Elke Teichmann, who earned her master’s degree in digital media production from Oxford Brookes University in 2014, co-produced and co-directed the documentary called “Boys’ Toy?” for her master’s dissertation. The documentary explored the sexualization of women video game characters. Teichmann said the first step toward combating sexism in games is to have more women in decision-making positions in the video game industry.
“We need someone who will say, ‘Actually, that’s not right’ or ‘I don’t feel comfortable with that,’ thinking about it from another perspective,” Teichmann said. “They need to be at the table, they need to raise their voices and speak up and say what they think is right or wrong.”
It is hard for women game developers to make changes when there are so few of them in the industry right now.
Game Developer Magazine conducted a survey in 2013 that examined the demographics of video game developers, and the results showed the industry only consists of about 23 percent women compared to the 77 percent men.
“There is a shortage of women in the whole industry, but there are some women who are actually running technology companies,” said Seta Whitby, professor of computer science. “There are women in higher positions, but there’s still big discrimination when it comes to pay.”
The survey also found that women game developers are paid about $7,000 less than men.
“Publishers in the game industry have such a hand over these entire games that maybe the people who are creating it want to make it one way, but whoever is making the money from it has the upper hand,” Teichmann said. “Everything can change and trickle down from that perspective because so few games already have women and we do not have women (in the industry).”
Despite the low percentage of women in the industry, female game developers have been encouraging other women to be more involved.
In 2012, video game scriptwriter Rhianna Pratchett started the hashtag “#1reasontobe” on Twitter to learn about the shortage of women in the industry and hear reasons to be involved from current female game developers.
It began a movement called “#1ReasonWhy” that empowered girls and women who wanted to venture into the game development field.
“Women will be more encouraged because they will look around and see that it is possible,” said Sharon Davis, professor of sociology. “If I see someone who looks like me, who is being successful in a field I am interested in then yeah, I’m going to be interested and influenced.”
At Game Developers Conference 2013, women in the industry hosted a panel called “#1ReasonToBe” to discuss the movement and share personal experiences from working as game developers.
“Granted, it made the game industry look like possibly the worst place a woman can ever work, but for those of us who work here we know this is an amazing place,” Brenda Romero, game designer in residence at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said at the panel. “This is my family, my home, I wouldn’t have stayed for 30 plus years.”
The discussion gained attention after independent game developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu, and Feminist Frequency founder Anita Sarkeesian became involved in the 2014 Gamergate controversy. Gamergate was popularized by the hashtag “#gamergate,” which was aimed at criticizing video game journalism for being unethical and corrupted by interactions with female game developers. Some women in the industry were doxxed, harassed via social media and received death and rape threats. Despite these obstacles, Davis said she believes women can overcome them and prove that they, too, are capable of working in the technological fields.
“Women need to band together, they need to present an unified front, they need to say ‘This isn’t going to happen anymore’ and they need to use some of that power to insist and ensure that change occurs,” Davis said. “If indeed that half of the consuming public is female, what an impact on the industry it would be.”
Although there are still fewer women than men in the industry, Teichmann said she believes change is bound to happen. Since 2009, the number of female game developers doubled from 11 percent to 22 percent, according to a 2015 survey by the International Game Developers Association.
“I think it’s going to be a slow change,” Teichmann said. “Many of the people we spoke to confidently felt that changes were happening, but again, most big companies are slow to change.”
Emily Lau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special Report: Fighting the Status Quo