Why the computer games industry is missing a trick by ignoring women and girls

Eleonora Asparuhovacreative director of Games Art and Animation and HE lead Creative Media at LMA in Liverpool talks about how we get more girls into gaming

Gamers
Many girls are gamers but just 22% work in the gaming workforce

 

Play a game such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, or Minecraft and you can be pretty sure that some of those you’ll be playing will be women and girls.

Walk into the offices of those making blockbuster games like this and women are pretty much nowhere to be seen. In fact, according to a recent survey, just 22% of the global gaming workforce is female.

It’s a major problem, and one which the industry needs to do much more to tackle. While girls and women may like to play games – despite the popular perception of computer games as a largely male pursuit – they’re not currently getting a look-in when it comes to creating them.

STEM careers

The reasons for this are complex but – as it so often does – it starts in the classroom. 

Despite years of campaigns encouraging girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers, there is still a perception that technology, maths and science is for boys and humanities are for girls.

We, as a society, need to send the message that this isn’t right. And in schools, part of this is about seeing the arts and tech not as two disparate disciplines but as complimentary – especially when it comes to careers in the gaming and digital sector.

Then we might see more girls choosing to study programming or computer science in addition to more artistic pursuits – opening up many new doors for them in the process.

The false dichotomy between the arts and the sciences benefits no-one. And the creative and critical thinking skills art develops can be applied to other subjects and are essential for understanding core subjects. Nowhere can the marriage between the arts and tech be seen quite like in the gaming industry.

Cultural issues

Of course, it’s not only education that holds the key to attracting more women into gaming. While our education system should do more to push girls towards careers in gaming, the sector itself needs to make more of an effort to welcome them in (and, crucially, keep them).

Part of this will involve tackling some significant cultural issues. The Gamergate controversy of 2014, which saw the trolling of developer Zoe Quinn – seemingly just because she had the temerity to have XX chromosomes and make a game – and the consequent intimidation of women in the industry if they dared speak out showed just how pernicious a ‘boys club’ culture can get.

Eleonora Asparuhova
Eleonora Asparuhova, creative director of Games Art and Animation

 

Commercial landscape

But it also showed something else. Women developers might just have something a little different to bring to the table. And who knows, the buying public might just like it.

Quinn’s game, which allowed users to navigate their way through the world of someone with depression, was certainly unlike the shoot ‘em up narratives we’re familiar with.

But in a commercial landscape, where disruptors can reap the big rewards, maybe fresh perspectives could be good for the industry; having more female voices on board can only help create new, innovative products that appeal to a wider market.

Recently, the high-profile gamer Ninja said that he did not want to play games with girls because he was worried about his wife thinking he’s flirting online. He’s not the first gamer to say something like this and to me it is attention seeking but he is part of, and is fuelling, a sexist culture where it’s OK to exclude girls and women.

Female gamers

Forget the stereotypes, women are big consumers of video games.  In the US, around 45% of gamers are women. In Korea, the figure stands at 37% and in Japan, girls actually make up the majority of gamers, with 66% of users being female.

And they’d like to be represented in the games they play. A 2015 study showed that while 60% of girls would like to play games as female protagonists, just 3.6% of games with protagonists with discernible sexes had exclusively female protagonists.

Put simply, girls enjoy playing games. And there’s great potential for them to get even more into it – if only the sector’s products spoke to them a bit more.

All businesses must grow and maintain market share if they’re to survive and at the moment, the industry is quite inexplicably ignoring this huge, largely untapped market. Women play games in spite of the fact that they don’t represent them and other gamers are sometimes hostile.

Imagine how much bigger this market – and the profits – could be if the industry was actually making some semblance of an effort to speak to them?

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