Girls, gaming, and gender: summit looks at closing gaming participation gap

Girls, gaming, and gender: summit looks at closing gaming participation gap

April 8th, 2010  |  Published in chicago, Reporting

Female scholars, game designers, new media artists and 50 teenage girls from around Chicago plan to connect and collaborate in August at an event focusing on interactive gaming and gender.

A summit organizer said the goal was to “have a safe space where girls can talk about their relationship with games and technology with a really powerful role model and then begin to prototype something that would be a game that they would want to play.”

The public program of the event, called3G Summit: The Future of Girls, Gaming and Gender, is set to begin with a discussion and presentations featuring female scholars, designers and artists working in interactive game production and theory.

Throughout the summit, the Chicago-area girls will participate in a workshop during which they will collaborate with each other and experienced design mentors to create a prototype for a new digital game.

The game prototypes developed by the girls will be presented at a public exposition, where they will be critiqued by representatives from the gaming industry before being voted on by the public.

The winning game design will be produced into a fully-playable game by Columbia College students.

Mindy Faber, academic manager at Columbia’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media and an organizer of the summit, said that the majority of developers and designers in both Columbia’s game program and industry as a whole are men.

This gender imbalance affects the content of games, Faber said. “The themes and the stereotypes and the values that are embedded into the game mechanics themselves have become very identified with a kind of hyper-male culture.”

While there is a push to increase the participation of girls in gaming and technology, Faber said, many efforts are based on stereotypes about girls’ interests in gaming, such as the assumption that girls prefer not to play competitive games.

“We have so many assumptions and so many stereotypes about what girls like to play, but we never bother to stop and ask them, ‘What do you like to play best, and why?’”

Faber said the goal of the summit was to “have a safe space where girls can talk about their relationship with games and technology with a really powerful role model and then begin to prototype something that would be a game that they would want to play.”

Robyn Fleming, former senior editor of Cerise Magazine, a publication of an online network for women gamers, said that discussions of gender and gaming at conferences and symposia are typically small parts of a larger whole.

Fleming said such discussions also tend to address gender disparities in gaming by focusing on the idea that “a certain kind of game is going to appeal more to girls and that we should make those in order to attract girls.”

She said it is also important to address gaming culture and hostility or narrow constraints to female participation. “That’s something that you can’t address through creating a game.”

Five community youth media organizations and schools will each select 10 girls to participate in the summit, Faber said.

She said she plans to continue working with the youth participants after the summit. The partner community organizations and schools will receive a stipend to run after-school gaming clubs for girls supported by Columbia faculty.

The school will also teach the girls skills to create a citywide online social network to attempt to maintain connections between the girls and create a culture that supports girls and technology.

“We’re interested in trying to see if we work with them all three years and keep their club and social network going, if they end up choosing technology-rich careers or college options,” Faber said.

The summit is scheduled for Aug. 12-15 at Columbia’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media, 916 S. Wabash Ave., except for the panel discussion, which is scheduled to take place at Ferguson Auditorium, 600 S. Michigan Ave.

Related Links

Games for Change

Many of the ideas for the 3G summit come from last summer’s Games for Change workshops conducted by Columbia College Chicago’s Interactive Arts and Media Department as part of classes for high school students.  The multiweek class took a unique approach to share programming and game design skills to make games relevant to the experiences of the youth. See photos of workshop activities or play games produced by the youth.

This was originally published as Gaming summit aims to encourage girls in technology on the Medill Reports Chicago site.