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Finding Van Tran, who brought female representation to games


I don't quite understand the push for pronounced minority caricatuarization as a display of nobility, nor the dominance of bald macho man covered in blood as a protagonist in some subgenres of games.

A lot of anime, JRPGs and mobile gacha games are built around the concept of a fictional, prominent group of teenagers of audiences' sexual orientation saving the world, and that passes Bechdel tests, and seems to almost perfectly fit into "the" criteria. Teenage girl quantum physicist scantily clothed talking democracy and sacrificing their life, for a reason miles away from a dick but for a true greater good? I think those are just clicks away if that is what you want or what you need more to correct the world we are in.

But it's not what everyone wants, if not a polar opposite, so I don't understand why it's talked this often.


The most notable thing to me here is that nobody tried to stop it, they do not talk about barriers, only a vague mention that she might not have been nerdy enough but that notion was removed when she spoke.

In fact they were enthusiastic about the task and she was given free reign- and this was a Texan company; Texas as far as I understand is the bastion of right wing politics in the US (I’m not American. Forgive me if I’m wrong), and here’s a foreign woman being given free reign.

So, what happened? 40 years later and I’m being told nearly constantly that games are discriminating towards women.

I work in games, have for close to a decade, and HR beats us over the head for not hiring enough women. (Then later on our executives seem to sleaze on those women, which we also get blamed for. But. Hey Ho.)


This woman can make a video game in positive circumstances 40 years ago and discrimination against women can still exist in the video game industry today. Those can both be true.


I’m not saying that they cannot both true.

I’m asking what happened, which is an indication that… something changed, or was this an anomaly, or that the article is glossing over something

Why are people attempting to read the least charitable interpretation of things today.

HackerNews is usually more intellectually honest than this.


Back then there was no notion of what a game was and who is it for. Nowadays people making games grew up with them. Ultra-specialized, fans of the medium they work on. Diversity is more expected early on


Plus, building on this, the article mentions Van Tran having a 3 person team to make a game. On a team that size, the one women on the team has a much bigger influence than the one women on a larger (and sometimes MUCH larger) team that's more common today at big game companies.


I'll say this about discriminatory environments: Most people in the group in power are unaware of the discrimination, to a degree that would have shocked me until I learned better.

The key is to talk to the people who have the actual experience. Think of the absurdity of a bunch of men talking to each other about the experiences of women - like people in Quebec talking about how life is in Tijuana. If you want to sell something in Tijuana or Quebec, you'd ask the people that live there and listen to them, not talk among yourselves about it. If you did otherwise - if your market study for Tijuana was conducted among people in your Quebec office, your boss would fire you.


Well Texas is also big into freedom. Free reign. Hey, Calamity Jane gets respect, no problem cowgirl!


> The most notable thing to me here is that nobody tried to stop it, they do not talk about barriers, only a vague mention that she might not have been nerdy enough but that notion was removed when she spoke.

Well, in a way this is kind of like confirmation bias (or maybe a different bias term? or a tautology maybe?), I think. This is a story about a woman that we know got a job at that company, so she therefore met less obstructions in getting the job than everyone who didn't get a job (there or elsewhere). The fact that she got the job and was successful enough to be someone who had an article written herself is why the article was written.

Texas being a bastion of right wing politics doesn't really matter at all in regards to systematic issue when we're looking at just a single data point. For instance, NYC could similarly be argued to be a bastion of left wing politics, but that doesn't mean there aren't occasional instances of racism, xenophobia, sexism, etc in NYC in individuals or organizations. It may be rare, but if you're looking for just a single example, it can be found, but it does not mean that it's common.

> So, what happened? 40 years later and I’m being told nearly constantly that games are discriminating towards women.

What do you mean what happened? Are you implying that with Van Mai's hire, gender discrimination was suddenly solved and no longer existed?


More stories about early female game developers:


so if the 'gender barrier' of female representation in games was broken forty years ago, what is the goal of those who imply that it's some sort of systemic issue? are they that ignorant, or do they benefit by the discord somehow?


It’s unfortunate but true that one person breaking stereotypes at one small company doesn’t suddenly stop stereotypes from existing everywhere. But as an ex video game developer for a decade, long after Van made Wabbit, I’m sorry to say that female representation in games is low and barriers still exist to this day, even if things are improving. Assuming that one person’s success implies that people shouldn’t call attention to ongoing issues is the problem. It’s neither a hidden goal nor people who are trying to sow discord, there are still real imbalances.

Games these days are a bigger production effort than what it took to make Atari cartridges, and in big studios often require a CS degree. Women in CS went up for several decades until the mid 80s, and then started going down again. So gender imbalances in education play a large part in the state of things today.


Female representation in video games sure feels to me like an ongoing problem. Is it better now than it used to be? Yes. Is it no longer an issue? No.

I don't think anyone's arguing that there's zero female representation. The argument is that there isn't enough and/or what representation there is is poor representation.


Is "problem" the right word there?

Is it really a bad thing for society that women don't have as many gamedev jobs as they otherwise could?


I see from your name and profile that you're from Australia. Suppose you play a game set in Australia and there's a scene where you have snow in January. The first game you play like that you might just laugh, but if every game you play has snow in January in Australia you would probably get annoyed.

Having more female game devs is like having more Australian game devs who know when it's summer there. A big difference though is that unlike Australia which has less than 0.5% of the world's population concentrated in one area, women are over 50% of the world's population and are evenly distributed. You can have a lot of games without Australia but almost every game with people in it needs to have women or you'll be telling a strange story. Imagine a situation where most games have scenes in Australia but most game devs don't know it's summer in January there. That's a problem.

Where it can get mixed up is that a lot of "knowing the seasons" as a woman is knowing stuff that makes men uncomfortable. A female game dev making a realistic female character can introduce everyday factual experiences about things like sexual harassment, birth control, or feminine hygiene, and some male players might say she's trying to make an activist game and she can reply, no, this is just my life. It would be like getting mad at an Australian game dev for always going on about summer in January as if it's their fault the sun spends a lot of time in the sky around that time.

(This is leaving aside the economic argument that developer jobs tend to be good and therefore desirable, and it should be suspicious when any particular demographic is dramatically underrepresented in a field with mostly good jobs.)


> Is it really a bad thing for society that women don’t have as many gamedev jobs as they otherwise could?

Yes, it is. Not because we need more game devs, but because there are women who actually want those jobs and are qualified and have a harder time getting them. And because when they do get them they deal with issues that the men in the same positions don’t have to deal with. And because they get paid less for the same work on average. These things are indeed bad for society, they make our environment worse than it could be otherwise.

We also don’t have enough games that represent the growing category of female gamer, we have too many Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto and Madden, and not enough games like, I dunno, Sayonara Wild Hearts or Celeste. We could generally speaking make more money by having more games that not just cater to female gamers but are made by women.


You misunderstood the statement. Female representation in video games means female characters _in_ the games. Independent, impactful, and nuanced characters like the protagonist or antagonist.

Whether you think representation in video games is important or not tends to be a function of whether your personal identity is already well represented. If you don't think it's important, I'd encourage you to seek the perspectives of someone who is not well represented, ideally just a real-life friend. You might learn things you hadn't simply hadn't thought to consider, through no fault of your own.

As for game dev jobs, more women in them would probably mean more female representation in games too, simply because there would be more perspectives at key decision points. And it's hard to argue that there isn't negative pressure against women entering and thriving in the industry, when one of the biggest game developers on the planet is recovering from a deeply embedded epidemic of misogynism.


best i can gather, this seems to be a kind of strange wishful belief that some people have- for women to be exactly the same as men- and any counterexample is taken as a threat to their worldview somehow


Note that, at least in the case of this article, the topic of "female representation in games" isn't just about women having jobs in the industry, but also about making games featuring women. Both of these aspects are what I'm referring to as well.

I've been playing games for 30-something years, and I think women aren't portrayed as well as they should be. It's come a ways over the years, but I don't think it's fixed. I'd call it a problem. If you think it's perfect as-is, then I guess it's not a problem for you.


Largely, women are an underutilized demographic in the markets of a nearly $200B industry and represent a huge unrealized opportunity. Most of these pieces are not about "women are smart enough", ie- there is no intellectual barrier to the work and engagement, but signaling that women creating products for female consumers means that video games are in truth "by women and for women".

As women increasingly hold higher degrees, raise their incomes, and need to work fewer hours to afford their lifestyles, they should have excess time and wealth that could be captured by gaming. Manufacturing female brand identities has been successful in other markets, and promoting female involvement or female exclusivity has been an effective continued motivator for engagement.




tangentially related:

Planet Money (Podcast): A 12-year-old girl takes on the video game industry


original Polygon article discussion: previously


Can someone explain to me why exactly female representation in gaming is important / the lack thereof is a problem? Is there any particular merit in being associated with and represented in the field of gaming? Would the world be a better place if males and females were both to be exactly equally well represented in the field of gaming, whatever that means?


There is a video [0] I love that explains an argument for this well. The more people you have participating and iterating in a field, and more generally in life, the better that field/life ultimately becomes. Allowing more women in the video game field will ultimately make more satisfying and novel games for you and for everyone else.

Modern video games are interactive art. People have emotional experiences from finishing games with stories and performances that speak to them. Part of this emotion comes from a deep understanding of the "lived experience" of people. There are parts of the lived experience that drastically differ for women and men, on the whole. Does that mean that men couldn't write a story that women find powerful and challenging? Of course not. But men aren't going to fully grok the little details of how society treats women, which means a lot of relevant themes relevant go unexplored if there aren't women on creative teams.

Diversity of experience translates into diversity of ideas. Hell, I always thought that was a strength for FOSS, after all.


[0]: - Kurzgesagt


This article isn't even arguing anything about female representation, it's just a historical piece. The way you bring up it being a problem and questioning its merits seems vaguely incendiary in this context and makes me wonder if you're actually interested in the answer.

I'm not gonna assume what your thoughts are on the matter, but I will suggest that if you're actually interested in an answer to your questions and not just starting a discussion that might or might not be fruitful for anyone, your answers will be best found doing earnest research and especially talking to real people who are affected by a lack of representation.


Back in the late 2000s a lot of people were saying that casual gaming was, as an expansion outside of the male 20-something DOOM fan demographic, caused by women entering the game industry and working on things that male 20-something software engineers wouldn't think was enjoyable. There's a lot of gender essentialism in that way of telling the story, but there's also a lot of gender essentialism in the standard marketing playbook on target demographics more generally, and it seems to be making money for them.

There is some argument to be made that it is good to have someone that is at least remotely contained within the target demographic involved when creative decisions are being made, at the very least to avoid having to send every little thing out to a focus group. That is for example why metal bands are usually made up of people who like metal, and why session musicians who are jobbing it don't end up doing a lot of songwriting.


Maybe ask yourself the same question using different categories and see if you can approach an answer from multiple angles.

Why should males be represented in games? Do only men play games? Is there “merit” to male representation in games, and if so what is that exactly? The phrasing of your question is revealing some assumptions you’re making, isn’t it?

Why is it important for women to have representation in business or education or politics? What things have happened over the years that have lead to changes in the amount of representation? Which direction has it been going?

Why is it important that blind people are represented in city design, or in browser design? Why is accessibility important? Why is it important for black people to have representation in the US? Why is it important for people to vote in a Blue State or a Red State?

Or maybe ask some women! See what your mom or sister says in response to that question. Ask some local teenagers why they play games and whether the girls all want to play only Call of Duty forever.

> Would the world be a better place if males and females were both to be exactly equally well represented in the field of gaming, whatever that means?

How about instead of emphasizing “exactly equally well represented” since that seems a bit loaded, we focus on simply being better represented? Whether we’re talking about female story protagonists, or we’re talking about female programmers, all categories appear to have visible discrepancies due to known cultural biases today. If we know that there are cultural barriers to women, is it reasonable to worry first about just making sure those go away, rather than get hung up on “exactly equally”?

Did the world become a better place when women gained the right to vote, or to own land? Yes, it did. Will the world become a better place when women face less discrimination than they do now, even if it’s a small amount? Yes, it will.


You might want to ask the same question for occupations where males are the minority: nurses, childcare workers, HR, etc.

Will those fields be somehow better with more male representation? Are men being discriminated against joining those professions? Or is the gender disparity that exists in pretty much all professions a product of our own differences in interest, social predisposition, or any number of different factors?

I'm not downplaying the discrimination women have historically faced and continue to face in the workplace, and the wage gap that still exists. But maybe we don't need to label any gender disparity as a social injustice that needs to be corrected.

FWIW, I don't think video games are a medium where the gender of the creator matters much. Like any creative art form, what matters is how the consumer experiences it. Do you care about the gender of the painter, or about the painting itself? Do video games really need to be created by a specific gender to be enjoyed by a specific gender? Why is gender even part of the conversation when video games are a creative outlet only limited by our imagination?

With how popular games are today, and how easy it is for anyone to start creating them, what exactly are those cultural barriers you talk about?


> I’m not downplaying

But you are downplaying the discrimination that woman are faced with now simply by demanding that cultural barriers are explained to you, when you are aware that the wage gap still exists.

> Will those fields be somehow better with more male representation?


> Are men being discriminated against joining those professions?

A little, but not in the same way and not as much bias as women who code or do other things, and men who join female dominated professions tend to be paid equally, unlike women who join male dominated professions.

> With how popular games are today, and how easy it is for anyone to start creating them

You’re asking a theoretical question that ignores the reality of the imbalance of how many people actually do make games, as if somehow logic can overcome history. Your question is one you need to justify asking - if it’s so easy to make games, and if women play games, then why is it a fact that so many fewer women make games and so many fewer women study CS? The answer has played out publicly with many women detailing the abuses they’ve suffered at male dominated dev shops, and these articles seem to bring out the same kind of skepticism and denial that you’re exhibiting, and the same kinds of baited derailing questions that started this thread on an article that had next to nothing to do with sexism. I’m sure you’re aware of the fact that this is being widely reported, and aware of exactly what cultural barriers are being pointed at repeatedly. Are you saying it’s being exaggerated and people are lying?


> Or maybe ask some women! See what your mom or sister says in response to that question.

Or your daughter.


So that kids can grow up and find role models (or just heros to identify with) of any gender, skin color or body image. No more "oh, really?" when a woman is introduced as a scientist, fire fighter, pilot or as working in any other "male" domain.


The lack of representation might mean that fewer games are developed targeting women/girls, which means that there’s potentialet a lot of unexplored territory.


Because of capitalism. Capitalism abhors a vacuum.

Addressing under-served markets means more money.