The common image of a gamer has long been linked to a teenage boy or young man streaming live from their bedroom. But in recent years, the stereotype has been flipped on its head, with more young, diverse women tapping into the gaming sphere, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Data from Digital Australia's 2020 Report indicates that women over the age of 18 make up 47% of Australia's gamers, while Nielsen data from that year shows that women account for a whopping 59% of the 1.8 billion hours Aussies spend playing video games.
Melbourne-based South Asian woman Dhayana Sena is one of them. She has been playing video games since she was three, when her "bachelor uncles" handed her a gaming controller. But it was only in 2015 that she decided to make gaming a bigger part of her life, by writing game reviews and live streaming while playing. The 32-year-old's commitment to this space has led to brand collaborations, gaming panel appearances and a recent decision to pursue a full-time career as a games-focused content creator.
But despite the money or social media fame that such a career can yield, Sena is drawn to gaming because of the change she can create in what's traditionally been a male-dominated sphere.
"Despite the fact that we're in 2023, it's unfortunately very sexist," Sena tells Refinery29 Australia of the gaming industry. She says that the majority of people who enjoy gaming "still consume most of their content from male gamers and male content creators."
While there are some companies that are more inclusive in their approach, Sena believes that there's a long way to go in improving the visibility of women in gaming, and particularly women of colour.
"There are some organisations out there that do look to only promote male streamers, gamers and content creators and influencers over females," she reveals. "Being a minority comes with a lot of challenges. I myself have faced a lot of challenges in getting opportunities by certain brands."
However, it doesn't stop her from speaking up on the importance of representation, and encouraging diverse women to venture into a space that's been so foreign to them because of societal norms.
"Through gaming, I'm showing others like me, especially the younger generation, that there's nothing stopping them from doing what they want to do. Skin colour and background — none of that really matters. We're just as capable and I think that's really important."
The gaming world is known for housing an endless number of communities — you can connect with people who share similar interests, love a certain genre of games or prefer a particular platform.
Besides her work advocating for greater diversity, Sena believes that the connections she's formed with people in this space are what draw her to the screen, and give her joy.
"That's the thing that really helps me keep going in this space, even through the hard times. It's knowing that I've built such a strong community and we have each other's backs," she says. "We don't just play games together, we are actually friends.
"Yes, we may not have met in real life, but I know so much more about their lives than their real-life friends and I'm sure they know a lot more about me."
2022 was tough. It obliterated my confidence & gave me anxiety— MissDeusGeek (@MissDeusGeek) December 6, 2022
But getting feedback & advice from great friends (you know who you are🙏), seeing family again & working with people/brands who took a chance on me, has helped me find myself & what I really want to do in life
It's this extended family online who comes to her defence when things turn ugly. While the gaming world allows you to make new connections, it also exposes you to negativity from strangers and trolls (just like any other virtual space). Being a woman can often make you more susceptible to receiving negative comments, and Sena says it's a field that's not exempt from toxic masculinity.
"Whilst my community is really positive, I remember when I was streaming a few years ago, I would get lots of people come into my streams try to proposition me," she says.
"Or they'd say some not-very-nice things that I would never ever appease — and because I'm female, they think you're not as good at gaming.
"I think that's the thing that really needs to change because everyone can play games," she says. "Everyone's skilled to a certain degree and that's why gaming is perfect for everyone."
Having said that, improving accessibility is another area she wants to continue advocating for.
"I think there are so many people out there who are unable to enjoy games, not because they can't, but because certain companies aren't including accessibility options for them," she explains.
"We've seen Xbox and a few other brands doing a lot of work around this. For example, putting subtitles in games, or making it easier for people who are hard of hearing to enjoy a game, or introducing a new controller for those may not necessarily have full use of their fingers to utilise a different kind of controller.
"I think that's really important because games are for everyone and I think that so many people can benefit."