Game On: Why we need to mentor female talent in gaming

Female Gamers

Robin Milton is the Pathway Manager for Games at Access Creative College, where she is responsible for nurturing the next generation of gaming talent. Here she discusses the critical role mentoring plays in attracting and retaining women in the industry.

If it hadn’t been for the support of my mentors, I wouldn’t be working in the gaming industry today.

Back in 2010, I attended an open day at Norwich University of the Arts. By pure chance I sat in on a seminar by Marie-Claire Isaaman, who talked about her course in Games Art and Design. She described games as being not only entertainment products but an opportunity to open people’s minds, a vehicle for education, mindfulness and vast worlds for storytelling. Up until that point I had never seriously considered games as a serious career option, but from that moment onwards,I was hooked and decided to apply.

Ask anyone to describe a typical person working in the gaming industry and they will most likely paint a picture of someone who is young, male, and started playing games before they could walk. When you think of a typical gamer, that description would fit the same bill. Yet 46% of all gamers are women and with more 40-year-old women playing games than 18-year-old men it's clear we need to ensure we are developing games for this important audience.

The industry can only thrive if it is made up of individuals who have different backgrounds and life experiences. Games creators need to be representative of the people who play them. An example of where a company has not considered their audience effectively would be the Apple Health app debacle, where the app claimed to be able to track ‘every one of your health needs’, but critically missed out a feature for tracking menstrual cycles. I feel this shows the dangers of not having a diverse production team – you can only make a strong product if the development team come from all walks of life.

The industry has a perception problem. Too many people believe in the caricature of a gamer or game developer, too many assume that only hard-core games fanatics work in the industry and are therefore put off. Issues like #Gamergate haven’t helped matters, but the industry has come a long way. Gaming has so much to offer – not just in terms of the design and development functions, but the back-office functions – lawyers, marketeers, HR representatives are all viable career options.

So how can we address this challenge? Mentoring plays a crucial role in helping to tackle the perception problem, and it’s most effective when it starts at the grass roots. We need to attract more people into the industry from a young age and reassure parents that their children can have a viable career in the gaming industry. That’s why I go to events, schools, hold talks and run workshops and after school clubs with young adults – to challenge perceptions of the industry and to show the huge potential that a career in the games industry has to offer – whatever your gender, nationality or background.

However an exclusively grass roots approach is not enough to make meaningful change. Awareness of the career-change opportunities for those currently working in other industries are not highlighted. People assume there is some bizarre form of an ‘entry exam’ for anyone looking to work in industry even if they have decades of relevant experience in another sector. We need to make sure we retain good people once they’ve joined the industry. A good mentor is someone who can show you not just what you can do now, but what you can achieve in five or ten years’ time. Someone who can give you that big picture perspective so that you can really understand where your career might go and what you can achieve. I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from the guidance of people like Marie Claire – as well as that of many other incredible mentors and tutors throughout my career. They have given me the confidence to pursue my goals and their support has been invaluable in helping me get to where I am today.

In the UK, the games industry is bigger than Hollywood at £4.5bn – it makes more money than the music and film industries combined. If we don’t encourage and support women into the industry, then I believe we are at risk of jeopardising its future. By mentoring women and encouraging them to pursue long term and meaningful careers in gaming, we can positively contribute to its ongoing success.

Robin MiltonAbout the author

Robin is an incredibly passionate advocate for the growth of the games industry. She has recently been shortlisted for MCV’s Mentor of the Year award as well as the Progression Advocate award by Gamedev Heroes for her work encouraging young people to consider careers in the industry. As well as her role at Access Creative College, Robin helps organise the regional community group, Norfolk Game Developers. She is also a UK Women in Games Ambassador, to support women and girls in understanding the games industry and the opportunities within it. In addition, Robin has previously worked with the Norwich Games Festival and travels the world as a regular speaker at leading events for both the NUA and UEA, talking about her experience in the industry. Above all, Robin is all about bringing aspirations, ideas and people together via the common denominator of a love of computer games.