Welcome to Dames Who Make Games, Gamerwife’s bi-weekly 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 what you have to say. And remember to click “Continue reading” for the whole story.
This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rayna A., a game designer and new mom. We talked about work/life balance, iPhone games for toddlers and the good old days of pirating games with a dual-disk drive.
GW: How did you get into the industry?
RA: I moved from Winnipeg to Montreal about 8 years ago with an idea of getting into the industry. I ended up working doing something else first, but when I saw a job opening at [name of company redacted] I decided to grab it while I could. When the marketing and account management teams were disbanding, I asked the studio manager if there was anything else available. He talked to me about my interests, my background, my education, and he felt that game design would be a good fit so then I did the game design test and started on my first project as a junior designer.
GW: So I guess for you the industry wasn’t particularly hard to get into, it was just a matter of jumping on the opportunity when it presented itself?
RA: Yeah. I know that it’s a lot less like that now. You have to have more of an education in game development to get a job. Whereas I kinda got in on the tail end where there weren’t that many schools and you could just get a job by knowing somebody and moving into the position and working your way up through the ranks.
GW: What for you is the best thing about working in the industry?
RA: For my job specifically, I just like how it’s cyclical. I’m not doing the same thing for very long, but I can always come back to doing the same thing eventually. You start with the design phase where it’s all working on paper and coming up with ideas, then you go on to implementation where you’re more involved with finding realistic ways to turn ideas into reality, then you’re into the debugging phase where you’re going in and trying to problem solve and search out bugs. And then you start all over again with the next game. It’s like having a new job every couple of months, it’s hard to get bored.
GW: And what are the downsides for you, if there are any?
RA: Well, I mean, for anybody in this industry it’s the work/life issues. The amount of time that is expected of you, especially when you’re in crunch on a project. Sometimes the attitudes of guys that you have to work with.
GW: Have you had any issues with discrimination or harassment?
RA: Not so much discrimination towards me, but just the idea of the types of female characters we’re supposed to have in games. When I’m designing a game and I’m trying to design a certain type of female that I would like to play as a character myself and they’re like, “No, no, no, we can’t have that. Guys wouldn’t be interested in playing that kind of character. It’s not believable.”
GW: What do you think can be done to challenge that? Is it just a matter of having more women in the industry?
RA: Yeah, more women. But more women in leadership roles. It’s one thing to just have women in the staff, but if they don’t have much of a say… It depends on the type of company that you’re with. It depends if the company really listens to its employees and respects their input or if it’s top down and employees are told what needs to be put into the game. It doesn’t make a difference if you have women in the company at that point.
GW: You mentioned the work/life balance issue before. How do you see that changing now that you’re a mom?
RA: I don’t know. That’s the scary thing. I would like to continue working in the video game industry because I love my job. I would like for my son to see his mom enjoy her job. I’m proud of what I do and I would like to be able to show him the things that I create. I produce a product and it’s something that he’s going to be interested in.
I dunno. I’ll see what happens. I mean, I’ll go back and see how it works out. If what I was doing before works with this new lifestyle and if it doesn’t I’ll try to find a different approach that fits better for what my family needs.
GW: With women being such a minority in the industry right now, I guess there aren’t many models for you to follow at the moment.
RA: Yeah. I don’t know any other females in production currently at my company that have gone on maternity leave. There have been some, but they’ve all left. I’ve seen one in my time come back but she’s left the company again since. It’s difficult. I don’t know how it’s going to work for me because I haven’t seen it work for anybody else.
I was actually offered a position with an independent company at around the time I found out I was pregnant, but in the end, it didn’t work out. They could only give me a contract of several months with the promise that I would become a full employee when some funding was confirmed, which would have been about the time I would have been starting maternity leave. It would have been a stressful situation be in, not knowing if I’d have a job to come back to. And because it was a small company and a contract position, there would be no medical benefits. My husband had just switched to a new company at that time and we were waiting for his benefits to kick in. I had health issues during my pregnancy and couldn’t risk being between coverage. It would have been a fun experience with a great company and some really awesome people, but I needed that stability. It was a difficult situation to be in because I’ve never had to make the “safe” call before. I’m used to being a risk-taker.
GW: In previous interviews we’ve talked a lot about harassment, both on the job and off. Have you had much experience with that?
RA: I have been harassed at work by somebody. I didn’t end up reporting it just because I tried to fend it off myself, successfully. He stopped bothering me. He went on later, I learned, to bother somebody else, though. As much as you want to be the nice person and just give someone the benefit of the doubt, there’s just going to be repeat offenders because that’s the kind of person that they are. You want to be nice to someone if they don’t know that their advances are unwanted. No one wants to be a bitch about it and report someone unnecessarily. Someone’s putting their heart out there, even if they don’t realize their approach is creepy, offensive or inappropriate.
That was a situation where there was a person that was approaching me more romantically, but there was another time that someone was just outright rude towards the women that he worked with. Any time that he had to work with a female he would talk to the male that was present. He would never intentionally talk to a female if there was a chance that he could talk to a guy instead.
GW: What that something that you addressed with anyone higher up?
RA: Yeah, it was reported multiple times, but he was never dealt with from what I understand.
GW: Do you know if anyone actually spoke to him?
RA: I don’t know. It’s hard to tell if somebody did or not. I would like to think that somebody may have mentioned it, but typically the attitude is “They’re good at what they do so we’re not going to bother them.”
GW: What was the first video game you ever played?
RA: Pong? [laughs] I think it was on one of my parents’ friend’s Atari way back when. My uncle had an Atari, we had a ColecoVision in my daycare when I was growing up. We got our first PC when I was 8 years old, back in ‘86… I’ve been playing ever since and always have been. My dad taught me how to pirate video games from an early age.
GW: Nice! [laughs]
RA: Back when you had the dual disk drives, so you could take one disk and copy it because you would rent the disks…
GW: Oh yeah… Oh man that takes me back.
RA: And we had the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, GameCube, original Xbox, Dreamcast. Anything they’d spit out pretty much.
GW: So you’re more of a console gamer?
RA: It depends on what platform the game comes out on that interests me the most. We have 2 Xboxs in our house, we have a PS3, we have a Wii, we have 2 iPhones, 2 gaming PCs, DS…
GW: So I take it your partner is a big gamer too?
RA: He’s a game designer as well. We didn’t meet at work, but we crossed paths and our interests, of course, match up. Need somebody you can grind with in Diablo.
GW: So what are your favourite games right now?
RA: Right now I’m back into Civ5 with the new expansion they put out, Gods and Kings, which is pretty good. I was playing Diablo 3 until my husband didn’t want to play with me anymore. [laughs] You get to the Inferno level and it’s, ridiculous. Haven’t had time for too much else… I was playing… what’s the name of the one that Phil Fish just put out?
GW: Oh, Fez.
RA: Yeah, Fez. And the other one by Trapdoor..? With the little alien… Warp! Doing a lot of indie games lately because it’s a lot easier because they tend to be a lot shorter. So if I have to go tend to the baby, then it’s easier to get out of.
[At this point in the interview Rayna had to grab her 6 month old son who had just woken up from his nap]
GW: So, has he been playing any games yet?
RA: He’s watched us play. I mean, I had to finish Mass Effect 3, so he had to sit and watch me play part of that. That was back when he still slept most of the day. I’d play as long as he would let me, until he would squawk and be like “enough mommy, pick me up…” which unfortunately tended to happen just as I started a multiplayer match.
We did get him the Fisher-Price iPhone holder. Have you seen that? It’s really cute. It’s just like this giant case and it’s got teething rings on the side of it and stuff like that so he can hold it and shake it. There’s actually Fisher-Price apps that come with it. It’s just got a harder screen, but you can still activate the iPhone through it and interact with the games on it. He hasn’t shown any interest in the iPhone yet though. So we aren’t going to try tempting him with that yet.