Women in Games Development

"Introducing Feminism: A Graphic Guide" by Cathia Jenainati & Judy Groves

I am currently reading Introducing Feminism: A Graphic Guide. I’m reading up on the subject after a heated debate about women in games development erupted onto my Facebook wall. I’ve always been interested in the topic, but feminism fascinates me now more than ever, and I’m pleased to say that the debate itself will soon be mentioned in Develop.

Those of us involved were discussing the merits of women in games development, in broad fashion. Why do women need promoting? Does the topic even merit discussion? Why and how are women discouraged from this and other, supposedly masculine fields? It is in this particular frame that I find myself drawn onwards to Virginia Woolf’s work. To quote:

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.

Jenainati & Groves

Of course, Woolf’s work also went on to decry the social pressures put upon such women who dared to have (and speak) 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, thus representing 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 from paid work in the medium — but it also has a gross social impact. Women were at the mercy of an overwhelmingly masculine media view which dictated the value of their own identities in society.

Now look at the present day. I even cited literature in one of these Facebook-walled discussions, as it could be seen as an example of a medium with better 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 in order to reach 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 a more balanced and sensible spread of creators. Theoretically no woman is actually blocked from this industry (though reports of sexism in the workplace and at job interviews still crop up), but they are subtly discouraged, certainly in comparison to men. The fact that the video games audience is still perceived as skewing male does not help, and that is likely a result of the fact women are discouraged from designing them. Women’s perspectives are not being felt in the games development process, in the present or near-future.

It’d be hard to argue (yet) that games wield as great 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 in future. 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?