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Not That Question - January 25th, 2010

This is Slide 7 from my presentation about the fantasy vs. reality of indie game development:

Slide 9 is about asking your parents for money.

As you may have guessed, I frequently get asked questions about women, women who play video games, women who make video games, and the depictions of women in video games by predominantly male game developers. My immediate reaction is usually something like, “Buhhhh…”

Because, as I see it, anyone who knows how to attract more women to video games (and game development), has already done so and is making a killing at it. I certainly don’t know “what women want” in a video game. In fact, the subject of “what women want” is so fraught with peril that there is an Arthurian legend about it.

However, this is my recent attempt to make sense of that very question, in an interview by Igor Hardy. It sums up what I’ve come to believe about women and games, and I hope it makes sense to my readers at home.

IH: Game design jobs are still pretty much dominated by men. Do you feel that it shows in the games themselves? Are there any concepts that you think would be great to turn into games, but are either completely missed or misunderstood by the male game designers?

ER: I think everyone wants to know why females are underrepresented in both the gamer and game developer communities. But it’s important to remember that even though women make up a smaller percentage, there are still millions and millions of them buying games. So rather than listing specific examples of what I think games are “missing”, I’m going to explain why I think the types of games we play, and the face of game development, is going to change. Warning: anecdote ahead.

When I first told my parents that I wanted to make games for a living, they were very supportive of my decision. My dad saw it as a great opportunity, and he gave me some advice that I’ve taken to heart. He told me that historically, as women became more influential in the decisions involved in buying a house, or buying a car, it led to more women choosing jobs in real estate and car sales. Women could better predict which features of a house or car would appeal to a woman. And I do believe the same thing will happen in game development as more women begin to love games. There are also a good deal of female game developers (particularly in the indie scene) if you know where to look.

As an addendum, here is where to look:

Auntie Pixelante (a.k.a. Anna Anthropy): Indie game developer who specializes in low-fi masocore games like Mighty Jill Off and When Pigs Fly.

Auriond: Founder of Team Effigy, which recently released horror adventure game The Marionette.

Barbara “Babsi” Lippe: Developer and visual artist for Papermint, one of the cutest virtual worlds known to science.

Brenda Brathwaite: Published author and industry veteran, who has worked on more titles than I can list here. I include her on my list of indie devs because of her controversial game Train, among other things.

Cindy Poremba: Member of Kokoromi, lecturer at Montreal’s Concordia University, and documentary videogame maker.

Emily Short: Renowned interactive fiction author, with more than 15 titles to her name (Including the award-winning Galatea). She also wrote the story for the devilishly addictive word game Clockwords, in which I’m already at level 38.

FionaSarah: Freelance web developer by trade, she created the exploration-based Ludum Dare game Scavenger. It was written in Python and it’s about space, so you might feel a nerd-swoon coming on.

Girlflash (a.k.a Sophie Houlden): Maker of the brain-bending Boxgame and highly amusing Linear RPG.

Kellee Santiago: Co-founder of thatgamecompany, which created the stellar PS3 title Flower.

KinokoFry (a.k.a. Rebecca Clements): Accomplished cartoonist and creator of the offbeat adventure game Cirque de Zale.

moboid (a.k.a. Heather Kelley): Founding member of Kokoromi, Montreal’s art/games collective responsible for the Gamma events.

Nanananini (a.k.a. Janina Szkut): Developer for Book Oven, a text-editing site with social gaming elements.

Polycube (a.k.a. Anna): Game design student and creator of cool flash toys like play with my heart.

Robin Hunicke: Game designer and producer, currently working for thatgamecompany.

Supershigi (a.k.a. Laura Shigihara): Wrote that promo song for Plants vs. Zombies (you know the one) and is also working on an adventure/RPG called Melolune.

And we didn’t all spend high school study hall designing text adventures. Just some of us.

7 Responses to “Not That Question”

  1. Nick Robinson Says:

    I think it’s worth noting that there’s both an Arthurian legend AND a Mel Gibson movie about what women want.

    If that doesn’t establish the seriousness of the problem, I don’t know what does.

  2. Ivy Says:

    I do not want Mel Gibson [spoilers].

  3. sinoth Says:

    Sorry if I’ve missed something, but are these slides available anywhere?

  4. Ivy Says:

    I didn’t post them anywhere because I thought I might get lazy and use them in a future presentation. I’ll think about putting them up, though. They’re a nice example of my work in the medium of “hastily-drawn Sharpie.”

  5. Emanuele Says:

    add Katarina Borg Gillenback, from stockholm, lecturer on narratology (?) and storytelling applied on interactive media!

  6. It’s not a gender issue, it’s a linkspam issue (25th March, 2010) | Geek Feminism Blog Says:

    [...] Erin Robinson is over being asked about women in game development [...]

  7. urbia Says:

    As an inspiring female developer, while it’s encouraging to hear that there will be more opportunities in game development for women because more women are buying games, I hope what won’t happen is a segregation within the game development industry.

    The last thing I’d want to see are female game developers being assigned to projects according to gender stereotypes. This happens already in the advertising industry, ie. women being assigned to projects that involve cosmetics, fashion, and being pigeonholed there so their portfolios aren’t nearly as diverse or competitive as their male peers’.

    When I enrolled in a game development program at a technical college, it was just assumed that I would be making games for the female market. In reality, I’m interested in making third-person shooters and PvP-oriented games that are competitive and violent. In fact, most of the games I’ve played in the past have fallen under this category – I want to make them, but better. I have never touched The Sims and would be bored out of my mind if I were assigned to yet another sequel of The Sims (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with The Sims).