Video games are not just one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet; nor are they simply the world's newest mass medium, routinely accessed by households around the globe -- by 72 percent of U.S. households -- on a diversity of platforms ranging from "stationary" consoles to mobile smartphones to online sites. Rather, video games represent an economic sector unto themselves -- involving capital, licensing, hardware, software, digital production and production tools, distribution and publishing, and an ever-expanding universe of end users.
Even the Smithsonian American Art Museum launched last month an incredible exhibit, The Art of Video Games. It's one of the first exhibitions in the world to curate the 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on computer-generated visual effects and creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential digital artists and computational designers, and focuses on the unique integration of human aptitudes in graphics, digital technology, and storytelling through some of the best games for systems ranging from the Atari to PlayStation3. (Photo caption: Smithsonian Museum Video Games Exhibit features interviews with video game designers, developers, writers, composers, and scholars -- all men.)
Among other impacts, all of this makes the world of video gaming fertile ground for qualified job-seekers. The most formidable career opportunity in this burgeoning field is defined by this fact: Less than 10 percent of the gaming workforce is female, while 42 percent of all game players are female. Perhaps even more to the point, the fastest growing market for video games today is women over the age of 18. It is why a number of video game developers are actively recruiting women -- as developers, designers, artists, engineers, publishers and marketers -- in a clear bid to ensure that the product speaks to the market going forward. That means the game industry is -- or should be -- a career target for today's female students in elementary and secondary schools as well as in higher education. Get ready now, girls; your time is coming -- fast!
Two tired myths drive and explain the current shortfall of women in the video game industry. One is that video games are a "boy thing" -- the province of young males. The other is that girls are inherently uncomfortable with math and science, which are key to creating video games. Recently published facts, however, tell a different story.
First of all, according to the Entertainment Software Association, by far the greatest percentage of game-players -- 82 percent -- are over the age of 18, and 29 percent of the total are over the age of 50. (No wonder nursing homes and senior centers around the country are incorporating video games into their activities.) So the idea that all gamers are kids is just plain outdated.
Moreover, boys 17 and younger account for only 13 percent of gamers -- versus adult women at 37 percent. So the notion that video games are a boys-only (or even boys-mostly) entertainment is simply false. The corollary to the "boys-only myth" is that boys won't play "girl-like" games. That's another assumption that doesn't stand up to reality. When Nickelodeon was getting ready to premiere The Legend of Korra series with a female lead character, executives worried that boys simply wouldn't watch. Test screenings proved them wrong; boy viewers declared Korra "awesome."
As to girls' "discomfort with math and science," the data long ago showed that to be a cultural side effect -- nothing inherent about it. In fact, girls typically outperform boys in both disciplines until adolescence, when cultural gender stereotypes take over (e.g., Gender Differences in Human Cognition, by John T. E. Richardson, Paula J. Caplan, Mary Crawford, Janet Shibley Hyde, Oxford University Press, 1997). Fortunately, this has been changing for some time, thanks to educator encouragement of math and science for girls in both public and private schools -- and thanks also to the presence of female role models and female game stars, like Korra.
The conclusion at a recent panel on sexism in the video game industry, orchestrated by Mare Sheppard of Metanet, was that this "push to educate girls in mathematics and science early," often, and persistently is the key to dispelling the old stereotypes and leveling the gender disparity in gaming careers.
The market is there: More women than men play video games; more grown-ups than young people play video games. If that is the market of the future, women belong on the development side of the business as well as on the consumer side. A few savvy developers know that. Electronic Arts, for one, which recently released two games aimed specifically at the female market, is also recruiting women -- most recently in a video highlighting some of its current women superstar employees.
It all adds up: This soaring global industry offers an exceptional career opportunity tomorrow to those girls who get the support they need in gaining mathematical and scientific skills, and attaining computer science capacities today.
How can today's girls and young women get that support? I'll address that in my next post, next week: Calling All Girls (Part Two): Their Future, Our Responsibility.