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More (and More) Women in Games

by Richard Marzo on 06/11/10 08:08:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 
I had a few other posts which were my firsts, but I deleted them (I’ll re-post them later in some form), because I thought this issue was more important and should be the “first” thing I talk about here. Success in this area will mean a brighter future for all.

Games need 8 times as many women as there are now, if we are to have gender balance without any net loss in jobs held by men. This assumes no new male devs enter the industry in the time it takes to hire this many women, a disastrous conclusion for the many young male hopefuls wanting in. Moreover, who wants our elder devs to retire? They represent our cultural legacy, and should continue to make games as long as it is fun and they are happy to do so.

Assuming job growth and few retirements among women or men, the hiring rate for women should actually be at least 10 times the current hiring rate for men, depending on how fast we want to get to parity. Many people used to wish for the day that there would be as many women playing games as there are men. It’s already happened, and in fact the men are outnumbered. This is great!

The only way I can see for accelerating the process is to make the development environment as hospitable to feminine/feminist attitudes as possible. Make the workplace attractive to women, and make sure these modifications come from women. It will be a long process of modifying current development practices to become (shock!) more reasonable, healthy, and sustainable. Men will benefit hugely from all this.

A number of game companies are actively working to correct this. I think Sony has an outstanding record in this regard, and many of the “less” hardcore (by no means pejorative either way) movements are being pioneered by women. Why doesn't anybody use the word "softcore" for games, anyway? It would work pretty well.

Women in the industry, in equal or greater numbers to the men, will mean far superior games to what we have now.

This site is really great for blogging.  It has made for some incredible reading-thanks for setting it up and maintaining it so well. 

[End of original post]

 

(If you are reading this for the first time, you may want to skip this edit and go straight to the comments. When you find the EDIT BREAK, come back here. That would be truer to the continuity of the discussion.)

[EDIT – late Saturday/early Sunday after original Friday morning post]

Thanks for all the responses, even the aggressive ones. Speaking is a first step to peace and I see a chance at redemption for some of our “fallen” comrades.

First, let me say with all sincerity, that I was surprised to see that many had a significantly different attitude than me. I guess I am just hopelessly naive; I expected better. More on this later, hope is not lost yet!

There were a number of positive posts on the subject. This shows progress, even in a single day (or two). Here is what people said:

Carlo Delallana writes: “Interestingly enough, one of the most male-oriented AAA games' (God of War) story was penned by Marianne Krawczyk.” God of War is a very superior game (franchise) by a crew with an ungodly (hardy-har) level of talent. Point proven about the influence of women.

Tiago Costa talks of “the creative spark of women” in reference to the same title.

Daniel Balmert brings up an important Catch-22: “The young women of today aren't being correctly targeted by the current generation of games (on the whole), but in order to correct that, we need more women to be interested in game development.” This vicious cycle is worth breaking, and we are doing it now. He then later laments: “I just think the leverage of [Marianne Krawczyk's] position as a high-up female creative person isn't being used or exploited.” How depressing if true, which it probably is.

Adam Bishop brings me harshly back to reality with: “I have seen worse sexism in the games industry than any other I’ve worked in,” to which I honestly don’t know what to say.

16 comments in, no women yet. I’m getting nervous. Demitrius Pennebaker notices the same thing and has to speak up. I want to quote the whole post, but I’ll just quote: “You should chime in, women. Or we might begin to think that you aren’t interested in this issue, or something.” Thanks for saying what I was too afraid to say. Hollaback.

The very next comment comes from Veronica Castillo, who says: “I would like to be hired for my talent, and not my gender.” Well said, and an important thing to be careful about.

Meredith Katz bravely decides against self-censure, by proclaiming:

“I love game development.”

I wish we could all say this all the time. I know I don’t. You know why I don’t, don’t you? Not. Enough. Women.

She then talks about how “a closed fist reads as more aggressive and unwelcoming than an open hand,” evoking a powerful image about the nature of gender politics.

Demitrius returns to the conversation, and talks about a key balancing issue: “Ultimately the question becomes what are the best ways to [encourage diversity] while neither ignoring nor forcing the issue, since those lead to entropy or disillusionment, respectively.”

Kevin Reilly accuses me of stirring a hornet’s nest. Go, hornets, go! Kevin says: “The game industry may just be a reflection of overall societal pressures on women...” I would rather the industry pioneer the way forward than to merely reflect existing imbalances. He also talks about how “making it a prime recruiting directive to hire more women in order to “equalize” the balance might not lead to the desired result (and maybe illegal).” In the very next sentence he talks about how “most large [law] firms support diversity hiring to increase the number of female and minority associates.” If the legal industry needs affirmative action...you know what? Nevermind.

lisette Titre brings up an important game franchise: “There is a larger percentage of women on the Sims dev team then at a normal game studio.” Some people consider the Sims to be the most successful franchise in history. Even if it is not “the,” it is still “one of the.” Point doubly proven about the influence of women on games; the Sims is so superior that nobody is even trying to compete. It stands alone (sad, but nobly heroic.)

Kate Craig chimes in on how “the defensive tone of some of the comments has always sat a little strangely with me.” Me too. Here she is referring to not just my post, but others on the internet talking about the same issue-surely a good sign. That defensiveness she talks about, a common theme in many comments, will be discussed shortly.

Mauricio Gomes did not read my whole post, because he is a slacker who should be working instead of reading Gamasutra. We’ll forgive him, he’s in crunch mode. And hide your pitchforks people! Save them for the last minute. Mauricio notes that “before we can get more women, we should make the environment healthier and suitable for women tastes, and that will have the “collateral” effect of being healthier to men too...” Here, here! (or is it: Hear, hear!)

Dan Felder talks about the nefarious underbelly of sexism; the casual, deep-seated, subconscious kind: “They were allowed to audition and many did, and not many conductors were noticeably sexist or thought of themselves that way... Yet women still weren’t hired.” This stuff runs deep.

Cecilia Deng gives straightforward advice: “If we’re talking strategy here, a good one would be to get your sister, daughter, or female friend to play something :)” This made me think of the great Stan Lee: “One person really can make a difference.” Also, any time someone says ‘you play like a girl,’ that should be regarded as a compliment. Girls are better at some things. There I said it.

Emma Smith reminisces about the innocence of youth: “I grew up playing games and till I was about 10 I never really clicked on that I was doing something specifically different to other girls my age.” Let’s hope that girls will never have to arrive at that “realization” in the future; that they can play games without feeling un-girl-like.

Surviving in the harsh wilderness of crunch, Mauricio takes a break and also reminisces, about his sister: “

Too sad that she does not play much anymore :(

” That is sad. It’s sad when anyone stops playing games. And notice how she used to kick his ass at some games; really, girls are better sometimes.


OK. Lastly, (I really don’t want to do this, but I’m backed into a corner here) luis blondet, Tiago Costa, Sean Parton, Sylvester O’Connor, Frank Smith, and Gabriel Lievano let out one big collective

“Wah!”

The big king of the super-wah goes to Dave Endresak. Michael Khuc actually fesses up to sexism.

These men must immediately apologize to the women (except Michael! See below.) Simple “sorry” works. Battle lines have been drawn. Just kidding. Or not.

Seriously, though, about defensiveness...I think I understand. It is the irrational belief that any kind of affirmative action results in reverse discrimination. Let me remind you that even lawyers, who know the law, have to use “diversity hiring” and it is not fast enough. Law is still male heavy, and lawyers were around during Women’s Suffrage, so they’ve had plenty of time to correct.

To be fair, some of what these latter gents have said is sincere, and worth consideration (Tiago was already mentioned). I just hope they lighten up:

luis blondet: “Gender is not a factor for talent” Yes it is. Women offer a type of talent that men can’t.

Sean Parton complains: “...consumers largely don’t see us, or even know our names!” Recognition is important, but the game industry is a ninjustu industry. The creators are all in stealth mode, away from the glaring fandom of the public eye. Only a few of the most prominent ninja make it to the world stage, but even then they are only recognizable to the chosen (people like you and me who read way too much about game development.)

Sylvester O’Connor: “Then the numbers will be off again and again, men should be hired over women to [re-]balance the numbers.” Then so be it! If the pendulum swung all the way to an industry with 90% women, fine with me. Then men would know what it feels like.

Frank Smith: “When I was in school learning games, a couple years back, there was only one female student to every eight-ten males...” Yup, that is an unhealthy ratio.

Gabriel Lievano: “look at the gender of each one who has commented so far.” Exactly.

Dave Endresak drops a truckload of names, in an effort to...well, why did you drop all those names, Dave? Anyway, unfortunately he wrote a monster comment, much of which deserves a response. More work for me thanks Dave:

“If you consider the global market and include countries such as Japan, you find many women working in the industry.” Not that many, and definitely not enough. Gender distribution there is probably worse.

The problem is global though. In upstart markets, such as in Eastern Europe and South Africa, nearly all the devs are male.

“...even 20 years ago. Plenty of girls and women played games even in America.” Let’s see some hard numbers on that and then we’ll talk more.

“Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, no one considerd a girl playing games weird, and no one questioned a mother in an arcade with her family.” No. Even in the 80’s and 90’s games were for boys, and girls were stigmatized then too. A mother in an arcade? Does she have a son?

“Somewhere around the mid to late 1990s, all of a sudden electronic gaming and other "nerdy" pursuits became known as "male only" even though that really was not the case historically.” What history book are you reading from?, because I want to have a look at this. I must have missed that sudden shift you speak of in the mid to late 90s. Nope, didn’t miss it, no such shift happened. Games have been continuously male and nerdy since the beginning.

“female dominated fields such as nursing and teaching.” Nursing, yes. But teaching? Teaching is roughly equal, in my assessment. I tutored/graded/taught on and off for 7 years. Actually teaching brings up a good point, since teaching used to be all male. You can probably chart the evolution of better pedagogical practices as a function of women becoming (professional) teachers.

“gender identity is not a dichotomous psychological state” True, but two points on that spectrum represent most of the population, and only one of those points have significant members in the game industry. More women would provide just the environment necessary to make work more hospitable to those lacking clear gender identities.

“Does anyone really think that audiences all over the world find works focused on girls but created by men to be inferior?” Me. I put it in the original post. Audiences may not be as aware as we are, but they basically know even if only on a subconscious level.

“more femme preferences” Honestly, I don’t know if you are allowed to say f***e. I’ll defer to the women on whether that word is acceptable or not, but it sounds condescending to me.

Now, on to someone else. Micheal Khuc is brutally honest: “Forgive me for sounding sexist...” You are forgiven. See, he apologized for his sexism up front. Even though they are both bad, honest sexism is better than hidden sexism.


On balance of all the comments, there was more positivity than negativity. For this I am grateful.

 


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