Game developer aims to make industry more appealing to girls
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By Haben Kelati
Before Erin Robinson Swink began developing video games professionally, she thought her love for making games was lame.
"I was doing this as a hobby, and I didn't really tell my friends because I thought it was dorky," she says.
Robinson Swink, now a senior quest designer at Guerrilla Games, started making video games in her college dorm room. Back then, she was studying psychology, which is the study of the mind and behavior.
"I think I was procrastinating [on] my exams," she says with a laugh. "I found an Internet forum of people who were doing freeware games, where you make a game and give it for free on the Internet," Robinson Swink says. She credits this Internet community with inspiring her to take game-developing more seriously.
According to a diversity report by the International Game Developers Association published in 2016, 22% of professionals in the video game industry who were sampled were women. Meanwhile, an Entertainment Software Association report released in 2020 found that 41% of gamers were women or girls. The gap between who works on games and who loves games is sizable.
Robinson Swink acknowledges the struggles of feeling underrepresented.
"I just felt like, 'How did I end up here?' . . . when, you know, so few people who look like me are here at all," she says.
The 34-year-old says her perspective as a female developer makes her better at her job. "I try to push genres a little bit and make things that are interesting to me," she says.
Although she enjoys a classic fighting game, she also enjoys making games outside that genre. Robinson Swink's game "Gravity Ghost" is about a 12-year-old girl dealing with grief while on a journey through space. She independently released it for PC in 2015 and released it for PlayStation in 2019.
"I want to draw attention to my video games that feel authentic. The things I make are about families and stories and subjects that maybe are not so common in video games," Robinson Swink says.
She remembers a game from her childhood called "King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride," which was developed by a woman named Roberta Williams. It was the first game Robinson Swink felt was made for her.
"I thought, 'Oh my goodness, this is what games can be. They can be whatever you want, you can tell these other kinds of stories,' " she says.
Robinson Swink says she hopes more girls have been getting that message because the industry has seen more gender diversity lately.
Laila Shabir, a game developer and former teacher, hopes her organization, Girls Make Games, can help on that front. Shabir founded Girls Make Games in 2014 to offer programming instruction for girls interested in gaming. Girls ages 8 through 18 can register for its annual summer camps or crash-course workshops for beginner through advanced game developers.
"One of the biggest challenges we face toward the program is the stereotypes of gaming and gaming girls," she says.
Shabir says there are many girls who could excel in the gaming industry, but they are not aware of the possibilities.
"Being able to expose them to the fact that there's something called a game studio and that you could be a designer, a writer, an artist" can make a huge difference in making the industry more diverse, she says.
Just like Shabir, Robinson Swink says pushing the industry forward means making more people feel welcome and empowered to love gaming. When she released "Gravity Ghost" she had that in mind.
"If you buy a PC version it comes with another version to give to somebody else," she explains. "I just wanted to open it up to as many people as possible."
The Washington Post