More Women in Games!

The current firestorm of harassment aimed at women who work in video games occurs at a remarkable time when women are driving growth in the gaming market in players and in spending.

That fact may be a testament to the efficiency of the video game marketing machine; starting in the 80s, the game industry saturated the developed world with products intended for boys and men, and then pursued further growth by addressing the entire youth market. But for over a decade, savvy marketers in video games have refocused their efforts on the credit cards of adult women, an endeavor that has paid off in establishing a large consumer base willing to spend money for digital entertainment.

More players bring with them more perspectives and more tastes, and addressing those preferences is easier for creators who understand their audience. Recent news has focused on the role of women in designing games but we could insert any under-represented group into the title of this op-ed. Diversity - gender, racial, religious, and economic - is critical for making games that speak to a diverse world.

As with most other media industries, game development thrives on the collaboration within teams that are multifaceted in both skills and perspective. The creation of a video game requires a wide array of skilled professionals - the storyteller, the artist, the composer, the content expert, the programmer, and the list goes on. Increasing the diversity of people playing these varied roles in the development process ultimately increases the variety of games available to play. Opening the black box of the game design process and inviting more people into that process results in games that are more numerous, more compelling, more interesting, more challenging, more diverse, and more fun.

At the MIT Education Arcade we are currently offering a new Massively Open Online Course (MOOC), Introduction to Game Design that we hope will contribute to growing and diversifying the game-creation community. We developed this free course (verified certificates are available for a $50 fee) with the specific intent of increasing understanding of game design principles and fostering the development and refinement of new game ideas within the context of a large learning community. It is a practical introduction to concepts and practices of game design, emphasizing the basic tools of the trade: paper and digital prototyping, design iteration, and user testing. Course participants will gain early access to Gameblox, a new web-based blocks-based programming tool designed specifically for teaching, game prototyping, and development. Gameblox allows us to open up the course to non-programmers and players who don't feel they have a voice in the world of video games.

As we've proven in the first couple of weeks in the course, many people who don't consider themselves "gamers" are nevertheless able to rattle off long lists of games they played in childhood and games that engage them today. Given the opportunity, all of humanity participates in play, especially if they have the freedom to choose their form of play. For some people it's sports, for others, cards games or board games. And for some, play happens on a computer or a phone.

Games and play have always been a gateway to helping people understand their world and how it works. In the 80s, home computers became toys marketed to boys - sold on blue shelves and kept away from the pink aisles. But now that digital technology is as much a part of our lives as our phones, our screens, our watches, and our mail, digital games can assume infinite forms confined only by our imaginations. Not only does the expansive nature of technology create new forms of play, it also presents an opportunity to include new people in the game design process. Those previously left on the sidelines can now design and develop playful experiences for anyone they wish.

It is this diverse sense of playfulness that we hope to foster among a global classroom through our course.

Philip Tan is a research scientist and Sara Verrilli is the development director at the MIT Game Lab. They are course staff and lecturers for 11.126x Introduction to Game Design offered by edX.