AIE Alumni and Teacher Leading the Way

Computer games and tech: Female new wave making a mark

While game development has traditionally been a boy’s club, major courses are reporting a spike in female enrolments as game development goes from geeky to great.

The feminist gamer movement is pushing to make the industry more female friendly by calling for more games starring female characters and protesting about scantily clad “booth babes” at video game conferences.

From left, Isabella Povolny, Rachel Coster, Hayley Markham, Amy Collins and Ally McLean are among the vanguard of more women entering the games industry. Picture: Justin Lloyd

It comes as Australia’s billion dollar tech industry takes off, with top developers now raking in bigger salaries than lawyers and doctors.

‎Hayley Markham is chief operating officer at Code Camp, a national business aiming to teach 200,000 kids code by 2020.

A mother of three daughters, Ms Markham said girls now made up 40 per cent of their students but they were aiming to increase the figure to 50 per cent.

She said girls were just as capable and interested in coding, but were being held back by schools and parents failing to give them the opportunities to advance their skills.

 

“I’ve had little girls tell me how cool they think what I do is and it’s exciting to see that change.”

 

“It’s definitely becoming a lot cooler, where as once it would have been looked at to be the geeky thing to do, now it’s like, look I made my own app,” Ms Markham said.

“Sometimes I will see a parent who will be encouraging their son over their daughter to enter the next grade up and it really upsets me.

“As an adult I don’t mind if people have a stigma against me being a woman in tech, but it’s upsetting to see girls not being given the same encouragement.”

Despite the popular image of video games being for nerdy teenage boys, survey data from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) reveals women now make up 47 per cent of game players in Australia.

Jennifer Scheurle’s role revolves around interactivity and emotional feel. Picture: Tony Gough

And while women still only make up 19 per cent of those working in the industry, female gamer heavyweights are hoping to see the figure rise as the nation’s industry becomes more profitable.

At the Academy of Interactive Entertainment, Australia’s biggest gaming educator, women now represent one in five students — a 30 per cent jump from 2015.

At 21, Isabella Polvony (AIE Alumni 2015)  is one the industry’s rising stars, working as a developer at Start VR on things such as VR Noir, an interactive virtual reality crime thriller. She said she thought social media was helping the “stigma” of being a woman in games wear off.

“I remember when I bought my first PC game I was too embarrassed to carry it that I made my male friend carry it for me, now I am proud of sharing what I do for a living,” she said.

‎Rachel Coster, 20, a junior developer at Blake eLearning who is hoping to make mainstream games in the future, said that the feminist gamer movement was helping get more and more women into the industry.

 

“The women in the industry are incredibly supportive of one another and boost each other up.”

 

Ms Coster said when she went to a girls school there was much less opportunity to develop her tech skills.

“It’s definitely becoming more mainstream; I’ve had little girls tell me how cool they think what I do is and it’s exciting to see that change,” she said.

“There are so many jobs and you can earn a lot of money. Instead of just telling their kids to be doctors and lawyers, parents should be telling them to get into game development.”

Ally McLean is the project lead at independent gaming studio Robot House. The 23-year-old is launching a mentor program with the IGEA for women who want to work in the industry.

While she has had to face regular online abuse, Ms McLean said women were carving a “safe space” for themselves within the industry.

Game developer Ally McLean said women are successfully carving themselves a safe space. Picture: Jonathan Ng

“The independent game scene is growing all the time and as we have more diversity in who’s creating games, the content gets better,” she said.

“The women in the industry are incredibly supportive of one another and boost each other up.”

Jennifer Scheurle is the lead game designer at Opaque Space and is currently working on EarthLight, a VR game in collaboration with NASA.

Ms Scheurle said her role evolved designing the game’s interactivity and creating the game’s feeling of urgency and emotional experience.

“What I do is make sure the player experiences the story in the right way,” she said.

There’s a misconception it’s all about coding, or you have to be good at science and maths which isn’t true.

“One the most important skills I have is communicating. I need to communicate to my team mates what the game should be about, communicate to the players and I know a lot about neuro science and how to evoke emotions in the players.”

She said as a woman in the tech industry she faced “general resistance”.

“I have to justify and prove myself to my peers more than others,” Ms Schuerle said.

“Being online is necessary to my job … but if you are a vocal personality and you are a woman, unfortunately this gives people an avenue to harass you.”