Encouraging More Voices, and TjejHack’s Debut

Earlier this week, TjejHack made its Stockholm debut. This is a scheme which was founded by Inger Ekman, and which encourages local girls and women to take their first steps into game development. I volunteer my services there, and have been given a new perspective on the push to increase gender diversity.

Gender equality in games and the industry is a topic which lays close to my heart. Ever since a series of women in games events encouraged my friends and I to found LadyCADE, I’ve been invited to talk at events, I helped to form a geek podcast with an inclusivity angle, and have generally been doing my own small part to keep the conversation moving. And yet, while I hope the things I have to say are of some value, I am aware that I’m often preaching to the converted.

Stepping back a little bit: I feel we’ve reached a point where the recruitment drive has begun to work. Not only are more women playing games, but they are making them too, thanks to supportive communities and academic institutions encouraging more girls and women to get stuck in. One of the many upsides to this is that if game development is becoming more gender-balanced, that means there’ll be more voices in industry to add to our own current minority.

I’m a firm believer in promoting a diverse range of voices, at least in part so that a mere handful of people may be spared the weight of apparently speaking for their entire minority group. The problems inherent to situations like that are too many to go into here, but I (for one) would no more willingly be asked to speak for all women or trans people than I would the British population, railway fanatics or goth subculture.

I think that on some level, I had all this in mind when excitedly joining Inger Ekman’s efforts to form a girls’ hacking club in Huddinge, Stockholm. TjejHack invites girls and women from the age of 10 upwards to a free, weekly meetup at a local library. The first meeting took place last week, and the group – who represent a good spread of ages – have begun by recreating the fundamentals of Flappy Bird in Scratch.

Inger Ekman guides the group through making their first game, applying movement scripts to on-screen characters.

Inger Ekman guides the group through making their first game, applying movement scripts to on-screen characters.

On some level at least, TjejHack offers a peek behind the curtain, showing just how easy it can be to make a game using contemporary tools. Very soon we’ll be encouraging its members to develop their own games in the likes of Scratch, Twine and Unity – supporting them in what they want to do, and encouraging the group to do the same for each other.

What this means to me is that – as well as being a fun and worthwhile endeavour – TjejHack becomes an opportunity to support women in creating games, where they never had before. It is, by its nature, a more active way to meet the gender equality goal. No matter where schemes like this are conducted, it serves to bring more people’s creative voices into the medium, and I think that is vital.

I feel I should stress that I don’t have any particular agenda here. I don’t believe, for example, that we are suffering any monotony or ego in the current push for a more inclusive medium and industry. Nevertheless, I’m beginning to feel (at a more personal level) that schemes like these, which work behind the scenes to make things better, deserve hefty focus for the fact they represent real action. If it’s at all within my power to do so, I’d like to encourage more women in games to do similar; in turn encouraging more women to add their voices to ours.