Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sexism in the Video Game Industry: A discussion starter

#1reasonwhy: Sexism in the Video Game Industry... A discussion starter

On Tuesday, November 27, 2012 female game developers spoke out regarding the sexism and harassment that is unfortunately rampant in the game industry.  Twitter was buzzing with tweets using the #1reasonwhy hashtag.  I was saddened and disturbed, but grateful for the many anecdotes shared to raise awareness.  Do a quick search in twitter for #1reasonwhy and it will not take long for you to understand the depth of the issue.

I am personally affected because I am a video game design and development teacher.  I teach 7th and 8th grade students.  Recently, I began work on my doctorate in educational technology and my research focus is the pedagogical benefits of game design and development, but my particular area of interest right now is increasing interest and involvement of female students in computer science by introducing the topic in an engaging manner at an early age.

I became especially interested several years ago.  I pitched the idea of offering an 8th grade elective in video game design and development and was fortunate enough to receive the support of my administration.  The course has been quite popular, but it was apparent very quickly that enrollment was dominated by male students.  I would say that in general, there were 95% male students in the course.  We offered 6 sections of the semester long course, so this meant about 114 male students and 6 female students took the course during the first year it was offered.  Shortly thereafter, we piloted 1 of 3 sections of the 7th grade cycle curriculum to offer an introduction to game design and digital storytelling.  All 7th graders take the cycle, so 1/3 of the students took this pilot course during the second year that the 8th grade elective was offered.  The cycle program in 6th and 7th grade exposes our students to the different content areas that they can then focus on at greater depth through our elective program in 8th grade.  The thought was that if we were to introduce these topics to all students, perhaps we would see an increase in female enrollment in the 8th grade elective.  There was a slight increase in enrollment after this pilot was offered.  The following year, we changed the 7th grade curriculum based on the pilot and all 7th grade students took the introduction to game design and digital storytelling.  This resulted in another slight increase in enrollment in the 8th grade course.  This has been encouraging, but nothing to hang my hat on just yet.

This brings me back to my doctoral research and ideas for increasing enrollment and interest in female students in hopes of ultimately increasing enrollment of female students in computer science and STEM related majors in college with the ultimate goal of reducing the issue of underrepresentation of women in the industry.  Research shows that students, in this case, particularly female students, formulate their self concept and confidence regarding math and science prior to entering high school (Kelleher, 2006).  Thus, many do not choose courses in STEM related areas in high school and certainly college.  It is my belief that if interest were generated through engaging activities in the younger grades we could increase interest and ultimately impact enrollment.

The #1reasonwhy discussion makes me realize that the problem is much deeper than just increasing enrollment.  I would hate to think that I was encouraging students to enter a field that would be marred by sexism, harassment, and an overall arrogant 'boys club'.  In a sense, I see wonder if this is another chicken or the egg discussion.  Is it possible that the decrease in enrollment in computer science and STEM fields contributed to creating this environment in the gaming industry?  Please understand that I am not in any way seeing this as acceptable, but wondering where the problem may have started.  Is the issue more related to the age old stereotypes - boys play with guns, girls play with barbie dolls?  It sounds like there is an overarching attitude that women are not perceived as gamers, or certainly not the 'cool hardcore gamers'.  Again, I am not supporting any of this, just posing questions.  Many of the #1reasonwhy tweets yesterday pointed out that women were definitely not taken seriously in the industry, were not considered to be interested in AAA games, but rather cutesy social games, not to mention the way women are depicted in games.

I would like to think that I am on the right track in believing that if we increase the presence of women in the game industry we can reduce this bias, but how difficult would it be to get to that point?  How many women have to suffer along the way?  Clearly, this is only one small aspect of the problem, but the problem must be addressed on a larger scale, hopefully before I succeed in sending more and more women into the industry.  I truly hope that the #1reasonwhy discussion is just a beginning (as it should be) and that the awareness raised will help.  I will certainly add a component of the sexist issue to my research as it would be important to look at that factor as it could certainly contribute to the lower enrollment which I am trying to address.

I welcome any resources that anyone can provide and was very excited to see the #1reasonmentors hashtag show up as well as I see incredible value in creating mentor / mentee relationships between my students and industry professionals.

I hereby indicate my commitment to the cause and am in full support of the #1reasonwhy movement and am entirely grateful to everyone for bringing such an important topic to light.  Quite honestly, the game industry NEEDS the diversity and cannot continue as a 'boys club'.

Kelleher, C. (2006). Motivating programming: Using storytelling to make computer programming
    attractive to middle school girls. (Doctoral dissertation, Carnegie Mellon University). ProQuest
    Dissertations and Theses, , 369-369 p. Retrieved from

For more articles related to the #1reasonwhy movement, please visit: