When the Barbie video game burst on the scene in the mid ’90s it sold more than 600,000 units, forcing retailers and developers to take a closer look at girls and their place in the gaming realm.
The number of girl gamers has risen significantly since then, and they aren’t interested in Barbie anymore. While still a minority within the industry, more women are entering into computer science professions and changing the way girls are represented within the tech and gaming world.
At a panel discussion titled “Gaming as a Gateway Drug: Getting Girls Interested in Technology,” gaming and education professionals discussed how to use play to spark a bigger interest among girls in technology and build a brighter future for women in the industry.
The key, they said, is getting girls interested in learning technology at the very beginning of their educational careers.
GirlStart, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering girls in math, science and technology, is working to achieve that. The organization holds week-long camps where girls discuss female portrayals in video games, their own place in the industry and the power of blogging.
“Growing up, I always heard video games were for boys,” said Dee Kapila, a panelist and technology and program coordinator for GirlStart. “We’re hoping to inspire and provide support for girls who are wanting to get into technology. What’s a more fun way to do that than with video games?”
Panelists also discussed the obstacles girls face when learning technology, one being a lack of confidence among girls to enter the computer science industry.
In classrooms, girls are more likely to indicate a fear of technology and not recognize their existing abilities, said Cindy Royal, an assistant professor at Texas State University.
“They’ll say things like ‘The computer hates me’ or ‘I’m afraid I’m going to break something,'” Royal said. “Meanwhile, they are tricking out their MySpace page, not realizing that it’s made of HTML coding.”
Some suggestions to increase confidence among women included introducing different teaching styles geared toward girls and putting more women in leadership positions within the educational and tech industries.
“We need to change the gaming culture because it’s always been a boy’s club,” said Sherri Graner Ray, senior designer for Sony Online Entertainment. “Like any medium, it takes a balance of both genders to create unique and diversified content.”