Girls in Games builds safe gaming community

The club provides a space for women and nonbinary people to enjoy video games.

Girls in Games encourages a diverse audience of gamers. The organization wants all gamers to feel welcome and enjoy the club’s camaraderie. (Sara Alvarado)

Women represent half of all gamers globally, yet the Game Developers Association reports that only 24% of game developers are women. Whether as a consumer or an employee, the white, male-dominated gaming industry can be an intimidating environment to enter.

USC Girls in Games is a student organization that has been changing perceptions around the gaming industry by providing a welcoming and safe space for anyone, especially women and nonbinary individuals, to enjoy video games both socially and professionally. People interested in gaming can join the club to learn how to play a video game, make friends and learn more about the gaming industry.

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Sarah Bautista, a senior majoring in psychology, serves as the current president of the Girls in Games club. As a longtime gamer, her involvement allowed her to embrace her hobby and connect with other gamers. She said the Girls in Games club fosters an important space with a diverse range of perspectives to the gaming industry and community.

“For me, joining as someone who joined to find a space where I could play video games with people, I think it’s really, really important that there is an emphasis on welcoming everyone, but specifically those who are underserved in the industry or in the space,” Bautista said.

Irene Park, a junior majoring in communication, is a board member and the graphic designer for the club. As a freshman spring admit two years ago, Park said she appreciated the welcoming environment the club provided as she adjusted to USC campus life.

“I feel like the gaming sphere really cultivates a toxic environment for men to thrive, or cis[gender] straight men [and] white men to thrive,” Park said. “It’s really difficult to be a woman in the gaming sphere, especially if you’re a woman of color. So it’s really important to have a space where women or minorities can feel safe.”

The Girls in Games club hosts social events like setting up in person contests and multiplayer mode games, as well as non-video game events such as painting and movie nights.

“A lot of our games are very team-based or cooperative or at least something that has good vibes,” Bautista said. “Something that is relaxing, that you can go and you’re not super stressed or competitive, creating that toxicity. It’s more of something to relax after classes and things like that.”

Bautista said video games are a source of childhood nostalgia and comfort. The Girls in Games club inspired her to let go of the guilt she used to harbor for liking video games in lieu of a conventionally productive hobby.

“Everyone has different hobbies,” Bautista said. “There’s people who like painting, people who like playing instruments. And video games [are] just another way to spend your time, to do something that makes you happy, something where you can connect with others. Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it’s any less meaningful.”

For those seeking to make a career for themselves in gaming, the club has bolstered its industry-related programming, such as guest speakers from companies like PlayStation and Insomniac Games to help club members foster professional connections. Trina Gregory,  faculty advisor of Girls in Games and Information Technology Program faculty member, said these professional events are a testament to the growing change in the industry and have the potential to pass on necessary information regarding awareness of diversity in gaming.

“It’s important to have women who are currently in the industry talk to our students and hopefully tell them what it’s like and tell them where it’s good and where it’s not good, so people are aware and hopefully things will get better,” Gregory said.

The Information Technology Program under Viterbi School of Engineering has connections to the computer science department and the School of Cinematic Arts. Gregory’s biggest hope is that the club shows students that there is a space for them in the industry if they want it.

“[The club] is beneficial for those who are underrepresented, or minorities in the community who want that space to feel more welcomed,” Bautista said. “It’s also beneficial for just men who want to recognize [that is] the case and helps [them] learn how to be a more welcoming gamer.”

Jasmine Lee, the club’s community engagement manager and a junior majoring in psychology, said she remembers male students asking if they could attend particular programs the club had arranged. Those instances give her hope that there are people working to be more aware of what behaviors can change within the gaming community.

“It’s really nice to see that there are people trying to understand and be more accommodating for others,” Lee said. “I also really appreciate the people that come in, they’re very — in comparison to the people you see online in games — they are very respectful, very welcoming, very polite.”

Whether a student is a casual player or a regular gamer, Girls in Games encourages its members to bring friends who are even just interested in learning how to play a game. They’ll teach everyone, no judgment attached.

“We have opportunities, we have a safe space [and] we have the people and the energy that you can invest your time in,” Lee said. “And you could also possibly make new friends along the way.”


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