A Woman in an All-Boys Club


A typical teenage boy spends his days and nights over video games. It would be quite out of place to see a girl on the same couch with a gaming console in hand, agitating over a deadly game of Assassin’s Creed. Omisha Dhatwala from ALTR speaks to Malini Singh (name changed on request) about her experience as a game designer.

Illustration by/ Jyeshtha Dhody & John Edwards
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“Honestly, most big titles like Assassin's Creed, Uncharted and so on are all perfectly enjoyable for both genders. At the end of the day, the problem is that women are steered away from games by parents, peers and little boys who trash talk female gamers,” explains Malini, the 23-year-old game design graduate from Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland.

Born and brought up in Pune, Maharashtra, she talks about her inspiration, “I started playing video games when I was really young – around 6 or so. But at the time, I only played Nintendo games. I got into PlayStation games like Assassin's Creed when I was in 11th standard. For the longest time, people thought that I only understand easier games like those in Nintendo. When I saw the lack of female developers in the credits for video games, I really wanted to get into the field to prove that we are capable, and that we understand it just as well. The fact that developing a game needs so much of effort and human resource inspired me a lot and I really wanted to be a part of it.”

The global gaming industry is outracing any other entertainment sector, including films. According to a report by Variety, a recently launched game ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ won over the weekly sales of the film ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. The action-adventure game is set in a Western-themed environment and is played from a first-person perspective – the player controls Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van der Linde gang. It looks like the power of the 6 stones failed in front of the gangs of the West.

Like literature, film and TV, a game too has a plot, narrative, and characters. Games such as the 'Last of Us‘ has evoked emotions through its thought-provoking narratives, and made millions cry. Popular gaming characters such as Lara Croft, a fictional protagonist of the ‘Tomb Raider’ game franchise, has a fandom like Hollywood stars. Soon, Lara became an icon as well as the first ‘sex symbol’ of the gaming world. She was portrayed by various models for photoshoots and her classic attire – a tank top, shorts and combat boots – became a standard representation of female characters within the same genre of video games.

However, in spite of sexualised female characters in video games with men drooling over them, why are there so few women in the gaming industry? Malini elucidates, “I think it has to do a lot with internalized misogyny, and internalized ‘male ego’. For the longest time, video games have catered t male audience. Little girls are conditioned to believe that video games aren't for ‘cool girls’, they are not allowed to grow up with a passion for video games, and then it just does not become a career. The society has always viewed video games as a method of escape for young men, hence, the sexualized female characters. And times really have not changed when it comes to video games, most men want to see what they want to see, but they do not want to admit that women play or understand those games just as well. It's an overall unwelcoming atmosphere behind the scene that drives women away.”

How does it feel to work in an all-boys’ club that could get ’lonely‘ for females? “To be honest, I've been lucky enough to always have the support of supervisors who know I work hard. So, I've rarely been subjected to discrimination. It would be really nice though to see more women in the industry because realistically, it does get lonely. One major negative I've noticed is that since it is an ”all-boys-club“, they influence each other quite a lot but fail to understand what is and is not inappropriate to say at work. Their lack of experience working with women tends to turn into a lack of sensitivity at work,” she elucidates.

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Hunting for jobs in a jungle full of men, Malini believes in a brighter side, “Statistics do show that women are subjected to more studio tests than man when it comes to programming opportunities. However, I have not faced discrimination in my job search yet. The fact that girls are conditioned not to like video games from a young age plays a huge role in driving gender dynamics in the industry. I don't know if it's because men think that more women are a threat to their jobs.”

The gaming ecosystem is soon to see itself catering to both genders. She explains, “It is already happening, but it'll be a slow shift. There are a lot of games geared towards women now, and I'm sure it'll get better with time.” ‘Perfect Woman’, a video game developed by Peter Lu and Lea Schönfelder, is unlike any typical one: inspired by the typical personality questionnaires in women’s magazines and the female roles they define, it challenges societal expectations of women in a satirical tone. Challenging the notions of perfection, the designers have added harder levels to the game. Check out the images given.

Gaming seems to be born from a different environment but Malini claims, “I don't think there's a diversity problem, apart from the gender dynamics. Video games are a worldwide phenomenon and are influenced by every culture.” Popular games are produced by multi-billion-dollar companies that employ developers and designers worldwide, including India.

Inspired women, she has got a few words for you, “Honestly, have faith in yourself. The right people are always looking to hire, especially women because people know we are talented. You don't want to work for someone who is going to discriminate based on your gender. So, keep working at it and it will work out. You just have to filter out all the negativity, because you have the people that care and nobody can take your skills away from you.”

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