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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…
GirlTalkHQ

Arab Women Taking Over The International Tech Scene

Mark Khairallah shared this post by Zeina Tabbara

Zeina Tabbara posted on May 16, 2013: “3 Arab Women Taking Over The International Tech Scene

May 2013 has been a great month for three Arab women: littleBits founder Ayah Bdeir, Wixel Studios partner Reine Abbas and Instabeat founder Hind Hobeika. Internationally, they’re shifting perceptions of women in the startup tech industry.

1. Ayah Bdeir ranked 33 in Fast Company’s list of the “100 Most Creative People In Business 2013” by way of littleBits, the lego-like circuit boards that are a fast-growing phenomena for adults and children alike.

Ayah Bdeir in Fast Company

2. Reine Abbas is one of the five women in Inc. magazine’s recent article, “Meet the 5 Most Powerful Women in Gaming.”

With her partners at the Lebanon-based gaming company Wixel Studios, they are pioneering the creation of highly imaginative, Arabized games such as their recently launched title Survival Race: Life or Power Plants.

Reine Abbas in inc. magazine

3. Hind Hobeika’s swimming device Instabeat attaches to the side of goggles and keeps track of such metrics as heart rate, number of laps and calories.

Two years in the making, Hobeika is revolutionizing the swimming industry and is near to reaching her goal of raising $35,000 via her Indiegogo campaign. TechCrunch’s Editor-At-Large Mike Butcher featured Hind Hobeika and Instabeat in today’s article: “Instabeat Is Revolutionary HUD For Swimming Goggles You Can Back On Indiegogo.”

Sketches of a few speakers at TEDxBeirut by David Habchy

Note:  I have published 4 posts on TEDxBeirut. You may start with session One. https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/session-one-of-tedxbeirut-inspiration-regardless-of-lack-of-limitations/

The English version of the Lebanese “Daily Star” commented on TEDxBeirut conference held on Sept.24 at Berytech institute (Mkales): “It’s a surprising and impressive feat to get 19 speakers, four performers, a 27-member organization team, numerous volunteers (about 55 in all) and over 600 attendees into a lecture hall at 9 a.m. on a rainy Saturday morning, but TEDx Beirut achieved it.”

Daniel Habib & Tony Oudaim

Yorgui Teyrouz

Farid Younes

TEDx Staff

Michael Kouly

Katia Saleh

Ali M. Jaber

Mahmoud Natout

Farid Younes

Reine Abbas

Najat Rizk

Mazen Hajjar

Ziad Abichaker

Ziad Abichaker

Hassan Aziz

Arne Dietrich

Bassam Jalgha

Gilbert Doumit

Hala Fadel

Halim Madi

Joanna Choukeir

Andrew Bossone

Session 2 of TEDxBeirut: “From limitation to Inspiration”

My previous post on Session One was “Inspiration regardless of lack of limitations”.  I decided to be a tad generous today.

Note: You may read detailed info on 8 speakers on this post https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/mostly-a-hoax-from-limitation-to-inspiration-slogan-of-tedxbeirut/

Session 2

Sessions 2 and 3 were more inspiring. Still, the speakers didn’t exhibit great limitations to inspire us even more.

After the coffe-break at 11:40, a TEDx speaker was displayed on the vast screen.  Mat Cutt? was haranguing audience to adopting small sustainable changes for 30 days, such as trying to write enough every day to finally producing a novel of 50,000 words in 30 day.  The novel is a start, but you may claim to be an author…You might bike to work for a month and experience the changes in your work habit, or taking a single picture every day…

Ali Jaber, MBC’s director, took the stage at 12:20 (read details in the previous link).  Ali said that the Arab States have 1,100 TV stations with operating cost of over $ billion and generating $5.5 billion in ads…Ali was behind the project of acceding to 100 MBites for the students of the Arab American University in Dubai.  The university is linked to 148 US universities via internet and the students (70% enjoying grants) can follow varieties of courses on-line.

Ali Jaber is the only speaker, so far, who answered my request for feedback to the link I have emailed him.  This failure in responses prompted me to prepare an article titled “Culture of contempt: Misplacement in comprehending personal failure?”

Mazen Hajjar, a beer brewer, talked at 12:38.  He said that civilization used barley 9,000 years ago to make beer, while using barley for baking bread is just 3,000 years old.   In Europe, people drank beer because water was demonstrated not to be safe for drinking and caused illness.  Mazen explained 3 guideline to better tasting beer:

First,beer must be bottled in dark color glasses: light ruins the flavor and taste

Second, pour beer in a glass for full inhalation of aroma,

Third, keep beer warm for a better taste; better, drink it warm…I tasted Mazen’s beer at lunch break and liked it.
Clara Sfeir improvised a dance performance at (12:48).  Liliane Chlela produced and played the music for the dance.

Joanna Choukeir Hojeili talked at 1:00 pm. (Read link for further details on Joanna).  She talked about her idea “Imagination Studio”, a workshop planned for 30 youth who answered her innovative interview methods on October 1st.  The youth are from different Lebanese background, location, religion, culture…

The next day, Joanna received the all of 40 volunteer experts and professionals to aid in making the workshop a success. The workshop is to allow the youth of coming up with a practical project to implement as a collective group. Details on the outcome of the workshop is to transpire within 3 weeks.

Reine Abbas spoke at 1:11 pm. The story is Reine and her husband were driving and were caught in between two mass demonstrations, blocking the road, and putting fire on tires.  This terrifying event catalyzed Reine into designing a video game Douma.  Now, you may shoot at politicians and sectarian leader, using a vast array of fire arms. Within a couple of days, 12,000 tried the video game.

Reine had to resolve this dangerous societal trend: First, how to react to violence; second, how to keep kids off the streets; and having a good understanding of Lebanon’s “leaders”

Bassam Jalgha talked at 1:20.  He was wondering why we have no car manufacturing facilities…He learned to play on the OUD, an Arabic traditional musical instrument when he was 12, but he could not tune it.  Now, he invented an equipment for tuning his Oud. It took Bassam two years to develop that instrument for lack of appropriate hi-tech spare parts.  He went on to tune the oud and play a piece.

Gilber Doumit talked at 1:30.  He tried to explain politically engaged activist entrepreneurship… Sort of researching, packaging, and negotiating social and governmental programs..  Do I have a purpose in life? Can I influence on system level? How to negotiate responsibly, by adapting to government requirement, and pragmatically influencing political programs?

We adjourned for lunch break.  The menu didn’t change much: Croissant in varieties of forms and shapes, bouchees of meat, cheese, juices, Nescafe, beer, but no vegetables or fruits. I know several vegan and vegetarian people who were dying of hunger. Time to be flexible and adaptive to fast culinary requirement and exigencies…In any case, the third session, after lunch and no siesta, is usually doomed to be more on the dosing side, regardless of how inspirational a speaker is.  Sort of the speaker must learn clowning to attracting attention first…


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adonis49

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