When Laila Shabir started her first Girls Make Games camp – a summer program designed to foster girls’ interest in careers in game design – the response she got from the parents of the kids who attended validated her effort on an emotional level.
“I wish this camp existed when I was little, I would be in a different place today,” wrote one mom. “My daughter came home the first day of camp and said, ‘Mom, I found my people!’” wrote another.
“It was obvious we’d hit a nerve,” says Shabir.
Shabir grew up in United Arab Emirates, where she says her parents “literally fought for my right to an education,” before eventually sending her to the U.S., where she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She went on to found an educational games company with her husband, but was dismayed to discover that it was almost impossible to find women applicants to fill key roles.
“When I brought up the lack of women to my team, I was met with ‘maybe girls just don’t like games?’ But I wasn’t convinced,” says Shabir.
Indeed, nearly 50 per cent of gamers are female, according to a study produced by the Entertainment Software Association, yet only 12 per cent of game industry employees are women.
“If we’re making educational games to empower children, I want them to reach all genders,” says Shabir.
That’s how the first Girls Make Games program came to be in the summer of 2014. “It was a testing ground for our hypotheses, a social lab of sorts,” says Shabir.
The first camp provided an introduction to game programming, game design, and animation. The program has since expanded to more than a dozen cities in the U.S. and Australia. Shabir’s students have made games in the White House, and received a standing ovation when they took the stage at the Independent Games Festival.
This weekend will mark the program’s Canadian debut. Thomson Reuters is sponsoring and hosting Girls Make Games workshops for kids aged 8 to 11 on Saturday, January 27th, and older girls aged 12 to 16 on Sunday, January 28th at its headquarters in downtown Toronto.