#1reasonwhy Women in the Gaming Industry Matters
Jennifer deWinter / Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Carly Kocurek / Illinois Institute of Technology

No1 Reason

A series of Tweets captured January 17, 2013 show reactions to Dead Island Riptide’s marketing.

Last November, the #1reasonwhy hashtag appeared in response to Like Crane’s seemingly innocuous tweet “Why are there so few lady game creators?” to chronicle sexism in the gaming industry. The resultant tweets list offenses that make the characters of Mad Men seem like pioneers of gender equality.

While many of the tweets detail personal experiences of marginalization and alienation, others directly address industry practices. For example, the release of a “hand painted figurine” of a decapitated, limbless, female torso clad only in a union jack bikini and shredded flesh triggered a torrent of disgusted tweets.

A promotional image featuring the offending figurine

A promotional image featuring the offending figurine

The #1reasonwhy hashtag unleashed a torrent of responses from industry women and women gamers. Several media outlets have written about #1reasonwhy, including Kotaku, Forbes, Time and The Guardian. Without rehashing existing coverage several months after the fact, we do want to talk about the stakes of this particular conversation. Why, after all, does it matter that women and girls are discouraged from participating in the gaming industry or gaming culture?

To complement #1reasonwhy, game writer Rhianna Pratchett created the #1reasontobe hashtag to enable women to celebrate the things they love about working in the industry. Indeed, while attending the Montreal International Games Summit in 2012, we spoke with an artist who left her position with a large gaming company because of the “toxic environment” created by sexist coworkers. She had her portfolio of concept and 3D art, seeking a new position. When we asked her why she stayed in this industry, her answer was instantaneous: “Because I love games” — so do the women who make up approximately 50% of gamers. So why are only 11% of game designers women, and more shockingly, only 3% of them programmers? Appalling, you might think, especially in the context that the Boston Globe recently put these numbers: 60% are women in graphic design and 25% are women in the technology industry.

As satisfying as it would be to settle on #1 (major) reason why this disparity matters, this would be a gross oversimplification. Instead, we offer 6 reasons. We realize not all of these will matter to everyone, but we believe that taken in total, these point to a cultural exclusion with ramifications far beyond the confines of the gaming industry.

1. Gaming might be like golf.

Historically, many golf clubs have reserved access based on gender, a tradition which has sparked several lawsuits, in part because the physical removal of women alienates them from important conversations with colleagues. Let’s switch from this analog game analogy to the digital. Social engagement, both through in-game interactions with other players and through participation in out-of-game arenas such as message boards, forums, and conventions can help tie players to a larger community. Social outlets are valuable. However, as networked gaming becomes increasingly mainstreamed, participation in certain types of gaming may become the new golf. More than a few women have taken to following football or other professional sports to more readily engage in banter in professional settings. Similarly, women in particular fields may find gaming a useful means of fostering and maintaining professional networks or engaging in water cooler chatter.

2. Gaming can encourage participation in STEM fields.

The exclusion of women and young girls from gaming culture limits girls’ exposure to technical fields and may discourage them from pursuing related educational and work opportunities. Educational engagement in STEM fields is a major national concern, as evidenced by the the federal funding of research and programs intended to increase participation of girls and underrepresented minorities. Further, as Google has pointed out, this underrepresentation limits the talent pool, which means that companies may not have access to the best workers possible. This theme is picked up in Forbes piece “Women and Video Gaming’s Dirty Little Secrets,” wherein Gabrielle Teledano (executive vice president and chief talent officer of Electronic Arts) argues that EA wants to hire women, but women are not qualified, especially in CS and Engineering. In some ways, she is sadly right. One of our institutions offers a game program, and the number of female students looks abysmally low: 17 women to 115 men. However, this correlates to the number of women in Computer Science—37 to 256. There is hope; research suggests that working with students in middle and high school can help to stop attrition from STEM fields.

Alicia Crawford

Alicia Crawford, winner of the latest Gamers In Real Life (G.I.R.L.) Scholarship
from Sony Online Entertainment and Scholarship America

3. Gaming can encourage participation in artistic fields.

Games are expressive medium. As such, the industry needs artists, writers, and designers. Funding for the arts, sadly, has taken a hit. Gaming, we argue, is a field that offers professional opportunities while still privileging art. Artists who pursue work in gaming are entering a $40 billion industry; they will get paid (albeit unequally—see Game Developer Magazine’s 2011 report on pay inequality). And women are desperately needed there. On his Tumblr post “The Female Perspective in Game Development,” David Gaider of Dragon Age reflected on having women writers on the team: “As it happened, most of the guys went first. Typical stuff— some stuff was good, some stuff needed work, etc. etc. Then one of the female writers went, and she brought up an issue. A big issue. It had to do with a sexual situation in the plot, which she explained could easily be interpreted as a form of rape.” And then all the other women admitted having this on their list as well. What may have been released without this feedback, we wonder.

4. Gaming can teach important skills.

Gaming has demonstrated benefits in areas such as hand-eye coordination, technological proficiency, problem solving, and other areas. Additionally, gaming has been shown to improve the spatial skills of girl gamers, and may in this way provide essential skills for women interested in a host of fields such as geography, engineering, and other arenas. While the STEM educational programs currently targeting women and underrepresented minorities are great, crafting a more welcoming, inclusive gaming culture may make some of the same benefits more widely available.

5. Gaming is a major cultural form.

A 2012 Parks Associates white paper reported that 135 million people in the US play at least one hour of games monthly, compared to 56 million in 2008. Further, the ESA reports that the average US household owns at least one dedicated game console, PC, or smartphone. Given that this is the case, the lack of diversity in the industry is shameful. While many women demonstrate an interest in gaming, few women make it into the industry, and those that do face significant problems (anecdotally evidenced under the #1reasonwhy hashtag). A lack of diversity in the industry contributes to a lack of diversity on screen. The lack of women of color in games is something Racialicious’s LaToya Peterson has written about eloquently (“The Tits Have It: Sexism, Character Design, and the Role of Women in Created Worlds”). It is also something that alienates and excludes players from a vibrant medium that is increasingly central to national culture. To have a major media form serve as an exclusive clubhouse for a fraction of the population amplifies broader cultural schisms.

6. Gaming is enjoyable.

Gaming also provides a form of recreation and fun. In an era wherein we are increasingly seduced by the appeal of “serious” games, we would like to draw attention to the importance of fun, of play, and of recreation. Games can be relaxing. They can provide a social outlet or an enjoyable recreational activity, all of which are valid.

Image Credits:

1. A series of Tweets captured January 17, 2013 show reactions to Dead Island Riptide’s marketing
2. A promotional image featuring the offending figurine
3. Alicia Crawford, winner of the latest Gamers In Real Life (G.I.R.L.) Scholarship from Sony Online Entertainment and Scholarship America

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