Since its emergence in the late twentieth century, the digital game industry has proliferated both in regards to the games it offers and the consumers it attracts. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of players is 30 and women now make up 45% of players. Similarly, according to a 2005 report by the International Game Developer's Association (IGDA), the average age of the game workers surveyed was 31, with women comprising only 11.5% of the workforce.
Geek hasn't always enjoyed the cool reputation it has currently, and while many people these days might sink a few hours into Angry Birds, the stereotypical image of someone who makes gaming a hobby or obsession remains one of a white, male, socially under-skilled geek.
For geeks struggling with 'uncoolness' - whether or not they fit the stereotype - games offer an opportunity to play hero, as players masterfully manipulate their avatars to fight foes, beat levels and win the day. Geeks fortunate enough to land a job in game development can be a kind of hero in their daily lives as well, applying their determination and (ideally) creativity to bend code to their will in order to create compelling game worlds for others to enjoy.
As cool as game work might seem, overwork is rampant in the industry, with work weeks frequently consisting of 65 to 80 hours to meet production deadlines. Open letters from EA Spouse and Rockstar Spouse have criticized this culture of overwork for harming the health and well-being of workers and their families. Lizzie Haines's 2004 IGDA report and the work of a number of media scholars have further demonstrated that overwork functions as a barrier to those bearing care-giving responsibilities, particularly women. Game designer and former IGDA board member Erin Hoffman (formerly EA Spouse) has argued that the legacy of uncool geekiness may discourage workers from discussing quality of life issues out of guilt or fear of appearing uncool once again.
The heroes that pervade action movies and many games are self-made, autonomous figures who suffer in silence and get the job done. Perhaps it's time for us all, game workers or not, to heed Hoffman's call and rework our notions of heroism to attend to the ways in which our (in)actions are inextricable from a wider social system and confront the gendered, age-based politics of overwork.