Monday, October 23, 2017

Where Did All The Women Go?


I took my daughters to the We're Here. Hi! Let's Play pop-up exhibition about women in computer gaming that's running as part of Where Did All The Women Go? One display board caught my eye:
Research shows that women play games just as much as men do. This fact is often dismissed using the argument that women don't play 'proper' games.
A stereotype has emerged that women mostly play 'casual' titles, like puzzlers and tile-matching games, that shouldn't count in this research — but who gets to decide what gaming is?
All forms of media have this problem: film buffs disparage blockbusters and literary critics dismiss genre fiction. The difference with gaming is that both sides are becoming gendered. Men are seen as the serious gamers and women as 'causals' with lower skill and investment in the medium. These attitudes risk excluding female players and preventing new ideas from flourishing in the industry.
That situation is unlikely to be a surprise to many of us, and it's echoed in the wider tech industry:
“Women were turned off computing in the 80s,” [Prof Dame Wendy Hall] says. “Computers were sold as toys for the boys. Somehow that cultural stigma has stuck in the west in a way that we can’t get rid of and it’s just getting worse. The skills gap is going to get huge.”
My kids have been to the Centre for Computing History before, and they like it for its own sake. But I wanted them to see the exhibition and to use it to reinforce the message that they should feel able to play any game, or try a technical career, if they want to, in spite of social conventions, peer pressure, discrimination, the weight of history, or anything else that might contrive to hold them back.

They're young, so I didn't try to ram anything down their throats. We had fun making pixel art, playing Tempest and marvelling at ET in a Sinclair C5, and in between we watched a video about an amazing all-women professional gaming team, thought a little about the imagery around us and in the games they play on their tablet PCs, and I told them about Karen Spärck Jones, one of the women featured in the exhibition. Karen was in the same research group as me at the Computer Lab, a pioneer in Computational Linguistics, and often quoted as saying "computing is too important to be left to men".

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