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 The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated.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.
In steps Yngvild Lothe. She works for Funcom as a Game Designer on Anarchy Online. How did she get started and what does she do as 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?
I didn’t find any interest in video games until my younger brother was old enough to get them as presents. I guess I was about 9. It soon became a fight between us who would have the Bombsweeper (game & watch) game, and I spent time after school at my cousins’, since they had a C64. I also remember having a list of stuff to write in order to start my favorite games on my first PC. (got it when I was twelve back in 92) I never understood why I would write “cd games” and then “outrun.exe” or whatever my dad wrote for me, but following the list I managed to play the games which were the most important part for me at that point. From then on I’ve always played games, PC or console.
I have one game that I’ll never forget as well, and that was when we went to a store asking for an adventure/puzzle game, since that was what I wanted. The guy at the store recommended Alone in the Dark, and so my dad bought me that game. I only made it down the stairs and into the first few rooms, I got so scared that I insisted on putting my closet in front of the window so that the monsters wouldn’t get me. I even tried playing at daytime with my parents in the room, but I just didn’t dare to move further. Both the character and the monsters looked so realistic to me!
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?
At college I dated a guy that had an interest in computers besides just playing games or writing a journal and homework, like I did. He showed me some basic programming, and I joined him when he went to a LAN-party in 1996. I was one of two girls there, and got plenty of help from the guys that actually dared talk to me. I learned to use some pixel-drawing programs, looked more into programming, and became a halfway member of what is called “the computer scene” in Norway. Here talented people get together and use creativity and skill in order to make demos and animations. I met people from all over Europe, and especially in Finland there were more girls interested in computers as well.
I think that this background has prepared me well for this industry; I guess I feel like one of the guys here, for good and for bad. =)
After college, I started Computer Science studies at the University in Oslo. I quickly discovered that programming wasn’t really my thing, and got me a job in an office while pondering what I should study. My brother convinced me to test this MMORPG that was currently in beta, and next thing I knew I had my own Anarchy Online beta account and was guild leader for 150 other players. Thanks to that I noticed the ad for customer service personnel that Funcom had on their web page, and sent in my application. I got the job, and after 2 years in customer service, I joined the Anarchy Online Design team in October 2003.
How long have you been working in the industry?
Since September 2001.
What does your job entail? What is an average day like?
I’m not sure there is such a thing as an average day here… but I usually start the day around 10 am. We have a meeting with the team each morning to sum up the latest news and what tasks we should focus on. I think this is an important part of the day since we are working on a live product. Then I read my email and try to make a “to do”-list. This is also where the mandatory morning coffee comes in. I usually then follow up on what kind of events the ARKs (the volunteers of AO) have produced, or if they have any requests, and then I start working on the task that I have. My tasks include designing and implementing quests, NPC dialog and the story in the game.
Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.
Well, I love when we come up with a new concept on how to do things. Especially when someone tells us it can’t be done, and we still make it! I love doing research and getting to the bottom of things.
What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?
I think that what’s hitting me hardest is the negative feedback you can get from players. People tend to raise their voices when they aren’t happy with something, and sometimes it feels like a personal hit. I really care for the game, and would of course like to see everyone happy all the time, and when doing your best never seems to be good enough to some people, the job can be really frustrating.
What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?
Most people think that being a game designer includes fantastic drawing skills. I’m often asked questions about graphics and 3D-design, and to the average person it’s hard to explain exactly what is an online game, what is a quest and how do people talk to the computer.
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?
In my work, I don’t really notice any advantages or disadvantages being a female. There are of course examples of times where I might have being treated differently because I’m a woman, but on an everyday basis I don’t think much about being a woman and the others on my team being men. There have been examples in the past where they didn’t invite me to game nights etc. because they didn’t think I would be interested, but that’s more or less gone now that they know me better.
I’ve also noticed how I probably become an object of gossip whenever I find friends among my co workers, and it’s sometimes hard to keep your female style as it is often commented if you are wearing high heels or a shorter skirt etc.
Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?
I don’t consider myself a hardcore gamer in general, more a part time hardcore gamer! I have a tendency to play so much in a short period of time that I continue playing the game in my dreams, and then I quickly grow tired of it. I think I kind of use up the game too fast, sort of like with tequila. You can have too much at one time, and later when you have forgotten how bad it turned out, you try it again, and all the memories come back.
What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?
I like RTS games very much. I prefer to build up stuff rather than to tear it down. (I was totally addicted to LEGO as a kid.) In my perfect game I will play against an opponent that is good, but not unbeatable. I hate losing. I’ve spent a lot of time with different tycoon games, I also loved C&C, especially Tiberian Sun. I’ve tried a lot of different role playing games (as I’ve been a pen&paper role player for quite some time), they keep me entertained for a while, but I’m still waiting for that one really good game.
As much as I would love to like it, I can’t tolerate FPS games. I tend to get nauseated, upset whenever I get killed (usually way too quickly to my taste), and I get upset by the non-realistic features in the games.
I also try out different MMOs from time to time, but I find it more like work than fun as I always look at it thinking how it could have been better this way, or how I could implement this in our game.
If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?
Diablo II. I’m not sure if it’s really the best game ever, but it’s the game I’ve had the best time playing. My boyfriend at the time and I usually teamed up as Necromancer (him) and Paladin (me), and kicked ass! I have no idea how many times I’ve played that game, I even think I know most of the game dialog by heart.
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?
Tough question. I think I could write about a lot of different stuff that would appeal to female gamers. I think for online games, it is important to many women that you get on a personal level with your character. It is important that they can have variety in choice of character and the characters appearance. This includes details in looks, clothes, social emotes, interaction etc.
If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?
Well, I’m working on the game Anarchy Online, it has been out 4 years this summer, and is a science fiction based MMORPG, set 27000 years into the future on the planet Rubi-Ka. Http://www.anarchy-online.com for more information =)
Do you have any advice for females who would like to get into the industry?
Of course, it’s different depending on what type of job you want to do, but in general I think it’s important to brand yourself, get contacts in the industry and don’t give up. Add a good portion of luck and timing as well. Knowing when companies are about to hire more people and don’t expect them to look at the CV you sent in last time they hired and give you a call. Be more aggressive, which I think, in Norway at least, is a skill that is more often seen in men than in women. And be tough! Don’t believe that all good things will come to you, and go grab it instead! I’ve wasted time thinking that justice will happen and that everyone will see what a good job you’re doing and reward you for it. It’s a lot about finding the balance point where you are proud of your work without showing off.
What are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?
Currently I’ve been playing Burnout 3 (Xbox), and I play some Puzzle Pirates when I want to relax, or I can sit playing Civ3 or Rollercoaster Tycoon for a day, but hard to say that I have a favorite game.
As for games, I also play a lot of board and card games, and some of my favorites include Puerto Rico, Steve Jackson’s Chez Geek, Zoff im Zoo, Game of Thrones, Carcassonne and Guillotine.
I’ve always enjoyed Peter Jackson’s movies, and wasn’t surprised that the LOTR version turned out to be so wonderful! I’m also a big fan of Quentin Tarantino. I love the colors and the atmosphere in movies such as Once upon a time in the West and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. City of Lost Children and The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain are simply beautiful movies, in colors, camera angles and casting. A movie I saw recently and enjoyed was The Boondock Saints. I can’t understand how I missed it when it came out, but it’s definitely on my list now. Right now I’m looking forward to seeing Constantine and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. (We are usually a bit behind the rest of the world when it comes to movie releases.)
As for authors, I’m a paperback collector, so I can safely say that I read my books till they are torn and missing pages. I started reading Tolkien as a kid, and when I run out of books to read, I started playing the Middle Earth pen& paper role play. It opened my literature world from being the classic, and in my young eyes boring, works, and to find exciting adventures in the worlds created by Terry Pratchett (Discworld), R.A. Salvatore, (The dark elf and The Icewind Dale trilogies). I read the Ravenloft series of books, and was disappointed to find out that they no longer wanted to publish books, and ended it by revealing the whole magic behind the lands in the final book about Stradt. Luckily I was advised never to read that book, so it’s still unopened in my shelf. My dad gave the Isaac Asimov Foundation series, which I still love reading. I’ve also enjoyed reading Orson Scott Card, but I think my favorite series must be the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. I’m still waiting for the 4th book in the series, and just a few weeks ago he announced on his web page that it was still not done. It taught me how to not start reading a non-finished series of books. I also love Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and his book Neverwhere. I think I can read those over and over and the magic just won’t go away.
I think all of the above is what gives me inspiration for my work, I guess the Norwegian winter is perfect for evenings spent inside reading, watching movies and playing games. I have a tendency to switch hobbies ever so often, guess it’s a matter of attention span, just as it is with games. For one time I was learning Kyudo (Japanese Archery), then only last summer I moved on to start in an medieval styled fighting group, but when winter came I crawled inside for my books and games. 😉 I try to make time to hang out with the girls at least once a week, and in the winter we also go skiing in the mountains in the weekends.