The other day the creative director of LucasArts, one Clint Hocking, made the point that if the gaming industry wants to be sustainable, they need more women. His chosen metaphor of Viking raiders unfortunately suggests a "Mars Needs Women" sort of mentality...which, ya know, could be part of the problem. Not that I think he's wrong about it.
Most of those who have responded with articles seem to agree with him, though many of the comments are predictably defensive, boneheaded, and hostile. Even the better comments demonstrate a certain degree of detachment from reality. At least one commenter claims that the problem isn't that there aren't more women in gaming development NOW, it's that women haven't "grown up" with gaming and (therefore) you need to appeal to the young kids coming up now in order to get results some time in the safely distant future. Aside from the fact that he is flat wrong about that (which I will get to in a minute), this is the kind of thinking that produces Barbie doll games and pink game controllers. I am not impressed.
Free Clue #1: Most geeky women are well-educated and well-read, and consequently highly likely to be feminists of some stripe. We are not interested in putting up with your boy's club crap.
Free Clue #2: Painting it pink will not help. That is because...and listen closely to this one, I am about to tell you a Female Type Human Secret...not all girls like pink. While you adjust to this shocking revelation, I further assert that putting a pink bow on it and calling it quits reveals that you have the mentality of an eight year old and the marketing sense of the Underpants Gnomes. "Lady gamers," forsooth.
Hocking is careful not to make the assertion that there is a vast untapped market of women gamers out there, but actually I think there might be. I base this on my own personal experience, plus my circle of acquaintance. I know a whole lot of very geeky women. I mean seriously geeky women; among them programmers, Georgia Tech and MIT graduates, LARPers, inveterate Monty Python quoters, and humanities PhDs. Some of them are gamers; some of them are not.
I personally grew up in the age of arcade games, and my favorite game was Galaga. I started reading science fiction when I was eleven, and my consumption of DAW paperbacks was prodigious. I've also played practically every RPG ever invented, including both Cyberpunk and Shadowrun. I used to have D&D in the pink box. I have committed LARPing. You'd think that when console games, MMO's and all the rest came along, I would have been a shoo-in. I tried; I used to play Civilization when it first came out.* Then I got bored.
And there you have it. Despite the fact that I have been heavily steeped in geek culture almost from infancy, and regularly play RPG's still, I do not play any form of MMO or console game. That is because they bore the snot out of me.
Basically, they take the things that I like least about RPG's....fight fight loot, fight fight loot...and strip away or gloss over the things I find most interesting....character creation, character development, social interaction, improvisation, and storytelling. MMO might as well stand for "Monomaniacal Munchkins Only." Based on a highly scientific survey which I conducted via the respected research methodology of asking my Facebook friends, many nerdy women agree with me. What those women like most about the games they do play are the social, storytelling aspects, and they are often frustrated by the limitations of what they are presented with. For what they can't get from MMOs and the like, they play text-based RPG's, as do I. Those are to my knowledge completely player-run. To tap that market, you'd have to offer the players something tailored to their tastes and needs which they can't already do themselves.
I occasionally get interested in the idea of working in the gaming industry, on the premise that I have something new to offer them in the way of ideas and approaches. I have an MFA in Creative Writing, am a fiction writer, and actually have professional training in educational role-playing games. Again, you'd think I'd be ideal. I've even got cultural street cred. I don't have many of the technical skills, but I'm not a complete dunce in that area plus, you know, gaming already has plenty of people who do that.** However, every single job description I've ever read for a writer or developer, even the fuzzier ones for which I don't need a lot of technical skills, includes something to the effect of, "must be a passionate gamer and familiar with all recent developments." That is, before it's even possible for me to offer a new perspective to a culture which alienates me to its own detriment, I would have to be completely immersed in that culture. In other words, in order to even qualify, I would have to not be the kind of person they presumably want to attract. I gently suggest that this might point to where the problem lies.
I don't know what else to say about that, really. Maybe someone in the gaming industry will read this and take what I've said to heart. Or maybe they'll decide the way to fix their Viking problem is to add some cute kittens.
*I tried again much, much more recently than that. Still bored.
** "Find someone just like me, only with tits" is not actually a diversity strategy.