Let me make an exceedingly nerdy reference between working in games (as a woman) and the need to prove oneself as a Grey Warden in Dragon Age: Origins. If you don’t know the story it is as follows. Arriving in Orzammar to request a dwarven army in aid against the coming blight, the Grey Warden is asked to prove herself to the two possible candidates for kinghood. (Dwarven business is kind of different. They elect their kings, they don’t inherit them. A pretty sound way of looking at royalty I would say.) Bhelen doesn’t trust you. Harrowmont doesn’t trust you. So in order to even meet these distinguished gentlemen, be a part of the circle so to speak, the Grey Warden must prove herself, her skill and her loyalty. Yes. In order to even meet them. I call this erring on the side of caution.
But having proven oneself is not enough. Another trial is put before the Grey Warden. Go get rid of the Carta (dwarvish mafia) in order to get the support of the pretender chosen. And when that is done, another trial. Go down into the Deep Roads (enemy infested catacombs cut from the mountain. Like bumbling around in sewers when you just KNOW there are alligators down there.) and find someone thought dead by most people. Now, if this was not a game but daily life, I’d stay home, say buhbye to the pretenders of the throne, grab a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and give up on those dudes.
Running across a very interesting conversation between @elizabethdanger of Save Game online, @desensitisation of a number of publications and her own Alive Tiny World and @xMattieBrice also contributor to a number of publications, among others my favorite, the Border House, I realize that my own struggles for recognition and respect are not uncommon.
These three gaming journalists have experienced the same need (from others) to prove themselves within gaming circles as I have. In order to even be allowed to have an opinion. This is something I recognize strongly from the earliest days of my game designer career. Well. I say earliest. It continues. Having to prove that I am a gamer, having to prove that I know about games, and occasionally having to trounce over-eager male put-downers in some appropriate FPS or fighting game just to make sure I get at least a modicum of respect. Usually this works, but for some, having a girl (A GIRL!!!) beat them in their game of choice is just so humiliating that bullying ensues. Yes. I’m serious. Grown men needing the reassurance that their female counterpart not only knows how to play but knows how to beat them. And if that defeat is too hurtful, start bullying because of it.
Just as going down into the Deep Roads seem somewhat suicidal, working in the games biz if you’re a woman can be seen as equally… troublesome. Sort of like “but don’t you know that this dudette, Branka, that you’re being sent after is most likely dead? She’s been there for two years. Among darkspawn. Lots of them.” “Yes, but I have to try! She might be alive! And when I get back, I might get some respect from these dwarven dudes!” “Seriously?”
The thing is, the respect I get in the game is a hell of a lot more tangible than the one I get from the teams I work with, in the companies I work. The most irritating part, I think, is that whenever I enter a new arena or a new job, I have to do it all over again. Imagine being stuck. You get this Proving Ground quest, and you do it, only to have your PS3 or Xbox 360 shut down just before saving. And you do it again, get a bit further, and then the game shuts down. And then you do it again, and again, and again, and again. At some point, your save game is going to get corrupted, and you switch games. Or you stop playing altogether.
I’m starting to lose track of my metaphors. Anyway. This is of course all anecdotal. But I can give you some specific examples from my career that might put things into perspective.
Somewhere between 2001 – 2002 when I was out looking for work due to UDS closing down, I was at an interview at a fairly big Swedish game developer company. I was young, inexperienced and had a lot to prove, for sure. Going there, I got the question if I played any games. Yes, was the answer. I was then interrogated in detail about the second level of this and that area and what happened there, for no other purpose that I could discern than finding out if I had played the game.
At another instance, I was more or less interrogated (and I use interrogate, because interviewing is usually more friendly) for two hours straight about my gaming preferences, what I thought about this and that game, got a scowl if I hadn’t played it (and a notation on a pad) and the comment “you really should get a PS2 if you want to make games.” Again at a big Swedish gaming company that earlier that month accepted a colleague of mine with the same references and skill set without question. I know this, because I kept in contact with him. And again without any clear connection to my skill set or the job in question.
These are two job interviews that I’ve “failed” in as much that I didn’t get the job. Well, three. In the third one I was asked if my feminist views and idea of women in games would be a problem. For me. They never have been. For me. I didn’t get that job either, but in all fairness maybe I was wrong for the job. I didn’t do a stellar interview and not a very good job with the design test either.
I’ve also discovered that taking time off to play games actually increase my level of standing in the eyes of many developers. I took time off to play Dragon Age 2. The amount of shoulder slapping and hallway conversations with me as an initiated gamer increased exponentially after that incident. I bought a DreamCast to beat my friends to a pulp in SoulCalibur. Also a very interesting example of gaining respect by playing well. I did the same thing for Guitar Hero at another company, and the same thing happened there. I was proficient at Battlefield 1942, and the better I got, the more people listened to my opinion.
Anecdotal evidence aside, I find it interesting what women game devs and game journalists have to do in order to get the respect we deserve. All women – with one pretty exception – I have worked with are professional, meticulous and very skilled. (The pretty exception was hired for her looks. I kid you not. She told me. She happened to be pretty good at what she did as well, but still…) And still there’s this lingering doubt. Can women really, really, I mean really? make games? Talk about games? Be gamers?
For me the answer is yes. It’s been yes since I got into table-top RPGs in the mid-80’s. There’s never been any doubt. And yet I still get the request to go into the Proving Ground, defeat the Carta and get Branka back alive. As with Dragon Age: Origins, I have yet to see Branka in Orzammar.