While many now understand that science, technology, engineering, art, and math education, or STEAM, is important to the success of the video game industry, it’s critical to creating meaningful opportunities for marginalized people.
On the second day of GamesBeat Summit 2021, Stanley Pierre-Louis, CEO of the game industry trade group the Entertainment Software Association, spoke to Yvette Clark, U.S. Congresswoman from New York’s 9th District, and Laila Shabir, co-founder and CEO of Girls Make Games, to talk about how STEAM education is critical to development in the games industry — as well as to our national and global economy and the creation of new opportunities for advancement into the workforce, especially for women and racialized individuals.
“Video games play a key role in spurring interest in STEM,” said Pierre-Louis. “And learning game-making skills creates career opportunities in a broad array of STEM and STEAM fields, because video games and arts and sciences produce skills that are highly desirable in adjacent fields like aerospace, coding, and more.”
Clark believes in smart technology helping communities create sustainable, resilient, and livable lives, and she works to ensure that no communities are left behind.
“At the heart of everything that we’re trying to accomplish in Washington D.C. is equity,” Clark said. “That means assuring equitable access to a quality education in the STEAM field, and the career and entrepreneurial opportunities that it leads to, which are essential for not only ensuring American competitiveness in the economy, but also to make sure that our nation is prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century.”
In this new evolution of the industrial age, all roads lead to tech, innovation, and artistic ability, she said, and the sweet spot of those skills is STEAM education. It’s estimated that 3.5 million STEAM and STEM jobs will be needed to be filled by the year 2025. Combating disparities and removing barriers to equitable opportunities are a top priority for Clark in Congress.
“If we’re going to indeed pursue an equity and inclusive agenda, so much of that is within the domain of the private sector,” she said. “We can, through government, create pathways and corridors, incentives for the private sector to partner with us in making sure that every American, regardless of race, sexual orientation, home of origin, has an ability to access opportunities.”
Shabir, born in Pakistan, raised in the United Arab Emirates, and a graduate of MIT, warns that it’s important to reflect on where people come from, because that shapes who they become and how they view the world. Her pathway to Girls Make Games speaks to her commitment to give back while looking to build the next generation of innovators. She’s set a personal goal of teaching one million girls how to make games through her work.
It’s vital to empower youth in two ways. The first in making sure they are digitally ready, which means everyone should be tech literate as they grow up, with computer science as essential as English and history.
“It’s important to speak the language that the future is going to be built on,” Shabir said. “And it’s important to teach kids that anything and everything they can dream of, that they want to do, is possible and is within them.”
It’s also essential give them not only technical skills, but the confidence and internal assurance that says, no matter the challenges, no matter the problems, I can come up with a solution myself. That’s what Girls Make Games focuses on, the validation and the technical skills, she adds.
Girls Makes Games came from her own struggles, while founding a game studio, to find qualified women to fill the necessary positions.
“I was recruiting for my studio and I couldn’t find women,” she said. “This was at a time when I was new to the industry, so I had no idea what the gender gap was like. The deeper I looked, the more I uncovered. Essentially, people came back and said, girls don’t play games, or they’re not interested in games.”
As she was designing an educational game with her husband, she decided she wanted to build an equitable educational solution that all genders could enjoy. At the end of the first Girls Build Games summer camp, it was obvious to her that a place where girls could gather and talk about their interest in STEAM and games helped fill that need. Seven years out, that summer camp is still ongoing, with a virtual program and workshops expanding to nearly 100 cities worldwide.
Organizations that are interested in recruiting and investing in this next generation of innovators and creators, particularly from underrepresented communities, need to stop talking about it and do something about it, Clark said.
“In education, we need an all-around approach to providing diversity and inclusion,” she said. “Let us all wrap our arms around widening the aperture, so that [no matter] your demographics, where you live, where you were born, your economic circumstances, we provide portals, gateways, pathways, and corridors for those scientifically inclined, or those who just need the exposure and that spark of genius to get engaged to have access.”
“Women and girls can play an integral role given our lived experiences to help create solutions through gaming that can be applied in practical, everyday experiences,” Clark adds. “My hat is off to Laila and the work that she’s doing with girls and young folks who open the world of possibility for so many. Not only just in the gaming space, but in the overall educational space, the social space, and the ability to analyze the world around you.”