Pakistani Gamers Want a Seat at the Table

4 days ago 23

At a Call of Duty tournament in Islamabad, Pakistan, an exasperated gamer stands up from his computer and demands that the player who keeps sniping him speak up. “Who is this ‘[email protected]’?” he bellows, referencing the player’s in-game name, his eyes scanning the room in furious anticipation—but what happens next turns his anger into embarrassment, for a diminutive young woman nervously raises her hand.

Now, more than 15 years later, Sadia Bashir, 33, recalls the encounter with a glint in her eye. “I was the only girl in a room full of boys, and the moment he saw me, he just sat back down again. I guess the thought of being killed by a girl really hurt his ego.”

At the time, Bashir was just a computer science major with a dream that she could somehow make a living in the mysterious world of video games. Now she is a game developer with her own studio in Islamabad and the founder and CEO of the Pixel Arts Gaming Academy, a technology incubator that brings gaming talent from all over the world to mentor a new generation of Pakistani game developers who want to create more diversified products for the international market.

But Bashir’s journey into the world of video game development has been anything but straightforward. She grew up in a household where money was always tight, which meant limited access to video games. There were no game consoles at home, and for the first 14 years of her life, her family did not own a computer. 

By the time she actually got to play a video game—Mario Kart on a friend’s Nintendo—she was already in the eighth grade. “That was like, mind is equals to blown,” she says, making the sign of a pistol against her head. “From that moment, I knew that there was something magical about video games. Everything else was so boring to me that I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

In conservative Pakistan, where the female literacy rate is 48 percent, Bashir’s choice of going to university was a milestone in itself. But the stigma of wanting to become a video game developer in a country where gaming is still largely seen as a frivolous pastime was such that she did not initially have the courage to tell her parents. “All they knew was th...

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