Killer Women: Jaclyn Shumate

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by on December 8, 2006 at 12:57 pm

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 The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated.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.

Jaclyn Shumate works for Flying Lab Software as a Sound Designer on the Pirates of the Burning Sea game. Here’s what she had to say:

Name: Jaclyn Shumate
Title: Sound Designer
Company: Flying Lab Software

Super Mario BrothersWhat’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

Nintendo – Super Mario Brothers and Tetris. 4rd grade I think? My parents made me save up $30 to put toward it. I think I was doing chores for months to earn the cash. Before that I had a love for Ms. Pacman, although I didn’t own it. I still do love all of those games!

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

My education is pretty varied. I always thought I’d be a classical violinist, but then I injured my hands when I was 21 and had to re-think things. Consequently, I have an extensive music education, and then on paper a liberal arts education from Barnard College, where I got a degree in Urban Studies. After graduation, I floundered for a few years in jobs I didn’t enjoy. I decided to figure out how I could get into a more creative career that suited my music background, and ended up taking classes at Shoreline Community College in Seattle to learn about Sound Design and Audio Engineering. After that I worked my way into my current job. I actually love school, and would go forever if there were more hours in the day! And, I do think my education has prepared me well for the industry. I use the music and music technology training I have every day, and my Barnard education helps to round out my knowledge base.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

My first “real” jobs out of college were administrative jobs. I knew they weren’t for me, so I came up with a plan to switch careers. I began to take Pro Tools classes while still working and eventually went to school full-time and worked on getting my violin chops back again. After that, I was able to switch my career and work as a violin, studio session musician, and audio engineer. After a couple of internships in Sound Design, one of which was at Flying Labs, I was offered my current job here as a full-time Sound Designer.

PotBS 8Was 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?

My entry into the video game industry was planned, but luck had a hand in it as well. I wanted to do sound design, I wanted to do it in Seattle, and I wanted a stable income. Video games offered me all of those things, and still gave me the creative work that I need. I mentioned this to a friend, and she knew of a few companies for me to look into, one of which was Flying Lab Software.

How long have you been working in the industry?

HA! Only three months in video games. I’ve learned a heck of a lot, and am looking forward to learning more.

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?

My job is two-part, both making the sounds for the game and then putting them into the game. To make the sounds, I use Pro Tools software and piece together sounds from sound effects libraries, changing them as I see fit. Sometimes I get to go to the studio to record actors, swordfighters, or whatever is needed, and then use the sounds we get there to create new sounds for the game. That’s one of the most fun parts of my job. Occasionally I get to make music for the game, and that’s awesome as well.

The second part of it all is putting the sounds that I make into the game. I decide where I want to put sounds, how loud they should be, and how far they should go. I use our proprietary software to place them into different environments in our game.

Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

The most exciting part of what I do is hearing what I’ve done in the game for the first time. It’s awesome working really hard on something, and then having such tangible results when you’re done.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

A lot of people think good sound just happens, like magic. In reality, it takes a lot of work and resources to have great sound.

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?

It’s definitely a double-edged sword, but on the whole, as long as you’re willing to stick up for your rights on occasion, I’ve found that being female is a positive in the industry. The absolute greatest thing about it is that everyone knows your name. It’s easier to make contacts, and you stick out from the crowd. For me, so far working in games there hasn’t been any negative side at all to being a female. However, I have definitely been in a few interesting situations in the male-dominated audio engineering world. I’ve had to be much more assertive and call people out more frequently than I would if it was a more balanced work environment. It can be difficult, but it’s worth it, especially if something might negatively impact your career.

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’m definitely not a hardcore gamer.

I’m too busy to play games regularly outside of work, but I do engage in “research” on occasion!

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

You really, really have to hustle to get what you want. Work hard, do your homework, and make contacts. Find an angle that makes you unique, and sell yourself. Research the background of the people in your favorite job, and develop your own similar skill-set.

ScissorhandsWhat are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?

Free time – make music! Also ski, hike, travel, and spend time with family.
Inspirations – my two very successful women-entrepreneur friends. They were a great help mentoring me. And, my parents, both of whom are self-employed do-it yourselfers.
Authors – Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens
Movie – Edward Scissorhands

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