Inclusion and accessibility were the big topics this week at the Women in Gaming Rally, held in coordination with the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Women in Gaming is a group formed by women in Microsoft that focuses on providing support, sharing stories and hosting events around the video game and interactive industry. Every year, they host a networking event at GDC to foster the growing diversity in gaming.
During the keynote address and subsequent panel discussion, women from all different areas of the video game industry discussed their experiences with inclusion, their thoughts on creating accessibility in the video game landscape and advice on how to continue changing the industry for the better.
Helen Chiang, the studio head of “Minecraft,” gave the keynote address that celebrated how supportive the community in her studio can be and how it proved to her that the real strength of the industry lies in numbers.
“Each of us on our own can do amazing things by ourselves and working together as a community, we can do so much more,” Chiang said. “Some of the most inspiring stories and creations have come from communities working together.”
The majority of the panel discussed the slow evolution in the games industry of opportunities and diversity. Many talked about representation as a necessity for the growth of gaming culture.
“In the last few years, I see the seeds of change,” Eunice Lee a Senior Vice President at Activision said. “They’re not as fast and anyone would want them to be. But everything counts. Every move every time you speak up. All those little things add up and make a difference.”
All of the panelists agreed that more than the culture inside of the industry needs to change, there’s a larger cultural shift that needs to happen.
Fidji Simo, who used to run Facebook’s monetization, video and games, and now heads up the whole of the Facebook App, talked about the perception that persists of what a “gamer” is and how platforms like Facebook can change those perceptions.
“If we manage to get these really awesome women streamers on the screen with a community that’s not toxic.. the media is going to help a ton,” Simo said about one specific way to shift an understanding of the culture. “All of these influences have a huge impact on how [young women] are going to see the world.”
Much of the discussion centered around how a lack of recognition or diversity can affect those in the industry and the importance of continuing to reach out for support.
“I used to think, ‘that doesn’t phase me,’” Lee said about lack of inclusion in gaming. “What I’ve realized is that it doesn’t help, that doesn’t pay it forward.”
“A lot of the women I know are afraid of reaching out,” Molly Maloney, Lead Narrative Designer at Bad Robot Games said. “My biggest urging is to apply for things, reach out to people, don’t listen to that little voice inside of you that says I don’t think I completely fit. We are looking for voices. Don’t hesitate, just go for it.”
The panelists didn’t stop at the opportunities and developing careers within the games industry space. They also discussed how vital it is for games to tell diverse stories, and change the cultural conversation and experience.
“Character is something that extends deeply from our roots as a cultural and a personal human experience,” Maloney said. ”If we want to get more women, people in the LGBTQ community involved, We need to play experiences that resonate with us.”
“It’s so cool that I’m playing so many games and it’s a bunch of women by default,” Ashley Alicea, an Evangelist at Unity Technologies, said. “It’s a small thing, but it can have so much power.”
Gabi Michel, a senior hardware program manager at Microsoft who worked to make the Xbox adaptive controller a reality, spoke about the importance of accessibility in the gaming industry and how developing the controller strengthened her belief in that.
“The future of gaming is diverse and inclusive,” she said. “The future of gaming is also accessible. Hardware is that object that you interact with and software is what creates that world. To really create a great future, you really need those two pieces to go together.”
The panel talked about how the controller was featured in a Super Bowl commercial and Michel described how important that was to promote the issue.
“It’s bringing accessibility to the forefront to a lot of people and I hope that they take that and say ‘OK, what else can we do to make our gaming most accessible,’” she said. “If you do not deliberately, intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.”
The atmosphere at the event was directly in line with the message of support Women in Gaming hoped to express. At one point during Chiang’s keynote, she hesitated in her speech and a friendly voice shouted out “you’ve got this,” prompting applause and cheers from the crowd.
At the end of her speech, Chiang mentioned that she had two young daughters who both loved to play video games. She expressed that she wanted to leave behind a better, more inclusive industry, should they decide to follow in her footsteps.
“We all have the power to continue to the change we want to see in this industry and that’s the kind of community that I want to leave behind for my kids and for the next generation,” she said. “If they choose to go into the field of gaming, I hope they experience a safe and welcoming environment where their voices are valued.”