Industry Spotlight: Part I

While the achievements of the games industry as a whole receives attentive coverage, the individual careers of women in the industry does not. Industry Spotlight is a four part series, profiling multiple women across table-top and video games, offering a candid look at their work and experiences.

Workspace of Brandy Shaul. 2012. Photo provided by Brandy Shaul.

Brandy Shaul is a freelance journalist six years into working the games journalism beat; she currently appears at AOL’s, Gamezebo and Gamer’s Intuition. Shaul’s draw to games began before she started working in journalism.

“I have been playing video games since before I can remember. My mother has a picture of me, Intellivision controller in hand, at 18 months old. Video games are as much a part of me as my name or eye color, so when I got a chance to jump into the industry in a professional capacity, I couldn’t accept any faster.”

Balancing her aspirations to get into the industry with the need for a job after college, Shaul majored in Biology while blogging as a game reviewer. Nabbing a job in games journalism kept her from ever needing her “backup plan.” While she never took journalism courses in college, Shaul’s found that her college major hasn’t hindered her.

“If nothing else, that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the past six years: real world experience matters so much more than a degree. There are things you’ll learn in practice that can simply never be taught by a book.” Shaul has developed a network of peers across a number of other outlets during her time as a journalist; she considers many of her network friends.

Her experience with supervisors has been similarly positive. “I’ve had a female supervisor at every position I’ve had within the industry, both past and present. I was a huge tomboy growing up, so this has actually been a refreshing change, as so much of my childhood was spent hanging out with the guys.” Never possessing a mentor, Shaul has learned much of what she knows through trial and error while on the job.

Through her time on the games beat, Shaul has never experienced sexism aimed at her, and goes back to the thing she loves when coping with work related stress: games. Whether she’s in the mood for Gears of War or Bejeweled, the things she writes about are still a way to let go of stress accumulated on the job. Following social games over the past six years, Shaul has watched them develop and explode in the industry, attracting new players along the way.

“It’s amazing to see the number of older, adult women that have started playing games thanks to FarmVille or Angry Birds, and that some of these women can be just as, if not more dedicated than your “stereotypical male gamer.” I’ve watched my own mother become one of them, and this is a woman that, when I was a kid, played Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES for five minutes only to fall into the first hole she came across, throw down the controller and proclaim that she’d never play a game again. It’s an amazing transformation that I’ve loved witnessing and I can’t wait to see where we’re all taken next.”

Amanda Valentine is a freelance editor whose name is most commonly matched to projects she’s worked for Evil Hat Productions and Margaret Weis Productions.  Valentine got into the industry when friend and fellow gamer Cam Banks began writing for Dragonlance—her start editing Banks’ work has led to 8 years in the role-playing games industry.  Well-armed for her work in editing by a strong liberal arts education and background as a teacher, Valentine has never seen a lack of women in the industry.

“I didn’t start gaming until after I was married, so I was working in the industry at the same time that I became aware of it. I’ve always seen women as part of it. There have always been other women in my gaming groups. I first edited for books based on a series co-written by a woman. I met other women once I started going to conventions. So while I was aware of being a minority, I didn’t feel like I was alone.”

Valentine’s exposure to sexism is one married professionals sharing an industry can nod their heads along with in recognition.  “Occasionally at cons when I meet people for the first time, it’s pretty obvious that I get dismissed as the wife who got dragged along, but that doesn’t usually last long – Clark or other people I’m with make sure I get introduced properly!” Valentine says that casually introducing some of the projects she’s worked on into conversation also help in clearing up assumptions about her being a non-industry spouse.

Clark Valentine, Amanda’s husband, is a writer for table-top role-playing games; she says his working in the same industry is a tremendous help when it comes to understanding her work-related stress. Twitter, which doubles an industry water-cooler for freelancers like Valentine, is also a place she’s seen the games industry change.

“I feel like social media has created a community that goes beyond the convention hall. I work alone at home with my cat, yet if I want to connect with someone, there are hundreds of people at my fingertips. ”

Office of Cat Musgrove. 2012. Photo provided by Cat Musgrove.

Cat Musgrove is a co-founder of the start-up Trouble Impact; she’s been working in the games industry for 5 years as an animator.  Musgrove, who went to college with the aim of becoming an environment artist in the film industry, who attended college with a number of fellow students who went into the game industry, thought of games as an option if she couldn’t get a job in film.

“The turning point for me was when I took a class my senior year of college called “Games & Society,” which was taught by a guy who was just totally, infectiously excited about games.  All of the sudden it was like “sure, I can get a job in the film industry… or I can go into this crazy, relatively young, completely volatile games industry where I might actually get to create something completely new!”

Musgrove’s degree included a diverse range of courses in storytelling, character and environment design, modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, lighting. “I honestly think that’s why I was able to advance relatively quickly when I first started working—it was helpful to be able to explain why a model needed different topology, or make a placeholder if someone was busy.” With a senior year that taught taking and giving thoughtful critique and feedback, Musgrove was amply prepared for her career.

“I think making it through all of those brutal critiques and high standards in school gave me the self-confidence to believe that I can handle making my own games with such a small team.” Learning the most from her peers, Musgrove has made good friends in the industry both male and female. The sexism she’s encountered during her career has been awkward and social.

“I have found myself in a few situations that felt just a little more awkward because I was the only woman in the room. For example, when you’re crammed into a tiny meeting room with 10 guys and someone makes a slightly crasser than normal joke, it’s hard not to feel a little self-conscious.” Musgrove stated that she tried to take everything in stride when first starting out, in an effort to not see people hold back in her presence because of gender.

“It’s like when someone swears and then feels the need to apologize to you—it’s just really awkward. Really, I’m thinking ‘I wish you hadn’t dropped an f-bomb right there because it kind of undermines what you’re saying’ but I don’t want anyone to think the reason I’m cringing to myself is because I have a ‘delicate constitution.’”

Musgrove’s friends among her peers, and her business partner, act as her confidants when work is stressful. Prepared to work in a field that’s heavily populated by men by her education in film—another male dominated field—Musgrove said her parents worried more about the low percentage of women in the industry than she was.

“I was much more concerned with what I would be doing and what I would be making, as opposed to thinking about whether or not I would be in the minority.” Some of the industry “game changers” Musgrove has seen in the industry since starting were already in motion when she started working in games.

“I started working in 2007, which was the same year that the iPhone came out, a year after the Wii came out, the year Steam started to become a major platform, and a year before Braid came out. When I was in school, no one was talking about mobile games, motion gaming, or digital distribution, and being “indie” wasn’t really a viable business plan. Now all of those things exist, which is what makes it possible for someone like me to have started my own small game company.”

Office of Marcy Rockwell. 2012. Photo provided by Marcy Rockwell.

Marsheila Rockwell has been freelancing for several years as an author in the games industry, recently for the Wizards of the Coast Eberron line. Cutting her teeth as a reader on fantasy at the age of 3, Rockwell was playing D&D by third grade and eager to write D&D novels since she learned they existed. While her work in Geotechnical Engineering hasn’t specifically come in handy on the job as a writer, it did prepare her for working in a male dominated industry.

“Once you’ve been a female engineer in charge of quality control on a construction site, having to tell a group of older, bigger, less-educated men that they whine like your six-year-old son and they’d better re-do the work or you’ll shut the project down, there’s not really too much the gaming industry can throw at you that’s going to faze you.”

What issues she’s experienced in the games industry has been from fans.  “Some of them gripe when I put romantic elements into my books, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about it in regards to my being a woman.”

How does she go about coping with those complaints?

“Just keep writing. If I let any kind of “ism” keep me from doing that, then the “ists” win.”

Rockwell copes with stress on the job by venting to fellow writers, and throwing herself back into the deadline fray—which is often the source of the stress. Women have provided a guiding force on her career have included Elaine Cunningham, one of the first women to write for the Forgotten Realms setting, and Erin Evans, a former editor of Rockwell’s at WotC.

Prior to WotC, Rockwell had a group of female friends struggling through many of the same writing challenges. It’s these women outside the games industry who have been her cohort. Sci-fi author Gini Koch was the first author outside Wizards to actively reach out after they shared a panel at a local convention.  Koch brought friends to one of Rockwell’s readings, and recommended Rockwell to an agent after reading her book. That agent was Koch’s, who now represents Rockwell as well. Though she never expected to have a mentor like Gini, she sees how having someone like her in the games industry could have made things easier on her.

“There are decisions I might have made differently if I’d had someone actively interested in my career to advise me. That’s usually the role an agent plays for a writer, but most agents don’t handle tie-in work, like writing for gaming companies. And most tie-in writers don’t have them, at least not for their tie-in work. I guess we just need more female agents who handle tie-in work!”

Over the course of her writing for WotC, the company has seen changes since first starting out as a tie-in fiction writer.

“When I started, Eberron was WotC’s new, highly-touted campaign setting, Dungeons & Dragons Online didn’t even exist, there was no 4E , Pathfinder (arguably WotC’s biggest competition in years) hadn’t yet spun off from D&D, and I was the only woman writing Eberron novels. Now, DDO is branching out into the Forgotten Realms, WotC has gone to ebook only releases on some of its novels, production of Eberron novels has slowed to a trickle, and I’m still the only woman writing Eberron/DDO books.”

Next week is part two in the series, with profiles of Emily Taylor, Jackie Fiest, and Lyndsay Peters. Want to share your thoughts about this installment? Leave a comment!

About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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