Changing the game: Women are overcoming the stereotypes of the game industry

Women in the game design industry are overcoming obstacles in a field that is male-dominated. A study from 2017 showed that women are a minority in studios and labs worldwide. This, unfortunately, is also reflected at Sheridan.

A breakdown of game designers by gender

“Since the majority of students and faculty are male, there are some preconceived notions that men are naturally better at tech-based design than women,” said fourth-year Bachelor of Game Design student, Jensen Verlaan.

“Anyone can be skilled at tech-based design regardless of gender. But, as a result, myself and my female peers often feel the need to prove our skills to those around us before we are taken seriously, while men are more often taken at face value,” she said.

Verlaan believes it’s important for both the program and the industry to become as diverse as the people playing video games. She has never had a female professor with a background in game design. She says applying for jobs can feel like an uphill battle for minority game designers.

Jensen Verlaan designing a game (Photo courtesy of Verlaan)

“I have learned so much from my wonderful and talented [professors], but over the years I have also realised that there were some lessons regarding entering the game industry that their male perspectives could not have prepared me for,” she said. “Truth is, female students face more setbacks than their male counterparts when networking within game [design] communities, but we are only taught networking strategies that are specifically safe and comfortable for male students.”

Verlaan thinks that all perspectives need to be mirrored in the industry and safe spaces should be created to allow young women to feel accepted in game design.

“I believe the first step is to listen to the voices and experiences of women in order to get more women into the industry. I only speak from a cis, white, queer woman perspective, and there are so many other female voices and perspectives out there that need to be heard,” she said.

In the fall of 2019, Verlaan was a third-place finalist at the Ubisoft Future Women in Games program in the game design category, which encourages women to become involved in the industry. Ubisoft, the developer of blockbuster franchises such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, is promoting events like the Future Women in Games program to encourage more women to get involved.

A student working with a Ubisoft Toronto team member at the Future Women in Games program (Photo Courtesy of Ubisoft)

“Why we even chose Game Design as one of our areas of focus for this program is that it’s one of the most underrepresented in the industry,” said Heather Steele, a representative for Ubisoft Toronto.

“By bringing more women in, what you start to see is a groundswell, and that really starts to shift the dynamic on the team and they just start to think differently to challenge and try new things and push the game into a new direction,” she said.

Steele believes the keys to getting more women involved are networking and mentorships and that Ubisoft are already seeing more female game designers becoming interested. She says that more diverse teams will create different and exciting new games in the future.

“I’m really excited to see what kind of games we make next and what kind of players we’re going to attract with those games,” she said.

Verlaan says in the future, game companies must make an effort to diversify their teams and studio cultures to be more inclusive and to open more doors to get women in design roles.

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About Noah Sheppard 10 Articles
Noah Sheppard is a journalism student with a passion for theatre, broadcast and podcasting. He is co-host of the entertainment podcast, Sheridan Stars and outside of school he works as an actor.