The Australian game industry is thriving, but only for some. In 2015-16, it raked in $114.9 million dollars and employed 842 people, no small feat for a largely indie-based industry. But despite 49% of Aussie gamers identifying as women, they make up only 19% of the people working on our games.

It’s a gap that Ally McLean, project lead at Sydney indie studio Robot House and founder of The Working Lunch, a mentorship program for entry-level women in the industry, is eager to close.

“One of the first things I found when starting in the industry was that I’d meet women who while not even formally mentoring me, would introduce me to aspects of the industry I didn’t know,” Ally said.

“[They] got me into doors, rooms that changed my life… [The Working Lunch is about] creating that environment, something beyond meeting someone at a networking event. Something more meaningful.”

Armello, programmed by Melbourne studio League Of Geeks. (Image credit: Steam/League Of Geeks)

From the way female journalists were targeted with abuse during 2014’s Gamergate to how female characters are usually portrayed in video games with a body in place of a personality, gaming culture has a well-accounted problem with sexism, not to mention race. Australia is no exception.

It’s a multi-pronged problem, one which you can trace to the lack of women in STEM tertiary studies and an ongoing cultural persistence that “real” gamers are, well, something like this:

(Image credit: South Park)

While the cultural attitude is shifting (and the critical and commercial success of games like Mass Effect: Andromeda and The Last Of Us show that there is a market for fleshed-out female protagonists), it’s clear that the lack of women in the gaming industry only eggs on this stereotypical gamer-bro culture. And that turns women off from either entering or continuing to work in the industry. So the cycle continues.

Enter The Working Lunch, funded by the IGEA, Aus’s and NZ’s Interactive Games and Entertainment Association. Rather than focus on just game design or engineering, The Working Lunch is for entry-level women working across the industry.

Ninja Pizza Girl, designed by Nicole Stark of NSW based Disparity Games. (Image Credit: NintendoToday.com/Disparity Games)

The dozen or so mentors cover the spectrum of Aussie gaming jobs, ranging from designers and engineers like Ally to women working in games PR, communications, law, public policy and journalism, including Stephanie Bendixsen aka Hex of ScreenPlay and Good Game and IGN Games and Entertainment Editor Lucy O’Brien.

“We wanted to make sure that entry level women see their breadth of opportunities,” says Ally.

“From my experiences, you can think you’re passionate about one thing but then you meet people doing one of the trillions things you have to do within game development and find a passion and excitement you never knew you had.”

Intergalactic Space Princess, created by Izzy Gramp, Cherie Davidson & Allison Walker. (Image Credit: Intergalactic Space Princess)

Since launching, Ally has received more than 100 applications for the mentoring program, and despite the first vetting process closing, they keep coming in. Officially, workshops begin in Feb, though the participants and mentors have already met on what sounded like a super cute night.

“The reception’s been really great,” she says. “There’s a real thirst, particularly within the Australian indie scene, for entry-level women. I’ve been blown away by the quality rounds of applications.”

Ally describes the workshops as a combination of “hard and soft skills”, ranging from freelancing 101 and project management skills to tips for self-care under pressure and working out how to network without hiding your personality to fit in. Essentially, just how to navigate an industry that, for the moment, remains a bit of a boys club.

Need For Speed: No Limits, designed by Erin Dupuy of Firemonkeys Studios. (Image credit: Google Play/EA Games)

“I wish someone had been able to teach me that when I started out,” says Ally.

Thankfully, The Working Lunch isn’t just the latest of initiatives looking to change our gaming industry. Groups like Girl Geek Academy and #SheHacks offer programs, workshops and mentoring programs for STEM and startup skills. In addition, earlier this year Film Victoria announced a $140,000 Women In Games scholarship program, while TAFE NSW‘s Jobs Of Tomorrow scholarship program offers $1000 per student for select courses, including the Cert IV in digi and interactive games.

In the past few years, Australia’s come a long way in addressing the lack of women in gaming. Back in 2011-2012 FY, only 8.7% of the industry identified as female. But given the public awareness of issues around representation and the creation of active support networks and opportunities, the number of both women in the industry and bold, inventive Australian-made games will only continue to rise.

(Image credit: The Gardens Between/The Voxel Agents)