While 42 percent of gamers are women, only 6 percent of the industry is female. In the wake of last week’s #1reasonwhy, we talk to Women in Games Jobs chief executive and industry veteran Gina Jackson about what we can do to change these numbers in the future.
Sexism in the videogame industry is often discussed. It’s a concept that everyone gets riled up about every now and again, before going back to their routine, only addressing it when another controversy rears its head. As such, a concept is all it’s ever been to far too many people: something to rally against – as if standing against sexism is a brave and unnatural thing to do – but to never properly address.
Last week, #1reasonwhy changed that. This is no longer some foreign concept that people can’t relate to, nor is it an issue that can be dismissed as rare, isolated events that are the product of individuals and not an industry. Taking to Twitter, women from within the industry shared their personal experiences of sexism and mistreatment because of their gender, ranging from patronisation to ridicule. It wasn’t easy reading, but its purpose and ultimate result were clear: this is something that needs to change.
Perhaps at the heart of the problem is the under-representation of women in the industry: according to the Creative Skillset 2009 census, just six percent of people in the industry are women, down from 16 percent in 2000. It’s a problem that’s cyclical in nature: an industry without women in is, sadly and apparently, more likely to be hostile towards them, and a hostile industry isn’t going to attract many women.
According to Gina Jackson, an industry veteran who’s worked for Eidos and Nokia, and now fronts Women in Games Jobs, the reasons for such a small representation aren’t exactly clear. “The honest answer is I don’t know – we don’t have a great deal of data or evidence to give us a definitive reason,” says Jackson, when I ask her what exactly is causing this inequality. “We know women are less likely to take STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and maths], we know that they are less likely to study on one of the computer games university courses, and there are more than a hundred available in the UK.”
There’s currently no hard data to support an argument either way, but Jackson doesn’t believe it’s a case of game companies deliberately overlooking women for roles. Rather, she thinks the industry as a whole is projecting an image that isn’t inviting towards women, and we’re losing talented individuals because of it.
“We need to change the perception of the games industry to more reflect the reality of the sector,” she says. “We need to reach out to students and talent in other sectors to show the opportunities, the role models, and we need to clearly signpost the routes into employment. We are competing with other sectors for talent and we need to make ourselves as attractive, for coders, as the finance sector, or for digital marketers, as agencies. We need to show we are stable, mature and can provide paths of progression. It’s all obvious stuff but it’s easy to ignore when you are focused on making and selling the best games you can.”
As evidenced by the current state of the industry, it is very easy to ignore. Comments sections of gaming sites are full of vitriol and hatred towards women, with their gender always taking the front seat, and their actions – be they positive or negative – becoming the side issue. Looking more inwardly, Jackson specifically highlights the use of booth babes at industry events, challenging companies who use them to really think about the outward effect they’re having on people’s views of the entire industry.
“The culture of booth babes has come up a bit too,” says Jackson. “I am probably touching on controversial ground, but if you’re responsible for making the decision on where to spend the budget for your next trade show, you need to decide if this best represents your company, its culture and your target audience. It does have an effect on how you are perceived. I believe we need to work on the public perception of the games industry if we want to encourage the best talent to join us. We need to move past the ‘geeks working in bedroom’ image that is often popular in the mainstream press and show the reality of the creative, exciting, global, multi-billion-pound industry that we really are.”
#1reasonwhy didn’t exactly change this perception – after all, it put the spotlight on the negative side of the industry, highlighting the hostility in all its sordid glory. Sweeping issues under the rug doesn’t solve them, though, and while #1reasonwhy simply highlighted the problems, the reaction to the movement is what may set the building blocks for a more positive future. The positive voices drowned out the negative voices in the wake of it and, while this industry isn’t perfect, it highlighted that the majority want to work on making it more inclusive for all.