12th March 2018

Game on for tackling gender equality?

With seemingly every Tom, Dick and Harry (or should that be Harriet?) jumping on the media bandwagon for this year’s International Women’s Day, there were some particularly interesting reads in the FT’s Women in Technology supplement on ways to tackle the gender gap in the technology sector. After-school coding clubs, cyber security competitions and video games targeting girls in the right ways were some of the elements explored.

The games industry is certainly male dominated, with only 1 in 5 developers worldwide identifying themselves as women. And this lack of diversity is reflected in the video games that come to market, the clear majority of which focus on what the very aptly named Brie Code, describes as “masculine power fantasies”, which “for many people… are simply uninteresting”.

There’s certainly a gap in the market for more variety in video games. As someone who tried and failed to find my 12-year-old niece a suitable Xbox game at Christmas somewhere amidst the mass of adrenalin-filled first-person shooters, I can testify there is a market ready and waiting for something different.

But, while I agree with Code’s point about the need to create more female focussed alternatives to engage girls in technology, I’m not convinced that those she mentions about ponies and VR fairytales quite fit the equality bill either.

Earlier in the week, Lego announced its first fall in profits and revenues for 13 years, failing to keep pace with changing market trends. Just like the video gaming industry today, the company has been trying for many years to diversify to attract more girls into its largely male fan-base. As long ago as 1971, Lego introduced its (now rather non-PC) Homemaker set designed to appeal primarily to girls, and today its pink and purple dominated Friends range is continuing to fly the company’s equality flag.

It seems the only answer to the gender gap currently coming from both the traditional toy and digital games industries is to develop ‘boys only’ and ‘girls only’ creations. If we continue to instil a culture of ‘never the twain shall meet’ from a young age through toys and technology, surely we can’t expect a different outcome when the next generation enters the workplace.

Forget the glass ceiling – perhaps it’s those pink bricks we should be worrying about.