Video Game Industry: Breaking Stereotypes in a Positive Way

Contributed by Josh Hughes

I am a video game designer (at the company my brother and I founded, Add-A-Tudez Entertainment Company and Team KAIZEN // Ingenium), but not the kind of person people would typically picture as a game designer.

I live in Great Falls, Montana (which, at minimum, is 2-5 hours air time from traditional game development hubs like LA, Houston, and Seattle). My mom, brother, and I live with our grandmother (we lost everything in 2002 when my brother was diagnosed with kidney failure, he’s since had 70+ surgeries, is in dialysis 3 times a week and is on the transplant list).

Through our journey (which Sony created a video about called My Road to Greatness: Josh Hughes) we became Montana’s 1st PlayStation Certified Studio (as well as the first company in our state allowed to go to the industry-only E3 Expo aka The Nerd Superbowl). On this path we’ve often had people comment (both positively and negatively) on how we don’t look like what their brain first pictures when they think ‘game designer’. As part of our professional development we had to make peace with the fact that we’re outliers and I feel that this wider lesson has much to offer to the world of Girls and STEM.

Whenever someone has a statement of, ‘When I think X, I first picture Y,’ that initial picture is based on a little personal experience and a lot of social-level stereotypes. These stereotypes CAN have SOME truth to them, but they NEVER have the complete nuance of the story. For instance, if I say to you, “Skateboarder,” you’d immediately think of a teen or preteen in a helmet, never mind the fact that one of the most famous still-active skateboarders, Tony Hawk, is nearly 50 years old. Your picture wasn’t wrong, but it didn’t include the whole story.

That’s what we need to understand in a world where there is still a segregated toy aisles between the pink toys and the blues. I know I’m not saying anything new here, but we -as adults active in kids’ lives- need to realize that the discussion of gender empowerment and equity/equality can’t just happen at the adult level. We need role models who actively demonstrate to these kids that it’s not only OK to not be the first thing people picture when they think of ‘X,’ but that there is actually power in not being the norm. By breaking the stereotype in positive ways, you get into a position where you can brand and identify yourself and help your audience move from stereotype to nuance.

This is really important to us on the game industry front because our artform is vastly misunderstood. According to stats from the Entertainment Software Association and Peter Hart Research Associates, just about half of all Americans play video games. A full 60% of all gamers are older than 18 (25% of all gamers are over 50, with the average player age 30 and average buyer age 33) and 43% of gamers are female. Adult women who play video games actually outnumber pre-pubescent males 2-1, and this has been true for well over a decade. Had I said, ‘Gamer,’ to you before rattling off those facts, you’d have no-doubt thought teen or preteen male. Again, your initial picture isn’t wrong, but it’s certainly not the whole story.

That’s why, in the words of The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, we need to widen the keyhole we’re peering through! One of the ways we do this within our crew is through LittleBigPlanet Club (LBP Club), an educational camp program our studio does where we teach kids the STEM behind the game industry using Sony’s LittleBigPlanet platform, a game with built in powerful -yet accessible- 3D art and programming tools. In these camps we have confronted the reality the industry as a whole faces now: that, despite the fact women make up almost half the player base, the industry is still predominantly male-dominated on the developer side and active steps must be taken to change the perception of young girls that game design/STEM powered careers are only for kids who get their toys from the blue aisles.

Girls at Video Game CampThrough collaborations with various groups (including Montana Girls’ STEM Collaborative), we’ve ran more girls through our camps and helped them see how game design is for everyone. For the girls who come in with the mental picture that their gender might hold them back, all we do is show them the YouTube footage of Kacy Catanzaro destroying the Ninja Warrior course that makes many men cry and you see a light click: they know they can achieve anything they put their mind to and that STEM/game design is just as much for them as it is anyone else. From there, they usually kick things off by designing a level around free running and Ninja Warrior.

This helps the boys in our camps too, because they see first hand how having different voices in the work/camp environment helps them expand their worldview and capabilities.

So, to sum it up, don’t just discuss with fellow adults about how we can blur the line between blue and pink. Get involved with kids’ lives and find real, meaningful examples of equality so that they not only know they can do it, but that they also learn to not treat the first thing they picture when they think of, ‘X,’ as the entire story. There’s amazing chapters to those stories that will only be discovered and written when they pick up the pen and dive in!