The Difference Engine Initiative

31 Jul / by: M&R / 25 comments / tags : ,,

This month’s post will be dedicated to introducing a very exciting project that was recently announced, called The Difference Engine Initiative (DEI). You can read more about it here:

The first two sessions are part of the Ada Lovelace edition. This is a game-making opportunity just for women, which Mare and world-famous Toronto-based community organizer extraordinaire Jim Munroe are setting in motion.

This initiative is important for many reasons, but the most urgent of which is that the games industry needs to change substantially to survive in the modern world. The video game industry is by and large made up of a specific group of people (white dudes), so the games coming out aren’t representative of very many opinions and ideas, but also aren’t as accessible as they could be since they don’t resonate as strongly outside of that group. As well, the titles coming from the AAA side seem to be stagnating compared to the multitude of ideas coming from the indie side. More diversity in game development is better for business and better for team dynamics, leading to a higher quality output of more interesting, more nuanced and more varied games; we need to really shake up the numbers to keep this industry fresh!

There are some interesting points about why we need to diversify game development in Clint Hocking’s recent article for Edge (but note, there are a few issues with this article as well; for more, see You Can’t Fight Sexism With Sexism), and Robin Hunicke’s GDC Rant discusses some more. We are becoming more aware as a society that these are issues we need to address, but we haven’t yet really started talking about how to do that, and unfortunately there’s still a gigantic subset of the gaming industry that doesn’t see any reason to change. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well the problem is, whether you want to see it or not, it’s broke. Er, broken.


So how do we encourage diversity? Well, based on her experiences and observations, plus many informal polls, Mare theorizes that you generally need three main things to start:

  1. Visible Role Models
  2. The DEI will introduce local game-makers and point to inspiring women around the world who are working to enhance and explore the world of game development, in order to show participants what’s possible.


  3. Tools and Access to them
  4. We will introduce participants to several point-and-click tools which are easy to jump into and fun to use so they can transform their ideas from paper to virtual reality with minimal difficulty.


  5. Support
  6. One of the most valuable tools in any game developer’s toolbox is a good forum, a good support network of knowledgeable peers, and the ability to ask questions and get feedback on their projects. We will be bringing in local mentors as well as providing lots of advice, tips, answers to questions and support for the game-makers.

There are lots of factors influencing who makes games and why, so this is just a start — after the above, things get very complicated — but building a future on a solid foundation is crucial.


So that’s the why, let’s get into the details of the sessions themselves. The Difference Engine Initiative is based on the Artsy Games Incubators, another of Jim Munroe’s successful brain-babies:

The basic model is based on crafting or writer’s circles, which use a peer-mentorship atmosphere rather than a classroom setting to teach the basics and help move ideas from inception to completion. There are plenty of benefits to this approach, and the encouragement and feedback in a welcoming environment will be essential to new game-makers. Mare and Jim will be co-coordinating the sessions and teaching about game design, and will also be making games themselves.

We will take a handful of participants with little to no game-making experience, but who are passionate about games and are interested in learning what goes into making them — these are people with ideas and the desire to make them a reality, for whom the opportunity to get into game development has either been absent or unwelcoming.

This endeavour is about empowerment: we want to give women the skills to get started, the knowledge that making games is something they (and anyone else) can competently do and the confidence to continue in this industry if they’re so inclined. At the end of the Incubator, the participants will have a game that they created on their own, and the satisfaction they can get from that accomplishment is substantial.


It’s important to note that this Initiative is not the perfect solution to all the problems of gender disparity in this industry, nor is it intended to be. We are hoping to generate some data and theories as to why there aren’t more women in game development, and are hoping to learn how to make future endeavours more effective at encouraging and satisfying a more diverse group of people in this industry.

There are obviously many reasons why there aren’t more women in game development, but some of the most prevalent are entirely socially constructed: there is a persistent belief in our patriarchal culture that women are less capable than men in the fields of science, math, engineering, physics, and basically anything requiring a degree of complex thought or problem-solving. There is a lot of sexism ingrained within us as a result of these beliefs, and that tends to reveal itself in social situations, whether consciously or unconsciously, which can make it very uncomfortable for those being discriminated against. As it happens, there is no biological basis for the belief that women are less capable than men; it is completely false and entirely fabricated. For more info on this, you need to read this book — actually, everyone everywhere needs to read this book:

Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine

Cordelia Fine is a psychologist with a delightful sense of humour and a fantastically engaging and intelligent writing style. In this book, she uses critical analysis to explore the bad science in studies which purportedly show how men’s and women’s brains are functionally different and thus have qualitatively different outputs and capabilities. She shows how and why these studies shouldn’t be trusted, and what the reality is. The mastery with which she eviscerates each faulty argument is just plain delicious, and should not be missed.

Read that book, it is captivating, and so important. Her other book, A Mind of its Own, is similarly scintillating and also worth reading, especially as a companion piece.


So back to games. Since it’s such a relatively young industry, there is a real opportunity here to make some lasting changes, but all of us need to continue to make steps towards the future we want to see. The Difference Engine Initiative is one of these steps. And if you see the value in this project, please help spread the word! If you think we’re doing it wrong, why not start your own initiative? Encourage the people around you to start making games and being creative. We need to start talking and thinking about these issues much more than we currently do, and in much more detail, in order for them to permeate social culture as we know it and begin to change our collective minds. So get out there and start up a conversation!

The deadline for applications is tonight at midnight, so if you’re a Toronto woman who is interested in making a game, please apply!


Mare, Raigan and Jim, are all very excited about the enthusiasm this project is generating — about 30 women attended the info session last Tuesday, and so far there are twice as many applications — and especially about the smart, creative and interesting women who are applying. We can’t wait to get started and see what happens!

comments ( 25 )

  • This should be great. I’m glad we’re finally getting to experience both sides of the gaming picture. I was getting pretty bored of the usual poorly sprited platformers (Not you guys, just visit a cheap american flash game site, and you’ll see what I mean) and the many violent FPSes that so many prepubescent american boys enjoy(Not me.). I can’t wait to see what truly creative minds will produce, when introduced to game programming. Keep up the good work, guys(And girls!)!

  • Two things occur to me when I’m reading this. The first and most relevant thing is that girls aren’t numerous in the games industry because they don’t like games, it’s really that simple. Sure some are every bit as passionate and dedicated to video games as the guys in the industry – but most normal girls couldn’t care less about video games. It’s a sad fact of life. Just like there are vastly fewer girls that play football, or men that follow the latest fashions. Certain things in the world are always going to suffer a gender imbalance, and games are one of them.

    The second thing that occurred to me takes a few less words to explain: Why no N? ;_;

  • @Colt: thanks for the support!

    @Destiny: You’re entirely wrong there. And it’s nowhere near that simple. This is a complex problem that can’t be reduced just like that — not to mention, girls/women are not a predictable, homogeneous entity that thinks with one brain. We are all individuals, there is no one solution that will work for all of us. You need to read that book we linked to.

    No N because we’re not only about N, we do other interesting things as well.

  • What about N?

  • If girls wanna write code, girls gonna write code. You seem to be under the impression that there is all this cultural inertia from ye olden times when if a female expressed an interest in learning algebra, she was struck about the face and denied supper. Nothing is keeping girls from making games except a lack of interest. Nothing is keeping girls from doing maths degrees except a lack of interest. As for the causes of this lack of interest, whatever they are they’ve got nothing to do with capability.

    You want to teach girls to code? Cool! But don’t act like its some kind of strategy in the battle against sexism. Or even worse, the battle against shitty games. Now that’s some sexism right there.

  • @dave: Obvious troll is obvious. Read the links in the above post; you need to educate yourself.

  • Darn, I found out about this too late.

  • Hey there, I’m guessing you probably get a tiny bit annoyed with people asking about N all the time, but this is a slightly different request.

    Anyway, I, like a small amount of the N playing community use a mac. I’ve updated my system to OS X Lion recently, but I cannot play N as Lion drops support for power pc mac applications. With my very small knowledge of computers, I’m guessing this is because N 1.4 was compiled back when power pc apps were standard.

    It would be nice to see a Lion compatible version of 1.4 released. Obviously, if this is going to be difficult by all means ignore the request as I’m aware you’re working on 1.5 currently.


  • I’m afraid that we can’t make v1.4 work with Lion because it’s stuck with flashplayer7 — the game code is so full of bugs that it won’t compile properly on more recent flashplayers! 🙁

    The good news is that the new version of N will definitely work properly. 🙂

  • Ah, that’s alright, I had enough foresight to retain a version of Snow Leopard on a partition which I can use to play N. Regardless, thanks for the prompt reply.

  • You really think there are as many girls interested in video games as there are guys? I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it. I know that they are numerous, as a figure, and even I know a decent number of girls that are every bit the avid gamer that I am. On the other hand though I must know 30 or 40 guys to each one of those girls, and if I include people I know online then the ratio only gets worse. Now it may be true that I don’t hang around on very girl-populated games (I’m aware MapleStory has a pretty decent female population, etc) but from what I’ve seen everywhere it just seems a certainty to me that there are many less game-oriented females than males around.

  • @Destiny:
    Our goal is to encourage more women to make games, not to prove that there are as many women interested in video games as there are men. We are going to investigate why our participants made the choices they did, and try to analyze that information and understand these issues better.

    perhaps your username could have tipped us off to your thinking on the matter. Suffice it to say, this is where we differ.

    Explaining the how and why of the numbers you observe is not as simple as you seem to think, and it is not destiny. We are setting out to explore further the issues relating to gender disparity in the games industry because these are complex chains of consequence that cannot be untangled with any amount of ease, and we intend to plant seeds of change based on what we discover. Less homogeneity in game development will create more innovative and engaging games, and that benefits us all.

    Please check out the links we posted and consider what’s discussed there.

  • As a white dude, I applaud you 🙂

    I firmly believe that we need more positive encouragement all around.

  • @failrate: thanks! You seem to understand, but just in case it still isn’t clear, half of Metanet Software is a white dude. So the problem isn’t that white dudes are making games, it’s that pretty much *only* white dudes are making games. The ratio of white dudes to anyone else is way off.

    Metanet Software is quite progressive at 50% male, 50% female. The stats for the industry in general are more like 90% male, 10% female. When those numbers are closer to 50%, everybody wins.

  • Absolutely. Even when we try not to develop with a bias, it comes out subconsciously.
    Additionally, it’s a non-linear relationship between demographic and representation. If you are a distinct minority in a group, you will tend to feel intimidated and less likely to contribute.

  • Awesome post! Thanks for the book recommendations as well. I’d heard of Delusions of Gender but not A Mind of its Own, which sounds like it runs along the lines I’ve been thinking lately. Good luck with the Difference Engine Initiative!

  • […] other news, the Difference Engine Initiative — which was talked about last time — continues at full steam. Each week the sessions are vibrant and inspirational, and the […]

  • sigh this has nothing to do with the games you’re making.

    otherworld out (former sig)
    New sig:

    Metanet, wrecking gamers minds since 2001.

  • OH! Forgot about hand eye society!

    Metanet, wrecking gamers minds since 2001.

  • […] in no way affiliated with, Kreayshawn. This game was an exercise in learning game design for the Difference Engine Initiative, a new, six-week workshop program run by the Hand Eye Society here in Toronto. The DEI is a program […]

  • I was wondering.. when will the new version of N (working on OSX Lion as told to kiaora) be released? I’m really looking forward to it. (:

  • […] metablog: The Difference Engine Initiative "This month's post is dedicated to introducing a very exciting project that was recently announced, called The Difference Engine Initiative (DEI). This is a game-making opportunity just for women, which Mare and world-famous Toronto-based community organizer extraordinaire Jim Munroe are setting in motion." […]

  • I’m guessing us OSX Lion users have been forgotten about. Shame really, I used to love playing N. 🙁

  • Just wondering if N v1.5 is still due to be released? I’m another osx lion user who really enjoys this game.

  • im waiting fpr 1.5 for 7 years now.
    its never coming, and a version for lion/mountain lion will also never come. really a shame..

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