Killer Women: Sheri Pocilujko


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 The assumption that video games are a man's domain is finally becoming outdated.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

Sheri Pocilujko is a Game Designer for High Voltage Software. How did she get started and what does she do? Read on to find out.

Name: Sheri Pocilujko
Title: Game Designer
Company: High Voltage Software

What's your earliest memory of video games?

I remember playing on an Atari 2600 growing up as a kid. In fact we even got a second Atari at one point to handle all the gaming needs. I could play for hours on the Atari (who said girls only want dolls!). I also had a NES, SNES, and an Apple IIGS growing up before we got a full-fledged PC. Even outside of video games I was brought up in a gaming household. We played card and board games ALL the time. It was one of the regular ways our family spent time together. In fact even now every family get together usually ends with a game of Trivial Pursuit or some other game if everyone's not in the mood for trivia. (Sequence has been a good one because of the younger kids in the family.)

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

I currently have an Associate of Arts and I'm working towards a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Project Management. I've taken a lot of business courses for management, marketing, etc. and continuing education classes in communication skills, time management, etc. I think the variety of classes I've taken has prepared me well for this industry because it has given me many different perspectives.

Coming in to the industry with a lot of business classes helps me understand the business aspects that often frustrate developers. It helps you understand why sometimes the "suits" will make some of the decisions they do, regardless of the current state of the game you are working on.

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

Wow. My first real job (besides babysitting…) was as a bank teller. From there I started doing Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, and Credit and Collections work (collections is not fun!). My main job previous to this one was mostly Quality Assurance, but at that company I also got to do a lot of other jobs including product, marketing, sales, web, and customer support. It was a unique experience that really let me challenge myself. Now here at High Voltage Software I'm getting challenged even further by being a game designer. Game designers at High Voltage get to be responsible for a lot of different things here and it makes the job interesting and really lets out my creative side.

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance?

Chance. My boyfriend at the time was a programmer for a video game company and he liked to work the 11-7 shift where as my normal "corporate" job had me working 8-5. So after my shift I'd head over to his company and play the game in his cube and help him find crashes. Being the analytical person I am, I started making my own notes, catching typos, trying unique things out, and finding crashes, etc. all on my own. The project manager, who was also the VP of Product Development, over at the company saw this and said "why don't you come work for us and get paid for what you're doing for free already?" (Thanks Larry!) The rest, as they say, is history.

How long have you been working in the industry?

Just a little over 5 years, but I hope to stay in it a lot longer!

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

High Voltage current tasks has me helping place cameras in levels to guide game play and helping to create in-game cinemas in each level. Just prior to that, I was working on a project by designing feature and level ideas as well as placing objects in levels.

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

I think it's hard to pick just one but I'd probably have to go with the somewhat cliché answer of seeing someone excited while playing a game you helped create. It makes a lot of those tough moments during the development cycle more bearable.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

Overtime! But wouldn't everyone say that? Seriously though, I think sometimes seeing a game you care so much about not do as well in the market as everyone hoped would probably be the least favorite thing.

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

Pardon the punned expression but that it's "all fun and games". You do get to express your creativity but you also need to be very detail oriented and have the ability to communicate your internal vision externally. Take your favorite game and think about what is in that game. Someone had to sit down and write out a list of every object that game would have, what the object would look like, where it would be placed, what it would act like when the player tried to interact with it, what other attributes it would have, etc. And that's just for objects….

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men?

Is "both" an OK answer? I think as a female in this industry there are distinct advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes a developer will come pick my brain as far as a feature or idea he has when he is looking to make it more female-friendly. Although most female developers are probably not your stereotypical female gamer (or casual gamer) in a lot of cases we can innately point out things that might offend the general female audience.

The disadvantage is that when you are dealing with an issue you think would be sensitive to females and you are surrounded by men it can be hard to persuade them. For example, at a previous company I was working on a game where there was some AVIs featuring real life people. The one female in the AVI had a shot where you accidentally see her bra exposed. Although some women would be totally fine with that many women would not, and I don't think the person featured was asked about the situation. The problem with getting the issue taken care of was I was surrounded by a lot of males who said they'd have no problem if their boxers were accidentally showing and "It's just clothing." So in certain cases I've gotten a lot of "You wouldn't understand" type comments or looks. Sometimes you're also kept out of certain e-mail circles and jokes because they think you might not feel comfortable.

As long as you show them what you are or are not willing to handle though most male developers seem to open up quite nicely. We've found on a lot of the dev lists that most male developers just want to know the rules, then they'll follow them (as long as you're not going overboard). I've also lucked out because High Voltage seems to have a growing base of female developers as well in various disciplines so I'm not alone here.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer?

I am definitely not a hardcore gamer, I've known some co-workers who after an 12 hour day still go home to put in at least 6 hours of gaming, so I'll never be hardcore. The hours I play vary depending on what other things I have going on in my life (school, IGDA work, friends, etc.) and if you count board/card games the numbers jump because I play those a lot too!

What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?

I love RPG games (usually the hack and slash ones) and I am a big Dead or Alive fan so I like fighters, but that one is the best out of all of them. I think some of the "all we care about is as much violence and gore as possible" games are the ones I enjoy the least. Although I don't mind violence or occasional gore, if it is just thrown in there to have it and doesn't make gameplay sense then the game doesn't make sense to me.

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

Wow….it is even possible to answer that question? I mean I may think Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore was the best fighter I've played but not necessarily the best game. And you can't compare Dr. Mario with Dead or Alive or Baldur's Gate or any other game not in that genre. City of Heroes was great too, would be great still if I had more time. Can I plead the fifth on this one?

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?

I think most of what you put in a game that would attract female gamers (who are typically more casual gamers) would attract casual gamers. So I think it's not just keep gender but type in mind. The majority of people who buy games are not hardcore gamers, so keep an eye out for your UI, tutorials, manuals, etc.

Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming?

Females make up 51% of the world's population. Each year they continue to make up a larger percentage of the game playing population. (They are over 60% in Korea alone!) If executives, marketing, and the developers themselves continue to dismiss females as a part of their various market segments then they are crippling the industry's potential to grow and furthering the saturation of audience.

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

No can do, sorry. The most I can say is I'm working on an adventure-platform game to be released on multiple platforms. Though my project manager would like me to tell you that "it will most likely be the greatest game that the world has ever known!!! "

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

Never settle for anything less than what you really want. Don't be afraid just because you're the only girl in the room. Get involved in the industry so you can learn not only what in your portfolio and skill sets to improve, but also who you need to know. That last part is huge; a lot of this business is not what you know but who you know.

What are your favorite games?

Favorite Games: Dead or Alive (any of them), Kingdom Hearts (until the part I got lost in near the end), Dungeon Keeper (I've found myself oddly addicted to that game), and Progress Quest – the best satire of an MMO ever! But that's just video games. I also like spades, hearts, rummy, gin, canasta, Axis and Allies, Scrabble, chess, Sorry, and a whole host of other board, card, and tabletop games that I play regularly with friends.

Favorite movies?

Favorite Movies: Princess Bride – One of the top 10 movies of all time!, The Lion King, Dead Poets Society, any Pixar movie, City of Angels (English version), the whole LOTR trilogy, and a few others make my top list.

Favorite Authors?

Favorite Authors: Roger Zelazny (Amber), Robert Aspirin (MYTH), Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman (Dragonlance), CS Lewis (Narnia), Terry Brooks (Landover ), A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh), and many others. I read a lot of non-fiction books too but those aren't exactly popping names out to me at the moment.


Inspirations: Dance, Music, Theater, Musical Theater, Movies, Video Games, Books, Friends, Life – you can find an inspiration almost anywhere if you look for it.

What do you like doing in your free time?

Free Time: Wait, did you say we're supposed to have free time? When I'm not at work or doing my online classes I'm playing games with friends or doing work in the industry or trying to keep my place from looking like a mess. When I can I try to travel, even if it is not that far away. And most of all I >LOVE< my TiVo! TiVo rules! I can't live without my TiVo! (Did I mention I love TiVo? *grins*)

Posted in: Interviews

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