“Clearly, volumes could be written on the topics of how to get more women both playing and making games, and EA clearly wants to have more women doing both. […]. When the Executive Producer of “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” Neil Young, states that his team was 22% female and receives cheers, it is both a triumph and a reminder that EA, like the entire video game industry, is currently a heavily male, testosterone-laden culture” (Pausch 2005).
The documented male to female ratio within the game industry is almost 9 to 1 as was recently reported by the International Game Developers Association (2005). Note, though, that this number includes human recourses and other administration jobs, which are not directly tied to game development. I am specifically interested in the problem of the reported small number of women in development, especially within design and programming teams.
Design and programming jobs are not popular choices for females. This is evident by the numbers, not only within the game industry, but within the IT community as a whole. Few women in the U.S. earn undergraduate degrees in computer and information sciences, only 26.9% in 2002-2003 as reported by the U.S. Department of Education (2004). 57.5% of all undergraduate degrees in the U.S. were awarded to women in the same year.
The core of this problem can be traced back to the middle and high school. Women students continue to track out of math and science classes, without which, they do not have the foundation on which to build IT careers. American cultural expectations and influences often convey the message that women are unsuitable for the IT world (Trauth, 2002). By the time young women reach college, there is evidence of the effects of these social norms and expectations. Research studies have revealed that, in the years prior to college, some women exhibit (1) lower levels of self-efficacy in computing and (2) smaller amounts of informal and voluntary computer exploration in computer camps and clubs. These studies also reveal that most women have misconceptions of what the IT work environment looks like (Craig et al., 2000; Margolis et al., 2002; Margolis and Fisher, 1997; Nielsen et al., 2000; Symonds, 2000; Teague, 1997; von Hellens et al., 1999; Woodfield, 2000).
This problem is complicated and a resolution needs development of intervention methods on many fronts. In this article, I discuss our work targeting one of these fronts, specifically in engaging middle and high-school students in building games as an effort to increase their self-efficacy through an environment, where they acquire programming and technical skills as well as artistic and design skills, including storytelling, game design, sketching, and critiquing. This may develop into a new pathway for girls to enter the game industry.