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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

April 22, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Q&A: Student designs video game to combat sexism

Lauren Suna, a sophomore emerging media major, developed a game in her 2D Game Development course to combat workplace sexism. Suna is presenting her game, Mysagony, as well as her research on women in gaming and technology, at the Whalen Symposium on April 12.

Opinion Editor Meaghan McElroy spoke to Suna about the game, her experiences with sexism and her plans for the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Meaghan McElroy: You made a game to combat … sexism in the workplace. Where did the idea for that come from?

Lauren Suna: It came from my own personal experience with having dealt with both sexism and imposter syndrome in school. It’s kind of worrying me what’ll happen when I’m outside of the safe haven of IC — what’s going to happen, and who will I be working with? I decided to make a game to combat that.

MM: Can you walk me through how the game works?

LS: Essentially, the game is a conversation simulator. You’re [a woman] who’s trying to apply to be CEO of this technology company, and this guy is essentially trying to knock you down by saying, “No, you’re never going to do this, you’re awful,” and you’re responding to this. You have a notconfidentatall answer, a somewhat confident answer and confident answer option, so if you say the confident or somewhat confident answer, you start gaining confidence points. When you start gaining these points, it creates a dopamine loop, which essentially has people cheering you on. It’s pretty simple. … How you respond changes, too. The more confident you’re answering, the more confident your answer [options] become over time.

MM: You said you’ve had experience with sexism in the workplace yourself?

LS: Not in the workplace necessarily, but in high school computer sciencerelated and engineering courses. I took robots back in high school, where I was one of two girls, and that environment ended up being not good for me. I had a lot of guys saying that, for one, I should just not touch the robots at all, so I kept bouncing around from team to team. … I had guys saying I just couldn’t do math, how could I pass the fifth grade — it was just a lot.

MM: So did you lend from personal experience when making this game?

LS: Part of it was inspired by personal experience. I’m the president of Women in Computing, but when I was making this game, I was the travel coordinator, and I did a lot of research on microaggressions women have faced in the workplace in the tech industry. One example would be James Damore. He got fired from Google for writing a 10-page anti-diversity memo on how women can’t work in STEM due to biological differences that just make them inherently not good at math. There are people like him, there’s the fact that the retention rate for women in technology’s only at 47 percent, 1 in 5 computer science undergrads are women, the gender gap is increasing rather than decreasing, which means less women are going into the field. It’s improving somewhat — at school, I don’t really see it — but when you’re outside of this bubble, it’s definitely there.

MM: Touching on your research — you’re presenting on your game at the Whalen Symposium this week. How did this turn from a game to a research project?

LS: I’ve been learning about games as teaching tools for a while, so I’ve always wanted to make games as a teaching tool to change people’s perspective on things. Games naturally put people into an immersive environment that relies on problemsolving, and you play as someone else, so that literally means you’re in someone else’s shoes and in their situation. So I was thinking, what if men saw what sexism was like in the workplace? How would they react to that? How would they react to getting blatantly sexist comments thrown at them when they’d never get that in their real life because of their gender? Something I’d like to do with a game like this is test it out on men and see what their perceptions are of women in technology before playing this and what their perceptions are after.

MM: What are your plans for the future of this game?

LS: I’m actually going to put this game aside after Whalen. I’m going to actually try and move on to a new game project to combat the fact that there are no genderneutral bathrooms in Park. … I don’t think I’m putting [the game] out there right now because I really only put two and a half weeks into development and I could do a much better job.

Meaghan McElroy can be reached at mmcelroy@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meaghan_mcelroy