change the game
Credit: Google Play/YouTube

“Girls don’t play video games” is a wild myth that, to this day, still worms its way into so many male-dominated nerd spaces. According to a Google study, women and girls currently make up 50% of the mobile gaming population, a 10% increase from the past decade. Still, we are largely absent from many aspects of the industry.

Just how absent is pretty startling. Despite our notable presence in the gaming community, women still make up just 23% of those working in the gaming industry. That specific lack of inclusion reverberates throughout the landscape and is likely responsible for the lack of female characters and female-centered stories available to gamers.

There are many programs that aim to minimize that disparity; Girls Who Code is among the most well-known. But there’s another on the rise that’s aiming to bridge the gap between women and the mobile gaming industry. It’s called Change the Game, and it’s an initiative from Google Play.

Introduced in December 2017, Change the Game aims to highlight women in the gaming industry while empowering young girls with an interest in developing tech. This year, the initiative partnered with Girls Make Games to challenge thousands of teenage girls around the country to do what many thought wasn’t possible: design the mobile game of their dreams. Of all the entries, five young finalists were chosen, and now each of their games is available on Google Play for the world to experience.

One of those finalists was Lauren, a 17-year-old high school student from Birmingham, Alabama. She first learned of the contest via social media, and at the time wasn’t sure that game design was even something she was capable of doing—a very common misconception among young girls. “I didn’t think I could design an entire game by myself,” Lauren told HelloGiggles. “But over the next few days, I kept coming back to the idea.”

The idea eventually blossomed into Palette, a game that combines color theory with math and art history. Players are tasked with finding the right combination of colors to match famous paintings while learning historical facts about art along the way. She stumbled upon the idea after dealing with a dilemma that likely rings familiar with many artists:

After some substantial planning, Lauren came to realize that designing a game wasn’t nearly as daunting as she had initially assumed. In fact, she found the creative process rather enjoyable. “I had no idea if my game design was good, or if I was doing it correctly,” she said. “All I knew was that I’d discovered I loved game design, and that was enough for me.”

While creating Palette, Lauren wanted to prioritize a sense of accessibility for people at all levels of artistry. Essentially, she wanted her creation to have the same appeal to both the veteran painter and the person who has never picked up a paint brush before.

“I want players to realize that art is for everyone,” Lauren explained. “I’ve heard people say they aren’t ‘artsy enough’ to be an artist, and I hope Palette helps break those misconceptions. Anyone can create art—all it takes is some creativity and a little patience!”

In the end, Lauren joined four other gifted finalists: Erin, age 18; Christine, age 17; Dakota, and Lily, both age 14. All five finalists received an exclusive E3 Expo experience, where they got to showcase their designs and visit the Google L.A. office. Christine, who designed a side-scrolling platform game starring a shape-shifting girl, was named the grand prize winner. She earned a $10,000 college scholarship along with a $15,000 tech grant for her school.

The ultimate reward, however, is the opportunity to serve as proof of a changing industry, as well as inspiration for young girls who never dared to imagine a future in tech. We’re witnessing more of a concentrated push for young women to consider careers in STEM fields, and programs like Change the Game and Girls Make Games are actively putting them in the designer’s chair. These efforts are part of a sweeping movement that is laying the groundwork for what will ultimately be seen as a revolution in tech—one where women are present, thriving, and have true equity.

Lauren describes the look of genuine representation in gaming immaculately: “True equality is based on both numbers and actions, and I think the best metric will be seeing more women fulfilling different industry roles, women leading as executives, women supporting fellow developers, and women inspiring the next generation of girls in gaming.”