It wasn’t until Ellie Dewhurst was fully immersed in her hobby that she realised she had accidentally morphed into someone else.
At some point, without realising it, the Melbourne woman had taken on the identity of a young boy.
In the video gaming world, she somehow had slowly found that being a female threw up boundaries she just simply didn’t deserve to face.
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So she tried to exude a more masculine energy simply “to fly under the radar” — no feminine gamer tag, no flowers or butterflies as a profile picture.
“I used to get a bit weird about boys and men knowing I was female when I first started gaming,” she told 9News.
“It was a lot of online playing and interacting with strangers who would froth knowing I’m a ‘gamer girl’ — which just felt demeaning, I suppose.”
And it’s not an isolated story — for many women in the gaming community, feeling judged for their gender is constant.
These days, Ellie says she’s developed a confidence to not have to worry about her gender.
But even in a world with a growing number of female players, she says many male gamers are still shocked when they realise who’s holding the other controller.
“They would ask things like, ‘how old are you?’ and ‘where are you from?'” she said.
“I’ve also received things like ‘no offence, but I wouldn’t expect you to play video games’, whatever that means.”
‘I was afraid of playing video games because I was a girl’
The misconception that women can’t play video games is an ongoing battle that women in the industry say they aren’t giving up on.
Meet Dhayana Sena, a passionate crusader leading Australia’s fight for equality and diversity within the video game community.
She wants the next generation of girls to start gaming more and caring less about what people think, and she aims to do that with an online community she’s created called Women of Xbox.
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As the name may suggest, Xbox is front and centre, but Dhayana insists she wants to support and empower female gamers from all platforms and backgrounds.
“I was always afraid of any pushback that I would get for playing games because I was a girl,” she says.
“I wanted to share the stories that we women face out there into the world in the hopes that others might see, others might identify with it, and maybe they’ll start talking about it as well.”
Dhayana, aka MissDeusGeek, says one of the main things that helped her come out of her shell and embrace her new found passion was the online community.
Women of Xbox is “essentially just a safe space for women and girls to come together”.
“I found a community of people who welcomed me with open arms, who didn’t care about my race or my gender,” she said.
Before moving to Melbourne, Dhayana was the first female in New Zealand to partner with Microsoft’s streaming service, Mixer.
The lawyer by trade made the decision to step off the scales of justice and pick up the Xbox controller near six years ago and says she has not looked back.
“If you’re not comfortable going out and meeting people in real life, the online virtual communities and events is probably a good place to start.”
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Push to change the face of games
Diversity is not just restricted to the gaming community, it’s also spreading to video games themselves.
Female characters are taking charge in dozens of modern AAA titles including, Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last of Us, Half-Life: Alyx and in the recent Marvel’s Avengers video game the main character, Kamala Khan, is a female Muslim Pakistani-American.
While game studios are improving their inclusivity, there’s still a ways to go, Dhayana says.
“We have games like Tomb Raider and Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn … a lot of these companies are now slowly trying to integrate more diversity into their games with more accessibility,” she said.
Dhayana says she has an appreciation for classic characters like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider but, like many, doesn’t agree with the character’s sexualisation.
“It’s unfortunate at times that she’s (Lara Croft) highly sexualised, which doesn’t need to be the case,” she said.
“My advice to any girls, women, young or old, who want to get into gaming, whether it’s a career or just as a hobby, is to find that community that feels right for them.”
Dhayana offers a world of encouragement to women of all ages.
“Find a game you enjoy. Find your people. As long as you feel safe and comfortable,” she says.
“Do what you love doing. Don’t let anyone stop you.”
You can follow her on twitter @MissDeusGeek or see more of her work here.