Not too long ago, when painting the perception of video games, the result would be a tired stereotype of testosterone-driven young men with headsets, energy drinks and fingers dipped in crisp dust. Issues surrounding gender have always circled the games space, challenging this stereotype and similar outlooks, implying the industry and its target audience are skewed towards men.
When tracing the history of video games, women have been there from the very beginning. In the 1980’s, Dona Bailey, the only woman in Atari’s arcade game division at the time, co-created and programmed Centipede: a highly successful fixed shooter with a female target audience. More recently, there have been countless influential and extraordinary women rocking the games industry. Robin Hunicke who produced the stunning and mystical Journey in 2012, Amy Hennig who directed the award-winning Uncharted 3 in 2011 and Siobhan Reddy who is the studio director of Media Molecule, the parents of the innovative and quirky LittleBigPlanet… just to name a few!
But what do the statistics say?
This time last year, only 14% of UK games industry professionals were women, according to TIGA, the trade association representing the industry. This is a clear step up from the numbers in 2009, a mere 4%, as reported by Creative Skillset. However, despite this improvement and the industry’s efforts to promote gender diversity, games still has the lowest proportion of female professionals of any creative sector industry.
Although the world of games is male-dominated, in late 2016, 57% of UK players were male and 43% female, as reported by Ukie - the numbers are a lot closer than you’d think! With the uprising of mobile and casual gaming, the gap is being pulled closer and more women are playing. This is staggering in contrast to the number of women who work in games, therefore it is vital that we encourage more girls and young women to pursue a video games career. Being able to reflect the representation of the target demographic in its workforce is a key step forward for the industry.
This year, social media has fuelled the discussion and brought the achievements of successful female games industry professionals to light, inspiring girls all over the world. Twitter has been overflowing with #GirlsBehindTheGames, a campaign highlighting the insight of hundreds of women who work in game development. Facebook has also recently launched the #SheTalksGames initiative, designed to empower and promote women in video games. Social media is a perfect platform for engaging with girls and widening outreach, especially for companies such as Stemettes who offer free STEM workshops as well as events for young women.
A major aspect to consider is education, as discussed by Dr Richard Wilson, the CEO of TIGA. He states how the majority of the games workforce is qualified to degree level, however, “the proportion of women studying subjects such as computer science or games programming courses is low.” Celebrating female STEM professionals is a great way to plant the seeds that grow into passion in the younger generation of programmers, developers and designers as well as destroy the negative stereotypes. Women CAN do technology.
“A famous explorer once said, that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are. I'd finally set out to make my mark; to find adventure. But instead, adventure found me. In our darkest moments, when life flashes before us, we find something; something that keeps us going. Something that pushes us.” - Lara Croft
Let’s make more real-life female protagonists!