Girl Scouts Kimbe Starks, 9, left, and Olivia Cranshaw, 8, play LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 at the video game preview event held at the Pratt House on May 4, 2010 in New York.
After tweeting that she wanted to start a game development summer camp for girls called Girls Make Games, Laila Shabir, the CEO and co-founder of educational games studio LearnDistrict, received an outpouring of support for the idea.
That was at the end of April. Backed by the support of parents and female game developers, Shabir started planning the camps and now she and LearnDistrict are set to host them in five cities, starting in Mountain View, California, for the next generation of female game developers.
The idea for the summer camps, which will start in mid June for girls aged 11-16, came to Shabir after she had trouble finding female hires for her games studio. Months spent searching for qualified female developers resulted in her questioning whether there were even any women interested in the gaming industry.
At Girls Make Games, the campers will learn about different genres of games and game development, with the LearnDistrict team introducing and explaining the unique challenges in certain game genres.
The girls will also tour Double Fine, a notable game development studio in San Francisco, and pitch their game ideas to a panel of judges from Double Fine, Google Play and USC.
Currently, around 48% of the general gaming population is female, according to the Entertainment Software Association's 2014 report.
But only around 11%of the gaming industry's designers are women.But only around 11% of the gaming industry's designers are women. For Shabir, that disparity in female representation is indicative of a self-sustained cycle within the games industry.
"The games that are being made appeal to boys, so boys play more and then they grow up making games," Shabir toldMashable. "They’re also the ones [that end up making] these 'girly' games for girls. It’s a cycle that needs to break."
Shabir continued: "College students have told me that it’s so suffocating being in a classroom full of boys and that they need more voices to create more interesting projects. It makes for a better environment for everyone to have different opinions on different subjects."
As increasing interest — especially among women and other underrepresented minorities — in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects continue to dominate the U.S. education discussion, the need for women to continue to pursue careers in the gaming industry echoes that same need for STEM careers, especially in the male-dominated tech world.
According to Shabir, by the third grade, young girls begin to lose interest in STEM subjects and by seventh grade, have given up completely on STEM careers because of gendered confidence gaps.
"Girls are extremely precocious around the elementary school age," said Shabir. "They will raise their hands, they will answer questions, they will ask questions. They’ll question everything, but as they get older, they stop and start accepting what society tells them because they’re less confident."
For Shabir, that lack of confidence comes from the continued questioning a girl receives when she shows interest in pursuing a STEM career, an issue exacerbated in the gaming industry due to previously held stigmas about video games being a "waste of time."
"What television was to the 80s and 90s kids, that’s what games are to kids growing up now. It’s the medium to speak to them.""What television was to the 80s and 90s kids, that’s what games are to kids growing up now. It’s the medium to speak to them."
This summer Girls Make Games will host camps in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin and Boston. The first camp in San Francisco will start on June 16 and last three weeks.
Next year, due to high interest, the summer camp will expand to cities like Washington, D.C., and possibly London and Cologne in Germany.
"It’s one step at a time," said Shabir. "I think we can do this and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so happy to do this. I expected a really big fight to launch these workshops. But because there’s so many other men and women who share my frustration that want to help, it’s easier for me and more exciting. I’m happy to lose sleep."