GDC 2010 Report: Women in Games Edition

I’m involved in the Games2Girls project, which introduces middle school girls to careers in game development.  It’s a great project, with implications for STEM learning and identity transformation and all that good stuff!  But the most immediate implication is that I spent much of GDC at Women in Games activities.

Thursday, I attended the annual WIG SIG meeting.  I was blown away by how many people turned up!  It was standing room only, with a wide spectrum of conference attendees represented: women and men, professionals and students, tech folks and artists and designers and more.  I spoke briefly (and, er, very unexpectedly!) about the challenges facing women in the industry, and why I thought Games2Girls was an important way to address them.  We can’t hire women into our industry if they’ve opted out long ago, usually without realizing it.  If we want to have women to hire in ten years, we have to give them the idea that this is something they can do right now.  People seemed receptive and very enthusiastic about the program!

The larger discussion focused on finding more concrete ways we can help women in games, given the talent and enthusiasm present in the room.  For example, we talked about creating a centralized database of women in the industry.  If someone wanted to know who’s who, or who could be invited to speak, or who they could connect with as a mentor, they could consult this central repository of information.

Brenda Brathwaite pointed out that there are already projects, including one she’s working on, that could contribute some information to this database.  This brought us back to the central theme of the discussion, which was connectedness.  There are already some existing efforts to list women in games, or to connect women with mentors, or to collect best practices for hiring and retaining women.  The problem is that these resources are often hard to find, and rarely comprehensive.  This seemed like an area where the WIG SIG and WIGI could be enormously effective.

Friday morning, I ran a Games2Girls brainstorming and networking meeting.  Some of our core team (me, Megan Gaiser, and Margaret Wallace) got to meet some truly amazing volunteers, who helped us shape our plans for the next few months of the project.  We spent some time talking about the big picture of the idea itself, looking for ways we can enrich what we’re doing.  We talked about everything from Etsy to Oprah’s Book Club to Hollywood as models for what we’re trying to do!  We also got great validation that our core ideas (collaboration, creativity, passion) make sense to others in the industry.

It wasn’t all big-picture, of course!  We worked on a concrete plan for moving forward, particularly with the funding and partnerships we need to get our project off the ground.  For a quick beginning, Heather Logas suggested Kickstartr, where she’s had some success.  A brilliant idea!  We also defined some fun, small-scale projects volunteers can start working on right now.  For example, we’re asking people to start interviewing women in games, so we can build a video library to show our girls.  Finally, we came up with some amazing long-term ideas to keep girls involved, like achievement badges and featured clubs, that we can pursue if the project’s funding allows.

From there, I went to the Microsoft Women in Games luncheon, which was a blast!  You could practically taste the amount of sheer talent in that room.  (Talent tastes like chicken.  Who knew?)  Fortunately they gave us lots of time for networking, which meant I got to meet some incredible new people and renew connections with others.  I clapped for the nominees until my hands hurt – and I was particularly thrilled when Megan Gaiser won a well-deserved Woman in Production award.

I gave a brief talk about Games2Girls at the end of the luncheon, which turned out to be really important for the project.  A lot of people asked to get involved, which means we may be able to do some of the exciting projects we’ve got in mind.  We’ll see how much we can crowdsource!

Overall, I left GDC feeling excited and hopeful.  I met so many incredible people who care about the role of women in games, and so many of them want to do something about it.  Together we can make some amazing things happen!

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