Whenever I find myself in discussions about women in games, it seems like it’s always about getting women into more positions in the mainstream game industry. That’s all well and good and useful, but I have a better idea: why don’t we just get more women to develop indie games? It’s arguably far easier than what we’re led to believe are the traditional methods of “breaking in” — you can find free or cheap development tools for nearly any genre or style of game you fancy creating, so the only thing you need to do is make something cool and post it online. That’s it. No need to worry about getting the right degrees or jumping through dude-controlled corporate hoops. Just write a game. How hard can it be, right?
Maybe the problem is that not very many women even want to make games — the same problem that supposedly plagues the mainstream industry. To exacerbate the situation, most people don’t get paid to write indie games; it’s a hobby that takes up a large chunk of one’s free time, with little or no promise of any sort of concrete reward. Could it be that in our society, women aren’t encouraged to have seemingly pointless, solitary hobbies to the same degree that men are? Perhaps, but there are still a lot of women out there who work on novels, short fiction, blogs, visual art, music, crafts, and other time-consuming creative things in their spare time. Why should games be any different?
Maybe it’s because games are too technical, and women supposedly have a handicap in that regard. These days, as girls are being given more opportunities to excel in math and science than was the case decades ago, that’s becoming less and less true. Sure, learning to program is hard, but once you get the basics down, it’s actually a lot of fun. Of course, if coding isn’t your thing, there are tools that allow you to avoid it, from Inform 7 to ChoiceScript to Adventure Game Studio to Ren’Py to Game Maker… and I’m sure there are others out there that I’m missing.
Maybe the problem is that a lot of women don’t know where to go for resources and community when it comes to indie games. It’s true that one of the best ways to keep up a hobby is to know that there are people like you out there doing similar things, with whom you can bounce ideas around and give and receive helpful tips and advice. Maybe too many indie game communities in existence are overly dude-centric, overrun by guys who think of ladies as mythical creatures rather than actual people, and maybe women game developers want a place where they don’t have to deal with being belittled and mansplained at. Maybe it’s just as simple as not wanting to be the odd one out. Sure, there are some women out there who are more than happy to hang out with a crowd of all men, but it’s certainly not for everyone.
Maybe the problem is that we game enthusiasts don’t do enough to promote the work of existing indie games created by women. Where are our female Jon Blows and Jason Rohrers? Some would argue that there simply aren’t any female indie developers out there who measure up, but is that really true? Or is it a matter of our societal biases privileging the point of view of men over that of women, just like we do in literature, music, and film? To give a specific example, why are so many online discussions of the recently-released Hey Baby game inundated by nitpicky complaints about the bad graphics and lack of interesting gameplay, when Super Columbine Massacre RPG! had the exact same problems but was lauded by many gamers as a work of art? Why don’t we even know the names of Hey Baby’s creators? Could it be that there are a handful of women out there making great indie games whose names or work we haven’t even heard of?
What are your thoughts? How can we convince more women to develop indie games? What can we do to counteract some of the above problems? Are there others that need to be overcome?