By Tonte Spiff
The video game industry is one that has long been male-dominated, in terms of employment on the side of production and development, as well as the average consumer.
However, recent statistics from the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) show that 50% of gamers in Canada are women. ESAC classifies a ‘gamer’ as, “any individual who has played a video game in the past 4 weeks”, a criterion that over 23 million Canadians fall within.
Women are not only consumers within the video game industry, but they’ve also involved themselves with the development and production of games for a number of companies. Although, these women face a number of inequalities that go beyond an equal ratio of men and women in the workplace. It is still very much that case that women are forced to go above and beyond to show their worth, in comparison to their male counterparts. In addition, women are restricted in voicing their opinions regarding issues of the depiction and treatment of women in video games.
Representation is another serious issue women face in the realm of video games, as playable female avatars are few and far between. It is uncommon to have a heroine in the form of Amanda Ripley (pictured below) from Alien: Isolation (2014) or Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn (2017). Solving this issue would be beneficial to the gaming community as a whole.
Michael Gallagher - President and CEO, Entertainment Software Association, states: “Our industry is strongest when it appeals to the broadest possible audience.” He adds: “The clearest path to appealing to the world as an audience is to make sure you’re diverse in your game creators. That’s the path we’re committed to at ESA.”
The overall perception of the video game industry is becoming more progressive, or at the very least, under more scrutiny than ever before. The gender split amongst professionals in the video game industry needs to be investigated, not only with a focus on the question of why it exists, but with a greater emphasis on what’s being done to fix it?
A great way to solve gender imbalance issues is to provide young women with the tools and information to make an informed decision about their education, which would lead them down a desired career path in the gaming industry.
Daria Levac, who comes from a small town near Sudbury, agrees that the lack of education is one of the most prohibitive issues for women interested in a career in the video game industry. “I firmly believe the male domination of the field is largely due to a lack of female interest.” notes Levac.
Jodie Azhar, who works at Horsham’s AAA studio Creative Assembly, sees increased potential to provide an illustration of the gamut of the video game industry at a high school level. As Azhar states: “Many girls aren’t aware of what jobs there are in the games industry and often don’t consider that they could be doing those jobs.” This is a major issue because there is a wide variety of roles throughout the industry, and young women need to be aware that they can fill any of these roles and have a successful career while doing so.
Although, it must be noted that a focus on education provides only a partial solution. There is a general belief that video games are for boys, which is ingrained in the minds of most individuals from a young age, discouraging girls and women from making any attempt to get into the industry.
A female game developer from the UK who wishes to remain anonymous, says: “The stereotype of the unattractive, introverted male nerd is powerful.” She believes that it’s extremely damaging to women who tend to be judged on their appearance and social prowess, as opposed to their technical and practical skills.
The reputation of ‘no-girls allowed’ surrounding the video game industry, has only encouraged years upon years of mainstream advertising that has turned its back on young girls and women. Unfortunately, this is still an issue that exists as video games continue to be primarily marketed towards young boys and men, while men continue to dominate development positions within video game production companies.
On a positive note, there are video game production companies that have made legitimate efforts to solve gender related issues. Companies like Big Viking Games and Nintendo have not only hired a high number of female employees, but have also empowered them after the fact. In the case of Big Viking Games, one of their illustrators named Angela (pictured above) believes that a positive work environment that empowers female employees is integral for continued success in the video game industry.
Ensuring accountability pertaining to issues of gender imbalance and representation in the video game industry, will be a driving force behind positive change. We must all do our part moving forward.