The Opportunities and Shortcomings of Female Game Designers

Mario, Sonic, Donkey Kong, and Link – what do they all have in common? Besides being classic gaming characters, they’re all male. The gaming industry has long been dominated by men, and it is reflected through the leading male characters and stereotypical “Mario saves Peach” mentality. Even though women comprise almost half of gamers today, they are missing from the frontline of game design. In 2015, 75 percent of game designers were male. However, this gap is much smaller than it was a couple of years earlier. In 2005, females accounted for only 11.5 percent of the workforce. Although the gap is diminishing over the years, it is a slow growth and women have many obstacles to overcome to become successful leaders in the industry.

Why Aren’t Women in the Gaming Industry?
The stereotypes are the main reason women are shying away from the industry. Mental blocks and gendered norms put pressure on women, just like any STEM career. Some female designers and developers have unfortunately been victims of cyber harassment, also scaring other females away from entering the industry. Another thing that impacts women entering the workforce, according to Laila Shabir, founder and CEO of Girls Make Games, is the nature of the work. The game design industry tends to be inflexible in work days and hours and not supportive on issues such as maternity leave and support. There is also a disparity in the salaries between men and women. According to a study by Gamasutra in 2014, women made 86 cents to every dollar men made. Men on average made $85K, while women only earned $72K. 

Resources for Aspiring Female Game Designers

Although there are many factors that push women away from the gaming world, there are plenty of companies and organizations promoting girl power in the gaming industry. On 24 March 2017, tech company Lenovo announced that it is teaming up with Girls Who Code, a national non-profit working towards reducing gender inequality in the tech industry, and USC, one of the top game design programs in the United States, to teach women about game design and inspire them towards the career. Other universities such as the University of California, Santa Cruz are taking steps to ensure female enrollment in their game design programs. UCSC boasts 38 percent female enrollment compared to the industry standard of about 25 percent.

Once women start down the path toward a dream career in gaming, there are also many support groups across the country to encourage female designers. One of these support systems is IGFA, which is a community and forum for women to discuss experiences and participate in educational opportunities. They also provide online harassment resources to help women deal with the stereotyping and bullying within the gaming industry.

The Tides Are Changing

The gaming world is slowly becoming a viable option for women interested in the craft. However, it is a slow and arduous journey. People are beginning to look ahead and change the culture of gender norms and acceptance in gaming, but it is up to each female designer to weave through the shortcomings of the industry and carve their own path with the opportunities provided.

Jenny Holt

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