Gender equality not present in video game industry

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Study shows females just as interested in gaming

Jenny Lu
McGill Daily (McGill University)

MONTREAL (CUP) –– I grew up playing Goldeneye and Super Mario Brothers, and, as a result, gained a small modicum of video gaming skills.

Though I enjoyed gaming, I was reluctant to admit to it, since I knew it was not a typically female activity. The rarity of women who play, or who will admit to playing, video games is just one reminder of the male domination of the video game industry.

The video game industry is comprised of people from many different fields, such as design, music and marketing. About a third of these people come from computer science programs, where graduates are primarily male.

Addressing this skewed gender distribution is the subject of a joint research project between the University of Alberta’s faculty of education and its computer science program. Their research involved introducing boys, who had more experience with video games, and girls, who had less, to ScriptEase, a game design program. Their findings show that girls and boys showed equal interest in the program, despite differences in initial experience.

According to Duane Szafron, one of the paper’s researchers, it is important to have more women in the field. He believes that a greater balance between genders is necessary.

"The education they experience should be in a context in which they interact with as many women as men," he said in an email. "This idea also suggests that other kinds of diversity should be present in the university [setting] to match the diversity of the Canadian community with regards to race, religion, etc.

“Anytime someone is in a minority population there is a danger that they will be treated differently by the majority and feel that they don’t belong. I believe this is currently the case for women in computing science programs. It is too easy for them to feel that they don’t belong and so too many leave the program for the wrong reasons. In some ways, the minority is self-perpetuating,” Szafron continued.

But there are many up and coming women within the gaming industry. Judy Truong is a project manager in the Technology Group at Ubisoft, a video and computer game company with a development studio in Montreal.

Truong said that any female engineer, not just in those in the video game industry, will face male-dominated environments. However, she explained that what drew her to the industry was that “the video game industry is so up-and-coming; there’s design, marketing and computer science aspects; there’s just a lot of possibilities.”

Szafron’s research also confirms that for many women, the lure of video games is not the enjoyment derived from playing the games, but rather the design and creation aspects of the industry.

However, according to Truong, “Many women don’t know about the industry unless they have been exposed to video games, which is not as common for women.”

For Truong, who is an occasional gamer, video games were not something foreign nor unfamiliar. But even with this prior exposure, she was still surprised by the breadth of the industry. For many women, it seems that this lack of information deters those who would, if made aware of the different disciplines involved, be interested in the design of these games.

Szafron and Truong agree that the best way to increase the number of women in computer science is through a change in curriculum.

Currently, high school computer science curricula are much less developed than those of other sciences, such as physics, biology and chemistry, and vary widely from school to school.

Additionally, many universities do not allow computer science to be used for entrance credits. This means that computer science can be an afterthought for many students in high school, resulting in misconceptions about the discipline.

However, Szafron believes these problems can be solved by implementing a course that centres around game design, where students work in project groups to create a game.

"They learn computer science and programming concepts while they are working on it, but they have a concrete creative goal and they can discuss the artifact that they are working on throughout the term,” he said.

Truong agrees and suggested introducing more three-dimensional design and computer science-specific courses that could be beneficial for all streams of engineering.

Perhaps the day will come when girls in video games won’t only bring to mind those of the animated variety.

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