Why aren't more women working in video games? In yesterday's LA Times, Alex Pham points out that women make up only about 20% of the industry, according to a 2007 survey, and only 3% of game programmers. Kathy Vrabeck (pictured), a rare female executive at game company Electronic Arts, says that, "historically, the people who play video games have tended to be more male. So it's not surprising that these boys grow up and aspire to work in the industry."Possibly true, but a 2008 survey showed that 94% of girls now play video games (compared with 99% of boys). Maybe these Wii-loving kids aren't old enough to get jobs just yet, but then again, maybe there's another reason their big sisters aren't clamoring to work for EA. Like the fact that working in the video game industry sounds like it kinda sucks. Game companies can have a fratty atmosphere, says game developer Brenda Braithwaite, "and there are still companies that throw recruiting parties with strippers." An even bigger problem is scheduling. "When you sign on to a game," says former EA exec Bing Gordon, "that's a two- to three-year commitment, with a crunch mode of about 12 to 26 weeks at the end of that. It's hard to be one of the top 10 leads on a team and not put in the time. I know mothers in key line positions, and they have pretty difficult choices to make every single day." Horror stories about gaming schedules abounded a few years ago — an essay by Erin Hoffman, whose husband's "crunch time" at EA in 2004 consisted of twelve-hour, seven-day workweeks, is a chilling cautionary tale. Things have supposedly gotten better, at least in California, where a minimum hourly wage is now enforced (before that, game developers didn't even get compensation for their extra work during crunch time). Nonetheless, discussion on the website GameWatch implies that unreasonable work schedules are still a big problem, at least at some companies. If women really are less willing to put in twelve hours, seven days a week, maybe game companies should take it as a sign that such a system really isn't healthy for anyone. Interactive media professor Tracy Fullerton thinks companies can restructure their projects to avoid excessive crunch time. The fact that they haven't done so may have more to do with workplace culture than with the true requirements of game development. If more women enter the video game industry, this culture may change — and that would be good for everyone. Women Left On Sidelines In Video Game Revolution [LA Times]
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