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More women get jobs in video-game industry, but gender gap persists

By Richard Burnett

Orlando Sentinel (MCT)

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 2 2014 7:58 a.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 2 2014 7:58 a.m. MDT

There is a growing minority of women in the video-game industry: tech professionals who have turned their love of gaming into a career.

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With computer clicks and keystrokes, Carmela DeNero can put the spiral into a Peyton Manning pass, the speed into Adrian Peterson’s touchdown run and the roar into a stadium crowd.

An associate producer with EA Sports’ Orlando-area studio, she is working on the mobile version of the popular “Madden NFL” video game. She’s one of just a few women in game development at the operation — a role she says she has navigated carefully but successfully.

“There are definitely a lot more men here, but that never feels odd or intimidating,” DeNero said. “There are some tremendously talented women here, scattered about the studio. It’s easy to get to know all of them because it’s a pretty small club.”

DeNero, 26, is part of a growing minority of women in the video-game industry: tech professionals who have turned their love of gaming into a career. They grew up on lighthearted games such as “Super Mario Bros.” and role-playing games such as “The Sims.” They were unfazed by the “boys’ world” dominated by so-called shooter games, which have been criticized for portraying violence against women.

But although more women have cracked video gaming’s predominantly male work force, the business still has a gender gap, particularly with higher-paying engineering jobs, experts say.

Women make up the fastest-growing consumer segment of the $15 billion-a-year business and the fastest-growing niche in its work force, doubling during the past five years, according to industry estimates. But women still hold only 22 percent of the jobs, the International Game Developers Association reported.

To keep the momentum going, game developers say, they have to recruit more women who can bring a female viewpoint to games and ensure that games showcase, not exploit, female characters.

It would help, for example, to have more characters like Lara Croft, the adventurer in the popular “Tomb Raider” game, said Alice Hayden, a lifelong gamer and small-business defense contractor who uses gaming technology in her firm.

“You see Lara Croft as strong, agile, confident, fearlessly overcoming physical threats,” said Hayden, 38, president of H2 IT Solutions Inc. in Orlando. “Playing it, you feel empowered, not oppressed. And that’s the idea. It encourages women rather than discouraging them.”

Central Florida has one of the country’s largest clusters of gaming companies, large and small, including industry giant EA Sports, maker of the “Madden NFL” and “Tiger Woods PGA Golf” games. Sports-game development remains heavily male, industry officials said.

Andrew Tosh, president of GameSim Technologies Inc. in Orlando and a former engineer for EA Sports, said he “would like to think the gender gap is narrowing. But it is still difficult to find women to fill our engineering jobs. The résumés are almost always predominantly male.”

Only 8.5 percent of UCF’s computer-science and engineering graduates were women in 2013, down from 35 percent in 1992. Nationally, 18 percent of computer-science graduates were female in 2010, compared with 30 percent about 20 years ago, according to a recent National Science Foundation study.

Meanwhile, according to UCF, women have gravitated to science degrees in programs such as psychology (82 percent female), biology (62 percent) and microbiology (55 percent).

Still, in UCF’s relatively new digital-media program, which targets the video-game-industry work force, women accounted for 30 percent of the 2013 graduates. Much of the curriculum focuses on the artistic side of video-game development, though it also involves software skills.

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