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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 18:31 GMT
Girls wanted: An industry's plea
By Rob Pittam
BBC2's Working Lunch

Female computer game players
An untapped market
The computer games world says it needs more female staff to give the business a new perspective.

It has the image of a cutting edge industry but the employment profile of a medieval monastery.

The world of computer games is a high tech 21st century male bastion.

But now there are claims that if the industry is to develop, it has to attract more women players and more women making the games themselves.

A visit to one of the first university courses in the country for computer games makers was enough to illustrate the problem.

When the University of Derby opened its four year degree course in Computer Games Programming, it got 106 applications, all of them from men.

The university wasn't surprised: in fact it had been expecting just such a response.

Sexual discrimination

Lecturers had even considered offering a bursary to female students, but found that the idea ran foul of sexual discrimination rules.

Course lecturer John Sears told BBC2's Working Lunch that it is symptomatic of a problem holding the industry back.

If the industry is going to develop it has to appeal to women
John Sears, course lecturer
"Computer games now need to move on. They've completely captured the core market of teenage males and older men.

"If the industry is going to develop it has to appeal to women. And the best way to do that is to have women designing the games."

One female student

There is one female student in the class of 29 who made it onto the course.

Ironically Natalie Bartley was attracted to the course after hearing about its difficulties in recruiting women.

"It doesn't bother me that it's all men apart from me," she said.

"I was prepared for it when I first walked into the room, but everyone's been really good to me.

Pushing barriers

"In a way it's an honour to be the only woman, to do something that's pushing back barriers."

But what about her fellow students?

You get to university and hope to be able to mix with lots of people
Matt Seymour, student
They all agreed there was a need for more women.

Matt Seymour, a student on the course, said: "It's a bit of a drag.

"You get to university and hope to be able to mix with lots of people. It would be great to have more girls around.

Steve Thackray said: "It's great that we have now got one female student on the course.

"It's important to get a different point of view and having Natalie around does help us to do that."

Media analyst Lizzie Haines carried out research into the games industry and found that only 17 per cent of workers are women.

Improvement

And out of that figure, only a quarter were actually involved directly in producing games.

But Lizzie does see some signs of improvement.

"I first did this research five years ago. At that time there was no sense that the culture was about to change.

"But I went back to it two years ago and this time I did notice that things were different.

"There was a feeling that employers need to be looking to get more women involved and I think that will happen.

Maturing industry

"As the industry matures, projects get bigger. They need to recruit more people and that means adopting more standard recruitment methods.

"And that will inevitably bring in more women."

John Sears is also hoping to get more women onto his course.

One female student is looking to switch over next year.

The university has been holding open days for sixth form girls to encourage more applications in the future.

It's also persuading games companies to offer guaranteed interviews for female students to spend their year in industry with them as part of the degree.



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