At this week’s American International Toy Fair, the Mattel Corporation announced Barbie’s latest career as a computer engineer. Decked out in a binary-print tshirt, leggings and sensible(ish) shoes, Barbie sports a Bluetooth headset and carries a pink laptop (with “Barbie” written in ASCII on the screen, cleverly enough). The Barbie® I Can Be…™ Computer Engineer Doll was created by Mattel to inspire a new generation of girls to become part of this growing profession. Let’s hope Barbie can use her computer engineering skills to inspire more girls to become part of the video game profession, a subset of the computer industry that currently has women comprising only 5% of its ranks.
Barbie’s inspiration notwithstanding, women have already begun taking a more active role as both developers and consumers of video games. The Guildhall at SMU, a graduate video game education program, has recently announced that 20 percent of their incoming class is female, and the Electronic Software Association’s most recent survey of gamers has asserted that 43 percent of online players are women. (The latter statistic could most likely be attributed to the popularity of casual games, but also may include games such as World of Warcraft, which has a surprisingly high female gamer population.)
For those who are interested in becoming part of the rising tide of women in the video game industry, the Frag Dolls blog has posted a list of 50 games industry women from whom to draw inspiration, including Corrinne Yu, the Principal Engine Programmer for Microsoft’s Halo Franchise Team and the first female Technical Lead for Microsoft Game Studios, as well as noted game designer Jane McGonigal and Fiona Cherbak, current head of the Women in Games Special Interest Group (SIG) for the International Game Developers Association (IGDA).
Fiona and the Women in Games SIG are spearheading initiatives to help inspire girls and women to take a more active role within the video games industry. Most recently, she and the SIG have created GameMentorOnline to “meet the growing need for peer-to-peer mentorship support in games,” as well as the Games2Girls Program Committee, (chaired by gaming industry veteran Margaret Wallace), which is working in conjunction with the Games Research Lab at Columbia in NY to develop course curriculum to help promote video games as a profession to middle school girls. Other important programs include the Indie Women’s Game Design Competition, with winners to be announced at GDC 2010, and the Women in Games Preservation Committee, which showcases important women in games through its database and Wiki.
Join Barbie and the thousands of real-life women who are breaking the mold in the computer engineering and video games industries, one pink high heel at a time. For more information, check out the Women in Games SIG, or attend sessions at the upcoming Game Developer’s Convention in San Francisco.