The games industry can be an unwelcoming place for a lot of women-identifying folk.
This isn’t the case for everyone, and well-off white women generally have an easier time than others. But for people who don't find it easy, or need some tools in their toolbox in order to stick around, here’s a few pointers for trying to survive in the games industry. Or in any industry, really.
1. Identify your focus
Not just your discipline, but your approach to it. How does it square up against your core values as a person? If the two are not complementary you’re probably going to have a tougher time. An anti-capitalist isn’t going to enjoy finding ways to force micro-transactions on players, and someone who values money as a measure of success is probably not going to enjoy making a small art game shown in limited exhibitions. Focus is important because it will be a compass with which to guide your energies, and your energies should be protected and revered as sacred and susceptible. Honing your focus, your reason for making games, will be an important touch-stone when things get hard. Things will get hard. You’d rather know who you are, what you’re doing, and what you stand for when they do.
2. Get your posse together
Imagine standing on a stage in front of 800 people, and you’re pretty sure none of them agree with you. Are your palms starting to sweat just thinking about it? Now imagine doing it knowing there’s 200 people cheering you on, happy that you’re saying what you’re saying and glad someone is. A completely different experience. Standing alone makes things ten times scarier. Standing, locked arms, with a few hundred people? You’re unstoppable. Movements were built on less than this. The importance of getting a crew of supportive, loving people around you who have your best interests at heart is probably the best kept secret of surviving in the world as a woman, let alone as a game developer. As comedian Kristen Schaal joked on finding the other woman, “Befriend her and press your boobs against the glass ceiling together.”
3. Ignore focus-distracting losers
You’ve got work to do, and some people won’t like that. The easiest way to make you less threatening is to make you less effective — to make you lose focus. These people are focus-distracting losers and need to be ignored/avoided at all costs. These include men who want to pit you against other women, because if you’re stuck catfighting with women you aren’t challenging the power structures that are keeping the men in the top jobs. Sometimes it includes women suffering from what writer Molly Lambert refers to in her “Can’t Be Tamed” manifesto as ‘Wendy Syndrome’, where they are under the illusion that if they work as the patriarchy’s most useful prole, the strictest enforcer of the boy’s club, they will someday be rewarded. This is particularly draining when it’s women against women. To quote Lambert, “You will never actually be part of the boys' club, because you are a woman. You are Ray Liotta in Goodfellas. You are not Italian, therefore you are never going to get made”. You don’t want to be in the boy’s club anyway, because you have bigger ambitions.
4. Identify role models
Try not to make all of these women just in the games industry. Broaden it out. Take influences from other places, because there are badass women everywhere. If you can find one that has or had a similar focus to you, even better. Learn from those who have come before us. Look at what you admire in your favourite activists or musicians or game developers or artists, try and figure out the common thread between them. Is it their technique or process? Is it their attitude? The way they tackle problems both inside or outside of their work? Use this thread as a guide rope for yourself. And most importantly...
5. Help other women
Befriend the other woman. Befriend as many as you can in your field. Help them. According to Madeleine Albright, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” It’s exhausting sometimes, and it’s extra labour that men definitely don’t need to consider. If you’re part of a marginalised group of course it’s going to be much harder and you should only do what your energies are capable of, but help them where you can. If you have to say no to any job, speaking engagement, or appearance, make sure you say no while giving them another woman’s name as an alternative. If you’re in a work situation where someone is talking over a woman, say, “Excuse me, [name] was in the middle of something,” so she can finish her point. If someone is misgendered, correct the person. There’s lots of ways we can help boost each other up and it’s essential that we all contribute to this in order to survive as a group. We can only do this if we have each other’s backs, and if you’re worried or apprehensive about working in the games industry, I promise you I’ve got yours.
The Code Breakers exhibition is a celebration of women’s work in the games industry, a chance for us to recognise good hustle when we see it and to show other women what we’re capable of. But most importantly, for me anyway, it’s a place where you can find people who will always have your back.
The free exhibition Code Breakers: Women in Games is open at ACMI 25 July – 5 November
Leena Van Deventer & Dan Golding's book Game Changers: from Minecraft to misogyny, the fight for the future of video games is available via Affirm Press.