Women make up almost half of the gaming community, but that simple fact is rarely reflected by the way industry and media typically cater to gamers. Of course, to myself and anyone else femme-identifying, this comes as absolutely no surprise. We’re used to having to speak a little louder, work a little harder to be recognized, and search a little deeper for spaces which reflect us. Which is why, when the*gameHERS launched in March 2020, they immediately found a community eager to receive the space they were creating.
“We are supporting and celebrating and amplifying women, femme-identifying, non-binary, and all marginalized genders and groups,” co-founder Rebecca Dixon told me. “We want to be the place where women who game can go and say, ‘Oh, there’s somebody who feels like they have a similar experience to me.’”
We had the opportunity to sit down with Dixon and talk about the ground-breaking organization’s past, present, and future. We couldn’t be happier to have gotten her say.
Dixon explains that the ever-expanding media empire of the*gameHERS is for everyone: “The casual players, the hardcore gamers, the techies, the streamers, the designers, the cosplayers, the developers, and programmers. Our mission is to advance the role, voice, image, and power of all the*gameHERs in the gaming world.”
The demand for this kind of space resulted in near-immediate skyrocketing growth. Coupled with the business savviness of its founders – Dixon, Laura Deutsch, Verta Maloney, and Heather Ouida – in less than a year since its founding, the*gameHERS has already hosted an awards show, launched a podcast, and organized a series of successful Twitch streams. And they’re already looking ahead to a boot camp, an app, and satellite groups on college campuses.
But before cultivating this kind of explosive, immediate success, the*gameHERS needed some empathetic and knowledgeable outsiders to facilitate the needs of a community. Dixon, Detsch, and Ouida began in 2006 as the founders of Mommybites, a community aimed at supporting and educating parents and providing a matchmaking platform for parents and caregivers.
“It was a great experience,” Dixon reflected. “It really taught us a lot about building and growing communities. And it also taught us about matchmaking, both of which are translatable to our business today.”
When they sold Mommybites in 2016, the trio of entrepreneurs began exploring what they wanted to do for their next project and discovered they all had “adjacencies to the game world.” For example, Dixon’s father and brother are part-owners of Team Envy, who boast the 2020 Call of Duty champions, and the Dallas Fuel in the Overwatch League. “Esports and gaming became sort of like a family passion at the Thanksgiving dinner table,” Dixon explained.
Another co-founder was working on a toy design project with Al Khan, whose crown achievement – among many – is persuading Game Freak to bring Pokemon to North America.
“Because I’m an entrepreneur and a curious person, I kind of had to dive in and learn more,” Dixon said. As they started to learn more about the gaming world and the predicament of the 50% of gamers who identify as women, the trio brought on their last co-founder, Verta Maloney. Maloney has a long career of social justice and racial activism work, traveling around the country and helping organizations and schools create inclusive spaces.
Dixon and her co-founders did a ton of research, conducting thousands of interviews, attending PAX (“before the world shut down,” Dixon added), facilitating surveys and hosting focus groups. “And what we found was… the toxicity that women experience in gaming is real. And it’s scary, and it’s sad, and definitely needs to be addressed.”
While Dixon and her colleagues found a number of incredible non-profits helping femme-identifying gamers with resources like scholarships and mentorships, they did not find any all-out companies – which is where they saw their opening.
“We’re not the first people to think that there’s room for improvement, in terms of how the media portrays women in the gaming world, and how the job trajectory is for women in the gaming world,” Dixon reflected. “We just have a little bit of a different angle, which is that we think there should be a big media platform which really puts it at the forefront of everybody’s thought.” If the*gameHERS was a media platform, the co-founders “felt it was so important to have the resources to support all of the nonprofits who are also doing this work.”
But the benefits of being a media company were vast. “We have a strong belief that by being a media company, in this world, we can connect all the dots – connect the brands to the employees to the college students,” Dixon added. “To just really give a platform for the needle to move, for the perception to change. And just to normalize the fact that women love to game.”
“We like to say we are a social networking and media company connecting and supporting women who game in a safe way,” Dixon furthered. The*gameHERS is all about fostering community and highlighting the incredible work of the women who are already in the industry.
Of course, Dixon pointed out, “you can’t create a better situation for women in gaming if you don’t have men. So we actually have a lot of men in our community as well. They just have to be allies.”
I asked Dixon what she thinks makes a strong ally. “The best allies are companies and streamers and gamers and colleges who think of gaming as a way to connect,” Dixon replied, “And where diversity, equity inclusion, and gender are all just assumed to be equitable from the start.”
“That’s how we run our company internally,” Dixon added. “We work very hard to facilitate an environment where everybody feels included at all times.” All four co-founders are very up-front about the fact that, while they all have their “gaming adjacencies,” none of them are gamers themselves. “What we are experienced in,” Dixon clarified, “is in community-building, and in matchmaking, and in giving a place for people who deserve to be honored or celebrated or have opportunities for jobs – to give them a place to do that.”
“We like to say we are the four least important people in the room,” Dixon continued. “We surround ourselves with an incredible internal team of gamers and gaming industry big-hitters.”
With this team in place, the*gameHERS was set to launch. And one would think launching such an ambitious endeavor right before COVID hit would have become difficult, but actually, Dixon thinks quarantine helped to build the*gameHERS community, as did the social justice movement which erupted during the summer. People wanted safe spaces, after all, and the*gamerHERS was providing one.
But Dixon thinks what really put them on the map as far as the gaming industry is concerned is the*gameHERS Awards. And for good reason: hosted by esports host Jess Brohard and “glam gamer” Narz, the*gameHERS Awards was a stunning feat which put most other digital award ceremonies in 2020 to shame. And it was their first-ever awards ceremony.
The team got the idea after studying the other current gaming-related award ceremonies. “We thought there was a place for an award show created, produced, and honoring women from beginning to end,” Dixon reasoned. And, judging by the ecstatic expressions of every single award-winner, that reasoning was spot-on.
But the event wasn’t planned to be as organization-defining as it ended up being; actually, the scale of The*gamerHERS Awards organically snowballed. “I can’t even tell you how fast we put that together!” Dixon exclaimed. The team started planning The*gameHERS Awards in the summer, but “the more it came together, it got bigger and bigger and got more momentum, it got more votes,” Dixon said. “In the middle of the process we were like, ‘This is gonna be a big deal. We need to make sure that the actual show is really incredible.’”
“We knew that the awards model was a good way to grow recognition and community in order to stay true to our mission, which was to amplify and elevate women in gaming,” Dixon continued. “What we didn’t know is how the industry would respond to it. And it was absolutely amazing. It went viral on Twitter, it got the attention of Twitch, which put us on the front page. And it gave us the opportunity to really have our own kind of brand name in the industry.”
The awards themselves were refreshingly varied, spanning between five categories: Community, Content Creation, Esports, Gaming, and Industry. It meant that Twitch streamers were celebrated in the same fashion as the team behind Overwatch – which is a perfect snapshot of the*gameHERS’ inclusive, celebratory attitude. People in the gaming industry even began to approach Dixon and the other co-founders with sentiments like, “My friend was nominated for an award! She has been in the industry for 10 years – she deserved that so much. I’m so excited that she had the opportunity to be honored.”
“That just made us feel really good,” Dixon reflected, “because that is literally why we launched the company.”
The*gameHERS team is already planning for the next Awards, which will take place in November and be even bigger in scale.
The*gameHERS Awards were so well-received, the company decided to continue the momentum with the Dream Stream, a five-week series on Twitch. The Dream Stream celebrated the nominees of five of gameHERS Awards categories. All the finalists got an opportunity to be highlighted and take over the stream for a night.
“It’s fun to see the excitement around providing these women with a place to really shine, because they deserve that,” Dixon said. “And we’re really excited about it.”
Of course, people as ambitious as Dixon and her colleagues aren’t content just to have a couple irons in the fire – the fireplace of the*gameHERS is legitimately full. For one thing, they’ve already completed two seasons of their podcast, Let’s Play, which is hosted by actress Kaili Vernoff (aka Susan Grimshaw from Red Dead Redemption II.)
The co-founders met Vernoff right at the beginning of the*gameHERS’ origins, and the two parties clicked immediately. Dixon is thrilled to have Vernoff on board, especially since Susan Grimshaw is a great example of a strong female character who, instead of being sexualized, is a total badass.
On Let’s Play, Vernoff interviews everyone from fellow actors to game designers to writers, and she’s corralled a huge portion of the Red Dead team to come support. “They all really came behind us,” Dixon reflects. “We love them. They’re a big part of our identity.”
Dixon also excitedly told me about the*gameHERS’ upcoming professional bootcamp, which will be from March 19th through the 21st on the*gameHERS Twitch and Discord channels. “The idea behind the bootcamp is that it’s really hard to envision a career in gaming if you can’t see it,” Dixon explained. “There are a lot of other organizations that are doing similar things now, too, which is great… If anybody is in the business – whether it’s from the nonprofit perspective or a brand perspective – providing more opportunities for women in gaming, then we’re allies with that.”
The*gameHERS bootcamp will include a whole slew of events: educational webinars, opportunities to meet with mentors, a virtual happy hour, and scholarship giveaways. Excitingly, it will also serve as the launch of the*gameHERS college program.
“We decided that if we are going to really make a difference in the situation, for women in the world of gaming, we had to intentionally address college-aged women,” Dixon said. “The college space in gaming is very robust – and it’s very fragmented.”
Colleges will have the opportunity to have gameHERS chapters on campus – “if that feels authentic to them,” Dixon qualified – to offer female gaming communities a place to come together. For colleges which already have esports teams and/or gaming clubs, the*gameHERS is hoping to be an additional resource. “They’ll have access to our Discord and to various mentors and professional opportunities and raffles, and support with events and things like that,” Dixon explained.
Additionally, the*gameHERS team has been hard at work on an app, whose beta will launch in May with a full launch in the summer. The*gameHERS app will be a networking and matchmaking resource to connect women who game with each other. “They’ll have control over the safety and the privacy aspects of it,” Dixon furthered. “They’ll connect, schedule games, go play the game, come back, socialize.”
The app will be free to use, but “the micro transactions are really neat,” Dixon said, “because there are going to be opportunities to gift their friends or their opponents things like a congratulatory glass of champagne, or a cup of coffee for friends who have an interview the next day. Which we think will be really exciting, because our community likes to build each other up and support each other.”
In fact, this mutual celebration is a huge part of the*gameHERS ethos. In their original surveys and focus groups, Dixon and her co-founders found women gamers craved spaces not just to empathize with each other over experienced toxic environments, but – perhaps even more so – to focus on the positive experiences gaming has given them. They want to celebrate how they’ve met friends or created job opportunities for themselves through gaming.
“We wanted to shine a light in the darkness, because if you google ‘women in gaming,’ the first things that are going to come up are all of the bad stuff,” Dixon said. “And not to say at all that stuff shouldn’t be focused on… [but] there’s so many wonderful stories to tell, about really positive gaming experiences and opportunities that women have.”
Many of these gamers also want to discuss how gaming has helped them cope with trauma, mental illness, and ADHD – something I and many other Stropse writers also hold close to our hearts. In fact, one of the*gameHERS’ partners is the Center for Suicide Awareness. Dixon’s thoughts on the matter echo the feelings of the whole community: “How wonderful that, in such a scary time in life, gaming can have such a positive influence.”
Supporting nonprofits and charities which share the*gameHERS’ values are incredibly important to the team. The*gameHERS are hoping that charity streams will be a constant throughout 2021. “Charity streams are such a fun and effective way to connect the world of gaming with the world of impact,” Dixon continued.
So, the*gameHERS aren’t going anywhere – the community is only getting bigger, and the presence more pronounced. Dixon hopes that, once in-person events are feasible again, you’ll see gameHERS representation at PAX and other cons. “We’re providing a place for women who game to connect safely,” Dixon concluded. “And so we want to be where they are.”
And that, for all the femme-identifying gamers who have been looking for someone to have their back, comes as a huge relief.