Video Games: Women in Digital Worlds
Date : 20th February 2018



The gaming industry is an important source of creativity and economic of the United Kingdom. According to UK Trade & Investment, the UK gaming industry, having the largest number of game developing companies and publishers in Europe, is the third largest of the global interactive entertainment market, from 1995 to 2008. In 2008, Almost every household in the UK has a game device and 11 entertainment and video software on average.



Since the gender identity has been a great issue recently, it would be a trend to discuss this issue in the gaming industry. Although I am not into the gaming world, I decided to go to the talk recommended by my course tutor, “Video Games: Women in Digital Worlds”, which was held in Museum of London. At first, I thought the talk would only have a discussion on the representation of women in video games. I found that they also talked about the women working in the gaming industry after attending to this talk.



Lynda Clark, an award-winning writer, video game producer, and PhD student at Nottingham Trent University, gave a talk about a brief history of female video game characters. The first question she asked was “Who was the first female video game character?” The first character came into people’s minds is the princess in Mario. However, all the things the princess did in the game was being trapped and waiting for Mario to save her. Therefore, Lynda started to add more restrictions to her previous question, and discuss the female characters in the histories, from Pauline (Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo, 2017), Yorda (Ico, Team Ico, 2001), Trip (Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Ninja Theory, 2010), Claire (Thomas Was Alone, Mike Bithell, 2012), Chell (Portal, Valve Corporation, 2007), Faith Connors (Mirror’s Edge, EA/DICE, 2008), Masuyo “Kissy” Toby (Baraduke, Namco, 1985), Sanshiro Woman (Onna Sanshiro- Typhoon Gal, Taito, 1985), the Ninja Proncess (Ninja Princess, Sega, 1985), Sarah Bryant (Virtua Fighter, Sega, 1993), Kitana (Mortal Kombat II, Midway, 1995), Cassandra Alexandra (SoulCalibur II, Namco, 2002), and Papri (Girl’s Garden, Sega, 1984) in the past, to Lara (Lara Croft Series), Aloy (Horizon zero Dawn), Nadine (Uncharted Series), Felicity (Hidden Agenda), Max (Life is Strange), Lightning/ Claire (FFXIII), Anne (Virginia), and Fran (Fran Bow) nowadays. Not being a videogames player, I only recognised few names, such as Tails (Sonic the Hedgehog series, Sega, 1991-present) and Chun Li (Street Fighter II, Capcom, 1911), when all the other audience were excited about each character Lynda had mentioned. At the end, she gave us an unanswered question: Who was the first visible playable humanoid female video game Protagonist? (For the purpose of this talk, ‘protagonist’ refers to a named character with defined personality traits and backstory.) Through the enhancement of the questions, the changes of the representations, the traits, and the functions of female characters in the history were perfectly interpreted within the talk.



The second talk, about the presence of female developers in the London games industry, was given by Charu Desodt, the Production Director at Preloaded, BAFTA award winner, and Breakthrough Brit 2014. Firstly, she talked about the facts and figures on the industry. Speaking of video games, people might have some bias coming up, such as “Girls don’t play games.” Surprisingly, an interesting fact is that the video game players are approximately half male and half female. However, when it comes to the gender split in the workforce, there is only 14% of female working in the game industry. People then may think that game developers must be young white men, however, there are women from different races working in the gaming industry. Some may be curious about what it feels like to be a female games developer? Are they like showgirls in game shows? As regards to this, Charu then started to declaim about the working environment and the experiences of receiving plenty of misconceptions in her career, such as “I don’t know how to relate to you as a work colleague.”, “Can you programme? Are you any good?”, “Girls aren’t good at tech, they can’t even switch the console on.”, and “Should we colour the PlayStation in pink?” Apart from these, there are more alternative views, like “It should be allowed, but not encouraged.”, “All developers need support, not just females. Perhaps it’s about a sensibility instead of gender.”, “I wouldn’t want my daughters going into video games or engineering because women don’t do well in those careers.”, “You wouldn’t want your daughter to work in the industry.” Hearing these nonsenses, my course tutor’s face just came up into my mind, asking “Why? Why? Why?” At the final part, Charu gave us some companies cases. Despite the fact that there are falsehoods in some people’s minds, there are still some game companies trying to do their best for the gender issue. An example for this is Dream Reality Interactive, they have an ambition to make a 50:50 gender balance working space, and the studio believe that it is possible. In order to achieve the goal, they invest in recruitment to achieve a representative set of potential candidates and give priority to female programmer. Furthermore, Dream Reality Interactive also mentor the female workers, which is the same as Hutch. Interior Night, being another example, has the ambition to elevate the game using the team’s life experiences to create credible and complex story and characters.



The third and the last lecturer of the day was Marie-Claire Isaaman, LCCA Head of Visual Media, CEO of Women in Games, and EA European Women in Games Hall of Fame winner 2014. She talked about examples of women in digital worlds, such as Amy Henning, Robin Hunicke, Sheri Graner Ray, Dona Bailey, Katie Salen, Auriea Harvey, Siobhan Reddy, Carol Shaw, Tracy Fullerton, Jane Mconigal, Debbie Bestwick, Kim Swift, TL Taylor, and Brie Code.



To conclude, the future of the gaming industry, driven by the next generation of game creators, would probably be regarding gender inclusive design. When one is designing something, it would be better to have a co-working group and an open mind because these would bring different perspectives of the character roles, in order to create complex stories in the future gaming world. On the other hand, while more and more companies are positively facing with the gender diversity problem, we could probably expect a future that is equal pay, equal status, and meritocracy in the gaming industry.



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