Over the last few decades, the proportional makeup of gamers has increased to 52% women in 2014 according to a study by The Guardian, a statistic which challenges the gamer stereotype. Why then are so few women developing games? Only around 20% of game developers are women, and it seems strange to me that with the ever-increasing number of female protagonists, many of these were written by men.
The Guardian suggests two main factors contribute to this split. One is the cycle of under-representation. Without women being in company roles, there is nobody to aspire to and so women do not feel they are suitable for such roles. One woman described it as ‘imposter syndrome’ as their course was dominated largely by men.
The second is the toxic culture which remains in many parts of the industry. Over the past year, a wave of sexual harassment allegations has been aimed at developers, streamers, and even company CEOs, for example at Riot Games. This is a large barrier to entry, especially if women gamers’ experiences stem from playing games themselves, where certain subcultures are known to be more hostile towards women than others.
While these issues remain, women have still played a large role in game development from the industry’s inception. For example, Mabel Addis was the first female game designer, working on text-based The Sumerian Game released in 1964. More recently, Kim Swift is known for her work on games like Portal and Left 4 Dead 2, two much loved Valve titles.
Another key aspect of the industry to which women are prolific is voice acting. Though not part of the programming aspect, it is still an area in which women play a large role, such as Jennifer Hale who is best known for voicing characters in the Mass Effect series, and Ashley Johnson, who lends her voice to Ellie in The Last of Us series.
So, it seems that change is occurring. Events like Girls in Games and the Women in Games conference offer a platform to would-be developers and facilitate their transition into what is a male-dominated field. Overall however, there is still a way to go before the divide is bridged.