Growing video game opportunities enticing young women to look at careers in the industry

One way or another, Olivia Wilde was determined to turn her passion for video games into a career. Now she and other young women are trying to make their dreams come true.

Free program offered to students to learn how to develop video games is dominated by females

Olivia Wilde was ecstatic to know that she could potentially have a career in Winnipeg's game industry after taking a class to better understand how to bring her artwork and ideas to life. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

One way or another, Olivia Wilde was determined to turn her passion for video games into a career. Now she and other young women are trying to make their dreams come true.

"I've always been playing video games, so it was always something I've been interested in," said Wilde. "I always thought it was magic that made games and then I found out you can do it with computers and code and 3D modeling and I was just like wow, this is something I want to do."

Wilde is set to graduate from high school this spring, and enrolled in a program focused on exposing kids to working in the video game industry. She was one of 11 young women to enrol, compared to just one male student who signed up.

Through trials and tribulations, from sketches on paper to working with digital 3D animation programs, Wilde and her classmates each created their own games during the eight-session-long program.

For her project, Wilde built a game where her main character, a cat, runs around shooting floating eyeballs that appear on the screen. 

"It's so fun to just create a character from the ground up and then watch it come to life and animate it and texture it. It's just like your baby," she said.

Rebecca Harrison, the instructor for the video game development class and lead artist at Gallium, said she believes there is no difference in what men or women can do when to creating video game characters. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

Rebecca Harrison works for video game developer Gallium as a lead artist, and is the instructor of the program, which was created by New Media Manitoba and Creative Manitoba. Harrison said there are no limits to what women can create in the industry.

"There's no difference, you know it's like a girl can mix as much of an exquisite 3D model as a guy can … a guy can make a beautiful piece of art as much as a girl can," she said.

For Wilde, seeing people like Harrision being involved at this level and giving back provides more than a glimmer of hope.

"Just seeing and knowing that it's getting better and that there's more women going into this field makes me really happy because it's just like we can do it too," she said,

The math and high-level art that goes into video games can be daunting for someone looking to pursue a career, but with the resources now available, Harrison sees more youth wanting to be game creators.

"You had to know so much deep, deep code knowledge … there was no YouTube at the time, there were no tutorials, you had no one to ask," said Harrison. "Now with the internet and and things becoming easier and easier anyone can can make their own game."

Teenagers like Wilde are taking advantage of the developing technology around them and wanting to use it to foster careers.

"We have 3D printers at my school … and I taught myself how to print things on them.… When I found this, which is 3D modeling, which also happened to line up for video games, I went crazy," said Wilde.

But as Harrison points out, playing sleight of hand with tech isn't the only way to have a career in the industry.

"We tried to give the students a really good baseline for for any direction they want to choose — be it making the models of the characters themselves, doing the 3D animation in a computer or creating levels for video games. We tried to really hit all the bases," she said.

Jasmine Beaucage was in awe of her ability to make a character sketch slowly come to life through 3D animation. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

Jasmine Beaucage, 17, who made the near hour-long trip from Grunthal, Man., was enticed by the opportunity to showcase her artwork.

"I don't play a lot of video games, but I still had a lot of fun developing the characters and it didn't actually prove to be a very big problem," she said.

Beaucage was taken aback when she was able to bring her sketches to life.

"Figuring out the functions and getting something from my head to the computer … and figuring out moving something is different," she said.

A handful of the characters the class sketched and made come to life in their video games. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

The teenager said understanding the application of digital arts is unique, and could become more popular if it was showcased to more students.

"I didn't realize how useful having knowledge of just working on a computer, how useful it would be or couldn't be and where we use it," said Beaucage.

Increasing education

Jan Skene, manager of Creative Manitoba's youth mentorship program, says the innate knowledge students have of technology nowadays could be paired easily with art to form a career.

"It's just part of their DNA now," she said. "They go, 'If I can put this on paper, I can put this into something digital. If I put this into something digital, someone will be able to play it.' They know it can happen."

Jan Skene with Creative Manitoba feels the addition of Ubisoft to Winnipeg's gaming industry has created more interest in youth wanting to pursue careers in the video game industry. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

Even if students don't necessarily want a career in the arts, Skene said she believes allowing more kids to see the development process is worthwhile.

"There's all kinds of ways that you can use your creative talents," said Skene. 

Developing Industry

Ubisoft, one of biggest video-game creators in the world, unveiled their Winnipeg Studios in January, announcing a plan to invest $35 million over the next five years.

Now, the chance to turn a dream into a possibility is more real than ever for people like Wilde who won't even need to relocate for a job.

"I was going to do this job no matter what. I just wanted it that bad. So now that those companies are starting to come in here I was so excited to find out because now it's like, I don't have to go far, I won't have to move away from home and it just harbours a lot more creativity out of the city, I think," said Wilde.

The program just wrapped up it second year, and by all accounts, Skene and others feel the industry in Manitoba is on the rise.

"We recognized the growing industry in Manitoba with Ubisoft coming in here … there's a lot of job opportunity for kids who have an interest and a talent for creating characters and creating any kind of Art and Design in New Media," said Skene.


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