Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA, 39% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.
So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.
Eri Izawa, a Game Designer for Perpetual Entertainment, agreed to be the subject of the latest Killer Women feature. How did she get started and what exactly is a game designer? Read on to find out.
What’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?
My first video game was a Pong-like system (replete with skeet gun). Once personal computers came out (yes, this is prehistory), I got hooked on Zork and whatever else I could play on an Apple II, and from there went to various UNIX games and MUDs at college. It would be years before I got a PC that could play the “hottest” games, sadly.
What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?
I have a bachelor’s degree in physics; some background in engineering or science is quite useful for systems design. Knowing basic coding, even if just simple scripting, is almost mandatory. My lifelong personal interest in writing and artwork has also been very useful.
Designing, writing, and running roleplaying games with bright, headstrong, sleep-deprived college students was highly educational. Likewise, playing MUDs was an excellent introduction to online gaming, back in the era before the Massively Multi-Player games. (And I thought I was wasting time!) I also dabbled in writing very simple computer games off and on for years.
What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?
After college I wrote unpublished fiction; I did some Perl scripting, web development and software QA; only after all that did I get a job in the game industry as a game designer. I’ve done systems design, content and level design, story writing, lead design and management, and now UI design.
Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?
One reason I chose my college was because it was the birthplace of Infocom games (and the setting of The Lurking Horror). Despite this, working in games was something I never took seriously until I realized (1) I didn’t want to do hardcore science, (2) writing fiction was unlikely to result in income anytime soon, and (3) game companies in my area were hiring. Thanks to gaming in college, I had contacts in the industry. Eventually I got a break â€“ a particular start-up company couldn’t demand years of professional game dev experience because no one there had any, either! My writing samples and my amateur game writing experience helped tip the scales.
How long have you been working in the industry?
About 6 years, give or take.
What does your job entail? What is an average day like?
Working at a small game company means that a person’s tasks change week by week, month by month. Right now, I’ve somehow gotten into UI design, but I’m also doing social system design and other systems design. In the future, I’ll probably be doing something different. During any given day, I am most likely to go from Word to Excel to Photoshop and back, but I might be called upon to do lots of other things.
Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.
Well, I’ve had lots of exciting moments â€“ such as when coming up with an interesting way of handling a design issue. Every day can be exciting (in both good and bad ways, lol).
What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?
Many experienced designers throughout the industry can (and do) tell corporate horror stories that make “Dilbert” look tame. It doesn’t help that more people want to enter game development than the industry can currently support. People who have families may especially have a hard time, such as when competing against unattached people who can immerse themselves in games and game dev 24×7. I’m definitely thankful to be working at a great company with a mature outlook!
What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?
I suppose the primary misconception is that it’s an easy job. Sometimes it’s easy â€“ much of the time it’s a real challenge that calls upon practically every field of study from your school years. It is a lot of fun, but it also calls for a lot of thinking.
Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you?
For me, at least, the only time being female seems to make a big positive difference is when it comes to getting interview requests for female gamer publications . I’ve certainly seen some gender-negatives in the past. Hopefully it’s all getting better, a little at a time.
Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?
There was a time when I played Dark Age of Camelot 60 or more hours a week (I was unemployed then). I think that counts as “hardcore” . Nowadays, though, I can’t muster more than about 12 hours a week.
What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?
Right now, I most enjoy DAoC’s Realm-vs.-Realm style of PvP combat, and hope to someday get high enough in WoW to have fun with PvP there. I’m pretty tired of PvE these days, even with a WoW- or EQ2- or CoH-style quests. I think I have played and enjoyed every major type of game out there, some types more than others. I reluctantly avoid first person shooters for the sole reason they make me incredibly motion-sick.
If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?
Computer games have so much variation, and each “era” has had such different levels of technology, that I think it’s fairly meaningless to speak of a single “best game ever.” For example, Tetris is an incredible game, but it hasn’t a hint of the story or emotional depth that even a mediocre Japanese console RPG has. Likewise, Zork was tremendous fun, but I’d imagine most modern RPGers would prefer EQ2. It’s like trying to pick the “best” invention ever â€“ it’s too broad and subjective.
If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a female audience, what would that one thing be?
The one thing would be thought. If intelligent game devs just take the time to really think about appealing to women, and make it a real development priority, more games would appeal to a female audience.
If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?
Well, it’s a cool and exciting Massively Multi-Player game :). Can’t say much more.
Do you have any advice for females who would like to get into the industry?
In part, preparation depends on what you want to do; following your heart is the most important thing, because you never know where your path might take you â€“ you might happily wind up somewhere far from your original intentions. That said, study the essentials of your craft (and it never hurts to brush up on writing skills in this industry). Meet, play games with, and work with people who share similar goals. Also, in my opinion, it helps to approach everyone you meet with unconditional good-will â€“ this does not mean letting people walk all over you, but it means having an underlying positive attitude. Lastly, have fun, even at interviews. If you’re not having fun, you’re probably not performing at your best. It’s easier to have fun and perform well as a result, than to try to make yourself perform well and do neither!
Favorite Games: Civilization I, various Infocom and modern Interactive Fiction works, Tetris and its descendants, The Sims, Total Annihilation, Sim City, Dark Age of Camelot, the first half (but not second half) of both Xenogears and Final Fantasy VII. Photoshop, paint programs, and music composition programs qualify as addictive interactive toys. I also have nostalgic fondness for an old UNIX multiplayer game called xtank.
Favorite movies: Lately I’ve been pretty happy with most Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli works, like “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” (“Spirited Away”). I especially like “Laputa: Castle in the Sky.”
Favorite authors: Western fiction: J. R. R. Tolkien and Steven Brust (fantasy), Agatha Christie and Rex Stout (mysteries). Manga authors: Takahashi Rumiko, Soda Masahito, Sasaki Noriko, Matsumoto Leiji, Tezuka Osamu, and many others. On more serious topics I enjoy just about any author who has interesting or useful insights; among my favorites are the writings of C. S. Lewis, Ben H. Swett, Peace Pilgrim, and so on.
Anything that conveys truth (as I perceive truth to be) is inspiring to me.
In my spare time, I hang out with various online communities (only some of which are gaming-related), work on online essays, draw web comics, read gardening catalogs, try to keep my relationships meaningful, and last but not least, seek the highest path that I know.