Empowering Women in Gaming

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A Mediaplanet Guide to Creating a More Inclusive Gaming Industry

Empowering Women in Gaming

Olivia Munn The actress shares why she’s been a lifelong gamer, and how the industry can be more welcoming for women

How a college is helping women find opportunities in the gaming industry Learn about the organization creating an online community for Black women gamers


An Independent Supplement by Mediaplanet to USA Today

How The University of Silicon Valley Sets Up Gaming Students for Success Ready to turn your passion for playing video games into a career making them? Nestled in the heart of the world’s tech capital, the University of Silicon Valley (USV) offers a world-class game design program, which helps students get and thrive in jobs in the gaming industry or anywhere in tech. “Even though we focus on games, this skill set really applies to all kinds of modern-day jobs,” said Ricardo Kayanan, the director of USV’s Game Design and Development department. “Software engineering, UI/UX, there are a lot of things that game design teaches us.” @MEDIAPLANETUSA

All professors in the department are former or current industry professionals, and they provide insights into the dynamic world of gaming that can only come from industry veterans. They also help students find great career opportunities before and after graduation. “In the last 60 days, the gaming industry has exploded with billions of dollars being invested by a who’s who of technology giants,” said Kayanan, a former 3D character artist for gaming giants Activision/Blizzard and THQ. “So whenever we can, we try to use our long-standing industry connections to help our students.” @FUTUREBUSINESSTECH

Because USV takes a project-based approach to education, students get to hone their skills and solve real problems while in the classroom. Kayanan says this is critical for succeeding in any industry, but especially game design. “As a game designer, your job is to basically be a creative problem solver,” he said. “Because the tools change, everything’s always constantly growing, we’re really about having students be critical thinkers and be able to foresee the needs of the industry.” Are you game? USV doesn’t just provide opportunities to further your

education and make career connections. Its esports teams give students an opportunity to compete in multiple games (including “Overwatch,” “Valorant,” and “League of Legends”) at the college level under a professional esports coach. As coach Alex Holler sees it, because USV is so focused on educating future gaming industry professionals, the esports team receives the same kind of attention a football or basketball team might get at other institutions. “We’re all nerds here, if you will,” Holler said. “Everybody sort of follows the esports program in a way that other institutions definitely don’t.”

Making the transition from playing video games to designing them is a challenging one, but Kayanan says it’s worthwhile. “It kind of opens your eyes to what’s out there,” he said. “It’s a creative job that mixes in a lot of technical elements. There’s definitely a lot of room for growth within the industry. n Dustin Brennan

See how USV can launch your career in gaming by visiting start.usv.edu/usa-today



Publisher Isabella Nielson Business Developer Neetu Wadhwani Managing Director Jordan Hernandez Lead Designer Kayla Mendez Designer Tiffany Jackson Lead Editor Jon Adams Copy Editor Dustin Brennan Director of Content and Production Jordan Hernandez Cover Photo Herring & Herring All photos are credited to Getty Images unless otherwise specified. This section was created by Mediaplanet and did not involve USA Today.



Creating Games for Women

After working in the gaming industry for 33 years, Sheri Graner Ray continues to see game developers neglect women gamers to the industry’s detriment. When Ray started her career as a video game designer in 1989, no one was paying attention to women gamers. “Women weren’t being taken seriously as a market, and I didn’t understand why.” Ray said. “I didn’t understand why no one would consider women as a solid market, because I played games. I could not understand why other women would not be interested.” Despite huge advances in the technology of games, Ray still sees the same problems when it comes to considering women in the industry, both in the workplace and as consumers. “We are still dealing with the problem of the homogenous nature of the industry,

and the fact that the majority of our leadership is white, cis, able-bodied, and male,” Ray said. “Every single Fortune 500 company interviewed by Forbes magazine said the biggest value of a diverse leadership board is ingenuity and the increase in ingenuity and creativity. Well, guess what? Our industry thrives on ingenuity and creativity. “There is this opportunity for increasing our market share, improving our products. and building better things, and we just don’t do it.” The best antidote to the problem, Ray says, is encouraging young women to enter the games industry. “I did this for 33 years and I would not trade it,” she said. “It’s an amazing industry to be involved in, but there are bumps. There are hurdles, but never give up and never surrender. Keep moving.” n Ross Elliott



How Diversity Can Help the Gaming Industry Level Up Our panel of experts discusses the biggest obstacles women and minority groups face in the gaming industry, and how companies can overcome these issues to empower a more diverse and creative workforce. What do you think the gaming industry will look like in the next five years? Stacy Gerke: The industry has seen an explosion with the pandemic as more people look for entertainment options, which includes gaming. We’ve seen huge growth in new players showing up in the market, along with avid gamers looking to buy into better quality products and services as they have spent more and more time in their homes. What are some quick actions we can take to ensure a more diverse gaming industry?

Stacy Gerke Marketing Manager Ingram Micro Rosie Katz: Scholarships for women and minorities in gaming colleges. Recruiters reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Building relationships between college recruiters and minority-led organizations like Game Heads in Oakland and Girls Who Code. How can online education help empower a more

Rosie Katz Adjunct Professor University of Silicon Valley diverse gaming workforce? Shanna Gregory: The future of online education is accessible, addresses the inequality in traditional education models, and emphasizes community-based learning. Companies dedicated to truly diversifying the tech workforce should hire these non-traditional tech workers and support organizations ded-

Why Now Is the Time for Women in Gaming Many people think the gaming industry is not a place for women, or that men are the only ones playing games. While there are undoubtedly numerous challenges associated with being a woman in a field that used to be male-dominated, it does not mean that women are uninterested in gaming. I do not want to underplay the severe issues regarding gender discrimination — it


is very much a real thing, extensively documented and a problem that we as a society are still trying to figure out. However, as we look to the future and the potential career opportunities that lie ahead for our children, it is also important to consider the past. There was a time when women were not taught to read or write, but now literacy is for everyone, and the great rise of literary women does not diminish the contributions of men.


Gaming is in a stage of transition, and while the industry has yet to catch up in terms of female representation in the workforce, studies of actual game players indicate that the gender differences we once thought existed no longer apply. These changes are relatively recent — just 15 years ago, scholars were reporting that women are motivated to play social games, while men are more likely to be achievement-oriented. In my

Shanna Gregory Chief Program Officer Women Who Code icated to creating a global tech workforce. What are the greatest challenges women in gaming are facing today? Gerke: Female gamers face a variety of challenges in the gaming world, from a lack of female-oriented product and solution offerings, to bullying in

own research, I have tried to identify these gender differences and I just can’t find it. If anything, I found that for certain games, women are more achievement-motivated than men, and that men are equally as wanting of social interactions as women. Changing times The field of gaming, just as with most areas of our society, is evolving. As the proportion of women players has increased over the past decade, play motivations have changed as well. If anything, generalizing the effects of gender is problematic as a whole. Gender is at least in part a social construct and is heavily

the online gaming world, and more. There are regular news articles addressing the treatment of women in the gaming world, and as we see more and more female gamers come into this space, we aren’t likely to see it slow down anytime soon. Katz: Getting promoted at the same rate as their male counterparts. Affordable childcare options and long enough parental leave (should be at least one year) to form good bonds with their children without having to leave their jobs. Opinions not being valued in meetings. Lack of female mentorship, sponsorship, and advocacy in the workplace. n

dependent on the contextual norms of a particular virtual environment, which include the culture and mechanics of the game. For example, commercial VR games did not exist until a decade ago. Professional gaming, or esports, has a 20-some year history. Given that the game industry is larger than the sports and film industries combined, it seems silly that one would dismiss an entire lucrative field under the misconception that it is unsuitable for women. n

D. Yvette Wohn, Associate Professor, Director of Social Interaction Lab, New Jersey Institute of Technology


Let the Game Career Begin: Champlain College’s Inclusive Approach to the Game Industry Nineteen-year-old Andrea Kutsup has been a gamer since she was a kid. From “Lego Batman” to “Minecraft” and now “Overwatch,” she’s always loved video games. “I developed a big friend group online through games,” she says, “and it has always been a safe place for me to go and express myself.” Now as a second-year game artist at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, Kutsup isn’t just playing video games — she’s creating them. Her undergraduate degree combines her two passions — games and art — in a way that uniquely prepares her to pursue a career at a top video game company when she graduates. The industry Valued in 2020 at $173.70 billion, the video game industry is a growing global market — and it’s on track to reach $314.40 billion by 2026. Champlain College was ahead of the game as the first college with four-year academic programs in video game development when they launched game courses in 1998 and game-specific degrees in 2004. Today, the college boasts six undergraduate game-specific majors and three other game-adjacent majors that consistently earn Champlain a spot at the top of Princeton Review’s rankings of best undergraduate

though I might be the only female in the class, I’m never at a disadvantage. We respect each other, and we’re very open.” She loves how hands-on and collaborative the program is; right from the start—she was already making games in her first year at Champlain. Now, she and her classmates create three games each semester. She’s also involved with Champlain Esports, which includes a robust club team and newly formed varsity leagues.

The Game Studio at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, offers six undergraduate majors in game development

game design schools. “If you’ve come to Champlain for game design, that’s what you’re studying. Not a computer science program or an art program, but a true game design program with many game-related courses, so our students can go really deep,” says Amanda Crispel, Chair of the Game Studio at Champlain College. The Game Studio is one of the world’s most comprehensive game development programs, including faculty with extensive game industry experience; state-of-the-art facilities; and six undergraduate majors: Game Art, Game Design, Game Production Management, Game Pro-

gramming, Game Business & Publishing, and Game Sound Design. As part of their curricula, students from these majors come together for 21 credits of collaborative work with each other — across disciplines — to develop and launch their own games. “From their very first year, they’re working with students from other game major disciplines,” says Crispel. “That environment simulates the setup in a professional game studio, and allows our students to gain a level of skill not just specific to their one area of study, like game art or programming, but also to fully understand the process of how a

game is developed through teamwork and collaboration.” Inclusive and collaborative Champlain’s Game Studio prides itself on its inclusivity, welcoming and encouraging students of all races and ethnicities, gender identities, and sexual orientations to thrive as they work toward their goals. Kutsup says most of her Game Art classes are 50% female-identifying and 50% male-identifying, but some of her other game-related classes are male-dominated and more reflective of the percentages found in the game industry. “Champlain College is very inclusive,” says Kutsup. “Even

Internships Kutsup is looking forward to being a game intern in the summer of her junior year, and Champlain has many game industry partners that favor Champlain game majors for their coveted internship spots. “Champlain College graduates have so much production experience,” says Jeff Ross, a former Design Manager at Sony Bend, “it’s like they’ve been in the game industry for years.” Many of Champlain’s graduates are hired directly by major game studios, such as Bend Studio, Insomniac Games, SEGA, and Ubisoft. n Kristen Castillo

Learn more about Champlain College’s comprehensive game degree offerings: gamestudio.champlain.edu



How Olivia Munn Thinks Gaming Can Change for the Better Actress and lifelong gamer Olivia Munn talks about why more women are gaming than ever before, and how the industry has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to inclusivity. How old were you when you first started gaming, and what got you into it? When I was about 7 years old, we had a game called “Major Motion” that I would play every day after school. It was a racecar that weaved in and out of traffic, sideswiping other cars. I was really good at that game for some reason, so that made it easy for me to get excited about it. Did you feel like you had a community of female gamers? Has this changed at all?


I was really lucky because I grew up with four siblings and everyone gamed together, my sisters included. So it wasn’t until I got older and into high school that I realized there weren’t a lot of girl gamers, and that there was an ideology that we weren’t supposed to like gaming. In more recent years, women seem to be reclaiming their interests in gaming without apology, and with global social media (like Reddit, Twitch, and Instagram) it’s a lot easier to find other women who like games of all kinds. Cozy gaming is helping a lot with that as well; during the pandemic, a lot of women picked up gaming for the first time because games like “Animal Crossing” or “Stardew Valley” are easy to learn, and games like those make people want to share what they’ve created with other players online.



What are the greatest challenges women in gaming are facing today? Even though more and more women are actively gaming, we are still looked at as the minority, and sexism and online sexual harassment still run rampant in a lot

of game communities. I’ve known more than one woman who has stopped playing a game entirely because of relentless harassment while playing online. There is also this sense that certain types of gamers, like cozy gamers, aren’t “real gamers’’ in some spaces. It just so happens that a lot of cozy gamers are women. The gatekeeping is a little silly. Gaming is a massive industry — there’s room for all players without making anyone feel like they are on the outside looking in. What are your thoughts on the metaverse and the importance of protecting women in this new gaming world? I think it’s hard to predict what is going to happen with the metaverse because it’s not well defined yet. I do know that the more abstract the ways we communicate online become, the more opportunities there are for harassment, not just for women but for anyone who is the “other” in a space. We see this already with online gaming and with social media. It’s going to be really important for the companies that build the tech that ends up making up the metaverse to give women, especially young women, the tools to stay safe. If you could change one big thing about the gaming industry today, what would it be? I want to change the attitude of the men who are actively harassing women online who like to play games. Women aren’t coming into these spaces to take anything away. We just want to play, too. n

Why Gaming Should Welcome Diversity Brenda Romero, game director and founder of Romero Games, talks about the progress the gaming industry has made and what needs to happen to make the industry more welcoming for all. How did you begin gaming, and do you think the gaming world has changed for women since then? When I was quite young, my mother would take me to yard sales. We didn’t have a lot of money, and so she’d give me a dime to buy whatever I found. Obviously, you can’t get much for a dime, so I ended up picking up board games that were missing some of their pieces. I’d take those pieces and the back sides of the boards themselves and make my own board

games. That started my love affair with games. Eventually, this led to arcades and to the PC when I finally got my first job in the game industry. I got started when I was just a kid, only 15 years old. It was the dream job! I played games, memorized them, and when people called to ask questions like how they might defeat an enemy, I’d give them gameplay advice. It was the absolute perfect job for a kid. Games have changed so much for women since then. When I got started, you couldn’t choose to play as a female character. That didn’t happen until 1986. Nowadays, there are strong female leads in AAA games, and I feel that the breadth of experience in games takes into account many more stories than just the typical power fantasies. That said, we do have a ways to go.

Can you talk about the reality of being a woman in the gaming industry? There are two ways to look at it. On the one hand, among game developers, we are the few, but we are increasing in number. We have seen our share of difficulties, particularly with online harassment in the past few years. On the other hand, we are the keepers of gameplay yet to be explored and stories yet to be told. A game director’s background gives them a unique angle they can bring to a gameplay experience. What are three actions we can take to ensure a more diverse gaming industry? Visibility — people want to see some-

one like them making games and see someone like them inside of a game. This is so critically important. If you can’t see yourself, it sends a strong message. Accessibility – games and STEM provide such an incredible opportunity for low-income kids like me. Kids need access to technology from an early age, even if that technology is just systems thinking in the form of board games. Drop the myths – games are for girls and IT is for girls. So many young women hear “games aren’t for girls” and internalize that. That needs to stop. Also, a woman invented programming, and many of programming’s most important concepts come from women (the compiler, the optimizing compiler, pointers, and more). n



Seizing an Opportunity for Women in the Metaverse As tech industries build the metaverse, we need to encourage women to take part to ensure workplaces and the virtual world are truly diverse. Many people think women don’t love video games, but they’re wrong. One in three people worldwide plays video


games, and nearly half of those gamers are women. However, less than a quarter of the employees in the video game industry are women, suggesting stereotypes may be a contributing factor to underrepresentation in the workforce. Part of my job is to help fix that — by encouraging girls and women to take their passion for the power of play


to the next level. As we look to a new technological frontier with the coming “metaverse,” we need to seize the opportunity to build a future much more mindful — and representative — of all members of society. Writing the rules The metaverse,




acquainted, is a complex system of technologies allowing people to interact with one another in a virtual world. Early adopters are writing the rules of engagement — think cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other forms of content being developed in multi-dimensional ways. Women are among the designers, but we need more to join in the

whats-needed-to-design-and-buildan-inclusive-metaverse/. Based on my experiences working closely with elementary- to college-age students, these kinds of dialogues help girls and younger women imagine actual careers in the video game industry — the place where many exciting technologies now fueling metaverse design were born.

effort if we want to ensure everyone has a say in what the metaverse, and what its future technologies, will look like. I recently hosted a conversation on this topic with an impressive group working for HP, Google, Riot Games, Unreal Engine, and Oculus VR, all helping to drive the metaverse for-

ward. Among the issues we discussed were technological challenges, the impact of algorithms on society, and how to attract more women to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) fields. You can catch the whole discussion — and learn more about these multi-talented women — at ESAFoundation.org/

Creating opportunities In fact, the purpose of the ESA Foundation is to help build a pipeline of future video game professionals. Fifteen years ago, we established a scholarship fund to provide support for video game-focused women and minority students across the United States. To date, we’ve awarded more than 450 scholarships powering the dreams of underrepresented college-age students earning computer science and video game-related degrees. I’m excited to share that the ESA Foundation just

made applications for three different 2022-23 scholarships available to qualified candidates for game design, esports, and students who support their LGBTQ+ communities. For more information, including how to apply, check out ESAFoundation.org/scholarships/. So many young women who love video games and the tech behind them don’t know how to take steps toward building a STEAM career, but there are many pathways and the industry is welcoming new voices and talents. We need artists, engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, and those curious about finding their place in an ever-expanding universe of opportunities. Please spread the word — a community of diverse talents and perspectives will help ensure the metaverse, not to mention real life, makes room for us all. n Anastasia Staten, Executive Director, Entertainment Software Association Foundation



During graduate school, I realized my gaming life was missing something. Being a Black woman online was an experience that often left me wanting many things: safety, community, camaraderie, cultural understanding. So, you can imagine my elation when, while looking through various platforms and networks to connect with, I came across Black Girl Gamers on Twitter. I followed them for a while, seeing how they stirred up conversations and held fast against the hordes of anime AVI racists on Twitter. I watched how they were unapologetically Black first, something that was super rare in a space where Black content creators often assimilated. It was that vigor that inspired me to join their Facebook group in 2017; a space where we could exist without having to navi-

Creating Space for Black Women in Gaming gate the discriminations Black Women often face in gaming. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was refreshing to exist in Black Girl Gamers. Though we’ve grown, it comes as no surprise that Black Girl Gamers keeps a strong focus on Black women, even though our community boasts more than 8,000 members. Something bigger I fell in love with the space. It was so amazing to be surrounded by women who looked like me from all over the world. We would talk about

our childhoods, adulthood, dreams, goals, recommendations, advice, and more. A lot of people don’t realize what a fun space this is to be in — memes, jokes, anime nights — but what struck me the most was the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. Within my first five years in the community, I moved from being a member, to becoming a Discord moderator, to now being employed as the community manager. I’ve watched the group’s growth as it went from a community to a community-led organization.

I’ve seen how we’ve pushed beyond the boundaries many communities seemed to have, and how we’ve pioneered in so many instances. So, there’s no way I wouldn’t be excited and humbled to be put in charge of community management. Paying it forward In the past, we’ve curated workshops with various brands, such as Buildbox, Meta, and Adidas, to help our members gain tech and gaming-related skills. And I often ask myself, “How many organizations are actively helping

Black women level up in gaming and have been doing so for years?” None. It’s my job as community manager to continue this legacy of personal development for our members to not only strengthen our community’s presence, but also to encourage our members to see there is no achievement that’s out of their reach. Whether we are using our social media to call out misrepresentation and misogyny, or consulting with AAA companies, we will continue to inspire our members to see that gaming will change with Black Girl Gamers at the forefront, and that they can do anything they put their minds to. Because after all, we’ve done all of this, and we started a Facebook group. n Kenyeda Adams, Community Manager, Black Girl Gamers

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How Gendered Assumptions Hold Back Gaming Two leaders at major game design companies discuss how women and those in other marginalized groups are advocating for themselves in the industry.

Elizabeth Baumel Software Engineering Lead, Unity

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges women face in the gaming industry? Elizabeth Baumel: If you’re perceived as a woman, people do tend to make assumptions about your skill set, and a lot of the time they can either misplace or underestimate your strengths. This has happened to me a few times. I remember one of my first SIGGRAPHs, I walked up to the Intel booth and this guy says, “Oh, we’re not hiring artists.” I said, “Cool, that’s great because I’m a software engineer.” If people think you’re a woman, then you will sometimes struggle to convince them you are really good at what you do. Gracie Arenas: Yes, I would say our representation as women continues to improve in the industry and in games, but there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure women are supported in their career development.

Gracie Arenas Strittmatter Technical Art Director, EA Sports

We’re still seeing lower percentages when it comes to the executive level. Part of this includes deliberate engagement and retention so that women stay in the industry. The number of women gamers across the world is currently estimated at 45 percent, so there’s clearly an increased need for us to have a seat at the table. How do conversations around inclusivity create better games and foster richer creative output in the industry? EB: If you end up with the same people working on games all the time, all the content looks the same. You end up with White Army Man as the protagonist of every game. It gets boring. When you have a wide variety of people working on games, you end up with a wider variety of stories and designs for interaction. That’s why I got into games in the first place.

I didn’t necessarily see myself represented all the time, but to be able to immerse myself in somebody else’s world is a really powerful experience. And if you have people making more varied games coming from their own real-life experience, it creates a richer creative industry. GA: Yeah, I 100 percent agree with that. The more we can reflect differences in the games we create, the more they will resonate with people all around the world. The more we can engage folks of all walks of life into the gaming world, the more connected we will be, the more engaged we will be. That almost makes games sound like they’re a life-changing thing, but it really is this facet of life that a lot of people connect with as part of their identity. EB: Yeah, I mean, I think games are life-changing. n

Continuing to Move the Gaming Industry Forward Founder Stephanie Ijoma and other members of the team at NNESAGA LTD discuss the ways gaming can become more inclusive for women and other marginalized genders. How did you begin gaming, and do you think the gaming world has changed for women since then? I have been gaming since the age of four. Gaming brings me a lot of joy — it’s therapeutic and allows me to escape from reality. From early childhood to now, there have been changes for women in the industry, but it has been the bare minimum, and the games industry still has a long way to go. Creating and building NNESAGA since 2015 has not only allowed me to channel my frustrations with the gaming industry, but NNESAGA has also influenced a lot of what the gaming industry is now and how it works with marginalized groups. What do you think the gaming industry will look like in five years? I would like to hope that we continue to see more orgs like ourselves lead and be trusted with consulting to help bring a new perspective. What is NNESAGA year 7? NNESAGA is the reawakening of seven years in the building of an empire. This is now the time for NNESAGA to elevate and house extraordinary upcoming, raw talent that can represent NNESAGA for what it has always been. For the culture. I am proud of the new team we have built to highlight the multi-faced platform NNESAGA is. How can we make sure that we continue to celebrate and support women beyond Women’s History Month? We can support women by pioneering equality daily, highlighting our wins, and giving females equal opportunities in the space. Being a woman in this space can sometimes be tough, so having support systems and visibility is important and makes us feel like we’re never alone. Do you have any resources for women looking to either get into gaming or find a community? Find a game you absolutely love and join their communities. There are Discord servers for every game under the sun where you can meet like-minded people, and a lot have groups exclusively for women and other marginalized genders. Content creators also attract people that will reflect them, so if you can find a creator you relate to, start typing away in their chat/comments and eventually you’ll find people you “gel” with.



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