Games Boys Play

August 03, 2009

I talked to a young woman on Monday and she said, “I was a psychology major in college and I design games on my own, but I’m not sure if I would be a good game designer.” The punch line was that the young woman was Erin Robinson, who two days later was one of the winners of the Game Design Challenge at GDC.

— Noah Falstein, games consultant,
International Game Developers Association (IGDA), April 2009

Image from danifesto's Flickr photostream

Image from danifesto's Flickr photostream

Judging from the news hype generated by Comic-Con in the last two weeks, people are embracing the tech fantasy world like never before. The convention that started as a haven for comic fans now brings out Hollywood and video game makers in droves. The two are increasingly combining forces to develop games based on movies for both adults and kids. The problem, as blogger Women & Hollywood points out, is that the stats for women in Hollywood are “dismal.” Women’s employment in key behind-the-scenes roles such as director and writer has declined in every role since 1998. Pair that with a lack of women game developers, and one can see why most women spend less time playing video games than men: games are still often not designed with women in mind.

The results from a study out of Michigan State University suggests that another reason women play fewer video games than men is because they are required to fulfill more obligatory activities. The researchers found that adult women have less leisure time than men and what time they do have is available in smaller chunks. Given this, it is not surprising that women who play video games do so for shorter periods of time than men. Unfortunately, this lack of game time for women mirrors some of the trends we’re seeing in tech careers and education.

Interestingly, the public doesn’t seem too concerned. Though Americans overwhelmingly agree that science and technology will foster more opportunities for the next generation and they consistently express high levels of interest in science and tech, they are less likely to say their children, in particular, should be exposed to more math and science. The Women in Games group of the IDGA, however, begs to differ. They believe that gaming builds essential skills critical for 21st-century ways of doing business — and that women need to take part. Like Falstein’s story above, one of the greatest challenges is simply breaking the stereotype among women, themselves, that women aren’t gamers.

Looking for resources to break the stereotype? Check out the IT section on AAUW’s NGCP Resources page.

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