by Shaima Chachai Handi
Video Games have an incredibly broad demographic. People from all backgrounds, ages, and interests enjoy forms of this medium in some way or another. From mobile game users to competitive esports players, there’s a space for everyone’s preferred genre, gaming frequency, and pace.
According to the “2020 European Video Games Industry Insights Report” by the EGDF and ISFE: “In 2020, the EU had 4,600 game developer studios and publishers. Together, these companies employed 74,000 people in the EU (98,219 people in Europe) and had a combined turnover of €16.6bn in the EU.”
These figures are a testament to just how paramount this young industry is for Europe, not just economically but socially and culturally. During the COVID-19 pandemic, video games were a safe haven to socialise and maintain relationships. This perplexingly isolating time for the world became the entryway into the gaming world for many, as it was a source of comfort and oftentimes community.
In Spain, according to AEVI (Spanish Video Game Association), each euro that is invested into the Spanish video game industry produces a return of €3 in the economy, resulting in an effect of over 3 million euros and 22,000 jobs created.
Amongst the publications that the association features, a guide created by Women in Games, an activist group that aims at tackling the gender gap within the video game industry is noteworthy as it illustrates the shortcomings of the work sphere in regard to gender equality. It is certainly encouraging to see such principal organisations highlighting the role of women in this line of work.
In this same sentiment, the European Parliament’s pilot project, the European Video Games Society, was created in cohort with ECORYS. This program operates within the Commission’s media and digital culture promotion efforts, consisting of a series of seven workshops throughout 2022 to study different aspects of the European video-game ecosystem. One of the topics which was briefly covered during the third workshop was the underrepresentation of women in the gaming industry, alongside the topic of education and skills needed in the video game sector.
An interview with Spain’s women in the gaming industry
In an industry where 52% of Europe’s 6-64-year olds are active consumers, of whom nearly half are women, a mere 22% are professionals in the gaming sector. In order to have an accurate point of view of the gaming world I interviewed two young and incredible professionals in Spain’s gaming industry: Marta Trivi and Elena Fernández.
Q: What’s your role in the gaming industry?
Marta: My name is Marta Trivi and I’ve been a cultural journalist for 9 or 10 years. I am featured in Podcast Reload, one of the best rated video game podcasts in Spain, and in Chiclana and Friends which is a video game podcast geared towards entertainment.
Elena: I’m Elena Fernández. Currently I’m the publishing and art director of Meridiem Games. My role entails publishing physical and digital games. So when a studio has finished developing a game, I hand it over to my team and we take care of registering it, going over the whole bureaucratic processes that platforms require, as well as managing their online shops; and if there is a physical edition, we are charged with designing the visual art, the covers (and back covers), the exclusive extra content and coordinating the whole manufacturing process.
Q: Do you play videogames yourself? When was your personal introduction to the gaming world?
M: I am indeed a gamer. I play video games both for pleasure and for work which can be difficult to balance but it is definitely worth it. My introduction to gaming was when I was 5 with my uncle’s consoles, so it’s a long-standing passion of mine.
E: Yes, I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember. We’ve always been big computer users in my house, and I started playing graphic adventures such as Broken Sword or Monkey Island and some classics such as Lemmings as young as 4 or 5 years old. After that I moved on to shooters, like Doom or Counter Strike which I greatly enjoyed, even though my all-time favourite remains Baldur’s Gate. In general, I’ve always enjoyed classic games.
Q: How long have you been a professional in the gaming industry?
M: I specialised in gaming journalism 5 years ago.
E: I’ve been a part of the video game industry since 2015, when I started working as a writer for a video game magazine where I was soon tasked with managing the whole social media presence of the publication.
Q: Is the European Video Games Society focusing enough on the role of women? Have you perceived a gap in the industry?
M: From where I’m standing, the role of women in gaming could have been a larger focus during the workshops but nonetheless, the report from the aforementioned workshop doesn’t reflect the actual presence of women in the industry. We, women, are underrepresented in all fields within the gaming industry. Pointing out this underrepresentation without emphasising that it is caused by active discrimination is patronising and purposeless. To prove the existence of this bias in the recruiting process, let’s consider some figures: while most of the art graduates in the gaming field in Spain are women, only 18% of the gaming artists are female. The same issue exists with tech journalists. The gap in the field is caused by active sexism and we must be aware of it.
Q: What’s your take? Have you perceived a gap in the industry or been discriminated against?
E: To be honest, in my environment, I haven’t really felt discrimination. When you have an interest in something from such an early age and you share it with your peers, I think that it’s generally understood that you’re savvy in the subject, and it’s not questioned. But in the professional field, there have been moments where I’ve had to prove my knowledge in certain matters, when my peers didn’t have to do so. This has mainly occurred regarding football themed games (when I worked as a journalist) where I wasn’t entrusted with articles on the matter, although I was a fan of the genre and more than equipped to cover it. Luckily in my current position, I don’t really feel any sort of discrimination.
Q: The motion for a EU Parliament resolution on esports and videogames emphasised that encouraging gender balanced engagement in the video game industry should be a priority. What sort of measures would you suggest, to aid women in the gaming field?
M: Regarding esports, a useful measure would be to give visibility to female-lead esports teams; it should be incentivized to cover such teams with either gender based positive actions or measures of the sort, as this has helped female representation in different fields (i.e.: football). On the other hand, concerning the gaming industry in general, as with any other industry, there should be equality measures in place that protect women in relation to balancing work and family life, especially for the women that decide to start a family or the ones that are already mothers. The fact that it is a young industry explains but does not excuse these deficiencies.
E: I think that women should broaden their horizons when it comes to role models. It feels like everything’s about the few streamers that are well-known which isn’t reflective of all of us in the field. It seems like we can only perform in front of a camera, be pretty, dress up or provide entertainment when it’s not at all the case. I think that the hard work of all of us who are behind the scenes and make sure that the public can have access to and enjoy video games should be highlighted, so more young women will be motivated to dive into the industry. We must give credit to the streamers that have proven that we are also gamers, but we must go beyond that. I still don’t feel like there’s equality in the industry.
Considering the data previously presented and the point of view of the field experts, some conclusions may be drawn as recommendations for the Video Games Society and the public.
Even though some EU funded initiatives such as the Women TechEU (EISMEA) fund or the Women Innovators Prize (EIC) exist to promote the inclusion of women in the technical field and indirectly into the gaming industry, this is hardly enough to fix this issue. As Ms. Trivi proposed, a focus on women and gender based positive action is essential to bridge the gap caused by the direct discrimination within the industry. Ms. Fernández’s recommendations to shift our perspective towards the myriad of roles that exist within the gaming world calls attention to the need for visibility of the women who have already broken the glass ceiling in the tech field. Some of the main hurdles for women are underrepresentation, ineffective action, and in some cases, direct and active discrimination. To counter these obstacles, women in all fields of the gaming industry should be highlighted and celebrated, both to incentivise young women and to make it a lucrative and attractive option for companies to invest in female talent. Safety nets should be put in place to protect women from operating with a disadvantage in the workplace, and a gender-balancing quota incentive should be proposed to promote the entry of skilled women in the workforce. There’s a long road ahead for women’s visibility in this field, like in so many others, but brilliant young minds are paving the way for a very bright future.
Shaima Chachai Handi is a 22 year-old Law and Object Oriented App Development student with a background in international governance and political affairs.
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