I went to the ballet this week, at my local theatre, in the Somerset town of Taunton. Ballet Black
was in town and I spent an enjoyable evening marveling at the strength and talent of the dancers and some incredible choreography. But this is a ballet company with a difference, because Ballet Black is for dancers of black and Asian descent. Nothing remarkable there, you may think, but black and Asian faces are still a rarity in the classical ballet world.
Ballet Black was founded by British-Trinidadian, Cassa Pancho, 10 years ago, when she discovered there were no black ballet dancers working in the UK. The company was formed to address an imbalance present in the big classical companies. With Carlos Acosta the only black ballet star to grace the stage for the Royal Ballet and the corps lacking any black faces at all, Pancho took things into her own hands and created an important company, touring exciting new work.
Black women have a particularly tough time in the classical ballet world, facing misconceptions about their bodies being the wrong shape or a black girl in the corps being distracting. More often than not, the one black dancer in a company will be male and very few will become principals, whilst black ballerinas are almost non-existent. In creating Ballet Black, Pancho is trying to provide a platform for black and Asian dancers and provide non-white role models for the young kids coming up through the BB school, which works to bring affordable ballet classes to a culturally diverse range of pupils.
The problems facing the ballet world made me think about our own industry. Games suffer from their own brand of elitism – the ‘hardcore’ versus ‘casual’ gamers and until relatively recently, a tendency to overlook any minority gamers. We suffer from a lack of diversity within games and in more ways than one.
Things have changed since I joined GiN. A female games journalist was a fairly rare beast 10 years ago, but we now have four on our editorial staff alone. The same cannot be said for business of making games. Games development is still struggling to attract women and until this is addressed we are going face a certain degree of creative stagnation. I don’t think studios are deliberately failing to hire women, but on some level the industry is failing to attract women to even apply for the jobs that are out there.
In a recent interview with Ella Romanos, founder of Remode Studios, she told gameindustry.com, "I don’t see many more women entering the industry currently. We very rarely get applications from women, particularly in technical roles and being a programmer myself, I think it’s a shame. Overall, the more diverse a team is, the more creative and interesting products they will produce."
Maybe we need to follow Panchos mode of thinking. Maybe it’s all about the lack of role models. As fabulous as a metal bikini probably is to wear on the battlefield, perhaps it’s not the way to go to attract intelligent women. Call me old fashioned, but I’d say the way to go could be sexy, three dimensional characters (and that doesn’t mean big boobs), with more to do than wow us with their ability to fight in little to no clothing without having a wardrobe malfunction. Lara did a pretty good job of walking the fine line between pixel babe and role model, but Jade from Beyond Good and Evil managed to hold her own without the need to be overtly sexy. However, she’s pretty much one of a kind.
That’s not to say that women only play games with women in them. Of course they don’t. The good old space marine has his fair share of female puppet masters at the controller. However, the marketing of the big AAA titles is aimed squarely at men, which is a shame because we female gamers play them too. No I don’t play casual games, yes I do like FPSs and adventure games, I’m not adverse to a bit of boob or sexiness, I do like kittens, but I also like robot dinosaurs – so why aren’t any of the posters for games aimed at me?
We’re in a bit of a chicken and egg situation. To have more strong female characters in games and a change in attitudes towards the women that play games, we need more women er…in games and by that, I mean making games. Do we need a gaming equivalent of Ballet Black?
Sony’s making great strides to redress the balance and change the face of the industry with its Gamers In Real Life (G.I.R.L.) Scholarship. Started in 2008, the program aims to attract more women into games development and offers the winner $10,000 towards tuition, plus a paid internship of up to ten weeks at one of SOE’s development studios. But that’s one games company, in one country.
I think the industry needs to make more of an effort to engage with girls at school age. That means making games for them and taking a broader approach to marketing games to get them interested and even consider a career. Don’t assume they only want games with girls in, pink stuff and puppies. It’s just not so.