But girls don’t want to be game developers!

Why aren’t there more women making video games?

Because not very many women want to, obviously.

Why not?

Because not very many women play video games. Video games are a guy thing. At least, that’s what everyone thinks.

But that’s not necessarily true. When I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, lots of other girls my age were playing games. Many of them still do to this day. Why don’t any of them want to be game developers?

Game development requires hard math skills, and you know damn well that women are discouraged from having such skills.

That’s not necessarily true, either. I skipped a grade of math in high school, and the only other people my age who did were also girls. There were lots of women in my computer science classes — not the majority, of course, but there certainly were more of them than at game companies. Even then, there are lots of aspects to game development that don’t absolutely require mathematical ability, like design, visual art, and audio.

Okay, well, the industry is still too hostile to women. All the marketing is targeted to teenage boys, or grown men who think they’re still teenage boys. And developers are no better. No woman in her right mind would want to be part of that.

Well… yeah, that’s true. But many gamers and game developers alike are against that sort of thing. And if there are more women around who have a say in development, then we’ll have an easier time fighting all those ridiculous stereotypes.

If you say so. But it’s so hard for new people to get into the game industry. Particularly in these trying economic times, industry veterans would much rather hire people they already know than take a chance on some bright-eyed, bushy-tailed newcomer.

But if you keep hiring the same people over and over and never bring any new blood to the industry, won’t you risk creative stagnation? Isn’t that bad for the art form?

Silly girl. Game development isn’t an art, it’s a business.

ARRGH! *headdesk*

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28 Responses to But girls don’t want to be game developers!

  1. Michel says:

    We have one female game designer that I’m aware of at EA Mobile Montreal out of maybe…10? Plus a few artists and other types. In the QA department, however, there are a lot more women than anywhere else in the company. The ratio is maybe 2:1, still favouring guys.

    Anyway, the Vancouver Film School recently awarded a full game design scholarship that was open to women only. And take a look at this list:

    http://www.vfs.com/blog/2009/05/19/game-design-expo-scholarship-winners/

    I’m not sure of the gender for some of these names: Denver? Thi Bao Vo? But there are at LEAST 5 obvious women awarded scholarships. So not only are they applying (and how many more women will be enrolling in the game design program without a scholarship this year?) they are better than all us male nerds ;)

    I think the reason there aren’t more women in game development is that until recently, as in the last couple of years, there have been no viable entry points through academic programs. Girls, in my experience, don’t want to waste the best years of their youth as shut-ins modding Unreal 3 or whatever. Now that programs like the one at VFS are gaining momentum I think we’re going to see some changes (and Kelly Santiago, one of the most visible young female developers, also came out of a school).

  2. Joe Tortuga says:

    I think that in my 16+ years of programming and development (outside of the gaming industry) a 1:10 ration of women:men programmers is about right. By “right” here I mean “accurately displaying the world,” not the way is necessarily should be.

    My experience with QA also mirrors Michel’s, as that’s been even more female, sometimes with no male testers at all. OTOH, more than half of my managers (most of which were technically competent, ie they rose from within IT) were women. Support desk was also either 50/50 or dominated by women.

    I think that what you are observing within the games industry really reflects the computer/IT industry as a whole. Figuring out why that is might answer your questions about game developers.

    (this was the post I tried to do from my iPod Touch:)

  3. Mory Buckman says:

    I don’t like the idea of pushing people through just because they’re women. What women would do with games isn’t any different from what men would do with games, whether that’s something new or something like everything else. I don’t see that gender has anything to do with game design. So making it easier for women to get in than men is just making it a bit less likely that the most creative people will get the job, and that’s needless sexism.

  4. Mory Buckman says:

    You know, I’d compare games to comics. Like games, comics are associated with violence and therefore fewer women (not none, but fewer) are likely to get into it than men. I’ve seen some comics made by women, and they’re not any different from the comics made by men. Women are just as likely to go with the mainstream and try to write a generic superhero comic as men are. They’re just as unlikely as men are to try something bold and different. The only difference between them is that women are harder to find.

  5. Waitaminute… If the games women write are no different from the games men write, how exactly does bringing more women into the industry make it less likely that the “most creative people” will get the job? I think it gives them a better chance, actually. By discouraging women from working in games, you’re effectively shutting out half of the population — and the “most creative people” might come from that population and no one would know it!

    Your statement only makes sense if you think the “most creative people” are overdominantly male, which I think is nonsense.

  6. Mory Buckman says:

    Then we are in agreement on that point: I also think it would be nonsense to claim that men are more creative than women. I don’t think that, and never said it. I think the likelihood of a man being creative is exactly equal to the likelihood of a woman being creative.

    But let’s take that 10:1 ratio. Imagine that there are eleven people (10 men, 1 woman) trying to get one job. Any one of those eleven people could be the best person for the job, gender has nothing to do with it. Each person has the exact same statistical probability of being the best person for the job: one in eleven. Which means there’s a ten-in-eleven chance that the right person is a man, and a one-in-eleven chance that it’s a woman. Simple math, right?

    So if the games company is just trying to get the best person for the job, they’ll get the best person for the job and that’s probably a man but there’s a one-in-eleven chance it’s a woman. That’s equality. But let’s say there are eleven people, and the company automatically says “Well, one of them’s a woman and we want women in our company so let’s hire her.” That’s not equality, that’s blatant sexism. And the result would be a ten-in-eleven chance that the person picked for the job was not the most creative.

    So I think games companies are doing exactly the right thing. They’re picking the people who are the best for the job (out of the skewed sample that applies for it), because the person who does the best job will make them the most money. That’s why the ratio of men to women in the industry is so close to the ratio of really enthusiastic male gamers to really enthusiastic female gamers. It’s equality at work.

    And again I will repeat: it makes no difference to the job whether the person is male or female? Does a female novelist write differently than a male novelist? Does a female movie director do something different from a male director? Does a female composer or painter or choreographer differ from her male counterpart? Of course not! She is exactly as likely to make a genius piece of work, and exactly as likely to make a piece of crap, as a man. So to say that we “need” female game developers and ought to be biased toward them in accepting new hires, well, I’d have a serious problem with that. That is sexism, pure and simple, and I won’t stand for it.

  7. Michel says:

    What. Of course women bring different ideas and perspectives to game design and other works of art or design. Are you living in Iran? Seriously, get a clue.

  8. Kateri says:

    I honestly can’t face getting into an argument about positive discrimination, Mory, but as far as I can see, Deirdra didn’t mention it, so you’re rather jumping to conclusions as to whether that’s the solution she’d like.

    I’d say that if you have 10:1 men to women applying for a games job, there’s a problem with that 10:1 ratio being there in the first place. Once that’s fixed, we’ll have a better idea of whether the women who do apply are getting fair treatment.

  9. Kateri says:

    And, not to drag this off topic, but… Michel, “Are you living in Iran?”. WTF? Seriously, I don’t understand what this means, in the context of Mory arguing that men and women thought the same. Are Iranians known for this belief, in particular? Or was it just a bungled attempt to call on outdated stereotypes about Middle Eastern men and women – sorry, but until I understand what you actually meant, this is what it kinda looks like. Feel free to enlighten me! :)

  10. Mory Buckman says:

    No, I don’t live in Iran. In Iran they don’t believe in sexual equality, and I’m on entirely the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to this issue. I believe that men and women are exactly equal (with the single exception of women being able to give birth), so no, I don’t think women would make games differently than men.

  11. Sorry I’m late in replying; I was away from the internet over the weekend.

    @Mory As Kateri said, I wasn’t advocating preferential treatment to women in the affirmative action sense, but I do think that the very fact that a 10:1 ratio is allowed to exist in the first place is a major problem. That’s what I’m trying to address. You, as a young man, may not see it as an important thing to address, but it’s something that I, as a woman, take very personally.

    Also, while I agree with you that both men and women are exactly the same in terms of creative potential, I also know that despite this, men and women are treated differently in society, and have different experiences because of this treatment. One of the reason I’d like to see more women in all forms of art is because they can write about these kinds of experiences in a way that men cannot. Using your comics example, could Persepolis have been written by a man?

    @Michel I happen to be half Persian, and while I find the way women are treated by the Iranian government to be absolutely deplorable, I take offence somewhat at the “living in Iran” quip. Seems to me like you’re “othering” those who live in Iran, and implying that they all share some kind of monolithic belief about the essential nature of women and men, but in reality, they hold views just as diverse as the ones we hold in the Western world. Just ask my frequently persecuted relatives! :)

  12. Mory Buckman says:

    I apologize for misinterpreting you. I agree that the ratio of male to female players is a problem, I just don’t think switching to female developers is going to solve anything.

  13. Mory Buckman says:

    Oh, and I haven’t read Persepolis. But I wasn’t aware that it was read by more women than men, and it would surprise me very much to hear that.

  14. John Green says:

    I work in both the comics and the game industries, and I know women who work in those industries.

    I can tell you that it is *not true* that women are just as likely to write the same comics or design the same games as men do. Someone might say “but the majority of comics or games I’ve seen that have been created by women are just like those created by men”, and I will say that’s because the industry works in a way that dictates the creators make a product for their target audience. If the audience for comic books is adolescent males, then comic publishers will make comics for adolescent males. Mainstream comics has exhibited no interest in reaching any other demographic. Yes, I’m generalizing Gah. I could go into lengthy detail about the comics industry, but I really don’t feel like making my own blood boil.

    In addition, I have heard first hand accounts of despicable acts of sexism in both industries.

    It is incredibly naive for someone to think the world is fair and everything is equal and being the best at something is the only criteria that determines (much less guarantees) someone’s advancement in an industry.

  15. Mory Buckman says:

    What sort of “act of sexism” have you heard of in the games industry? That is sort of relevant to the discussion, so being vague about it isn’t helpful.

  16. I for one can think of a number of different examples:

    - The Dante’s Inferno contest at this year’s Comic-Con, where entrants were encouraged to “commit acts of lust” with booth babes
    - Hypersexualisation of female characters being used to sell games, whether said sexualisation is relevant to the game itself or not (see Mata Hari cover art and “start your journey now, my lord” ads)
    - Prevalence of sexual harassment in online games
    - Game companies that hire strippers to perform at recruiting parties (source)
    - Condescending marketing of “girl games” (see this video)
    - The hostile treatment by gamers of Jade Raymond, when she was the producer on Assassin’s Creed

    Am I missing anything?

  17. John Green says:

    For stories of sexism in the comics industry, here’s just one place to start:
    http://comicsworthreading.com/2006/11/19/dcs-strategy-to-raise-sales/

    As for games, I know of one situation where a female employee did not get a promotion because she was female (she in fact had to train the guy they did promote, an intern under her who was now her superior), and another where “which one’s prettier?” was a deciding factor in which of the female applicants for a position got a job.

  18. Corvus says:

    The issues around hiring are quite complex and it’s a mistake to trust that the best person for the job will always be hired regardless of gender or race.

    Often times the people in charge of hiring are men of some amount of privilege. When reviewing applicants they will typically feel stronger empathy for the people most like themselves. So even if they don’t consciously rule out people based on gender or race, they will lean towards insular hiring practices.

  19. Mory Buckman says:

    Is that true? I guess it makes sense. Okay.

  20. Mory Buckman says:

    Corvus, when I first read your argument it seemed to make sense, but the more I think about it the less sense it makes to me. I mean, sure, I can believe that the guy who decides who gets in is going to be biased in ways that he’s not conscious of. I agree that no person is really objective, even the idealists who make every effort to be. But wouldn’t the subconscious bias be for the woman? If I imagine myself hiring, and there are two people of equal talent, wouldn’t my natural inclination be to hire the person I find more attractive?

    That thought raises a whole bunch of different issues, like (as John Green mentioned) discrimination against less-attractive people. But as far as I know that kind of discrimination happens to both sexes. Subconsciously I’d rather hire the man who’s like me and looks handsome than the man who’s like me and looks ugly. So it’s not a matter of sexism, exactly.

    But that’s all getting away from the point, which is whether women have a harder time getting in than men. That’s really the issue, isn’t it? That’s what the whole argument boils down to: Is it harder for women to get in than men? If it is, then Ms. Kiai is right, and it’s important to protest that. But if it isn’t harder, and the problem entirely goes back to the player ratios, then going on about alleged sexist hiring practices is pointless and misses the actual solution.

    Maybe what would solve the male-female ratio is getting more people into the games industry from other disciplines. Novelists. Poets. Musicians. Filmmakers. Dance choreographers. Chefs. People who understand emotions, and are willing to look for new ways to evoke them. People who aren’t thinking in the ways that inbred game designers have learned to think. That’s the solution. You open up the potential a little more, get more diverse ambitions in there, and all the stigmas and connotations go away. And I bet you anything the gender ratio would go away with them.

  21. “But wouldn’t the subconscious bias be for the woman? If I imagine myself hiring, and there are two people of equal talent, wouldn’t my natural inclination be to hire the person I find more attractive?”

    What if it’s an unattractive woman?

    “But if it isn’t harder, and the problem entirely goes back to the player ratios, then going on about alleged sexist hiring practices is pointless and misses the actual solution.”

    What if both problems exist and need to be solved?

  22. Mory Buckman says:

    “What if it’s an unattractive woman?”

    That comment sounds like you wrote it before reading my whole comment, since I addressed that in the following paragraph. But to repeat myself: yes, there would naturally be a bias against unattractive women. But I think there’s also naturally a bias against unattractive men, so it’s an issue entirely separate from sexism.

    “What if both problems exist and need to be solved?”

    Then show me that the problem you’re talking about exists! Have you ever met a woman who you knew was qualified to get into the games industry, but wasn’t let in specifically because she was a woman? If anyone here knows of such a person, speak up! I’m not saying that it hasn’t happened, I’m saying I don’t know either way. And I don’t see that it’s particularly likely to happen.

  23. Actually, yes, I have met such a woman, though she had a game industry job before. However, upon getting laid off, she applied unsuccessfully for jobs, being passed over for young men who didn’t necessarily have more experience than she did, and now she no longer works in games at all. Of course, it wasn’t directly said that the reason she wasn’t hired was because she was a woman, and I’m sure they’d give some other excuse as to why. Still, the situation does seem kind of suspect…

    There is also a certain game company I know (and I’m sure it’s not the only one that does this) that doesn’t even advertise many of its job postings, offering preferential treatment instead to people they already know and have worked with before at other companies, all of whom are men. They aren’t even looking to see whether a new person might come along and demonstrate an even better skillset! They prefer to go with someone comfortable and familiar. Hence, although they aren’t outright turning down a specific woman, they are effectively avoiding the possibility.

  24. Mory Buckman says:

    Okay. That’s a problem.

  25. Corvus says:

    Mory, it’s not about attraction–it’s about empathy. If the hiring manager is a white male, he’ll best be able to imagine how another white male will perform in the workplace. And, because he has the most experience being a white male, he will more quickly develop empathy with another white male during the interview process.

    This leads to a situation where he will naturally feel that another white male is the best fit and/or most qualified candidate.

    Notice that I say naturally, but don’t confuse it with justly.

    I’m not saying these instincts can’t be compensated for–with training, they can. My point is that without that training, or a bit of self awareness, a homogeneous group will often remain homogeneous.

    I’ve seen this in action myself. I was part of a hiring panel to fill a position I was vacating. The department manager, another white male, really responded to men his own age and thought they’d be excellent fits–even when they had absolutely no verifiable experience or ability to answer my technical questions satisfactorily.

    Fortunately, in that particular situation, he was able to review his actions and responses and make clearer decisions afterwards. It helped immensely, however, that the third person on the panel was a woman and that I worked with him to assess actual capabilities. I’ve seen other situations where the person in charge overrides input and hires disasters because they’re “good fits.”

  26. MusEditions says:

    From the perspective of an avid AG gamer who has never designed a game, but is quite interested in this issue: It seems to go even further back than in hiring practices. There don’t seem to be too many female Indie game developers either, and that’s a place where aspiring pro devs can cut their pixely teeth.
    I’ve played many, many games from the Adventure Game Studio site (I only bring this up because there are hundreds of indie games over there), and while I haven’t counted, the 10-to-1 ratio of male to female creators seems about right. This has nothing to do with hiring practices as most of these games are free to download, so essentially the developer is hiring her/himself.
    Recently, I replayed all the games in the Reality-on-the-Norm series (gosh help me)—at least all the ones that would still work on my computer, and I went through all 9 pages of the 80+ RON games without finding one obvious female name listed as creator. Granted, a few of the developers use pseudonyms, and one or two were names I wasn’t sure of, gender-wise, because of my unfamiliarity with country of origin, but still!!! The series could use a fresh perspective, and is a good place to start. (There’re also only around 1% characters-of-colour in those games, too. And don’t get me started on how the Mika Huy character has been “used”. And: There are around 25 recurring characters, four of which are female, and one of THEM is a fox. {insert joke})
    So why ARE female people not nearly as attracted to making games in the first place? As you said, it requires math and programming skills, but lots of women have those—don’t they? It requires artistic and writing skills, and plenty of women have those. There are certainly lots of female AG players.
    Your prior post about empowering games for girls (June 1), I think, supports early education as key. Some research supports the notion that volunteering in a field which one loves often leads to employment in that field. Indie developers are essentially “volunteering” their gaming skills to benefit us consumers (thank you!), and if more girls were encouraged to try that, they perhaps might then pursue education and employment in the field, much as you did, Deirdra!

  27. John Green says:

    I know women who have not gotten jobs in the games industry and the comics industry because they are women. You’ll just have to believe me, as I’m certainly not going to name names.

    There are actually quite a number of women who have worked in comics who resubmitted rejected work under a male pseudonym and then had the work accepted.

  28. laterose says:

    Up until recently I taught a 3D animation class for children aged 7-12. The 10-1 male/female ratio held up in those classes, even at such a young age. And that is with the staff actively recruiting female students. For whatever reason even at that age, it’s an easier sale to get a boy into the class than a girl. And it’s not like that’s based on who played games versus who didn’t; in the hall during breaks there were just as many girls playing with their DS’s as there were boys.

    It is a problem. Many of the female students were bothered by the lack of female classmates, and said as much. Even if they enjoyed the class and were good at working in 3D, I suspect most of them would not go into it as a field later in life just because they’ve picked up on the idea that it’s not something women do.

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