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G.I.R.L. Power

Carolyn Koih recently attended SOE Fan Fare. While there, she attended a panel on SOE's Gamers in Real Life (G.I.R.L.) program which promotes women in game design. Today, Carolyn files this report:

G.I.R.L. Power

Gamers in Real Life, G.I.R.L is the name of the initiative started by Sony Online Entertainment in 2007. They had a straight forward mission: To positively influence how women are portrayed in games and to influence game content to appeal to women. Sara Kaplan, PR Manager for Sony Online Entertainment spearheads all the G.I.R.L. initiatives at SoE and was pleased to introduce the panel this first day of SoE FanFaire 2008.

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Moderated by Dana Jongewaard, Editor-in-Chief of IGN.com, the panel members were drawn from Sony Online Entertainment. Torrie Dorrell, Sr. VP of Global Sales & Marketin, Laura Naviaux, Director, Global Brand Marketing, Lorien Gremore, Producer of The Agency, Laralyn McWilliams, Lead Designer of Free Realms were included as well as Julia Brasil, the first G.I.R.L. scholarship recipient.

The conference room this morning was packed with an equal number of male and female attendees to the extent that it was standing room only in the back of the room for late comers to the panel. The panel also attracted a number of international press members.

“Why,” asked one of them, “is such an initiative required in the US?” striving to understand. “Isn’t there a large number of women working in the gaming industry already?”

The answer was “Yes, but not in game design.” Women in the game industry tended to be in the more “touchy-feely” areas which women are perceived to excel in; in the Public Relations, Marketing, and Communications arena. The number of women evident in Community Management positions in many MMOG games as well as in SoE itself, was anecdotal evidence. As the ladies let us know, women were also often to be found in the Artist roles as well, but few in actual game design. Laralyn McWilliams, a game designer with a broad spectrum of genres under her belt told the room that she had only known two other women designers in all the companies she had worked in. Of the six members of the panel, only Laralyn was in game design. Julia Brasil, the winner of the Game Design Competition hopes to work first as an artist before moving into game design.

In the upper echelons of the industry, Torrie Dorrell said she was often the only woman in the room at meetings and conferences. The world is changing today. Twenty years ago, career Barbie dolls were nurses, teachers and at most, dental assistants. Women growing up in that era had no role models and more importantly, mentors in the game industry. Breaking ground in what is essentially a man’s world is not an easy task. Today however, career Barbie dolls are doctors and veterinarians. Female mentors in the game industry today are the ground breakers of yesteryear. Women are beginning to see that game design is not just a viable career, they are desirable careers. Dana Jongewaard was of the opinion that the initiative was required so that the same question need not be asked in ten years time. The G.I.R.L. initiative is SoE’s contribution to the cause.

The focus of discussion went on to how women were portrayed in games today. “Does the portrayal of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider offend you or is she a positive image?” Was a question asked of the panelists and the room. What about how the women were portrayed in EverQuest, Wow and Lineage? Opinions flew back and forth. Some women preferred their avatar to be a “bodacious babe” and wanted the butt-floss armor, no matter how un-realistic it really was, some lamented the “prettifying” of Ogre and Troll women. I confessed my penchant for playing “butt ugly” female toons like the female troll in EverQuest and none admitted to gender-bending. The general consensus was a disappointment in several current PC games for not having a female character choice and that it all boiled down to choice. No one likes to be pigeon-holed and women want to have the choice of being able to decide if they wanted an avatar that was a little older, a little pudgy, or a skinny Barbie with ridiculous measurements, and how it was dressed, but they wanted choice in games where that type of customization was touted.

The discussion ranged far and wide with a number of the audience – both male and female contributing and few wanted to let it end. But end it had to, at the end of two hours with many conversations continuing in the corridor outside the room and many participants asking how they too could obtain a G.I.R.L tee-shirt that some of the women were sporting.

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.