The Australian Games Industry Needs More Women

This article was originally published in March 2018, but with E3 and the Queen's Birthday, we thought we'd highlight some queens of our local games industry by reposting this piece. Enjoy - Rae

Eighty-two per cent of people currently working in Australia's video game industry are men, despite them making up only half of all consumers in what is currently a $3 billion market. In response to this staggering gender disparity, and demand from women wanting to increase their skills in a welcoming environment, Australia's first all-woman game jam "hackathon" will be held in April.

#SheHacksGames is the brainchild of Girl Geek Academy, and co-founder Lisy Kane - an undeniable force for creating positive change in the world of video games.

"Girls get pushed out of from STEM studies from a young age due to early-established gendered-beliefs that those subjects are 'not for them'," Kane told Gizmodo.

"Studies show these sentiments start at aged six. As a result you get less girls electing STEM subjects in high school, and then they become a minority gender in the university courses - which then trickles through into the workforce. So there is a pipeline problem."

Already fighting an uphill battle, when girls and women do buck the trend and enter the world of STEM and gaming, they aren't exactly met with open arms. It's an intimidating and discouraging environment for newcomers.

This is an experience I can personally relate to (in my very first Video Game Journalism role my boss told me I was hired to be "eye candy" and to "play down what I know"). It is also an experience Kane speaks of with authority.

"There's also a toxic culture within the industry and gaming community itself. I have had a lot of bad experiences of verbal abuse just for being a female gamer, and this sucks, especially when you love a game but the community is just incredibly toxic."

Kane is quick to point out that she has been "incredibly fortunate" to have the "unwavering support" of the three directors of League of Geeks, where she is a Producer. Kane also says in the Australian industry there is "a huge level of importance set by the community on calling out misogyny, racism and general intolerance to minorities".

"There are many advocates within the industry - but still, being one of the only women in a room can be very intimidating."

I asked Kane what the industry could be doing to make it a more welcoming place for women.

"At industry events, I've been mistaken for a developer's girlfriend or a 'booth babe' so many times," Kane tells me.

"We're grappling with the lack of senior women in the industry - who are critical if we expect to 'normalise' women working in video game development and showcase the opportunities."

Since joining League of Geeks in 2014, Kane has been promoted from Armello Associate Producer to Producer. She's proud to lead a diverse team of men and women, she tells me, but she still considers herself relatively young.

"And yet, I am being looked to as a mentor already, because there are just not enough women visible in leadership positions in the industry," Kane says. "I think it's important that young girls and women can look at the established people in the industry and see someone who looks like them."

Speaking to a range of women working in STEM, it is obvious that the standard practice is for women to be the ones putting in the extra work and effort to be solving diversity problems in industries where they are underrepresented. Often, this requires putting yourself out there as a role model.

I asked Kane if this was fair.

"We have to hold out our hand to help others climb the ladder, and I strongly feel like it's our duty to do so," Kane tells me, "Given the experiences we have faced as a woman in the industry, we have to make sure we make it easier for those who come after us. There are many women being brave and standing up in the media to call out sexism in many industries, and we have to champions of our own."

Greater diversity in the Australian Games Industry won't only benefit the women who want to make games. It will benefit the industry itself.

"We've reached a point in society where it's absolutely critical there is more equality in the technology industry," Kane tells me. "When you think about how many tech devices, tools and apps we interact with each day - how ridiculous would it be if they are only being created by one sub-section of society? There needs to be a diverse mix of people creating technology or the products won't reflect or suit the needs of all the people who coexist within our actual society."

This is where #SheHacksGames comes in.

A spin off from Girl Geek Academy's #SheMakesGames networking and industry education program - running alongside Melbourne International Games Week each year - the event will see newcomers guided by key mentors from the industry.

Held at The Arcade in Melbourne, groups of women with different skill sets will be brought together - a programmer, a designer and a producer - to form a game development team.

Girl Geek Academy co-founder and CEO, Sarah Moran, says the event has been created using the structure of the annual #SheHacks event, "but with a pure focus on games so we can attract the right mentors, and help get ideas off the ground."

Critics may say this could be achieved at any "hackathon" style event - why does this need to be gendered? Why can't women just learn what they need to at the co-ed events?

Kane says there are a lot of women who feel intimidated going to a mixed-gender hackathon. Based on previous experiences with the overwhelmingly male-dominated industry, they assume they will be one of only a few women. So most of them just don't go.

"That's exactly why myself and my co-founders launched Girl Geek Academy, so we would no longer be the only women in the room," Kane explains. "There are so many events available for men out there that we wanted to create a space where women can feel comfortable and empowered, especially if they are at the early stage of their career."

Since announcing the event, Kane says the response has been "overwhelming, and incredibly positive".

Developed based on community feedback, the event has almost sold out. Not only that, but industry professionals - both men and women - have all rallied around and asked, "how can we help?", Kane tells me.

"We're so excited to see what's in store for our community as a result of #SheHacksGames."

#SheHacksGames will run from 9AM on Saturday 28 April, until 5PM on Sunday 29 April. You can find out more here.

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