A group of game developers, scholars and media recently spoke at the #1ReasonToBe panel at the Game Developers Conference, telling a packed room of attendees why they entered the video game industry and, more importantly, why they've chosen to stay.
The speakers on this year's panel included writer and consultant Leigh Alexander, veteran game developers Laralyn McWilliams and Brenda Romero, game designers Anna Kipnis, Deirdra "Squinky" Kiai and Lauren Scott and educator Colleen Macklin.
The common thread of the panel was that of a passion for making games and the desire to belong. The panelists all gave impassioned talks about their love for video games and why, despite facing systematic challenges, they persist.
Alexander spoke of her dream of a world where such a panel was not needed because it is redundant. Scott and Kipnis spoke of their love for making their own games and the satisfaction of seeing others play what they make. Kiai delved into the desire to belong and channeling the challenges into a game. And Macklin called on developers to take responsibility for their games, observe patterns — whether they be patterns of injustice or homogeneity — and use their design skills to solve problems.
"We have to remember why we're here and ultimately who we're doing this for."
McWilliams told the audience that after going through cancer a few years ago, she re-evaluated what was important to her, why she was here, and ultimately decided that she had to speak out about issues that were causing her and others anger and rage.
"Before cancer, I'd never spoken about the issues women face in game development," McWilliams said. "I never spoke about it. I chose to speak about what I did instead — about my areas of expertise — and I tried to make my gender irrelevant. That's not the way I feel any more. I feel very differently, and here's why — it's my one reason why.
"Ask yourself, why am I here? If you search your heart and you believe that one of the things you're meant to do is make games, it's one of the reasons you're here [on earth]. And the reason I feel confident in saying that is because if we didn't fundamentally believe that about each and every one of us, we wouldn't put up with all the bullshit we put up with to do this for a living. And as women in game development right now, we're getting this extra special bonus bullshit.
"When I see that kind of bullshit getting in the way of someone doing what they're here to do, getting in the way of someone fulfilling their purpose, it pisses me off. In fact, it fills me with rage. But I also know that when you linger in that world and you linger on those feelings of anger and rage and despair, you're living in darkness ... I'm done doing that. We have to stand up, we have to speak out, and we can't let darkness and fear and anger overwhelm us. We can't let darkness steal any minutes from us. We have to remember why we're here and ultimately who we're doing this for."
Now in its second year, the #1ReasonToBe panel was created in response to a Twitter hashtag that emerged in November 2012 during an industry-wide discussion about sexism. The original hashtag, #1ReasonWhy, focused on the reasons why the game industry is an unfriendly place for women and minorities. #1ReasonToBe came in response to that, when developers in the industry gave reasons for why they've stayed and will continue to work in the industry despite their experiences.