She's Got Game: Women in the Video Game Industry The Buzz


Though more and more women are playing computer and video games, women still make up only 10 percent of those working in the gaming industry. Many groups are trying to get more women interested in the field.

And the women who work in the industry say it's time they had some company.

Ann-Marie Huurre knows all about being a woman in a man's world. When she first started working in the 1970s, she was a producer and director in commercials and corporate video.

"I was usually the only female on the set of a commercial or in a television studio other than perhaps a secretary or weather girl," she says.

When she started working in CD-ROMs in the 1990s, the environment wasn't much different. The first game she produced had a staff of more than 30 people.

"These people worked under my direction and all were male except for one young woman in the art department," Huurre says. "Needless to say, it's a male-dominated industry, especially on the development side."

Huurre is now president and founder of a software company. She created the company with the idea of providing girls with video entertainment geared toward them.

"I believe if we attract more girls and women with computer entertainment they enjoy and give them what they want, then we will automatically attract more females to the industry," Huurre says.

She isn't alone. Many in and around the video game business express a desire to see more women in the industry, which is now disproportionately male.

Women make up only about 10 percent of those in the gaming industry. That's according to Jason Della Rocca, program director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA).

Della Rocca says many game development companies have no women involved. Those who do work in the business are often in animation, drawing and other art-related jobs.

"The percentage is probably much lower than many other creative industries -- film, TV, music, etc. -- and should be a lot higher," he says.

Women do, however, make up a larger portion of game players than ever before. The Entertainment Software Association says 40 percent of game players are women.

In fact, women buy more games than boys under 17 buy, despite the stereotypes that continue to surround the video game world.

Huurre says it's something of a vicious circle. Fewer women are in gaming because fewer girls play games. Fewer girls play games because there aren't games aimed at them. There aren't games aimed at them because few women are in gaming.

"Since the game development industry has so many men in it, those men are going to create the games they want to play," she says. "Until we get more females in the game industry, we won't see the titles we want."

Another obstacle is that gaming is, for the most part, a technical field. Huurre said many young women in college and universities shy away from taking math and science classes that give them the skills they need to be in the gaming industry.

Classes that specifically teach gaming skills also tend to be predominantly male. For instance, Pravin Wagh is an adjunct professor at the Anaheim campus of Westwood College and teaches a course on game design. He's also working with the college to put together a bachelor of science program for game software development.

Wagh says all the students in the program at this campus are male. He agrees that lack of female interest in video games is the reason.

"Teenage boys spend a lot of time playing video games," he says.

"I can't say for certain, but I don't think that teenage girls meet to discuss their video game exploits. I think girls play, but I don't know how many of them are motivated to choose game development as a profession."

There are some steps being taken to get girls interested in the field. The IGDA formed a Women in Game Development Special Interest Group that provides support and mentorship for women in gaming. And Huurre hopes that her company's objective of creating games aimed at girls will yield more interest in gaming among young women.

Though programming is the area people most think of when it comes to gaming, there are also choices for women who aren't technically inclined.

"There are many different areas to enter -- from programming to story writing, voice-over, packaging, publishing, licensing and public relations," says Andrea Schneider. She is a communications specialist in the video and computer gaming industry.

"It really depends on what one's interests are."

Leslie Polito agrees. Polito is marketing and sales senior coordinator at a gaming company. She says abilities like drawing, programming and designing three-dimensional object are a plus, but "no skill is useless. You never know what will come in handy."

There are many ways women can gain those skills. Schneider suggests that would-be programmers and artists get involved with the online community and learn what technological requirements they need.

They also might find it helpful to go to game design school, become a game tester or intern for a gaming company.

"The great thing about the gaming industry is that there are so many avenues available," Schneider says.

And don't be afraid to make your own opportunities. If you have a viable game idea, Polito suggests trying to make it a reality.

"There are enough free or low-cost tools and resources out there to make designing a game with a small team -- or even by yourself -- feasible," she says.

"The Internet has many sites covering independent game design. Work hard, show your work around and get noticed. You might not get your first game published, but you will be able to demonstrate your skills with a practical product. That just might get you hired."

And, of course, know your field. "Play games of all genres," Huurre says. "Study the design, game play and art, just as one might study any art, such as filmmaking."

The important thing is to go after what you want. Many women say that your best tools in this field are often perseverance and a strong work ethic.

"Females breaking into the industry should know this is a highly competitive field," Schneider says. "And as with any other industry, you need to show your commitment, energy and enthusiasm to it."

Links

Women Wise
Creates video games aimed at women

Entertainment Software Association
Compiles statistics on the gaming industry

Women in Game Development
Founded by the International Game Developers Association