Where are the Women?

After spending two consecutive weeks at game development lectures (GDC and EA DevCon), I was shocked and saddened to see how few women attended either event. Some thoughts:

Where are the Women?

I was fortunate enough to attend the 2013 GDC lectures and speak at EA DevCon this past week.  In both cases, I found myself surrounded by wonderful, friendly game development professionals. Yet there was something about both crowds that didn’t feel quite right.  Something that made me feel like I was somewhere in the Twilight Zone.  

Both crowds were nearly devoid of females. 

Sometimes I forget the male/female ratio is exceedingly skewed.  For nearly seven years, I’ve had the good fortune of working on The Sims; though women are the minority, I’ve worked with several amazing, brilliant female animators, modelers, concept artists, sound designers, game designers, producers and engineers.  Not only have I been treated respectfully by my male counterparts, but I’ve often heard them compliment the work and ideas of their female coworkers. 

So why are there so few women in the industry?
1. The game industry, as a whole, fails to capture the hearts and minds of women.
2: Misogyny does exist; reading through nightmare situations described through "#1reaonwhy" makes my heart sink.
3. STEM/STEAM (A for Art) is still in its infancy.  I’m not going to delve into the STEM/STEAM issue here, but our archaic, industrial age educational system has failed to encourage young women to pursue careers in game development. 

1. The game industry fails to capture the hearts and minds of women.
Most game developers, male or female, simply want to work on projects that interest, challenge and excite them.  

We find ourselves in a rather unfortunate cycle (and yes, I’m over-simplifying here):  
a. Most game developers are male.

b. Most male developers want to work on male-centric or gender neutral games. 
c. With a known male market and male developers already in place, resources are allocated to male-centric games. 
d. Boys grow up playing games that appeal to their interests; many are naturally drawn to careers in the game industry.  Alienated by the game industry as a whole, most girls never consider a career in games.  Though “games for girls” do exist, they tend to have low-production values, are patronizing and juvenile.
e. Rinse and repeat.

We can’t expect male developers to feel excited about developing titles that appeal specifically to women.  If a team’s not passionate about the project they’re working on, the end result will be horrible.  Though some women love FPS titles (more power to them!), compared to the entire potential female audience, they are few and far between. 

So what makes a game appeal to a male or female audience?  

Brian McDonald put it best in his brilliant book, Invisible Ink:
“There are action films, full of excitement, in which lots of things blow up and tons of people are killed, which men just love and which bore most women stiff because they are devoid of emotion. 

Conversely, there are stories that bore men because they seem so slow and plodding-films that deal with the emotional lives of people but seem to have no story or forward movement.”

He goes on to say, “Things that affect a character physically are masculine and are visible ink.  How he feels about them is feminine and invisible.  If you can strike a balance between these two elements, your story stands a better chance of resonating with audiences.” 

Notice, he doesn’t say anything about production quality.  The assumption that females prefer simple, casual games to complex AAA titles is absurd and condescending.  We simply haven’t seen a female-centric AAA title surface yet.  

He also doesn’t say that men only like emotionless action and women only like action-free emotion.  Most people prefer one side over the other, but can connect with elements from both. 

Thankfully, there are fantastic gender-neutral games being developed by indie teams and mid-sized game studios.  For example, Telltale’s The Walking Dead is filled with story, intriguing character relations, difficult decisions, tension, emotion and action.

As smaller-budget, gender-neutral games rise in popularity, might more females be drawn to game development?   Might we finally see the rise of AAA gender-neutral titles?  

2: Misogyny is a problem in the game industry.
Of course we should be concerned when a woman attending a game event is mistaken as the “hired help” or groped on the expo floor.  While it’s important to bring these issues to the table, do most male game developers really treat women with disrespect or do a few bad apples give the entire industry a bad rap? 

Though I’ve spent most of my professional life on female-friendly Sims teams, I have a spattering of friends, old coworkers and acquaintances at several different game companies.  Game developers, both male and female, are some of the nicest, smartest, friendliest, interesting and most supportive people I know.  

Despite the negative experiences many women have encountered, from lack of trust to booth babes, true passion is stronger than fear or anger.  While misogynistic attitudes drive some women away and need to be confronted, the industry simply has failed to provide a wide range of quality titles that appeal to female interests.

Join us!

So to the girls and women considering a career in the game industry, I sincerely hope you join us!  Developers, companies and audiences alike will benefit from your energy, intellect and unique perspectives.  I can’t promise that you will never encounter misogyny, but I do know that there are many wonderful men and women that will respect, support and welcome you!  The stronger we are in numbers, the more respect we will gain, the healthier our industry will become and the more creative, intelligent, challenging, fun, female-friendly games we will create!

This is reposted from my blog, Vivie Salon:

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