For women in games, getting to the top is only the beginning
In an impassioned talk debunking several myths about women in game development, Elizabeth Sampat, designer at Storm 8, cautioned women against complacence once they make it to the top - or even to a comfortable position within the game industry.
"For women, simply existing in a male-dominated industry is a rebellious act," says Elizabeth Sampat, designer at Storm 8. "It's hard to be the only woman, especially if you're in the middle. You need to win the approval of your male superiors, and the trust of your male inferiors."
But once you get there, it can be tempting to think that existing is enough. "There's something that feels intensely good about proving people wrong, isn't there?" she says. "It's amazing, you're special!"
That's not the end of the journey, though. "Even when you get to the top, even when you're running your own company, you're still working for approval," says Sampat, as higher level execs are still seeking approval from the press, investors, and other c-level execs. "No-one can blame you for occasionally stopping to take in the view."
Sampat urges women to not stop there though. "Yes, existing as a woman in a male space is rebellious, but existing isn't subversive," she says. "We risk getting swallowed up, kicking down the ladder behind us."
Women at the top can be tempted to blend in. "We're not like those other women who complain, and can't take a joke. We're the good ones," she jibes. And it can be tempting to take the praise that comes with being "good." "We need to cut a swath," she says. "It's so much easier to call out problematic behavior when it's directed at you. When someone says something shitty about you, your shackles go up! Any woman who has fought for acceptance knows what this feels like."
But women should be going to bat for other women, as well, says Sampat. Still, she acknowledged that it gets tiring. "It's anger fatigue," she says. "You're sad, and then you're mad, and then you get numb, because this is how the world is like all day, every day."
And people rely on your voice of anger, and almost step back to watch the show when something bad goes down. "Your righteous indignation gets batted around like a party trick," she says. "We disembody outrage ... we are not voices, we're people. And the world is content with our emptiness,"
If someone tells you you're "not like those others," then "the urge to smile and let it pass is really really understandable," she says. "When you're that high up, everyone looks like ants. This may sound like I'm putting everything at the feet of women eating their own - I'm not - this is a learned, programmed response to oppression."
"When you're saying 'I'm not like them,' whose words are you repeating?" she says. "And I'm going to say this as clearly as possible - if there isn't room for you in the game industry, then fuck the games industry. I don't want to be here if you can't be here. And this is something we need to tell each other constantly."
"We need to remind each other that we're not imposters, we belong here," she says. "Every day, every single chance we get, we have to make space for each other."