Fresh out of high school, Aoba Suzukaze lands a dream job at the game studio she’s admired since childhood, Eagle Jump. Clearly the studio saw a spark of the exceptional, hiring her off the bat with no apparent experience in game design, something unimaginable here in England, or the further western world for that matter. Set as part of a wider environment that has a near institutionalised distrust of women’s abilities, the occasional gender-political duality of the portrayal of women in shonen has appeared as a fixture of yet another new season, calling back to our exploration of the springtime series Bakuon!! and sisterhood as seen through shonen.
In New Game!, the all-girl company is an empowering fantasy striking a chord with any girl who’s been dismissed as ‘faking’ their fandom. But even so, the fact remains that our protagonist is a cute, bumbling waif, bound to make lots of charming slip-ups for a presumed straight male audience. Shizuku Hazuki, the design department’s director, has a platonic interest in cute girls, which goes some way to explain how the design floor came to be populated by women. But outside of being a pretty glimpse into a fairly improbable microcosm for geek guys, it’s difficult to find any practical substance in the show.
Now, we’re not saying that its all-girl milieu would be impossible. For a start, there are movements like Girls Make Games and Girls Who Code letting girls come together to design and develop their own games. But it’s highly unlikely factoring in our current society’s wider population, especially where the male:female workers ratio in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers is concerned. Even taking into account that Japanese businesses hire post-graduates en masse, Aoba’s sheer dumb luck is a ridiculous notion. In a field where women make up less than 12% of the worldwide workforce, she couldn’t have dreamed of jumping straight in at what seems like a AAA-level studio in Eagle Jump’s case. Any young button-masher would have the most minute chance of actually achieving that feat, even if they had a basic grasp of programming from their high school years.
More on Japanese attitudes later, but speaking from a strictly British perspective, people considering their career paths and going to university are being deterred from courses and vocations in and around Aoba’s new field. There’s a dire lack of encouragement as to what paths can be taken in the STEM sectors, with Engineering perpetuated as a load of low paid blokes standing around in hard hats, hi-vis and pouring rain on roadworks and construction sites. And for women in particular, these fields are trapped in a perception cycle of being dominated by the kind of men whose views on women could be politely described as prehistoric. When not considered a distraction by male colleagues, women are being subjected to objectifying, demeaning and condescending behaviour that all too often drives them out of their chosen vocation. Even though things were looking up where representation in schools and universities was concerned, with figures of girls taking computing at A-Level in the UK doubling from 2013 to 2015, there was a 5% drop in women graduating from STEM degrees last year. And even still, girls as young as eight aren’t having their minds opened to the possibility of a job in science or technology, with such subjects seen as favouring the abilities of the ‘practical, right-brained’ boys in their class.