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 The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated.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 in 2006, 38% 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.
Anna Murchison works for Flying Lab Software as a Mission Designer/Web Specialist on the Pirates of the Burning Sea game. Here’s what she had to say:
Name: Anna Murchison
Title: Mission Designer/Web Specialist
Company: Flying Lab Software
I don’t remember the first game I ever played, but the game that got me interested in video games was King’s Quest I.
What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?
I went to a very good, very experimental college, so I had the opportunity to explore many different facets of what “makes” a game. Most of my background is in programming, which I think is indispensable for what I do. But I don’t think any classes I could have taken would have *fully* prepared me for the industry.
What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?
This is my first job in games. My previous jobs were all programming-related, most of them writing the backbones for websites and other web applications.
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?
Well, I went to college with the starry-eyed dream of working in the game industry, so I suppose I could say it was planned. I had worked at a number of jobs before I found my current job, and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work.
How long have you been working in the industry?
About a year — I’m a newbie.
What does your job entail? What is an average day like?
I’m first and foremost a mission designer — I lay out what the structure of a mission (quest, job, what have you) in the game looks like, and implement it with our in-house tools. I also do odd jobs for the backend of the website and write internal tools. My day mostly consists of a giant to-do list of things I need to fix or work on, and me trying desperately to remember to do it all.
I love the feeling of finishing a creation task — a storyline, a single mission, or just an NPC that I particularly like. Especially when I feel like all that time I put into it really shows in the final product.
What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?
Since the gaming industry is so very young, there aren’t a lot of standard procedures for things in any company. Documentation for internal tools was probably the biggest bubble that burst upon getting this job — sometimes it happens, but it’s not something you can count on. From what I’ve seen, the web industry is the same way. I can only assume it’s because the game industry is very young, and has yet to set down a rigid formula for how things should work.
What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?
When people hear the word “designer” in my title, the first thing they ask is “so you design the whole game?” While I’d sure love to put that on my resume, that’s not the case. The content of the game brings the game’s features to life, but designing those features is spread out among different departments.
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? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?
After going to programming classes surrounded by men, and working in an industry where you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman in any position but a secretary, my experiences in the games industry have been quite uneventful. In my job I don’t feel as if I’m being treated any differently than any other member of my team, and I’m thankful for that. In general, the only thing that I have noticed is that sometimes people assume that I’m not as “hardcore” as other gamers. I think that’s mostly true, but in certain games I consider myself “better than average”.
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 “hardcore” — I prefer “avid gamer”. My attention span is very short, so I hop from game to game a lot. I get in a good 8 hours of gaming a week on a normal schedule. If I have a game I really like, it could even go up to 12 hours or so.
I don’t have a setting I’m partial to; my favorite genre is adventure games, even though there aren’t that many around anymore. I’m a riddle freak and an exploration zealot. I think the genre I like least is FPSes. I’m terrible at spatial estimations, even though I’m a pretty good shot with a pulse rifle. If I could just stand still and shoot you, I’d be all set.
If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?
I’m sure everyone is saying this, but Oblivion is probably my favorite game I’ve played recently. If it hadn’t have melted my graphics card, I probably would have finished it as well. I would put it up for vote as the best game ever just for the immersion value, and all the neat things they did in their world. But Silent Hill 2 has found a special place in my heart, so I’d also have to put that up for vote as well, even though they are two completely different games. I’m indecisive!
If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?
Better tutorials and more ways to “get right in the action”. That encompasses more save points or the ability to save whenever you want. The two things that turn me off to a new game is not explaining their system well enough, and not being able to save and go do something else for a while.
If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?
I’m working on an up and coming MMORPG called “Pirates of the Burning Sea”. You’ll be able to play a seafaring adventurer hailing from a specific nation. I’m personally very excited about our concept of a single player storyline in a multiplayer game, and the player-driven economy.
Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?
Find what you like to do and get a job doing it. I sat down and thought about what I liked to do the most and tried to find jobs that fit. Game industry or not, you should do something you love to do, because that’s how you’ll do your best work and be happy at the same time. But that doesn’t mean sitting around waiting for the perfect job — the more quantifiable experience you have doing what you want to be good at, the more job options open up. And don’t be afraid to move on from a job you only kind of like to a job you think you’ll love.
I like to play video games. 😉 I also like gardening, cooking, reading, drawing, writing, programming, pen-and paper games, board games, arguing, and doing my taxes. Lawrence Block is an author that hasn’t let me down with any of his books, and my favorite movies are Amelie and Labyrinth. I try to find inspiration in everything I read, watch, or play.