Game jam for female protagonists hits Vancouver

Cartoon girl with short pink hair dressed as a ninja

Here at the Borderhouse, the portrayal of women in games has been a major topic of discussion. A couple of months ago, Borderhouse contributor Samantha Allen argued that more games need to be made with female protagonists. On July 12th-14th, one group in Vancouver is organising a big game jam to do just that. The press release is pasted below:

VANCOUVER, B.C. – June 26, 2013 – iamagamer, a new organization that arranges game jams around social causes, seeks to challenge gender stereotypes in gaming with their inaugural event kicking off July 12 in Vancouver, Canada. This collaborative development marathon will bring together game developers, designers, artists, and students to create video games with female protagonists, from scratch, over a 48-hour period.

To be held at Vancouver’s Centre for Digital Media, this unprecedented event will dispute the prevailing opinion that video games are for guys and that games with strong, female lead characters will not sell (as observed in a recent Gamasutra article), sending a message that such stereotypes are not only incorrect, but have a negative impact on the industry.

Since its initial announcement, the event has grown in popularity with several satellite sites around the world and many remote participants signing on, bringing total “jammers” to more than 150 worldwide. The organizers seek to create a fun, collaborative, and energy-filled opportunity for individuals in the video game industry and beyond to come together around a common cause and create something that they believe in.


More information about the motivations underlying the jam

About Zoya

Zoya is a freelance writer and historian. Their particular interest is in video games: design, history, and how virtual worlds are inseparable from real-world social and economic networks. Zoya has written a book about the Dreamcast, is Editor of Memory Insufficient games history e-zine, and Deputy Editor at Gamesbrief.
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3 Responses to Game jam for female protagonists hits Vancouver

  1. marco says:

    That’s really snazzy~. I hope it goes well, and I can’t wait to see what comes of it.

    Recently, I decided that I wanted to help fund A Hat in Time and Soul Saga on Kickstarter. I like the basic design of AHiT and appreciate its female lead and villain, and Soul Saga sounds fun, but seeing that the one female of the group (as cool as it is to be a combat mechanic) also is the love interest, I felt a bit iffy.

    However, I decided I wanted to join the contest for the game as well and it’s helped me better formulate some of my own original ideas, and I feel like I may want to give making a small game a try. Even just trying to get together ideas, some art and a basic story would be great, and I’m eager to create a female protag. Even if it all goes nowhere, I’ll feel a bit more settled and comfortable with myself. I think I’m going to hustle on it around the time of the jam~.

  2. Harold says:

    While I am happy that more and more female gamers want to create strong protagonists in games and to reinforce that women are not damsels to be rescued, I did a lot of marketing and research at a large games publisher recently, we found that over 72% of the gamers that participated in our games logged on identifying as male in the their emails, user accounts etc. Even more shocking, that consistently, we found that we had a higher rate of male gamers for even the games with female protagonists. So it’s a bit disingenuous to say male gamers don’t care. Or that only female gamers will demand change. It’s also simple market demands. Many women have no problem playing as guys in popular shooters or sports games, but many men do have a problem. Unless you are in the business of social justice and change, you don’t want to upset your largest consumer base.

    Anyways, just my thoughts. Will look forward to seeing what is created from this game jam.

    • Zoya says:

      Hi Harold,

      first off, I think it’s really cool that you’ve been gathering data on how gender affects player engagement in your business. That’s very interesting to me and if you ever want to share more insights on that I’d be very grateful to get an email from you.

      Still, I’d caution against making calls about the industry as a whole based on your own company’s data. More general industry demographic studies suggest that almost half of players are women:

      Maybe this is a naive question, but what if you’ve been putting the cart before the horse? What if there were things you could be doing to reduce your churn rate on female players?

      What if games that retain female players would have a higher ARPPU? IIRC, in 2012 Playspan found that the second-largest spending group when it comes to microtransactions was women aged 40-50. The largest player base might not be the most valuable one. I can think of a lot of games that have mass appeal but have very low ARPPU, which suggests to me that designing games for the largest audience possible can actually be more risk-laden than targeting an underserved niche.

      I would go so far as to venture that other games businesses will succeed by targeting the audiences that are not engaged by what’s currently on offer. Not everybody has to target the largest consumer base, and there are certainly successful business models that are compatible with very niche audiences.

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