Women in Game Development
Breaking the Glass Level Cap
Edited by Jennifer Brandes Helpler
Disclosure: I have had the chance to collaborate with many of the women who contributed to this book. Either by writing for them, collaborating with them on projects, having them as a guest on my podcast, or paneling with them at conventions. Prior knowledge of their work has not influenced my opinion of the book. ~ TCD
July 19, 2016
By T. DePass
This book is required reading, not just for young women who might be entertaining the idea of entering the games industry. So often the narrative of women in games is framed around the abuse and harassment they have received in the last couple of years from the public and the industry; but this book puts them back in the narrative.
We get to hear their stories direct from them, unfiltered to know how they came to be in games whether they are an industry veteran like Brenda Romero or a relative newcomer such as Karisma Williams. Stories we’d never get because of how the narrative around women in games has been spun for us.
This collection of personal essays is important not just for learning more about the women that have led the way, are still in the industry and have helped pave the way for younger developers, it shows that the industry is not a closed door if you don’t get in right after college, if you aren’t the right kind developer. The tales of entry into the industry are so varied that I dare say anyone who picks up Women in Game Development will find an essay that speaks to them, especially if they are still trying to get in the door.
I know that it cheered me to see someone who hadn’t considered an industry job until she was older than I am now, to remind me that entry isn’t barred because I’m over forty. Other stories of how the women in this book found their love, their passion and joy in gaming was a much needed reminder that what I enjoy, what I love is still worth it even after the year and some months of terrible things we’ve seen come to light.
As for the terrible things in gaming, as much as I’d like to utterly ignore them I cannot. Nor do many of the women’s essays ignore the terrible shit they have had to endure. I’m glad they don’t shy away from talking of hate groups, and their struggles. I’m glad their stories are not sanitized and clear of what they’ve endured. What makes me happy is that no one lets that overtake their piece in the book. There’s no one piece that is solely about the abuse and harassment, but about them and how that is a part of their history but not defining them or their work.
In addition to retaking their narrative with powerful essays, Women in Game Development is packed with good, practical advice for women seeking to get into the industry as well as for those already in and not going anywhere. Many of the women touch on tips for keeping yourself in the game that are helpful, not just oh here’s what I did and you must follow in my footsteps to succeed. Advice like that rarely works nor is practical. I’m glad that women who addressed that in their essays kept it real for readers
There are two more things about the book put it on my must read list. The first is something I don’t see in books outside of academic works usually. The additions of terms and definitions as side-bars to the relevant essay that used that term. Some folks picking this up may not know terms like micro-aggression, EA Spouse, or intersectionality. Having those terms explained as a reader comes upon them will go a long way towards comprehension and understanding instead of possibly leaving a reader confused.
The second is the interspersing of pieces about how women have been regarded in sectors of the industry, from narrative design, to artists. They were spaced in a way that they provided a neat break between essays with a bit of advice, or information that a reader may not have known before picking up this collection. One such piece dissects the silly idea that women just don’t like combat, which isn’t true. However, it’s not just oh that’s ridiculous and that’s that. The piece addresses how to tackle this when it comes up, how to look at it from a design perspective and additional ways to address it in a handy bullet point format.
Overall, Women in Game Development is a solid collection of essays that reminds us all that women have been there from the beginning of gaming, they aren’t going anywhere and they are not just needed but vital to the industry. It’s a celebration of those who contributed, inspiration to those looking to get in and educational for those who might not know all that women have done in gaming.
I highly recommend it for any history of games, game design, sociology, or STEM course curriculum. The stories of the women in this collection are important not just for gamers, or those in the industry but for anyone wishing to get a piece of industry history they may be missing.
Thank you Jennifer Brandes Hepler for editing this wonderful collection and to everyone who contributed their origin stories, advice and wisdom.