How an Israeli studio makes Minecraft magic to inspire women
Minecraft is a game for everyone!
That’s not just some fluffy ideal we have - it’s statistically true. Young and old, people of every nation and gender, they all find something to love about Minecraft. But not everything in this big wide world is quite as equal. Gaming, and technology in general, has for many years been thought of as a boys’ club. And that’s a shame.
Toya think so too - which is why they create games (and Marketplace content) which celebrate amazing woman and try to help girls realise their true talents and strengths. It’s a pretty cool idea, if you ask us - and the results are fun to play regardless of your gender!
Their first contribution to Minecraft Marketplace was “My Gorilla Adventure”, a piece that highlighted the life of conservationist Dian Fossey - a controversial but incredibly brave women who dedicated much of her life to the study of gorillas, and battled poachers in the mountain forests of Rwanda.
[The film] Gorillas in the Mist had a huge impact on me as a young woman,” says Anat Shperling, who co-founded Toya with Yifat Anzelevich. “I remember feeling shocked and amazed to see a woman, an ape researcher, fighting for the rights of these amazing creatures and protecting them. She made me believe I could become an ape researcher if I wanted to. This is how I want girls to experience Toya's games. Walking into a wild adventure, becoming someone else, somewhere else, while seeing a super cool and achievable ambition.”
Anat’s own early ambitions were to become either a vet or a filmmaker, or possibly both, but eventually she made her way into television as a journalist in Tel Aviv. But as she moved into more senior positions she began to be aware of the ‘glass ceiling’ - the limit to the opportunities available to her as a woman.
“This is how the International Women's Film Festival began,” she says. “I felt we had to rock the ship or nothing would change. And I can say we made a huge difference after a decade of hard work, and a wonderful festival, showcasing films made by and about women and girls from all over the world.”
As successful as the International Women’s Film Festival has been, Anat felt there was more she and her long-time film-festival collaborator Yifat could do to promote equality. “I called [Yifat] one day, saying we had to go back to childhood and deal with changing social patterns from an early stage if we wanted our daughters and sons to know they could pursue the same opportunities.”
Together they founded Toya and quickly hit upon gaming - “the epicenter of today's culture” Anat calls it - as the way to deliver this message. “It’s the most creative, flexible, and dynamic industry of today.”
And Minecraft? Anat says it’s the perfect medium to encourage decision-making, strategy and a “can-do attitude” in its players - all the while telling the stories of strong female role-models.
“There are so many untold stories of extraordinary women that it can be hard to choose,” says Anat. “We invite the whole team to brainstorm the gameplay that will enable us to come as close as possible to the work and life achievements of a specific role model. After we decide on the person we start to disassemble the story into pieces that will eventually become mini games alongside the story.”
Too often the stories of these women have been overlooked by history. Like, for example, one of Anat’s own role models: the pioneer filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché. “I found out about her long after I received my BFA in film. Everyone was teaching us about [male filmmakers] D.W Griffith and Lumiere brothers but nobody ever mentioned Blaché.”
It’s a bit of a poor show considering Guy-Blaché was one of the first filmmakers in the world - and almost certainly the first female filmmaker.
So who will be the next great lady to grace Toya’s games? It’s a secret! Anat will say this much, however: “We are developing a game that will enable you to paint in Minecraft. We have chosen an abstract painter that was a master of colors and shapes.”
A quick Google search suggests that there is no shortage of brilliant women painters that could be the focus - which hopefully means plenty more Toya maps for us!
Here’s a sneak peek!