"Computer gaming is a male-dominated industry" is one of those dubious sentences that I always find myself reluctant to repeat--because it is used far, far too often to justify the discriminatory action and bad decisions that make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Over the years I have seen publishers, developers, reviewing bodies and gamers deliberately move to make the culture of game-playing, game production, game publishing AND game reviewing more misogynistic than they ever were before. "Male dominated industry" is cited more often as an excuse than as a legitimate reason for the things I've seen done.
There are very few female developers who are public figures nowadays, especially in key creative roles like Lead Designer, and there are also very few female reviewers in any venue where they are being heard rather than just "seen". Whereas when I started working in this business, it was not so rare to see women as designers AND as powerful reviewers. The question in my mind is--what changed, and why?
I started my career working for a magazine called Computer Gaming World, and when I started writing reviews I was not the only woman on staff. As a junior reviewer, in fact, I had to take the scraps left behind by senior reviewers who covered the genres that interested me--and when it came to adventure games and rpg’s, the cream of the crop always went to a powerful female reviewer who used the handle “Scorpia”. To this day, Scorpia is still probably the most famous computer gaming journalist of all time; I can't think of anyone working today who has achieved both her level of name recognition and the level of professional respect that she had earned from her audience.
Thousands of readers have said over the years that they bought or subscribed to the magazine specifically for Scorpia’s column. She was the sort of reviewer you could count on, not only to be fair, accurate and impartial, but to be an authentic gamer who was in touch with the concerns of real gamers.
The question is: what ever happened to Scorpia, and to the era of computer game reviewing that she now calls “the Good Old Days”? With all of the issues currently surrounding women in this industry, I thought it would be worthwhile to track her down and see what she might have to say--about anonymity, privacy, discrimination, and what it means to be a “woman in gaming”. She was generous enough to grant the answers to seven questions--and some of the answers were a surprise, even to me.
SEVEN QUESTIONS WITH SCORPIA
1. Anonymity and privacy have been in the gaming news recently, given the failure of Blizzard's "Real ID" concept for Battlenet. There was a whole choir of opposing voices to this idea, but one of the interesting factions from my point of view were the female gamers, who claimed that their privacy and anonymity were important for personal security reasons.
Question: You were protected during your reviewing days with multiple layers of anonymity. You wrote under a pseudonym and no photograph of you was ever published, even when every other contributor to the magazine was compelled to add a picture to his/her by-line. What were your reasons for remaining both invisible and anonymous?
Answer: I've always been a very private individual. I don't even like personalized items. Publicity is not something I ever wanted. Aside from that, I was already Scorpia when Russ asked me to write for the magazine.
It also seemed more fitting for the adventure/RPG genres I wrote about. How prosaic it would have been to write under my "real" name! In addition, it had a touch of the mysterious, and everyone loves a mystery. Finally, it's easy to remember ;) So it worked out nicely all around.
2. You were and are the most famous female game reviewer of all time. You were also extremely popular with readers: many gamers have said over the years that they subscribed to Computer Gaming World mainly for your column.
Question: Do you feel you have experienced significant discrimination as a female professional in the reviewing business?
Answer: None whatsoever. After considerable thought, I can't come up with any incident of discrimination.
3. Clearly you were able to have a positive working relationship with Johnny Wilson, but when Johnny left CGW, you left soon after-you may well have been the last female writer associated with the publication.
Question: I have read in other interviews that CGW "didn't want your stuff anymore"-did they offer any rationale for firing a popular columnist? Did you get the impression that the magazine was increasingly becoming a "Boy's Club"?
Answer: The mag changed a great deal after Russ sold it to Ziff-Davis. A number of people from the "Russ regime" were dropped besides me. CGW was going in a different direction, and I, among others, didn't fit in with it. That wasn't said to me in so many words, but it came through.
Seeing what CGW eventually became, overall, I'm not too sorry that I left it. However, I don't believe that being a woman had anything to do with being dropped. This was something more in the "new broom" mold than anything else.
Question: Have you submitted a resume or clips to any other venue for professional PC game reviews? If not, why? If so, what was the response?
Answer: No, after leaving CGW, I never looked around for a new "home". Didn't get any offers, either. Possibly my reputation for tough reviews had some thing to do with that. Heh. At that time, there weren't many games around in my area (adventure/RPG). Since then, I've been drifting away from the game scene. Most of what's out there now has no appeal for me, and there's an increasing emphasis on multiplayer, in which I have no interest at all.
4. Many female gamers have stated that they resent having to play every game with a default male character.
Question: Do you prefer to play through a game as a female character? If you do, why? If you prefer to play as male, why? If you don't care, why?
Answer: Knowing game designers were usually men, I usually played as male first if there was a choice. That's always the baseline. Then - unless the game was an utter dog - I went through with a female.
Sometimes there were slight differences between the two, but I never noticed any that were significant. Even so, there's no question in my mind that the games were designed primarily for the male player.
In party-based games, of which there are few these days, I went for a male-female balance.
For me, it doesn't matter too much which I play, although it's always nice to have a choice between male and female. Perhaps this goes back to the early days, when most games were party-based, and you created all the characters. As mentioned above, I liked balance. And all the characters were extensions of me, so male or female, didn't make much difference.
See, I've never really thought of myself as a "female gamer", but simply as "A gamer". Gender hasn't been much of an issue for me most of the time.
5. Can you name your favorite game of all time which 1) allowed you to play as male or female, 2) allowed you to play only as a female, featuring a female character in its story-line?
Answer (1): Ha, no contest there: Ultima IV, still my favorite RPG. And the only one (so far as I know) that emphasized other than just gaining combat and related skills. Also the unique ending.
Related question: who was your favorite female character of all time, PC or NPC?
Answer (2): Hmmm. That one is more difficult. I dislike games that make you play a pre-created character, complete with background, etc., whether male or female. Pondered this one a long time, and no PC or NPC comes to mind.
6. Have you noticed any differences between games where women were in the role of lead designer (Roberta Williams, Jane Jensen, etc.)?
Answer: Not especially, although I (mostly) liked Jane's Gabriel Knight series. They were interesting, adult, and Jane always did her homework.
7. Many female gamers have complained about the depiction of women in games, particularly in games for the console. Do you think these complaints have any merit? What sort of female characters do you think would attract a female audience?
Answer: Regarding consoles, I don't have one, never played a console game. So I can't say anything from my own experience.
As to attracting a female audience, I suspect that might be done if the companies paid attention to the complaints and worked to resolve them. Of course, that's IF the companies really want to attract more women gamers. They can say what they like, but actions speak louder than words.