Women in games, the press, and positive discrimination: Thoughts from Dare to be Digital

Women in games, the press, and positive discrimination: Thoughts from Dare to be Digital
The mid-sized presentation room at Dare to be Digital in the Scottish city of Dundee is three quarters full as the Women in Games Q&A kicks off.

It's a little disappointing to be sat in a hall with empty seats, but perhaps understandable given the scores of indie games diverting the attention of the masses elsewhere at the festival.

Nevertheless, the topic of the role of women in the games industry is a prevalent one at the moment – especially across social media – making the views of panellists Sophia George (recently appointed as game designer in residence at the Victoria & Albert Museum) and Quantic Llama co-founder Erin Michno of particular interest.

The same ol' debate

Both work in different sectors of the industry. Both are clearly very intelligent and articulate. And – if you excuse my frankness – both have vaginas.

And, despite the fact we're now charging through the 21st century at an astounding rate, it's this latter element that still appears to be an issue for some people.

I'm yet to to fathom a reason why: it seems preposterous that this irrelevant detail still has the capacity to spark furious debate, disgusting discrimination, and aggressive trolling, yet – throughout the course of the Q&A session, the same subjects, the same questions keep popping up.

How hard is it to get into the business as a woman? Very. What was it like studying to do so? Tough. What advice would you give to girls who want to get into games? You can, you should - we need you too.

This was a public event and open to all, so it's not surprising that the talk played out as it did: predictable questions and answers from a panel that remains optimistic, but is realistic as to the severity of the gender divide.

Talking Twitter

Having switched off my Dictaphone for said early exchanges, it was turned back on again when the discussion flips to Twitter's #1ReasonWhy  campaign.

Said movement saw hundreds, perhaps thousands of developers come out and express why it is more women don't go into the games business. It provoked a predictable backlash from some.

Sophia George

"When people say 'we shouldn't talk about women in games', and that the women who are talking about it should 'shut up', I feel like they're trying to silence us" offered George.

Indeed, Michno noted that "if you ever write about women in games or feminism, then [you] don't look at the comments, because it's going to be negative.

"Some of the Facebook groups that are to do with women in games even have to be private groups. People can't join in publicly because there's so much Internet trolling," she added.

"I don't think women in games is a woman's issue, I think it's a developer issue."

Pressing the issue

My interest piqued, I pushed them on this topic to see what they think of the people you might think would be covering the debate intensely: those of us working in the games press.

What did they think of our approach to gender, and was there anything that could be done from our side of the fence to push this issue further?

"I have seen a big rise in the articles on the topic of gender, and if you do go to the comments people are really fed up with it," noted George.

"They think 'all this politics doesn't belong in my hobby'. I think to make it better, we need more women writing about gender. But I do think it's good that men talk about it, because like Erin said, it's not just a women's problem.".

Michno added: "I think definitely by seeing more conversation, the conversation's becoming more intelligent, and I think you're starting to see people really break things down and see where the issues are, what the causes are.

"One of the things I would say - and this is more personal - I'd like to see more from unsung heroes, the people who I was really influenced by."

A question of balance

Here's the issue for me: the press tend to cover men working in the industry more than women almost by default because – without official statistics to hand – they tend to form the majority.

However, by giving those women working in games a smaller slice of the pie, it's not surprising that men continue to dominate – role models for girls considering a career in games are few and far between.

Perhaps we should actively discriminate then? Perhaps we should seek out the ladies in the business, even at the expense of talking with the gents?

Erin Michno

"[There was] a local woman who was running a business," added Michno. "She was the year above me [at University]. Seeing her, and what she was doing...she was in front of me, and she was one of the only women in her year.

"She actually became really involved in the Linux society, and I saw that, and thought 'that's what I want to do'. It was nice to have somebody to look up to on a local level... and actually writing about that? I think that'd be great."

Looking ahead

The debate as to whether positive discrimination – not just in this industry, but in society in general – causes more problems than it solves will, of course, continue.

While Michno believes covering more women could serve as inspiration, equally valid is the argument that many readers will dismiss articles about women working in the industry out of hand as a result, falling back on a belief that the piece only exists so the site can hit some sort of quota.

Undoubtedly, however, there are already plenty of women in games worthy of coverage - Jade Raymond, Rihanna Pratchetts, and Kellee Santiagos just to name a few.

Perhaps, then, the press should be less focused on the gender of the subjects it's interviewing, and more concerned with their views, their experiences, and their insight.

Die hard Suda 51 fan and professed Cherry Coke addict, Peter Willington was initially set for a career in showbiz, training for half a decade to walk the boards. Realising that there's no money in acting, he decided instead to make his fortune in writing about video games. Peter never learns from his mistakes.


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