Ladies first: Inside the first women-only game jam

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
Andrea Hasselager was one of three women who travelled from Copenhagen to take part in the game jam

At first glance, it was a game jam like any other.

Teams of developers, programmers and artists who had never met before, hunched over laptops, racing against the clock to create computer games from scratch in 24 hours.

With just four hours to go, thoughts about coding and graphics were frantically being exchanged over bowls of popcorn and strong coffee.

The only difference was that all the participants were women - and for that reason organisers Debbie Rawlings and Helen Kennedy believe the XX Game Jam held in east London at the end of October was the first of its kind in the UK.

"The whole idea of an all-female game jam is something I discussed a while ago," said Helen Kennedy, a founding member of a group called Women in Games.

"I took the idea out and pitched it for funding and they told me it couldn't be done, the whole format of a game jam was somehow too masculine to be done with just women. I thought that was a rather challenging thing to say as I don't believe in those sorts of categorisations."

Global demand

The pair certainly had no problem finding recruits for this event, held in the offices of Mind Candy, creators of Moshi Monsters.

"Within eight days of the registration going live we had filled 40 spaces," said Debbie Rawlings.

"We have a waiting list of about another 40 already so we could run another next week and I'm totally confident that would sell out too."

Three women travelled all the way from Copenhagen to take part.

Image caption,
Mind Candy, creators of Moshi Monsters, has both men and women on board

Andrea Hasselager, Nevin Eronde and Rositsa Deneva run game development workshops for teenage girls around the world, and decided to put themselves in their shoes for the weekend.

"The girls are really very interested - the thing is that maybe they've never been introduced to something like that before," said Ms Hasselager.

"Their games definitely have stories from their own lives - one group made a game about dating the cute guy from school, getting your chores done so fast so you can get to your date.

"Guys wouldn't make a game like that."

Sex appeal

Helen Kennedy also believes that a larger presence of women in the games industry will change the landscape of the games themselves.

She cites Maxis, creator of The Sims, and Mind Candy, whose Moshi Monsters have become a big hit among the under-12s, as two games developers with a good balance of men and women on board.

"If you have more women on your team, you might get a different dynamic in the workplace that might transform some of the decision making that happens," she said.

That's not to say that female characters would all suddenly start wearing sensible shoes and sports bras.

"Women like to make sexy women too," said Ms Kennedy.

"They might be less overly hyper-sexual, less passive, there might be more complicated characterisation, but women love active sexy women just as much as men do.

"It's the victim or passive wall-dressing that you get that women find rather repellent."

Lovelace legend

Image caption,
Most of the participants had never met before

The theme for games created at the XX Game Jam was clockwork, a nod to Ada Lovelace, the female mathematician credited with writing the world's first computer programs in the 1800s.

She worked with Charles Babbage, an inventor whose "difference engine", a complex calculation machine which he designed but never built, is now considered to be the earliest computer.

The women worked in teams of five and their games included clockwork crocodiles and android Grim Reapers.

"We're all helping each other out, solving each other's problems," said participant Jo Evershed.

"Tool challenges have been our biggest challenges, getting our computers working together, understanding each other's strengths and limitations.

"As always in all projects, it's the human bit that's the difficult bit."

The prizes for the winning team were tool kits - a nod to the masculine environment that women in the games industry find themselves in.

"I hardly ever see any women in my job," said developer Helen Mealey, who had only previously attended game jams as an online participant. "It's a nice change."

The XX Games Jam will also feature on Click Radio, BBC World Service, on 6 November.