The Barriers to Women’s


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The Barriers to Women’s Participation as Game Designers and Developers


Across societies, there is the stereotype that women do not play video games. However, this is far from the truth. While the gaming industry continues to grow and with many women begin to play the games, there are still very few female developers in the industry with efforts to diversify the industry curtailed by wide online harassment. A 2014 report by the Entertainment Software Association showed that the average gamer in the US is 35 years old, with 74% of the gaming population being more than 18 years and women gamers above 18 years accounting for 33%. The question here is, if there are plenty of women playing video games, why are they shying away from been involved in their development. The purpose of this essay is to assess the barriers hindering women’s participation in the development of video games.

The Online Harassment of Women Developers

The discussion of women’s involvement in the design of video games began to heat up in 2014 following the intimidation against women that spoke up against inequality in the video game industry in what was branded as the “Gamergate controversy”. The controversy began with Zoe Quinn, a 27-year-old who started receiving anonymous hateful emails. The threats are believed to have as a result of a game that she had developed known as Depression Quest. Some people were convinced that she had been given positive reviews which she did not deserve. The critics also believed that the theme of the game was rather progressive and did not have the escapism found traditionally in the videos that had been developed before such as fighting and shooting. By August 201, the harassment had escalated. Her then-boyfriend came out and wrote a blog post saying that Quinn had entered a sexual relationship with a popular journalist in exchange for positive reporting and coverage which informed the positive reviews. The supporters of Gamergate opposed this and viewed it as the growing influence on social justice and ideologies of feminism in the video game industry. This led to a press that was feminist in nature; it segregated the audiences of the traditional gamers. Observers referred to Gamergate as a depiction of the long-running war of cultures against the efforts of increasing diversity in a male-dominated community that targeted candid women. With the 2014 Entertainment Software Association conducted annually showing almost equal participation of men (52%) and women (48%), Gamergate is beginning to notice the shifting cultural identity of gamers. With the risk of online harassment, many women shy away from taking up careers in the gaming industry because they do not want to become victims of sexual harassment.

The Education Gap

The underrepresentation of women in the development of games is also linked to the fact that there is a huge gap between women and men in education. Because of the stereotypes that put it that the technology sector is a boy’s world, girls are less likely to view themselves as working in any roles whether advertising or development. As such, women are less likely to take up a career in technology-related fields as they do not feel as if they belong in the sector. Further, although some often get a chance to attend college, without a doubt women and particularly women of color are not likely to select Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects such as computer science. Recent research reports that about 17% of men graduate with STEM degrees compared to 6.7% of women (Hancock, and Mary, 2018). This points out that men are twice likely to become a video game developer than a woman. The common reasons behind this huge education gap have been linked to the various assumptions regarding the inherent capabilities of men and women, continued discrimination against women, and the lack of role models in these STEM fields.

Domestic Responsibilities Gap

The domestic duty of women at the family level is another reason behind the low participation of women in the design and development of video games. This follows the notion that careers in STEM and particularly programming are time-consuming because it takes an intense amount of time to work on a video game to completion, that is, about 50-70 hours a week. Despite the progress made in sharing domestic responsibilities, women continue to bear a larger burden of responsibilities despite working similar hours with their male counterparts. On average, women spend twice their time carrying out domestic activities such as cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children. They struggle to balance between career and family responsibilities. The situation is even more dire for women that work in companies with little value for the family institution. They are forced to make hard choices that impact their careers. To address this issue requires government buy-in through reforms on maternity leave. Moreso, it comes down to sharing of responsibilities. At times, women even end up losing their jobs because childcare is rather expensive.

Lack of Role Models/Mentors

Another factor hindering women from taking part in the design and development of video games is the lack of role models. This is because there is a huge gap in the number of women leaders within the industry which rather discouraging. Furthermore, being a pioneer is hard because they find that they are the only women in the rooms which is daunting. Just like in the technical and scientific industries, women in the gaming industries encounter a lot of sexism which is even harder when you are the only woman in the room. Mentorship plays a critical role in increasing the uptake of STEM-related careers among minority groups. Professional mentors help in restoring confidence because, by virtue of being professionals in STEM, they assure young girls that look up to them that women too can excel in STEM. Unlike men, women go through many hurdles in their quest for having an established career. Listening to the advice of a woman who has ‘been there’done that’ vastly increases the ability of a woman to rise in their respective fields and to stay on course as success is possible. Additionally, multiple studies indicate that having a mentor significantly improves career opportunities as well as providing best practices for navigating career paths. If women do not have a person they can look up to and identify with, they tend to lose interest in the career. In so doing, gaming companies are also losing out on money and talent by not exercising diversity.

The Expectation Gap

Expectations play a critical role in informing the career path which both men and women take up in their careers. It is predominantly expected that video game designers will automatically be men and not women. Men hold more power and this leads to a self-perpetuated cycle. The notion that game developers are mostly men tends to have an impact on who gets hired in the business. Many people are wrongly convinced that women do not know much about games with some being convinced that they lack the necessary experience required for such an industry. Society through the process of socialization has taught us that women should be involved in the less risky and feminine careers such as in hospitality or teaching while men take up the more difficult careers such as the army, engineering among others. However, this is slowly changing over time with women coming out to prove that they are just as capable as their male counterparts. Notably, it is very common to come across men in bigger roles than the work they do. Further, men tend to benefit from people assuming they are capable. Recent studies show that men are given promotions based on their potential while women, of at all they get a promotion are judged on the basis of their previous accomplishments (Harvey, and Tamara, 495). In essence, men are promoted based on what they are yet to achieve. This brings inequality and disparity in the workforce. Further, men are more likely to get credit as a result of their achievements than women whose competence makes them unlikeable. As a result, women working in the gaming industry have no choice but to walk on the edge of a razor if they want to advance and rise across ranks at the workplace.


People believe that women do not play video games however this is far from the truth. The number of women involved in video games has been on the rise over the last few years. Notably, as recent as 2014, there was almost an equal number of women and men participating in video games. If the number of women is on the rise, it begs the question of why they are not as involved in the design and the development of video games. This is because they face some challenges when compared to their male counterparts. Women have lower educational qualifications because they rarely advance to college and the few that do, often do not take up STEM-related courses. They feel that the field is not for them because they have been told it is a boy’s world. Women also have to deal with sexual harassment. Women developers are bullied and sent threats and hateful emails to discourage them from entering and dominating the field. There are also gaps in expectations and domestic responsibilities which further limit women’s participation in the fields. Notably, the lack of role models and mentors in the video game fields also discourages young girls whose wish is to become a developer from joining the profession.

Works Cited

Hancock, Meg G., and Mary A. Hums. “A “leaky pipeline”?: Factors affecting the career development of senior-level female administrators in NCAA Division I athletic departments.” Sport Management Review 19.2 (2016): 198-210.

Harvey, Alison, and Tamara Shepherd. “When passion isn’t enough: gender, affect and credibility in digital games design.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 20.5 (2017): 492-508.

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