A geek boy in a geek boy's club

A geek boy in a geek boy's club
Will Luton

By Will Luton

April 9th 2012 at 10:00AM

Will Luton discusses the ethical issue of sexism in the games industry

Games development has a problem that is pretty hard to ignore. It’s so hard to ignore that likely you can look up from this page and draw your own conclusion.

My friend Gemma is an excellent female game designer who recently linked to an industry sausage count with a sorrowful conclusion. The responses to her post meandered between coffee morning ‘how awful, dear’ and total, utter wibble.

One gentleman, who shrank at the idea of being quoted in print, commented that the core skills required to code were most commonly found in the male brain. So the lower number of female coders was to be expected. This, he claimed, is science.

BAD SCIENCE

Now, I flunked out of a physics degree to pursue a considerably less taxing life choosing the colours of a flying teddy bear’s head. However, having read some Ben Goldacre I have the misplaced sense that I am a fully qualified amateur peer reviewer.

What fellow bad science spotters like me will have already noted is the classic hypothesis confusing correlation and causation. That little chestnut.

It is almost impossible to separate the influence of nature in these debates. You cannot draw conclusions on gender based purely on perceived physiological differences because the environment of any subject has a heavy influence on it.

Let me give you an example: I had a brilliant childhood with my parents and two sisters.

When I hit age ten, wanting to pass on his technical inclinations, my dad took me to an electronics store and bought me a bag of components, wire and a screwdriver. We started at the basics, soldering and plugging, culminating in the construction of a radio.

One day my sister walked over to the table and asked to join in. “Electronics isn’t for girls,” dad said. Wow. Electronics is secret boys stuff. In your face stinking, idiot girls.

Now, childhood is a rollercoaster and this boy power up didn’t last long. Some time later, looking at the make-up on my mum’s shelf I recalled a documentary on the production of wounds for the TV medical drama Casualty.

Mum wasn’t pleased for my ambitions to become a make-up artist. Make-up wasn’t for boys. I felt stupid.

This isn’t the fault of my parents; they subscribed to society’s misconceived notions of gender and wanted nothing more than for us to fit in. The misconceptions were never considered for question.

I have met excellent female programmers and awful male ones (me). How, then, can we conclude that the female mind is inferior in a subject which society tells them they cannot succeed in? We cannot, because so few ever try.

Some people are just bad at coding, no gender or race or nationality is. Just people. Often people are never encouraged to try. Dad also told me he’d met some programmers in the ‘70s and they were odd.

THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE

Negativity towards females is in our industry. Female players are derided and abused in online games (Google ‘Fat, Ugly or Slutty’ for saddening proof) and I have spoken to female executives about the casual sexism and loneliness they’ve experienced.

This societal discouragement is bundled up with a dearth of positive representation. More often women are the babes at our booth or the strippers at our game launches than our coders, designers or artists.

This can create a self-perpetuating loop which will drag us deeper and deeper into bad representation that we don’t realise or refuse to acknowledge, justified as tradition, or defended as harmless.

All of this makes it even harder for women to realise the games industry is a place they might like to be, let alone take first steps in. And yet we have a great opportunity to redress the balance.

Already games market demographic is now much more diverse than it was 10 years ago. We have over three female to every two male players in our gender-neutral game My Star. However, the team behind it was entirely male.

The next step is breaking notions of gender in production like we have in consumption. Women need to see more women working in games before more feel like it is a career path for them.

Right now we’re leaving half of the potential talent at our disposal untapped. Gender equality is moving quickly and the companies that close their eyes and ears to it will be left behind.

Diverse workplaces create diverse solutions to previously unseen problems, meaning amazing products, which drives bigger audiences and more success.

I truly want to leave this geeky boy’s club and instead join the geeky people’s club. I hope you do too.