Source: Depositphotos

Press Start: Diversifying and Destigmatizing Gaming

August 21, 2019

Written by: Vanessa Hennessey

There is a familiar trope within popular media – the antisocial, male nerd who spends hours or days in a basement playing video games, growing paler by the minute, and lamenting why he can’t get any girls to date him. But women and nonbinary (or “enby”) folks have also always been a part of the video game community, as players, but also as developers. If the popular panel "The Women in Gaming Rally" at GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) in March, 2019, is any indication, women/enby folks are climbing the ranks within video game development, and countless video game companies, corporations, and organizations are supporting them and making promises for increasing diversity. A recent article by CBC highlights a documentary directed by Melissa Dex Guzman, a photographer, director, and gamer, about the booming esports industry in Vancouver, and goes against the stigma that playing video games is a solitary, lonely activity.

At the same time, women in gaming have admitted that they didn’t realize at an early age that video game development could be a career option and grew up hearing that video games weren’t for women and girls. This is still a problem, though organizations such as MakerKids, Dames Making Games, and Girls Who Code are making major strides in showing women, girls, and nonbinary people/kids that coding in general, whether for web or video games, is a valid activity for them. But there still need to be more efforts to market video games in general towards women and girls, and even for video game designers and developers to stop depicting woman characters in video games as overly sexualized. For decades, the video game sector has been an unfriendly place for women and anyone who identifies outside of the gender binary, and has resulted in controversies such as Gamergate, a harassment campaign that targeted women in the video game industry and even caused women in the sector to be hacked and doxed, as well as stalked and attacked offline.

But in the interest of creating positive representations of women and non-binary folks in video games, let’s look at the profiles of some women/non-binary people who are doing really cool things in the video game sphere.

Source: Christine Love website

Christine Love is a Canadian writer and video game developer whose original works include "Digital: A Love Story;" "Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story;" "Analogue: A Hate Story;" and "Ladykiller in a Bind." She describes her games as being about "our relationship with technology, about human relationships in general, and about seeing things from different perspectives," as well as having "a ton of words.” She creates games that with the hopes they can be easily appreciated by queer people such as herself, without having to project themselves onto a relationship that does not match up to their perceptions. As an indie game developer, she believes indie games have “more meaningful depictions of queer experiences" than those from larger studios. Find her on Twitter @christinelove

Source: Amazon

Amy Jo Kim started her tech career as a neuroscientist-turned-programmer with a degree in experimental psychology. She became a UX designer and put her skills to use in multiplayer social gaming and never looked back. She’s helped design "Rock Band," "The Sims," "Ultima Online," eBay, Netflix, and Happify. Now she works with Game Thinking, an organization that helps teams and entrepreneurs apply Game Thinking to their projects. Game Thinking “embraces the principles of lean/agile design and design thinking," which is to "empathize with customers and move rapidly through the build-test-learn cycle” and make “deeply engaging” products. Find Amy Jo on Twitter at @amyjokim

Source: Gamerella

Mx. Dietrich Squinkifer, or Squinky for short, is another Canadian media artist who creates games and “playable experiences” about gender identity, social awkwardness, and “miscellaneous silliness.” Their website features examples of their games, including solo projects, collaborative projects, 2D games, 3D games, and more. Examples include “Mx. Dressup,” an outfit creator for “dapper queer millennials;” and “The Truly Terrific Traveling Troubleshooter,” which is a physical/hybrid roleplaying game about emotional labour and otherness (and fits entirely inside of a carry-on suitcase!); and "Dominique Pamplemousse," a musical detective adventure game which Squinky designed, directed, animated, and played music for. Squinky can also be found at The Queerness and Games Conference as an organizer. Find Squinky on Twitter @TheSquink

Source: Tabletop Gaymers

Tanya DePass is a gamer, podcaster, writer, and is all about diversity in gaming. She is the founder and director of I Need Diverse Games, a not-for-profit foundation based in Chicago that is dedicated to better diversification of all aspects of gaming. They support marginalized developers to attend GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) with a scholarship program, help assist attendance at other events, and work with other organizations and initiatives. Tanya can be found on Twitter at @cypheroftyr

Source: CBC

Stephanie Harvey aka missharvey, another Canadian, is a heavy hitter in the esports community. Esports is a form of video game competition, particularly between professional players. She trains for six to eight hours a day, five or six days a week, on the first-person combat game "Counter-Strike," and streams while playing to platforms such as Twitch or YouTube. Harvey is a five-time world champion gamer who earns money through sponsorships, streaming her games online and playing in tournaments. She has been signed on as the spokesperson for brands such as HP. And her Instagram and Twitter is filled with content that supports women in gaming. She can be found on Twitter at @missharvey and on Instagram at @stephharvey

Source: Twitter

Elizabeth Sampat is an award-winning game designer and activist who describes herself on her website as “kind of a feminist, and definitely trouble.” She has contributed to games such as "Subway Surfers," "Plants Vs. Zombies 2," "Kingdom Clash," "Hidden Objects: Mystery World," and "Farm Story 2." Besides designing games, she also works to make the gaming industry a better place for women and marginalized people. Marie Claire even called her “The Game Changer” when they named her one of “20 Women Changing The Ratio” in male-dominated industries. Follow her on Twitter @twoscooters

These developers and gamers above exemplify the diversity that should be present across the video game industry. Not only does the industry employ developers, coders, designers, animators, and artists, it also employs writers, producers, accountants, audio engineers, video game testers, interpreters and translators, and technical support specialists. A growing number of all types of women and non-binary people would influence the industry in many positive ways, and would not only create a friendlier place for all, but also change the content that is released to the public.

To hear directly from another woman in gaming, listen to our interview with Leanne Roed on our Best of the WWEST podcast.