Diversity has been a hot button topic for years in our industry, along with work-life balance, crunch and equitable compensation. The commonality is that they’re all issues that the industry struggles with, and yet when the topics come up in conferences, forums, websites, or conversations, people from all corners of the industry come out of the woodwork, get on their respective soapboxes and try to shout the loudest.
Diversity is controversial in our industry because it is perceived to be lacking. The stereotype is that games are predominantly made by young, white, heterosexual, Caucasian males. A study conducted in 2005 by the IGDA (http://www.igda.org/sites/default/files/IGDA_DeveloperDemographics_Oct05.pdf) showed that “It appears that the stereotype traditionally associated with the game industry is not far from the mark.” That was in 2005 and M2 Research is currently conducting a similar study for the IGDA, but it begs the question “Has diversity changed (both demographically and ideologically) in our industry since then?”
At recent panels and conferences I’ve attended—it wouldn’t surprise me if the data hasn’t changed that significantly, however—I do think we’ve made considerable strides with regard to diversity awareness. This is the fundamental area where we can really create change in the industry. Don’t get me wrong, diversity training programs, recruitment tactics and initiatives have good intentions, but conversations about diversity should be rooted in one thing that we all yearn to have as human beings—respect. Respect can be discussed with idioms like “The Golden Rule,” but does that really suffice?
A different (and more appropriate) rule in today’s global world is the Platinum Rule, which states, “You should treat others as they wish to be treated.” Therein lies the paradigm shift that is necessary for us to truly become a diverse industry. First and foremost, it’s about having a mindset to allow for people of diversity to be accepted, embraced and valued in our industry and in the content that we create (yes, it can infiltrate our content as well*). This shift in our cultures would allow for us to value and capitalize on the potential advantages that a diverse workforce can offer from the perspectives of people unlike ourselves.
This requires a level of introspection and self-awareness that can be both painful and enlightening. It takes an understanding of your own culture, identity, biases, prejudices, and stereotypes. These are never easy to admit or accept, but the awareness is what matters. Furthermore it really matters where and when you as an individual can yourself effectuate change.
Think about this example: When you’re interviewing for an opening, do you tend to lean towards candidates that are “like me”—whether it be in their gender, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or other characteristics? Or, all things being equal, do you focus on the skillset required for the job and the value that someone not “like you” can bring to your organization?
Now, to be clear, I understand we’re all running businesses that are highly competitive. I’m NOT saying to hire a candidate simply because they are a woman, gay, black or disabled because they increase the diversity of your staff. A female game professional (who preferred to remain anonymous) recently shared an experience in which she had been a part of a summer internship program a few years ago. When she inquired about an opening the subsequent summer, she was told, “I don’t think the likelihood of you getting an internship this year is very good. We already have 3 women.” That mentality implies that the organization may be looking at diversity purely from a numbers perspective, almost like an Affirmative Action quota to be achieved. That’s the wrong mindset.
Speaking from experience, at the end of the day, people of diversity really just want to be judged on how they can perform their jobs and the value they bring to the organization, not the color of their skin, their gender or any other factor. They want an awareness of the unique perspectives that they can bring to the company and yet, they don’t want the team treating them any differently or making assumptions because of it.
Should it be assumed that a female gamer can provide more insight into creating casual and social games just because the market has grown and consists primarily of females? Maybe. Maybe not. The exact opposite may be true. That employee could very well be the best hardcore RTS designer your studio ever hired.
Professionals in the industry want to be treated as equals and want similarly passionate peers of high quality and talent. They want to be recognized for their contributions to the products and to the company and not singled out because of their diversity. Instead, they want a more inclusive culture that embraces a diverse workforce.
When we as an industry practice awareness, respect and inclusion, these stereotypes will fade away. I encourage you to look within yourself and your company. Analyze your own beliefs and subsequent actions. By taking meaningful steps to raise your awareness and those of others around you, only then will we collectively increase the diversity of our industry.
* “Games of Color”- 2010 D.I.C.E. Summit
Amos Marvel has been an HR professional at various game studios and is one of the Co-Founders of Hidden Variable Studios. His most recent act of supporting awareness and inclusion involved selecting a diverse cast for his company’s debut game, Bag It! on iOS and Android.