Yesterday and today I went back to my old high school (an all-girls school) and spoke to several classes about game development. They were really into it and asked really great questions, so I'd call it a success for sure.
One of the theories about the low number of women working in games is that it's just not on a lot of young girls' radars as a possibility. I found that to be the case here, as during QA time I turned it around and asked what about my presentation surprised them the most. Every single time, for the 8 classes I presented to, they said it was that they had no idea how many different people and roles it took to make a video game.
Seed planted. Mission accomplished!
I also learned a bunch of interesting things myself, which I will share. For the most part, each of the classes I spoke to were freshmen and sophomore girls (with one group of seniors thrown into one class). Usually the groups were between 20 and 30 girls, and I presented to 8 groups. Early on in my presentation, I polled them about who played video games and what sorts. Here are my findings:
1) In general, 99% of the girls played video games (maybe one or two groups had like 1 or 2 girls who didn't)
2) The majority of the girls played console games
3) PC games (like the Sims and MMOs) came in second for most show of hands
4) iPhone and cell phone games came in 3rd
5) Very VERY few of the girls played facebook games, even though they used facebook. This was probably the most startling finding for me, as I assumed that teenage girls would be big on facebook games. Not necessarily, it would seem! (in fact, many groaned in distaste when I asked if anyone played facebook games)
I was really impressed with how interested they were. My presentation was 2 parts, one was a summary of the general roles in game development (artists, programmers, designers, audio, producers). I explained the jobs and what they did, then showed a clip of Ratchet gameplay and diagrammed out where everyone had a hand in it.
The second part was about how I wound up as a game designer and my path after graduating high school. The theme of this section was "if you have no idea what you want to do with your life, don't worry, because it might take you 8 years to figure it out."
They asked really perceptive questions, the most popular being "how long does it take to make a video game" and "what's your favorite game," but a good variety of other ones. Again, I think my visit was a huge success, and maybe I'll make it a regular thing to go back and speak every few years.
Now to enjoy the rest of my vacation (and hopefully get rid of this cold!)