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 The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated.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 2005 43% of game players are women, a number that has grown from 39% in prior years’ research. 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.
Christy Marx is something of a legend. Although she doesn’t mention it in this profile, Christy Marx is largely responsible for that wonderfully empowering cartoon from the 80s, Jem and the Holograms. She is also the creative force behind Conquests of Camelot and Conquests of the Longbow from the early 90s. How did she get started and what does she do? Read on to find out.
Name: Christy Marx
Title: Game Writer & Game Designer
The first game I remember seeing was â€œCosmic Osmoâ€, which ran on a Mac. I found it quite clever and interesting and have only this minute (after a quick Google on it) discovered it was made by the Cyan guys.
The games I grew up on were the standard board games (Monopoly, Chinese Checkers), but the one I was rabid about was Risk. I looooved Risk.
But fundamentally, I knew nothing about computer games when I was hired to create them for Sierra On-Line. It was quite a learning curve.
What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?
I spent a wasted year at the University of Illinois (because I was so wasted most of the time), then I moved to Los Angeles where I learned the craft of scriptwriting by being hired to write them. I figured out what I was doing while I was doing it. I guess you could call me a blue-collar writer, as I learned on the job.
I donâ€™t personally feel a college education is necessary to be a writer. Being intellectually curious, self-motivated about learning, and a passionate reader of just about anything will teach you as much as a college course.
What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?
I worked for TV production companies, everything from legal to distribution to the production end. Then I became a script reader and finally a full-time writer.
My career is rather eclectic, and I like it that way. My earliest writing jobs were animation scripts and comic book scripts. I moved on to develop and run both live-action and animation TV series, as well as story editing and writing. I wrote more comic stories and graphic novels, and had my own original comic book series published, The Sisterhood of Steel. Iâ€™ve written live-action shows such as Babylon 5 and Twilight Zone. I continue to work in all of these fields.
Iâ€™ve done other types of interactive or game-related writing besides videogames. I did an audio RPG game for Milton-Bradley, and wrote an animation show that contained visual elements that interacted with a toy.
In the past few years, Iâ€™ve also expanded into writing educational non-fiction books for kids, and educational manga.
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?
It was by total accident, certainly nothing I would have thought of on my own. At the time I was married to an Australian artist named Peter Ledger. A headhunter, hired by Sierra On-Line, called Peter because SOL was desperate to find artists. I asked whether theyâ€™d be interested in a writer-artist team. Given my Hollywood background, they were quite excited about this. We drove to Oakhurst, interviewed, said yes, and moved up there in the space of about one month. I was the designer, writer and director of my games, in control of the entire team.
It was, of course, the most amazing kind of fluke, the kind that could never happen now.
How long have you been working in the industry?
That was in 1988. Iâ€™ve worked consistently in videogames ever since.
What does your job entail? What is an average day like?
If youâ€™re talking about what a freelancerâ€™s day is like, thatâ€™s pretty variable, since it depends on what work I might have going at the moment.
But letâ€™s imagine a â€œtypicalâ€ day in the life of this freelance writer.
Breakfast while watching CNN, feeding 11 cats and cleaning cat boxes, checking email/surfing the net/looking for leads on work, dealing with admin, and working on the current project.
Lunch while watching CNN, a short walk, then an afternoon devoted to whatever the current work is.
Dinner while watching a one-hour drama or documentary. I do more email, then my partner and I try to play WoW for a couple of hours, followed yet again by feeding cats and cleaning cat boxes, and then maybe get a little bit of reading done.
However, when a project is in crunch mode, all that goes out the window. This is also a 7-day a week schedule. No weekends off for the freelancer.
Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.
I love the challenge of starting something new, of figuring out how to make something work. And I love hearing back from the viewer/reader/player who really loved what I did and is moved enough to tell me about it. I love finding out that choices I made in game design and writing are validated by players who appreciated those choices.
What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?
The lack of appreciation for the need to have a writer involved in game design from day one, and the lack of understanding of how much good writing can help a game.
What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?
Most people donâ€™t understand what a game designer actually is. They tend to confuse it with just having some â€œcoolâ€ idea for a game.
There are other big misconceptions about letting marketing determine what games should be made. Game creation should be done by the creatives. Itâ€™s marketingâ€™s job to find a creative way to sell the game. But marketing should never be used to dictate creation.
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?
Interestingly enough, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever felt at a disadvantage for being female. For one thing, Iâ€™ve never worried about it. For another, I havenâ€™t encountered a bias so obvious that I was aware of it. And for another, Iâ€™m assertive about my ability and have a low b.s. threshold. For the most part, being a female action-adventure/sf/fantasy writer/creator has worked well in my favor.
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 donâ€™t consider myself a hardcore gamer, though Iâ€™m pathetically addicted to WoW at the moment. I would rather retain some sense of being in the mainstream as a gamer, so that I can write or design games that appeal to a wider audience.
What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?
Iâ€™ve always loved fantasy and mythology, followed by sf and action-adventure.
I have zero interest in sports games, FPS or casual games (such as Tetris or Solitaire).
If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?
I donâ€™t feel my experience is vast enough to accommodate that question. It may sound conceited, but I still like my own adventure games the best.
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?
A story that creates personal and emotional involvement in the game.
Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?
There should be more women playing, but this will only happen if the culture of game-making changes to be more inclusive, uses more women in the design stages, and breaks away from the T&A that is offensive to women.
If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?
Canâ€™t talk about it right now.
Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?
Iâ€™m finishing up a book entitled How To Write for Animation, Comics and Games. Iâ€™ve been doing a lot of research into what advice to give on that subject, but Iâ€™m still formulating what it is. There are no easy answers to this question, and the answers continue to change as the industry itself changes.
It depends on whether the person wants to be a contract writer (very difficult) or be a full-time employee inside the company (slightly less difficult). Either way, you must:
â€¢ know how to write, and be able to write quickly and efficiently to meet tight deadlines
â€¢ understand games and non-linearity
â€¢ research the games market by playing games, reading the major games magazines and reading gamasutra.com
â€¢ pinpoint what type of game you want to write for and hone your skills for that type of game
â€¢ get as many other kinds of writing credits as you can, especially scriptwriting
What are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?
Games: I love playing WoW.
Movies: Just about anything by Terry Gilliam or Peter Jackson. â€œThe Duellistsâ€ by Ridley Scott is a big favorite.
Authors: Tolkien. Mary Stewart. Too many others to name.
Free time? What is free time? If I had any, Iâ€™d be doing a lot more photography and traveling.
Thank you to Christy for taking the time to answer our questions. If you would like to learn more about Christy Marx, visit her website.