It is no secret women are under-represented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, but Dr Kate Raynes-Goldie has a theory as to why they are under-represented: it is all Nintendo’s fault.
Back in 1984, Nintendo had just launched its blockbuster Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The equipment is highly sought-after, and widely advertised. And in those ads? Well, there are only boys. Not a girl in sight.
“I was 12 at the time,” recalls Dr Raynes-Goldie, “and it made me really mad that there were no girls in the ads, no one I could relate to. I even wrote Nintendo letters expressing how annoyed I was.”
The year 1984 was also significant because until then, female participation rates in STEM had been on the rise. Could it be that all it took to turn back years of progress was a series of Nintendo ads? Dr Raynes-Goldie thinks so.
Earlier this year she won the Australian Computer Society’s Digital Disruptors Professional of the Year Award. She is happy with the award, as it is a peer-nominated gong, but she is more bullish about what it means for diversity in the tech industry. “There are only 10 per cent of women in games and tech,” she notes. “This award is a huge recognition of my work in advocating for diversity in technology.”
Dr Raynes-Goldie is a gamer, technologist, speaker and writer. She runs a consultancy called Games We Play, and says gaming and game development is the perfect way for women to become involved in the tech industry.
“When I was younger, it seemed that all computer science was solving problems with code and mathematics, and I found that boring,” she says. “Gaming and games development is the perfect entry point for women in technology because you don’t necessarily need to know those things.”
There’s an often tossed around figure indicating the gaming industry is worth $100 billion worldwide. Gaming advocates like to note it’s a figure making games bigger than Hollywood. As Dr Raynes-Goldie observes, it’s a perfect industry for Australia because it does not involve massive investment, but it does require government support. Unfortunately, with the exception of Victoria, where the games development industry is funded, and which is responsible for 50 per cent of Australia’s gaming development, there is no other support, either federal or state.
“We’re not doing very well in supporting the games development industry,” she says. “There was a 2014 federal fund, but that got cancelled.”
She compares Australia to Canada, which has extensive funding for games development. “Canada is No.3 in the world when it comes to games development, and it has a similar population to us [35 million compared to 23 million]. The difference is that in Canada the industry has government support, where as that’s just not happening here.
“We could be doing a whole lot more,” she adds.
One of the killer trends in gaming is the rise of virtual, augmented and mixed reality driven by the blockbuster success of Pokemon Go earlier this year. Dr Raynes-Goldie predicts those trends will have a major impact not only on gaming, but also on the workplace.
The direction for work is increasingly freelance, she notes, with up to 40 per cent of US workers taking part in what is known as the “gig economy” over the next five years. Australia will not lag far behind. The rise of co-working spaces has alleviated some of the problems associated with isolation and collaboration when it comes to freelance, but there is also the problem of collaboration with people who are not in the room, but are part of the gig of the moment.
By using augmented and virtual reality, says Dr Raynes-Goldie, freelance workers will be able to collaborate on jobs as if they are in the same room, rather than working on shared documents.
“One of the challenges of remote working is presence,” she says. “VR will enable people to collaborate as if they are in the same room, working on the same job at the same time,” she says. “It will allow for location independence and further push the gig economy.”
And as to whether games, VR or otherwise are art, she answers in the affirmative. “If a game can make you feel something, then it qualifies as art,” she says.