Does it matter that a woman is in charge of Xbox?
Today Microsoft announced the reorganisation of many senior positions. Julie Larson-Green has been appointed the head of the new Devices and Studios Engineering Group which covers the Xbox platform and all other hardware and entertainment. She comes in with a wealth of experience having previously overseen the launch of Windows 7.
One detail I failed to mention is that Julie is a woman! Perhaps this goes without saying; however after the reveal of the PlayStation 4 back in February The Verge decried Sony for not having any women on stage. The key point being made by the author of the piece, Russell Brandom, was that according to the Entertainment Software Association 47 percent of gamers are women. However when it comes to the people working in the industry there is significantly less parity, the industry is dominated by men and women are underrepresented.
But for the average Xbox and PlayStation owner who is primarily concerned with gaming experiences does the gender of the person running the companies make a difference to the quality or content of the products they buy?
The average gamer might not care that a woman is in charge of Xbox, but Microsoft have openly expressed their desire to widen the demographic that they sell Xbox One consoles to. To do this they need women involved which requires a change in their business culture.
Console games, despite the increase of casual titles, are primarily targeted towards young male adults – hence the abundance of testosterone pumping FPS games like Call of Duty and Gears of War. Video game commentator Anita Sarkeesian has made a series of videos criticising sexism in video games including the archetypal trope of a male rescuing a helpless but beautiful female. Perhaps Larson-Green can influence Microsoft Game Studios to reverse these tropes, or release games with stronger female characters who can act as role models for young female gamers.
It can be argued that Nintendo succeeded most with creating a platform for inclusiveness with the Wii. Not because it’s games were deliberately targeted at women, but because it made games like Wii Sports that were made to be fun for everyone.
To make changes with the content of games there needs to be more women actually creating games and influencing the creative decisions. Larson-Green can be the catalyst. She has the power to make Microsoft more receptive to hiring female job applicants, perhaps by unofficial positive discrimination, perhaps by maturing the company culture. Is it important to Microsoft and Julie Larson-Green that there are more women in the gaming industry? Next time the Xbox or Surface division take to the stage to talk about their products count the number of female staff on stage and you will have your answer.