It all began with an Atari. Jessica Bayliss’ family had always played board games; in search of a new means of entertainment, the video game console seemed a natural extension to them. After her family brought it home, Bayliss picked up the controller and hasn’t put it down since. Decades later, Dr. Bayliss is an assistant professor in RIT’s Game Design and Development program and considers herself to be an avid gamer.
And she’s not alone; Dr. Bayliss is among a steadily rising minority in the video game world. Realizing an untapped potential, game developers began designing and marketing games for women. With the new market, the number of female gamers has increased substantially in the past 15 years.
PLAYING THE GAME
Althought the video game market is predominately male, the tides are turning — and fast. According to the 2006 Nielsen “Active Gamer Benchmark” study, while only 30 percent of overall gamers are female, women currently make up about two-thirds of the online gamer community.
Eloise Oyzon, a Fine Arts and Animation professor involved in the Game Design and Development program, got her start with text based games. After a period of disinterest, a slew of bizarre and innovative releases caught her eye.
“I got invigorated in the last four years by other things like DDR, Pikmin — of all things — and Katamari,” says Oyzon. For her, the attraction to gaming deals with the interactivity it provides. “What I do like about gaming that I do not get from television is a sense of causality, that I’m making stuff happen.”
WOMEN AT WORK
Bayliss, an ardent gamer, had never considered a career in gaming. Entering college as a Music major, she switched to engineering before finally deciding on computer science. As a professor in RIT’s Computer Science department, she began to incorporate gaming into the program’s first year curriculum as part of the Reality and Programming Together (RAPT) pilot program. Eventually, the project garnered the attention of Microsoft, receiving a grant. When the project succeeeded, Bayliss went to aid RIT’s fledgling newly-formed game design program.
But if there is a shortage of women gamers, there’s even more of a shortage of women developers. According to the International Game Developers Association, only 11.5 percent of game developers are female. Many speculate that this deficit is the reason games often do not cater to women’s interests.
Among the programs created to address this gender imbalance is Sony Online Entertainment’s “The Gamers in Real Life” (G.I.R.L.), a scholarship program that aims to convince girl gamers to enter the world of professional game development. The program is only in its third year, but it’s hoped that students become more interested as it continues to grow.
Seeking to eliminate the social stigma that has been attached to gaming, video game companies have begun to explore new ways of marketing games to audiences that aren’t already playing.
Nintendo’s Wii was among these, with its unorthodox, remote-shaped controller and unique library of games. In 2007, Nintendo started a “Wii Ambassadors” program, aimed at promoting the Wii to middle aged women. In the program, “ambassadors” host parties focused around the Wii.
With the increasing the number of female gamers, game companies have encountered several pronounced challenges. There’s a stigma attached to gaming, and girl gamers are no exception.
“I used to play [World of Warcraft], and I was definitely embarrassed to tell people that,” said Christine Stone, a fifth year Electrical Engineering major. She notes that many girls who play may be singled out for it.
Male gamers tend to view their female counterparts with a sense of curiosity, and perhaps even admiration. “I was playing ‘Left 4 Dead’ the other night, and I went into an online game — a quick match — and I was only voice activated in a second round and people were like, ‘Wait, are you a girl? You don’t really see that in here,’” said Lauren Stockli, a second year International Relations major.
But for her and Stone, this has never led to any particular problems. “I never was really bothered by being the only girl,” said Stone, “I just wanted everyone else to treat me as