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:
- Visible Role Models
- Tools and Access to them
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.
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.
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!