Game designer cracks through myths about women in the games industry

"I just have one question for people who think that women don't want to work in games: have you asked them?"

A Game Developers Conference 2014 panel tackling the myths surrounding women in the gaming industry, lead by Storm8 senior game designer Elizabeth Sampat, offered insight on why these beliefs are false and how to work through them.

Sampat kicked off "Women Don't Want to Work in Games (And Other Myths)" by sharing the results of an informal poll of women in the industry, taken through social media, mailing lists and word of mouth. According to her findings, 45 percent said they've always wanted to work in games.

"That's almost half," Sampat said. "Or, to put it another way, that's less than half ... Every time you perpetuate the myth that the only way to make it in games is to have always wanted to work in games, you're reducing the potential talent pool you're recruiting from by 55 percent."

Sampat, who covered myths such as there are no women to hire, or female candidates not fitting company culture, suggested that companies use recruiters to draw in new candidates. Recruiters should stop looking for a dedication to gaming, she said, and find candidates with curiosity and current interest. Talking to women about the industry and encouraging their interest is another way to pull in fresh voices.

"The games industry is fundamentally tied to games culture ..."

Company culture plays an important role in hiring, but not in the way many think. According to those polled in Sampat's survey, cultures that are flexible, provide clear communication and a collaboration are among the top choices. Negative cultures tend to revolve around alcohol or feature "brogrammer" speak. Sampat argues that culture fit isn't "bullshit," but that it's often applied in harmful ways.

"If someone isn't a culture fit because they schedule meetings at 7 p.m. on a Friday," Sampat said, "and come from a company where design is always at war with marketing, then yeah, don't hire them. Their work habits will negatively impact the work habits of the people who already are in your company. But if somebody didn't laugh at your stupid Magic the Gathering joke or didn't seem excited enough when you mentioned the company fantasy football league, get over it."

"... If you can't find any women who can fit into your company culture, have you considered that your company culture might, you know, suck?"

"... and we can't fault its victims for their own Stockholm syndrome."

Confronting the idea that women can be "one of the good ones" in an alleged sea of temperamental or inadequate peers, Sampat called this idea a "learned, cultured response to systemic oppression."

"When you hear a woman say 'I'm not like them,' whose words are they repeating," Sampat said. "Whose bullshit have they internalized as a survival tactic? The games industry is fundamentally tied to games culture, and we can't fault its victims for their own Stockholm syndrome."

If the games industry hopes to honestly and earnestly embrace diversity, she continued, there are only two options.

"We can uplift that stale narrative of the model minority, the badass loner of a woman who learns to be the cool girl in the boys' club," Sampat said.

" ... Or, there's always the second choice: we can do the other thing, the thing that's harder. The thing that doesn't involve getting a few token rich white women to the top by making them climb over the broken bodies of our sisters. We can burn shit down. We can stop being polite and looking for ways to lay equal blame at the feet of the establishment and those on the outside, as if identifying as a woman was a choice that led to their own self oppression.

"If there isn't room for you in the games industry, then fuck the games industry."

Sampat argues that while programs that get young girls into science and technology are important, these only address a small part of the problem. Instead, the industry should be investing in more women now. The only way to fix the system, she said, is to acknowledge that in its current state, it's broken; by participating, everyone is complicit.

"I'm going to say this as clearly and earnestly as I can," Sampat said. "If there isn't room for you in the games industry, then fuck the games industry. I don't want to be here if you can't be here. And this is something that we need to tell each other constantly ... We need to remind each other that we're not impostors. We belong here. And every day, every single chance that we get, we have to make space for each other."

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