ from traditional -- or, more accurately -- male—gaming coverage? Does it need to differ?
TS: I don't believe the coverage needs to differ solely because we are female. We make it a point to interview women who work in the industry. At times we may have a heated opinion piece about something that is offensive. There may be differences in interpretation or coverage, but that can happen with either gender. I do believe, though, that visitors on GamingAngels tend to allow for more debate than men do on sites aimed specifically at males. People on GamingAngels can respect each other because of the environment we built to foster conversation and debate.
FC: Do you think games themselves are tilted male, or is it mostly just gaming journalism that's the problem?
TS: It's a combination of the industry, journalism, and marketing. Even with more women writing about games, all too often I see many of the male-dominated sites turning to Pr0n articles for the easy hits, which could offend any female readers they have. I've heard other gaming journalists tell me and other women that we aren't expected to know how to play the game, we are just supposed to stand there and look pretty for the camera.
The larger problem we face is the gaming industry and marketers not wanting to embrace a gender-neutral approach. Female gamers don't want games made just for them; we want good games, the way any gamer does. I don't want to be offended by a marketing approach anymore. One company did reach out to us for our opinion before they launched a marketing effort, and I encourage more companies to do so! There is a way to send out a cool message about your awesome game without offending part of your potential audience.
FC: What are your eventual goals for the site?
TS: Currently, we have 14 wonderful volunteers on GamingAngels.com. My goals for this year are to grow the site and improve our social networking and marketing efforts. This year has been our greatest to date, and we are continuing to grow using viral marketing and Adwords.
In the near future, I would love GamingAngels to get grab investor attention. I have heard many times that our news/reviews are on par with those on any professional site. We enjoy being indie, but ultimately volunteers should get paid. The bigger issue is that we sometimes can't attend events because we can't afford it. As the largest female gaming community, we stand out enough to warrant the attention.
In the end, we are carrying out our overall goals, which include encouraging more women to go into the game industry or tech careers. We sponsor GameMentorOnline.com and IGDA Women in Games. We also volunteer to talk to teens about the importance of tech in their lives. I do believe we are slowly making some changes in the gaming industry.
FC: Would you take a job for one of the major historically male-centered gaming publications, or do you consider GamingAngels more important?
TS: GamingAngels.com is my baby. I live and breathe it and so do my wonderful volunteers. So while I'd love to do a guest column, I definitely would not be me without working on GamingAngels.com. One solution would be for a male-centered gaming publication to fund us and bring GA into its network.! ^_^
FC: It seems there's a schism emerging between hardcore (Xbox 360, PS3) and casual (Wii, iPhone, DS) approaches. That's also seen as a gap between male and female. Do you agree?
TS: The percentage of women gamers on consoles is growing; it's almost half on PCs. This has nothing to do with the type of game -- whether it's violent or simple -- and more to do with what is fun for that person. MMOs and casual game portals have made it easy and fun to pick up and play and become part of a community. Consoles still have a long way to go in that area. I don't play multiplayer online much outside of our community game nights because of the negativity and bad experiences I have had on both Xbox Live and Playstation Home. I've been gaming since I was 6. This isn't to say that every female has had bad experiences or cares. Our professional female gaming team, GamerBeauties, loves to get out there and play no matter who is on the other end. I do feel that the more Microsoft and Sony reach out to us and our audience, the better the experience will be on the console for female gamers.
This is THE gamer debate of all gamer debates, right? The hardcore v. casual, and the need to categorize gamers. The funny thing is, the women on Pogo.com, for example, play eight hours a day, but don't call themselves gamers. The word itself is almost alienating. Either you love to be called a gamer or you don't. But in the end, whatever we call ourselves, we all have fun playing a game. That is what is important to remember: Games are about having fun.