Fast-forward more than two decades later, and here you are keynoting an entire conference celebrating women in the games industry. How do you feel about that?
Just that it’s great! I’m all for it. I think two things are really important. One is something that I don’t think people are taught in school very often -- and I certainly wasn’t -- it’s when a woman is in a professional setting where she constantly feels challenged and is undermined, how to get some power! And I certainly had no clue about how to do that at that age. Maybe young women know more about that now, but then again, maybe they don’t, so that’s something that I’ve learned.
The other thing is -- and I always want to encourage anyone in game development to do this, but especially women -- I think we’re naturals at this, and can make such a contribution. And that’s to get keenly interested, and to stay interested in graphic arts and visual design, and the development of high art concepts and film animation, and high quality film animation, lighting techniques -- all the artistic things that have come such a long way because of digital contributions. To use 3D modeling in a way that isn’t typically utilized, to turn it into a fine art project instead of the... sometimes kinda coarser way that it’s used. Power and art!
The hot question these days; are games art?
I don’t think they are enough like art -- yet. But I do think they’re going in the right direction from what I’ve observed, and I’m thrilled to see that direction, because that was really undermined for me. I had so many things I could have contributed that were frankly just ridiculed and ignored, so I’m so pleased to see when something does go in a direction that I like. But I think that could be pushed a lot more.
I think that in some ways, there is a parallel [to film] being played out. Because at the time when I worked, the teams were really small -- too small. There was a project manager, a hardware engineer, a software engineer and a technician, and typically the hardware engineer was responsible for the board, and it was already done, and pretty stable; there really weren’t many problems in that way. And then there was just the big load of work that fell on the software engineer, and there was squabbling if it was too much. Anyway, I see that game teams are closer to a film crew. It just seems like there’s a much more reasonable idea about how to split up the work and how to assign the roles and stuff.
But at the same time, from the time that film began and was made available to the public -- if whole segments of the public had been left out of the development [of] film -- what would we think, if they’d been done that way? If we’d gotten to this point and there were movies for a specific segment, and a whole lot of people were left out of the whole thing, and we thought of movies as something just for a specific population? That would just be so strange, and so sad that that group was left out. I really think that game development has gone in that direction, and that there’s whole segments that would be happier to have that medium.
How do you think they could head further in that direction?
I think that [games] can serve so many extra purposes -- learning and logic and practice for all kinds of skills, literacy, visual literacy -- many, many skills that we need. And we need good ways to teach those, so I would so much like to see games go in a direction where everyone is included, and so I guess I’m looking for more than just art. And [for them to be] very important in the teaching of visual literacy, which I think is one of the most important skills that we are not good at teaching in schools yet.
It seems you see a particular contribution that a sort of feminine creative sensibility can add to game development.
I worked with so many people who were not very verbal at all. It’s such a funny blend of skills; I really think that. So many people who were good technically were not readers, and not interested in narrative, and they were not interested in exploring verbal possibilities. I see that it’s come a certain distance, but I would like to see women push that farther, because I think we’re naturals at doing that!
So do you think it’s a level playing field now? If so, why does the idea of “women in games” still seem significant to the general audience? If not, what do you think needs to happen before there are more prominent female professionals in the game industry?
Well, you know, I don’t know enough about that part of it. But one thing I see as a great hope is that there are so many open-source avenues now that were not ever available before. Like, I teach writing classes, but I also teach multimedia classes, and sometimes I teach 3DSMax. It’s expensive, and really limits the number of people who have it available, the number of students who ever get a chance to learn it. And it’s not taught much in Arkansas where I live. But recently, I’ve discovered Blender, the open-source 3D modeling program, and it’s completely free and open-source, and there are great tutorials on the web; it opens up a whole new avenue for people who didn’t have access to learning that kind of thing before. And with games that make a modding capability available, that makes so much [accessible] that wasn’t accessible to people -- to women especially -- before. There are so many ways [for] kids, for fifty dollars or even for zero dollars, [that are] pretty much accessible to everybody.
I got the initial training that I had by working for General Motors and working on Cadillacs. And that was rough, but if I hadn’t had that experience, and if I hadn’t learned assembly language under those conditions, I never would have been considered at Atari.