Gamasutra's most important gamers list is a boy's club

Alice at Wonderland blog takes a critical look at Gamasutra's list of the "The Game Developer 50" -- putatively the most important people in games. Or, more specifically, the most important men in games, because out of the fifty names on the list, not one belongs to a woman in games (actually, there's one ambiguous name that can't be verified: Nyung Chul Kim from Grigon). Alice, herself an influential and highly regarded games commissioner (as well as being my wife -- full disclosure) proceeds to rattle off a long list of women who should have made the cut.

Alice explains what's going on here -- it's not merely sexism at work, it's something much more insidious, because it's much more baked in and invisible. Fundamentally, people hang out with people who are more or less like themselves. Thus, when you ask people to name the most important people they know, they start with the people who are already in their minds, and those are usually people they see on a regular basis. Fundamentally, women aren't part of the gamer boy's club because women aren't part of the gamer boy's club.

The reason women aren't currently making up 50% of every field is not an intellectual issue, but a cultural issue, and the longer we continue to publish lists containing all-men or nearly-all-men, the longer we propagate the broken image and insulting idea that women aren't as good, or as important, as men.

Many women just haven't had the chance yet: they haven't had the encouragement, the education, the freedom, the support, the role models, the contacts, the friends in high places, the opportunities and the finances that their male counterparts often get by default, by tradition and by homophily.

It's not right and it needs to change. Monocultures are evolutionarily a dead end: game people, take note.

A long way to go.


  1. While I appreciate the attempts Alice has made in highlighting woman in the industry, hardly any of her choices seem deserving of the accolade. Rhianna Pratchet in particular has shared nothing but a series of absolutely god-awful scripts with the games industry.

    This list is supposed to be about quality, and simply being in the industry and being a woman shouldn’t be enough to get you on it. Nor do I believe that someone who supports gender equality would think that’s the case.

    HOWEVER, I do agree with her assessment of Kim Swift. I’m surprised that she wasn’t included. One thing you have to consider though, is that this is an annual list and Swift’s Portal came out in 2008 not 2009. When Portal 2 emerges, expect her to be on it.

    One oversight that did surprise me was Amy Hennig. The writer and director of Uncharted 2 (and a host of other things), something that would have made her eligible for the list.

    The fact of the matter is, Gamasutra has done these lists before, and woman have usually found themselves a part of it. But, given that game development is cyclical and there are fewer high profile women (or women period) in the industry it would make sense that the big female names in the industry simply wouldn’t be eligible because they haven’t released anything over the course of the last year.

    Calling it “sexism” and “insidious” is stretching things considerably. In fact, Game Developer does an annual report highlighting ONLY women that usually hits around May.

    Here’s one of their pieces:

  2. In a professional context, I’m end up communicating and working better with women than with men on average. Sadly, the profession I spend my life working in is video games.

    I personally find it harder to relate to men in the industry as I seek more diverse groups of people. Being male and heterosexual seems to be the only similarities I have with most developers. On the other side of the coin, there’s a high bar in professionally networking with women where I need to prove I’m not flirting with them. I never had this in a studio/workplace setting, but regularly in networking events.

    At GDC, it is easy to strike up a conversation with a man. To talk to a woman, I have to communicate that I’m not attempting to flirt or pickup a woman by attempting to talk to her. I found that often woman at GDC are dismissive of passing conversations due to the onslaught of men who are attempting to flirt. I can’t blame them because it does happen a lot. It’s outright oppressive at times, though marked improvements as the years go on.

    I don’t know the answers here, just tossing in my experience. I also want to stress that I’m making broad generalizations; Actual mileage may very!

  3. Application development has low pay and poor working conditions relative to the level of education required.

    This is probably because most programmers were attracted to the field through solitary obsessive experimenting and personal logical aptitude and therefore tend to be more individualistic, and less willing to organize for power in the industry. Certain laws also prevent coders from unionizing. (capital is mobile across boarders but labor is not, coders can often be classified as administrative, etc)

    I understand the cultural reasons for geeky men coding; it’s the personal drive to create. Like a starving lonely artist, they will do it whether they are paid or not. However, why would women, who have the advantage of being more social than men, go into the field? Why not choose more autonomy, better pay, benefits, and more sane hours in law, medicine, management, or engineering–fields where women can exercise creativity and social skills?

    More women are going to college now than men, and they’re increasingly choosing to pursue jobs with more power and rewards than those men choose. We should pity the male developers, not the women who choose other fields.

    Sure there will still be some American women in traditional restrictive gender roles. It takes decades to bring the religious into the modern world, especially in rural areas. The problem there is conservative dogmatic “tardition” and isolating low population density. However, when we look at yuppies, educated urban women with plenty of opportunities, I feel no need to push more them into dead end code monkey jobs.

  4. Kim Swift was the only one on her list worth making the cut. The vast majority of design leads I’ve run into are male. It’s slowly changing as game demographics expand (and that expanded audience enters the fields), but thems the breaks for now.

  5. So Amy Hennig, who created what most reviewer’s considered last year’s Game of the Year – Uncharted 2 – is not on the list!? Amazing!

  6. Pfft. There is a high percentage of men on the list because…there is a high percentage of men in the industry.

    It’s like saying why aren’t there more female race car drivers in NASCAR. It’s the culture which I for one think is changing (albeit slowly). One in which women continually think it’s not for them, even when we try to cater to get on board.

    There are dozens of “get girls into programming or the sciences” programs all over the country. There are handfuls of scholarships, lowered admissions into tech or art schools, etc. to get women into the industry. They are just not taking them as fast as people like.

    I completely agree that there should be more women on the list. Hello! where the hell is Amy Henning??

    The thing is it’s just going to take more time. The industry is changing just as much as the American culture is changing about girls being geeks can be cool.

    Just look at an another culture art example such as classical orchestras. All the way up into the first half of the 20th century men dominated the field. Only when music education was expanded to women, and more importantly the general culture accepted more women in those roles did it become much more varied in the orchestra pit.

    I give it another 5-10 years and it’ll start equalizing. I see girls under 18 playing as much or more video games as boys. My friends who are in the industry who have children show their daughters as much as their sons about the joy of games…

    The industry is still in its infancy. Just need to give it some more time.

  7. Certainly, programming and game design have been male dominated fields since almost the beginning (While of course starting out 100% female, as Any Diligent Archivist knows)

    But does she really mean “505 of *every* field”?

    Four questions:

    What is the root cause of gender imbalance in the game developer population?

    What is the root cause of gender imbalance in the street sweeper population?

    What is the root cause of gender imbalance in the incarcerated population?

    Why (if any) is there a difference between your answers?

  8. Yeah, Roberta Williams is conspicuously absent from the list. I’d have said Kim Swift too.

    Aside from a couple of student interns who didn’t work out, none of the women I’ve known in the game industry have been in engineering. Male artists outnumber the women, but not totally. IT has actually been about equal. But where it comes to producers in the industry, I know many more women than men.

    In fact, two women who were friends of mine and now are both producers at Blizzard got me my game industry job.

    There is certainly sexism in the industry where it comes to *marketing* games, but why things are off balance in development, particularly on the engineering end of things, I don’t know.

  9. There’s a bit of intellectual cowardice here in that while she’s listed the women she thinks should be on the list, she’s neglected to list the men she thinks they should displace. It’s a zero sum game; you can’t promote these women without demoting someone else.

    Further, she’s said that it should be a 50/50 split, yet she’s can only name six herself, and has to stretch to do that. Portal girl? Absolutely. GDC mistress? Definitely. Random console fodder writer who happens to have an accomplished Daddy? Er…

    Given that the demographics aren’t anywhere near 50/50, she’s doing openly what she accuses Gamasutra of doing. How about we decide these things based on merit, rather than dangly bits?

  10. The author of this article suggests the only fair way to highlight women in gaming is to split the list 50/50 between men and women, highlighting 25 of each gender.

    While these women may or may not have deserved to supersede people who got spots on the list, splitting the list 50/50 between men and women is hardly a “fair” way to make up that list.

    The list is supposed to highlight the most important and influential people in gaming today. It should be based on merit, not gender.

    Besides, if I were a woman, I would want to be known as “good”, not “good for a woman”…


  11. “Many women just haven’t had the chance yet: they haven’t had the encouragement, the education, the freedom, the support, the role models, the contacts, the friends in high places, the opportunities and the finances that their male counterparts often get by default, by tradition and by homophily.”

    This is bullshit. Women go to school and have friends. They have opportunities. Don’t make this about unfairness. Women are seperated from the enjoyment of the medium, because so many games are made without them in mind, which is why they don’t participate as much. There’s nothing stopping them participating if they want to.

  12. I can’t speak to the video game industry, but I also work in a traditionally male dominated field. I am an engineer (a real engineer, not a software “engineer” *ducks*). I work on semiconductors. There was, at least in my industry, a violent gender swing for people leaving college over the past 5-10 years. My graduating class of chemical engineers was split almost 50/50.

    The top dogs in my company are all male with only a few exception. For the under 30-35 crowd though, it is closer to 50/50. The women I know are all blazing up very quickly. I think that in many industries we are going to see a rapid gender swing in the top tiers of companies that will take just a few years to complete. A lot of the change that needs to happen at the college level I think has already happened. It just takes a while for that wave to finish sweeping over higher level positions in companies as younger women gain rank and status.

    I’m not saying that all is perfect, nor that some industries might still have some radical gender imbalances, but I think when looking at it you can’t look at the top. The top is a reading of gender imbalance from a few decades ago. The young workers are where you need to look, and at least in my industry, there was a very rapid bump in gender equity that is currently working its way up the food chain.

  13. “it’s not merely sexism at work, it’s something much more insidious, because it’s much more baked in and invisible.”

    This is a great comment to see, but strangely, what you describe is my usual definition of sexism. It *is* merely sexism at work, it’s just that a lot of people forget (or don’t realize) they can do sexist things by accident because sexism is built into institutions and social conventions. (“It’s systemic oppression because good intentions don’t fix it,” etc.)

    Same as with racism, homophobia, poor-bashing, the works. If all we had to worry about was people being jerks on purpose, everything would be a lot easier!

    1. If all we had to worry about was people being jerks on purpose, everything would be a lot easier!

      The first rule of Bias Club is that you don’t know that you’re biased.

  14. God I’m sick of gender politics! People, just do what you think is cool. Wanna make games, do it! Wanna be a scientist, do it! Wanna be a truck-driver who knits? Nothing’s stopping you! The best way to get rid of glass ceilings is to go out there and smash one to bits. What people think about you now is less than irrelevant. History (herstory!) will regard you a hero and you get to have fun.

  15. So… as a woman in CS I’ve seen two relatively clearly defined subgroups of women. There’s the girly girls, whom you can make some headway with by telling them “See? Programming’s just like facebook!”

    Then there’s the geek girls (like the geek boys, not more or less social, just as obsessed, just as inclined to t-shirts). These girls get into computers because they like them. But most geek girls don’t go into computers. They go to math, physics, chemistry, or biology… they go to topics that are covered in public schools.

    Because 12-16 year old boys are much more likely to talk about programming (books, groups, accomplishments, tips, tools) with each other than with the nerdy quiet girls in back of their classes. I’ve met so many women who finally got into computer science in their mid-late 20’s after a boyfriend or fiance showed them how to get started.

    And all those outreach programs are no help. Just because a little girl loves programming ALICE (or back in my day, the LOGO turtle), doesn’t give her the slightest clue how to start running linux, or developing a website, or doing any legitimate *challenging* programming.

  16. Oh no! Sexism! For an explanation of why sexism is wrong, go to

    Wait! Their own Youtube videos on their own site are inaccessible! “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Free To Be Foundation, Inc..” What a bunch of jerks! Somebody ought to rip them a new hole.

    Also, there’s a site with a PREDOMINANTLY MALE masthead: Alert the authorities, because we, the consumers, are not competent to choose nice companies from bad companies.

  17. I looked at a few other careers, and seems to me there are few really female-dominated careers, other than nursing, and most well-paid careers are male-dominated at least at the top. Why? Why are there so few “Hurt Locker”s? So few Agatha Christies and so few Kim Swifts?

    Why, when I try to think of *really popular* creative works by women, can I think of so few? All the women I know are creative! They’re artists and authors and stuff! And it’s not like they suck at self-promotion, either.

    It’s not *just* the cliqueyness, though that is probably a big factor. Looking at a list of female directors, it seems like many of them share surnames with successful male directors: are they only in the list because they are in the clique?

    But males start out as independents and become household names, without outside funding, just as a hobby. Women don’t seem to be doing that nearly as much. Why not? What is blocking them?

    1. Thank you SO much for that link, anon.

      After reading that, I feel the same way I did after reading the Descent of Woman, or later the Descent of the Child: there are details I disagree with, but the central thesis is a complete “wow, that’s so obvious now, why did nobody tell me this before?”

      Wider distribution explains *so much*, and is *so simple* a mechanism.

  18. Here’s Brandon Sheffield’s response (he co-wrote the article in question), via GamePro:

    “Unfortunately that article is extremely old, so 100% of the reason Amy Hennig isn’t on it is because Uncharted 2 wasn’t out, and Uncharted 1 was too old (the article was written in September/October of 2009). It maybe wasn’t clear enough in the article, but this dealt with a specific period, not all of time, and that’s also why most of the names Alice mentioned in her blog were on there… no releases in that period.

    “To address some of her names, Meggan Scavio isn’t a game developer, but more than that she works for us — Kim Swift didn’t release anything during that time — Paulina Bozek, fair enough, her I didn’t think of — Margaret Robertson, also not a game developer. It’s possible we could’ve put her into ambassador, but there wasn’t anything notable to point to in that period. Pratchett, honestly her best work wasn’t in 2009.

    “It isn’t at all purposeful that we included no women, but we did think about it. If you look at last year’s list, you’d see we included Sarah Chudley, Pauline Jacquey. We couldn’t repeat them though, and other women I’d like to have included, like Swift, didn’t release anything during the period.

    “People I could’ve included were Jiyoung Park from Com2Us, Susan Choe from Outspark, off the top of my head… it just didn’t feel like their contributions this year were huge. There’s also Caryl Shaw, but again, Spore didn’t quite make it into the right timeframe. I contributed a lot of the names to the top 25 women in games article on Gamasutra, but the timing was just bad for this one. Still, the fact is we didn’t dig deep enough. And I want to say I agree with you that people should be chosen on merit, not simply because they’re female.

    “I mean I did a panel at GDC about breaking into the industry, how people went from student to pro, and it was half women half men — two dudes from the Odd Gentlemen, then Swift and Kellee Santiago. That was intentional as well, as I had been talking in the office about how I think the shape of the market gender-wise will change soon, as more women are going through game school, doing indie projects, and things of that nature. I do want to see more women in the industry, obviously, and I do tire of seeing guys drool over the few that do get their names out there. But I don’t want to include names just to include them, either.

    “The trouble really was that with the timing of this list, but the larger problem is that the contributions of many women in games are not known. In many cases for that feature my list said ‘whomever did the art for X,’ or ‘the programming for Y.’ The fact that those persons did not turn out to be women is indeed troubling. Next year we’ll dig deeper, and hopefully some of the folks like Swift will have released something we can point to — and of course Hennig will be on there this time, because Uncharted 2 is actually out now!”

Comments are closed.