By Todd Martens
Los Angeles Times.
In video games, an arena of pop-culture that’s long been characterized as a boys’ club, the news that women now outnumber men in the University of Southern California’s graduate video game design program feels revolutionary. And it very well may be.
The women in the USC program, ranked by Princeton Review as the nation’s top place to study game design, are enrolled not just because games have changed their lives. They want to change games. “There’s not enough stuff that I would want to play,” student Stephanie Henderson says.
She’s not a fan, for instance, of shooters, the gun-based games that have dominated home video game consoles. There are exceptions, the relatable characters of “The Last of Us” won her over, but she’d prefer to not pull a trigger. “I don’t know if I can get into this sniper business,” she says. “I want to make more of what I want to play so I can play something that I enjoy.” She’s far from alone, and the industry appears to be noticing.
Female characters, while still not the norm, are becoming more prevalent in top-shelf video games. And at USC, there’s been a dramatic rise in the acceptance of women into the game design program. In 2011, USC admitted 15 men into its graduate track and five women. In 2015, those numbers were nearly reversed with 12 women and seven men. There’s a similar trend at the undergraduate level. In 2012, just seven out of the program’s 27 freshmen were women. In 2014, freshmen women outnumbered the men 14 to 7. And in 2015 the numbers were even.
“We live in a culture where the first impulse is to have a male main character, to assume a male gaze on the screen,” says Tracy Fullerton, a game designer and professor who oversees the program. “That’s got to change. Young women need characters to have as role models. … It’s important. The more that games become a key medium, the more important it becomes for this to happen.”