The last time I had gotten a Barbie was so long ago, I had forgotten how eerie and strange her figure is.
When pop culture decides to not only recognise my industry as not just a strange sub-culture but a thing worth making into such an iconic toy — a female doll on top of that, I'm the first one to buy it.
When Mattel revealed the Game Developer Barbie back in January, the internet lost its mind. The excitement over this release has been huge all over my social media feeds, a feed which features quite a bunch of people just like me: Female Game Developers.
However, with every new wave of empowerment for women in the industry there is a push back. The experience of the Game Developer Barbie has already been linked with the day to day culture a female Developer has to face before even hitting the shelves.
Game Developer Barbie has faced her fair share of criticism. Just like for real female developers, Barbie has had to battle the regular stereotypes around women in games: “crappy” casual games, accusations of being “not a real gamer” and people being critical of her looks or sense of fashion.
You may wonder why a single doll could make such a big difference. Let me tell you, it does. For many reasons.
When I was a young teenager, games were a huge part of my life. They always have been and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play them. One may think this — paired with a talent for art, storytelling and design — would automatically lead me to a career in game development however — at the time — that wasn't the case. When I was younger, video games were still seen as a hobby for lonely boys. We have known for years that this is not true. I graduated from a private college with a Bachelor’s degree in Game Design and Development as their first batch of students in 2011 after coming across this career path by pure accident in a magazine in 2009. My course started out with 24 students of which 5 were female. Only 4 of us actually graduated.
Now, in 2016, university courses for Game Development and game theory can be found all over Australia and the world. For the first time in history, students have the unique chance to learn how to make games from people who have worked in this industry for years before them.
While I don’t make “crappy casual games” - whatever that means - I am an indie developer who has worked on eight released titles to date in various departments, currently working for a game called Objects in Space. I can safely reassure you: the representation on the packaging of this Game Developer Barbie is quite on point!
The back of the packaging is a fairly accurate representation of what Game Developers do. It mentions all kinds of different aspects of development, unfortunately leaving out my own profession — Game Design. However, this also is a pretty close representation of my real life experience. If done well, game design is usually invisible to the audience. The packaging definitely gets plus points for also mentioning table-top developers, who are often a forgotten species among us!
Walk into any game development office and you’ll most certainly see this. Chinese fast food and coffee is pretty much what sustains game developers. We cling to such luxuries when trying to get through the widely dreaded crunch.
My personal admiration goes out to the flow chart above the screen, which is one of the best tools Game Designers have for a whole lot of systems. Flow charts for screens, flow charts for conversations, flow charts for skill chains, flow charts for level progression. You can not ever have enough flow charts in a Game Designer’s life.
For everybody who still has doubts, I think you should see this photo of me and this Barbie, after I decided to increase her resemblance to a real Game Developer.
— Jennifer Scheurle (@Gaohmee) June 30, 2016
Because who wouldn’t want a miniature-version of themselves with eerily long legs? Turning a heavily-criticised cultural icon into something that I and others can identify with and is a great way to encourage more women to get into game development — something the industry sorely needs.
So why does this doll matter, you ask? The connection is simple: if I had a Game Developer Barbie when I was young, I could’ve aspired to contribute to the world of games from a young age instead of happening upon it by accident as an adult.
If Game Developer Barbie had been around when I was growing up, maybe my family wouldn’t keep asking me what this strange job is that I’m doing and if it actually pays my bills? Maybe I would’ve been less alienated by the heavily biased tropes of play-kitchens and house-wife Barbies? Maybe the world would know more about the wonderful industry I’m in, with all its quirks and flaws? Maybe I would’ve seen a doll that was just like me?
Representation in media and pop culture is hugely influential for our lives. Showing young children and especially girls that there are possibilities for them in male-dominated careers may change their lives for the better. Freedom and happiness heavily relate to making an educated choice, even if it comes in the form of a Barbie doll.