Women In Games: Getting Real

When I started as a student at USV 18 years ago the student population was 15% female. I heard recently that it is 20% female now. If you were to ask any of the women who went to USV back in 1999, they would probably give you the number of women as a single digit number. It felt like there were very few of us.

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During my career in games, I’ve always been the only female designer on the teams I’ve worked on. The only exception to this was for a short time when I was on loan to work on Call of Duty, Black Ops 2 for a month. They had 2 female designers.

Fast forward to last year when I started teaching at USV. In my first semester teaching Game Design 1, there were no women. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of occasionally having 2-3 women out of a 20 student class size in my in-person classes. This is still not 20% though. Ultimately I think the numbers of women going to college for majors that lead to working in the game industry are not growing fast enough and if you look at game designers specifically it’s even smaller.

When I look at my class specifically and how it doesn’t line up with the 20% number, it makes me wonder: Where all the women are going? What are their majors? If I were to make a guess based on what I see in the industry, many are going into the various art disciplines and some are going into engineering. Why don’t women go into game design?

Career vs Home Life
In my career, I’ve had the opportunity of being on panels for interviews for hiring Designers and I can only remember ever interviewing 1 female. At the time I was not a mother yet, and she had explained that she was too busy with her kids to get around to playing the game. I sort of had a mixed response to whether or not we should hire her. Although it bothered me that she was not fully prepared for the interview, deep down I felt like I understood and that she would be a good candidate.

I had heard that she was an extremely quick learner and a fast and efficient worker from someone who worked with her previously. I still regret not being more of an advocate for her. Hopefully, she got a better job at a game studio that would be more female-friendly in the long run. But in regards to this issue of not having time to play games, it’s a very very real problem that men have more leisure time than women. Throughout my later career (after getting married and owning a home) a lot of my leisure time went away being instead devoted to chores at home.

Throughout my later career (after getting married and owning a home) a lot of my leisure time went away being instead devoted to chores at home. In one of my work reviews, I got the feedback that I should play more games. I can’t tell you how frustrating this was to hear! I would have loved to, but I was working so many hours and so busy at home that I honestly didn’t have time to even hear about what new games were out. I honestly just added this comment to the list of underlying comments I had gotten throughout my career that had a tone of sexism or at least a miss-understanding of the issues women face.

Not All Entry Level Jobs are Equal
There are very very few “junior” or “associate” design positions in the industry. I actually jumped from QA lead to mid-level designer when I was relatively new to the game industry. Having one shipped game almost doubled my salary from my QA lead salary. It seems to be this way for both sexes. By the way, I wasn’t doing game testing, I was doing tools testing which put me higher in salary than a game tester and I was working with developers more closely. This provided good positioning to go into mid-level design. Having the education I had at USV is what got me into this “better” QA position that led to quicker and better upward mobility in the industry.

I have seen more female art managers at places I’ve worked than I have seen fellow female designers (peers). So when it comes to the content of the game and what is going into it, you will mostly see men making those decisions. My official position at Sledgehammer before I left to take care of my son was a senior game/level designer.  I was acting as the multiplayer map lead while I was pregnant.

When I asked when they would give me the title of lead my manager said that they would when I got back from maternity leave. Unfortunately, when I was done with my maternity leave time, I asked if I could work “part-time” to transition back. I was told that they did not have a policy for “part-time” and that I could work full-time or resign. At the time, my husband and I both worked together and although we had the same job title, he made more than me (within the legal limit) and with the discretionary bonuses, he made WAY more than me. So as a family we decided it was best if I was the one to resign.

Hard Choices When Raising a Family
After I left Activision, they changed their paid maternity/paternity leave from 5 days to 8 weeks. I took way more than 5 days! In fact, I used all of the state programs available to me and took close to 6 months off (unpaid but job-protected).

I think an ideal situation for families who are looking for equality between the two parents, would ideally be both parents working part-time. Raising a baby/toddler is a full-time job plus some. Having no part-time policy in place, in my opinion, is a completely outdated and sexist practice that you will find running rampant in the game industry and in the tech jobs throughout the bay area.

At this point in my career, I am putting my career on hold while I spend time raising my 2-year-old son and I am teaching at USV part-time as an adjunct so that I have that time. It not only is rewarding to share with students and allow them to take the reins, it is rewarding to me because I get to interact with other adults, keep my brain going, and use my skills!

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