Beyond the Silo
Games come together through the combined development of designers, editors, publishers, layout, art, printers, graphic designers, public relations, project management, playtesters, art directors, and more. It can take a stunning number of people to produce a single game, from its original note-to-self to the end product.
There are women in every possible role that gets a game to the end goal. A number of them are experienced in more than one of those roles. Without a robust presence of women in games, our stories go untold. Diverse talent means new games, new ideas, and a visible reminder that games are neither made exclusively by or for people who prefer sexist narratives. For every man who acts as an ally to women, there's another guy who thinks female characters belong in chainmail bikinis. Think of it as the fantasy- genre equivalent of barefoot in the kitchen.
Of all the sexism-related problems we have in games, the low visibility of the women working in games steadily feeds into all of them them. And it starts with coverage.
Typical tabletop coverage includes blogs, podcasts, tabletop game awards, vlogs and YouTube channels (like Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop), with some coverage outside tabletop-only spheres. Even parenting magazines will have coverage of card games and board games when they’re geared for a more all-ages audience. That’s reasonable diversity for such a small segment of the games market.
But reviews of games often focus solely on game play, without exploring the personnel who made a game. That’s not inherently bad, but it’s a missed opportunity to talk about the game’s creative team—one more place we lose hearing about women making games we love. How our coverage is shaped can unintentionally exclude women from being discussed. It takes conscious effort to look for good opportunities to interview women making and creating games.
The presence of women covering tabletop games is helpful, because it’s hard to ignore when the column or podcast you read/listen to is done by a woman. Jennisodes, which is a much-loved podcast in the tabletop sphere, is recorded, cut, publicized, and run by Jennifer Steen. So when it comes to coverage, we have two issues: finding opportunities to talk more about women making games, and encouraging more women to become the very newsies covering the hobby.
That’s an issue that takes more than one group to solve, and would benefit heavily from mentorship. Newsies showing women the ropes to become podcasters and writers, and existing newsies looking for more opportunities to talk about the work women are doing.
I’ve heard people toss around that women are missing from games because they either lack interest or skills. If I scroll through the list of people I follow on Twitter, I already know a number of women doing those jobs already, or can find them through friends. Women often aren’t socially trained as well as men to self-promote and to network. But we’re not actually all that hard to find. Going outside the industry is something we could be doing to continually build the presence of women in games. In 2012, I recruited Lisa Grabenstetter for a roleplaying setting book Kickstarter in 2012. Li isn’t a seasoned games artist—she’s an experienced and talented artist. That’s more important than whether she had games experience before that book.
Experience in a job within a games context gives nuance to people’s skill sets, but ignoring the array of talent outside games doesn’t benefit us. It contributes to the tendency to silo, closing ourselves off as a hobby and seeing only what’s within the silo as what we have to work with. If we recruit women from blogging, public relations, journalism, art, writing, and editing, we don’t have to teach them from the ground up. We instead show them and mentor them in how those skills work in a context new to them.
If we build the visibility of women in games, and mentor talented women from outside games who could do the hobby incredible good with their skills as well, we’d set the stage for continual gains against sexism. Visibility and presence are critical for maintaining and building on the successes women have made so far. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.
Photo Credit: Newsie Manda Collis running a tabletop game at Let's Play Green Bay, 2012.
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