Do you feel that there is enough of a push to encourage women to enter the field, i.e. the G.I.R.L. scholarship program?
Carrie Gouskos: I have always been of the opinion that the best way to embrace gender equality is to not focus on gender in the first place. There was a time, not too long ago, that I might have taken an objection to something like the G.I.R.L. scholarship program, or this list even. My attitude has changed, as the fact of the matter is that I wouldn't have had a chance at this list if it had been the Top 10 most influential people in MMO development (which is my next goal, mind you). But I'm still torn. I operate, every single day, without thinking about what my being female has to do with what I think makes good gameplay or how I do business. And yet it does. And it is probably refreshing. So there should be more of it. So my conclusion is that there should be as much encouragement as isn't distracting or insulting or disruptive to men trying to get into the game industry.
Melissa Bianco: Now that Video Game Programs are available as a curriculum in many colleges, and anyone can take the programs, I think it's becoming more and more commonplace to see women entering these programs, and then the industry itself. One of my good friends graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic and is already working in the industry. I think these programs are an excellent way to encourage women to enter the industry because women are playing games just as much as men are and if you want to represent the demographic of who's playing your game, it makes good financial sense to include that segment in your development team.
When I first started in the industry, I had no idea about scholarships or game development programs. Did they exist? Maybe. But I didn't know about them. During the last several years, it feels like the scales are starting to move again, and I think now is a great time for women to get into the industry.
"I operate, every single day, without thinking about what my being female has to do with what I think makes good gameplay or how I do business."
I'm not quite sure why there would be a need to encourage women to enter the field. It has been shown that women have a solid interest in gaming. With that interest established, I think women are strong enough to pursue careers in the industry without needing persuasion or incentive.
Those ideas are helpful for women who are already interested in entering video game development, but they do nothing to overcome the first, most major barrier to involvement for women, which is gamer culture itself. PUGs, forums, comment threads on gaming sites; all these things are an incredibly hostile environment to women. Even if there isn't an overt sense that the male gamers think women shouldn't be involved, there are the endless casually dismissive comments, the slurs at people who lose in PvP that are invariably based on anti-woman or anti-gay insults, the jokey rape threats... is it any wonder that lots of women look at that and think, "This isn't for me"? The women who thrive in that environment tend to do so by going along with it, by allowing other gamers to think of them as one of the guys. If you just want to be a girl who plays games, and you're not willing to swallow all that, it sure looks from the outside like there isn't a place for you.
Trouble is, I don't think that any forced, top-down change would be effective. I think the best answer for female gamers is to keep plugging away, keep playing games, keep reaching out to other women outside gaming culture who show a spark of interest, and not to allow themselves to get completely hardened to those aspects of gaming culture to the point where they're part of what makes other women feel excluded.
Although things have improved since I first got into the industry, I still think there is a lot of room for growth in that area. I'd really like to see more women in more influential roles, like game designer or executive producer. I feel having women in such roles is paramount as companies look to expand audiences. Having women in influential roles can really broaden the appeal of games, in particular in MMOs, which already have so many aspects that can appeal to women.
When I was at school studying game art and design there were two women for every 30 men in my class. Female game designers are rare. We definitely need more women envisioning the game experience that women are going to play.
I think right now many young female students do not identify with the game industry, not because the opportunity to participate is not available, but because their interest hasn't been piqued. I think that interest needs to be engaged at a very young age. We need to push to develop games for young girls that will pique their interest in becoming a game developer.
I know very few women who have ever been a Dungeon Master. Becoming a DM is a pretty solid introduction to game design. A DM builds worlds, creates characters, maps, scenarios, and systems. People are walking through you creation, and on the fly, you are adapting it around them. I'd love to see a game like Dungeons & Dragons that widely appealed to young girls. Let's introduce them to designing experiences for other people by letting them dip their toes in it.
There should be more information out there about starting a career in the game industry. Scholarships towards such ends are fantastic. I think games still suffer from bad PR -- that they're being made in basements by groupings of strange ghouls, and I wonder if that image contributes to deterring some people from entering games. In reality, games are made by fun, energetic people in offices with homes and families and pets.
The gaming industry still does suffer from the perception that it's full of maladjusted geeks who slave away under soul-grinding work conditions, which in my experience is simply not true. Yeah, it's a lot of hard work and long hours, but there's a tremendous amount of fun to be had in the gaming industry. It is all about fun and games, after all. The entire industry needs to get a good PR agent and start showing everyone what it's actually like to work on games. I think it's definitely an environment that more people would want to be involved in if people at large had any clue what it's like to actually make a game. Scholarships are great, but there needs to be more awareness.
The G.I.R.L. scholarship and other similar programs are great-it helps women who are interested in games to find a way to get the education and good start that they need. I think opportunities for women in game development will increase as developers continue to move into broader, more casual game markets. I'm not saying that women aren't hardcore gamers (I certainly am!) but an industry that recognizes that there are many different kinds of entertainment that are all lucrative and valuable is more likely to be open to considering many different kinds of employees as well.
"I think games still suffer from bad PR -- that they're being made in basements by groupings of strange ghouls, and I wonder if that image contributes to deterring some people from entering games."
I don't think the situation is quite as simple as we would perhaps like it to be. I do think that opportunities like the G.I.R.L. scholarship are very important, and are great ways to encourage women who are trying to get a start in game design; I'd love to see more of them. However, I think there are also a lot of women and girls out there who have never even thought about game design as a possible career path, and I think the industry needs to go a step beyond scholarships to reach them. Just raising the profile of the industry in general so that the average woman on the street is even aware that, "Hey, it's possible to work in game design," is something we also need to work towards. I'd love to see a popular TV show include a game designer character, or popular women's magazines carrying interviews with women who work in the industry; the kind of thing that would really reach the average person on the street who doesn't necessarily already have an interest.
I think that we have made tremendous progress through programs such as the GIRL scholarship program. There are also more programs in colleges designed specifically for game art, so women have a tangible inroad to break into the industry. As I said before, we have seen the number of women in game development increase steadily over the last decade. More women game developers will result in more games that interest women and girls. I believe this is an important thing, because playing with technology is one of the best ways to learn technology. They aren't just using the computer to do homework, now they are having fun with it!
I think that program is great, but we can always be doing more to encourage any young person to get a good education, especially in science and technology. I share President Obama's concerns about the declining interest school children have in science and math, and would love to see our schools filled with more understanding of the fun, rewarding opportunities in technology in general, as well as game development in specific.
Sara Jensen Schubert:
Things are getting better, but I don't think we have a lot of great role models out there yet. We need more media coverage of female devs just doing their jobs. There was a great example a few years ago: Kim Swift and Portal. Kim got a lot of positive press and it never felt like they were only talking about her because she was a member of a minority group (as it were). That must have been inspiring for the girls who were paying attention.
We're almost at the end of our series, so look for tomorrow's final two questions to be, "Do you see a change in attitude towards women developers, both from co-workers and the MMO community?" and "What words of advice would you have for women looking to make that leap from player to developer?". Stay tuned to see what they have to say!