Monday, March 14, 2005

Girls, Girls, Girls: GDC vs. LPSC

Every month, Wired Magazine prints a calendar listing tech culture relevant events. This month, I've had the good fortune to attend two of those events. Last week, as Laundry Sessions readers know, I was in San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference (GDC) and Serious Games Summit (SGS). This week, I am attending the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). Normally, comparing such disparate gatherings would seem silly, but attending them back-to-back (I flew from SF straight to Houston) has thrown them against each other in my mind.

The first and foremost contrast became apparent when I noticed that there are a decent number of women at LPSC. I don't know what the percentages are for either conference, but I would guess ten to fifteen percent at GDC and thirty five to forty percent at LPSC. Planetary science (geology, physics, astrobiology) doesn't strike me as any more or less female-friendly than game development (programming, digital art, design, production). So why aren't there more women in games? Obviously, I don't know the answer to that, but it's nice to be at a scientific conference with a balanced attendance. Hopefully, more folks like Saralah, Jane, the Killer Betties, Sheri Graner-Ray, and others will continue to bolster the ranks of game prodution, design, and consumption.


At 6:19 PM, Blogger Saralah said...

The figure I heard was 10%. And being there, you can really tell the difference between this year and years past, if only by the number of female-oriented sessions offered. That, and there are actually other women in the bathroom now.

At 6:25 PM, Blogger OrangeDeca said...

I also wonder what it is about planetary science. Perhaps its just been around longer than games, so its had more time for pioneers to break in to it? Or perhaps gaming is different because the process and the result both are considered male-oriented, whereas the planets seem more gender neutral.

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Foopy said...

I agree with the male-oriented comment, although I think it might be a symptom of a bigger issue. As the designer of Katamari Damacy mentioned in his speech at the GDC (or so says Gamespot, I wasn't there), games these days have a very narrow focus: most of them are concerned with sensationalized representations of violence and physical conflict, things that lots of people (including most women) aren't particularly interested in. I think you could take almost anyone and find a huge variety of books or films that they'd enjoy, but this isn't necessarily the case with video games. Just look at gaming magazines, the vast majority of which are clearly marketed towards a fairly specific kind of person.

As games like Katamari Damacy and The Sims continue to "push the envelope" by evoking themes and busting gameplay styles that appeal to a wider variety of audiences, I imagine a wider variety of people will become more interested in game development and the industry will become more diverse, in more ways than just gender distribution.

At 8:20 PM, Blogger Seg said...

I simply want to confirm saralah's 10% figure. It was stated by Sheri Graner Ray in her acceptance speech for the Game Developers Choice Awards for Community Contribution.

And in response to foopy, I completely agree. With my current project Antidote, my design goals were to go for non-gamers regardless of age and gender (well, not < 16 y/o). But it's hard for me to tell people I'm making a game that's not fitting the male < 24 market, because people think this is was games are made for. Heaven forbid that my game feature a female lead who's a strong character because of her personality and brains, not her boobs!

At 8:51 PM, Blogger OrangeDeca said...

Foopy and Seg, welcome! We've run this blog under the radar for so long, its great to see posts from new readers.

Foopy, I think your point is very valid. If the audience isnt diverse, how can we expect the dev community to be? I used to work in newspapers and we often fretted about getting more minorities in the newsroom, and it turns out one of the biggest obstacles was that minorities tend to read newspapers less.

Seg, I'm curious what you are doing in Antidote to go after non-gamers.

At 9:34 PM, Blogger Seg said...

To OrangeDeca:

Easy. By writing and designing for non-gamers.

And you can blame saralah for linking to your post.

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

Welcome everybody! I agree with everything so far, though I think it does point to a chicken/egg problem. How can we get more young women interested in making games if they aren't part of the audience? And how can we increase the female audience without women making games?

I think my experience at LPSC is cause for hope. Science was once a male dominated profession (at least, I think so... please call me on this if I'm wrong), but now you can go to a planetary science conference and see a decent number of women (still not 50/50 though). Hopefully, as people like Saralah keep doing awesome work (like speaking at EYH) as evangelists and keep making games, we'll get there. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

At 11:16 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

Oh yeah... and guys can help too. Read Gender Inclusive Game Design by Sheri Graner Ray. I haven't finished it yet, but from what I've read so far, it will help you be a better game designer in a general sense. And you'll be thinking about ways to open up your audience.

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Foopy said...

> And how can we increase the female
> audience without women making
> games?

I'm not certain that it's necessary for women to make games in order for many games to exist that women would enjoy playing. Were Myst, The Sims, The Longest Journey, Animal Crossing, and other games that female friends of mine enjoy designed by women?

Of course, this isn't to say that women shouldn't be welcomed into the field; I look forward to it because I believe the industry could use some fresh new perspectives, whether those perspectives are from females or anyone else who wants to make games that don't involve violence and physical conflict as their key elements.

Speaking of getting different kinds of people into the gaming industry, I'm wondering what's currently being done to get people interested in computer programming in school. Are computer science classes ever mandatory in K-12 schools? What would happen if, for instance, a major project for a middle or high-school computer class was to develop a simple game using Python and pygame? Interest in planetary science can be easily promoted in schools through science classes, but interest in game development--and, in my experience, in computer programming in general--has usually come from other sources.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger OrangeDeca said...

You make a great point, Foopy, women don't always need to be present. I do think our games would be better, regardless of what market they are being made for, if women are on the teams. Its amazing how different a group of men act when a woman is or is not within earshot. I've been in dev meetings where it feels like we are at summer camp. :-)

As for the high school idea, this is something I've been chewing on for a while. I used to spend my summers teaching high school journalism camps and I think the scholastic newspaper or yearbook is an ideal model to emulate. I've been talking off and on with my studio about reaching out to local high schools to do game camps or even try to encourage a school to start a program in-house. There are some universities trying this.

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

When I was in high school, we had a mandatory "computer literacy" credit. The only option was to take a typing class. While that was undoubtedly useful for me, I would hesitate to call it computer literacy. Since then, I imagine my high school has added more support for computer literacy (what with the state of Maine buying laptops for everybody and their mother). However, it's also hard to imagine that teachers have much time in between standards-based lessons to teach "unimportant" skills like programming.

Gaming seems like the perfect medium for getting kids interested in programming, so I'm totally in favor of programs like the Game Academy or EYH. Also, initiatives like CMU's Alice program, which targets girls too, seem like a good idea. Robots are good too. ;)


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