‘Gamer Girls’ book spotlights women in the gaming industry
Last year, the Entertainment Software Association of Canada found that about 50% of gamers in the country identify as female, but only 23% of video game developers are female. Of course, not everyone who plays games will want to become a developer, but the demographic distribution of those who make a living for them remains extremely uneven.
As I spoke to several women in the industry, including those from Square Enix, Ubisoft, EA, and Behavior Interactive, one common thread that emerged was visibility. In other words, why not help bring more women into the game by letting them see and hear from those who are already in the industry? Being able to see women succeed in this space despite adversity – including but not limited to harassment – can make all the difference.
With this in mind, the main writer of Insomniac Games Marie Kenney wrote a wonderful book called Gamer Girls: 25 women who built the video game industry. In it, Kenney examines countries, decades, genders and job types to assemble a hugely diverse list of famous and lesser-known women in the industry to profile. I was already intrigued by the premise, and only became more interested when I saw Kenney’s name, given his work on great games like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (including writing for a deaf character breaking barriers), Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Batman: The Enemy Within.
But the best part of Kenney Girls of gamers is that you don’t must be a big game lover like me. Cleverly, Kenney wrote the book in a very engaging and easy-to-pick-up manner, making it accessible to everyone. There’s even a glossary that defines everything from “AAA games” and “bugs” to “mechanics” and “assets” if you need it. That said, Kenney’s writing is informative while keeping things simple and light on jargon, which will no doubt be welcoming to more casual gamers.
“I approached writing this book with one simple goal in mind: to show girls that they can make video games,” Kenney writes in Girls of gamers‘ presentation of its target audience. “Young girls, teenage girls, middle-aged girls, cis girls, trans girls, black girls, Asian girls, mixed-race girls, people who aren’t girls at all but are reading this book , girls who want to be bosses and girls who don’t, girls who love math and girls who love art. Any girl can be a game developer.
It’s a powerful and meaningful message, and Kenney uses the many other talented women featured in his book to deliver it. Did you know that Unexploredthe popular action-adventure series Naughty Dog which just got a live-action movie directed by Tom Holland, was created by a former English literature and film student Amy Hennig? Speaking of adventure games, did you know that the whole genre was co-created by Roberta Williams with the 1980s Mystery House, one of his many groundbreaking and influential works? Would you believe that the first-ever game featuring Marvel’s iconic wallcrawler, Spider Man for the Atari 2600, was created by an engineering technology graduate Laura Nikolich? Can you guess in what year the first female programmer, then 18 years old Joyce Weisbecker, began? (Answer: 1976 with TV School 1 for the RCA II!)
Although I knew some of the women from Girls of gamers, there were many, like Nikolich and Weisbecker, that I first discovered while reading. That’s the real brilliance of the book – anyone can learn something from reading it, regardless of their level of familiarity with the gaming industry.
It should be noted, however, that one of the women featured in Girls of gamers, Journey product and founder of Funomena Robin Hunicke, was accused by several developers earlier this year create an emotionally violent workplace. Of course, Kenney would have put this book together long before it was revealed, so it’s not his fault. On top of that, Hunicke’s chapter still contains great insight into everyday sexism, as well as potential ways to counter it. Nonetheless, it is important to put the allegations against her into context.
These sad circumstances aside, the two dozen other women featured in Girls of gamers are all fascinating and commendable in their own way. On a personal level, I was happiest to see the inclusion of Yoko Shimomurathe beloved composer of Kingdom Hearts. I’ve written before about how much the Disney-Square Enix series means to me, in large part because of Shimomura’s involvement, and it warms my heart every time more people can be introduced to his work through things like this book. (On that note, the excellent remake of old Japan only live alive – and his first game Square – also released this month, and his music for it is masterful.) And as a Canadian, it was especially nice to see a chapter on Montreal’s Jade Raymond, the co-creator of Assassin’s Creed and founder of Ubisoft Toronto and EA Motive in Quebec and Haven, owned by PlayStation.
Structurally, Girls of gamers is presented in an attractive and digestible packaging. Each chapter is just a few pages long and offers a succinct yet well-researched overview of each woman’s contributions to the industry. As a nice touch, Kenney also included “Side Quests” – little blurbs about the likes of BioWare Edmonton (Mass Effect) editor-in-chief Karin Weekes or Media Molecule (little big planet) workshop manager Siobhan Reddy to offer a deeper insight into the work of women in the game.
From passage to passage, you can sense Kenney’s infectious enthusiasm for the industry and his peers, which makes for quite an enjoyable read. Accompanying it all are beautiful illustrations by a Sri Lankan-born, Toronto-raised artist Salini Pererawhich add even more color and personality to Kenney’s lyrics.
At the same time, Kenney doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of the gaming industry, especially for women. In her introduction, she mentions how a Q&A with a girl-centric game design boot camp raised questions about toxicity in games, especially from a harassment campaign perspective. online misogynist, GamerGate. After a few moments of thought, she gave a nuanced response that acknowledges the unfair hatred that women feel for simply being women while also highlighting the joys of game development, such as passionate collaboration between co-workers and the satisfaction of gamers finally putting hands on their work. . Throughout the book, Kenney also describes the struggles each of the women profiled faced, such as Raymond’s accomplishments being dismissed because of his looks or the way the artist Kazuko Shibuyathe woman behind some of the Final Fantasy the show’s most iconic visuals, sadly, went uncredited for decades.
It’s important for Kenney to acknowledge these obstacles, not just to be honest with aspiring game developers, but to show how these women were able to overcome them nonetheless. “The stories in this book are about passion, hope, resilience, optimism and courage,” Kenney writes in his introduction. After reading these stories, I completely agree. There’s a lot to learn and inspire here, and I encourage anyone with even a passing interest in games and technology to check it out.
Photo credit: Square Enix (Kazuko Shibuya)