“Pretty much ever since Lara Croft, games have been a little disappointing,” says Jessica Talley, who serves as Youth Media and Technology Instructor at Minneapolis Television Network and works with CTEP (Community Technology Empowerment Project) division of AmeriCorps.
Of course, Lara Croft is the big-chested and small-waisted heroine in the Tomb Raider franchise, and she stands out as an enduring symbol of the objectification – and disenfranchisement – of women in gaming. At a time where many big-name titles feature graphic violence and Croft-like figures clearly designed to appeal to one gender, the “girl gamer” has been left without much of a voice, even though a 2012 study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association suggested that 47 percent of the gaming population is female.
It was for this very reason that Talley, along with a few others, put together the first Girls Game 2gether summer camp in St. Paul last year with the support of AmeriCorps. The event, which took place over two different weekends at the Eastside YMCA, encouraged females in middle school and high school to embrace their interests in gaming and tech. The camp was a big enough success that it’s returning this year in an expanded format.
For its encore, Girls Game 2gether will return to St. Paul from June 24-28, this time at the Science Museum of Minnesota. A second camp will take place in Minneapolis, at the Minneapolis Television Network building, from July 15-19. The camps run from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm and participation is free for females from 7th to 12th grade.
Talley is the only returning member from last year’s Girls Game 2gether staff; joining her are fellow CTEP members Emily Krumberger, Keegan Fraley and Miles Johnson. The program has been able to continue and grow thanks to partnerships and sponsorships from local organizations such as the Minneapolis Television Network, St. Paul Neighborhood Network, YMCA, Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center, St. Paul Public Library and the 612 Minneapolis Foundation grant.
Talley says she observed an interesting phenomenon during last year’s inaugural camps. When participants arrived, most did not identify themselves as gamers – in large part due to societal conventions. By the end of the sessions, many of the girls had a noticeably different perspective, openly expressing their gaming interests and showing determination to bring that attitude with them into the world.
This year’s camps will feature activities similar to last year – built in free-play sessions, discussions of the industry’s history, analysis of female characters within popular culture and more. Participants will work in pairs to create their own simple games through Stencyl, which allows for apps to actually be published onto the iOS and Android markets. The girls will also help film a short documentary about the camp that will air on local public access.
If this kind of thing captures your interest, there are numerous opportunities to get involved.
Event runners are seeking female professionals in the gaming, tech and media industries who can serve on panels (June 27 and July 18 from 2:15-3:00) and help educate young minds about the path to a career in these fields. Additionally, this year Girls Game 2gether will be hiring paid interns (females age 17 and above) to help run the camps.
The hope, long-term, is that opportunities such as this will help inspire a new generation of female professionals in the gaming industry that can change the tone and tenor of this male-centric space.