At the launch of the innovation hub at City College Coventry last month, I met teacher Shoubna Naika-Patel. She’s the organiser of the college’s game design course, where students cover all aspects of the industry from designing characters and scenery to narrative structure to marketing.
Shoubna is also a STEM Ambassador for the college. This new programme hopes to encourage female students to pursue career paths in science, technology, engineering and maths, a subject close to our hearts. Last week I spoke to her about her course, the changing role of women in gaming and why girls excel on her course.
Me: Can you tell me a bit about the STEM programme you’re getting involved with?
Shoubna: We don’t get many girls on the game design course but when we do get them, they really excel, but there are relatively few women working in the gaming industry. Because I’m a female teacher on the course I’d like to encourage girls to follow that path, particularly because the ratio of women to men gamers is about 49 to 51 – so roughly half and half. It makes sense that more females should go into the profession.
Me: And how did you go from a gamer to someone who’s organising game design courses?
Shoubna: I did a degree in media and communication and we covered some game design –from a societal perspective – which grew my interest. I actually came to the college to be a media teacher but found myself teaching games and eventually took over the role of course organiser.
Me: You mentioned to me that you have about 25 per cent girls in your second year and about 15 per cent in first year. Why do you think fewer women come out of school and into courses like this?
Shoubna: I think that when students pick their GCSEs they either go into IT or pick an art-related subject. When students aren’t being taught IT at GCSE, they think “well, I can’t go and do an IT course at college, because they don’t have that background.” In addition, I don’t think people are aware of how much women are involved in the games industry, so the perception is that it’s a male hobby and a male industry.
Me: What kind of male to female split would you like to see on your course?
Shoubna: I’d ideally like to see a 50:50 split but obviously that’s going to take time. I think the key is getting schools involved, going in to talk to them, and encouraging girls to consider it.
Me: Are there any female role models in the industry?
Shoubna: There are women, but they tend to be hidden. Sometimes they might be at executive level, or they could be designers or modellers. It would be good to see their names out there so girls can recognise them.
Me: Is there a difference between the types of games that girls and boys come up with on the course?
Shoubna: The girls’ games tend to be quite narrative-driven. They often think outside the box so we see stories that are new to the industry. Last year I had a student who developed a story where you play as a girl who’s about to be forced into marriage and the whole gameplay element is about her sneaking around, avoiding her family and her future in laws. Themes that can be quite hard-hitting but which are very real for some people.
Me: And finally, why do you think that when you do get girls, that they excel?
Shoubna: I think they’re driven to do well. It might be that they want to prove a point; to say “yes I’m female but I can do this.”
Do you teach any female gamers? Have any of your former female students gone into the games industry? We’d love to hear your feedback. Let us know in the comments below, or via our Twitter or Facebook page.
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