Having been a gamer for over 30 years, it kills me when I hear news that appears to be a step backwards for women in video games. The recent Women in Games Conference has been cancelled due to “low delegate numbers”.

Female gaming site Thumbbandits.com reported yesterday that the upcoming Women in Games Conference, due to be held on the 25th-26th March has been scrapped due to low ticket sales. The tickets were 125 GBP a day and apparently even this was too much to fork out for what has been known as one of the premiere events for women in gaming.

This is a sad day all round for those women currently in gaming, or young females hoping to make their way through what is a male-dominated realm. It would seem that video gaming remains one of the most traditionally difficult areas for women to get into. Some suggest that part of the reason is that there’s a heavy gender bias in video game characters and therefore the low representation of women in gaming content leads to a low intake into video gaming development programs and positions. Jacob Aron at The Guardian Newspaper discusses a new study out of the US that “examined the top 150 games from March 2005 to February 2006, including titles such as Doom 3 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, [which] discovered that 85% of characters are male, compared to just 49% of the US population”. One of the most disappointing aspects of this is that the numbers don’t seem to be improving as time moves on, meaning there’s a high probability that women will continue to be under-represented in game development and in game content.

The reason that this becomes such an issue in a wider sense is that it perpetuates the myth that gaming is for men. Sure, it doesn’t matter to most men, but it sure as hell matters to most women who love gaming. For some time people have asked why the hell don’t we have many women in game content, and there never seems to be a satisfactory answer. Surprisingly, the guys at Kotaku.com (who aren’t always the best spokespeople for equality in gaming) did ask this very question of Gordon Van Dyke, producer of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for EA. Van Dyke explained that “When you actually put in female characters, typically you have to put in an entire new skeleton model and that entire new skeleton model adds an entire new level of animation and an entire new level of rigging. You basically double the amount of data and memory for soldiers that would need to go into your game”. This for him is enough of a reason not to put in a female character and go with an all male led in-game team. He justifies that he needs to consider “How much will putting something like this in give us, whether the rewards of putting something like this in [are worth it]. The reward has to match what you have to give up somewhere else”, and apparently in most cases dumping the female character is worth better graphics.

In my opinion, this highlights one of the main issues with game developers. Women in games and in game development teams generally seem to be thought of secondary in many cases or replaceable. This is by no means a blanket statement and I fully acknowledge those gaming sites with female writers or development companies who include female characters even when they don’t need to, however, the majority consensus still seems to remain that women just aren’t that important in gaming. The embarrassing cancellation of the Women in Games Conference just highlights that women have a long way to go in gaming and perhaps that incorporates social, economic and philosophical changes taking place before we even get close to equality.