Reality is Broken author and game designer, Jane McGonigal, called out the genres and game mechanics that dominate the industry as discouraging to potential female developers, “because there’s not enough investment in AAA games about something other than war, cowboys, football, cars. sorry, but it’s true.”
Voicing her frustration due to the assumption of what is accepted practice within the industry, Game Designer, Caryn Vainio, tweeted “I got blank stares when I asked why a female soldier in a game I worked on looked like a porn star.”
Thousands of game developers, journalists, critics, and fans across the industry jumped on board, adding to the growing topic on Twitter. Though I’m sure well intentioned, this energy didn’t extend past attention-grabbing tweets during the following two weeks.
Twitter follower counts increased. The industry remains unchanged.
Gabrielle Toledano, executive vice president and chief talent officer of Electronic Arts, noted her frustration with the movement in her Forbes piece in January. She noted that while sexism does continue to be a part of our industry, as it does in other industries, it isn’t the central cause of gender inequality.
“When it comes to sexism in video game studios, there’s a big disconnect between perception and reality,” she continues to explain, “As an insider, I find this argument is misguided. It’s easy to blame men for not creating an attractive work environment – but I think that’s a cop-out. If we want more women to work in games, we have to recognize that the problem isn’t sexism.”
The video game industry isn’t alone in its gender inequality. A recent study noted “Female participation in biological, medical and life sciences is very high — above 50 percent in some countries. However, in physics, computer sciences and engineering, the participation rate of women is less than 30 percent in most countries.”
Trying to understand why can lead to a focus on the symptoms of inequality, rather than the root cause. Whether or not the video game industry will trend upwards in female participation across computer science fields, or if we will stay rooted in the past, depends on the next few years of action taken on the part of gender equality within the video game industry. Essentially, it is up to you and I.
Among the conversation surrounding #1ReasonWhy, Toledano’s response to the controversy is the first article that begins to try and identify what is at the cause of this issue.
To do that, we need to look outside the industry to other computer science fields where women are being successfully educated and recruited.
Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd, saw the percentage of female graduates with computer science degrees jump from 10% to 40% from 2005 to 2012. She accomplished this by first understanding why women don’t enter computer science.
She summarized by saying, “No. 1, they think they won’t like it, No. 2 they think they won’t be good at it, and No. 3 they think the people who major in computer science are geeks who have no life, and they don’t want to be seen as that.”
Regarding the perception of capability, Klawe continues, ““the whole culture is swaying young women to say this is not for me, I won’t be good at it.”
I personally have a daughter and a son. When my son was born, I received questions about whether he would follow in my footsteps, creating games for living. My daughter never solicited the same questions. Why would I not encourage both of them equally to consider my career field?
Interestingly, two of the reasons included in Klawe’s list are elements of fun and work culture. We know that makes sense, but our industry is known for churning through its employees.
Could our reliance on crunch as an industry also be costing us diversity? Are these two things related as the perception of a sweatshop industry becomes the common interpretation of what it means to be a game developer? Are we managing and selecting projects that reinforce the idea that we are a bunch of “geeks who have no life”? The previously mentioned OWSD and WIGSAT study may hint as to what happens after women enter our industry.
“Even when women enroll in science and technology programs, as many as 30 percent drop out due to lack of flexible work hours and child care,” indicating that our industry’s work cycle may be inherently skewed towards retaining more men than women.
It doesn’t help when a mainstream analyst, such a Michael Pachter, shows no sympathy for the crunch culture, “If you’re getting into the industry, you are going to work plenty of hours”.
An Oxfam-produced resource on gender equality gives further insight. “Certain abuses of working conditions therefore – such as long working hours and obligatory, unannounced overtime – are not only wrong in themselves, but also disproportionately affect and disadvantage women, and conflict far more with their greater domestic burdens.” This pertains to the developing world, which makes it all the more shocking how closely it relates to our industry’s working conditions.
If extra work hours cost us diversity, then you have to wonder what we get in return for crunch culture. According to decades of research, we see absolutely no gains from all of the excessive overtime, particularly for “knowledge-based” professions. It costs us people, and I would argue diversity. If diversity is a key to our future as an industry, then the price of our crunch culture may be far greater than we think.
“It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits — starting right now, today — is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing,” says Sara Robinson in her exhaustive and comprehensive breakdown of overtime policy in the workplace over the last several decades.
Aside from our industry maturing into a sustainable workplace, what hope do we have for more gender equality in the workplace?
If our industry wants more diversity and equality, we need to encourage young women to consider careers in computer science at an early stage. Encouragement and exposure need to happen at an equal amount as young men, and we need to make it fun. Women within our industry have an advantageous position in presenting and encouraging other women as role models. Let’s invite them into schools and organizations to speak about what they do.
We can’t stop there.
Klawe argues that the first semester of college is key for attracting women to computer science. Efforts need to be made to improve computer science and video game curriculum to focus on fun during the first year. By working with local educational institutions to ensure that women have fun in their first computer science courses, female graduates with computer science degrees increases.
Companies could make great PR wins by sponsoring scholarships for women to enter video game education programs. What would happen if Valve provided scholarships to three women a year to attend Digipen? Surely, a company that is more profitable per employee than Apple or Google could afford this investment in our industry. Profitable companies in the games industry, together, could easily support one hundred women per year, paying their way through game education programs, calling attention to the seriousness of this issue, and our intent to fix it.
Perhaps, “#1ReasonsWhy” could then become “#100ReasonsWhy”. It’s an investment those of us who find success should make back into the industry we love and wish to sustain.