By Ruby Mountford.
Near the end of April, the unlikely topic of Video Games was brought up by the UK minister for equality, Chi Onwurah. “Only 6% of those who work… in the UK games industry are women, despite the fact that they make up 50% of those who play the games.” She said.
Is hearing that the gaming industry is dominated by men a shocker?
Video games, and the culture surrounding them, have been considered extremely unwelcoming to women for some time. With over 85% of characters in games being male, and an overwhelming majority of the development team being male, there is little to no room for female perspective in development. It shows.
Off the top of my head, I can think of a handful of games that have a female protagonist, and one of those is Mrs Pacman. If I exclude games that give you the option of choosing gender, I can count them on one hand. The male voice is deafening in the games industry, and yet the number of women who play videogames is rising rapidly. A study published by Entertainment Software Association last year claimed that 47% of all game players were women.
So why aren’t there more women in the industry?
Gabrielle Toledano claimed in her article Women and Video Game’s Dirty Little Secret that the sexist culture in video games is exaggerated, and that the industry wants to employ more women, but there aren’t enough of them applying.
And yet, other women in the industry are saying that it is as bad, if not worse, then you would expect. Last year, under the hashtag #1reasonwhy, people within the gaming industry tweeted one reason why there were not more women working in video games. A selection of these tweets, from both men and women, is displayed with a quick analysis at Kotaku.com, and ranged from work place prejudice to outright groping.
A screenshot of two #1reasonwhy tweets
Also touching on #1reasonwhy, an article by Leah Burrows on The Boston Globe interviewed a number of women who worked in the the industry, with reports how women coped working in an environment that was at times “openly hostile towards women.”
Is there a solution? Things do seem to be getting better, albiet slowly. In Burrows’ article, Courtney Stanton, a game designer and founder of the networking group Women in Games Boston, was quoted saying “It’s true, the industry is not as actively bad as it used to be, but not actively bad is an embarrassingly low bar.”
Simply saying ‘you should hire more women’ isn’t going to fix this problem. The issue is attitude, and that will take time, and a whole lot of fighting.
I’ve never played video or online games, because they haven’t interested me. Yet, one of my closest friends is obsessed. Name any character from any game and she’ll know who you’re talking about. It’s a shame that an industry so popular among both men and women mainly employs one gender. Perhaps education is the answer. That way, people will realise why being “openly hostile” towards a certain gender is wrong, and that women are equally suitable for the job as men are.
It’s a bit of a vicious cycle; women see the games and see the male influences in them and are put off, and without a female voice in production the way women are being shown is changing very slowly.
But I think that, given the number of women playing games now, and wanting to play games that show women as strong characters in their own right, sooner or later companies may realise that they’re not quite getting it right, and they might just need more than 6% of their work staff to be women if they want to know how to appeal to the female market.