From apps to consoles, portables to handhelds, the games industry has exploded over the years as more and more people have started to play games. This has seen a huge growth and overall change in terms of gender, with a reported 49% of gamers now being female. We’ve been speaking to game enthusiasts and researching comments across the industry.
A recent study by Redshift Research revealed that:
Keisha Howard started Sugar Gamers in 2009 as a community hub to encourage female gamers to unite. She has since been a part of tournaments such as Robot Combat League and attracts over 300 members to her site. She believes that a lot of it is down to attitude and the “definition of what a gamer is.”
“I believe that most hardcore gamers typically have a very elitist and exclusive definition of what a gamer is, which excludes a lot of people, especially women,”
Sugar Gamers includes a diverse range of women members from a wide variety of areas of employment, whether they are lawyers or beauticians. But regardless of their professional background, they all have one common interest in gaming and meet together to host events on their passion. Even though Keisha is a huge fan of competitive gaming, she also uses it to de-stress. “I take more pleasure from inhabiting a character in some alternate universe for a while. I love being Lara Croft or Chris Redfield,” she continued.
Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central, also believes that the number of female gamers should increase.
“One would hope that it would be reflective of society, including those who play games, but it is not.”
This argument can be supported by the fact that despite the relative equality between both genders playing games, statistics only show that a small percentage of females go on to pursue a career in gaming and the gaming industry.
Onwurah stated in a speech at the European Gaming Conference in Gateshead that ‘2,400 home female students from the UK were accepted on to full-time undergraduate computer courses, as opposed to over 15,100 men’. If females, make up 14% of these undergraduates why don’t these figures translate to the commercial world after graduation?
Alison from Women in Games Jobs said: “Six per cent of those who work in ICT in the UK games industry are women, despite the fact that they make up 50 per cent of those who play the games.” In a recent survey by BAFTA Career Pathways it was revealed that 28% females felt that they would not fit in to the industry, compared to 20% males.
Mark Eyles, Course leader of Computer Games Technology at Portsmouth University, said:
“It would help if we could make schools more aware because when they get to university it is too late.”
His argument was role models need to show young women can have a career prospect in gaming and that education of this needs to be pushed more from a younger age.
In 2004, Mark set up a conference as part of a project called Women in Games to provide a platform for women and academics. The purpose was to reduce any imbalance of women in the games industry, and has since inspired similar projects around the globe. He said:
“It was a real eye opener- people were like ‘wow we didn’t know other women were doing this’.”
Also part of the steering committee is Kaye Elling, a lecturer in Computer Games at Bradford University. With over 12 years’ experience in the industry, Kaye has worked on popular games such as GTA2 and Formula 1. She shared her views:
“The economic downturn was a huge catalyst in declining numbers of developers overall and women seemed to be so many of the ones who left.”
Andrew Wilson, lecturer in Computer Games Technology at Birmingham City University, also supported the need to promote the gaming industry as a career option:
“We have one (female enrolling on a course) a year (5%) but they end up being better students because they are more engaged on the course. The games industry is crying to get women involved but we need to show women career prospects.”
So, if education is the way to encourage women to take on gaming how do we do it?
Dr. Yuwei Lin, a lecturer in Future Media at Salford University, suggests there are several ways that this could be pursued.
“For example, one can organise outreaching and aware-raising events or talks focusing on girls, in collaboration with ICT teachers in schools and organisations.”
Not everyone has welcomed female gamers; one of the recent examples of sexism in the games industry was when gamer Anita Sarkeesian faced online harassment. Her social accounts were hacked and nasty comments were posted about her.
This attracted national attention in November and led to industry wide Twitter discussion about how women felt. The Twitter campaign ‘#1reasonwhy’ highlighted sexism in the gaming industry and drew thousands of people from both sexes to contribute. Games writer Rhianna Pratchett who recently worked on the Tomb Raider reboot contributed to the Twitter campaign with “Because I still have to say but what if the player is female.”
Having a number of titles such as scriptwriting for Prince of Persia and Risen under her belt, she has always preferred to speak about her work than her gender. In response to 1ReasonWhy Pratchett started #1ReasontoBe to be more positive about the industry. This resulted in the first #1reasontobe panel at the Game Developers’ Conference (GDC) this year. The ambition is to encourage women in the industry to speak about what they get out of being involved in such a diverse and growing industry and why they love it.
With this momentum, perhaps the uptake in universities and careers in the gaming industry will see more women take their passion to the next level. University lecturers in gaming and IT have encouraged women to take on courses which will lead to jobs in the industry. After speaking to them they said girls had to be shown careers prospects at an early age. The Women in Games Jobs networking group on LinkedIn has over 4000 people.
Although there has been an increase of female gaming it has led to sexist comments online and cyber bullying. Yet the positive outcome was a national debate about how women were contributing to the games industry.
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