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Want more women in games? Start with girls

GDC 2013: Robin Hunicke, Anna Kipnis, Kiki Wolfkill and more on encouraging gender equality during Women in Games panel

There's been a lot of talk about gender equality in the game industry of late, but at the Microsoft-sponsored Women in Gaming event in San Francisco today, the focus was on action. In a panel tackling the issue from a variety of angles, Double Fine senior programmer Anna Kipnis, Parsons New School for Design professor Colleen Macklin, Social Chocolate designer Jane McGonigal, 343 Industries executive producer Kiki Wolfkill, and Funomena designer Robin Hunicke answered a question from emcee Felicia Day about practical things women in games can do to change perceptions in the industry.

Hunicke went first, suggesting that women in development try to get in front of school-age kids, to present them with a game designer who doesn't look and talk like they might expect. She suggested offering to speak to local girl scouts, after-school groups, or church groups for a start.

"You can reach those kids and inspire them to be game designers in 10-15 years," Hunicke said. "That's something you can do locally at pretty much just the cost of an afternoon."

Macklin agreed, saying that the answer to making more women game developers is to start young. She said developers could help by talking to local boys and girls clubs about teaching game design, or working with teachers to start school programs. Part of the problem is that women grow up never considering a career in game development, something she hears frequently from women in Parsons graduate programs who hadn't picked up an interest in gaming until they arrived at the school. Macklin also suggested men in game development could turn down invitations to appear for industry shows like GDC unless women are also on their panels.

Some of the answers were focused on more immediate results. McGonigal said that when she prepares talks for conferences, she makes sure to mix up the pictures of gamers to present as many women players and men, and tries to cite research from men and women equally as well.

Kipnis talked about her experience inadvertently founding the Peter Molydeux GameJam, which started as an idle tweet and wound up an internationally organized weekend of game creation for hundreds of developers. Kipnis said in the past, she had generally tried to keep a low profile out of fear that she would be subjected to harassment at the hands of anonymous Internet commenters. However, the Molydeux GameJam taught her that the indie community was tremendously welcoming and inclusive. As a result, she suggested that perhaps the answer is to behave as if there isn't a problem with the way women are perceived in games, and in so doing, people may find the reality of the situation is better than they feared.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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