Think back to video games 30 years ago. The home console market was booming but public opinion wasn’t as favourable as it is now. Gamers were often looked upon as nerds and, ostensibly, even then gaming was a boys’ club.
Fast forward to now and not only was the video game market size in the United States estimated to be $97.67 bn last year but just one year prior, the split of female vs male gamers was around 41.5% vs 58.5%. The gap is clearly closing as women round the world embrace the joy of gaming but as with many minority demographics, there is still some way to go when it comes to changing attitudes. Indeed, female video game enthusiasts are often referred to as “girl gamers” by both sexes - a term which is deemed downright derogatory at worst and provokes an eye roll at best.
This International Women’s Day, we sat down with one of AFK’s creators - CaptainPuffy - who told us more about what life is like being a successful female content creator in the gaming space.
Please introduce yourself!
Hiya, my name is Cara, but you may know me better as CaptainPuffy! I’m a content creator who, for the last decade, has mainly streamed Minecraft on Twitch. I started out as a kid with a hobby, a passion for content creation, and a love for Minecraft - all of which has ended up spiralling into my life-long dream job.
Growing up, who did you look up to?
I looked up to my mom most, as she was always my rock through everything in life. To me she was like a real-life superhero.
No matter what difficult situation we went through, she always made it seem like it was possible to overcome it. But mainly, she never judged me for being a different kid from the rest, never pushed me to fit into the stereotypical moulds a parent sometimes tries to force their kid into. She just let me become the me I wanted to be.
What first attracted you to gaming? Was there a game that had a particular impact on you growing up?
Being the only girl in a house with two older brothers who immensely loved PC and Console gaming, you couldn’t avoid developing a love for it. I was never attracted to stereotypical “girly” things as a kid. But to be quite honest, at the time, I was a super quiet kid who really enjoyed being creative, whether that was through art or writing, so video games became a safe space to get away from issues in my childhood and instead go off into a fantasy world of my own.
The first game that really sticks in my head is Spiderman on the PlayStation 2, but the game that has had a massive impact on me growing up, and my life as whole, is Minecraft. Minecraft became my distraction and my comfort in the most trying and difficult parts of my life. At times when my life felt like it was out of my control as a kid, I turned to something I could control.
As a woman, what were some of the biggest challenges you've faced? How did they impact your career?
Gaming and content creation is a male-dominated space. In a field that is already so overly saturated and competitive, being a woman makes things so much harder. Obviously and unfortunately, there is always misogyny, sexism, and unwanted sexualisation. Even if communities say they support you and see you as the same as everyone else, there is always a double standard. I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve done the same thing a male creator has (who have been praised with laughter and compliments), yet as a female streamer, it is seen as annoying or not funny. That is just a small-scale example. But statistics speak louder than just me and my personal experiences.
There is currently only 1 US female streamer in the top 50 subbed of all of Twitch (as I’m writing this, March 2023). 78.36% of Twitch users are male which means less than 20% of the users are female and, unfortunately, statistically most male viewers tend to prefer to watch male streamers. So you can already see the problem.
Just to more-so prove my point, here’s a quote directly from a male streamer - “Mizkif” - and his thoughts on female streamers:
“But women have a glass ceiling, and that is just the truth. Women have a glass ceiling, and it is almost impossible to get through. Men have an infinite ceiling. They are not hard-capped. Women are hard-capped, usually. And it is a ceiling at around six hundred viewers to a thousand viewers. It is just the truth.”
He went on to say:
“But to get to that massive stardom, you’re gonna start to have a lot more guy audiences, and guys wanna watch guys. Usually, that’s how it works. Women…it's a lot harder to get women viewers like that. But to get to that stardom point, like Pokimane, is almost impossible.”
This whole mindset is a part of the problem and just a glimpse into the difficulties that female content creators have to deal with. The concept that no matter how hard you try and even if you make identical content as a male content creator, that it will never be viewed the same or reach the same level of fame is beyond infuriating. No matter the perspectives or the statistics, female content creators will overcome them and we will not let their views define us.
What is the importance of representation? Did you ever see yourself represented in mainstream media or in the gaming industry?
It’s so important because, most of the time, we feel really alone in this industry and we feel like no one else relates. But if other women are speaking out, not only does it help with that, but hopefully spreads a message to other females and young girls that may be interested in starting out in content creation.
As a kid I definitely would never have seen this level of female representation coming. I’m so thankful because this next generation of younger female creators now have those voices and role models to look up to and find comfort in - something that I never had.
What has changed since you joined the industry and what would you like to see change still?
Although the industry still needs a ton of improvement, we’ve come a long way from when I started back in 2011. The misogyny in the gaming and creator space was everywhere. If you thought there aren’t many women now, back then it was 100 times worse. The things that viewers would say to a 13-year-old girl back then wouldn’t last 5 seconds in a Twitch chat now. But mostly there was no one to look up to: I can’t think of a single female creator that was dominating the industry or was even notable on Twitch at that time. We’ve come a long way, but there is still a long road to go.
I’d love to see a genderless industry where I’m not seen as a ‘female creator’ and defined by my gender, but by my content and who I am. I’d love just to be treated and seen as just another gamer like all the other male creators. I'd love to post the same exact content or make the same jokes without being crucified, criticised, judged and or sexualised.
Do you have any advice for other women joining the industry?
My biggest piece of advice is to just ignore the haters and be yourself. Don’t confine yourself to trends because you think that will be your success, and don’t sell a piece of yourself because you think it’s the only way to the top. Just try to always remember why you started in the first place and let that motivation drive you to make your own definition of success.The misogyny, insults, inappropriate comments and overall hate can always seem to be the loudest comments, chat messages or social media replies, but redirect your attention to your supporters and community. Most of all, use all the negativity that they spew to rise up and prove them wrong. You’ll be all the more proud of yourself for it.