SEATTLE--It's difficult to ignore the growing number of women who are playing video games these days. According to the Entertainment Software Association, more than 43 percent of gamers are female, which explains why developers and publishers are switching gears and trying to focus on games for girls, or at least games for everyone. On the first day at the Penny Arcade Expo 2008, several women from different backgrounds sat together on a panel to discuss the changes and the challenges of being women in the game industry.
"One of the difficult things about being a woman in the industry or being a girl gamer is feeling like you represent everybody with two X chromosomes," said Annie Garlson, a game designer for Obsidian Entertainment. "You can't be just you."
Garlson talked about how some people assumed that if she were to lose at a game such as Street Fighter, it would mean that girls as a whole wouldn't be able to play.
The panel agreed that attitudes need to change on both sides. The women on the panel talked about how women in the workplace need to respect one another and not feel threatened when another female joins the group. Men also need to respect female gamers and not ask for inappropriate photos when their gender is in question.
Another topic that the panel touched on was how to get women interested in technology early on so that they can pursue a job in the game industry.
"I think women, especially young girls tend to be more concerned about social acceptance in school," said Linsey Murdock, game designer at ArenaNet who feels that young girls should be encouraged to pursue math and science for potential careers in the game industry. "Things like programming and computers were just so geeky. We need to show them that it's alright and it's acceptable...it's not geeky or weird."
Marketing also has a lot to do with how women are viewed in games as well. Marlo Huang, a media director at Liquid Advertising, says clients determine how they want to portray the game they're selling and sometimes it uses sex appeal and sometimes it doesn't.
"Can we get armor that is not hot pants?" asked Garlson, who has nothing against hot elfin women, but is looking for equal opportunity in terms of clothing for male and female characters.
Huang feels that game companies should do more research in terms of their demographics so that can know why certain women play the games that they do.
Carlson pointed out that when Nintendo and Sega were popular, their games were targeted at everyone but once the PlayStation came out, the target audience shifted to the 18 to 35 males which left a lot of females uninterested. However, things have changed in the last few years with the boom in casual gaming.
"As technology becomes more ubiquitous and everybody and their mom have a DS, that social stigma [of being a geek] is going away for men and women."
For more from the convention, check out GameSpot's complete coverage of Penny Arcade Expo 2008.