Girls change gaming industry with hopes of getting games published

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- While almost 50 percent of gamers are women, less than 12 percent of those working in the industry are women. A summer camp, part of the program Girls Make Games, is aiming to change that, starting with the littlest gamers.

In many ways, the classroom inside the PlayStation campus in San Mateo looks like any other summer camp, full of glittery stickers and prizes to win for a job well done. But upon closer inspection, every girl, ranging from 8 to 17 years old, has a laptop and is eager to show off their summer's work -- learning how to make video games.

A sixth-grader named Ruhi Sathe shows off her game about time travel.

"It's about a girl named Aida who has to go back in time and prevent AI from taking over, which is what happens in the future."

Ninety-five percent of the games girls make have a strong female protagonist. But according to high school senior Jolie Fong, who designed the art for her team's game, it's more than just learning technical skills and storytelling.

"It's helped me with experience working with a team. Even though they can be frustrating at times, you have to force your way through."

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Laila Shabir is the creator of Girls Make Games and grew up in a boys' world as a kid in the United Arab Emirates.

Equally as impressive is the program's creator, Laila Shabir, whose childhood was very different than most kids in the United States. The daughter of Pakistani immigrants, she grew up in the United Arab Emirates.

"I wasn't allowed to do a lot of basic things, even go outside and play while I really badly wanted to. I wanted to go to the arcade, but it was one of the things girls didn't do."

After encouragement from her parents to pursue her passions, Laila went on to graduate from MIT and start making educational games for girls. She was discouraged to see how few females were in the industry.

"I would go to all these conventions and I didn't find women. I ended up with six boys on my team and I kept asking why there are no women. Everyone would say they didn't think girls played games or didn't want to make games."

So Laila set out to change that. Today, she's not only encouraging girls to play, but to make the games with her company Girls Make Games. In its fifth summer, she's now getting attention from top industry professionals from Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo, who will judge the girls on their games. The girl with the best game gets it published for the entire world to play.

Jolie says a published game could kick off her career and help with college.

"People would consider me because I made a successful game with the art. I could get hired and it could open up more jobs and careers," she said.

The girls find out Saturday if they make the finals for a chance for their game to be published.

There are Girls Make Games events and programs all throughout the year, and you can learn more about them here.
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