Pop culture is full of wizened older figures (usually male) who guide the hero (also, usually male) on their journey. Obi-Wan and Yoda. Dumbledore. Mr. Miyagi. We adore these characters in our media, yet in the real world it’s sometimes easy to overlook the contributions of older, experienced people.
Kate Edwards wants to change that. She’s the former executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), as well as a consultant who uses her background as a geographer to assist studios with political and cultural content in their projects. She believes ageism is a rampant problem in the video game industry, one that’s being largely ignored.
“While sexism in the industry has garnered tremendous attention, and rightfully so, in the wake of Gamergate and other incidents, the response to ageism has typically been tepid by comparison,” she said.
Edwards thinks the problem is exacerbated whenever various media outlets enthusiastically publish annual “30 Under 30” lists that praise the passion and vision of youth while ignoring the experience and wisdom of veteran game developers. That’s why she’s created her own “50 Over 50” list to show that highlighting veteran talent is just as positive and valuable to the industry as elevating emerging ones.
Last year, employment website Indeed surveyed over 1,000 tech workers currently employed in the U.S. and found that close to half of respondents (43%) worried about losing their jobs because of their age. Nearly a fifth said they worry about it “all the time.” About 36% said they’ve experienced at least one instance where they weren’t taken seriously by co-workers and managers due to their age. Yet, most respondents (78%) believed tech workers 40 years old and up were highly qualified, and over 83% stated they had good experience and can share wisdom. But, while many people believe older workers have a lot to contribute, hiring managers can be harder to convince.
“I know so many colleagues in their 40s and 50s and even beyond who are still working very hard in the game industry, doing amazing work, building on the expertise that they’ve built for decades now,” Edwards said. “In the event that they find themselves without a job … the people in these older age brackets have the absolute worst time trying to find another job despite the amazing experience that they’ve accumulated. Being able to convince hiring managers of the skill set of these [older workers] seems virtually impossible in the tech sector and the games sector.”
“I think part of that, frankly, is a disease that we’ve inherited from the tech sector where there’s this perception that age means that you’re not aware or understand of the latest technology,” Edwards said, “and, therefore, you are not qualified for this job because you just don’t know.”
Edwards solicited nominations for her list over social media earlier this year. After five weeks, she had 201 nominations. The 50 people who received the most votes made the cut. Then, she went through a verification process, asking each nominee if they wanted to participate. Age can be a touchy subject, after all. Some people might not want their 50+ status outed online. But, Edwards said nobody refused.
Many of the names are instantly familiar to anyone who follows the industry. There’s the husband-wife team of Brenda and John Romero, for example. Brian Fargo, founder of Interplay and InXile Entertainment is there as well, along with “Deus Ex” creator Warren Spector, Id Software co-founder John Carmack, and former Naughty Dog writer and creative director Amy Hennig.
Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell also made the cut, but some might see that pick as controversial. Earlier this year, some game developers and academics protested Bushnell’s nomination for a Game Developers Conference (GDC) Pioneer Award under the Twitter hashtag #notnolan. Bushnell reportedly has a history of inappropriate behavior towards women, and they said the timing of the award was tone deaf on the heels of the #MeToo movement. The GDC decided to rescind the nomination after the outcry and instead dedicated the award to “all of the pioneering and unheard voices of the past.”
At the time, Edwards was also vocal on social media about not giving Bushnell the award. Like many others, she believed the Atari founder should be honored for his work, but felt the timing of it was wrong. “We’re talking about honoring someone who has some questionable history around this particular issue, right after the whole #MeToo issue has exploded,” she said. “Maybe it’s just not the right person at the right time.”
“In terms of being honored for being one of the global game creators over 50? Absolutely,” she added. “I don’t see a problem with that.”