April 28, 2015

What’s next for women in gaming after Gamergate?

The Gamergate controversy revealed an ugly element of the gaming world to the broader public as women who create, critique and study online games suffered vile and personal attacks for doing their jobs.

woman looks at poster about Lego for Girls

The 2015 Diversifying Barbie and Mortal Kombat/GenderIT Conference included poster sessions, panels, and presentations on diversity in gaming and IT.

But the subjects of those attacks, and their female peers, have long known they were not always respected, or wanted, in the gaming world. Similarly, women have found it difficult to break through in the broader tech field. That ongoing inequality was the subject of two conferences convened this weekend at Penn GSE by Yasmin Kafai, Chair of the Teaching, Learning, and Leadership division. 

“Diversifying Barbie and Mortal Kombat: Conversations about Games, Gender, and Diversity,” co-led by Brendesha Tynes from the University of Southern California and Penn GSE postdoctoral research Fellow Gabriela Richard, was originally supposed to be an open conference, with panels streamed online. But after researchers were harassed as part of Gamergate, the number of open panels was restricted, the livestream was canceled, and some researchers asked not to appear on the April 24 panel, as Inside Higher Ed reported.

“What Gamergate has changed is not the situation for women and minorities in gaming, but it has changed the public perception,” Kafai told Inside Higher Ed. “People who actually study gaming communities, who work in game design -- what can we promote as possible solutions and ameliorate the situation?”

GenderIT, held April 25, explored the role of gender in computer science education and the reality for women trying to establish careers in the tech and gaming worlds. Kafai unveiled new research looking at middle school students’ views of computer science. Her work, which includes a recent Kickstarter-funded project called Cirkits, engages with theories of how developing—not just playing—games is an invaluable tool for learning.