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Even Apple Gaming Apps Reveal Tech is Still a Boy’s World

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Data & Technology
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The technology sector has long been a man’s world, even as Silicon Valley has evolved from the era of slide rules to, now, smartphones. But at a time when women have more discretionary income and have more influence on purchasing decisions than ever before, the bias against women within the technology industry comes across at the least as odd, and at the worst as medieval.

Organizations such as Girls Who Code are working to close the gender gap within the engineering and high-tech industries — but the battle is proving to be a difficult one as the percentage of women studying computer science has fallen by two-thirds over the past 30 years.

But while the technology sector likes to present itself as enlightened and progressive, more needs to be done than plonking foosball tables in an office hallway or offering employees free lunch. Sexist attitudes within the industry are hardly uncommon, as many tech companies have a reputation for burning out women. The evidence suggests these trends start at an early age. Now a 12-year-old girl, who recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, shows how bias against women is even showing up in games available in Apple’s App Store.

Madeline Messer is a sixth-grade student who, like many kids her age, loves to play video games. She realized some her favorite games only offered boy characters or avatars, and then she did more research. After studying the top 50 "endless running games" in the App Store, which include top titles like "Temple Run" and "Jackpot Joyride," Messer found that less than half offered female characters. Even worse: If female characters were available, users were often required to pay for them.

Of the top 50 endless runner games available, the average price for a female character was US$7.53 — a pretty hefty sum in the world of apps, and 29 times more than what the 12-year-old paid for an average app on her phone. That sum, of course, applied if the games even offered a girl character at all. And in one particularly odd instance, a popular game targeted at women and girls, “Angry Gran Run,” offered a large number of boy characters.

So, what did she conclude when she tallied up the numbers and found only 46 percent of the top gaming apps have female characters?

“These biases affect young girls like me. The lack of girl characters implies that girls are not equal to boys and they don’t deserve characters that look like them. I am a girl; I prefer being a girl in these games. I do not want to pay to be a girl," Messer wrote in the Washington Post last week.

In the world of apps, Messer’s experience is just the tip of the iceberg. For a company that claims it rigorously vets its apps, somehow “Plastic Surgery Doctor & Plastic Hospital Office for Barbie Version” made it to the App Store before outrage drove Apple to quickly remove the game. Other apps, such as Lulu and Skinny Cam, feed the notion that women want little more than venues to obsess over weight or carry on catty gossip.

Surely Apple and the rest of the tech sector can do better. After all, we’re talking about opportunities and fair treatment for our mothers, sisters and daughters.

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye