Between Local Equality Norms and Global Game Culture: Digital Gamers in Sweden

EKLUND QGCon 2015 headshotSPEAKER: Lina Eklund

The game industry is infamous for the low numbers of women and other minority groups in its workforce, a factor which appears to be globally universal (IGDA 2014). Discrimination together with long work hours and obligatory crunch are suggested as the primary explanations for this overrepresentation of white, heterosexual, able-bodied men (ibid.). In this presentation I explore the situation in Sweden where societal contextual factors should, theoretically, counter this situation. Foremost, Sweden has strict laws governing work time and secondly gender equality is a basic feature of the Swedish socialist welfare regime. However, despite this Sweden has similar proportion of women in the games industry as other western countries (Dataspelsbranschen, 2014). In this presentation I will attempt to show why this is the case and what we can learn from this in regards to inequality in video game culture.

Sweden is a country considered to be in the forefront in relation to the spread and adaptation of digital technology (Bilbao-Osorio, Dutta and Lanvin 2013). Internet use is extensive, basically everyone in the ages 12-65 have access. Digital games occupy a marked position in Sweden with 62% between ages 12-65 playing digital games (Findahl 2011). At the same time Sweden has, for its size, a large and stable game industry with a plethora of companies and game franchises tied to it; such as the Battlefield series from DICE, Minecraft from Mojang (recently sold to Microsoft for $2.5bn), or indie games such as Hotline Miami from Dennaton Games.

The Swedish socialist welfare state has a tradition of strong workers unions and thus a strictly regulated work life (Olsson & Ekdahl 2002). One basic principle of the Swedish state is gender equality, reflected in extensive policy support for more equally shared division of earning and caring responsibilities, and widespread egalitarian gender role attitudes in regard to work and care (Fahlén 2014). The country has a multi-party system and to date all party leaders, except the head of the Christian party, declares themselves as feminists. Despite this, only 16% of employees in the Swedish game industry are women (Dataspelsbranschen, 2014) and women spend less time than men playing games (Findahl 2011).

In this presentation I delve into the specific context in Sweden defined by a widespread investment in digital literacy, strong support for gender equality on a societal level, and developed work time laws. This along with many game design education programs has laid a foundation for a successful game industry with studios, big and small, both creating their own games and many under license for, predominately, American companies. As such I will discuss what happens when Swedish norms and values of gender equality and work ethics are confronted with American corporate structures and design values. For example a recent controversy surrounding the upcoming Mad Max game by Avalanche studios; resulted in a female developer quitting the company in protest against design demands made by the licensor Warner Bros. Finally, I will present a theory on why Sweden, despite widespread norms of gender equality, anti-discrimination laws, and work time regulations still sees so few women in the game industry.

Lina Eklund is a visiting scholar at the Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley. Lina’s research focuses on social life, relations, and gender issues in connection to digital technologies. She holds a PhD in sociology from Stockholm University and wrote her thesis on social aspects of digital gaming. Publications include: Bridging the online/offline divide: the example of digital gaming (2014), Played and designed sociality in a massive multiplayer online game (2013), and Doing Gender in Cyberspace: The performance of gender by female World of Warcraft players (2011). She is the primary investigator of the Stockholm Internet Research Group;