I’m currently reading Elisabeth Hayes’ essay on how games influence tendencies towards mastery or fluency in technological skills or IT-related fields. She writes:
Gaming is a particularly significant source of productive computer experience for boys…. Gaming also is instrumental in helping boys develop personal goals and motivations for their academic study of computer science and related domains. Playing and modding computer games are often reported as a trigger for boys’ continuing interest in computer science….For example, Margolis and Fisher (2002) found that male computer science majors reported that family- and peer-based experience playing games was a significant reason for their sense of IT competence.
Hayes seems to posit that there is a nontrivial link between the male majority in gaming and the male majority in IT careers and courses. I’d like to challenge this. Hayes briefly mentions Myspace as a potential “alternative route to such [IT] expertise”. I think this merits more discussion, especially because social media/blogging sites are marked as feminine — in particular Tumblr and Myspace. But these are also huge platforms with thriving cultures of modding and customization: implementing fancy backgrounds, changing fonts and text colors, implementing that auto-play music we all love to hate. These involve a nonzero amount of technical skill, but it doesn’t seem to presumptuous to say that a lot of girls have grown up in this modding/customization culture in a non-gaming context. So it seems that girls have as much of a “trigger” for “continuing interest in computer science” as boys have. Why, then, are IT careers and academics still male-dominated?
I’d also be interested in exploring more into the reasons for which girls are deterred from computer science. Hayes points out:
Girls tend to have little knowledge of occupations that require IT expertise….Interestingly, boys also tend to have limited knowledge about these occupations, yet that does not seem to be as much of a deterrent without the gender barrier.
This, if anything, seems to point more to the conclusion that IT is male-dominated because of its cultural marking as a “boys’ club,” and not because of male domination in gaming specifically (in fact, it seems more intuitive to me that male domination in gaming is itself also a result of cultural associations with masculinity.) I want to explore this more–what exactly contributes to girls’ apparent lack of engagement with modding communities, fan sites, or “technology-related learning”?
Hayes has a lot to say about the structure of “girl games” and reformulating games and gaming communities to be gender-inclusive:
…communities need to be structured in ways to support multiple forms of legitimate participation, scaffolding not only in the use of tools but also in ways of thinking and problem solving by more experienced peers or adults, and lots of talk to develop fluency in communicating ideas, mastering specialist language, and generally acquiring the identity of a ‘tech-savvy’ individual.
My problem with her essay is that she seems to skirt around the obvious cultural and social forces deterring girls from entering gaming or technological communities: microaggressions or even blatant aggression against women by said communities. I’ve been in too many games or online message boards that thrive on misogynistic tomfoolery and sexist banter, and witnessed those girls brave enough to reveal their gender harassed or targeted for their gender (“make me a sandwich”, or “show us your tits”, anyone?) Hayes turns a blind eye to all this and instead proposes a shift in gaming structure–which, while beneficial, doesn’t address the larger problem of male oppression and exclusivity in tech communities. Ultimately, before the structure of games can be fixed, the people and communities themselves must be fixed to be more welcoming and accepting to women.