A Message To Women in the Gaming Industry: Don't Learn to Code
Whenever I reflect on my experience as one of the relatively few women in the gaming industry, I think of a student I met at a Game Writers' Roundtable the last time I went to the Game Developers Conference (GDC).
She was talking about learning to code so that she would become a more well-rounded professional and "not just a writer." I only had one year of game-writing experience, but I was older, already employed in the industry, and significantly chattier than most people there. So, when I got my hands on the mic, I took the chance to reflect briefly on this perception of writers as lesser professionals, and remarked that we should defend ourselves and our craft whenever possible.
Afterwards, the student approached me and thanked me for my words. Maybe she did feel somewhat lesser than, and needed to hear that she wasn't. I kept thinking about this interaction, mainly since I have never heard a programmer saying they weren't a well-rounded professional because they didn't know how to write compelling dialogue. And I felt the asymmetry was unfair.
The perception of programming as superior to game writing and to any other "non-technical" discipline involved in making games is absolutely defined by who does what.
Nowadays, and even with notable women working in the field, programming is seen as something that men do. But this wasn't always the case. Many pioneers of computer science were women and, for decades, the number of women in CS classrooms surpassed the number of men.
So, what happened? Steve Henn at NPR reveals that "The share of women in computer science started falling at roughly the same moment when personal computers started showing up in U.S. homes in significant numbers." It so happens that, in the 80s, the first PC models showed up in the market, and someone decided to sell them as toys for boys, beginning the sexist narrative that got us to where we are today.
And where is that, exactly? Well, I have never worked in a less diverse environment than the one I find myself in as a woman in the gaming industry. And I'm not just talking about gender here.
In the industry, as well as in the games themselves, white, middle-class, straight men are still the default player avatar.
Allow me to illustrate. Just a couple weeks after I started my one of my first jobs in the industry, I was at a meeting with our CEO, and I asked why we couldn't make our game's protagonist a woman. He answered that he didn't have the budget for a new character model, which I reluctantly accepted. Why not a man of color, then? That was surely a cheap change to make to our protagonist model.
He answered like he was doling out a piece of wisdom that I wasn't particularly worthy of: "Do you know who will be playing our game?" He asked, but didn't wait for a reply. "White males 18 to 35. So that's who our protagonist will be."
Not coincidentally, that's who he was, too.
There's a lot of effort being made to diversify the gaming industry; as usual, women of color are doing much of the heavy lifting. Tanya DePass of I Need Diverse Games and Rebecca Palacios of Pixelles are just the first who come to mind. In different ways, both of these amazing organizations lift the voices and experiences of women and other people with marginalized identities, and even get them to GDC through their scholarship programs.
But even if we manage to get more women through the door and into the workplace, there's not much being done to keep us here. I've seen the same pattern repeated in every company I've worked at: the more women the department employs, the lower that department's average salary. At one point, I even started to think the student at GDC was right: if I wanted to be taken seriously--if I wanted to make more money--I should just learn to code. I had simply chosen the wrong career.
I was wrong to think this. As Claire Miller reveals in this amazing New York Times piece, "when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before." It's not that we chose the wrong careers, it's that we're playing at a disadvantage. Blaming our lack of financial success on the careers we chose instead of on the society that doesn't value the work of women is simply another flavor of victim blaming that I've chosen not to tolerate anymore.
I'm not actually saying you shouldn't learn to code. By all means, we should all do whatever we feel will empower us the most. But I found that my own empowerment as a woman in the gaming industry comes from doing what I love, doing it well, and doing it proudly.
Diversity Reboot 2021: The One Hundred Day Kickoff<p><strong>When</strong>: February 1-5, 2021</p><p><strong>Where</strong>: Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Free!</p><p><strong>Where to register: </strong><a href="https://summit.powertofly.com/" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>We had to include our own Diversity Reboot on our list of the best diversity and inclusion events to attend in 2021 because we know firsthand how the quality of 100+ expert speakers, the enthusiasm of 10,000 participants, and the cutting-edge tech that enables meaningful virtual networking and job fairs combine to create a truly epic five-day experience. This year, the theme 100 Day Kickoff harnesses the energy of the new government's first 100 days in office to help jump-start personal and professional plans to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces. </p><p>Following the February summit, we'll have a monthly series of smaller virtual summits on topics spanning everything from returnships to LGBTQ+ advocacy, so be sure to stay tuned for updates!<br></p>
The Future of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2021<p><strong>When</strong>: February 3-4, 2021</p><p><strong>Where</strong>: Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Free</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://www.hr.com/en/webcasts_events/virtual_events/upcoming_virtual_events/the-future-of-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-2021_kcxf8glq.html#detail" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>This virtual conference put on by HR.com focuses on how social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have pushed DEI at work beyond legal compliance and into a major factor of any company or brand's culture, employee engagement, and performance. Topics include how to uncover and resolve pay gaps across your team and hire top-level diverse talent.</p>
Workplace Revolution: From Talk to Collective Action<p><strong>When</strong>: March 8-12, 2021</p><p><strong>Where</strong>: Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register: </strong>$820</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://cvent.me/ZQ4BbE" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>The Forum on Workplace Inclusion's 33rd annual conference includes 12 session tracks, from DEI Strategy to Social Responsibility, along with 59 workshops and daily networking sessions. This year's theme focuses on one question: "What will it take to start a workplace revolution that moves us from talk to action?"</p>
Diversity: How Employers Can Match Words With Deeds<p><strong>When</strong><strong>: </strong>May 19, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register</strong><strong>: </strong>Early bird registration is $49 and general admission is $149</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://hopin.com/events/may-virtual-conference-diversity-how-employers-can-match-words-with-deeds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Here</a></p><p>From Day One is hosting monthly conferences in 2021 focused on different ways for companies to foster strong relationships with their customers, communities, and employees. May's half-day virtual event is focused specifically on how companies can make diversity promises that don't fall flat and features workshops, panels, and a fireside chat.</p>
Hire with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion<p><strong>When:</strong> August 18, 2021</p><p><strong>Where: </strong>Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register: </strong>$195</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://www.hci.org/conferences/2021-virtual-conference-hire-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-august-18-2021" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>This conference put on by the Human Capital Institute is one of 12 virtual conferences that HCI has planned for 2021. This one focuses on fair and inclusive talent acquisition, including how to attract diverse talent, implement inclusive hiring practices, and addressing bias in employee selection. Other conferences will focus on optimizing talent strategy, engaging employees, and developing your workforce.</p>
Virtual Grace Hopper Celebration 2021<p><strong>When:</strong> September 26-29, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual, broadcast from Chicago, Illinois</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Was $799 for regular access to the virtual conference in 2020; 2021 pricing hasn't yet been announced</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://ghc.anitab.org/attend/registration/" target="_blank">Here</a>, though 2021 registration wasn't live at the time of writing</p><p>Grace Hopper might be the best-known conference for women in tech. Through keynote presentations, networking sessions, job fairs, and community-building activities, vGHC reached over 30,000 women for their 2020 conference and are expecting even more in 2021! While not a conference focused exclusively on diversity and inclusion, many speakers plan to focus their talks on creating environments for women to thrive in the male-dominated tech field.</p>
Inclusion 2021<p><strong>When:</strong> October 25-27, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual and in person in Austin, Texas as of now</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Hasn't yet been announced</p><p><strong>Where to register: </strong><a href="https://conferences.shrm.org/inclusion" target="_blank">Here</a>, though 2021 registration wasn't live at the time of writing</p><p>The Society for Human Resource Management's biggest conference of the year saw 1,200 DEI leaders participate last year; SHRM hopes to see even more come to learn, be inspired, and to walk away with a playbook of implementable strategies to create truly inclusive workplace cultures.</p>
AfroTech 2021<p><strong></strong><strong>When:</strong> November 8-13, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Early bird pricing is $149 for individuals and $249 for corporate attendees; regular pricing hasn't yet been announced</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://experience.afrotech.com/" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>AfroTech is a conference hosted by Blavity, a tech media platform for Black millennials. It focuses on emerging tech trends, connecting Black talent with top tech recruiters, and providing networking and educational opportunities, with an overall goal of building a strong Black tech community. Over 10,000 people participated in 2020. While the conference isn't focused specifically on DEI, its main audience of Black tech talent is an important one to understand and to engage at work and beyond, and several speakers plan to focus on issues of race and inclusion at work. </p>
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