Games 2 Girls

Despite the many advances of women over the past decades, women are still underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM). An important part of this disparity is what is known as the ‘leaky pipeline.’ At every stage of STEM education, more women than men leave the track and choose other careers because of individual and structural biases against women in these fields.

One of the major turning points for girls comes in middle school. At this stage, girls’ confidence in their science and math ability drops, and the negative social consequences of ‘geeky’ interests begin to bite. At the same time, girls are asked to make academic choices that will have consequences for their ability to pursue advanced math and science in high school and beyond. Between stereotype threat, social pressure, and institutional bias, many girls simply leave STEM behind.

There are ways to help girls stay engaged with STEM fields through this critical period. One of the most important is to help girls imagine these fields as part of their identities. They need to see meaningful and exciting careers in which math, science and technology play a role, to give them an alternate vision of what a life in STEM can be. They also need to develop a sense of self-efficacy in these areas, which can help insulate them against lowered self-confidence and stereotype threat.

In collaboration with the Women in Games SIG of the International Game Developers Association, I explored the possibility of using game design to keep middle school girls connected with STEM fields. I created a prototype of a non-digital game design curriculum that helped girls see themselves as future game designers, and that showed how continued involvement with science and technology could help them with that career. The partnership with the IGDA allowed me to draw on the insights of working game developers, while creating a primarily non-digital curriculum meant even girls without pre-existing access to technology could participate.

Over the course of just three weeks, girls could develop a sense of self-efficacy around game design by actually making playable games. However, I have also begun developing downloadable Game Design Club materials, to encourage girls to collaborate on making and playing games beyond the end of the formal program.

The project is currently on hold, but in the long run we plan to deploy this curriculum in the field, with industry volunteers from the Women in Games SIG as on-site mentors and group leaders. If this curriculum helps girls stay involved in STEM fields past the critical period of middle school, it isn’t just good for individual girls or even for the game design industry – it’s good for the world to have more scientists, programmers, mathematicians and engineers in it.

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