Every few months, I am reminded that I am a woman. Not just any woman, mind you, but a woman in games.
I decided to call fellow game designer Jeb Havens from Maxis to remind him that he's not just a man, but a man in games.
"Jeb," I say, "I am writing a piece for GameCareerGuide about men and games. Can I ask you a couple questions?"
He says it two more times thinking he must have misunderstood me. When I tell him I'm writing an article on being a man in the game industry, he says, "That doesn't make any sense, Brenda," and he laughs when I ask him what advice he has for fellow men looking to break in to the industry.
Game designer Ian Schreiber of Free Rule Design didn't do much better.
"What's it like to be a man in games?" I ask him.
"What? Um, ah, wow, um," and that's a direct quote, word for word.
I worked in the same room as Ian for three years, and still work with him as a designer consulting on various projects. He's heard me answer this question at least 20 times, so I'm surprised he can't come up with something. In the end, he admits the question completely threw him. "You know, that's funny that you asked me that since you get asked the flip side all the time, and I never really identify my penis with my game making at all. It doesn't really occur to me. The question is really strange when you phrase it that way, when it's the other way around."
Next on the interview pile is Seth Spaulding, art director at Firaxis Games. As a veteran "man in games," I thought he might have an important perspective to add. "Wow," he said. "That's a pretty niche topic there, Brenda." Before I even launched into my interview questions, he knew I wasn't serious.
"Did you feel that you faced any challenges that women wouldn't have faced in your career?" I ask. He calls me back two days later to tell me that he thought of something.
"It's a turn off when guys admit they work in the game industry," he tells me. "I hear my single peers at GDC talk about it before they go out to the bars. ‘Whatever you do, don't say you're in games.' You get a woman who says she's in games, and it's cool. It's interesting and unique. A guy meets a girl at a bar who says she's into games? It's like the Holy Grail. You're drinking for free tonight, honey!"
Unfortunately, I don't have a frame of reference. All the guys I know make games or teach games, but perhaps there's something to it. My husband doesn't play games at all (though he went on a $10 million bender with Facebook's Parking Wars, and that's not an exaggeration). When I say I design games, everyone except women my age think it's cool.
Each man I call, from designers to programmers to artists, responds to my questions either surprised or confused. Some -- like Jeff McNab, a recent Savannah College of Art and Design graduate of mine who's interning with Raph Koster at Areae -- stall for a minute and then actually try to give me a good answer.
Jeff tells me about how it's important to have diverse teams so that your diverse projects will attract a more diverse audience. He talks about how important it is for him as a man in games to consider experiences beyond his own. Kudos to you, Jeff, but you're graduated and working with Raph now. Dude, there's no ‘A' grade that's better than that.