In July I attended the very first event of The Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, for the Promotion of Cultural Industries, a conference on Culture and Video Games at TEA [Tenerife Espacio de las Artes] in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

This event, a first of its kind, demonstrates a strong will and desire from the Spanish Presidency to fully lead engagement on the growth and development of the video games and esports sector across Europe. There were a wide range of attendants: policy makers and shapers, industry professionals and experts. It kicked off with a presentation of the European Parliament Pilot Project ‘Understanding the Value of a European Games Society’ an overview of key findings and recommendations which set out to review the cultural, financial, and social impacts that video games have on society, as well as its challenges and opportunities.

I represented Women in Games at this seminal event, which was an international meeting for debate and exchange of ideas, the presentation of projects and good practices, training, and the creation of professional networks in the video game and virtual worlds sector. The ultimate goal was to encourage the formulation of a common strategy on the challenges and opportunities of the industry.

Carmen Páez Soria. Director General of Cultural Industries, Intellectual Property and Cooperation at Ministry of Culture and Sport in Spain led proceedings and moderated a session focussed on an ‘Analysis of the European video game scene, its recognition as a cultural sector and its importance in the present and future of European creative and cultural industries’. In networking discussions with Carmen during the event, it was clear to me how passionate she is about creating a better, fairer and more equal representation of women within the games and esports sector of Europe. She was disappointed by the 23% figure that currently stands in terms of women in the games workforce across Europe, and hopes to raise that to 50%. We are looking forward to working closely with her and the Council of the European Union to achieve this.

Women in Games contributed to a panel discussion ‘Talent and Professional Skills in the European Gaming Industry’ where questions were posed on ‘Attracting Talent, Training Talent and Employing Talent’.

I spoke specifically on the issues of attracting talented women into the sector: retaining, developing and nurturing them to create a fairer and ultimately more successful and culturally mature video games and esports industry. Women and girls make up 50% of the global population and approximately 50% of players across the world, within that 50% of the population and players all other diverse characteristics exist and intersect.

Globally only between 20% to 25% work in the games and esports industries. To raise the level of talented women entering and remaining within the sector we must make the industry more attractive to girls and women – to do that we need a serious culture shift within the sector.

You can find out more about the event and view the sessions here:

Since #gamergate in 2014, almost 10 years ago, challenging issues continue to blight the sector. In the last few years there have been problems of workplace harassment at major games studios, with some cases still ongoing, And gaming and games industry events continue to be unsafe for women.  A young woman thinking about an education or career in games and seeing this kind of environment reported in the media, is not going to find it appealing. At the same time, there are increased levels of toxicity and harassment online for women. As a result, women and girls are often discouraged from playing the games they love – and also dissuaded from considering a career within the sector.

Why have these negative issues within the sector not gone away? Why is this harmful culture so persistent? Why are we allowing these behaviours to continue?

It’s hard work to keep going over the same ground with minimal effect…

Which brings me to the sad news that Anita Sarkissian, who has been exposing and challenging negative stereotypes of women in video games through critical analysis is closing Feminist Frequency. The organisation’s main goal during its 14 years online was to end toxicity and abuse in the games industry, through grassroots campaign work and videos designed to pick apart misogynistic and bigoted tropes. She describes being exhausted and burnt out, which Women in Games understands. Anita and the team were pioneers of video blogging and also of calling out, head on, the negative representation of female characters in video games and importantly she created a language  to discuss, debate and disrupt. In 2019, as the industry reckoned with systemic sexism and harassment, she brought to life the US Games and Online Harassment Hotline. Feminist Frequency’s legacy remains with the unique video essays and criticism on its YouTube channel, and the external training and support programmes, and Anita’s work with studios and developers has made a tangible impact on the industry and an incredible legacy that must be continued.

Anita was inducted in the Women in Games Hall of Fame in 2017. I was so thrilled to meet with her in person, and host a fireside chat with her at the 2017 Women in Games Conference.

We have huge respect for the work of Anita Sarkissian and wish her all the very best in her new endeavors.

The purpose of Women in Games is to empower girls and women by building a fairer, safer, more equal global gaming ecosystem. As an organisation we are addressing challenges that continue to hold the sector back.

We must all work together strategically to address the problems of harassment and toxicity, particularly of girls and women, if we are to attract the very best talent into the industry and make a fairer, safer, attractive environment fit for a competitive global market of the future.

Marie-Claire Isaaman, CEO, Women in Games