It is our world too....
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I have heard so many claims this past week about women's involvement in games, gaming community and game development. I am a woman game developer and have been for a number of years now, games have always been an important part of my life so I thought it might be a good time to share a story of a nerdy country girl and her love of games.
I grew up in a small country town in the middle of nowhere Australia. It was the sort of dry and rural place that they make settler movies about. A place where the women made scones and pikelets and the men had tan lines across their foreheads where their hats sat. I was lucky my dad was a lover of all things techy so we had both an Atari and an Amiga in my house when I was young. I remember playing Adventure on the Atari I loved taking the little square into the maze and running away from dragons, seeing how long I could last. I would have been around 5, I didn't really have any idea about how to actually play or finish the game but I found enjoyment in the game I created for myself in the pixilated world. I began to learn how to use the technology in my house, one of my favorite things to do was to boot up the Amiga and play Mouse Trap and Discovery: Math, or load up some of the kid programs and write stories or color images. I still remember the sound of it booting up, turn it on wait...put in the kickstart disk ….wait... listen to the disk whir and watch the machine come to life. I played every game we had I played Lemmings, Winter Olympics, The Faery Tale Adventure, Ninja Mission and everything in between, I even got pretty good at the hidden strip Othello disk with all of its spectacular graphics (though I never ever did manage to remove the final piece). When I got older the family who used look after me before and after school got an early windows machine, while everyone else was running around outside I would play the games by Sierra. I would dive into these worlds, fleeing from all the persecution that being a fat and nerdy kid in a country town entailed. I lost myself in these worlds exploring their mechanics sometimes playing them as intended sometimes pushing the limits of what they could do, I always wanted to draw out the play experience as long as possible. I would force my brother to play board games with me and we would negotiate new rule sets to see how the games played out if we worked together or against each other, trying out different ways of playing traditional games.
When I was twelve my parents split up and we moved into the city, it was a very rough transition for me. I went from a school of 30 to a school of 300, from having one other person in my grade to having over 50. It was 1996 and my mum brought a new Macintosh, this opened to me a whole new world of games. Over the next few years I played games like Indiana Jones and the fate of Atlantis, Sam and Max, Dark Forces, Prince of Persia, Jedi Knight, X-Files, X-Fools, Star Warped and Zork Nemesis, I played games of as many sample discs as I could get my hot little hands on. It was also around then that I learnt that girls didn't play games. In my world my game disks and Star Wars posters sat comfortably beside my Backstreet Boys albums and posters of Jonathan Brandis (Lucas Wolenczak, SeaQuest). It had never occurred to me that somehow my femininity would get in my way of my ability to enjoy games and my many other geeky passions. It took a miserable first year at high school and changing schools, but in the end I learnt to hide my gaming and nerdy habits behind a wall of silence.
High school for me was like high school for many of the geekily inclined... it sucked. At home I still played games, did pixel by pixel image manipulation of my favorite gaming posters and book covers, wrote fan fiction of the gaming and sci-fi worlds that I loved and never breathed a word of it to anyone. Occasionally I would ask if I could play table top games with the guys at school I was flatly refused, but I could watch as long as I didn't disturb them. Once I got to College (high school, year 11-12, around 16/17-17/18 years old), I found an amazing bunch of more geekily inclined friends to hang out with. It was with them that I started to unlearn the silence that I had been forced to put around my geeky habits. It was also in College that I discovered programming. I had met all my graduation requirements and I had an entire trimester to go of College, I had always wanted to try programming but had never had the courage. Now I had nothing to lose I signed up and did a semester of programming and digital art. I excelled, I loved programming. It was hard work don't get me wrong but it was like coming home. I would fall a sleep at night thinking of how I would make a program to do x or y. I would sit over lunch nutting out how I would get the card game I was creating to work the way I wanted it to. The next year I was to start university. I had already decided I'd do my arts degree in comparative religions and archaeology, become an academic and live a life surrounded by old tomes and ancient bones. Now suddenly I thought that maybe I could do computer programming, I had always loved working with them and I was good at it. I went to the university open day uncertain and unsure, but with a little spark of hope maybe I could do programming. The computer science booth was not the most welcoming one, but I took my courage in both hands and went up to ask about studying computer science. The guy in the booth took one look at my lacy Gothic clothing and decided I was not worth his time. The conversation ended quickly with him suggesting that a)I wouldn't enjoy it, b)they didn't really do the stuff I wanted (making games) and c)I would fit in better over in the arts department. Saddened I went off and to study Arts.
It took almost six years for me to come back to programming. During that time I had studied comparative religions, archaeology, anthropology, forensic archaeology, cultural theory, creative writing, literary theory, drama, indigenous studies and geology, I had excellent grades but I was not happy. In the end it took a major life crisis for me to look at what I really wanted to do and who I wanted to be. In 2008 I started a degree in game design and programming.
It has been 7 years, almost to the day, since I sat down over a plate of oysters el natural with a Bloody Mary and decided to become a game developer. I have never looked back. I love what I do and I do it well. I have traveled the world and have lived in some amazing places. I may be a woman, my journey may be far from standard, but my love of games and the important place they hold in my life cannot be denied.
To those who believe that women are here to ruin their gaming world I say this: I have always been here. I have lived in the shadows of 'your' world unacknowledged and dismissed, but this world is as much mine as it is yours. I ask you to think back on your life to think back on the girls in school who sat by and watched you play table top games, the quiet ones who seemed to perk up when you started talking about the latest games, the ones who had a secret stash of magic cards that you dismissed because you thought they just liked the pictures, the ones who were just as much of an outsider as you. Once we unlearnt the habit of silence we discovered that the shadows of the gaming world was full of other women just like us. I am not interested in forcing anyone who is not interested in games into game development, I am interested in making sure that those people who love games and programming don't get turned away at the door because they don't fit the mold of what they 'should' be.
It is our world too.