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Women

A panelist of women discuss their experiences in Madison's gaming industry at a Women in Tech event in 2016.

A newcomer to Madison’s growing video game scene is trying to forge a support network for those in the industry who identify as women, non-binary, femmes or girls.

Madison FemDev will hold its first meeting at Cool Beans Coffee Cafe, 1748 Eagen Road, at 7 p.m Wednesday. According to founder Katherine Stull, the young group will promote mentorship, networking, and creative partnerships among those who may feel isolated or intimidated in a male-dominated industry.

“I thought about how less intimidated I would have been to get into games if I had known how many women were out there,” said Stull, who also serves as the community manager for Human Head Studios on Madison’s north side.

Stull is a self-described “spring chicken” — she just arrived in Madison last year after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she studied game design and development.

She said she was one of a few women in the program. That isolating experience, along with her stint in video games journalism, stuck with her.

“When I did e-sports journalism, my author photo would be attached to (articles),” she said. “People would comment on my physical appearance, not the content I was submitting.”

The skewed gender representation of the video games industry is well-documented. In a 2016 survey, the International Game Developers Association found that about 72 percent of those in the business identified as men, compared to 22 percent who identified as women.

More broadly, video game culture has had a history of sexism. In 2014, women in games journalism and development were subject to a glut of harassment and threats on social media during the online imbroglio Gamergate. A growing body of research has established that women are disproportionately harassed and targeted in online gaming.

“You get on the microphone, and someone hears your voice, you’ll get all kinds of misogynistic comments,” said Stull.

FemDev is still very young and Stull said that to a degree, the direction of the group will be determined by its members: “Our first meeting is going to be about what people want to get out of the group,” she said.

However, she hopes FemDev will give its members an opportunity to talk about the challenges they face in a space “where they’re not intimidated to be their true self.” She also hopes to create a more formalized system connecting newer entrants to the industry with mentors.

Stull also wants to make Fem Dev a source of creative energy and synergy; she plans on organizing some “game jams,” events where developers create a new game in a short amount of time, akin to the "48 Hour Film Project." She said she recently realized that she never once worked with another woman on a video game development project in college.

Stull said that the inaugural meeting is open to any women and girls in the industry, or who have in interest in video game development. She requested that men not attend in the interest of keeping the group “female-focused.”

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.