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Category Archives: Women in Gaming

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Influental Women in the Gaming Industry Satine Phoenix

satine Satine Phoenix is a true force in the gaming industry. She has been using her fame to promote gaming. Satine has also helped force people to rethink stereotypes about the gamers who play Dungeons and Dragons and how.  

Satine is not what the media portrays a gamer to be and that is important. Too many times we have seen the same depiction of Dungeons and Dragons players. A group of mostly white boys in their mom’s basement. However that isn’t even what most of us gamers in the community are anymore. We are of many races, genders and playing styles. We livestream; play in gaming stores, play on our computers, we gather wherever we can and yes sometimes that is in our parents basements. Satine knows that the perception of gaming needs to change with us.

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Satine has worked in both the porn and fetish industries. There she gained confidence in herself. She also met many different people and found that many of them are huge nerds. Together they would read the same books and game together. Satine decided to use her fame to broaden the spectrum of what a gamer is.

Satine and her friends have made calendars featuring different geeky women. She has used her gifts to draw female monsters. She animates videos. She plays Dungeons and Dragons with all kinds of gamers. In 2010 she started a web series called I Hit It With My Axe.  There she gathered women of all different backgrounds; many some of whom were porn stars, strippers models and a hairdresser, to play Dungeons and Dragons.

satine dance Satine has been also become a big part of Geek and Sundry There she has been spreading the good news about Dungeons and Dragons. She has gamed for charity. Satine has also has an awesome series where she gives Game Masters different tips. She has gotten the opportunity to play games with Wil Wheaton on Tabletop.  

In short Satine Phoenix is a talented, hardworking and giving member of the gaming community. She seeks out nerds and gives them a spotlight. Satine reminds us that it is cool to be different. We should seek out what makes us happy and then share that with the world. She is helping us break Dungeons and Dragons out of the basement and into the mainstream where is belongs.

Always keep sparkling! 

It Takes a Village – Board Game Grrrls and the Importance of Women Gaming Groups

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Games of all sorts are a fantastic way to connect with people whether they’re old friends or you’ve just met. Whenever my partner and I move to a new area our first priority is finding a local game group, and a few of those folks always wind up becoming good friends. For women this can be a little intimidating – sometimes game spaces seem very male dominated, or one or two of the members can be unintentionally (or intentionally) creepy. In the past decade gaming has seen the rise of girl-friendly or girl-only groups both to build positive space for established lady gamers and to create a welcoming environment for new ones. I caught up with Board Game Grrrls facebook group founder Saille Warner Norton this week to talk about games, grrrls, and the importance of  inclusive game spaces.

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Why did you start Board Game Grrrls?

I did it on a whim after Yet Another Awful Thread on another FB board game group. I’ve always been community orientated, and I am one of the admins on another female focused geek group, so it was an easy jump for me to create. I thought I’d maybe get a handful of other female gamers to chat with about gaming. I used “Grrrl” because I came of age during the Riot Grrrls movement of the 90’s, and I think that history and meaning is suitable for us today.


Whats your favorite game? Least favorite? Why?
I have yet to pinpoint my favorite game. I have a number of games that I will always play.  Currently, I’m on a Sagrada kick. I also love Tokaido and Karmaka. Both games are beautiful. My favorite games tend to be ones with gorgeous art and mechanics that match their themes. I also play quite a few 2 player abstract games, like Santorini and Onitama, with my eldest. He’s been playing chess since he was 7, and its one of the only ways I have a chance to beat him!  My least favorite is hands down, Cards Against Humanity. CAH allows people to bring out their worst selves under the guise of a game. It is all the -ists rolled into one. I really don’t understand the fun of that. Now that being said, I hold great respect for the company for putting their ill gotten gains towards a greater good. I’m just not sure the ends justifies the means in this case.
Do you feel like the game community is general welcoming towards women? How could it be improved?
My local community seems very welcoming, in general. Several of our local game stores are woman owned. But I know that is not the situation across the board. I hear reports all the time of women being treated poorly by both store employees and other gamers at the table. One would think in this highly competitive market stores at least would be more welcoming and inclusive. Private gaming groups seem to be much more welcoming. But issues still come up. I think awareness is the number one way to improve inclusiveness. We need men to step in and be the ones calling out misogyny and sexism in our gaming communities. Women need to know that our gaming spaces are safe and that should there be an issue, other players have our backs. Unfortunately, I think online communities still have a very long way to go.
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How long have you been gaming?
My siblings and I played board games and cards all the time. In fact, when I was 10 or so, I used my birthday money to buy Payday. And then played it all the time. My parents and extended family frequently played cards, so we kids just followed suit. I grew up playing Pitch, Canasta, Gin Rummy, 31, Kings In The Corner, Hearts, Spades. The late 80’s and early 90’s were an explosion of the party game genre, and games like Pictionary, Balderdash, Scattegories, Taboo, and Trivia Pursuit were all the rage. During college, there as even a local Pictionary tournament, which I and my team won. After college, I was more involved in CCGs, tabletop RPGs and LARPs. I got involved in hobby board gaming after my youngest was born. A friend brought over Carcassone and Puerto Rico, and that was all she wrote. So I think I can safely say I’ve been gaming for 40 years.
Why do you think its important to have female specific game spaces?
Many women seem to think they’re anomalies as female gamers. We’re not! Female specific spaces allow us to find our tribe, to realize we are not alone, and to share our common experiences. For women who are already marginalized in our wider society, and then marginalized in this very small niche community, these things are invaluable.
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Who would you recommend Board Game Grrrls to and why?

I would love to be able to reach each and every woman gamer out there. Because you do not have to go it alone. We have had a number of members meet up in person at this point, and I absolutely love that BGGG has been a part of women finding other local women gamers. I have hopes that someday we’ll be able to do that on a larger scale, and be a recognized force for change within the wider gaming community and industry.

Board Game Grrls has grown in just six month to over 1200 gamers. The group is always abuzz with chat ranging from game suggestions to rules mechanics. The Grrrls are quick to answer questions and always welcome new gamers. Join the conversation at Board Game Grrrls on Facebook here.

Influential Female Characters: Keyleth

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Most of my readers and our fans know that when I started gaming again, my Dungeon Master suggested I watch some Critical Role to help me. I have a habit of getting stuck in my own head and being too worried about rules to just play and have fun. The show did help and also give me the idea to try what has become my favorite class in D&D because of  the Druid, Keyleth. I felt for Keyleth because her backstory. I was also really interested in her powers. I started playing Druids and that has become the class which I feel most comfortable, but I would never have chosen that class so quickly if not for watching Keyleth.

Keyleth is a Druid of the Air Ashari. Without giving away too much for those readers who are catching up on Critical Role, here is a little bit of her backstory. Keyleth has always been a talented druid, even when she was a child. Her father was the Arch Druid of her people and her mother left at an early age. Keyleth’s  father sees her potential and chooses her to be his successor. As it is then explained in the old intro, “ Just like that, her jovial childhood was stripped and replaced with endless spell memorization, teachings from ancient traditions, and exceedingly high expectations.” Here, I thought my school days were rough. 

 

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We never really hear about Keyleth having childhood friends. Nor, as it would seem,  has she had a lot of socialization till she is sent away from her tribe. When her father thinks she is ready, Keyleth is sent on a journey to the other Ashari tribes to “establish respect” with their leaders where she becomes a member of Vox Machina, what the group is known as, along the way. Because of this upbringing Keyleth is awkward and, at times, socially inept. She is also reckless in times of stress.

Keyleth is played by Marisha Ray who is not only a gamer, but also an actress and writer. Marisha often comes under fire for her style of gameplay. There are many reasons for why viewers don’t enjoy how she plays. Some of which are because of how their Dungeon Master allows his players to experiment and, some say, he is not enough of a rule enforcer. Marisha also really commits to playing Keyleth, flaws and all. She doesn’t polish her just because she isn’t the most popular character. I know that some of her particularly cringe-worthy moments make it difficult for me to watch her as well.

That being said, I give Marisha a lot of credit. She took a character who comes from a strict and sheltered religious background to thrust her into the world which does not follow the rules. Keyleth has gone through a lot of growing and evolving throughtout the game thus far. She has put aside many of the religious beliefs that she grew up with and has had to learn how to interact with people who have not. Keyleth continues to find her own strength and control over her powers. This has been particularly hard for her since they scare her at times. She also has come to terms with guilt that she continues to bury throughout the game.

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In short, Keyleth is an evolving and flawed character. She is very real because of her flaws. She is kind. She feels things very deeply, including remorse when she makes a mistake. Keyleth is struggling to be worthy of the responsibilities thrust upon her by others. She is finding herself, making herself better and helping those around her.

Keyleth helped me to understand that it is okay for me to play characters who unflinchingly believe in good. That I can play a character who isn’t a perfect hero from jump. Marisha has taught me that it is okay to make a mistake in game and learn from it. Keyleth inspires me to be creative with my characters. To allow an awkward moment to happen if it is what I think my character would do at the time.

She is a great example of being present in the moment of gameplay. Of going with your gut as a player. Of taking a risk because it might lead to something awesome. Keyleth is all of us just trying to figure the world out. She is us trying to figure ourselves out. Keyleth is all of us, just with awesome powers and a really cool headpiece.

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Check out episodes of Critical Role here.  

You can listen to a pretty rad soundtrack that Marisha put together for Keyleth here.

Always keep sparkling!

Influential Females Character: Alice Liddell

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Alice Liddell is the protagonist of American McGee’s Alice, a game that takes place years after Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. While Alice has been away, Wonderland has become corrupted, or maybe Alice has. Now, she has to return and fight to make things right again. That way, she can save Wonderland and herself.

American McGee’s Alice was created by American McGee and released in 2000. The game is inspired by and takes place in the world of Lewis Carroll’s works, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Thankfully this world lends itself well to the gaming genre.

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Alice has lost everything since her return from Wonderland. Her family and home are gone due to a fire. She even seems to have lost her sanity. At the start of the game, she is being treated in a mental institution called Rutledge Asylum. Alice’s guilt has put her into a catatonic state. The only thing she has from her childhood is a stuffed white rabbit.

Alice is then sucked back into Wonderland by the White Rabbit.  Apparently, Wonderland has been turned into a twisted and macabre version of what it once was under the rule of the Red Queen. With the help of the Cheshire Cat, Alice must bring Wonderland, and possibly her mind, back to rights. She completes tasks and fights her way to her enemy. Only then can Wonderland be restored and, hopefully, Alice’s sanity.

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Alice has always had a soft spot in my heart. I love the idea of taking a such a well known character and being able to say, “well, what if?” What if Wonderland is real? What if Alice is insane? What if the two are tied together? Then, making a world from there that is full of danger.

The fact that Alice is allowed to question her sanity makes her a very important character. So many people deal with different mental illnesses every day. We fight our way through each hour. Alice also has to fight to be sane. That struggle has not always been a focus in story lines.

Alice is a strong character who is allowed to struggle.

The game is also well constructed with an interesting take on Wonderland.

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Always keep sparkling!

Catlilli Games – When Science meets Board Gaming

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I had the good fortune to meet the driving force behind Catlilli Games at my first game demo at WashingCon last month. I was immediately hooked by Tacto, a programming in the guise of Tic-Tac-Toe that both teaches programming AND is genuinely fun to play. Catlilli Games has successfully bridged the gap between learning AND fun, developing educational games that are exciting to play in addition to teaching STEM.  Since the company was formed they’ve won numerous awards including awards from the Imagination Gaming Awards and three International Serious Play Awards this year. This week I sat down again with Catherine Swanwick to talk about women in games and game development.

What prompted you to get into game design, and why educational games?
I’ve loved board games my whole life.  I used to collect them and my parents would become exasperated when they took up so much room.  When I became a teacher, I started creating them (simple, short ones) whenever I could for the classroom.  One of my colleagues, Jon Nardolilli, did the same thing, and I discovered that not only was he a board game lover, too, but that he had designed his own actual full-length game.  I became inspired and started to design games, also.  We decided to form our own company, Catlilli Games (part of my first name and part of his last name).  We are both STEM teachers, and as a former scientist, I am passionate about educating the public about STEM concepts.  It’s the reason I became a teacher.  My company, Catlilli Games, is extremely mission-driven.  We want to transform STEM education with gaming.

How long have you been gaming?
I’ve collected/played/loved board games my entire life. I only started designing games in Jan. 2015 when Catlilli Games was founded.

Do you feel like the game design industry and tabletop community is positive towards women? Why?
Overall, I have to say that no, I don’t feel the game design industry/tabletop community is welcoming towards women.  I haven’t experienced outright animosity, but I am naturally excluded from gaming groups, and I do feel slightly uncomfortable when I want to attend game nights at stores but they are mostly men.  However, there are pockets of very welcoming communities, such as Labyrinth on Capitol Hill (Washington DC), where I have found men and women present in equal numbers and I have always felt a warm, friendly, accepting vibe toward women.

Whats your favorite game? Least favorite?
My favorite game is so very difficult to choose!  In general, I like cooperative games (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Mole Rats in Space – basically anything by Matt Leacock), although I do have a special place in my heart for Machi Koro.  My absolute LEAST favorite game is PieFace – I call it my archenemy.  It goes against everything I stand for as a game designer.

Why do you think educational games are beneficial/important?
Games are important for education because they are a natural way of engaging students.  They automatically stimulate their attention, and they let them interact with the material in a hands-on, creative, exciting way.  Even better, they allow students to talk through questions/problems and learn from each other in many ways.  I also believe that gaming experiences will help them retain the material for longer periods of time.

Whats your favorite stage of the design process?
My favorite part of the design process are the very earliest stages, when I or my former partner had the seed of an idea and knew it has the potential to make a great game, so we would sit for hours going through all the permutations to set up an initial prototype.  The excitement is indescribable.

Looking for an entertaining way to help a kid in your life with science? You can purchase Catlilli Games from their website. (And try Tacto – its outstanding!)

Kathleen Mercury – Game Design with the Future in Mind

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Whats more exciting and inspiring than a woman game designer? A woman game designer thats also teaching a whole new generation how to make games. I sat down last month with Saint Louis’s Kathleen Mercury to talk about game design in the classroom and inspiring kids to create and play.

What inspired you to teach game design?

I got into gaming after going to a gifted education conference, actually.   It was about games you could have gifted kids play in the classroom, like stratego, and so afterwards I started looking into boardgames and found out about this whole other world that I had been oblivious to.

After playing a lot of games on my own I realized how great these would be for students to make in the classroom because it’s the Robert Sternberg trifecta of creative, analytical, and productive intelligence.

My big thing is that I want students to be creators not just consumers. I love that with game design, there is actually relatively little content they have to learn and the vast majority of the difficult work is struggling through the process.

All students, not just gifted kids, need to work with difficult problems that they create and that they have to design the solutions for. And then test, analyze the feedback at their given, and respond to the feedback by making changes that others have suggested. This is very difficult for adults, and in a lot of ways my students are better at doing this in seventh grade. They get feedback all the time from teachers so this way they learn how to work with giving a d getting feedback as part of an ongoing process.

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Do you feel like the tabletop community is positive towards female designers?

I’ve only had positive experiences as a female game designer, so I’m glad that I can say that because I know others have not always reported the same. I think whenever women are entering a male dominated job or hobby like gaming, we will stand out. We just will. And I think especially in gaming, it takes a while for people understand that I’m not just there because I’m the girlfriend of a gamer, I’m a gamer in my own right and a designer as well.

For myself, I was a gamer and got involved in the gaming community before I really started to present my games. And even in the beginning, I was pretty limited in what I did. I did not contact publishers to set up meetings for game conventions, which is probably the most common way of getting a game published, but I did sign up for the BGGcon speed dating event for one of my games.  (That game is actually in the process of being developed which is super exciting. Several years later after the event, but nevertheless it looks like it’s going to get made). Going to game conventions like BGGcon, Origins, and of course my local favorite Geekway to the West here in St. Louis, is what aspiring designers need to do. You’ll get to play a lot a prototypes, meet designers, and meet publishers. I’ve only ever had a blast going to game conventions and meeting people and I think that’s when the reasons why I can say I’ve never had any negative experiences. And I found that a lot of the gamers, designers, and publishers that I’ve met have been incredibly supportive when I’ve had games that I want to play test would have them take a look at.

What do you think gaming brings to the classroom?

I think gaming is one of the best activities for kids to do, both at school as well as at home. (I take a lot of pride in that I’ve introduced my students to so many games that they are now looking to games on their own, watch podcasts, and follow reviewers, so they bring in games that I haven’t even played yet.)

Gaming is a great social activity the way gaming online can never be. Negotiation both in terms of the rules of the game as well as learning how to navigate social situation is improved with gaming. Learning how to play nice, win nice and lose nice, how to clean up after yourself, and probably most importantly to engage in intellectual challenge for fun and recreation.

Especially for gifted kids, the population I work the most with, they need complex problems that they can solve, or try to figure out different strategies to solve, or these kids create their own problems to solve later. Plus they get to creative and take on different roles, whether it be a pirate or a snooty-faced European trade merchant. Kids love to have fun, as we all said, and I’ve probably laughed harder during various games with my students because of what happens in their responses to what happens and I think just bringing joy and fun into their lives is worth it.

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How is teaching teens game design different from teaching adults?

Kids are much willing to take risks and go with what they think is fun and funny. Adults tend to take a more measured approach and think more realistically about the type of game they’re designing and how it would fit into the existing marketplace.

Of course, when kids are analyzing games it tends to be determined in a limited way like how much they like it or not, and adults can more clearly articulate the strengths and weaknesses of a game or prototype.

Everything kids encounter in their life for the most part are things they’ve  never done before so they are used to just jumping in and giving it a try. Adults tend to be more cautious and more concerned about failure from the beginning.

But for either group, you have to work to shift their thinking from success and failure as mutually exclusive binary constructs but instead to see failure as a setback towards the ongoing forward-moving process to success.

What at do you find the easiest about teaching design? The hardest?

I think it’s all hard! Just kidding. I’m not mathematically inclined myself, so sometimes when it comes to working with designs to make them balanced or to intuitively understand how to make a game more balanced, that’s definitely a weakness of mine.

Rather than easiest, I’ll say the most fun part is that amazing feeling of having a really great idea. Either the really big idea that gets the whole design in motion, or a really clever inventive solution towards a difficult problem.

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Favorite game? Why?

I think my favorite game from a design standpoint is Survive! Escape from Atlantis, currently published by Stronghold Games. There are a lot of really great games out there and game designers that I admire tremendously, but for me, Survive is so much fun to play. I almost don’t even care if I win. The theme and mechanics are integrated so well and it has a great balance between what I can do to help myself and what I can do to impede others. It has great components, and the possibility for laugh out moments quite a bit.

Especially when playing with kids, who sometimes have a really hard time and even melt down if something bad happens to them in a game, this game has so many opportunities for bad things to happen, both to you and to other players, of it that it actually helps to make losing easier for kids.

What do you hope educators get from your website?

When I first decided to teach game design, I found very little out there to help me. Most of it was either designed to be used by video game designers or what I could find was not really that helpful. I had to adapt a lot of what I found, like from board game designers forum, to make activities that I could use with my students and even now I do very little actual lecture or paperwork, I’ve created a lot better activities to help kids learn how to design games.

Having kids understand what the most common mechanics are and how they can use them in a game is the most important thing towards them designing games because otherwise they will stick to what they know which is for the most part roll and move and event decks.

I started using the game UnPub as a way for them to develop a whole wide variety of game concepts and if they didn’t know one of the mechanics on their card, than they would have to look it up. It lent itself to lot more discussion about mechanics and themes and how they could be applied. The kids’ games and understanding of mechanics have become better since I started using that to teach mechanics, as opposed to the PowerPoint that I used to do.

Teaching really is game design. Anytime you’ve come up with a lesson and then when the lesson, seen where the problems are, trying to create solutions for them, and make it better and more interesting for the next time is exactly what game design is.

I think for me the most exciting thing is hearing from gamers and teachers all over the world who discovered my website and say things like oh my god this is exactly what I’m looking for, thank you so much for doing this, totally makes my day. All of it’s free because I just want people to have access to use it to learn from it. A lot of homeschool groups are using it, it’s being used at all different levels from elementary through college, and I’m always happy to collaborate and consult with anyone at any time on just about anything related to gaming.

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How would you like to see more gaming implemented into the class room in the future?

More after school clubs at least so kids have access to really great games in that critical time after school, before their parents get home from work, when they might be more inclined to be on the computer playing games. I don’t have any problem video games at all, but if we can keep kids engaged with each other socially and at school, that’s a great thing. Plus it’s more kids come to my game club, when I have them in class they already have exposure to so many really great games that it makes working with them in game design a lot easier. They have a lot of ideas and I’ve already seen a lot of things they like and don’t like.

As far as the classroom itself I think there’s a lot of really exciting things happening with the gameification of the classroom, and not just a point system is overlaid over what you’re already doing, but more ways to figure out how to get kids to create their own answers given a set of information rather than being presented with incorrect/correct answers. Turning dry lessons into games, even if they aren’t great, will get a better response and more engagement from students then just straight up facts being taught.

Big announcements or upcoming news?

I have two games in development with different publishers! So the next couple of years should be especially exciting, when those hit the market. I’ll keep you updated when they get announced!

 

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Kathleen is also a character in the upcoming Heroes Wanted: Elements of Danger! Check it out on Kickstarter!

Unity Promotes Women with Workshops

Unity Promotes Women with Workshops

CiLi4fcWEAAUzCxIt’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of encouraging more women to get involved in the gaming industry. While I lack the education and computer know-how to start making games myself, I applaud the women who are able to pull through the negativity of the media constantly telling them “it’s a man’s industry” and do what they love.

That being said, Unity has launched a series of free and open global workshops, called “Women in Gaming,” in an effort to empower women and encourage them to pursue careers in the video game industry.

These workshops discuss many of the issues women face when attempting to advance their careers in gaming. At the same time, they allow for the people in attendance to network with each other and learn from each other. Other topics covered in the workshop include organizational dynamics, leadership skills and strategic thinking.

The first two workshops have already happened. The first took place in Amsterdam on June 1st. The speaker was Fiona Sperry, the founder of Three Fields Entertainment. The second workshop was in San Francisco, CA, at UC Berkeley with Professor Dana Carvey.

The next three workshops are below:

  • July 28 – Shanghai, China. Special Guests: Amy Huang (AVP at NetEase Capital), Evelyn Liu (CTO at Firevale), and Yanyan Xiong (Founder of Shenzhenware).
  • September 22 – San Francisco, CA. Special Guest: Nanea Reeves (President and COO of textPlus)
  • Early November (date TBD) – Los Angeles, CA at University of Southern California. Special guest: Professor Tracey Fullerton.

1441576529unity-logoEach of the special guest speakers has been successful within the gaming industry. In the workshops, they will be sharing their experiences and insights with those in attendance.

While I wish we didn’t need to have initiatives like this within the gaming industry (and other “male-dominated” industries such as computer programming – see Girls Who Code), I applaud Unity for taking this step. As a woman myself, I can attest to how many times I’ve been told, “but that’s for boys,” in regards to video games or other nerdy things that I enjoy. Initiatives like this not only bring us just a little bit closer to eliminating that negativity in the world, but also gives young gamer girls strong women to look up to.

All of the workshops are free and open to the public. If you’d like to register for one, click here.