Be the Video Game Developer: Encouraging Girls to Create Games


You might have a compelling game design program when kids respond like this:

“I can make my dream a reality for other kids,” said Junior Girl Scout Amritha, after passionately explaining her idea for an adventure game about bullying. “Many kids have been victims of that, and I know from personal experience that it’s no fun.”

Be the Video Game Developer is a simulation designed to guide young girls through the steps it takes to develop a digital game, inspiring them to step into a field where they are under-represented and lead. It’s the Girl Scouts of the USA’s second simulation in a series called It’s Your Story – Tell It. The first project, Be the Director, encouraged girls to explore film-making and later informed parts of Be the Video Game Developer.

While testing Be the Director, girls were asked what they wanted to be next.

“The answers were amazing,” said Alison Granito, digital senior editor at Girl Scouts of the USA. “‘I want to go inside an emergency room and be the doctor in charge, so I can save lives. I want to be a paleontologist on a dig and put together a dinosaur. I want to run my own magazine. I want to be the police chief in my town.’ But videogames kept coming up again and again. ‘How do they get made? Who makes them? What’s that world like?'”

Women account for only 11 percent of game designers and 3 percent of programmers, according to survey data cited by the Boston Globe. These numbers pale in comparison to fields of graphic design (60% women) and technology (25%). A statistic from the nonprofit Girls Who Code highlights a disconnect between young girls’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects and college degrees they select later: 74% of middle-school girls express interest in STEM, but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high-school girls pick computer science.

The Girl Scouts of the USA worked with New York-based Sanborn Media Factory, who built the web experience and game portions of Be the Video Game Developer, in addition to shooting video. They also collaborated on content, with input from developers and gaming industry professionals, educational research firms, and many girls along the way, Granito said.

At the Dell-sponsored launch event for Be the Video Game Developer, the Girl Scouts brought together a roundtable of leaders and educators from technology and arts to examine how to encourage more girls and women to work in tech-related fields. The panel discussed the challenges they girls in terms of early access and empowerment, as well as the myriad benefits of getting them involved with programming and coding.

0913_GirlScouts_computer_s“If you know how to problem-solve and think critically, you’ll be able to succeed in any tech job,” said Dell’s Giving Manager Michele Glaze. “Every tech company needs more women.”

And game development can help encourage these skills, said Games for Change President Asi Burak.

“Game development is a new way of thinking,” he said. “The main difference is that all media that came before games are story-based. Games are also about analyzing and rebuilding systems in a simplified way.”

Burak also suggested establishing a National STEM Video Game Challenge-like competition to increase girls’ participation in game development and showcase their work.

Panelists were asked to tell stories of why projects like Be the Video Game Developer are important. Responses took a positive, narrative-based approach as opposed to statistics on girls’ present involvement in technology (which can quickly get depressing, panelists noted).

“When you teach these skills to a young women there’s a level of confidence that’s quite transformational. They think bigger,” said Kristen Titus, panel moderator and executive director of Girls Who Code.

“Because game-making is relatively new, the general public don’t know the names of the game designers,” Burak mentioned. “But they’ve likely seen Jane McGonigal’s work on games’ positive power. Even if people don’t know her name, they’ve seen her talk on the positive impact of games.”

Jan Plass, co-director of the Institute for Games for Learning, recalled how girls who presented their games at the 10th Anniversary Games for Change Festival were offered college scholarships. He also highlighted interesting findings from his research at New York University. For example, girls who identified first-person shooters as their preferred genre had higher levels of confidence.

Although girls and women still face barriers in entering and continuing to work in game development, panelists expressed optimism about improving girls’ role in tech-related fields in the next five years. Organizations such as Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and The Code Liberation Foundation give the next generation of female programmers and game designers the skills they need to succeed through workshops and game jams. More accessible tools to youth Scratch, Kodu, and now the girl-centric Be the Video Game Developer are steps in the right direction.

What other methods are there for closing the gender gap? Let’s discuss in the comments and start working on solutions.

Thanks to the Girl Scouts of the USA for inviting us to be a part of the conversation on the panel. Watch the recording of the panel, check #GameOnGirlScouts for a review of what else was said and try Be the Video Game developer here.


3 Responses to Be the Video Game Developer: Encouraging Girls to Create Games

  1. Henrike Lode says:

    Hey there,
    i wanted to say that I love this article and the initiative of getting more girls into this male dominated industry.
    I am a women with a Bachelor degree in computing, a Master degree in game design, now I am running my own small indie studio that is currently developing a game to prepare children for learning programming while teaching 2nd year Master students at the IT University Copenhagen, Denmark in "user experience and prototyping".
    While I appreciate the fact that targeting girls specifically requires a lot of encouragement, when watching the video on the website, something struck me as problematic. When we try to get people into game development, I think its important to keep the facts straight. As a game designer, I often face the common misconception that design is only about how things look, which is only partly true. Game design is more about how things work and how to make things work in a way their use is most natural to the end-user, how to create an experience, how to come up with things to do for the user that will be innovative and engaging, not just choosing from a selection of pre-designed skins and having no say in the gameplay whatsoever. Telling girls that design means selecting colour schemes is not a good preparation imho, and also underestimates their capabilities and tolerance for stress, challenges and hard work. Too often I talk to new students who chose game development because they think it means only doing fun things and that they can justify their gaming habits by labelling it as research.
    I love the idea, but I think there is lots of room for improvement, and one consideration for that is that it will take more then 10 minutes to convince girls that they can be game developers.

  2. Pingback: Be the Video Game Developer Is A Hit! | Girl Scouts of NYPENN Pathways, Inc.

  3. Pingback: The Geek & Gaming Parent – The Importance of Females In Video Games

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