Girls, Games and Software Development

Girls play games – computer games, video games, console games, online games – all kinds of games. Yet girls are not big into creating their own computer games. Why is that? A recent article in the Chicago  Tribune (Women missing from video game development work force) says that:

“According to the Entertainment Software Association, 40 percent of video and online game players in the U.S. in 2010 are female, having inched up from 38 percent in 2006. The number of women working as game developers, however, is much smaller. In a 2005 demographic survey by the International Game Developers Association, only 11.5 percent of the respondents were female.”

Why is that a problem for the industry? Mindy Farber says "If the game designers out there are more inclusive and representative of our general culture, we're going to make better games that reach more people." I see that as quite true but not just for games. I maintain that more diversity makes for better software of all kinds. That is the big reason I try to interest more young women in taking computer science courses and considering the field as a career.

Why are girls not looking at careers in computer game development? Why are girls who do go into computer science avoiding the game development area? I’m not sure. I can’t speak to a group of students without having one (usually several) boys who want to create the next Halo 3. Not that many girls raise their hands when I ask who wants to create video games. Maybe girls are more practical or maybe they want to appear more serious? Or maybe all the stories they have heard about game development companies that seem to be little more than sweat shops with 80 hours work weeks turn them off. Or maybe they think that all games are first person shooters and they don’t want to be a part of that? Or maybe they think they are not up to it? Girls are notoriously under confident while boys are notoriously over confident.

In all honesty though there is no reason that girls can’t be creating wonderful games as easily and as well as boys. None at all. And I wish more of them would. First person shooters bore me to tears. I need some more interesting games to get me more active in game playing.

There are a lot of teaching resources for teaching game development using XNA (all free) at XNA Resources and Teaching Tools for your Classroom. One last recommendation, tell the students no games with sex or violence. You’ll force many of the boys to be more creative and allow a lot more students to be a lot more comfortable with the games that are created.

Comments (5)

  1. AndrewParsons says:

    I presented at a conference for girls about 18 months ago. It had around 2000 high school aged girls thinking about IT as a career. There was an informal survey conducted of the attendees which asked what type of job they would want if they did go into IT.

    The highest percentage of votes went to Game Development, followed by digital media creation. I think it's another potential stereotype that game development is only for the boys.

    Oh, and if you're going to restrict the students to games without sex/violence, you could also encourage them to enter Imagine Cup's Game Design category, where the aim is to create games that help people think about making the world a better place. 🙂

  2. ava says:

    I was often the only girl in my programming classes and I do hope this is something that changes. Girls like my step daughter find few games they really like on consoles and it is because it is boys doing the developing.

  3. Tina says:

    I was THE only girl in the whole Computer Science course for my year in uni. I didn't care that much though as my uni friends treats me equally and we had an epic time there.

    I actually want to develop some games, I have a few on my mind but I do not have time for it as I now have a career in development and part of my contract is to study new things. After uni, I did not have the skills or knowledge for Games Development so I did not take that path (also, I would have to move interstate as well and I was a poor uni student so I couldn't support myself if I did).

  4. Gail says:

    It really is strange, because when I do my mini-course for grade eight girls (Computer Science and Games: Just for Girls!), they are all SUPER enthusiastic about making and playing games. They also have really good insight into why women don't get into CS so they are well equipped to avoid the pitfalls. It makes me wonder whether there's hope for that wave of students when they get to university-age, or whether they all start out that way and get crushed somewhere in between.

  5. AlfredTh says:

    The younger girls are not afraid of computers or computer science at all. I'm not sure when, where or how it seems to get killed all too often. Some thing it is the all-boy environment or at least the appearance of one. I tend to think that more mentors for girls and perhaps just having them not be as alone will help with some of it.

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