Adonis Diaries

Female Game Developer: Self-Taught mother Reine Abbas from Lebanon

Posted on: April 12, 2015

 

 

Female Game Developer: Self-Taught mother Reine Abbas from Lebanon

Taking the industry by storm?

When you think of the tech boom, the Arab world doesn’t necessarily first come to mind.

You think of Silicon Valley, or a the most Silicon Beach, aka Santa Monica.

But despite the majority of media portrayals of that part of the world, Arab countries are making their mark in the technology field in significant ways.

But it’s not just certain regions that are dispelling myths, it is also a certain gender.

Traditionally the tech and gaming industries have been dominated by men.

But in more recent years the gender balance has changed drastically and the industry has seen a huge influx of women gamers as well as developers.

Self-Taught Female Game Developer From Lebanon Taking The Industry By Storm

reine-abbas

A recent report from the UK states that more women play games than men in that country.

In the US women are now at 48% of the game-playing population. What does this mean for developers? It means they need to be able to create games that cater to half their audience, where as before women were only seen as a niche market.

While female game developers have had a tough time in the limelight recently with the whole Gamergate scandal, if anything it has proven the ugly truth about this industry: that it needs more women in order for their presence not to be so polarizing and controversial.

A 2014 report showed that women make up 22% of game developers worldwide, a figure that has doubled since 2009. If the trend is anything to go by, this number is only going to increase.

One woman who has been quietly going under the radar of mainstream media for a while now is game developer Reine Abbas.

And yes, she is female game developer. She is from Lebanon, and is considered one of the top 5 most powerful women in gaming according to Inc.com.

Together with two founding partners she created Wixel Studios in 2008 which has since seen the launch of several successful video games. Wixel Studios is also one of Lebanon’s first gaming companies.

One of their more recent games is ‘Survival Race: Life or Power Plants’, available for iOS and Android, and centers on a post-global warming Middle East with two unlikely Arab heroes: Salem, the young Saudi wheelie stunt champion and Abu Ahmad, a middle-aged botanist.

Another game called ‘Little Heroes, Big Deeds’ is an “edutainment” tool for children.

In an interview with Al Arabiya, Reine says she didn’t like the disproportionate amount of women not being represented in the gaming world and decided to change that.

The visual artist and self-taught developer said “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t like these numbers’.”

“Lots of people say women don’t step forward, we don’t attend meetings, we get scared, we get married and have kids,” she said.

“[But] we weren’t born like that. For me, and according to studies, it’s how girls are raised.”

She says the culture in many Arab countries gives social cues to girls from an early age to disengage with any activity that requires critical thinking.

reine-abbas

“Most of the activities belonging to girls are boring, they’re not challenging. Boys are pushed toward activities where they have to get their brain working,” the mother of 3 said.

Reine believes one of the root problems is that many educational toys have a bias toward boys which is part of the reason the tech field is male-dominated today.

Thank goodness for toy companies like Goldieblox and initiatives like Girls Who Code which are working to change the ratio.

“I was in a park [once],” Reine recalled to Al Arabiya. “There was a mother and a little girl. The girl was climbing a small tree, then the mother yelled, ‘get down! You’re a girl! You can’t climb a tree.’ I wanted to tell her, ‘you can’t tell her this. What do you want her to do, play around with make up all day?”

She is doing her part to range the ratio for her community, by offering workshops and speaking at conferences to urge more mothers to allow their daughters to get interested in tech and gaming.

“One mother, with two girls – they’re great, very smart, good at physics – I asked her to send them to our workshop on gaming. “She said no, then I told her it’s for free. ‘No, even if it’s free, they have their ballet classes’.”

So far she has given talks in Tunisia and will be traveling to Germany to give more.

One of the biggest ways she challenged the men who work with her was by showing them she could have children and still run a successful company.

“It wasn’t easy for them to see me pregnant. They thought, ‘she’s in pain, maybe she’ll stop work’. I saw it with the clients. Their eyes would get bigger. It was challenging, sometimes frustrating to prove that you can do it. You have to make double the effort to show that you can do both.”

Overall her partners were supportive of her and they managed to make it work.

Her somewhat revolutionary mindset in her career was reflected in a TEDx Talk she gave in 2011 where she spoke about a video game her and her husband created which stopped a violent street conflict in its tracks.

They were driving in a strife-ridden area and were trapped by burning cars from all sides at one point. Their obvious choices were to either fight with the angry men on the streets or fight against them.

They chose a third option, and that was to create a video game for these men called Duma.

What happened next might surprise you, but after hearing her speak (be sure to click the Closed Captioning tab) you will understand why this woman is a force to be reckoned with in the gaming world and is representative of a generation of women not afraid to defeat the odds when it comes to doing something they love.

Joanna Choukeir Hojeily and Patsy Z shared this link on FB this April 12, 2015.
Self-Taught Female Game Developer From Lebanon Taking The Industry By Storm.
Reine Abbas is considered one of the top 5 most important women in…
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