Video gaming: Women at play | The Financial Express

Video gaming: Women at play

As much as 43% of smartphone gamers in India are women.

Women @ play
Meet some gamers with a serious engagement with the game to know what keeps them hooked. (Manisha Mehta, Kanika Bisht, Muskan Sethi, Mitsu Chavda, Khushveen Kaur, Monika)

It’s not just guns and gore in the world of video gaming any longer. As gaming attracts people across ages and gender, women are also taking to it as a form of relaxation, social connect and even a profession. As much as 43% of smartphone gamers in India are women. Meet some gamers with a serious engagement with the game to know what keeps them hooked

Did you know that 18% of all gamers in India are women? If you narrow it down to smartphone gamers, the figure for women goes as high as 43% and this is across all age groups. The numbers, highlighted by the ‘Think with Google APAC—Play like a Girl’ report released in 2021, also revealed that the number of women gamers is increasing at a faster rate than that of their male counterparts in India.

These women are part of a growing community of gamers who are not just playing casually but also competing professionally or getting involved in the space, some even becoming successful content creators. They are increasingly changing the perception that gaming is no longer a man’s domain.

“Affordable Internet and smartphones have given women a level of access to the digital space which may not have been possible in other social spaces. And this is a big reason why women are participating in online games along with other economic and social opportunities that the digital space has to offer,” Roland Landers, CEO of All India Gaming federation (AIGF), the apex industry body for online skill gaming in India, told FE in an earlier report.

According to a Deloitte report published in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), about 30% of the registered user base for fantasy sports platforms in India are women, and this number is expected to see a consistent rise over the next few years. “Factors like rising popularity of women’s cricket, gradual increase in participation and recognition of women in other sports like football, etc, have also contributed to the rise in the number of women gamers in fantasy sports,” Joy Bhattacharjya, director-general of the FIFS, a self-regulatory body for fantasy sports in India, shared with FE in the same report.

We profile a few women who are redefining the concept of gaming in India by either participating in major tournaments and paid contests, generating content for social media, generating income, or simply working towards the development of the sector:

Manisha Mehta, New Delhi

Delhi-based Manisha Mehta was first introduced to online poker by one of her friends, who used to play it regularly. “From there, I started exploring different games online. Of all the games I enjoy, poker is by far my favourite. I find it really engaging,” says the postgraduate degree holder in commerce.

Thus began her online gaming journey. Asked why she chose poker, Mehta replies: “Poker is definitely my go-to game. It’s mentally stimulating, and I’ve learned a lot from playing it, like discipline and money management. That’s why I love it so much.”

Mehta, 29, works full-time at a multinational company and enjoys playing poker also as a way to relax and unwind. While she hasn’t entered any major tournaments yet, she regularly takes part in paid contests and poker tournaments on the Mobile Premier League (MPL) app. She has also won cash rewards but doesn’t want to disclose the amount (owing to personal reasons).

“They have a variety of tables, with different entry fees, and ‘head-to-head’ competitions. I also enjoy the opportunity to connect with other players from different backgrounds and skill levels. I find that by participating in these small competitions, I am able to improve my skills, learn new techniques and strategies, and prepare myself if I take part in a big tournament in the future,” she explains.

In terms of social media, Mehta doesn’t have her own channel, but she does follow some of the top poker players and gaming influencers to stay updated on the latest news and strategies in the industry. “It’s a great way to learn from the best and stay informed about the latest trends and developments in the world of gaming,” she says.

According to Mehta, more and more women are getting into poker as a full-time profession, “which is great to see”. “But unfortunately, there’s still a bit of negative perception around card games. People tend to think they are just based on luck and not skill,” she explains.

This, as per Mehta, can make it tough for players, especially women players, to pursue the game professionally. “Getting support from family can also be a challenge. But attitudes are changing, and more people are realising how mentally stimulating and skill-based poker can be. If we can get more awareness and education out there, I’m sure we’ll see even more women taking up the sport. It’s important for society to recognise the skill and mental stimulation involved in games like poker, and for more women to be encouraged and supported in pursuing a career in the industry,” she says.

Let’s not forget, the gaming industry is not just limited to poker. There are tons of different types of games out there like first-person shooters, sports games, and more.

“I believe women in India can definitely make a career out of any of these genres, as long as they are passionate and motivated. The industry is constantly growing and evolving; so, there are plenty of opportunities to make a career out of gaming,” Mehta adds.

Kanika Bisht, Pune

On streaming platforms, Kanika Bisht goes by the name of ‘Kani Gaming’. Based in Pune, her journey as a game streamer started four years ago. “Back then, I was pursuing modelling and came across some BGMI (Battlegrounds Mobile India) and PUBG videos from YouTubers like Dynamo and Mortal. Their videos grabbed my attention, and I couldn’t resist and downloaded the games,” she says.

On her channel, Bisht often streams Valorant—a free-to-play first-person tactical hero shooter game —along with other games. “I think playing other games is a fun way to engage with my audience and makes it more engaging,” she adds.

In the past, Bisht has participated in a few esports tournaments. “As a streamer, social media is important to stay connected with my audience. I have an Instagram handle that goes by the name @kanikaluv, and I stream on Loco (a leading esports and live game streaming platform) and YT (YouTube) as well. Do check out my stream on Loco,” she says.

According to Bisht, women have thrived and excelled in every sphere of life and gaming is no exception. “We can safely say that women can pursue gaming as a full-time career. In fact, it is exciting to see the number of women gamers dramatically growing over the years and this goes to prove that gaming is no longer a male-dominated sector. All that is required is practice, passion, and commitment towards the sport,” she says.

However, women streamers are evaluated more on their appearance than on their gaming prowess, laments Bisht. “Video games and esports have typically been referred to as sports for men and misogynists are everywhere with the opinion that ‘girls can’t play better than boys’. Women gamers’ abilities have long been questioned, and they need to put in twice the effort to establish their identities and persuade viewers that they are capable of playing and streaming games,” she says.

“Competing with men has, thus, been a foreign concept. However, things have started changing today and the day is not far when men and women will be treated equally in the esports and gaming industry,” adds Bisht.

Muskan Sethi, New Delhi

Muskan Sethi, 33, took an avid interest in sports while growing up and extensively used to engage in strategy games. However, the Delhi resident was introduced to poker by her father, and she has not looked back since then.

“I was instantly drawn to poker as it offered the challenge and learning opportunity I always seek in a game. Further, my husband first introduced me to the world of online poker, and I enjoy it thoroughly as it gives me an opportunity to connect and play with players around the globe,” says Sethi.

From the beginning, Sethi has always been drawn toward games which are strategy and skill-based in nature. Poker has been her favourite all along because it is a step higher in terms of difficulty levels. She explains why: “Poker is a skill-based game on par with chess. But it goes a step farther since in chess, everything is on the board and the player must make his moves accordingly. However, because the cards are hidden in poker, you must mentally compute all the permutations and combinations. At the same time, you’ll have to read your opponent’s thinking, body language, and so on. So, a poker player must decipher all that information flow in split seconds to outwit the competition.”

Sethi has participated in several international and national tournaments. One of the most prominent ones was when she was selected to represent India among 70,000 players for a tournament in Barcelona, Spain. She has also been a part of the world series of poker on several occasions since she started playing poker professionally, most recently in July 2022. “I think my claim to fame happened when I blocked the biggest poker player in the world and word got out that there was a girl from India who plays poker. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have also been a part of Shark Cage (a poker-based TV series) in the past. I am also going to contribute ardently towards creating a lot of edutainment content and drive awareness for poker in India,” she adds.

In India, Sethi has been a part of many tournaments as well, including the National Poker Series. On YouTube, she has a channel called the ‘The A-Game with Muskan’ in which she discusses various trends that are now prevalent in India and has a one-on-one discussion with unique personalities. “Though it has been difficult maintaining regularity on it considering my poker and entrepreneurial commitments,” she laments.

She is the most active on Instagram. “I share everything related to my life and the sport of poker there, whether it is about my associations, my fitness routine, poker tips and the list goes on,” she says.

Sethi says it’s encouraging to see so many women entering the gaming arena and making a mark for themselves. “I feel that today any game is not confined to any gender. All are equal on the field or at the table. The skills and passion make it the deciding factor in any game. When it comes to poker, though it is more skewed towards men, we have certainly seen an uptake since the time I started for the longest part. I used to be the only girl on the Indian poker circuit,” she explains.

“Further, we have seen a real uptake when it comes to e-sports in terms of women participation. There are so many women players who are also streaming on channels like Twitch, and it is really encouraging. I believe the next two to three years will be a deciding factor for women in gaming. Slowly but gradually, we are certainly considering it as a mainstream profession much like chess has found its takers,” she adds.

Sethi, however, feels the biggest challenge is the mindset. “Whenever we talk about sports like poker there is an instant mental block, especially among women. While the situation is changing, the curve is slower because of the sport still being new in the country. I think poker is one such sport where everyone is equal at the table,” she adds.

The way forward, according to her, is where more women are made to realise that gaming is one place where it is all about mind and no other factor matters. “If you are good at your sport, the men are making a mistake by underestimating us,” she says.

“The government must take into consideration the participation of women and accordingly consider including safe game play rules in India. When a state bans online gaming, we are automatically put into the category of criminals and this is very discouraging as a player,” adds Sethi.

Mitsu Chavda, Surat

Mitsu Chavda has been into gaming for more than a decade now. In her teenage days, the 29-year-old lawyer used to play games such as Super Mario, Contra and Adventure Island and has since ‘evolved’ into titles such as Counter-Strike, Dota, Clash of Clans, Mobile Legends and Fortnite on her PC to Garena Free Fire, PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty on her mobile phone. Every day, the Surat resident makes it a point to play for at least two hours at night, a ritual which she also calls a ‘stress-buster’.

As a gamer, Chavda understands the nuances and needs of the industry. Hence, she also chose to be an esports lawyer working towards the development of the esports sector in India.

According to Chavda, India has seen an increase in women participation not only in the education sector but across all sectors including gaming. “Also, there is the factor of affordability and the fact that almost every middle-class family member in India has a smartphone. There is now a non-oppressive mindset as far as raising a girl is considered. This gives them the freedom to look around other fields such as gaming,” she says.

Chavda feels women players are mostly into games such as BGMI and Free Fire, mostly because of the high marketing their publishers do and also due to the high number of active players. “There is also a lack of awareness that women can’t reach the communities of other games. But I’ve seen a lot of women playing games like Valorant and Call of Duty: Mobile,” she adds.

Talking about challenges, Chavda feels cyber space in India hasn’t been a golden space for people to be a part of, mainly women. “At times, women face a lot of backlashes, be it the comments they pass, the way they look, they play or talk, and God knows what not. There have also been instances of doxing,” she explains, adding: “Demeaning and derogatory comments, which sometimes reach their families, are also reasons that pull back women from gaming and those wanting to start.”

Chavda has taken part in a number of unofficial tournaments and has won some of them too, but she has not competed in any official events so far. “To compete in official tournaments, you need a team with whom you grind day and night. A good team consists of all the necessary factors. I might lack certain skills, but my squad mate would make up for it. Being a lawyer, I always jump from one game to another. Whenever there is a new game, I just move on to it. I start playing any game when they are in the beta testing mode or during its alpha version, and hence I connect with the players from the very start,” she adds.

Chavda feels women can surely take up professional gaming as a full-time profession. “Internationally, we do have full-time women professional players like Sasha Hostyn or Janet Rose, and Sarah Harisson. India has Monika ‘sherlock’, Xyaa, Saloni Panwar ‘meow16k’ and Khushveen Kaur ‘GodL RebL’,” she adds.

Khushveen Kaur, Mohali

Khushveen Kaur, 21, was raised in Jalandhar, Punjab, but she is currently residing in Mohali with her mother and sister. As a child, she used to play a lot of video games on various consoles and devices, but she never thought that this passion would eventually become a career option.

“I’ve been playing video games since the age of 8 years. Since my childhood days, I have been very active and was into a lot of sports. I have many achievements in martial arts (karate, tang soo do, taekwondo), cricket and basketball as well. My parents got me enrolled into a karate school for learning self-defence. I remember, at the age of 6 years, I played my very first karate tournament at the national level and bagged the first position,” says Kaur.

Kaur’s dream was to represent India at an international level in platforms like the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. But unfortunately, at the age of 17 years, she had a major spine surgery which shattered this dream of hers. “The doctors strictly told me not to continue with martial arts any longer. And because of this surgery, I had to drop out of school and stay at home for a long while,” she says.

This took a toll on her mental health. “I got depressed, not only because of my broken dream but the environment at home was also very negative because of the constant arguments between my father and mother. That’s when I got even more into playing video games, as an escape from reality,” she adds.

A few months later, a friend told her about this new game that had been released. It was PUBG. “I didn’t really want to try it because it was a battle royale game (an online multiplayer video game genre) and I was more into single-player or story-mode games. But then, one day, my cousins gathered and decided to play this game. I fell in love with it. I used to play it day and night. A few months after playing this game, I heard about a PUBG tournament (PUBG Mobile India Series) that was being hosted in India and it had a huge prize pool. It was then when I got to know about esports,” she explains.

Since then, Kaur has been working really hard to get better at this game. “I am now,” she says proudly, adding: “And now, finally I can make my dream of representing India at an international level. I also earn enough from esports and streaming.”

Kaur is a BGMI ‘esports athlete’ for a team called ‘godlike’. So, you’ll find her playing BGMI most of the time. But apart from that, she also likes to play various story-mode or single-player games. One of her favourites is Uncharted. “I’ve completed all the series of this game twice or thrice and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it. I also enjoy playing multiplayer sports games,” she says.

Being an esports athlete, Kaur has participated in many official/unofficial PUBG and BGMI tournaments and has won a number of times, too. On her Instagram account (@godlrebel), she has around 50,000 followers and she usually posts gaming content and some fun reels, too. Apart from that, she also has a YouTube channel with 89,000 subscribers, where she usually streams different games and posts gaming-related content and vlogs.

When asked if women in India can take up gaming as a full-time profession, or is it still just a hobby for many, Kaur says many girls currently are pursuing gaming as a career and this is not something new.  “Many of them are working to establish themselves as full-time gamers,” she says.

According to Kaur, the current gaming community in India has members aged as low as 10 years to over 25-year-olds. “We do have a lot of mature people but a few of them are misogynists or derive pleasure from randomly making lewd comments, as they know most of them won’t be tracked. These are some of the many hateful things we have to endure. But, overall, with a lot of positives from fans, we keep going. I guess just supporting them is the best way to make it a completely inclusive community without bias,” she adds.

Monika, New Delhi

Monika, 25, is better known as ‘Savage Girl’ across the Indian gaming community. She has always been a lover of video games. As a kid, it was Mario, Contra, Need for Speed (NFS) and more. “But when I started playing video games professionally, I dabbled in different games and found my love in BGMI. I love the thrill of this game. From random to custom rooms to different PC games like Grand Theft Auto, Pacify, Human: Fall Flat, etc, I like to experiment with my routine. At times, you can also find me randomly raiding on fellow gamers,” says the resident of Delhi.

Although she started playing early in life, Monika got hooked to gaming only in her college days at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in Delhi, where she saw her friends playing PUBG. “I play on a daily basis, usually for a few hours in the evening. My favourite games are BGMI and PUBG New State because they are very engaging and require a lot of strategy and skill,” says the BTech degree holder.

Monika has taken part in several professional gaming challenges and tournaments. However, it’s on social media where she is the most active. On her YouTube channel (@SavageGIRLGaming), for instance, she has over 2,50,000 subscribers and counting. “I stream my gameplay and interact with other gamers (through the channel),” she adds.

She believes that women in India can definitely take up gaming as a full-time profession. “It is a rapidly growing industry and there are many opportunities for women to make a career out of it,” she says, adding: “However, the main challenges that women gamers in India face are lack of representation and support in the gaming industry. Many women are not encouraged to pursue gaming as a career and are not given the same opportunities as men.”

However, she feels this is slowly changing as more and more women are getting involved in the gaming industry. “The way forward is to continue to promote women in gaming and to create more opportunities for us in the industry,” she adds.

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First published on: 29-01-2023 at 01:30 IST