Women-Run Blog Aims to Break Stereotypes in Gaming

Girls on Game’s founders discuss the gaming industry, gamer stereotypes and how it all looks from the inside.

The women behind the blog, Leah Jewer (left) and Catherine Smith-Desbiens (right) Photo courtesy Leah Jewer and Catherine Smith-Desbiens

For women in an industry as gender-biased as gaming, it’s been a slow climb. Catherine Smith-Desbiens and Leah Jewer’s Girls on Games is proof of how much the industry is changing.

The women-run video game and geek culture blog Girls on Games started with a passion, a great idea and a lot of hard work. As children, Jewer and Smith-Desbiens were introduced to the world of gaming through their brothers, who received Nintendo DS’s as gifts.

“I was totally enthralled by it,” explained Jewer. “It just kinda grew out of there.”

The gaming duo first met while working as webmasters for radio station CHOM 97.7 and CJAD 800. They instantly bonded over their love for video games. While working together, they were struck with the idea to create a gaming blog.

“We had that moment where the lightbulb goes off over your head,” Jewer said, laughing.

The blog was launched four years ago on the CHOM website, where it ran for about a year. But catering to the radio station’s audience limited the kind of content that the pair could create. CHOM listeners mainly wanted to hear about popular video games.

“It was a lot of first person shooters [that they wanted]. You can cover some Nintendo, but you can’t get into the nitty gritty of Pokémon,” Jewer said with a smile.
In June 2014, the women launched a completely independent version of the website. On their own, the two had the complete freedom to share content that they were passionate about. Today, the site is managed by 12 editors and full time contributors.

For these women, Girls on Games is about creating more voices in the gaming community and crushing stereotypes along the way.

For these women, Girls on Games is about creating more voices in the gaming community and crushing stereotypes along the way.

“When we’re in the mainstream media, [with people] who aren’t as in the know as we are about the gaming community, they think that gamers are just the guy playing Call of Duty in his basement,” explained Jewer.

Although this stereotype is often associated with the image of gaming, it is not accurate. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, an average of 50 per cent of men and 48 per cent of women play video games on a computer, TV, console or portable device.

Women are less than half as likely as men to identify themselves as gamers though. Fifteen per cent of men who responded said they would call themselves “gamers,” while only 6 per cent of women said the same.

Women are less than half as likely as men to identify themselves as gamers, even if they do play video games in some manner. Photo Gianni Di Mattia

With the recent introduction of mobile games, Smith-Desbiens brought up how it is no longer strictly about enjoying games in a television and console format.
“Everybody likes to talk about the gamer stereotype, but then I ask, ‘Don’t you play Candy Crush on your phone?’ Then you’re a gamer,” she exclaimed. “Everybody plays a game, it’s ubiquitous.” In this regard, gaming culture is starting to move past the idea that gaming is a “boy-nerd thing,” she added.

Although the number of female players is on the rise, negative representations of them are far from eliminated. But Smith-Desbiens says video game developers are changing this by including stronger women in their games.

“You have women like Lara Croft and strong women in other games too,” Smith-Desbiens pointed out. “It isn’t just rescue the princess anymore.”
But with frequent images of scantily clothed ladies, damsels constantly in need of men’s rescuing or women’s bodies being casually used as decoration, popular video games like Mortal Kombat and God of War have developed a reputation for being misogynistic and anti-feminist.

Activists like Anita Sarkeesian, who speak out about sexism in negative portrayals of women in videogames, have suffered harassment and discrimination on the internet. Jewer brought up how disappointing and eye-opening the entire situation is.

“It’s gone beyond video games at that point,” she admitted. “It’s immature people not being able to have an adult conversation about something. The reaction has been way to over the top.”
Jewer agrees that the discussion Sarkeesian brings up is completely necessary in order for the gaming industry to evolve.

“If we want video games to be taken as a legitimate art form, the discussion needs to happen. She brings up some valid points and starts some very interesting discussions,” Jewer said.
Despite the difficulty that many female gamers have encountered to be accepted in the industry, Smith-Desbiens says that the reception of Girls on Games has been overall positive. “I think we’re at a point where when we advertise that we’re women and we’re doing this people aren’t [freaked out by it],” explained Smith-Desbiens.

That’s not to say that Jewer and Smith-Desbiens haven’t experienced their fair share of internet discrimination. The occasional sexist comment is always bound to spring up.
“It’s mostly people coming on our stream, saying ‘show us your boobs, let’s see some girl on girl action.’ You’re obviously 12 [years old], have a time out,” said Smith-Desbiens with a slight tone of sass in her voice.

With a name like Girls on Games, you’d expect to only hear from female voices, but Jewer and Smith-Desbiens are having none of it. Non-discriminatory and all-inclusive, the blog embraces all voices and all genders from the spectrum. The only requirement is that you love gaming and want to share your knowledge and passion with the world.
“Why would we want to close people off? Then we would just be the problem,” Jewer explained. “[Men] need to be part of the conversation as well. For the most part, they aren’t happy about the sexism in gaming either.”

But with such a positive community behind them, Smith-Desbiens and Jewer are confident in an inclusive and hate-free gaming future. “I think that’s very important to show the world that there all types of men and all types of women, and when we come to together we can make some cool shit,” Smith-Desbiens said.

“Our team defends us,” she announced proudly. “We have a strict policy against hate speech and discrimination. Our team and fans are extremely supportive of that.”