Women Now Outnumber Men In USC’s Video Game Design Program, Heralding Big Industry Changes

"That's why I'm here. That's why a lot of us here. We want to make games that show women _ or different people _ in a better light so it can perpetuate a community that's more unified and diverse."

While everyone at USC speaks highly of the game community, no doubt some have already fought through stereotypes and peculiar looks.

"When I was 6 or 7, I had a small child-life crisis," says Maria Ferreri, a freshman in the program. "I was starting to like things that were more for guys. I liked electronics and cars and games. I ran to my mom crying and said, 'What's wrong with me? I should have been born a guy.'

"My mom says, 'Maria. It doesn't matter. Be proud of being a woman. Be proud of who you are. You can like and be whatever the hell you want.' I've always held that in the back of my head going forward."

Campos says being a female game devotee set off a few "weirdo alarms" in her day. But, she says, the grief often came from women, not men.

"Like, 'You are deviating from the mean,'" she says.

"That's not to say that girls are terrible," she says. "They just don't realize you have permission to do this."

The USC Games program has rightfully earned its reputation as a home for thoughtful game experiences. Numerous developers, including Thatgamecompany, Giant Sparrow and the Odd Gentleman, trace their beginnings to the program.

A number of the current students profess a love for more narrative-focused and character-driven titles.

Ferreri is working on a card game involving spies, while Campos has experimented with games that are borderline art installations.

"The game that turned it around for me, the game that gave me the thought, 'maybe there's a job in games for me,'" Swensen says, "was a little single-authored indie text adventure made in 1998 called 'Photopia.' It was very linear, basic puzzle solving, but the narrative format was so intricate, interesting and soul-crushingly sad. That I had never seen a game do. I'm 13 years old, and this game made me cry."

What can still be improved, the students agree during a roundtable discussion, is the way women are portrayed in games. There are some exceptions. Some cite mainstream games such as "The Last of Us" and "Mass Effect" as giving them believable female characters. One says games are still a bit of a "wasteland" when it comes to creating respectable heroines.

In the "Super Mario Bros." universe, for instance, Campos says there's no female character as cool as Mario or Luigi.

"Like," Campos wonders, "where's the Gothed-up princess?"

That's when Fullerton, the head of USC Games, chimes in. "You guys will have to make her."

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