Add gaming to the list of male-dominated industries. Despite the exploding popularity of this medium across demographics — according to a Pew Internet and American Life Project and Mills College survey, 97 percent of American teens aged 12 to 17 play video games at least two hours a week — women make up only 13 percent of the employees in the gaming industry. And that includes business positions, not just creative jobs like the coveted role of video game designer. Additionally, women in this industry are paid an average of 25 percent less than men. What gives?
According to Dr. Mary Flanagan, an award-winning game designer, researcher,and professor at Dartmouth College, the underlying problem is that the industry still exudes “a culture of virtual guns, babes and ammo … and spoils what could otherwise be a revolutionary design space for new kinds of thinking, learning and collaboration, if only the industry would diversify.” In short, she writes in Gamasutra (the online version of Game Developer Magazine), the gender disparity is the last thing that the industry wants to “deal with.” She writes, “No one wants to ask development teams to self- censor. What if that hurts creativity? Why deal with this at all? Wouldn’t it be easier to just avoid women altogether?”
But Flanagan argues that this issue should be “dealt with,” for the betterment of the industry. Not only is it proven that women can design great video games (and other games as well), but in general, Flanagan argues, the industry would benefit from teams that include a variety of opinions and ideas from different demographics.
In fact, gaming was arguably created by a woman, Anne W. Abbott, who designed the first board game published in the U.S. in 1843. Other iconic American games, such as Jenga, Monopoly, Portal, and Centipede, were also created by women. And the Alien Game project has proven that games that are created by women have a broader appeal across genders, which equals greater sales and profits for businesses.
Flanagan is pushing to revolutionize the gaming industry by making it gender equal by 2020. To do that, she says that women in the industry need to speak up and make their presence known. She recommends that these women visit schools or host a panel at a gaming conference to prove to young women and girls that they, too, can become game designers. But the men can also help, by pushing for equality on industry panels and in the workplace. After all, diversity is good for business. “If we add more diverse voices to the video game industry, we will create vastly different games that reflect a diversity of thought and social values,” Flanagan writes. “Bring us different games, those that inspire, teach, entertain and open minds.” And bring in the women.