One moment from Demo Day stands out. A girl had just imitated a Blobfish swimming, to explain why her team, The Mystery Squirrels, had selected the unusual-looking creature as its protagonist for their game, Detective Blobfish.
The room, which included senior leaders from PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo and Caffeine, shared a laugh. This moment exemplifies to me not only the joy in games themselves, but the way the industry came together around Girls Make Games.
When I had an idea to create a summer camp, where for three weeks, middle- and high-school aged girls could make their own games, I never dreamt of such a moment. Who could have thought that one day Executive VP of Gaming at Microsoft Phil Spencer, Executive VP of Business Affairs at Nintendo Devon Pritchard and Senior VP of Business Development at Caffeine Anna Sweet would come to PlayStation’s campus in San Mateo to celebrate girls in gaming? Moreover, that they’d join PlayStation President and CEO John Kodera, Chairman of Worldwide Studios Shawn Layden and Vice President of Product Development at Worldwide Studios Connie Booth in front of the PlayStation sign?
I know it happened, because I have proof.
When I started Girls Make Games four years ago, I thought of what it meant to have a home. A home is a place where you feel safe. You feel heard. You’re free to express yourself – or imitate blobfish. It’s a place where your thoughts, your ideas, your identity matters.
I grew up in a place that I could never call a home. For 18 years, my family lived on a visa tied to my father’s job in the UAE. And the people in the UAE had a term for folks like us, kharji, which literally translates to “outsider.”
There, in an Arabic country, I felt free inside my house and shackled on the outside. I lived in a place where expectations on me always wanted to limit me in who I was, what I could say, and what I could do.
Then one day, my family got the internet, and I suddenly had a portal into the world outside. I learned that it was possible to fulfill my dreams: to go to college, to start my own business, to empower other women to do the same.
Take the winning team this year, Team Sarcastic Shark Clouds. They created a game that took a multi-narrative approach to bullying, presenting the issue from both the victim’s and the bully’s perspective. They told me, “We never thought we’d win” and “We never thought our game was good enough.” Not only was it good enough to impress the industry experts, we’re going to make the full game over the next year and publish it on Steam and console.
It is my hope that Girls Make Games can provide the same validation and access to education – which is the best form of empowerment – to girls everywhere.
My father often says, “If you educate a girl, you educate a nation.” When I was a child, I never knew what that meant. Now, seeing so many young girls understand what they are capable of, and hearing so many leaders welcome their creativity and innovation, I’m beginning to understand what he meant.
Learn about the finalists and winning ideas on the Girls Make Games website.