Games with a Woman’s Touch: Women in Video Game Development.

My first experience on a game development team was truly eye opening to the situation at hand. “First we were multinational, now we’re multigenderal.” That boggled my mind, and lead me to investigate what the demographics truly were in the game development industry. While it has been a slow change, women have been gaining ground in this fascinating industry, and changing the field for what I hope is the better.

The Market

Currently both workplace and market are dominated by males ages 21-35, but with the release of mass appeal games such as The Sims or Animal Crossing, more women begin to wonder how the games are made and developed, and pursue information on the various jobs available in the industry.

Programmers, artists, writers, designers, and composers all have a place in the development field, and some paths to becoming involved are less intimidatingly and male dominated, mainly the creative ventures. Both technical and creative sides require a determined, influential, and motivated team player, aspects that fit many women that are interested in such fields, and make it a point to learn more, even against the problems inherent in dealing with a male dominated environment.

The Organizations

Women of like minds have banded together in a variety of organizations, from the casual site such as Game Girls Unite (http://www.cyber-freakz.com/wencke/news.php), to the professional organization like IGDA’s Women’s SIG (http://www.igda.org/women/). Both offer information, and more than that, the knowledge that there are others that have walked this path, and it isn’t as strange or foreboding as it might have seemed at first, that this is a field that women can become involved, and be highly successful in.

In both Austin and Portsmouth, women’s conferences on game development are being held, going over a variety of issues unique to the woman in this industry, gender issues in games, and other topics of interest to the predominately female participants.

In general game conferences, there have been panels on women in gaming and game development, but the panels were invariably headed by men.

With the inclusion of completely separate conferences, this will allow for a more in depth look at what features of games women like, what working conditions need to be changed to attract a more diversified environment, and what issues of gender need to be addressed and changed.

The Games

The majority of games marketed ‘for girls only’ normally haven’t done that well in cracking the elusive market of women gamers. By trying to cater to heavy stereotypes, they mostly served to alienate budding female gamers, and lead many to believe this truly isn’t a market for women to work or play in.

Not all is lost, however, as the newest generation has grown up with a more technical lifestyle, and it will be considered ‘acceptable’ for more women to be interested in technical careers. I believe that this will lead to universally accepted games and gender neutral marketing.

From stick figure women to perfectly toned men, gender stereotypes abound in games on both side of the fence. With the inclusion of more women in the gaming workforce, these stereotypes will gently tip over and produce results that are appealing to most.

In the last few years, there have been various ways of tipping this balance, with strong, dynamic women leads. While a variety of press focused on the physical appearances (and impossibilities) of some of these women, the overall effect remained the same. A more global acceptance of strong women, and the integration of more female gamers into the market.

Examples of this can be seen as early as the Metroid series for the Nintendo (in the late 80’s), to Tomb Raider (although Lara’s unwieldy proportions elicited much discussion) and the Final Fantasy games of today.

With the prevelance of MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) becoming the next big game development, more women are using these games to portray the female characters as they want, wandering far and wide from the stereotype game characters have inhabited until recent years.

Women Role Models

Developing ground breaking ideas in the industry is not gender specific, but there have been quite a few notable contributions by women. While not all of these offerings come the way of new technology, more subtle effects can be seen that wash through the game industry as a whole.

Jaimee B. Wolf, co-founder of Xicat Interactive, Inc., has seen the great success of her company, making many millions on what was originally intended to be a record company. Tens of thousands of retails in both the US and Europe carry Xicat Interactive’s games, and has been a great success story to look to for women developers world wide.

Heather Kelley of Ion Storm, and co-chair of the IGDA’s Women in Game Development Committee, is one of the designers of the popular Thief series. She has worked a great deal on the issues surrounding women in the gaming industry, and has indicated that acceptance of women in the field is slowly growing, as evidenced by the fact that so many groups and organizations concerning the issue have been popping up.

Artemis Software is a predominately female development team. Their reasoning for founding as a mostly women team, in an interview with WomenGamers.com, said “The Artemis team was founded by female gamers and developers with the idea that “we CAN do this!” – as an empowering experience for women in the gaming community, and for the gaming community as a whole.” Along with developing their Quake mod, they also have worked on several films, winning awards on the FilePlanet website.

The Future

Game Development is a field that is still somewhat in infancy, and is slowly maturing over these last few years, tackling a variety of issues from culture, race, gender issues, and other subjects.

While the jobs can often call for a lot of work, and more stress than the typical job in comparable fields, such as information technology, the work place is often a highly creative one, valuing contributions from all department in the collaboration that is the game.

In addition, there are more ways in than just the traditional programming route, opening the field to women that are not as technically minded. From administration opportunities, to extensive writing skills, a wide variety of talent is needed in the industry.

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