When I entered the video game industry in 1981, I was fortunate to work with another woman, Linda Currie. I had no idea we composed roughly 10% of the female game development population at the time, nor did we suspect how unlikely our pairing was. We worked together for nearly 20 years on the Wizardry and the Jagged Alliance series of video games before Sir-tech Software, a pioneer in video games, closed down for good in 2001.
Through the years, hundreds of women have joined our ranks as game designers, artists, animators, programmers, producers and sound designers, and at the International Game Developers Association's (IGDA) Women in Games roundtable discussion at the recent Game Developers Conference held March 9-13, 2010 in San Francisco, CA, it was exceptionally visible, too: every chair and every wall spot were taken.
Predictably, perhaps, the topic centered around how we might get still more women into the industry. To some, the full room seemed proof that the problem had been solved. Others lamented declining numbers of women pursuing computer science degrees, and still more talked of being the only woman at their work place. Was it a problem, and if so, what were the solutions?
The answer, for me at least, came through the ears and out the mouth of my 9-year-old daughter, Maezza. "Mommy, a boy in my class told me that video games aren't for girls."
She responded by telling the boy that not only did they play them, but they made them, too, and she put those words immediately into action. Now on her third board game design, Maezza has improved her writing, researched interesting topics, and applied mathematics, elementary probability and statistics through the design and play of games. Through Civilization Revolution, she easily names many important world leaders, knows that the Spanish had an armada, Napoleon led the French, and Gandhi was a great leader. She believes that combat is resolved through math and only math, and she has openly wondered why real world leaders don't do the same. She is excited to learn programming this summer, and I'll see to it that she gets her wish.
Other women at the roundtable shared similar stories and expressed a desire to get the word out to young women who might not even see opportunities in game development where really, yes really, you get paid well to make and play games for a living. Not a day goes by that I don't think how fortunate we women are, and that fortune, I believe, is coming to a great many more women through an unlikely pastime: farming.
I realized how much had changed when I received a text from my 37-year-old niece Pam asking me to be her neighbor in FarmVille. Friends and family who never understood my arcane language of loot drops and combat balancing had at last grasped the simple act of plow it, plant it and pick it. Repeat. Through Facebook, women in their 30's and 40's had become the new "hard core" gamer. We were farming, playing with our virtual pets and becoming virtual neighbors with one another in numbers never before seen in video game history (82 million and counting for FarmVille alone).
I don't believe this shift in demographics is a temporary one either. While the new "hard core" gamer might not pick up the next DOOM or Quake, Facebook games have made gamers out of millions of women, the same women who might one day encourage their daughters to pursue a career in this field or pursue it themselves.
It is this new trend, Facebook's ability to merge fun and friends in a unique and super-social way, that paves the way for and calls out to the next crop of female developers.