Ada Lovelace Day: Women in the Games Industry

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace Day is a day set aside to recognise women in technology and in the sciences. Earlier, I posted interviews with two women who I wanted to give a small shout-out to today, Tracey John and Nicholle Young. The former already works in technology and games journalism and the latter seeks to enter the videogame development industry. I'd like to do another post, this time about all the women in game development I know of or have met, and the women who want to get into the industry. I know it seems like a bit of an easy out to write a post recognising many unspecific women, however my personal experience as both a member of the games industry and as a longtime observer of the industry, have led me to think about this for Ada Lovelace Day.

I have the good fortune of working at a company that, comparatively, has a large number of women filling its ranks. Nearly every single department—from design, to production, to web, to community, to business and administration, to writing, to quality assurance, to art—has at least one woman (if not more) working there. We have a number of women who are quite influential on the design side of our games. One of the clearest recent examples of that influence is in the design of the female charr (on the right), a feline-like playabe species in Guild Wars 2. Many women in the company (including me) felt quite strongly that female charr should not be vaguely cat-like humans that you attach breasts to. The result is the female of the charr species looking every bit as powerful and deadly as the male, but with a more feminine appearance (at least, feminine according to human standards). And thus, in this instance, we have avoided the "if it's female, just put breasts on it" approach to species design, an approach that is so personally aggravating in a great number of games. Fan reaction? Almost universally positive, with most fans using every superlative under the sun to describe the female charr design. Notably, many women have approached me personally, asking me to thank our developers for the way they designed the female charr.

Would the same thing happen in another company where there were fewer women? I'm not sure. I know that more diversity and more perspectives are better in game design. Game developers need to understand the perspectives of people who don't have the same lived experience as them, because not everyone who buys a game will be a straight, white male.

The fact that we have as many women as we do in game development is unusual amongst game companies, where women tend to be highly represented in business development, marketing, public relations, and administration, rather than in game development. Having said that, we as a company and as an industry are nowhere near as close to the proportionate number of women out there who actually play videogames in general, which is about 40% of gamers. There is still a very long way to go in terms of the percentage of women working in game development at large, in roles in which they're able to shape and influence game design.

This year, I attended the Game Developers Conference. I met many women game developers over the course of my week in San Francisco. Again, male game developers vastly outnumbered the number of women attending the conference. I had so many conversations with women game developers that week, and many of those conversations were discussions about sexism, inequality, discrimination, and hope. While many shared observations (and sometimes firsthand experiences) of sexism in the industry and rightfully griped about sexism in games and games marketing, all of the women I encountered were optimistic and hopeful for the future. There's no other field they'd rather be in, and all of them were passionate about their work and ambitions.

As I ruminate on the goals of Ada Lovelace Day, I realise that I am fortunate to have met a many women in game development and to have a number of women to look up to, both within the industry and aspiring to get into the industry, as colleagues, as friends, and as people I only know of from afar, but admire nonetheless. I respect them for their friendship, professional and personal, for their advice, for their opinions, for their constructive criticism, for their intelligence, for their senses of humour, and for their examples of excellence. So, this post is for all of the awesome women in the games industry. May you continue to inspire by being your fantastic selves!

This post is part of Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science. You can read more about Ada Lovelace Day at the website.

[This entry was cross-posted at The Border House]

  4 comments for “Ada Lovelace Day: Women in the Games Industry

  1. 25 March 2010 at 03:49

    [this is good]

    thanks for posting for ada lovelace day. :D

  2. 25 March 2010 at 10:01

    :-) I have been planning to post about Ada Lovelace Day since I posted for last year’s very first Ada Lovelace Day. This year didn’t turn out quite as expected. I expected to write one post about someone else, rather than interviewing two people and writing another post… But I think it still turned out well!

  3. Ujaya
    25 March 2010 at 10:15

    The female Charr is a really good example of how women working at game companies can influence design and the overall approach the company takes toward female characters. I am also constantly annoyed by the need to attach large beach ball shaped objects to anything “female” in a game. This is especially annoying when portraying a non-human.

    Please pass along my thanks and appreciation to the Guild Wars team for the change in direction. I love Guild Wars and I want Guild Wars 2 to be wildly successful with both men AND women.

  4. Janice
    10 May 2010 at 08:01

    Cheers to women empowerment in the games industry.

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