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.
Jackie Fiest spent three years at Ubisoft as a forum moderator, getting her feet wet in video games after a lifetime as a gamer and spending her student time at UTEP in Radio/TV. Fiest was still taking her core courses when she started at Ubisoft, but her education still gave her helpful insight.
“A lot of people have said that with the growing importance of storyline, graphics and “name” voice actors, gaming is now what film was in the 1920′s. I just applied the same rules to the new genre.”
Fiest’s exposures to sexism in the industry came on the boards while working as a forum moderator.
“I can honestly say that I didn’t experience any sexism from community peers. But the reason was I worked mostly with women. All of my supervisors were women. That’s incredible, I think. I think it shows an evening out of the playing field. As far as the actual community, the only sexism I saw was people who came to the forum looking to get attention in the first place. That type of person would attack any moderator for any reason. The fact that I was female only meant that person didn’t have to dig as far to find something to nit pick about.”
A number of the Ubisoft Frag Dolls were Fiest’s supervisors, providing her with a support network of strong, confident women. The positive impact of women on each other at work was one Fiest saw spread.
“As far as other women I may have influenced, I think the existence of a female moderator who was shamelessly a fan of the series of which I was a part of (Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell) told other women it was okay for them to be that way also.” Her community, past and present, has held a number of fellow female gamers outside work. “The real fun was on Xbox Live where women are all shapes and sizes. Even though I’ve been away from Ubisoft for a few years, I still keep in touch with girl gamers I met on the forums and Xbox Live via social media. I love that these bonds are still unbroken.”
As a participant in games community and culture, Fiest takes the assumptions she’s encountered from male gamers in stride.
“With male gamers being the dominant group, as a woman, for the most part, you have to be tough and aggressive. You can’t be “girly” as it’s misconstrued as weakness.” Her appreciation for Michael Ironside led to a number of similar encounters on Xbox live. “What would happen most of the time is, gamers would see me drooling over Ironside, would assume they could beat me because I was “just a girl”, add me on XBox Live and then find out I was good. Real good. I enjoyed playing up both stereotypical gender roles on one stage.”
When gaming as a passion began to converge with gaming as a job, Fiest met the challenge with a level head.
“It’s hard when gaming goes from being a passion to being a job. You look at your controller and see something that makes you cringe instead of excitement over the next game. You go home and pop in a movie, work out, listen to music…do anything to avoid picking up the controller. Gaming was always a passion of mine so when I did have to put the Xbox away for awhile, I was always ready for it after the necessary amount of time had passed.”
Since Fiest started work in the industry, she’s seen the number of women working in it skyrocket and the importance of social media intensify.
“…with social media, the accessibility to the developers and cast has grown as well. That has it’s pluses and minuses I’m sure. This also allows the companies more options when gathering feedback about the game. When people are talking to friends, they talk differently than they do when preparing a review for the forum of their favorite game company. Ironically, the conversation seems more of what the developers want.”
Lyndsay Peters is the creator and owner of Dragon Chow Dice Bags. Peters has a diploma in early childhood education, which she says has made her passionate about the value of play at any age—a personal tenet that led her to combine her love for craft with encouraging the value of play.
“I wanted to make dice bags for players with a different fashion sense than the traditional patterns you’d find at the game store. I wanted to increase the variety of dice bags available to gamers by starting a company that would recognize that there is a huge, diverse gaming crowd out there and their interests in accessories are just as varied.”
Peters encounters with industry sexism started early. “I experience it mostly in communicating with customers. My very first product review speculated that my husband would stop playing D&D and I would close my business soon after. I have people comment on my looks instead of ask about my products, and customers at conventions often ask me if I play D&D. I address it by making it clear I’m more interested in being appreciated for the work I do than the way I look, and I cope with it by having a circle of understanding friends I can turn to on twitter.”
In the two years Peters has been in the industry, she’s found herself in the role of a mentor as well as someone receiving support and encouragement from others.
“I know that I have been a source of ‘fem 101′ knowledge for a lot of men and women in the community, and have had lots of focused discussions with women in gaming about what privilege, sexism and objectification can be.”
The encouragement and support Peters receives from other women in the industry have kept her willing to be visible and proactive in the industry, both for her business and as an advocate for women. With a strong circle of friends and mentors, Peters addresses work-related stress with humor and decompressing with her friends from the industry.
Though Peters has yet to have the opportunity to attend many events, she’s seen rapid shifts inside the industry in the past two years.
“I feel that there has been a change to encourage women to participate, and understand the problems sexism can cause for gaming. I feel now that people are more willing to listen when these problems are raised, and more likely to react with understanding and openness to change.”
Emily Taylor has been in the industry for five years. She’s filled the roles of game designer and associate producer, currently working as an associate producer at Trion Worlds. Her path to working in the industry began with a childhood love for games.
“I’ve always enjoyed computer games as a pastime, all the way back to the days of loading Frogger from a cassette tape, and I can remember writing “choose your own adventure” type text games in BASIC—with endless “goto” statements that would no doubt make my current coder co-workers cringe.”
Transitioning from Frogger to using BBs (Bulletin Board Systems) in the days of dial up, Taylor had played Everquest and moved to Everquest II before realizing what kinds of career opportunities existed in the field.
“…it didn’t really occur to me that there were careers to be had in gaming until I started getting heavily involved in the community of EverQuest II and started seeing the developers interacting with the community. Once I made that connection, nothing was going to stop me from transitioning my career into working on MMOs. I believe that virtual communities such as MMOs will only continue to increase in importance in the future, and I want to be part of that development.”
Taylor’s education before entering the industry predates the widespread establishment of game design programs—her training is originally as a biologist.
“I actually have a Bachelor of Science in biology, and a Masters of Science in Molecular Plant Pathology. These haven’t been particularly applicable to my work in the game industry, or in fact my work prior to it; before joining the industry, I was working as an I.T. manager for a large global entertainment company. That said, I think that all work and education experience is an opportunity for learning, and while I haven’t needed many specific skills I learned previously, the general work habits and experiences I’ve had over the years have all contributed to making me a better professional now.”
Taylor’s brushes with sexism have been limited in professional settings—workplace harassment has never been an issue. “There have been a couple of occasions where industry peers from other companies that I would meet at events like GDC have been very dismissive and condescending, but these have been few and far between and everybody who’s actually taken the time to get to know me has judged me on my accomplishments. “
Players have more often been a source of sexism. “Even that has been fairly infrequent as the games I’ve worked on have a fairly mature player base whose respect I have earned over the years, but every now and then a forum thread will pop up on a flame site discussing my attractiveness or implying my career advancement was not based on merit.” While these threads are quickly squashed by fellow players, Taylor notes her male colleagues have also suffered through being the object of distasteful forum threads as well.
“I think you have to develop a fairly thick skin working in any role that will result in public feedback from a passionate player base.”
Though Taylor hasn’t had a female mentor during her time in the industry, she’s had a network of supportive male colleagues who have been generous with both their time and advice. “I try to keep in touch with other women within the industry and help them if I can, but I still feel very new to the industry myself so I haven’t felt in a position to do any formal mentoring yet. I try to stay in touch with other women in the industry that I’ve met, and sometimes it’s very pleasant to go out and just relax with other women. I like my male co-workers a lot, but when I spend all my days surrounded by 95% men, it’s sometimes nice to be around nothing but women for a lunch or dinner.”
Coping with the stress of working in the industry is rooted in exercising her creativity by making things that aren’t games, away from the computer.
“I put down the keyboard and so something manual.”
Next week is part three in the series. Want to share your thoughts about this installment? Leave a comment!