The gaming industry has a problem – can beauty brands help fix it?

With more beauty brands teaming up with gaming companies, can gaming finally shake its sexist reputation?

It’s hardly news that the gaming world has a misogyny issue. You only need to look at the recent horrific news regarding video game giant Activision Blizzard (responsible for World of Warcraft and Diablo) and the traumatic details that are coming out in the court documents, with an investigation at Ubisoft Singapore finding harassment rife at the studio in the very same week. It’s clear that in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the gaming industry is still lagging far behind, as one of the last bastions of toxic masculinity and an incubator for harmful male cultures.

But with more of us turning to gaming as a distraction from real life (according to data firm Nielsen the number of gamers in the UK has risen by 28 per cent during the pandemic), the landscape is changing, and with it, perceptions of what a gamer is and who the gaming world is for. And the beauty industry is waking up to that, with many brands recently crossing over into gaming, teaming up with gaming platforms and creators, and even creating games and virtual worlds of their own.

Take for instance skin-care brand Tatcha, who back in July 2020 reimagined Kyoto — the city that inspired the brand — for the popular Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing. The pop-up island (Tatchaland) was initially built to celebrate the launch of the brand’s Rice Wash cleanser. MAC and Givenchy Beauty have also gotten in on the action, allowing gamers playing The Sims 4 and Animal Crossing, respectively, to tailor their avatars in their signature makeup looks.

Then, more recently in the UK, British brand Soap & Glory launched Soap and Glory Land, a VR game where consumers can log on and play bespoke games within three custom Soap & Glory rooms, designed especially for the launch of their latest collections.

“The gaming world has to change and address the issues it has,” notes Lynn Ritson, Global Digital Director at No7 Beauty Company who owns Soap & Glory. “What beauty brands like ours can do is create a safe space where women and beauty loving gamers don’t feel intimidated and uncomfortable. The more beauty brands go into that space, the more these gamers will have a voice and we hope to be a part of those changes that need to happen.”

But before many beauty brands start taking this bold step, there are several things they should bear in mind. Recently e.l.f Cosmetics had to apologise for not including Black creators in the launch event of its Twitch channel, or moderating the many racist and sexist comments the event attracted.

“I think e.l.f didn’t listen to anyone in the gaming space,” notes Cassie Hughes, Content Creator and Co-Founder of Black Twitch UK. “After their initial tweet asking about creators in the space, most popular responses were from black and trans creators on the platform but they didn’t engage with them, interact or include them. Plus, they didn’t moderate comments on their first live stream. I was there from the beginning to end, trolls were leaving comments using the n-word, and phrases like “makeup is for females”. It was just really ignorant, I could see people were getting frustrated.”

Beauty Brands In Gaming

Approached for comment, e.l.f released the following statement: “Our @elfYou channel on Twitch centres around the concept of Game Up or the intersection between gaming and makeup. Our number one priority is to uplift every eye, lip and face and we continue to evolve our channel with hosts and guests spanning all ethnicities, backgrounds and identities and will do so in all future streams.”

When it comes to beauty collaborations, representation is at the forefront of many gamers’ minds. “If beauty brands want to integrate themselves in the gaming space, they need to ensure that all communities who wear makeup are represented in their campaigns,” explains Stephanie Ijoma, CEO of NNESAGA, a gaming platform that champions diversity. “They need to ensure all genders and races, especially black and minority gamers are included.”

Rather than coming in from an already established beauty space, some makeup brands are even being born out of and inspired by the gaming world, such as Gamer Glam Cosmetics and Game Beauty – and are able to better engage and resonate with the community as a result. Others are working directly with streamers and communities, sponsoring their events and live-streams to establish a more authentic presence within the gaming world.

Beauty Brands In Gaming

“I would say brands like these have done an excellent job in including everyone from all different backgrounds,” Ijoma notes. “I have worked with Makeup Revolution via a platform myself and Jay-Ann (Black Girl Gamers) co-produce together called Gamer Girls Night In, the UK’s first gaming, beauty and fashion platform decided to women and non-binary people. We did our very first event last year which was sponsored by Facebook and Makeup Revolution. It was amazing and they were very supportive and catered to everyone.”

Another brand making a successful crossover into gaming was Anastasia Beverly Hills who launched a mini-game and hired a diverse panel of Twitch streamers to promote it, asking them to create a look inspired by the cyberpunk theme of their new palette.

Beauty Brands In Gaming
Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Credit: Nintendo

Among them was body paint artist and Twitch beauty consultant Melissa Croft whose Instagram feed boasts many vivid gamer-inspired beauty looks, proving that the two worlds can overlap. “I like to include stuff from gaming into my creative makeup looks,” she notes. “I combine beauty and my gaming passions together and have had a couple of companies sponsor me. A lot of the time, beauty brands team up with gamers because they want something creative and something fresh, not just cosplay.” Like many, she encountered discrimination as a mixed-race Asian woman in the gaming world. “I used to really enjoy playing Modern Warfare 2. But as soon as I started speaking on voice chat, the entire lobby was like ‘she’s a target’ – they weren’t interested in playing the game anymore, they were interested in targeting me! Or asking me extremely inappropriate sexual questions. I also used to work at Game and I’d experience a lot of men trying to mansplain games I’d already played or laughing in disbelief that I worked there. If beauty brands can help dismantle some of this culture in the gaming world, then good things can honestly come from it. Plus, for a lot of people, it combines their two passions together.”

Beauty Brands In Gaming

Quin Martin aka CtrlAltQuin, is a full-time variety streamer on Twitch who also took part in the Anastasia Beverley Hills campaign. “The gaming community needs to let go of the idea that gamers need to look a certain way,” they explain. “As a non-binary person on stream, I’m often judged by strangers for my looks – so why not be as colourful as possible! Makeup makes me feel confident. I genuinely perform better at competitive games when I’m glowed up! I think it’s amazing that the beauty industry is picking up on that vibe and I hope to see more collaborations in the future that will help highlight more of the colourful, inclusive and non-stereotypical sides of gaming culture.”

Whether beauty brands can help make gaming a less toxic place for those who don’t fit the traditional moulds remains to be seen. But it’s a shift in the right direction and one that could soon pave the way for even more beauty loving women, femme-presenting and non-binary people to engage with the world of video games – and champion the many who already do.

Viola Levy is a freelance beauty writer, and occasional contributor to NME. 

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