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Fair play
March 04, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
Fair play
Meenakshi Jain
 
They're not only playing and demanding their own kind of games, women have made themselves quite comfortable in the game-designing world too, adding social awareness and women-centric issues to their creative focus. By ensuring that the game content also includes social causes, these women are forcing out the violent mechanisms of the gaming world.
 
You can wear ruffles, and you can still be a great computer scientist or a great technologist, or a great product designer," said Marissa Mayer, the COO of Yahoo! and a leader in the world of technology. Women like her are proving that passion can be a gender-neutralising force, as they devote their energies to making it into the testosterone-fuelled gaming industry. Despite being attacked for challenging the norms of the male-dominated industry, another feminist social media icon, Canadian-American Anita Sarkeesian, continues to reign as an example of female gaming aficionados.
 
 
Following suit are these women in India, who believe in finding their way into the technology-driven world, and designing games that define our recreational habits today. Starting out early in the industry, Indian women have found their way to the top in the hope of upping the share of women in gaming. "I got my first job as a junior game designer because the company was in plans to make games for girls. I entered the industry when casual games just started becoming popular and smart phones were bringing the focus on all kind of players and not just intense console gamers," says Deepti Raavi, co-founder of Pinaka Interactive in Navi Mumbai, about her journey. Another success story, Shaina Rajan, an executive producer for mobile gaming at Disney UTV (The Walt Disney company), has been instrumental in the rise of this domain. Starting out as a Java programmer, she never imagined that she would manage an entire team of 70 resources, which includes designers, visualisers, programmers, and head the mobile gaming section of one of the biggest creative firms in the world.
 
Designing games may not be entirely shaped by artistic impulse, but it can be equally creative. "Games can be as creative as movies and books, probably even more with the interactivity the medium offers. And since the gaming industry is in such a nascent stage, the scope is high to explore this medium to look for new creative expressions," says Raavi.
 
A designer envisions a game world that would be interesting to visit or explore, and characters that would be interesting to meet. Since stories, worlds and characters are often the most visible parts of many games, the game mechanic needs to be imaginative. "As a game designer, my role lets me come up with concepts for games or sometimes take a concept and turn it into a game. Writing a game design document, working with level design, game flows, game balancing, fiddling around with formulas and values are parts of my job that I love," says Poornima Iyer, a game designer at Knowledge Adventure India.
 
Popular games like Second Life and Grand Theft Auto have been panned by social commentators for perpetuating objectification of women. Even games with women protagonists like Lara Croft and Bayonetta or a supporting protagonist like Half-Life 2, are considered sexist. Therefore, traditionally maledominated multiplayer-shooter games are now being reworked for the sensibilities of women consumers. But even as scantily clad women adorn the game covers, designers are pandering to the needs of women – who wish to express different facets of their personality in the safe haven of a virtual world. "Interestingly, most of the games I've been approached to design are ones that appeal to women. It totally depends on what kind of game you are making and the target audience you cater to. In my opinion, the game has to be good and fun to play. It need not be gender-specific at all. There are women who enjoy their shooters and men who enjoy managing their farms," says Iyer, who is also a silent partner in Pinaka Interactive, about the appeal of mutli-genre games to different genders.
 
The inclusion of women designers is a larger statement from the industry, even if their growth rate is slow. Women designers are of the opinion that though the gaming world is still at its nascent stage in the country, the testosterone levels are already starting to ebb from the industry.
 
Experts link the unbalanced scales to action oriented games that most people are exposed to as children as to why women tend to overlook such job options. "With the proliferation of casual games all that is changing for sure and soon it shall reflect in the workforce of the industry too," opines Raavi.
 
 
Another reason for the shortage of women is the hectic hours that come with programming for a variety of supporting visuals that are included in games. While big firms like Disney and Pixar are opening their centres in India, most jobs in gaming are offered on a freelance basis. "This working-on-a-project-basis system is a constraint for women," opines Asmita Bharti, a visual-effects producer. Bharti has worked on Kamal Haasan's Vishwaroopam and was the VFX (visual effects) producer for The Host – the upcoming movie based on Stephanie Meyer's bestselling book – and now works on a freelance basis herself.
 
Stepping up the ante are the novel startups and independent women designers, who have decided to make the cause of women gamers stronger. Iyer believes that aspiring to creating a new game can only happen on your own time. "You work on your games on a project basis, till you make one game that tops the charts and fuels your career," says Iyer. Founded by Raavi and Iyer, Pinaka Interactive started off as a game-design studio but has now broken off from traditional gaming patterns and focuses on games that deal with social causes in the real world. "We're currently working on games that involve people at the periphery. As designers we would like to trace out the possibilities of interaction one could bring to such games, which would lead such people to share their problems and exchange ideas," says Iyer. Getting funds is a hard task, she admits, but a tectonic shift in the outlook of the industry is exactly what is needed at present. By ensuring that the content of these games also includes social causes and women-oriented themes, these women are forcing out the violent mechanisms of the gaming world. "Satisfaction comes from innovating and creating new content for an ever-changing audience. These changes, if successful, can then be applied to Bollywood movie-based games, sports, TV shows, animation, and every form of digital production," posits Raajan.
 
The industry itself has a long way to go in the country, and tapping these kind of creative resources can only happen if the user and knowledge base is extended. "The focus needs to be on quality and original content. We need to work towards building a system which nurtures innovation," says Iyer. And these designers aim to remove the niche label of gaming in the future."I think if a girl is really passionate about her creative pursuit in gaming, there will soon be space for her in the industry and in the market," adds Raavi.

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