SOE: Schooling The Industry On Sexism

Why the developer is using its G.I.R.L. Program to give young women a way into the industry

There's been a lot of talk lately about the struggles those of us without a penis might face in the games industry. Kim Swift has blogged about it, hundreds of women have tweeted about it, and that's only recently. And while all that talking about it is crucial to raise awareness, so are actions that can help to combat it.

And that's why the Sony Online Entertainment G.I.R.L. Program is so important, whatever is in your underwear. It's not just talking the PR talk about the importance of finding a gender balance in the industry, it's actively encouraging it with a scholarship that's delivering real results, and jobs, to young women looking for a way into the industry.

We spoke to SOE's senior VP of global sales and marketing and the spokesperson for the program, Laura Naviaux, about why a company with so many drains on its time and resources would spend any of them on this sort of program, and why Naviaux was so proud to be fronting it.

"It's definitely near and dear to my heart considering that when I started in the games industry almost 15 years ago there were far fewer women," she tells GamesIndustry International.


"Over the years we've watched the games industry evolve, and now people are gaming from every walk of life because of mobile devices and the different platforms. The genres are evolving and now there's a game for everybody. So it's imperative that we have people on the development teams that are women, because you can't have 18-34 year old men making games for every type of demographic."

It's an interesting idea, that so far the majority of the games we play have sprung from such a small section of the population. You might feel that it's obvious, looking at the content, and you might not, but increasing the diversity of the industry can only mean more and more ideas to play with.

And that's where the G.I.R.L. Program comes in. It offers young women in America, aged 18 or over and studying an undergraduate program related to video games, a $10,000 scholarship to use towards college tuition and expenses and a 10 week paid internship with the company.

A testament to its success is what the winners have gone on to do. The winner of the very first scholarship in 2008, Julia Brasil, is now an environment artist at Secret Identity Studios in San Francisco. On finishing her internship at SOE she joined the company on contract, and then as a full time worker.

"We've proven that these interns have had long term employment here, so it's not like 'urgh, we have to fulfil this 3 or 4 month obligation,' they've come on board and become full time employees, and that's when you really know it's working," says Naviaux.

"You can't have 18-34 year old men making games for every type of demographic"

She name checks one of SOE's artistic veterans as a driving force behind making sure the interns get the most out of their time with the company.

"Joe Shoopack, our director of artistic development, he's been one of the people that cares a lot about it and he's the one that has been seeing it through and really mentoring these interns in making that transition a little bit easier on them as they get onto a full game team."

Some winners haven't gone on to game careers, but have found employment in the design world. The 2009 winner Rebecca Gleason is now a UX designer at, and 2010's, Sylvia Liu, is a colour stylist/background painter for Transformers Prime at Hasbro. The more recent winners are still completing their studies at art colleges in California.

Naviaux says the scholarship is an outward sign of the balance she thinks SOE has managed to achieved, and cites female leaders and an environment where everyone's opinion matters as a few more of them.

"We have a lot of women, and a lot of women in every different type of department," she explains.

"A lot of people at SOE would really talk about this family atmosphere, in that there's a lot of mutual respect regardless of your race or religious background or even gender, so I think we're a much more approachable friendly place to work."

She's keen to point out that the scholarship really reflects her experience of the company, that the sense of equality is simply built into life at SOE. She mentions that recently she was walking through the Planetside 2 development area at SOE, and noticed what a heavily female team it was.

"I didn't even realise that we had that many on a game like Planetside 2," she says.


"It's whether [gender diversity] is woven into the fabric of your company and if that's the case, and I think our commitment to this scholarship really shows that it is, then it will be. But when it's forced or people feel like it's not really important or part of the corporate values, then that's when people have those negative experiences."

And does Naviaux foresee a time when this sort of opportunity won't be necessary any more? When it can just be a competition for young people who want to break into the industry, when gender stops being an issue?

"I think we're going to get there. I think we have to. If you look at the mix of people gaming today it's right down the centre, it just depends what your definition of game is. And I think that's what needs to change, that's what needs to evolve, that stigma or stereotype of "a gamer" needs to change."

The 2013 Sony Online Entertainment G.I.R.L. Program will start accepting submissions next month. To stay up to date on the competition requirements and dates keep an eye on the official Twitter feed.

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Latest comments (34)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development9 years ago
>> ".. When it can just be a competition for young people who want to break into the industry, when gender stops being an issue?"

Is this an American problem we don't know about over here? Personally I've never seen this issue and "do you have a dick?" has never been an interview question. There's laws about that even in the unlikely event you do find someone prejudiced.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 17th January 2013 8:53am

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Tom Keresztes Programmer 9 years ago
Agree with Tom and Paul here. It's more of a case of not enough women applying or showing an interest in the industry i would think.
That could be applied to males as well. There were quite few articles just on GamesIndustry.BIZ about education is not teaching the right skills needed in the industry.
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Damien Bigini Press writer 9 years ago
Lots of ideology, or rather ideologization of economic dynamics, since a few monthes in
Really not sure it's for the better, as what used to be a very good news and interviews site about an industry -and which strength and intelligence was in picking the relevant informations- is progressively turning into a moralistic -and quite boring- obnoxious mumbo jumbo.

It's simple, most of the time, when I see certain writers, I skip, because ideology is the antithesis of intelligence.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Damien Bigini on 17th January 2013 11:59am

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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up9 years ago
Never heard of this either. I worked beside lots of women at Sony. Granted not lots in development itself, but still at least 7-8 on a team of about 50 developers. There are industries that are female dominant also, simply because interests differ, in the main.
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Industries whose employees gender balance is dominated by one sex or the other tend to have a similar breakdown in their consumer base, which is where the games industry differs. If so few women are interested in games, why are many huge money-generating genres dominated by female players?

The scholarship program is a great idea, but I think we need to look in a very different place to correct the balance. Society on the whole still views games as a pastime for young boys and immature men, and this image damages our entire industry in so many ways.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 17th January 2013 11:15am

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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend9 years ago
I am in a unique position because I run a games company and also work part-time teaching games development at a local university. From what I see I agree with the previous statements that there just aren't that many females taking up games development as a career. There were two girls on the course I ran 2 years ago out of a class of 15 (one of them dropped out) and this year there are no female students on the course. In fact they were the only females that have been on the course in the three years I have been teaching it.

So really I don't see the 'problem' that everyone keeps talking about. Sure we could try to push more for females to get into the industry, but it's a decision the individual must make and not just because it 'ticks the right box'.

Of course I can't comment on what it is like for women working in the industry, because from our point of view we had no problems with the 3 female staff we have had over the last 4 years.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 17th January 2013 11:22am

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
Personally I would be inclined to have positive discrimination and employ a female who was slightly less good than a male candidate.
Because the upside of bringing some semblance of gender balance to the team would more than compensate.
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Tom, Paul & Darren say it best.

"It's a difficult industry to get into, one where you need to be in the top few % of people applying."

"Sure we could try to push more for females to get into the industry, but it's a decision the individual must make and not just because it 'ticks the right box'."

"more women in the industry is a great goal one I fully support and want, but more effort should be focused on long term plan of getting girls in the 16-20 range looking at the games industry and actively working towards industry jobs as a choice, rather than blaming hiring practices for low numbers. "

In the end, you can only lead the horse to water....
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters9 years ago
Isn't that just as illegal as the other way round? I.e. a man and a woman apply for your job and you employing the woman because she's a woman means you're not hiring the man because he's a man.
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Emily Knox Associate Designer, CCP Games9 years ago
Bruce, I find positive discrimination a demeaning sentiment to both parties involved. For one, you can be missing out on greater talent if you don't give a role to simply the best candidate for a job. And personally I also find this a thoroughly depressing prospect if you've been hired to tick a box or create some sort of gender balance (or race balance, or any other kind of balance), rather than being hired purely on your own professional merits. I say this as someone who has in the past been given a role partly to have "a woman on the team". (But I've never been in a position to hire people, so I could be completely wrong)

I appreciate the sentiment that it's wonderful to have diversity, but I'm concerned that giving students a step ladder towards their goals because they're female is not a fair way to help the best talent thrive - and surely that's what we all want? As myself and Jessica talked about in another thread, more women can be brought into the employable pool of talent by reaching out at an earlier age, that's where the crux of the matter is for me. More balance at every step of the way before study, before job applications, will stop "positive discrimination" and gender-related benefits, favor, or disadvantage.

Initiatives like this cause me some internal conflict because, as Tom Pickard says, the competition is really tough, in that respect I can't raise an eyebrow at anyone who takes on all the opportunities they are given - a scholarship must be hugely helpful and you'd be crazy not to take that opportunity to offset monumental tuition fees. And if you want to go to a female-only game jam to work with other women, then all the more power to you, what a great way to network, make friends, and be creative.
I couldn't ask to be treated the same way as male colleagues if I could get away with bringing less skills to the table because I'm female.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Emily Knox on 17th January 2013 1:21pm

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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up9 years ago
@ Bruce Isn't that sexist?
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
It is a good job I have nothing to do with selecting development staff. :-)

Forget sex.
Surely it must often be worth employing a slightly less capable candidate if their employment makes the team as a whole more capable.
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Emily Knox Associate Designer, CCP Games9 years ago
@Bruce Heh, fair enough. But surely a job role encompasses both of those things, having talent for the role and being a valuable addition to the team? Surely gender doesn't automatically make someone better at one or the other? (I'm thinking of candidates making it into job roles, even if they have less talent than other applicants, but are put forward because they bond with a team better and can acquire those skills as they go)
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend9 years ago
Lol Bruce there you go, proving me right time and time again.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters9 years ago
Besides things like picking someone for an acting role in a movie or something similar, if you even consider someone's gender in a decision to hire them, positively or negatively, you're doing it wrong. As I said, positive discrimination automatically implies negative discrimination to "the others", in this case, men. The ratio of men to women joining the industry should be precisely <number of men who want to> : <number of women who want to>. There shouldn't be any balancing of numbers, just a removal of any obstacles preventing women getting to where they want to be. As others have said, making younger girls aware of the industry as a career choice early on and encouraging their interest is the way forward, not giving unfair advantages to the ones who already made up their minds.
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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers9 years ago
Secondary education is very expensive in the U.S. - while I don't think there's a lot of outfacing discrimination, there's the impression that it's a male dominated field making things for men and scholarships like this might put more women on the path of seeing games as a possible career in a field that actually wants them. Maybe we'll be approaching the day where such a concept is outdated (the industry is much more diverse than it was even 10 years ago) but until then, this frankly isn't hurting anyone.
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Jessica, I'd be interested to hear some examples of the correlation between gender balance in workforce and consumer base. I can't really think of any *except* maybe gaming.

Overall, I agree we should have more women in the industry, but to get them to apply or even consider the career, you have to go all the way down to the school system to make adjustments that would actually change something.
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At uni (about 5 years ago now) our game art and game design courses had i think 3 females in the whole year.
Just a fact that proves it's not about keeping women out, it's about getting them to want to be in and wanting to make great games.
Definitely should be a case of best man/woman for the job though, otherwise that's discrimination of another kind!
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Time for some new topics, This Sexism > Game violence > Consoles are dead > F2P is the future > Back to Start-horse is beaten to death and all this negativity is making me sad. :(

How about a roundup of all the positive buzz around the Oculus Rift at CES, highlighting (my personally held view) that it's the best thing to happen to gaming since the advent of 3D graphics? :)

Hijack! Totally off topic, but far more exciting:

“Virtual reality has long been the ultimate promise of technology — the magic mandala, a doorway to the infinite. But the thing is: it never happened…. The Oculus Rift actually delivers on the promise, and then some. It’s really, really amazing. Truly and honestly a revelation, a trip, a rabbit hole. And I’m going in. Forever. Goodbye universe. Hello universe.” The Verge – Best in Show, Best in Gaming, Reader’s Choice

“Offering some of the most compelling virtual reality experiences we've ever encountered, Oculus' Rift stole the show and our hearts.” IGN – Best Prototype

"If you're of a certain age, you remember the first time you sat down at a computer terminal, opened a browser, and tried the World Wide Web. It was a before and after moment. Although Usenet and other internet communications technologies had been around for years, the web was instantly recognizable as something new and powerful and different that built on all that had come before. And so is it with the Oculus Rift." Wired – Best of CES

“We're excited to say that Oculus Rift is delivering on the young company’s lofty promises… Oculus Rift is an evolution of gaming itself, and we love where it’s heading.” Laptop Magazine – Best Gaming Device

“It's one of the most immersive visual experiences I've ever seen in a gaming or home entertainment device, and I can definitely see it making action games like Skyrim and Far Cry 3 more exciting, and horror titles like Slender more pants-wetting.” PCMag – Best Gaming Gear

"The Rift represents the future of gaming, or better yet: the future of PC interfacing. This isn’t a gimmick like 3D — the Rift is going to fundamentally change the way you think about entertainment. All the VR madness from the 90's was leading to this moment, only now we have the technology to push it from laughable flash in the pan to a concrete, exciting, mainstream reality. The Oculus Rift is our favorite piece of tech from CES 2013, hands down." GameFront – Best of CES

“Not only was this the coolest thing I saw at CES, but it's possibly the coolest thing I've seen ever. As someone who has always been interested in the idea of VR headsets, and always heartbreakingly let down by the reality of VR headsets, I admit I took a rare (for me) CES meeting on a lark. I had heard something about their successful Kickstarter, but honestly, I figured it would just be more of the same. I was wrong. Not sure I've ever been more wrong. Even in this hand-built prototype stage, the Rift is amazing.” – Geoffrey Morrison, CNET

“The Rift is certainly one of the most amazing things I've seen at CES this year - hell, in any year. It's not really possible to describe what it's like to use it, but as soon as I put the goggles on and turned my head, I think my mouth dropped. It's flat-out awesome.” - Dan Nosowitz, Popular Science

“I haven’t been this excited about a piece of hardware with the potential to change gaming since 3D hardware acceleration took off. And I believe this could even be bigger.” - Don Woligroski, Tom’s Hardware

“Arguably the most important thing about the Oculus Rift is that the displays take up your entire field of view. All of it. You put the headset on, and the only thing you can see is the world that it's showing you. The effect of this is immediate and dramatic, because it fools your brain into thinking that you're somewhere else. Really. It's amazing” – Evan Ackerman, DVICE

“Even using aging tech like Unreal Engine 3, this castle landscape felt real, to the point I wanted to reach out and grab a falling snowflake, or try to touch the cold, stone pillars holding up a decaying building… In the past, I simply played through worlds. I moved through them. This one made me feel like I was physically in that space. Living in it. Unable to look away, because it was all around me. It’s immersion on an entirely different level.” – Richard George, IGN

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Laurens Bruins on 17th January 2013 4:38pm

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Graeme Foote Lead Writer, Lupiesoft9 years ago
I'm currently freelancing with an indie developer which is owned by a female and the freelancer artists involved are all female making me the only male on the team. It does not really bother me and it's nice to see people actually interested in development.

I did a games degree and there was not a single female in my course. I think a couple joined about two or three years behind me but I cannot remember that too clearly. I have never heard of any active discrimination against females within the industry (as opposed to the problems between actual gamers of each gender) and largely it just seems to be a distinct lack of interest in the games development side. I know plenty of girl games but very few developers (Even then most of them tend to be artists than programmers or designers...).
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Adrian Nantchev Animator - General 3D 9 years ago
I can understand they wanting to have more women in general - clearly the real issue is whether or not women actually apply them selves to this industry.

I am at University, and there are ~6 girls, whilst there are around ~500 boys.

I cannot help but think that, from a public perception, today's young women either want to be a WAG, or have SWAG.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 9 years ago
Instead of trying to find breaks for "women", maybe they should put their effort into finding breaks for game designers, period.

This industry does not respect "voices", period. It is reductivist - reducing the creative and conceptual to hard implementation and programming.

If the film industry worked the way the game industry does, nobody who didn't know how to use a camera would ever become a director - and even when they did, they'd be saddled with the burden of running a produciton company first, doing creative second.

It's a backwards way to run a creative industry.
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I know, Matthew. However, one little (hands off) article doesn't really do the revolution justice. Compare that to the amount of articles given to the cycle I mentioned earlier, the balance is a bit out of whack. I won't go off topic anymore though, but you know... just sayin'... ;)
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Omaha Sternberg Editor / Co-Founder, iGame Radio9 years ago
I guess as a woman and mom who also has two girls in school I get to see a perspective that many of you don't. Which is that discrimination doesn't start in college. It starts all the way down in grade school...very early. Girls who really like math, for example (a big foundation for programming) are pressured heavily by society to move away from that perspective. After all, they're supposed to like "girl", ballet, make-up, shopping, gossiping, etc. They aren't supposed to be into math. (I note that this pressure is applied equally to boys just as badly).

I used to be the host for the DigiPen Institute of Technology's podcast. One year I did a podcast where I interviewed the students, and there were two girls in art that I talked to. One had been in development but had finally dropped out because she was tired of being called "token" by the other students in the programming classes she was in.

Girls who want to program, develop, be gamers, are still looked down upon in our society (unless they're playing social games, of course!) and are pressured away from interest in a career in game development long before they reach adulthood.

If you wonder why they aren't sending you their resumes or showing up for college courses, try reaching them far earlier. When societal pressure hurts the worst.
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Hugo Trepanier Senior Game Designer, Ludia9 years ago
Let's not jump on Bruce's comments too soon here. While using sex as a hiring criteria is just plain wrong, one does have to consider a candidate's overall worth not just in terms of brute talent. Here's a little story.

I have in the past made a difficult hiring decision in favor of a candidate who was not the most talented of the interviewees. She did obviously have all the required competences and experience for the job but one other candidate had superior skills and a more impressive portfolio.

So why did I pick her instead of the top male candidate? Because she had a clear sensibility that the other did not demonstrate, she had more realistic expectations about the job in question, she had a much better attitude overall that I knew would fit very nicely with the rest of the team. She appeared genuine during the interview, something the other candidate did not. All things considered, she was perfect for the role. That she was a woman was only incidental, and I stress the fact that this person was NOT picked based on that criteria at all... but her overall personality and side competences made her a much, much better fit for our needs at the time.

Another quick story. When I began my programming studies a long, long time ago, there were about 70 students in total. Out of those there were hardly 10-15 women. When we completed the program three years later, there were only 14 of us left. Half of those were women. I think that this is very telling about women's motivation to succeed and how seriously they take their studies. There is definitely a lot of room for more women in our industry!
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Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com9 years ago
The fact is, diversity never just happens. Generally there are historical precedents and social pressures that push to maintain the status quo. Should black people have been in all occupations in proportion to their numbers within, say, 50 years of slavery ending? Sure, they had time to gain the education necessary to do any job. But that's not what happened. Instead, people had to consciously force diversity into the U.S. in order to counteract other factors. This, of course, lead to the same thing we're seeing here, where all the white people would start saying, "I don't see a problem, I don't think that many black people are even interested in being physicists/geologists/senators/lawyers."

I'm disturbed by how much group think there is in this thread, with almost every comment simply echoing the theme that this isn't a problem and it's a waste of time to worry about it. Diversity is never brought about by the people who think it's a waste of time, but diversity makes the world a better, more inclusive, and more creative place.
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Saehoon Lee Founder & CEO, Pixellore9 years ago
Haha... I don't know about women not getting fair chance of getting recruited over there, but it is slightly biased other way around here.
Women actually get slightly favoured preferences here , simply because there aren't too many of them applying ( with a good skill ofcourse ) :D
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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 9 years ago
It's a cyclic thing, and very rooted in institutionalized sexism - which is neither conscious nor solely a male preserve.

Girls are pushed away from science and maths at an early age. In our teens, we're also pushed away from play - games are things for boys, is what we're told. For those who do persist and play them, it's an endless litany of "tits or GTFO" and "Get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, bitch" at best. And with the interests that girls are encouraged to develop, the things we're supposed to be into, there are still very few games that offer any appeal - characters we can project on, stories to be interested in, customization. Big strides have been made, but it's going to take time for the impact of games around now to reach the industry in the form of talent from the little girls who are now growing up with such games as part of their lives. And most of us work in games because we play them and love them.

Then, once we've come through school and got our qualifications, there's the lurking sexism that affirmative action tries to counter. A straight-acting cis-gendered white male is not necessarily more skilled than an outrageously camp, transgender, coloured or female applicant, but people tend to perceive the greatest capability in the straight-acting cis-gendered white male, because he's the world's default setting. Almost every depiction of confidence, competence and capability we see in the media and in business is that straight-acting white guy - they're usually the boss because their boss was a straight white guy, as was his boss and so forth, right back to the era when we were baby-dispensing property that wasn't allowed to work.

Then add in personality conditioning. It's not a neurological or hormonal thing that girls are less aggressive in self-presentation, that we're far more diffident. It's taught from very early in life. We're smaller - if we don't make that boy on the playground like us, we will get smacked hard and run off crying. Modesty, diffidence, flattery, it's all conditioned in as a survival reflex.

It doesn't necessarily affect how good we are at writing or 3d art or coding, but it affects how skilled we are at ramming it down your throat that we're good at it.

Take these two factors together, and add in the other perception imbalances (like "Women have babies" is often bandied about as a reason for not employing women or paying them less, but no-one ever mentions the amount of time off men take as sick days for hangover Mondays and game launches or football matches), and you have a tendency to think that the male applicant is the better one.

So it's a huge pile of factors that add up throughout a woman's life. But the only things we can do as an industry are a) Reach out earlier, which the SOE scholarship is a step towards, b) Make more games that will take a hold a woman's interest, c) Stop pushing women away from gaming with Evony-style marketing, eye-candy-only female characters, GM-inaction in response to sexual harrassment and d) Accept there is something fucked up somewhere, because there is no biological reason women are less suited to work in games than men, yet there are very few in this industry. In the end, that's all you have to look at to see it.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Bonnie Patterson on 18th January 2013 4:22am

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Christian Allen CEO & Founder, Serellan LLC9 years ago
Maybe you should talk to indie studios that employ large percentages of women. Of course you wont, you are
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters9 years ago
but no-one ever mentions the amount of time off men take as sick days for hangover Mondays and game launches or football matches
And that's exclusive to men, that is? Nice sweeping generalisation there.
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@Bonnie: Good post. As you said, these things are deeply rooted and can't be sorted out quickly, but the growing popularity of games among women and the democratization and ubiquity of technology give me hope that things are changing. If you think about it, back in the 90ies, the tech industry had much less presence and everything was much more of a nerd thing than it is today, when everyone is online and doesn't need a $2000 grey box and a CRT to do anything.
I can tell you that I have way more women in my game art classes than when I studied myself, and they're just as capable as the guys.
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Jade Law Senior concept artist, Reloaded Productions9 years ago
Can someone explain to me why girls deserve (and are getting) special treatment without using the word "minority". Giving girls preferential treatment sort of contradicts the idea that we are equal.

Girls are interested in games, sure, we're a massive part of the market but what has that got to do with development? I know a lot of developers who dont even play games but excel at their particular field and thats what they enjoy.
And just because girls are a large portion of the market why do we need female developers to cater for them? Do female authors only cater for a female audience?

Theres many reasons why girls enjoy games.. but other industries show males and females just want diffrent things from their careers. Studies have shown women are preferential to diffrent types of jobs because of the differences in personal needs. Same reason why self employed women generally earn less than self employed men.

I guess i just dont see a problem, maybe this is an american issue because In my 5years I've never seen a girl get a job for any other reason than she deserved to. Not because they were a female, but because they were right for the job as a person and thats exactly how it should be.
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Liam Farrell9 years ago
it isn't about positive descrimination or forcing a more capable candidate out for the sake of scoring a token female to show off. It's about changing the perception of females within the industry. Seriously, start a new column and make up a female name and google a ramdom photo of a woman then write how you would normally write. You won't get the same comments that you would as a male writer. Then you'll see why we have to have things like this. Women in the industry aren't booth babes or mean hags that want to ruin the latest FPS or tying to drum up attention for their amazon wishlist. They are just people working in video games. But that's not how many gamers see it
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