Ashlee Acquarola is a 32-year-old school administrator and mum of two kids. She’s been hooked on video games since she was eight years old.
“I’ve always taken pride in being a female gamer, because everyone thinks that gaming is a boy’s domain. Typically it’s such a guy thing to do. But I’m like, no, I’ve got a couple of friends who all play video games,” the Kew mum says.
Ashlee Acquarola and kids (from left) Sienna, Amber and Jaxon.Credit:Justin McManus
While video gamers are often stereotyped by the media as “young males in their mothers’ basements, often with negative associations to aggressive and antisocial behaviour… This is far from the reality,” says Dr James Birt, Associate Professor of Computer Games in the Faculty of Society and Design at Bond University.
In fact, women account for almost 50 per cent of the gamers in Australia, according to data from Digital Australia’s 2022 Report.
“Two-thirds of Australians, or more than 17 million people, play video games, with women accounting for 46 per cent,” he says.
“When data is broken down by age group, 68 per cent of 18-64-year olds play games, with females playing on average 70 minutes per day broken up between one to three times per day for between 5 and 10 minutes at a time.”
Mother of one Chantal Ryan is still spellbound by the magic of gaming and its ability to draw her into “strange and entertaining stories.”
Chantal Ryan is a PC game coder and designer of games. Women are a huge audience for games, and mums are a big part of it in Australia.Credit:Roy Vandervegt
“I remember playing The Adventures of Captain Comic when I was, oh, barely four or so—so in 1993. My grandparents had just purchased a computer and it was magic,” she says.
“Even when I’m playing a competitive multiplayer game that doesn’t seem to have a story, really, we the players are making the story of that game. I love experiencing bizarre situations and video games are perfect for really drawing you into those. I suppose they separate you from the banality of life a bit.”
Video gaming, which includes digital games such as those on mobiles, consoles, streaming and PC, is a US$196.8 billion industry with more than 3.198 billion players globally according to the 2022 Newzoo Global Games Market Report.
While research into gaming is extensive, research into specific categories of players, particularly parents who game, is under-researched says Dr Fae Heaselgrave, lecturer and researcher in communication and media at the University of South Australia.
“Industry data focuses on gender rather than parents. We know, for example, there are almost 50 per cent of women in Australia who play video games but how many of these are mothers is currently unknown,” she says.
To help fill the gap, Heaselgrave and her colleague, game designer and game design lecturer at the University of South Australia, Dr Susannah Emery, are researching parents who game as part of the Play and Pause study.
In Heaselgrave’s previous research, she found mums play for a variety of reasons, such as to fill time in between appointments or domestic chores, but also as a means of escaping from the everyday pressures of parenting.
“For some mothers, video gaming helps them connect with family and friends, and particularly to feel closer with children. But my research also found gaming is a nostalgic experience for mothers who may have once played more action-oriented games and for more intensive periods of time before having children,” she says.
That’s the case for both Ryan and mum of two, Felicity Peters.
“I have been gaming for as long as I can remember. As a child I would get to use my dad’s old Atari system on the occasional weekend. From there I started playing computer games until me and my brother got our first PlayStation for Christmas one year,” Peters says.
But now, as an adult and a parent, Peters finds that gaming allows many advantages not provided by other hobbies or activities.
Chantal with son Azel, 8, who also codes.Credit:Roy Vandervegt
“As a mum I love gaming because it is another outlet where I can connect with my kids. It’s great to be able to share the same interests and be involved in their hobbies and interests.”
Carlie Birt, mum of two, agrees.
“As my children enjoy games it means we can do these games together which is fun for everyone. It also means I can discuss games with them,” she says.
For Acquarola and her kids, Amber, 6, and Jackson, 10, video games are played together in the living room.
Along with traditional family activities like board games, it’s a way to bond and be competitive with each other.
Gaming is also her favourite way to unwind, a time just for her to chill out and not focus on her adult responsibilities.
“Don’t like to play as much as I want to – I work full time and have two kids, but I do try to sneak it in every now and then,” she said.
With Carla Jaeger
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