Editor's Note: This post is part of HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the conversation here or on Twitter (#hpSTEM) as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
The game industry needs more girls making games. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), in certain demographics, women play as much, if not more games than men. In contrast, women represent only a tiny percentage of the multi-billion dollar game industry. This lack of diversity in the industry results in cookie-cutter characters, recycled storylines and tired mechanics. In other words, games that aren't always fun.
I make games for a living now but as a young girl growing up in Athens, Greece, I certainly hadn't thought of pursuing a career in games. Even though I played games often, the truth is, I used to find certain things in games kind of annoying: one thing that really bothered me was the fact that the cool characters were rarely girls! Even though games like Zelda have a special place in my heart I never quite understood why Zelda couldn't do something other than wait for Link to save her. (Thankfully several years later fellow Mozillian Michael Hoye's mod of Zelda solved this problem.)
Looking back, I realize that what I really wished for was that games were not sandboxed worlds. What I wished was that somehow, games were open systems for players to modify. I longed to create my own versions, and well... to be a game designer. But of course it looked so hard.
I had no idea where to start.
Fast forward several years later and I am mentoring a group of teens at the Mozilla Festival in London. We're watching as they gather around a scrappy laptop screen. "I think the burger bounciness attribute needs to be lower," suggests one person. "I'll hack it real quick," says another, typing so fast that her keyboard bounces. In another part of the room, a group is building and decorating a big cardboard arcade, frantically drawing a spaceship on one side. A faint Mario-like tune coming from someone's phone can be heard in the background. We had been working on building games for the whole day and were surrounded by a mix of paper, cables and laptops. One would not imagine that we were making videogames. And certainly it didn't look like we are all hacking Pong, a video game from 1972! Based on a prototype that my colleagues Pomax, Alan and I created, we invited teens to remix beloved arcade games such as Pong in order to create their own versions.
As a game designer, I am passionate about helping anyone getting started with making games themselves. And I especially believe that we need more girls of all ages to make new kinds of games that bring us together, trigger our imaginations in unique ways and even inspire us to change the world a little bit. To be clear, more girls making games does not necessarily mean making games "girlier." Rhianna Pratchett, a rockstar games writer who's work includes the recent Tomb Raider reboot, says it best, "It's not about the 'pinking' of games. It's about making them better for everyone." She also started the #1ReasonToBe (a woman in games) hashtag on Twitter, and is part of a movement to make the game industry more inclusive and innovative.
Award-winning game designer and producer Robin Hunicke is also passionate about embracing diversity and celebrating new perspectives in games as a way of pushing the industry forward. She and her team at thatgamecompany recently won the Game of the Year Award (plus 5 other awards!!) at the Games Developer Conference (GDC) in San Fransicso for their game,Journey. GDC is one of the largest gatherings of game industry connoisseurs around the world, and is also where Hunicke organizes the Experimental Gameplay Workshop to showcase unconventional new games that are more than just fun--through design and play they push the frontiers of what is considered a game.
One of the audience favorites this year was Kaho Abe and her photobooth arcade game, Ninja Shadow Warrior. Abe's games utilize technology to bring people together face to face. Set in the front of the room, Ninja Shadow Warrior was surrounded by a group of players giggling as they were tirelessly twisting their hands and torsos in order to form in the shape of an elephant. "Drop your hand to the right," one player suggested. "Yes!" the players all cheered as the timer went off. The cheering went on and Abe encouraged them to make their own version of the game using a video tutorial she created for the popular Instructables platform. Abe often shares tutorials on her website and runs workshops sharing the technology behind her games.
Along with Pratchett and Hunicke, Abe belongs to a new generation of game designers who not only mash different fields like art, fashion, storytelling and technology to create their games but most importantly, they actively empower people who don't necessarily identify as gamers to start experimenting with making games themselves. If playing games is incredible, making them is even more incredible. And the good news is that ANYONE can do it. Below are three ways you can get started.
Identify a Simple Game You Enjoy. Perhaps it's a digital game like pong or a sport like soccer. Tweak the rules and change one or two of the elements of its system. Think of what it is that you enjoy most in the game and take it a step further. You'll be surprised at how different the game will feel. You can also get inspired by real life and make games about yourself, your friends, your cats-anything at all.
Make Many Games. Use one of the many free tools that currently exist like Twine, Craftyy, Scratch or Gamestar Mechanic to build a game based on your interests and skill levels. You can make a paper game, a new sport or invent a completely new kind of game. You can ask your friends and family to play it, get feedback and make changes (or iterate) based on their feedback. My advice to anyone who is starting to make games is - don't be scared if your game will fit a certain genre or if it's cool enough. Games are meant to express who we are and what we care about. And the more games you make the better they will become.
Share your Games with a Growing Community. Make new friends who also are interested in making games. at online and offline challenges, like Ludumdare and the Global Game Jam. Take advantage of the inspiring mentors and mentees around the world under the #1ReasonMentors hashtag on Twitter. Find a local organization that offers game development workshops, like Dames Making Games, Girl Develop It, Iridescent and even get a badge from the Girl Scouts of America. Or, just take the lead and start your own game club with your friends at your school or in your neighbourhood-the world can't wait to play the new games you build.