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Computer game industry looks to women for fresh insights

By Mary K. Pratt
June 4, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Susie Wee knows that gaming technology is crucial to the corporate world. As director of the Mobile and Media Systems Lab at Hewlett-Packard Co., Wee worked on the companys Panoply project. Panoply uses technology to create an immersive visual display that wraps around the user. Developers run algorithms in real time through equipment from VoodooPC  a designer and manufacturer of high-performance gaming computer systems acquired by HP last year  to achieve color and geometric corrections that make a scene look real, Wee explains. Imagine a race-car game where the scenery you pass while driving is realistic and almost panoramic.

HP developed Panoply in part for its Halo Collaboration Studio, a face-to-face collaboration environment. Companies can buy Halo studios to hold meetings with people in various locations, with life-size displays and real-time audio. Wee says Panoply can also be used in military training exercises, scientific visualization, home theater and, yes, computer games.

Susie Wee
Susie Wee
Wee isnt the only woman making her mark in the male-dominated gaming field.

Jennifer Canada thought about a career as an opera singer. She also contemplated political work. But in college she got hooked on gaming, so shes now a level designer at Vicious Cycle Software Inc. in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Canada decides what events take place in each level of a video game: Does a fight happen? If so, how many enemies attack? Where does the player enter the space and encounter those enemies? Then she uses scripting to set all that up.

If the gaming industry wants to grow, it needs to attract more women like Wee and Canada. And thats good news for technology-minded women looking for more job options.

If we want to have [game] titles that reach a diverse audience, our workforce has to reflect that diversity, says Sheri Graner Ray, a game designer and developer at Sirenia Consulting in Austin and chairwoman of the steering committee of the nonprofit Women in Games International (WIGI).

The push for more female workers translates into opportunities for technologists who can bring new perspectives and story ideas to the games market, industry executives say.

And its an enticing area for tech workers. Game designers  both women and men  say the industry allows them to push technology in ways that they wouldnt be able to in corporate IT departments. They also have growing opportunities to use gaming technology in innovative ways, such as in so-called serious games  training software and other applications that bridge the gulf between gaming and corporate environments.

The hot technology is out there in the game industry, says Mike Zyda, director of the University of Southern Californias GamePipe Laboratory, which awards bachelors and masters degrees in game development.

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