For some, it’s a phenomenon. For others, a controversy. And for others still, it’s a simple fact of life: girl gamers, the “other half” of the gaming community. According to the ESA, 40 percent of all gamers are women. Yet there’s a curious lack of a female presence in places where gamers traditionally congregate – internet forums, online multiplayer games, conventions. They’re the silent minority – but not by much.
Tracy J. Butler, however, is anything but silent. The creator of Lackadaisy, a webcomic about a gang of anthropomorphic Prohibition-era cats, she has worked in the game industry as a 3-D artist for Simutronics, the St. Louis-based creators of a number of online MMOGs. I sat down with Tracy on her home turf to talk about the “girl gamer” demographic and its place within the industry.
The Escapist: Is there a need for more women in the videogame industry? Would more women change or ameliorate the industry?
Tracy Butler: Whether or not it would ameliorate anything depends on where you’re coming from, I think. Judging by how rapidly the game industry has grown in past years, I’d say a lot of people are quite happy with what’s currently available to them. I don’t believe women will necessarily alter the overall character of popular trends in gaming, but I do think the increasing inclusion of women working in game development stands to broaden the market by introducing some new and different approaches.
TE: In what manner would more women broaden the market?
TB: When I talk about broadening the market, I’m not only referring to women, but to people in general who are not drawn to games for lack of material that interests them, or people who simply get the message that gaming isn’t for them. Since the largest deficit seems to be women gamers, however, I’ll address that.
The legend of the untapped market I think is partly illusion and partly reality. If girl gamers – who, in my experience, come in as many different shades with as many different tastes as the guys – are any indication, girls’ interests aren’t pointedly underrepresented. They are perhaps a little prone to neglect, likely to be written off as “fluff” in some cases, and less effectively advertised, though. I’m inclined to think some of the gender discrepancy we still see is the lingering aura of the boys’ club mentality surrounding console and PC gaming as they were burgeoning into the mainstream. The demographic focus on young men and even the cultural attitude about gaming seems to have become habitual despite the presence of gameplay aspects that do appeal to girls, and despite the increasing number of girls who’ve taken up gaming.
There is some data to indicate that women are more statistically interested in aspects of gaming that differ from what men most enjoy, and so I suspect the inclusion of women in game design will prove an effective means of drawing a larger female audience. However, there also seems to be a lot of overlap in what men and women enjoy in games. With that in mind, I think even just consulting women on more inclusive marketing will aid in filling in that gap.
TE: Do you feel that women are a potential audience by themselves, or can we only divide the marketing up into varying degrees of interest?
TB: I’d prefer the controversy to be less about gender politics and more about what makes a quality game, with the understanding that both men and women comprise the de facto market. Advertising toward interests without the presupposition that one gender will gravitate toward the product while the other will have no interest in it may see some change. Combined with the waning of the cultural mindset that electronic gaming is exclusively a pastime for boys – something the younger generation seems to exemplify – I think we’ll gradually see a more even disbursement of men and women playing games of any given genre.
TE: Do you feel that in your workplace, you and other women, by the very nature of your gender, bring some significant change to the development process, or do you feel that you bring change as individuals regardless of sex?
TB: I think women working in the gaming industry makes the gaming culture more accessible to girls. I think if it’s perceived as a normal pastime for anyone with no lingering social stigmas attached, it’s more open to everyone, in fact. Being a girl in the game industry doesn’t bear any special significance on an individual level – I don’t contribute anything special simply by virtue of being a girl. I have to work hard to bring something to the table just like everyone else does. I don’t fancy myself some sort of crusader, either. I do believe, however, that my career in games, as well as the careers of the numerous other women I work with on a daily basis, represent a trend toward a more female-inclusive industry. We’re there to put our respective talents to use, though, not our X chromosomes.
TE: Companies are realizing that understanding and keeping in touch with their audience is important. But players still don’t know who’s making their games. Would more female developers really bring more women to the pastime, or is it more likely that the audience itself will attract more female gamers?
TB: I think it stands to work both ways. There are some pretty recognizable faces in the game industry, after all – granted, they’re mostly men. Jade Raymond rather unintentionally gained celebrity status as well. Her example, though, I think was rather heavily tarnished by the game community’s reaction to her. It’s indicative to me that there are still some hurdles to leap over, despite what I feel has been forward progress on the whole.
TE: What would you say turns off women from gaming?
TB: There aren’t as many women gamers as there are men for a number of reasons, I think. I don’t believe it’s generally a matter of girls being “put off” from gaming so much as it has been an issue of girls not being “turned on” to games as boys were, though. I speak in the past tense because I think the trend has changed in large part (if the number of young girls I see walking around with their Nintendo DSs in hand is any indication), but a lot of boys in my generation have been immersed in games since childhood. It was practically encouraged, and quite the standard practice for boys to be gifted with games and consoles at birthdays and Christmas. There are exceptions, of course, but this was generally not the same for girls.
TE: Conferences like WiG (Women in Games) focus on bringing more women into the industry. Should we actively pursue the inclusion of more women in the IT business, or do you think they will come to the industry naturally as games grow in popularity?
TB: I think they’ll continue to infiltrate (if you will) the industry either way, but I also see the benefit in encouraging girls with the ambition to consider gaming careers. The pool of talent and ideas can only expand when you take off the testosterone-colored glasses, disregard which gonads happen to be attached to the contenders, and make an effort to put to rest the commonly held notion that it’s a made-for-men-by-men industry. In terms of broadening the spectrum, keeping games fresh, creative, and interesting, I think it can only do good to let women know there’s a place for them if they have what it takes.
Vincent Keave likes the rain and your face upsets him. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Tracy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.