A new organisation is running a series of coding workshops for girls around the UK in the hopes of encouraging more to seek a career in the industry.
Girls' Game Lab is the brainchild of PlayStation producer Rachael Gregg-Smythe, freelance producer Caoimhe Roddy, and Women Making Games North East co-founder Lucy Smith. The trio has years of experience running such events individually but have now combined forces as part of a more concentrated effort to get girls into games.
"When we were younger, each of us loved playing video games and wanted to find out more about how they were made," Gregg-Smythe tells GamesIndustry.biz. "Though we tried, we found little information, and we especially found no opportunities just for girls to develop their skills in.
"The message to these girls is it's absolutely fantastic you love video games and want to learn how to create them, and we are here to support you to do so"Rachael Gregg-Smythe, Girls' Game Lab
"More recently, we talked about this shared experience and if there's anything we could do now to try and help other girls that might be in the same position. So, we got together and ran a couple of game design and coding workshops to gauge if there would be any interest.
"The reception was phenomenal, with the workshops filling up so quickly we had to set up waiting lists. We realised that this is a real thing that girls want, and are super excited to get involved in, so we decided to set up Girls' Game Lab to grow our outreach even further and deliver even more experiences for the girls."
The first workshop is being organised with the help of Playground Games and will be hosted in the Forza Horizon team's Leamington Spa studio. Girls' Game Lab is now accepting sign-ups from aspiring developers aged eight to 12, with the event to be held August 3.
The workshop will teach attendees the basics of the Stencyl development toolset, with volunteers from Playground, Rebellion, Sumo Digital and Microsoft all on hand to offer guidance. Gregg-Smythe says the support of such studios "really helps to legitimise our initiative right out of the door" and would love to work with more large studios on future events.
To begin with, Girls' Game Lab will be focusing on bringing these workshops to prime locations nationwide, but the ambition is far grander. The team hopes to eventually establish online resources and tutorials for girls who aren't able to attend their events, and to expand the age range by introducing more intermediate and advanced workshops. There is even talk of a summer school if this initiative takes off.
The group says its goal is to break the many stereotypes that women and games face when it comes to aspirations of a career in games, or even enjoying them as a hobby.
"The obvious one is that when we are younger, girls can be conditioned to believe that video games are for boys, and girls shouldn't play or make games," says Gregg-Smythe. "So the main message we're trying to deliver to these girls is that, it is absolutely fantastic that you love video games and want to learn how to create them, and we are here to encourage and support you to do so in a safe space where you can freely explore your creativity and talents."
And the workshops, while primarily aimed at girls, have been designed to help educate parents about the validity of a games industry career. Girls are welcome to bring their parents along to the event, with Gregg-Smythe adding: "We have already had some brilliant dads work together with their daughters to create games together, which is a lovely thing to see."
"We're hoping more people join our ranks as organisers and volunteers so that these girls can see people from all sorts of backgrounds stepping up and offering a role model"Caoimhe Roddy, Girls' Game Lab
Efforts to introduce school-age girls to the prospect of a game developer career are nothing new, of course, but Girls' Game Lab insists they remain as important as ever due to the lack of women in the industry.
Gregg-Smythe says one major factor behind the gender imbalance is the "generally smaller hiring pool of women in technical-related roles," which she at least partly attributes to the fact that not enough girls or young women are encouraged into STEM subjects at school and university level.
"A lot of what we're doing is trying to address that initial barrier," she says. "But obviously, it will take some time before these girls are thinking about career choices."
There are still things the industry can do now to improve the diversity of its hires, she notes. Recruitment managers can advertise in a wider variety of places, or reconsider the language they use in their specifications. And the Girls' Game Lab trio believe it's important for women in the industry to put themselves forward. "For us, it simply comes down to giving girls role models that they can identify with," says Gregg-Smythe. "Someone to look at and say 'If she can do it, I can too.' Each of us have gone through it, we've used our grit and drive to get where we are, and we love that we are able to be part of such a brilliant industry. Now, we need to reflect that back to the girls that are also thinking about getting into games, and show that it can be done, and most importantly - help them to do it."
Roddy adds: "We're also very aware that we are not the most diverse representation of women that are working in games. Diversity has so many layers to it and we're hoping more people join our ranks as organisers and volunteers so that these girls can see people from all sorts of backgrounds stepping up and offering a role model. We really hope that our work can reach communities that range in class, education, ethnicity and sexual orientation."
Crucially, this shouldn't only be a women-led initiative, the group says. Everyone in the industry has a responsibility to encourage a broader range of people to consider and pursue a career in games, whether that's by supporting Girls' Game Lab's workshops or similar efforts.
"Equality in video games is so critical, and it's shown time and time again that teams with good men to women ratios tackle important topics far better," Gregg-Smythe concludes. "By supporting this initiative, it helps to encourage a more diverse workplace in the future, which in turn means a broader sharing of different experiences, thoughts and opinions. This will spark new, and original experiences of play, so we constantly push the boundaries of what video games can achieve."