Scotland in Focus: Girl Geek Scotland – Part 1
Girl Geeks is a community for women and girls interested in computing, technology and creativity. The idea: to give a forum for women to develop their inner “geekiness” with support from professionals and like minded peers.
Initially started in London, Girl Geeks has become a European phenomenon and Morna Simpson introduced the Girl Geek Scotland Dinner which I attended in Dundee. Morna and Mel Woods got together just over a year ago to set up Girl Geeks Scotland, Morna having been inspired by attending a similar event in London.
“I thought it was something that was really needed within the tech sector. Somewhere where women could actually come and learn from one another.”
Girl Geek Dinners
It has to be noted that the tech sector is a heavily male dominated affair and so Girl Geek Scotland, the Dinners they hold and the workshops they run allows women the possibility, “to be in the position where you can chat informally amongst girls.” Morna recognised the men who attended as well and they’re more than welcome to the Girl Geek Scotland Dinner events.
When it comes to the residential workshops, which they’ve managed to obtain funding for, these are specifically for women. It allows them to interact with their female peers in the various industries and obtain the best business and negotiation skills in a tech or creative background.
Morna was clear that through Girl Geek Scotland they were hoping to see and support thirty new businesses, with definitive female influence, in the next year. It’s a bold wish but Girl Geek Scotland are professional, well organised and ran an informative and fantastic event.
As always SquareGo is dedicated to support all aspects the videogames industry covers and with speakers in attendance like Pauline Randall (virtual-e), Carol Clark (Realtime Worlds) and Inga Paterson (University of Abertay) where else would we be?
The evening took a two tone format starting with each speaker describing how they’d got into the industry with a Q and A session following the dinner.
Virtual life skills
First up to speak was Pauline Randall, managing director of Virtual-E. Pauline went through a varied set of jobs including hotels, garages and Sainsbury’s where she first gained experience in Training and Development as well as doing sales for an art and design company which piqued other interests eventually leading to work with the University of St Andrews.
Her interest in Second Life started while she was working here as after exploring this new environment she started doing some small scale landscape gardening. After this Pauline (AKA Liz Ferlinghetti in Second Life) opened some art galleries “all the time learning the tools of the trade for building and creating” areas and items. Thus the environment, currency, economy and how these could be used for many purposes became second nature allowing her to set up her company.
After she was asked to do a full island build, for a market research company in Florida, Pauline realised virtual worlds, “were good for distant working”, as all her meetings with her contact here were done “in world”. This meant that whilst travelling from place to place regular meetings could still be held using valuable time often lost in the real world.
As Pauline herself said “It’s a flexible background” and as well as exhibitions and education Pauline is happy to list many other things the Second Life environment can be used for.
Persistent online production
Next to speak was Carol Clark, a producer for Realtime Worlds. She discussed some of the history of DMA design who went on to spawn Realtime Worlds. Their current project though was All Points Bulletin (APB) which has been likened to an MMO and had is scheduled for release next year.
It’s, “a persistent online action game in a contemporary setting”, therefore moving away from an MMO primarily because APB is all about having multiple instances of maps with one hundred people per map so you have “action districts”. A hundred people engaging in real time combat rather than the more strategy based models you can see in something like World of Warcraft.
A development team of one hundred and forty people are working solely on APB but three hundred people work for Realtime Worlds with 60 people working on a top secret project plus support staff. They also have an office in Boulder and the data centre is based in the U.S.
Route to Realtime Worlds
Primarily Carol is now in charge of product management but started her route there by badgering the Head of Information Services at the library in Abertay, where she studied. Although unsuccessful at first the new library wanted to open up an IT Helpdesk in the evening and contacted her to come in and work there which she did for a number of years.
This experience was developmental in Carol’s career moving to the University of Dundee as part of a new project team developing a new student desktop. Just before leaving she was “frankly pushed” into project management when the University started to deliver assessments online. Given the project to upgrade the servers which was “mission critical” but also meant training in project management.
After developing these skills with what is now Brightsolid she saw an opportunity to realise her ultimate dream and work in games. Carol is clear that, “Games are absolutely my passion and have been for a long time.” As a project manager for another company in Dundee she helped produce titles for Sony’s Playstation consoles leading eventually to her job with Realtime Worlds.
Addressing the gender split
Carol cited the, U.S. based, Entertainment Software Association whose annual survey showed a 60/40 gender split in the American games playing public. Women playing games is not the novelty that the mainstream press would have you believe and women aged eighteen or over represent significantly greater proportion of the game playing community then boys aged seventeen and under.
The media would have you believe that it’s boys sitting in dark rooms shooting people. They’re not wrong but Carol was quite happy to state, “I also like sitting in dark rooms killing people. It’s great therapy after a day at work.” This doesn’t stop her playing games where she plants trees and goes fishing but really it’s the fact she, “absolutely plays games, but not as much as I used to due to APB which comes out next year.”
Adult females surveyed averaged ten years of gameplay. Carol herself has been playing games since she was nine and identified female characters in games. Lara Croft, “made immensely popular not merely for the assets you can see” but also because she spurned the Angelina Jolie films; Princess Zelda, although she’s the one being rescued, still a very recognisable figure.
Jill Valentine from Resident Evil was another with, “nothing weak about that character at all” and Faith for Mirror’s Edge where a number of strong female characters appear and Faith herself fights to rescue her kidnapped sister. Finally Carol chose Princess Peach. Yes she may be airy fairy and get kidnapped by Bowser but she’s big in games and Carol is a big Mario fan.
Reducing the barriers
It’s difficult to find statistics on females involved in the game industry although women seem to represent slightly less than 12%. Indeed, females are in the minority but as Carol pointed out, “I was more of a minority in every single IT job I had than I am now in games”.
In closing, Carol pointed out that female participation is on the increase and thinks it’s a natural progression. “People like me, of this age, who were brought up with Nintendo and Sega find gameplaying natural to them and more parents accepted it at some level. Technology being so much more pervasive now that this generation and young just live with it. They’re not threatened by it.” This means that people like Carol and “girls in schools and college now are becoming aware that these jobs exist and there are hopefully no barriers for them.”
“This has to be a good thing.”
Computer arts and Abertay
Final speaker was Inga Paterson who has worked at Abertay for nine years as the programme tutor in the Computer Arts Course. Inga describes it as a “first generation course” and explains further that these opportunities to go into the creative industries didn’t exist as the technology hadn’t been realised to a level to support them prior to this; “So all the courses that exist are really the first generation of their kind.”
The collective involved in creating these courses, given their many diverse creative backgrounds, made the thinking about it very stimulating. So it was a creation process and not a case of taking something that was pre-existing but generating something more appropriate for the new opportunities. Now this has developed into an Institute of Arts, Media and Computer Games so it’s become a real core of what Abertay does.
This brand new approach was quite nerve-racking at times, particularly before we had any honours graduates who had managed to get jobs, “because that was the critical bit”. Fortunately they did and many have gone on to be in key positions within the games industry.
From architecture to information technology
Inga’s career started with graduating in architecture, a male dominated area at the time, Inga being quick to draw the similarities between this and digital media when she entered that field. The big flaw in picking architecture was the fact she hated being on building sites as there was no real life experience in their course. Now Abertay look towards developing their courses hand in hand with this experience.
Initial links to computers were through Computer Aided Design (CAD) and she saw many other outlets to the technology deciding to do a course in Information Technology at Strathclyde University. Mostly to do with her “inner geek” but somewhat influenced by her last employer in the architecture field who required her to wear a skirt on a building site. Inga describes them as, “not the most enlightened place”. Indeed!
Inga then went on to discuss the international hobo website which has done some research and a survey called Brainhex. There are seven different classes and elements of what type of gamer you are. This identifies what type of games you like to play and Inga herself is a Seeker with sub class Daredevil. [We’ll wait for you to get back after you’ve checked -Ed]
It breaks down the polarisation of men like playing this type of game and women like these games as Inga thinks “we’re more diverse in both genders than that”. This type of study makes the whole discussion there “way more interesting” reducing the stereotypes often forced by the media of what women and men may want in their gaming experience.
All three speakers were fascinating to listen to and showed a varied path into the industry they now are a part of. Through dealing with adversity, change or a dedication to be involved their stories kept us entertained for an hour.
In the next part we’ll cover the Q and A session where all three speakers gave some interesting views on videogames and other experiences
Click the link if you’d like to learn more about Girl Geek Scotland.