When Mumbai-based Srishti Millicent lost her job during the first lockdown, she fell into a spiral of depression and anxiety. The world outside was still reeling under the effects of the coronavirus and Millicent was left without a stable income. After ruminating on intrusive thoughts for days, she decided to snap out of it by picking up her gaming console to stay motivated and alert. “I am just glad it (the console) arrived right before the first lockdown hit. Gaming really helped me stay sane,” she says. However, this wasn’t her first time gaming. Millicent started when she was in primary school, on an old PC, and gradually moved to a second-hand Nintendo console. Summer break, as she recalls, was the best time for gaming. “I dedicated most of my free time to five games that I wanted to finish before school re-opened,” she explains.
Female gamers are on the rise in India, and Millicent is one of them. According to a study by Google, India has 5.4 million gamers – that’s more than the population of New Zealand. In a subculture that’s usually associated with men, a growing legion of women game enthusiasts are here to reclaim online spaces and consoles. Women are usually stereotyped as bad players, or used to playing so-called ‘easy games’, but female gamers themselves disagree. The term ‘girl gamer’, in itself, is a loaded one, it’s sometimes used to tease women gamers, alluding to them as bad players, and sometimes it’s used to fetishise them.
India isn’t shying away from the gaming boom. YouTube trends reveal that gaming has picked up over the past year, with some of the country’s top gaming channels being headed by women. Their gaming content is more relevant and accessible due to inside jokes, cultural references, and some channels even creating content entirely in regional languages. Millions of subscribers on these channels show one thing – YouTube has emerged as a space for female creators in gaming to find their own voice, and their own audience.
Shiny Kash, a gaming YouTuber from New Delhi, spent her teenage years following popular gamers like PewDiePie. While preparing for her 12th grade finals, she wondered if starting her own channel would ever be possible. “I spent so much time watching other gamers, what if people logged on to YouTube to watch me?” she says. Soon, she started her channel on the platform with videos and streams on PUBG. This was in 2018, when PUBG was one of the most popular games in India. Her fun approach and jokes led to her audience swelling, something she had never expected but was happy with. Much of her content included videos and commentary on PUBG, but when the game was banned by the government in 2020, Kash was left without a back-up plan. “I didn’t even have the time to process my feelings. My first thought was, what will I create content out of? My audience knew me only for PUBG-related videos,” she recalls.
In some gaming communities, PUBG is looked down upon as “too easy” and “overrated”. However, it cannot be ignored that before its ban, it was one of the most popular games in India and had a huge online following. Due to its popularity and access, it meant more traction for digital creators. In July, PUBG re-entered the Indian market with the name ‘Battlegrounds Mobile India’, also known as BGMI. The game was developed by PUBG’s parent company, Krafton.inc, exclusively for Indian users. Shiny was elated to have PUBG, or rather a PUBG-like game, back in her life, “I spent weeks playing games like GTA or Getting Over It but I’m finally happy to have a familiar game in my life again,” she says.
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