News outlets in the U.S.A., U.K. and Canada have brought the violent, vitriolic, and misogynistic harassment of women game players and critics to public attention. Games have also been subject to serious critique for a lack of diversity in terms of story and characters, ones which often lean on tropes of disempowered femininity and the creation of experiences that, essentially, satisfy misogynist power fantasies. Amidst it all there are communities that have been building strong networks to support inclusive participation in gaming spaces, often in the face of serious challenges. Our mission is two-fold: to document the ‘ripple effects’ of the pervasive presence of gender stereotypes in games and discriminatory discourses/practices in play spaces and to document, and learn from, those communities who are actively building equitable and robust spaces for women and girls to engage in gaming.
There is much anecdotal evidence demonstrating the relationship between misogyny and the exclusion of women from the gaming industry, but no comprehensive studies have adequately documented the problem. In late 2012, the ‘#1reasonwhy’ hashtag went viral, describing the reasons there are not more women in the industry. Responses on Twitter revealed the scope of sexual harassment, misogyny, and discomfort experienced by women who work or have worked in the industry. Our aim is to begin documenting and describing from an intersectional standpoint the contemporary landscape of the games industry through both workplace ethnographies and data collection on employment statistics, working conditions and differential promotion and pay rates. By partnering with game development companies we can work toward making the games industry a more equitable and hospitable environment for women.
Informal learning environments, especially for adults and minorities, are invaluable sites for the acquisition of new skills and competencies. We want to ensure the continued success of inclusive ‘incubator’ and safe-space initiatives such as Dames Making Games (Toronto), Pixelles (Montreal) and XX Games (Brighton) that support women in learning to design and make games. Our research in this area involves documenting who participates in such initiatives, the curricula that are used, the means and methods of instruction and, most importantly, the outcomes for participants. This is with a view to identifying effective and sustainable models and sharing our knowledge to encourage the inception of more game-focused non-formal education projects in the future.
The development of games is inherently interdisciplinary, requiring expertise in computer programming, engineering and design. Commonly, however, digital game design is narrowly associated with skills grounded in computer science and engineering programs, which graduate notoriously few women (12-18%). We are interested in what is being done to reduce the gender gap in game-related programs, whether through scholarships, targeted recruitment or curricular modification. We will speak with instructors about their approaches and to students about their experiences as well as survey curricula to discover whether and how inclusivity is being addressed in the classroom. Based on this research we can begin to develop best practices for diversifying the student body and promote institutional support of a more inclusive educational environment for next-generation game developers.