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Centipede creator sees lack of diversity in the game industry
April 19, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

April 19, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
More: Video

Industry veteran Dona Bailey paid a visit to NYU-Poly's Game Innovation Lab recently to talk about her experience in Atari's coin-op division in the early 1980s, where she co-developed Centipede along with Ed Logg in 1981.

The talk was brief and touched on Bailey's time in the industry, her experiences as the only woman in her division, and the strides yet to be taken in the industry at large.

"So much progress has been made in the development cycle and the way games are developed," says Bailey, whose Centipede was one of the first games to utilize AI. "It seems like there hasn't been enough progress in the diversity of game designers and gender equality for game designers."

Bailey left Atari in 1982 and now teaches at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

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Ramin Shokrizade
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I am in total agreement. Getting into the gaming industry is harder than getting into Hollywood. Despite my early successes as far back as 2000 it took me another decade plus to get treated like a regular human in the IM industry. While my name may have been a handicap, the fact that I look like a white male probably gave me a huge leg up on any potential female competitors. I can only imagine the barriers to entry even today for women trying to get into the gaming industry.

This is especially true for creative positions like game design. It is a bit easier to break in I think if you program or do art. Evaluating skill at design is much more subjective, and if those evaluating you are all men, it must put you at a disadvantage. It is no surprise that even though we have nearly 50/50 gender parity in our consumers, it is closer to 90/10 (male/female) in game design studios and probably more like 99/1 at the design level. Thus the products we sell to women still lag significantly in quality compared to the games made for men.

Jamie Armstrong
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I utterly disagree with the premise that the industry discriminates against women (any more than other industries). I said this in another comment I left on a similar article but it's worth repeating.

Twice I studied game related courses at uni and both times there were a total of two girls on the course. I heard the computer arts course had a few more women, but for both programming and design they made up less than 5%. That's the problem, not some patriarchal secret society standing at the gates of the industry.

Carl Chavez
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You're arguing that discrimination is not worse in the game industry because women are not taking games-related courses?

That's like saying that there was no discrimination against women and blacks in the early 20th century because they weren't voting against discriminatory legislation. Neither group was allowed to vote in the early 20th century, so they couldn't change the laws! They had to change the mindsets of the people who legislate.

Similarly, you aren't seeing many females in your classes because they're oppressed before ever getting to the classes. There are so many barriers to women for the industry that it's borderline negligent to minimize their impact: heavily masculine corporate culture, hyper-sexualized imagery of females, lower salaries, sexual advances, and so many other problems. I've known several women who changed industries due to the fatigue of dealing with the rampant sexism in the game industry. Are you denying that those same influences have any effect on whether women choose to take game-related courses?

Even if they try to deal with those issues, it's still tough. According to the 2012 Gamasutra salary survey, few women stick around in the industry more than a few years. Women aren't stupid: they can do the same job somewhere else for more money and more respect.

Despite the industry's 11% ratio of women to men, I've been fortunate to work at companies with more gender-neutral cultures and ratios closer to 40-50%. Those companies have been pretty darn successful, too, and a lot of that is due to the retention of skilled and experienced female artists, programmers, designers, and managers who stick around because they don't feel as threatened at work as women at other companies might. Those companies also benefit because their cultures allow them to attract good talent away from other companies with more hostile cultures.

Jed Hubic
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Carl, so basically no matter what the root is, everyone is out to get everyone else.

Universities take your money, they don't care who gives it to them. I would like to solid evidence that women are being oppressed from game design courses. I agree with Jamie 100% there.

I hate this mentality how a company is always on the hook because it's part of the industry. I know I'm obviously out to lunch somehow. I see a 10 to 1 ratio of male to female resumes at my work. We make no effort pro or negative to do any equality hiring. There's definitely no hostility at our company, so implying we're hostile because we have a high male ratio is moronic. I don't want to turn this into the typical rhetoric spewing rant so I hope no one wants to kill me over my opinion, but I wish more people would take the harder route of discovering how to motivate the type of individuals that they want to see to get into the industry rather than the much easier route of blanketing an industry.

James Yee
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It's not just the gaming industry. I work for NASA and I don't see the blatant problems we have discussed by the gaming industry (sexual harassment, Masculine corporate structure, etc) yet we still have a pretty low female to male ratio here in operations.

In other areas sure there are plenty of women, but in the day to day operations work I do barely any. (I worked with three in the decade before coming to my current assignment) There just weren't many female candidates in the pipeline pure and simple.

Now in the wider world sure we can point to how girls are kind of pushed away from STEM courses which also leads to Game Dev as well as Satellites. Singling out the gaming industry isn't a bad thing to do, but we can't ignore the fact that it's not Gaming industry specific or necessarily on purpose.

Jonathan Jennings
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there were three girls in my programming courses, one an awesome programmer was one f the earliest graduates to a job in the game industry . Another became an artist , and the third pursued interests outside of videogames. I mean I can count 5 graduates who got game jobs and the best programmer of all of use was the female . maybe if there were more great female programmers it wouldn't be an issue but if there is a limited pool of talent and in that pool there is a very small pool of females then i think it can't help but be a pretty mall number of females in the industry . of course its possible my school wasn't the average environment.

Isvar Horning
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You're right when you say that there are very few women in game related or computer related courses.
But you can't simply stop there. The next question should be: Why are there so few of them?

As my wife is a game designer, I can tell you firsthand: You grow up as a woman, constantly told by the media, your culture, that computers, science, programming and also especially videogames are not for girls. You grow up with people and society around you, suggesting that as a female you should do childcare, or be a secretary, a nurse or working as an assistant. If you are interested in design, people unconsciously guide you to fashion design, or doing jewellery or maybe graphic design.
But this is just the first step. When my wife studied IT and Computersciences, she was the only woman in class and even if she had very good grades, teachers and other students talked to her as if she were a total newbie, understanding nothing of the subject. Later, when she applied for a job, she was one of the last in her former class to get one, although she was top in her class and had excellent grades. But even if she had a job now, her Boss ordered her around making coffee and doing copies - none of her other colleagues (all male) had ever been degraded like that. So she quit.

It is very easy to dismiss the problems and struggle of a group, because it's never nice to hear that others in fact have it harder to reach the same goals. But that's the truth, and I'm agreeing fully with Carl Chavez here.

Nobody said there is a secret patriarchal society, knowingly shutting women out and doing this stuff on purpose - but sexism and bias are things that happen without yourself noticing doing it. That's the thing with subconsciousness - you won't see it, unless you shift your viewpoint and really look from another perspective.
"Everything is nice from my viewpoint, so it should be from yours too. I don't see any problems at all." doesn't help the industry or culture.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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[Edit: Oops, meant to put this in reply to Jamie and Carl.]

"Similarly, you aren't seeing many females in your classes because they're oppressed before ever getting to the classes. There are so many barriers to women for the industry that it's borderline negligent to minimize their impact: heavily masculine corporate culture, hyper-sexualized imagery of females, lower salaries, sexual advances, and so many other problems."

Heavily masculine corporate culture does not prevent women from getting into colleges. Nor do hyper-sexualized images. Nor do lower salaries. Nor do sexual advances. Those may all be very true in terms of keeping women out of the industry, but his point is that there are so few attempting to go into the education programs that could get them there in the first place.

There are arguments to be made that the hyper-sexual images of women portrayed in the culture at large, the idea that video games are an inappropriate activity for young girls, etc. could effect whether they ever choose to go to a school for game development but those are very different issues from the game industry in and of itself.

There's a lot of studies that actually show women are accepted and graduating more often than men are. So if you look at Universities as their own industry (which they are) then they themselves are more likely to pick women for these programs. Universities are incredibly self-aware when it comes to diversity and I have a very difficult time seeing an admissions department rejecting a woman for being a woman trying to join gaming. The people who hold those jobs in admissions really don't give a shit about whatever the politics of game design are, they're working for an established University with it's own agenda that is quite different from the game industry.

I'm just worried this debate is getting incredibly simplified when in reality there are a whole host of complex interrelated institutions and attitudes that are shaping how this is playing out.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Katie Chironis
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Dave, I see the point you're trying to make, but I think you're misunderstanding the issue.

Most female designers do not want special treatment or an easier break to get into the industry. In fact, I'd say we want equal treatment in all things.

I find that often when I meet other developers for the first time, they assume I am inept by default because I don't fit within the immediate mental definition of what 'game designer' looks like. There is always this sudden dawning look of surprise on their face when I am able to hold a conversation about any game mechanics whatsoever, let alone turn in solid work. it's a strange feeling. I hate it.

Once a week someone approaches me at work or outside work and mentions something like, "you're the only girl designer in your building. Is that weird? Do you feel weird?" Yes, it does feel weird, thank you for reminding me! I was having a pretty great day until you brought up that I'm supposed to feel alienated. Thanks!

And I work at a GOOD company. My company is incredibly above-average when it comes to these issues. I can't imagine what it's like to work somewhere where things are much worse. I've heard stories of inappropriate direct comments, sexual harassment, and worse.

The kind of hurdles I believe women face at the design level aren't overt brick walls and "tits or gtfo" comments in the hallways. It's more subtle, more insidious, wrapped in "good intentions", and infinitely harder to tackle.

It's that default assumption that because I'm wearing heels and lipstick I can't also place enemy mobs or tune UI feedback. It's that assumption that if a girl is working in games, she's a producer, artist, or marketing gal. She can't be a designer or a developer, right? ... Or if she is, she can't actually be any GOOD.

That's what needs to change.

Michael Joseph
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[.sarcasm]Well obviously Katie we all know that there's some guy out there who's better at your job than you are. Therefore you can't possibly be the best person for the job. You must be some sort of token hire. There's no other reasonable explanation.[.sarcasm]

Incidentally, the concept of a "token hire" is an interesting one. I don't think it exists as such, but because of this notion of "there must be some ____ guy out there who's better than you" casts you as such in some people's minds... even if it's a not entirely conscious. It's a cultural bias. So when women or minorities are hired, that bias sometimes shades _some_ people's perception of your qualifications and capabilities. Fortunately it can be overcome once people get to know you. So in a sense it's a privilege for some males to not have to deal with that. For some it's a completely foreign reality.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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Katie, maybe they are stunned because they finally found a girl who could understand them. Wait, are these single "forever alone" type of guys we are talking about?

Martin Goldberg
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Co-creator, not creator. I don't know how that got substituted.

Luis Guimaraes
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How many are indie developers?

Simone Tanzi
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I think that before we can see more female game designers we need to see more female gamers, and by see them I mean they have to stand out.
A stereotype has been established, one that quite frankly, aside from the non existent role of women in it is quite degrading even for men.
This stereotype is now starting to wear down as gaming becomes normal, mainstream even...
Still, many people can't perceive a gamer as something different than a guy with awful physical condition and even worse social skills that lives with his parents and doesn't have a life.
Even if we are now starting to accept a new image of gamer in our society, if people thinks of a true expert of the field will still picture the old stereotype.
We need to see more prominent female gamers to change that perception.
The fact that, for example, basically no female is seen at EVO 2k except for an embarrassing women's invitational that basically screamed "women are not good enough to participate in the male tournament".

WCG ultimate gamer was maybe the highest point of women gaming history, some female gamers did pretty good and some of their amazing achievements were shown, still... it's a reality show (how much can you trust a reality show with its results? and real life challenges andd things like that have nothing to do with gaming) and... even after learning about gamers like Starslayer or Kat, you really have a hard time finding much of their achievements...

Basically, until we have a female Daigo Umehara or another female gamer able to be considered at least a credible top 8 in a particular discipline things will probably change very slowly because the perception that girls are not as good as men when it comes to videogame will always be there for some people until they are faced with hard evidence that it is not true.