During National Mentorship Month, it’s especially important to show those underrepresented that they can turn passions into careers.
The video game industry is brimming with creative people—and successful ones at that, as they’re part of a $43.4B industry. As that industry continues to grow, it is critically important that the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and lifestyles of those who play games are represented by the people who make them. Just as one example, 46% of video game players are women, yet they comprise just 22% of the industry’s workforce. Thankfully, that is starting to change.
Today, an increasing number of girls are exploring career opportunities in the video game industry. In fact, girls who play video games are three times more likely to pursue a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree than non-video game players. And 30% of students enrolled in video game design and development programs are female — almost double the female participation in other STEM programs.
But there’s a large puzzle piece needed to ensure that girls and other underrepresented individuals not only pursue careers in STEM programs but stay in them and thrive: mentorship. January is National Mentorship Month, and I’m the executive director of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Foundation, which provides underrepresented students aspiring to enter the industry with scholarships.
So I believe it’s especially important to recognize the invaluable role mentors can play. Mentorship is also a necessary component to ensuring we continue to develop a diverse and talented industry.
In fact, I’m so impressed with how mentorship has both nurtured and been paid forward in our scholars’ lives that I’d like to share what a few of them have to say about their own experiences.
Lauren Choi, freshman, Brown University
Last summer, I attended Girls Make Games, a game development camp for girls ages 8-18. It was an amazing experience, and I enjoyed it so much that I came back as a counselor where my official role was to teach camp curriculum. However, I ended up learning from the girls just as much as they did from me. I learned girls’ imaginations are endless. I learned game research is essential. I learned debugging is always better with snacks, and I learned pirate dinosaurs are a very valid (and very scary) enemy.
At the end of three weeks, I left camp feeling incredibly proud and inspired. It was so amazing watching the girls bring their ideas to life, and I loved having the privilege of passing on the torch to such a bright generation. Ultimately, I learned the secret to game development isn’t fancy software or a big budget — all you need is enthusiasm, positivity, and a genuine love for making games.
Alexis Lambert, senior, University of Central Florida
I’ve been working in a mentor capacity for incoming interns for Lockheed Martin, where I am working in Augmented Reality applications. This has really allowed me to meet a lot of students I wouldn’t have otherwise talked to and share my experiences as a game design and computer science student, as well as an intern handling a full-time workload. I really enjoy giving tips on how to handle work and school, as well as which classes to take since I had gone through a longer process than most.
I also have a co-worker who went to the University of Central Florida’s graduate game design program that I look up to for career mentorship. He’s very task-oriented and modest about his achievements, which I appreciate. I go to him first every time I have trouble with a project that I can’t get past, and we will sit down and whiteboard it out until we come up with a solution that will be efficient for the team to use. I appreciate the honesty and easy flow of communication in our relationship.
Darcy Gutierrez, freshman, New York University
I’m currently teaching high school students game design at a weekend and afterschool program called School of Interactive Arts. I’m working with the game studio class where a group of students comes together to work on their very own project. I also help with scholarship advising, telling them about amazing foundations like the ESA Foundation. My students mean the world to me. It’s so great to see them in the same seats I was in not that long ago. They are so amazingly talented and passionate about the industry. Mentorship is so inspiring to me because I get to see these students become better and better every single time I see them.
When mentoring others, I often reiterate one of my favorite mantras: “If you see it, and you can be it.” A mentor, particularly in underrepresented students’ lives, can be crucial to seeing ways to navigate challenges and opportunities. Leading by example can show them how it is possible to transform their passions into careers. Building confidence and excitement can help them realize they, too, might have a place in an industry where they’re underrepresented. I encourage my fellow professionals to serve as mentors or seek out a mentor and show us all what our industries can be when we represent the diversity of the communities we serve.