Jessica Price works as a project manager at tabletop roleplaying game publisher Paizo Publishing—a progressive company with a female CEO. But Jessica’s career reaches across jobs and companies. In the worlds of video and tabletop games, her experiences have run from sexual harassment to seeing real and positive industry change.
Who do you find it difficult to get respect from in the gaming industry? Or has your experience been largely free of sexism?
It's rough sometimes.
Some of it's unintentional. Male programmers will be shocked by the idea of making the default avatar female for a game intended primarily for female audiences. Marketers will think that making a console pink will magically fix its branding problems with women. Studios making games intended for kids and moms will refuse to give a successful female game designer an interview because she's never done a first-person shooter. And regardless of your actual job title, new male employees will assume you're the receptionist, ask you to clean up the kitchen or conference room after them, and believe your ideas came from your male coworkers.
But some of it's very intentional. I've had every inch of my anatomy commented on by coworkers. I've had marketing guys propose that our marketing should consist of me putting on a low-cut top and talking about our product. I've had people insist that I must have slept with someone to get into the industry. I've had guys I disagreed with in meetings suggest that it's because I'm on the rag.
How does being a wife and mother influence your engagement with the hobby, and the gaming community?
Early on in my time in the gaming community (and early on in my marriage), being a wife meant I was constantly on the defensive. I needed everyone to know that I was a gamer, not the WIFE of a gamer. I wasn't gaming because it was something my husband did. I wasn't gaming to be the weird nag of a wife who wouldn't let her husband have his own hobbies. I gamed because I loved it.
But, no matter how hard I tried, I'd have some dude come up to be at a convention and ask me point blank, "Did you write these characters? Or did your husband?" To this day, I'm never sure if those guys were actually asking me if I actually wrote my characters, or if they just trying to have me confirm that I was, in fact married. But it created an inherent self-consciousness about my identity as a gamer and drove me, in many ways, to separate myself from my husband to prove that I was, in fact a gamer.
As for being a mother? It makes gaming so much more amazing. There's nothing like spending time with a child to ignite your sense of wonder.
If you make roleplaying games, you’re creating something for people to play. To engage with, experience, and share. But something I hear frequently from women in the gaming industry is their discomfort with self-promotion. I understand that, but it’s a discomfort we have to leave behind—as women and as professionals. If you’re uncomfortable with putting yourself out there, this is an important thing to discuss with yourself and with peers who are good at it.
"There's still the sense that publicity is kind of the new kid on the block. It's really not well-respected in any business, which is too bad, but in publishing and gaming, it's definitely the bottom of the heap. "
"One thing I’ve noticed in particular is that randomly assigning gender to characters in examples can lead to unintended apparent biases. Even if you’re alternating, you can end up accidentally playing into some negative stereotypes. Simply making sure you have an equal number of hes and shes isn’t enough. It’s important to be conscious of the decisions that you’re making."
This two part conversation with Valentine covers what she’s working on now, and how she works as an editor to assist authors in crafting books with inclusive language. As the number of women both creating and playing tabletop games continues to increase, thoughtful approaches to gender in games texts will also continue to be part of the ongoing conversation of making gaming a more inclusive hobby.
Sometimes, board games have cool miniatures and artistically admirable player pieces. Other times, they have patently sexist, exploitative and offensive miniatures. Sadly, this week has supplied an exemplar in the latter category. Kingdom Death, a horror-themed board game for 1–6 players and currently in development, just finished its Kingdom Death: Monster Kickstarter. The full game, available to backers of the campaign at $100 or more, contains a generous number of pieces. As the campaigns steadily racked up more backers, upgrades to the base game were unlocked via stretch goals. Creator Adam Poots had set the funding goal at for $35,000. He ended up raising $2,049,721 from 5,410 backers. While it's important to remember that both Kickstarter and Amazon take a percentage of a Kickstarter campaign’s money in processing fees, it's equally important to point out that 5,410 people are really, really excited about this game.
The two things I hear my friends with kids express as concerns about games, regardless of what age group they're for, is about gendering and appropriateness. They want stuff that isn’t a binary of women in bikinis and men as barbarians.