The games industry is in a moment of reckoning. Over the past few weeks, a series of damning reports have shed details about the culture of harassment experienced by women at the hands of big gaming companies like Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard.
At the centre of the conversation are women — specifically, the abuses perpetrated against women by powerful people at powerful companies. For veteran games developer Cher Scarlett, who’s been involved with recent organisation efforts by fed-up industry workers, everything happening right now is a necessary conversation. But there’s a price.
“I don’t want to be known as the Overwatch league revenge porn girl,” she tweeted. If you don’t know what she’s referring to, that’s OK. Scarlett is more than the incident, even if that’s often the context that gets repeated anytime people discuss her recent doings.
“I don’t want to be known as one of Afrasiabi’s victims,” she continued. “I want to be known for coming up with the first interactive Blizzcon brackets; staying up until 1am every night opening week for it to be ready.”
That thread of tweets sparked an idea: We at Kotaku have a platform, a big one. And while it’s our duty to inform you of the injustices plaguing the industry, one of the side-effects of doing so is that, to the public eye, subjects are whittled down to what happened to them. While many have suffered due to the pervasive sexism in the industry, women are more than just victims. And so today, we’re choosing to spotlight the accomplishments of kickass women in the games industry.
If you are a woman in games that has been victimized by the industry, email me. Don't need to know what happened. Tell me about the cool shit you've done, what you want to be known for, what you haven't gotten recognized for. I will print exactly that. firstname.lastname@example.org https://t.co/33FrhvxYUk— Patricia Hernandez (@xpatriciah) July 24, 2021
Over the past few days, we’ve received an influx of submissions. Aside from some light editing for typos and clarity, what you are about to read is exactly what the women in the gaming industry want you to know about them. And if you’d like to share, get in touch.
“My name is Tamara Knoss, and I have worked in Game Development since November 15, 11/15/2000.
Back in 2002–-2003 I was working at Griptonite Games in Kirkland, WA. I was a character animator on The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King for the Nintendo GameBoy Advance. Eowyn was not originally intended to be a playable character. That was unacceptable to me. I found an engineering ally, and we petitioned upper management, who spoke with the publisher. We were given permission to add Eowyn to the game – BUT – only if we did the work in our spare time. She was out of scope, and the date could not slip because we needed to be on shelves before the movie release. In a long career with many wonderful experiences, getting Eowyn as a playable character into RoTK GBA is one of the things I am most proud of.” — Tamara Knoss, artist and developer
“In the context of my career, I hope to be defined by the quality of my work, and by my diplomacy, integrity, and candor regarding business development – both for myself and for those I can help.” — Marigold Bartlett, QA and artist
“I was known across our engine team as the engineer who could find and fix any performance issue in our Editor. Other engineers would make wild guesses and claim the problems could not be solved, but I could churn out multiple 10x (and better!) improvements a week. My work improved the editing experience for everyone using our engine. I will always be proud of that work.” — Anonymous
“Since leaving games journalism and making the transition into games writing, I’ve been featured in the New York Times, my work has been exhibited in a few festivals, I made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for games, I was the narrative designer for a currently unreleased indie game (which I’m so proud of) and I’ve been working at my first AAA studio for the last few months. I owe a lot [of] my success to people in positions of power who either vouched for me, took me under their wing, or offered career advice when I needed it. They’re the reasons why I never left the industry before I even started. — Emma Kidwell, writer and narrative designer
“It makes me crazy that people know me primarily from Gamergate. Not as someone who raised money to found an ambitious woman-led studio, not someone talented at engineering or game design, but as a victim of trolls.
I have done so many other more interesting things with my career, but it feels like no matter what I do from here — the worst people on earth define me.
Eventually I will probably found another game studio, and my instinct is to work silently and keep my name off it – just so it won’t become a political target.
Your own periodical praised my work before Gamergate. “As the credits rolled for Revolution 60, Giant Spacekat’s science fiction spy adventure for iOS, I felt the familiar pang of loss I feel whenever a great game ends.”
I wanted to develop more accessible, story-based games with women characters using Unreal. Instead my entire career became defined by Gamergate.
It is so hard running an indie studio. For women particularly, getting capital and getting a male-dominated industry to appreciate your work is a challenge – but I did it. I wish I could get a second chance to do it.” — Brianna Wu, writer, programmer, and general games industry multihyphenate
“I wrote an application that allowed [Blizzard] to simply enter in the winner of each match, and it would calculate the resulting bracket for them.
Basically, when I started [at Blizzard they] were using PDFs that had to manually [be] updated, exported, flattened, and then uploaded and copy and pasted onto the site. They were always really far behind (understandably). A bunch of promises had been made to the esports team and none of it had been delivered, so I saw this as an opportunity to give the community I was a part of and the esports team something that would make them happy, and also help the CSR’s that were having to process all this data, too.
There were cool animations there, too, that of course you can’t really see now, but this type of bracket didn’t really exist for esports at the time, so I had to take inspiration from basketball tournament brackets I found. I worked with a designer who volunteered his free time to give it the polish it needed – and to make the animations I wanted. His name is Zac. He is fabulous.
I believe after I left they moved off onto a third party for brackets, but they are only visible during Blizzcon.
I also worked on the Blizzcon schedule, and the videos, being largely responsible for the holistic site-wide live updates to drive users to the videos they wanted to see.” — Cher Scarlett, software engineer
“Hiya. My name is Annie, but my tag is EIGHT and I’m a speedrunner! I’m also held to insane standards of behaviour. Some of my accolades:
– Only person on earth to have held world record in all six major categories for The Lion King for the Sega Genesis
– Performed the speedrun of The Lion King at Summer Games Done Quick 2020 on difficult mode and this game is known as being one of the most difficult games of the ‘90s
– Routed and optimised the most difficult casual level for the glitchless categories also known as no exploits in the community
– Took it upon myself to get a cheating player with all of the world records proof called and proven to be cheating
– Organised two charity marathons on my personal twitch channel by myself raising over $US8,000 ($10,894) total between both of them for the New England Musicians Relief Fund which put food on the table and prevented homelessness for musicians who can’t play live shows due to Covid
– Held all of the major Glitched world records for the majority of 2020 and I am also the only player to have held a glitched sweep (all 3 difficulties) as well as a glitch a sweep of the world records, though they’ve been at separate times
– I have discovered and frame counted countless strats that ended up being faster than the existing strats in each of the categories but I take credit for pretty much completely routing the glitchless run (see: all top runners use my strats)
– I learned the speedrun strats for sonic the hedgehog one glitch list solely so I could do commentary for one of my friends and I ended up doing it for two of my friends
– I am also a singer, songwriter, lyricist, and rapper with my first EP and LP coming out this year and potentially early next year, working with super producer Malik Yusef, who is Kanye West’s most major collaborator
And I’m sure you already know this but I’ve had to work five times [as] hard to get half the respect as a man who [does] half of what I do. I have truly transcended the label of female speedrunner and I might sound narcissistic when I say this but I’m pretty much a legend in the game and I get absolutely no respect.” — Eight, speedrunner
“My current name, the one I would prefer to use, is Mistress Astra Ebonwing. I was a writer at the Joystiq Network, working to cover MMOs, a freelance writer for CCP Games on Eve Online, a community manager at Warner Bros. Games, a Senior Community Manager and Associate Producer at Trion Worlds, I left the industry and did marketing at another company but that didn’t work out, and now I am back in the industry with an unannounced indie studio where I am the lead producer. I was actually very unsure if I ever wanted to come back to games, and when I took my current job, my wife and I had to sit down and discuss the risks.
Part of my risk I used to work on ArcheAge at Trion Worlds, and that was the game I was the lead producer on, although I was never given that title. I was only ever called an Associate Producer. I was the one in charge of the game’s operations for over a year, despite never being called the lead but being responsible for the game’s profit and losses, keeping in contact with our partner, XLGAMES in Korea, and running daily operations while my Executive Producer on the project was permanently pulled away to work on another title to help save it. The ArcheAge community was extremely rough; they drove me into a deep depression, they sent a noose to the office once in a bid to get me to actually kill myself, and I suffered through multiple death threats just to learn how to be a producer on a multi-million dollar MMO. It hurt a lot, as you may guess. I did not expect my life or my family’s lives to ever be on the line just because I wanted to make video games since the age of 6. This is why I now wear a mask and have a pseudonym. I wanted to protect myself, but I did not know how long I could, so I simply wanted to delay the inevitable. I simply wanted to hide and not be hurt again. But…
I heard you want to re-define us by what we want to be defined by, and not our trauma. I honestly would love that opportunity.
I was the transgender woman who was trying to make sure F.E.A.R. Online stayed true to the stories set by Monolith and Day 1 Studios when InPlay Interactive was making it. I wrote storylines for the main cast that never saw the light of day because the game never came out under us. It was too poorly made by its developer. I also pitched two additional F.E.A.R. games after my time on the title, but they were not accepted, as it was believed the franchise “wasn’t worth the time” anymore. I had been the only person on the Warner Bros. publishing side that had played, beaten, and loved all of the games in the series. I still have my Armacham patch from the live action commercial that the guards wore. Alma Wade was my favourite character growing up, and it was a thrill getting to write her. I only wish people could have seen it, because none of it was ever implemented.
I had the honour of knowing some of the first community managers in the industry — people who started back in the 1990s, well before EverQuest. They were the ones who trained me.
I had the pleasure of getting to learn from the world’s first independent alternate reality game creator, David Szulborski, simply because we lived close together in PA. That was how I met people like Adrian Hon, although I doubt Adrian would ever remember me. I was just a silly college kid at the time, and I still wasn’t even a woman. I attended Dave’s funeral after he passed from leukemia and felt like we had lost a rockstar, and the man was simply a plumber who made games in his spare time. He entertained thousands for free with his games like Chasing The Wish and Change Agents. He is still the Guinness Book of World Records holder as “World’s Most Prolific ARG Developer.”
And even with how much ArcheAge hated me, I still took the time, effort, and energy to attempt to re-write and pitch a brand-new business model. We flew to Korea during our yearly meeting, and I got to lead it. I was excited at the idea of taking ArcheAge away from free-to-play, as I knew our players hated it. It was always the #1 worst piece of feedback, and players begged us to change it.
I pitched an idea we called ArcheAge: Unchained. I had taken a whole bunch of concepts and battered them around and given them to other members of staff and we worked furiously on it. We really felt it could have been the future of the MMO and would have probably turned the game around.
Our partners, XLGAMES, told us no. They did not want the business plan.
Colour me shocked a year after I was let go, working at a non-video game company, and I logged on to Steam to see…
Sitting at the number #3 best selling list.
I heard the game crashed. That’s because the servers were overloaded. I had made a new server entry system I was having the web team build that would help fix that. Apparently it had gotten scrapped, because I was not there to defend it. So… the servers overloaded. Again. Like usual.
I’ve been trying for so many years, and I just want players to know that I’ve really always been on their side, even when they were calling me a liar and wishing I would just die.” — Mistress Astra Ebonwing, writer, producer, and general games industry multihyphenate
I’ve been working in it since the ‘90s because as a girl in early multiplayer FPS gaming, I had to texture my own models and send those files to people so they could see my representation in-game. From that time I wanted people to have a more inclusive, positive experience because these games are so fun. Since the ‘80s until now, I’ve been gaming nonstop and I have never played a game with a main character to which I can relate.
I want to be defined as a person that encourages each individual’s self-expression, someone that values creation and life, a protector the storytellers and explorative mindsets, someone who creates environments and plans for future joyous shared experiences, someone that takes action in support of learning, compassion, empathy, friendship, and achievement of peoples’ beautifully unique goals in life.
- I was the first public relations and partnerships person in eSports, designing websites (QuakeCon!), refereeing tournaments, and supporting sportscasters at online and live events over WinAMP from the 90s.
- I was the first and only woman working on the game side in the Disney Interactive building in Glendale, CA, for my duration there.
- I was the first and only woman for several years at the SCEA 989 building in Encinitas, CA in the early 2000s among hundreds of men.
- I was the first and only woman running and in the multiplayer lab at Microsoft for Xbox for my duration there.
- I was the first and only woman working in both the test and community departments at several game studios over several years.
- I was the first pregnant person working in the gaming industry at a company that was founded in 1948.
- I was an initial member of Ubisoft’s pro-gaming team, The Frag Dolls.
- I’ve held Senior, Lead, Management, and Director titles within the gaming industry.
- I created the first baseline of game industry specific training and first onboarding processes and documentation for thousands of game industry employees at several companies.
- I am the alien hominid for which the character from the game, Alien Hominid, was created. The Alien Hominid suit was made for me that I wore at events, I set up and ran their internal testing and advance notice in compliance requirements for console release and helped as a daily part of the start-up to the company that initially held 3 others and grew from there.
- I held a Sports Combine and participated while 30 weeks pregnant, and had the top score on the Wonderlic at the company.
- I solo-parented a newborn, baby, toddler without support while working ~60 hour weeks.
- I’ve recorded game trailers, played games with casts of movies at Warner Bros., recorded voice talent for game character sets, stingers, and commercials. Once, Presto Studios devs preferred my set over a very well-known, talented voice actress that I admire.
- I created and executed guerrilla marketing strategies for several development studios that lead to industry partnerships, successful outreach campaigns, and very fun experiences for many.
- Eliminated the need for overtime through proper planning as a test lead and evangelized this way of project management within the gaming industry for QA.
- Received feedback from a Principal Quality Manager at Microsoft that my Test Review deck and presentation was the best he’s ever seen in his career.
- I was the first and only woman in a moto community and also held the title of President of the Oregon Superbikers where I ran a community, all operations of a motorcycle track, and races that went from 2-4 people to 50+ (including many women) on weekends and partnered with the Oregon Motorcycle Road Racing Association (OMRRA).
My experience shows me that the whole game industry rests atop of the people in game testing and release management and how they are treated. It’s time for progressive solutions and to think differently, to look at testers on game titles and think about them inclusive to core teams, for progressive processes and protected environments for game industry teams, to consider test-driven development methodologies and rewarding positive behaviour. Support the gaming industry through plans, schedules, and practices that allow proper sleep, nutrition, recognition for work, and pay. QA is often an entry point into the gaming industry, people who will run the gaming industry of the future will lead by your example and reference their experiences for decision making. — Theresa Pudenz, PR, QA, and more