One of the most successful sessions at the GDC Europe 2009 was a panel led by Margaret Wallace from Rebel Monkey. This very entertaining and informative panel titled “Designing Women” brought out serious issues of game development and innovation with a good sense of humor. The slightly ambiguous title worked as a hint of what was to come when the combination of five powerful game industry women participated into this playful session. Margaret Wallace led the discussion of Cynthia Woll (Cul de Sac Studios), Kellee Santiago (thatgamecompany), Sheri Graner Ray (Schell Games) and Tracy Fullerton (USC Interactive Media).
The panel was divided into two sections; first half was all about traditional questions and answers and the second part worked slightly in the same manner as GDC’s Design Challenges led by Eric Zimmerman. Serious topics were this way complemented with more concrete ideas of where to take the games industry.
The first and perhaps most important issue discussed in the panel was the team consistency and especially the versatility and differences between the members. The panelists encouraged game companies to hire outside their comfort zone. Even though this was implicitly referring to the lack of female designers, the notion was not explicitly only about the gender. “Industry doesn’t need another you” was one of the provocative expressions directed to the rather homogenous audience of GDCE.
After discussing the emerging issues of games industry maturing, these four panelists gave four different ideas for developing future games. Tracy started the presentations with forming an idea of a war game that is based on the mechanics of holding hands. Kellee took the same genre of games but applied the design philosophy of thatgamecompany and discussed an idea of a war game based on emotions, especially fear. Cynthia and Sheri presented slightly more open ideas, as Cynthia explored her experiences with observing girls and boys playing with Mattel toys and Sheri shared her expertise on learning models.
Over the years Cynthia has noticed that boys’ games are more straightforward and “fair” as girls’ games. Girls choose a different approach because their games usually involve three participants and have a more nuanced kind of competition. As Cynthia concluded that girls and boys play differently, also Sheri took the same page – we also learn in different ways. As women are predominantly “modeling” learners, most of the games as being based on explorative learning model, exclude this group of people. Both women did also emphasize that this was statistically about gender – from the broader perspective it is all about taking different people into account when designing games.
In the end, the lesson of these designing women was definitely more wide-ranging than only applied while designing for women.