Digital games industry has become the largest entertainment industry in the world and gaming careers are portrayed as a lucrative option for passionate game enthusiasts. However, there has been continued public turmoil regarding the discriminatory and non-inclusive aspects of the industry. We have seen multiple waves of public revelations as employees of major game studios have disclosed systemic sexism, gender-based discrimination and racism1, 2, 3. According to research, building a career in the digital games industry is particularly challenging for women as well as other minority groups like racial and sexual minorities because of the prevailing gender stereotypes and the masculinist culture of the industry, and the gamer culture at large 4,5,6,7, 8,9. In the light of all this, it is unsurprising that the efforts to recruit women into coding and the games industry have been mostly ineffective — women comprise one-fifth of the game industry workforce both in Finland and globally 10,11.
In this episode of Sustainability Unwrapped, Marke Kivijärvi, Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher at Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics and an affiliated researcher at GODESS institute at Hanken, discusses with Jenni Ahlapuro, a community volunteer at Inklusiiv and a communications consultant working within the tech & games industry at Netprofile, and Marianne Määttä, President of Female Gaming Finland ry about the importance of raising awareness of the inclusion problems in games sector and ways of actively supporting diversity and inclusion. The guests share their experiences as players and members of gaming communities and talk about their volunteer work to support diversity and inclusion in the games industry spaces, and the wider tech sector.
Women gamers often encounter negative or dismissive stereotyping, which both Jenni and Marianne have experienced themselves. “Some people assume I can’t play or have a certain taste because of my gender. Like, I’m only into easy or casual games, or don’t really know much about gaming and the history of games”, says Jenni 12. Marianne adds that harassment in voice-chat is rather common, which is why female gamers often play with gender neutral gamer tags and refrain from using the voice-chat 13.
Nowadays much work is done to create safe spaces within gamer communities, says Marianne 14. In addition, achieving a sense of inclusion and attracting more diverse workforce requires that companies start paying attention to how they can disrupt exclusive aspects of their organizational cultures and the masculine associations of games jobs. Jenni emphasizes that while “we need to treat diversity as the company-wide business transformation”, it doesn’t mean that the whole company needs to be transformed overnight. Rather, diversity and inclusion can be implemented gradually and one practice at a time. Jenni suggests that companies could, for example, pay attention to the company’s external communications and examine whether the images they use support the creation of a welcoming and inclusive employer image. 15
Tune in to this Sustainability Unwrapped episode, to learn more of the gendered barriers to inclusion and how we can work towards a more inclusive and diverse gaming cultures and industry.
Text written by Marke Kivijärvi.
Marke Kivijärvi examines gender in the digital games industry in her Academy of Finland – funded postdoctoral project ‘(No)space for feminism? Gender and postfeminist sensibilities in male-dominated organizations’ (Funding decision No: 315220).
1 Allsup, M. (2021). Activision Blizzard Sued Over ‘Frat Boy’ Culture, Harassment (1). Bloomberg Law, July 21, 2021. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/activision-blizzard-sued-by-california-over-frat-boy-culture
2 Gach, E. & Parrish, A. (2020). Ubisoft’s #MeToo Reckoning, Two Months Later. August, 14, 2020. Kotaku. https://kotaku.com/ubisofts-metoo-reckoning-two-months-later-1844717203
3 Schreier, J. (2021). Game Developers Into Rock Stars. Misbehavior Followed. Bloomberg, August 6, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-08-06/activision-blizzard-atvi-news-culture-of-misbehavior-festered-before-lawsuit
4 Johnson, R. (2013). Toward greater production diversity: Examining social boundaries at a video game studio. Games and Culture, 8(3), 136–160.
5 Styhre, A., Remneland-Wikhamn, B., Szcezepanska, A.M. & Ljungberg, J. (2018). Masculine domination and gender subtexts: The role of female professionals in the renewal of the Swedish video game industry. Culture and Organization, 24(3), 244–261.
6 Weststar, J. & Legault, M.J. (2018). Women’s experiences on the path to a career in game development. In Gray, K.L., Voorhees, G., & Vossen, E. (Eds.), Feminism in Play (pp. 105–123). Palgrave Macmillan.
7 Ochsner, A. (2019). Reasons why: Examining the experience of women in games 140 characters at a time. Games and Culture, 14(5), 523-542.
8 Harvey, A. (2019). Becoming gamesworkers: Diversity, higher education, and the future of the game industry. Television & New Media, 20(8), 756–766.
9 Harvey A. (2021). Making the grade: Feminine lack, inclusion, and coping strategies in digital games higher education. New Media & Society. DOI:10.1177/1461444820986831
10 Hiltunen, KP, Latva, S., Kaleva, J-P & Tyynelä, E. (2021). The Game Industry of Finland, Report 2021. Neogames. https://neogames.fi/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/FGIR-2020-Report.pdf
11 Weststar, J., Kwan, E., & Kumar, S. (2019). Industry Developer Satisfaction Survey 2019. Summary Report 20, November 2019. International Game Developers Association. https://igda-website.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/29093706/IGDA-DSS-2019_Summary-Report_Nov-20-2019.pdf
12, 15 Ahlapuro, J. (2021). In “Fostering diversity and inclusion in digital games industry”. Sustainability Unwrapped episode 27.
13, 14 Määttä, M. (2021). In “Fostering diversity and inclusion in digital games industry”. Sustainability Unwrapped episode 27.
For gameplay statistics, recent research findings and media coverage on gender issues in digital games industry, as well as further resources for diversity and inclusion check out:
Elliott, R. (2021). Data and Insights on Finland’s Games Market & Its Gamers. Newzoo. https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/data-and-insights-on-finlands-games-market-its-gamers/
Inklusiiv’s resource center at https://www.inklusiiv.org/resources
Kivijärvi, M., & Katila, S. (2021). Becoming a Gamer: Performative Construction of Gendered Gamer Identities. Games and Culture. https://doi.org/10.1177/15554120211042260
Kivijärvi, M. & Sintonen, T. (2021). The stigma of feminism: Disclosures and silences regarding female disadvantage in the video game industry in US and Finnish media stories. Feminist Media Studies. DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2021.1878546
Osipova, E. (2021). World of Warcraft -pelin kehittäneen yhtiön johto sulki silmät työntekijöiden raiskausvitseiltä – miksi pelialalla kytee seksismiä? Yle, July 27, 2021 https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-12037519
Salmi, V. (2020). Naiset kertovat, miten seksismi jyllää pelialalla –nörttimaskuliinit käskevät olemaan hiljaa ja menemään keittiöön. MeNaiset, Oct 13, 2020. https://www.is.fi/menaiset/ilmiot/art-2000006668433.html
We in Games Finland Ry. https://weingames.fi/