Welcome to Dames Who Make Games, Gamerwife’s new interview series with the lovely ladies who make our video games. Whether you’re a QA tester or a company VP, we want to hear your story. This post is a bit longer than the typical Gamerwife fare, but please click on the “more” tab to continue reading because I think we hit on some really great stuff…
For this inaugural edition of Dames Who Make Makes, I had the chance to sit down with the lovely and opinionated Erika B., a talented 3D artist currently between gigs, so if you’re looking for an artist for your project, send me an email and I’ll put you in touch.
We discuss all sorts of topics, from getting started in the industry, to what to do when a project lead uses your chest as a gauge for character breast size…
Gamerwife: How did you get into the video game industry?
Erika B.: I studied in movies and I’m self-taught in 3D, because that’s really what I wanted to do. But, when I was looking for a job I just realized that I was not going to get a job in movies just because of the location where I was looking. I was in Paris at the time and there are three really, really good schools and so people tend to hire from those schools mainly, so if the name of [one of those] schools isn’t on your CV it’ll end up at the bottom of the pile. After searching for two years I had to face the fact that it wasn’t going to work out so I just started looking in anything that involved 3D and my best friend sent me the link for [name of company redacted]. They were looking for 3D artists, so I applied to that and got my first job in the games industry. It was really cool and I realized that I am a “game industry” person.
GW: What was that like?
EB: I was the only girl on the floor except the receptionist. The only girl. I walked in the first day wearing the clothes I usually wear, got whistled at twice before I reached my desk and decided that from then on if I wanted to have any sort of credibility I was doing jeans and t-shirts.
I’m not saying it’s because I’m a girl that I didn’t get a permanent position, but everybody else got a permanent position two weeks in. I was promised one, and after 6 months I was told that either I would move to Montreal where they needed 3D artists, or I would be out of a job.
I wanted to work in what I studied so at that point I decided, I’m gonna go to Montreal, get two years experience, come back and take it from there. So I did another two and a half years… before I left [that company] and another two years at another company before I was layed off.
GW: Did you find the industry hard to get into? Was it just a matter of refocusing from film to something else?
EB: Yes and no. It is in the sense that when you’re fresh out of school and you don’t have experience, I think it’s the same for guys and for girls, everybody is super nice to you, as long as you’re not looking for a job. So you tend to look at the people with the badges at the conference with big starry eyes.
But at the same time I find it much easier to get into the industry here in Montreal than in Paris, that’s for sure. In Paris it was really hard and it took over six months between when I got contacted for the position to my actual hire date. Because they had me do tests. Even though there’s only one test. They had me do several. And that is because I’m a girl, because they were doing something sci-fi and they’d be like “okay, your stuff is cute, but we’re doing sci-fi,” and so I’d be like “okay, what do you want me to make for you?”
So it would go back and forth and I think I got [the company’s attention] through pure perseverance, because I’d write them, every week. Once a week. For six months. I never got an answer, and then six months later they were finally like “okay, you know, we’re gonna move forward with this…”
But in Montreal, maybe it’s because there’s a lot of companies, I find that it’s easy to get into because you can start as a tester and you can kinda get your foot in the door and then once you get to know a couple of people you can go through contacts. So once you get to know a couple of people you can get ahead easier than if you were just applying on the internet, hoping.
GW: Did you feel like you had to be “bossier” because you are a girl?
EB: I had to hang in there. I really had to hang in there. Let’s put it like this, every time something positive happened professionally it was because I fought my way through it and I spoke up. I didn’t take “no” for an answer.
Also, to get on good projects I’ve always had to prove that I can do the art style and be sending them pictures going “Hey, guys! No seriously, look at this! I can do this! Give me a chance…”
GW: What is the best thing, for you, about working in the industry?
EB: Well, I get to work on something that I really love. I mean, I’ve loved games forever. I was playing my first video games when I was 4.
GW: What was your first video game?
EB: What’s it called..? The one with the snake… it was just zeros and ones on a black screen at the time… it’s just this little snake and it just gets longer and longer and longer…
EB: Yeah. Snake, okay. And Frogger, I guess. Space Invaders was one of my favourites when I was a kid. Like, really small kid. I remember playing it at the arcade and begging my parents for more quarters.
(*Editor’s note: After investigation it appears the game was actually called Worm back then)
It’s just something that’s been around for me for a long time and with 3D it’s the same thing. When I was a kid my dad used to go to the SIGGRAPH conferences back in the beginning of the 80’s and he’d bring back the animation theater demos, and I’d be watching them at home and it’d be like “oh my God, this is sooo cool!” I mean, I didn’t decide back then, “I wanna be a 3D artist.” Heck, first job I wanted to do was divorce lawyer, for some reason. I don’t know why.
GW: That’s awesome.
EB: I was like, 5.
GW: So, what do you dislike most about working in the industry?
EB: Actually, not that much. There’s one thing that I dislike: that artists tend to have a reputation of being, extremely ditzy. Mainly, programmers, or management tend to think that we’re a bunch of hippies who barely know how to use a computer and we’re gonna break something. There’s often sort of a fight between the artists and the programmers and the programmers will be like, “you don’t know what you’re talking about,” and we’ll be like “well, we need this,” but more often than not they’ll always end up doing what we asked for at the beginning, it just takes forever to be “okayed.”
There’s overtime, but for me that’s kind of part of it. Maybe nine months of overtime [would be shocking]. But if it’s just two months at the end of the project, then I don’t mind.
GW: Now to get into the political questions. Have you had any problems with harassment as a woman in the industry?
EB: What kind of harassment?
GW: Like any kind of harassment on the job…
EB: Let’s put it like this, if I would have to talk to HR about every single guy that has sexually harassed me on the job I think I’d be there… at least once a week. Without exaggeration, once a week or once every two weeks. It’s a very masculine industry and I think compared to people who work in banks, for instance, I find that girls have to be a lot more flexible. Just go along with a certain sense of humour. I’ve had a project lead ask me to do a character with big breasts and he’d start staring at me and he’d be like “well, they’re kind like yours, but just like a bit bigger… like more on the side….” and he’d have his hands like 5 cm from my chest going “about like, that.”
Or I’d have people beep me on communicator to comment on my clothes. Strangely, if I know a guy is not in the video game industry I won’t be as careful, but in the video game industry, even going for beers sometimes, I’m like, is this just you and me, or is it you me and a group? Some people tend to make me uncomfortable just because they go at it so blatantly that you’re sorta up against the wall right away. Or maybe it’s just socially awkward guys that tend to flock to the industry.
GW: I don’t know whether it’s something about the industry or something about the people in the industry…
EB: Yeah, no. It happens. I think to a certain point you have to put up with it. You have to be easy going about it because it’s not always as bad as it seems. It’s just a whole bunch of gamers being geeky and treating you as one of the guys… but with a short skirt. But on the other hand you have to be able to stand up for yourself and go “okay dude, this is where it stops….”
GW: Yeah, I can give a lot of leeway, but this is the line right here.
EB: You need to be able to draw your line and you need to be able to draw your line two or three times sometimes. Be nice and firm about it.
GW: What do you think can be done to improve the sexual harassment issue? Is it something that’s just gonna change as more women get into the industry?
EB: I think that there being more women in the industry is definitely a good thing, for everybody. Just by numbers we kind of create this credibility, that we have our place here. Whereas, when I was the only girl working in it, it was a big thing, you know. You feel like “the girl.” Having more women in the game industry is definitely a good thing.
I think that right now what could be good would be a couple of workshops. I know [big game company] did one once, but I couldn’t go because I was sick, and they said they were going to do one more for all the people who missed, but then they never did. It’s not treated as an actual issue. It would be cool to have once a year, a little sort of like “yes this is [harassment]” just so that the guys realize that yes, this might make people uncomfortable. Because I don’t think that they realize. You know, they’re not all jackasses, I know, most of them are really nice. It’s just that they don’t realize not go at it like a bulldozer…
And I think it would be interesting for the girls too. I know it makes me extremely uncomfortable to be in that grey zone, where if a guy is just straightforward about it and asks me out I can say yes or no and it becomes my choice, but if he plays around with it and he just kind of pushes that boundary every day, then I’m in a position where if I say something I’m gonna come off as the uptight one, but if I don’t it’s going to continue making me uncomfortable. From where are you entitled to draw that line?
GW: How do you say “no” without being a bitch?
EB: That, and just the fact that you being uncomfortable isn’t enough to warrant drawing a line. I think that that’s something that we girls need to learn. Like it’s okay to say “you know, this is my personal space.” I don’t know if we’re just brought up that way or what, but it just… doesn’t always come naturally? For me it has to get pretty rough for me to go, “okay, no, no, now we’re stopping.” There’s a lot that I’ll put up with that doesn’t really make me feel comfortable just for the sake of not coming off as a “bitch.” I think a little education on both sides could be a good thing.
GW: I think that’s a really good suggestion. Moving on to less touchy topics, what are you playing right now?
EB: Right now, I’m playing three things…
EB: Yes. I’ve been waiting for Diablo for eight years! The last three PCs I put together, were bought in a way that Diablo would run on them, should Diablo ever come out. So Diablo has been on the top of my list for a very long time. Strangely I’m not playing that often, I’m just really taking my time with it, just because I’ve been waiting so long I don’t feel the need to rush in and finish it in 5 hours. I just have sweet, sweet time.
I’m playing DC Universe on PS3 with friends, because I love playing with people. It’s kinda fun, playing supervillains, kicking ass together.
I’m playing Minecraft, also with friends, because Legos and zombies… I mean, come on. What I love about the game is that you can log in for 5 minutes or you can log in for 6 hours. You can “Farmville it” or you can build something epic. Or explore something. It’s super versatile. Also the fact that it’s a randomly generated world makes it really awesome. You get used to the graphics very quickly, so then you come across something like a beautiful canyon with waterfalls falling into it, and you almost fall into it, zombies come out from behind you and so you’re running across the ledge… No game designer put that there, it’s just there. It’s like walking through the forest and seeing something cool. I like that it feels “natural” in that sense. It’s not scripted in any way. It just happens, or it doesn’t and when it does then you have these epic tales to tell of, “oh my god, that time…”
That’s pretty much it. Well, I play iPhone games, like Bejeweled… Scrabble, I’ll play Draw Something. I don’t have just one genre, I can get excited about racing games, First Person Shooters, anything, basically.