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PANEL – From boys’ toys to girls’ games: attracting more women into games

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Panel left to right: Cornelia Boldyreff, Alexandra Psarrou, Nick Burton, Aurore Dimopoulos, Natasha Angelopoulou
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Chair : Natasha Angelopoulou, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, University of Westminster. Panelists : Nick Burton, Senior Software Engineer, Rare Ltd; Cornelia Boldyreff, Professor of Software Engineering, Department of Computing and Informatics, University of Lincoln (and member of BCSWomen committee ); Dr Alexandra Psarrou, Head of AI and Multimedia Department, School of Computer Science, University of Westminster; Aurore Dimopoulos, Student (BSc Computer Games), School of Computer Science, University of Westminster, and QA Tester (TT Games Publishing)

Easier to read: Chair: Natasha Angelopoulou (NA), Nick Burton (NB), Cornelia Boldyreff (CB), Dr. Alexandra Psarrou (AP), Aurore Dimopoulos (AD).

My Thoughts

A good discussion – a lot of things covered – I paraphrased and cut down some things, this isn’t a literal transcript – I really need a voice recorded :)

Notes

NA: Dare to be Digital – 5 or 6% female participants. Not many programmers though. What about the state of this? Why are we not there? What can we do to remedy the situation?
AD: Education might be key – teaching the right things to get the rightly educated people. Attract more women into the industry from role models.
NB: ITC syllabus – I’d not want to study it. Do you want to become a data entry operative? or call centre support? Girls don’t happen to tinker as much as boys, so unless education changes to improve the situation so girls become interested. Girls who do the sciences though are always really into it and want to get it done and do well. Can only go into local schools and areas when a game developer, need to get skillset: “Just, No!”. It always appears that it is aimed at getting people writing bank software.
NA: Perhaps the encouragement to see a better variety of games made by the games industry – the games industry to say “Games are not just for boys” so to get more girls interested into it. Need to get girls interested into games as much as films or any other media first. Girls like playing games, just like boys, in the nursery or anything. Will play solitaire. The computer games market is aimed at the 20’s male but need to say to women this an industry you want to work to.
CB: TEAM – Technology, Engineering, Arts Maths to be a well rounded person. Why are we denying people this opportunity? Young kids are forced to make these choices. We can change that. Professionals have a duty to do the outreach in their professional capacities. The £3.50 a day on staff seems really low since it pays itself back – the training budgets in the UK are really low.

NA: What do you think of higher education? Game courses? How do you get more women into the male dominated courses?
AD: Since I’m a student I should have an insight on this. There has been a lot of debate on if the computer game courses are valid. About 90% of computer game courses just don’t teach what the game industry wants. A valid point, but it is a new course. It is quite hard as a new course to decide what you need – industries need to tell them to teach “this this, and this”. The problem really is also a bit more communicating with the students. Students know what they want to do and so being told what to learn is bad. At the end of it, should come out with a graduate with the skills needed for the industry without training.
NB: Let’s just say a few in our industry has been a bit mean towards Universities. Some parts unfairly criticise the Universities. Some courses have cynically been rebadged from other courses to get interest. Not all the courses will make it – some will go on and will do well, some will fall by the wayside. We need to do more as an industry to tell the Universities what skills are needed. Rather then take a long term view though, studios have different requirements and don’t agree. However, the industry has limited time and many don’t get involved, or have limited time to do it. Need some group to organise the effort, while there is some work done with Skillset, there needs to be more Universties on-board before knowing if that’s a perfect answer.
NA: Get people saying in the department “This is very specific!”, and a valid view when education is concerned it is too limited a vocation. Placements are important, Computer Science courses didn’t used to do it at all, but now they do. A slightly more specialised course is good, not a “Computer Games Programming” but a more specialised Computer Science program. Still need the general principles of software engineering but with some more about the industry. Industry sometimes says “This graduate should be exactly what we need” at the end.
NB: No, that’s a vocational course. But some people in the industry think they should turn out to be perfect hires, which is wrong.
CB: Setup a sandwich course based around the core Computer Science areas but with relating things to games. The sandwich year is important, for either a good strong commitment with that company for later or a quick think of “Now I should go do an MBA in Business now!”. Need to have the courses validated for educational standards – for chartered membership of the BCS. The games computing industry doesn’t have this kind of recognition of courses or chartered membership yet. Internships brings practice back into the course.

NA: We are interested in attracting more women in games. *reads quote from Aleks Krotowski* – What about role models for the industry? Does it make a difference to women programmers?
AD: I agree with Alek’s quote. All you see for women in games is out of shape polygon women. How to get into this industry then?! Going into the course, knew was going to be likely the only (was one of two!). Advertising the fact there are women in the industry, that it is a friendly nice industry and equality for women. Need some people for this. Some people don’t want to be put in the spotlight so often, but really need it.
NB: An epidemic problem with superstar develoeprs. Any women ones? Kids at school, do they know the superstars of the industry? Do they know Miyamoto? No, probably not. But they do know Master Chief and Lara Croft. Gears of War! In general need more people out there as game developers so that people see themselves as doing that job in art, design, programming. The industry does try and do it, attaching a few people to a game like Rare does (some out on the road now). You see more blokes put forward like that, but there are more in general. Once this happens more people in general will want to go into the industry.
NA: What about games for girls?
NB: Cynical male attempts to make games for girls. “I can make a guess, I’m not a girl”. Singstar is a good one with more broad appeal, even though I feel like a prat doing it it’s fun.
NA: People are identifying more with the characters then the full stories, or who made the game at a young game. The media got much more into this. That needs changing. Games industry should be able to do that.
NB: The media also has it’s own agenda even if you push yourself out into the press.
NA: Yes, if it sells more. The decision comes from that.
NB: Internet publishing might change the weighting and the games coming out.
Crowd: What about Jade Raymond being put forward? Tore apart.
NB: Behind a keyboard, anyone can be like that. It was awful, stereotyping but really bad.
Crowd: How about getting it in glamour magazines, in the general press. Finding time to do this though is hard, when the industry press takes a while.
Crowd: Game press is just vicious to everyone.
NB: Taking things out of context like something at GDC I said when it got to Kokatu.
Crowd: What happened to Jade Raymond?
Crowd: Degenerated from “selling yourself for the game”, into rape jokes, poor taste comics.
Crowd: That’s not the industry though. It’s that demographic and internet users not the industry.
NB: Lowest common denominator.
CB: We have got a voice, and we can use it. Complaints on youtube or whatever, the viral effect went two ways.
Crowd: Industry press was almost as bad sexualising Jade Raymond.
Crowd: Yes, but Kokatu is our The Sun really, they just are bad.
CB: There is ways to get back at it.
Crowd: The internet is faceless.
CB: But someone is responsible to go to and we should do.
Crowd: It’s up to that website to sort it out.
CB: It is however important to put people forward. There are initiative to put case studies of women on their website. Awful stories however, name 3 women Scientists! Can’t get past Marie Curie! Talking earlier about dumbing down. The IT Crowd, pathetic! A good opportunity there. Write a novel! Why are there not more novels about software engineers? Archers even mention little computing issues.

NA: Thank, now questions?

Crowd: Haven’t really talked about family influence! What about them owning computers? Massively affected by their parents for GCSE choices. How to get to parents?
NB: Educate them *everyone laughs* – it’s hard. Thre are some who are switched on. Some read the News of the World, Daily Mail and The Sun. Bombarded by the anti-games, and also the “not cool to be clever” spread by the media. The parents don’t realise this.
NA: People don’t know what a game developer is!
NB: Two responses from the same aged people not in industry about my job: “Do you play games all day?” and “That must be really interesting!” – the second being slightly educated.
CB: Educating parents since the parents put some money towards it – the employment chances of courses.
AD: Parents were to start with “What? You’re going to make a living doing that?” – try and educate them, but still can’t believe that I made money making videogames. Some are “Oh, that must be interesting” and some who are “I don’t get it”.

Crowd: The role model problem – only Miyamoto, Sid Mier and so on might work (in normal CS, only Steve Jobs and Bill Gates – the rockstars – kids know). Software development isn’t sexy, but game development is.

Crowd: Shocked about the lack of industry defence of Jade Raymond. Jason Della Rocca did put a post up about it, but colleagues though were a bit ambivalent. A lot of “Must be the face that got her to that position”, or “I know someone at Ubisoft, she’s not that good anyway”.
Crowd (M): Bringing it back up, can keep it going again.
Crowd: But saying “Stop now” in the thread, to silence it.
CB: Need to speak up and stop it!
Crowd: One comment does make a difference.

NA: One more question.

Crowd: The assumption that she got into her job because her looks, are we perpetuating it by saying we want to get more women in?
Crowd: We hire the skilled people not just because they are women. You encourage them to gain the skills to get those jobs.
NA: Competition is quite high. You perhaps need to prove yourself twice, as discussed earlier.

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