Moore Prof: Women Don’t Design “Girly” Video Games

And at Moore College of Art & Design's "Game Changers" event on Thursday, industry pros and students in the women's school's Animation and Game Arts major will be proving it.

Game Changers promotional image (Photo | Allison Carrier). Digital painting from student Animation & Game Arts student Leslie Hammond.

Game Changers promotional image (Photo | Alison Carrier). Digital painting from student Animation & Game Arts student Leslie Hammond.

Two years ago, the Animation and Game Arts major at Center City’s Moore College of Art & Design was just getting off the ground. Only eight students were enrolled, and the junior- and senior-year curricula hadn’t even been, well, designed. That’s when the school brought in Stephen Wood, a young adjunct prof from Minnesota, to beef up the program and build its visibility and connectivity.

Wood was excited for the opportunity — and curious. The classrooms in which he’d been teaching had been male-dominated, like most of the video game industry. Moore is a college for women. What, he wondered, would his students be like?

The answer, he’s concluded, is: no different from the guys. “There are no gender differences in designing,” says Wood. “You see the same personalities, the same types of gamers. You have someone who likes first-person-shooter games, someone who likes role-playing games. I’ve talked to people who think women design ‘girly’ games. They don’t. They want to play Mortal Kombat. They don’t make kitten-and-rainbow games. Or if they do, the kittens blow up.”

Moore's Stephen Wood with an Animation & Game Arts student on the computer.

Moore’s Stephen Wood with an Animation & Game Arts student on the computer. Photo | Thom Carroll

The gender gap in his field, Wood thinks, is a holdover from the first generation of video games. “Gaming was defined as something boys do and girls don’t, and that had a lasting effect. Since the 2000s, though, there’s been less stigmatization. Women today are saying, ‘I love video games, I want to make video games.'” It won’t be long before gender representation in the industry is 50-50, he says.

Still, it can be hard for young women to find role models for the work they love to do. To that end, on Thursday and Friday of this week, Moore is presenting its third annual Game Changers event — a celebration of women in gaming that, like the major, is getting more popular every year. On Thursday night at 6 p.m., Alison Carrier, a game designer for Red Crow Austin, will lead a discussion on the future of the industry with game designer and writer Nicole Kline; 3-D character animator Amanda Renfroe; and Kat Webster, a 3-D character artist currently working at BioWare on Star Wars: The Old Republic. The panel discussion, which is free and open to the public (register here; it will also be streamed live), will be followed by a meet-the-artists reception; on Friday, the panelists will talk one-on-one with Moore students. “It’s helpful for students just to see women who are working in the industry,” Wood explains. “We bring them in, and they tell the students: ‘We’ve been waiting for you!’”

Wood likens video games to movies: “They’re part of the entertainment industry, and that doesn’t get hit by economic troubles.” As for the job outlook, what’s an $80 billion industry today is projected to be worth $160 million by 2020. “There are more jobs than can be filled,” Wood says. He points to growing demand in China and other foreign countries, and notes the strong support of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration for the game design industry in the state. Philly, he says, ranks in the top 15 cities nationwide for video game design. It has a number of indie studios; majors at Moore, Drexel and Temple, among other colleges; and regular Game Forge nights at which developers hold game jams and meet and encourage students. “There are no Triple A studios here yet, but they’re coming,” Wood says.

His women students, he says, are aware of the Gamergate controversy, which pits women designers against misogynist men who stalk and harass them online: “We’ve talked about it, but they know: It’s just people trying to make noise. They’ve never been affected by it, and if anything, it makes them want to do better.” Regardless of gender, a good designer, says Wood, is “someone who doesn’t give up when it gets hard.” As competitive as the industry is, he tells his students, “If you have the passion and you put in the hard work, you’ll succeed.” Of course, it helps if you like to blow up kittens.

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