In middle school, Souha Al-Samkari really wanted her own video game console. Up until that point, she’d basically done the beg, borrow, steal thing to get time at friends’ houses or posted up at demos in stores. So when lobbying and begging didn’t work with her parents, she decided she could earn a console.
“I took one of those Olympia Sales Club things home to my parents,” she says. “I said, ‘Look! If I sell, God knows how many, I can get a Nintendo 64!’ They finally just looked at each other, and were like, ‘Oh my God. Fine. We’ll just get you one.’ And that was the greatest day of my life.”
It’s a pretty bold statement to say that getting a Nintendo 64 was the best day of your life, but Al-Samkari is very passionate about video games. She’s the co-founder of indie video game company Truant Pixel, and an avid gamer herself — it’s been a part of her identity for as long as she can remember.
“I have really early memories of typing in a bunch of code to bring a game up on my dad’s Commodore 64,” she says. “So, it was just a really natural part of my life.”
Saying that women like to play video games and have always played them (regardless of the stereotypes about what a “typical” gamer looks like), is no longer a statement likely to get a gasp out of the cheap seats. The statistics get brought up often these days. From 2006-2018 women made up 45 percent of gamers. So game developers can’t deny that women play video games and grew up playing them, just like Al-Samkari did. And yet… if you’re not a cisgendered, heterosexual, white male, you’re still far less likely to see yourself reflected in the industry.
“I still don’t feel necessarily seen in the way that I would like,” 31-year-old Al-Samkari says.“You have more visible female characters in games now, but most game protagonists are still white, male, 30s, brown hair. It’s still a lot of the same stuff.”
The number of female video game heroes may not be improving either. Feminist Frequency, an organization that analyzes media’s relationship to gender, race, and sexuality puts out a breakdown every year of the gender roles in video games at E3, one of the biggest video game conventions. Last year, only 8% of the video games featured a woman in the lead role — that’s in comparison to the 24% that featured a male. The rest were games in which you could choose male or female characters or the gender was not specified. And this number, Feminist Frequency says, has been pretty constant — female protagonists have been hovering between 7-9% for the past few years.