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It is our world too....
by Anna Tito on 09/02/14 10:28:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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.

AdventureI 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 The Faery Tale AdventureTale 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.

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Juliette Dupre
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You have such a beautiful story Anna. Thank you for sharing this! I'm so glad you didn't listen to the naysayers - You are an inspiration.

Josh Neff
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"To those who believe that women are here to ruin their gaming world" - I always thought this whole concept was nearly as asinine as a concept could get. Women are absolutely integral to society... point of fact; you cant HAVE a society without them!!! So for people to somehow be concerned that women getting involved in game design... or anything else for that matter... is somehow going to ruin it, is ludicrous and absurd. I'm glad, Anna, that you 've not let this kind of stupidity derail your desire to be involved with games!

Amir Barak
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Inspiring tale!

(even though I think the last paragraph and conclusion fall far shorter than the rest of the article).

Curtiss Murphy
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From where does the separateness originate? When I met the love of my life, I was as geeky as they came. And yet, she embraced my love of games, and went from 'never having played one' to a being a pretty serious gamer. We've wasted years of our lives together in the worlds of Everquest, WoW, SimCity, Civilization, Hearthstone, etc.... Together, we raised two wonderful children. For my daughter (also a Make-A-Wish child), today isn't the first week of college, it's the day Sims 4 releases!!! And of course, my wife and I founded Gigi Games, which of course, means we build games together :).

We met when I was 15, and next month we'll celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. And in almost all of that time, games have been a part of our relationship. Though, I am beginning to believe that perhaps my own self-selecting view of the game industry may not be what others are seeing. I suppose the old cliche applies, "your mileage may vary."

Anna - I loved your story! Mega-kudos for setting your sights, following through, and surviving the up-hill struggle which faces everyone in this industry!

James Margaris
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This is related to what you wrote, but not directly.

Women aren't ruining gaming. That is obvious. If you like Phantasy Star (and who doesn't? Just heathens!) you can't believe that women are ruining gaming. If you like Castlevania music (which everybody does - it gets played last on VGL for a reason) you can't believe that.

Unfortunately we're at a weird point where the vast majority of notable women in games are not notable primarily for their game development work. If a woman who does great work is interviewed instead of being asked about her craft she's asked to relate anecdotes of harassment, and if she doesn't have good ones the interview peters out. Compare the recent Polygon piece talking to female writers with a piece (I forget where) talking to the Far Cry 3 guy. The implicit message is that a man's work is interesting, but for a woman the only interesting things are identity and how they get by in a man's world.

Some people are going to interpret my post as "I'm tired of hearing about sexism and harassment." That is not my intent. There's nothing wrong with highlighting harassment (in fact, that's good) or people being known primarily for advocacy. But it does seem wrong to me when women who are known are known almost exclusively for advocacy. It seems to me that coming out of GDC almost everything I read about a woman was related to the dedicated advocacy track.

There's a weird implicit message that men make cool games and women complain about those games and the men who make them. So I can understand, at least on some level, why some people would think women are ruining their games. (Again, a ridiculous notion)

Which is the point of bringing up PS and Castlevania. If you know that women significantly contribute to work you enjoy it's hard to keep believing that they will ruin your games. But I think a lot of people genuinely don't know that. Which is a shame.

Wes Jurica
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This is an great breakdown of a part of this issue that I hadn't thought of. Thanks.

Michael O'Hair
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Is the world of games ruining itself?

Without video games, outside of the world of video games, where else does this behavior exist? Rigid caste systems? Sectarian strife? Perhaps the source of the conflict are present societal norms being played to ridiculous extremes?

In other words, take "games" out of the equation and examine the behavior itself.

Will Hendrickson
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Wow, that is a LOT of social pressure :(

I thought I had it tough, my whole family has actively tried to stop me from becoming a game developer. They see no value in it.

I was programming computers in BASIC from a very young age, but all of my efforts as a kid to develop games were mercilessly shot down by my parents. So, I didn't get the chance to develop anything until I went to college.

But my struggles pale in comparison to yours.

I am glad that you have finally been able to overcome, and begin really working on your passion! No one should ever try to take that away from you, shame shame SHAME on the computer science guy!

Christopher Gore-Gammon
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That was a beautiful story!

I actually have had some of the same experiences, but as a young African American man, many people do not believe that I can be a programmer or game developer. People discriminated against me because I did not fit any stereotypes that they threw at me. I sometimes feel that within the game industry and community, as many people like to stick to what they know and are not open to change.

I believe that every entertainment industry goes through the metaphorical stages of grief. Right now we are in the anger stage, where people want the industry to be what they want it to be. But, the way that I see it, the light at the end of the tunnel is always acceptance.

Matthew Calderaz
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Great story. Though it sounds like for different reasons, I too was discouraged from studying CSCI initially by a junior college guidance counselor, ("It's a lot of math!" She said.) But after that first class in 'C', I knew it was for me.

Though you may not get 100 comments; Inspirational stories like this, along with the technical articles from female devs on Gamasutra, do far more to further the cause of supporting female developers than a dozen angry bloggers' rants!

Patrick Haslow
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Thanks so much for sharing this. I teared up a little. I think it might be the mention of Adventure and Dark Forces (my first mod projects) that pushed me over the edge. Hopefully less women of similar interests have to go through what you did now and in the future.

Benjamin Quintero
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Anna, thank you. I much prefer the personal stories like these than those who would rather just say, "You're doing it wrong. I know what I'm talking about, I'm a female."

Us guys may be generally terrible at a lot of things but it doesn't mean we can't stop to focus and learn a little more about someone. It's stories like these that, in time, will help to change perception more naturally than those who would suggest it with a jagged pill and a glass of vinegar.

Christian Kulenkampff
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Great article, thank you! Just recently an intern told me she thinks she can't become a very good programmer because she is a woman. As you nicely illustrated these internalized impressions are not life choices but effects of systemic social exclusion.

Kenneth Nussbaum
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As a male this article spoke to me a lot as well. Even as guy I've felt I've needed to hid my video game obsession with most of my friends with the exception of one or two and even now I still hid the bulk of my programming from girlfriends. I've also have had people tell me that I should stay away from programming and I think its because programmers are quick to turn away a lot of potential programmers simply because the rest of society has chosen to reject them to begin with or are tired of explaining the mystery of it to people who are just looking to hear a magic bullet answer for how it all works.

I'm in no way trying to play down or invalidate the many issues that surround being a female game developer/programmer but my perception of your article spoke more to my feelings of how being passionate about game design can make you feel like an outsider.

Your enthusiasm for gaming is refreshing and even though it can be isolating its comforting to know people like you are out there and willing to share there experiences and help our community grow. One of the things that keeps me motivated about working in game development is that I'll eventually become more and more connected with the people that share my interest. Thank you for taking the time to write this I hope you meet more open minded people as you continue.

Steve Fulton
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Great story, great journey. I'm so happy to see that you finally made it and are doing what always wanted to do.

Rodney Emerson
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Women are not ruining gaming, not in the least. It's social politics that are ruining gaming.

Reading some of what's been posted in the last week on this issue, absolutely none of it has anything to do with games. Not even a word of it. It's all about social media, girl "X" sleeping with boy "Y", and flamewars. All of it is the wolf of internet drama, a beast which can be found anywhere online; and it is using women's issues and video games as it's proverbial sheep's clothing. I urge you and anyone who reads this not to be fooled by the great noise, declarations of war, and the self righteous posturing: This is not a gaming issue, it's dramatics. Articles like this, which aim for understanding and reason, only makes this all the more obvious.

EDIT: As an add on, I will confess: Your article got me to tear up a little bit. Most of my geeky friends were girls, so I can't say that I ever subscribed to the "boy's club" mentality. But I did connect with much of what you wrote. This is the sort of thing I wish I could see more of, instead of the usual vitriol laden conversation that is the usual style of the internet.

Thank you for writing Ms. Tito. I wish you success in your endeavors.

Slo Bu
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There will always be prejudice. Both male and female gamers who take sides. I like the idea that we are all gamers - because that's the one truth in a sea of opinions.