Over the past year or so, the discussion about the portrayal of female characters in video games, and the employment of women in the industry that produces those images has been particularly heated. But for all the challenges this industry faces, a new survey of video game producers suggests that gaming companies may actually be outflanking television when it comes to improving the representation of women in certain positions, and in making pay equitable for male and female producers.
According to the latest edition of Game Developer Magazine’s annual salary survey, in 2012, 23 percent of video game producers are women, a year-on-year increase of 7 percent over 2011, when women represented 16 percent of producers. That’s a significant shift in a single year, and it’s a kind of progress that would be striking in the television industry, where progress in shifting the composition of the writing workforce has been notably slow. Between the 1999–2000 television season and the 2011–2012 television season, the percentage of female television writers rose from 25.5 percent to 30.5 percent — as the Writers Guild Of America, West pointed out “At this rate of increase, it would be another 42 years before women — roughly half of the U.S. population — reach proportionate representation in television staff employment.”
And the gap between the 2012 average salaries for male and female producers in video games was $6,602 — $78,989 for women versus $85,591 for men. That’s a smaller gap than the one between male and female television writers, which in 2009 was almost $10,000, with an average salary of $98,600 for female writers, compared to an average of $108,000 for men. And women actually make more than their male counterparts in one area of the industry, programming and engineering, even though they hold only 4 percent of those positions.
Now, there are differences between these industries: video games are produced on a project basis, while television shows can either run in an open-ended way, or end after a discrete amount of time, though both of those possibilities are open-ended. But the ends of television seasons often provide opportunities for shows to bring in new writers — Aaron Sorkin, for example, famously has a tendency to clean out his entire writers’ room at the end of each season — and would provide opportunities to shift the demographics of writers’ rooms. In either industry, changing the ratios are largely a matter of will. And it’s great to see an industry like video games, which has a shorter history than television, demonstrate that even in a culture that’s known for male fans and male characters, if you want more women working on projects, you can find it. Maybe if the video game industry continues to make progress, everyone else will feel pressure to catch up.