It started with a simple tweet: "Why are there so few lady game creators?" Luke Crane, who works for Kickstarter, specializing in gaming projects, posted the tweet Monday afternoon, inadvertently setting off one of the most personal, widespread online conversations about women in the gaming industry in recent memory.
Over the 24 hours that followed Crane's tweet, thousands of women responded to his question with the hashtag #1ReasonWhy. Using the hashtag, female game developers, writers, critics, and journalists shared personal stories of sexism and exclusion — their "one reason why" so few women are leaders in the massive gaming industry.
The discussion also revealed different attitudes about the subject — both highly encouraging and slightly discouraging ones.
For example, a post compiling some of the tweets on Gawker Media's gaming blog Kotaku received comments like this one:
The Kotaku post's author, Luke Plunkett, pointed out in an e-mail that while negative comments did surface, far more people called those "cretins" out for their sexism. "We're a video games site, and on issues of gender you can sadly always expect a few people to be a little out of it. But then I'm not surprised a lot of our smarter readers are taking them to task, either," he explained.
As the conversation played out on Twitter, droves of women who work in the gaming industry also offered to mentor women still struggling to make it, using the hashtag #1ReasonMentors. The tag was started by Tara Brannigan, a community marketing manager at PopCap, the company that makes popular games like Bejeweled. In an e-mail, she said she was "completely blown away" by the response.
The conversation brought to focus a sizable community of women (and men) who'd like to see a more female-focused gaming industry. Jane McGonigal, the author of New York Times best seller Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, said, "There are so many women who are passionate about making games."
McGonigal would also like to see a gaming industry that produces more sophisticated and interesting games geared to women — something that would only be helped by more women entering the industry.
"It's not that we need games that are all pink with glitter and ponies," she explained in an e-mail. "I want to see top talent and top money invested in big, complex, cognitively challenging games that are about the kinds of things that women typically seek out in other forms of popular culture."
She added, "This isn't to say that there aren't women gamers who love games about wars, or football, or cars, or killing stuff. But across all popular media, that's not typically what women are drawn to."
McGonigal says that by ignoring female interest in gaming, the industry is losing out on opportunities. She points to Fifty Shades of Grey as an example of something the gaming business could quite lucratively capitalize on.
"I would be the first to join a team to try to figure out how to turn that into a game," she said. "But do you know how crazy that sounds within the game industry? It's because no one is trying it."