The representation of women in the videogame industry is at its lowest in over a decade. What’s going wrong?
While such predicaments are certainly not the case for every woman working in videogames (Marsh raises the point that many of the women who remain in the industry are already hardcore gamers and so are perfectly happy to play, and work on, an FPS), it points to a lack of flexibility. This is an industry that, at the more traditional end of the spectrum at least, eyes change with some suspicion. But a lack of promotion isn’t simply a matter to be blamed on patriarchal oppression.
“Women tend to be more cautious, so they often don’t apply for promotions until they have 90 per cent of the skills,” explains Women In Games Jobs chief executive Gina Jackson, citing Google’s efforts to encourage women to apply for promotions earlier. “Whereas [Google is] seeing that men were applying for a job when they only have 50 per cent of the skills. Now if you don’t apply for the job, you don’t get the promotion.
“But even so, the number of women working in the industry and the number of women visible are different. If you flick through a magazine, you will rarely see a woman in the industry featured in an article. Women are almost invisible.”
Anna Marsh, co-founder of Lady Shotgun Games and The Creative Assembly lead designer Renaud Charpentier
But if some women find, for whatever reason, gaining promotion in videogame roles difficult, then surely independent development, with its lack of corporate structure and chances to work individually or in smaller teams, is potentially an answer? Why then are the majority of the most recognisable indies men?
“I can think of plenty of indie developers who are women, and again I think this is an issue of visibility,” says videogame PhD researcher and indie developer Mitu Khandaker. “It’s about little initiatives like, for example, working towards equal representation at conferences. It’s such a multifaceted problem: women have been known to not put themselves forward for things as much as men, because they’re socialised to doubt themselves more. Even when we get more women in the industry, there’s still the problem of actually representing them in the same way as if they were men.”
Next year will see the publication of Creative Skillset’s latest survey of the industry, and it will be depressing news indeed if the proportion of women has fallen below six per cent. But even if the number rises, the videogame industry will remain in need of introspection in order to begin working towards gender parity.
“I don’t think we’ll reach a 50 per cent split of men and women in videogame studios in five, or even ten years,” warns Charpentier. “It will happen, but we need to help that happen by recruiting, training and mentoring more female designers.”