Interactive Game Design: Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves

Giving access and inspiring young women in STEM.

Leigh Hughes
Assistant Professor
Coastal Carolina University

Women need to step it up a notch—or two—in the land of interactive game design, an area still lacking in female representation. According to recent U.S. Department of Education statistics, women have been dominating higher education enrollment and earning more than half of all bachelor’s degrees, yet only 15 percent of those are computer science degrees. Because a passion for design and technology can be stoked from a young age, giving girls engaging, gender-appropriate video games may help to inspire an ardor and love for learning, ultimately leading to more female game designers.

Providing access to interactive gaming, game making, and post-play narrative modding, girls gain confidence while attaining technical fluency to pursue higher degrees in STEM. Game industry statistics show that 22 percent of game developers are female and only 2 percent identify as transgender or non-binary. Due to low representation, there is a limited understanding of how young women and minorities might envision themselves as part of a male-dominated field with a potential future in game development. To help bridge this gender gap, a thorough mechanical thought process and creative problem-solving skills are essential to the advancement of women in computer science and interactive game design—all of which can be learned through gaming.

In the end, well thought out, gender-considerate game design, where girls’ playing preferences are thought of during conceptualization as opposed to being an afterthought, can have a great impact on whether or not girls become engaged in video games and remain interested. Interactive game play and modding can be very effective tools to bring females into the game design conversation, in turn providing choice within game play. Women game designers can change the face of digital game design and allow for a more inclusive gaming community by designing for themselves.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.2: CAA 2020 Conference Chicago on February 14, 2020.

Video Games Help to Prepare Girls For a Competitive Future In Stem

An analysis of how video games help to build visual-spatial skills and the positive influence early childhood gaming can have on girls.

Leigh Hughes
Adjunct Instructor
School of Visual Communication Design
Kent State University

Play is beneficial for children—it allows for freedom to explore and problem solve while freely using their imagination in a safe environment. It is imperative to allow girls this freedom to explore digital games and all of their possibilities. Video games help to build visual-spatial capabilities, which is the ability to mentally construct and organize 3-dimensional objects in an imaginary space, a skill that promotes advanced mathematical and engineering skills.

In order for women to compete in male dominated STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries, females must have more opportunities in early childhood to develop their visual-spatial skills. To do this, girls should play more video games, suggests a study by University of Toronto researchers. Research shows, most girls play with toys that emphasize relationships or creativity. In contrast, boys typically play with computers, video games or build, which develop problem-solving and spatial skills. There is considerable evidence that these gender differences are generated from nurture, not nature.

By designing video games that engage young, female interests while incorporating essential, 3D building tools, and by offering girls more opportunities to practice their visual-spatial skills through this media may begin to help close the STEM gender gap and encourage females to pursue engineering and computer science. Women’s representation in STEM occupations remains low in engineering and computer occupations. Video games can begin to slow this decline by providing girls with the confidence they need to succeed in the classroom.

In conclusion, early exposure to video games could have significant impact on whether women choose to pursue engineering or computer science. Girls need to be engaged at their level, be provided more opportunities to construct without restriction or bias and should be encouraged to play video games as a means of developing crucial competitive skills.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.3: Kent State University on Saturday, March 11, 2017.