As my Goodreads friends will already know, I am currently reading Introducing Feminism: A Graphic Guide. I’m reading up on the subject after a long-running and heated debate about women in games development erupted on my Facebook wall. I’ve always been interested in the topic, but it feminism fascinates me now more than ever, and I’m dead pleased that the debate itself will soon be mentioned in Develop.
We were discussing the “merits” of women in games development, in pretty broad fashion: why they need promoting; if it even merits discussion; and why and how women are discouraged from this and other, supposedly masculine fields. It is in this particular frame that I find myself drawn to Virginia Woolf’s work. To quote Jenainati and Groves’ book:
In A Room of One’s Own, [Woolf] explored the cultural and economic constraints on female creativity, and pondered the historical and political obstacles which have hampered the establishing of a female literary tradition.
Of course, her work also went on to decry the ridiculous social pressures which were put upon those women who dared to have minds of their own. Interestingly, her work also covered a very real and present double standard which is applied to the assertion of feminine sexuality – but I digress. The important point I found was that in the late 1920s, Virginia Woolf was pushing for greater female representation in the literary genre. Books were being written by men, for men and women, with only a masculine viewpoint on who and what women are. Not only does this have an impact upon employment, barring all but a few women writers, but it also has gross a social impact. Women were left to the mercy of an overwhelmingly masculine media view, dictating the value of their own identities worth in society. This does arguably spur the more pioneering women to challenge the medium and write their own stories, but that sort of motion is till fraught with obstacles.
Now look at the present day. I even cited literature in one of these discussions, as an example of a medium with good gender representation: for every J.K. Rowling there’s a Philip Pullman, and for every Stieg Larsson there’s a Patricia Cornwell. But sacrifices had to be made and campaigning had to be done to get to this point. Would anyone argue that diversity amongst authors makes for anything but a better medium?
This is why we need to encourage women into games, with an eye to achieving something more balanced and sensible. Theoretically no woman is actually blocked from this industry (though reports of sexism in the workplace and at interview still crop up), but they are subtly discouraged, certainly in comparison to men. The fact that video games themselves remain a somewhat masculine medium does not help, and it’s likely borne of the cycle in which women are discouraged from designing them, and so a woman’s perspective is not felt in future games’ design process.
It’s hard to argue that games have as much of an impact upon our society as books have done and continue to do, but many academics and developers are making powerful arguments that they can and should. The day may come when, as Jane McGonigal suggests, games will have a social responsibility ingrained in their structure, and that they will achieve good. The pressing question is: will that game be made purely by men?