During Fun & Serious Game Festival, which took place in Bilbao last December, we noticed and celebrated a greatly increased number of women, both in terms of the speakers invited to talk and the developers in attendance, something that we're also starting to see during other international conferences and events such as Gamelab, E3, and Gamescom. It's a welcome change, with fresh perspectives shared by voices that have traditionally been pushed into the background in this industry.
As a closing question to each of the interviews included below, we wanted to ask these industry professionals about their thoughts on women in games, on the so-called WIG movement, and on their personal experience throughout their career in video games.
The answers we got are as varied as they are interesting, coming from women who are both up and coming and well-established, and each one of them holds a very different role/position. Together, we understand how these voices complete a message full of nuance, one that might resonate with anyone, no matter their gender or their interest in video games.
The week after International Women's Day and with IWD2019 reigniting so many discussions on the matter, we've been compiling all those answers (and the complete video interviews) below.
"It's been an interesting learning curve to make more room for not only women but minorities and LGBTQ people [...] and I think we still have a long way to go"
It's been an interesting learning curve seeing where we need to make more room for not only women but minorities and LGBTQ people. It's been super interesting for me to see that growing and I think we still have a long way to go, I appreciate the steps that we've made to move forward and I think it's part of my job as it is every developer's job to make sure that we open the game space to be as inclusive as possible, and so for me it's fantastic to be here among some great names, to get to know them, to meet them and to really be able to not only explore diversity in terms of creators but diversity in terms of content.
The Fun & Serious festival has been a huge inspiration to me because I also get to speak with independent developers and, you know, get to know people on a human level instead of on just like a brand level. That is very inspiring, so I think the more diverse we can make the content, the creators, the better the industry is going to be, and the more people we can include, the better off we're going to be.
"I want to encourage more young women to join the industry, and I think the only way that you can do that is by being out there"
One of the things that I'm really happy about is that women are becoming more and more visible in the game industry and, you know, that's one of the changes that I've seen, especially this last year. More women talking, more women being visible, more recognition of the work that's being done by women that I think has been there for a long time. There are quite a few women who have been in the industry like me, 20 years or more, but just were less visible before, so I think it's really exciting because I want to encourage more young women to join the industry, and I think the only way that you can do that is by being out there, showing that it's a great industry to join, showing that women can have success and then other women will think "okay, maybe... I love games, why not try and get a career in games?" Because I am really... I've loved my career, I think it's the most exciting industry to be in and I want to, you know, show that enthusiasm and attract more women.
My advice for women is the same as my advice for anyone. My advice is really to be honest with yourself about what you're passionate about. If you're passionate about programming, great. If you're passionate about being an artist, if you're passionate about, you know, audio design or writing, the great thing about the video game industry is all of those different skill sets are involved in making a game, and I think you really get to be successful if you follow your passion, because that's when you are going to do your best work.
I think female characters have always been there, and they've always been at a quite high-quality level, it's just not the quantity. And I think that is something that is starting to change. I think with male characters you've often had the quantity but not necessarily the quality. You've often had the same kind of male character that's always been cut and pasted across games, so I don't think there's a great diversity in how we represent male characters, how we represent masculinity in games. And so I think there's a lot that can be done with just broadening out the types of characters that we represent across genders. There's a lot more we can do with age, ability, ethnicity, background, sexual orientation, you know, with all our characters, not just women.
"We've often had the same kind of male character [...] so I don't think there's a great diversity in how we represent male characters and masculinity"
I think we've seen more female protagonists coming out. We've seen really interesting secondary characters obviously like Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite, we had Ellie in The Last of Us and she was so popular that she is now heading up the next game, so I think there are interesting things happening. From a development standpoint, I feel I have a slightly skewed perspective, because the women working in games tend to gravitate towards each other, so we tend to have a big circle of all the women in games, so sometimes it's not easy to tell how it translates to the whole industry, because usually a paired group would have a lot of other women in because you know, we gravitate towards each other, we talk to each other, we support each other.
I think it is getting better and I think more women are becoming interested in working in games, and I think it's important for the women working in games now to kind of share their experiences with young women, and talk about the different opportunities there are available to them, and I like to speak with girls in schools and just let them know that, you know, often there's the perception that you have to be into hard maths or science to work in games and that it's all about programming, and that isn't really the idea. You can work in games as a musician, as an artist, as a writer, as a producer, as a designer... when you sort of talk about the different opportunities out there, it kind of lights a fire in them and they suddenly realise that there is a place for them.
"Women who are growing up now, who are playing games (...) get very visual feedback for this industry is not for them"
I absolutely couldn't have done it [founding the studio] without Alexis [Kennedy], he is the experienced old dog here, he has founded two studios now, but I think it increasingly is important to have women in leadership roles. I think right now, looking at the industry, even though everything is getting better, the top tier of the games industry are primarily men. I mean, you get the Jade Raymonds and the Brenda Romeros, and they're exceptions and they are fantastic, but the vast majority of people in the industry, in significant positions of responsibility are men, which means that women who are growing up now, who are playing games and think "maybe I'll be a games developer when I'm older" get very visual feedback [that] this industry is not for them.
So, I think the more women we can get in positions of leadership, whether it's a really small indie team like us, or whether it's significant directors in big triple-A studios who are women, I think the clearer the message will be that gaming is, increasingly, an industry for everyone. And we will also make games that I think incorporate more feminine interests, which hopefully would encourage more girls to actually play games, so it kind of fits into a cycle.
"Thanks to digital distribution and the eruption of indie creation we are seeing a broader spectrum of people working in the industry, consuming video games"
It's a very broad question. I guess women are getting more visibility but so are other groups of people that have been very underrepresented in the videogame industry. I would say that thanks to digital distribution and the eruption of indie creation we are seeing a broader spectrum of people working in the industry, consuming videogames. It's an evolution of society too. Technology is core, it's not something weird that some people do in universities, but it's everyday life. My mom plays video games and she didn't care much for them, right? So I think it's evolution, at its core, but the thing is we're seeing it real-time, you know? With technology and video games we've been seeing it, a group of people that were more active first and then a lot of them fell over.
Specifically, to women in games: I don't have the answer [as to] why there were less women before, I've never understood it. I never understood why, but it is a fact nobody said you cannot join, it's not like in other industries where there has been an active rejection of the gender. Nobody has ever said to me "you cannot do this" or I don't think that it has been forbidden to join anything in video games, it just happened, historically and socially. It's evolving, that's it.
The first thing that came to my head actually didn't have anything to do with this industry. I've been here for 37 years now, so I think I've seen everything, but I'm sure that I'll see something later on that makes me go "oh no, I didn't actually see everything". Just last year, for instance, and it wasn't in the industry, I heard that women just aren't meant for tech. Just they're not meant to do it, the only reason that women can code it's because their parents supported them. And that's obviously crap, I mean, it was a woman who invented the assembly language, it was a woman who invented the compiler, it was a woman who invented COBOL, it was a woman who invented programming, there was an all-female programming team on the ENIAC, it's in many cases women coding 6502 into little chips to make dolls talk for Christmas.
"This challenge is much larger than just our industry. Getting the drought of female programming candidates, it'd be getting more women into code"
So that's ultimately ridiculous, but for me to be told just last year that women are not meant for tech and then to have that... I said "Seriously?". I was talking with somebody else about it and they said "there's little point in getting... taking offence", and my reply was, oh no, that's the entire point, if anything I'm not taking enough offence.
So, I feel that to me this challenge is much larger than just our industry. Getting the drought of female programming candidates, it'd be getting more women into code. I view this [as] whatever it is they choose to do, I want women to have a role in the future of technology, and right now if you look at all the technology companies, women had such a small amount of them. And so we end up with things like controllers that don't fit female hands, or seatbelts that were never designed to take into account breasts, so it's very important that women continue to have a place at the table and we continue to make this a more inviting industry for women, but I view it as much larger than just games.