Women have surpassed men as the largest gender demographic among gamers. They have made serious in-roads within the industry, as well. Just last year, IGDA reported that female developers more than doubled from 2009, now comprising nearly a quarter of the dev population. While troubles remain for many women trying to balance a career in gaming with their two X chromosomes (see the GamerGate Scandal), an abundance of growth and opportunity for women suggest a new era is quietly being ushered in.
The best place to look for what the future might hold are within the very collegiate departments that we interview here on ACR. Readers may recall our spotlight on Woodbury University’s B.F.A. of Game Art & Design last year. What they might not realize is how the program reflects the changing gender tides, cultivating a new crop of female game designers eager to make their marks. Coming from both artistic and programming backgrounds, women constitute nearly one-third of the program’s cohorts.
We were eager to learn more about these young ladies’ stories and how they found themselves embarking on careers in gaming. Three of the program’s most promising agreed to give us a look into what they love about gaming, when they decided to make it a career path, and how it’s all going for them. Enjoy! (This interview has been minimally edited for length & clarity where necessary).
ACR: Ladies, thank you for participating in our latest Q&A. It’s always great to speak to students as we so often interview faculty. To start, introduce yourselves to our readers.
Megan Pollett: Hello! My name is Megan Pollett. I'm a second-year Game Art student at Woodbury University and expected to graduate in 2017.
Jordyn Holland: I’m Jordyn Holland. My focus is Game Art and my expected graduation is spring of 2016.
Christa Nishita: My name is Christa Nishita and I’m a senior in the Game Art track at Woodbury expected to graduate in spring of 2016.
ACR: What was the first video game that had you completely enthralled?
MP: I think the first game that really got me was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I'd played many games before but it was the first that completely (engrossed) my attention. It was a close call for that or Assassin's Creed 1, but I played Oblivion first. I fell in love with the rich storytelling, the open world sandbox style, the ability to create my own character and the fact that literally every choice I made had an effect upon the world. The latter would be for better or worse because most choices were based on morals. If a character in the world died, they would not come back. Their home would be empty and any quests they had would be unfulfilled.
JH: I would probably say The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Before I was even old enough to play, I always watched my dad play. I fell in love with the world and the characters, and I enjoyed helping my dad solve the puzzles. Once I began to play, I loved the multifaceted nature of the game… there was so much to do. It really felt like an adventure with such a huge, open world to explore and discover.
CN: The earliest memory of a video game I loved was Pokémon, which I was introduced to when I was three or four. However, I just found out that Pokémon was not my first game; apparently, my parents both had their own copies and Gameboys, and they would let me play with them!
ACR: At what point did you each realize that creating games was a career option for you?
CN: Around the middle to end of high school, I was looking into art careers that didn’t revolve around the fine arts. This partially stemmed from my work not really fitting in with the other art kids who wanted to major in fine arts. I fell into the Wikipedia wormhole on gaming occupations, found out what concept art and concept artists were, and then researched the best way to become one.
MP: Since I was six years old, I’ve known I wanted to do something with video games. It was Oblivion that made me think it was a real possibility to create them. The franchise has a huge modding community; a large part of the game is to download mods that change this or add that. After I had beaten the game, I downloaded the modding kit provided by Bethesda (the developer and publisher) and after using a guide I had a blast with creating a custom home for my character. This led me to take a summer class at iD Tech Camp held at Stanford University on 3D modelling which only helped me more.
JH: For me, I always loved the idea of creating games but it wasn’t until I began looking at colleges that I realized it could actually be a viable career option. Originally, I was going to pursue Animation but I ended up choosing Game Art and Design as my major when I saw that the option was available at Woodbury.
ACR: On that note, what drew you to Woodbury’s BFA program in Game Art & Design?
JH: I applied to Woodbury when I found out that a new Game Art and Design program was starting that year. Other schools offered the major already and it was somewhat risky to join a new program. But I thought it might present some unique and interesting opportunities that I might not find elsewhere. The scholarship that I received as well as Woodbury’s convenient location near my home and the many prominent game and animation studios nearby influenced my decision.
CN: Woodbury had a college booth at my local fair which I checked out when I was applying to colleges. At that time, I really wanted to go into concept art and I thought that Game Art would help me hone those skills.
MP: My college career is a bit complicated! I ended up at Oregon State University in their Engineering program as a Computer Science major. I stayed there for a year and then decided that programming alone was not to my liking… I am more of an artist. That led me home for a year where I fulfilled my general education requirements at De Anza Community College while searching for the right university for me. I found Woodbury with its Game Art & Design program and instantly fell in love with it. My first semester was fall of 2014 and it could not have been a better fit for me.
ACR: Last year, we featured Chair of the Game Art & Design program William Novak in a Q&A. He’s an incredible resource- as are the many accomplished faculty members in your department. What’s it like learning from them?
MP: To me, learning from professors who have had careers in game design or the creation of game art is incredible. I dislike programs where the professors aren’t involved in their community anymore or are generally out of the loop with outdated information. At Woodbury, our professors such as Novak or Paul Smith (just two examples) are extremely knowledgeable and helpful with everything video game-related or art and design-related. Neither do they have outdated information nor are they out of the loop. They remain very much involved with the community and the industry which provides us with a top level education and a leg up.
JH: Having the opportunity to learn from instructors who have worked in the industry is such a valuable experience. We not only get to learn more about the subjects we are studying, but also what it is actually like to work in the industry- what to expect or how we can improve our chances of finding a job. We receive feedback from actual professionals working in our desired fields which helps us to develop our skills and learn how to effectively utilize criticism in order to get better.
ACR: Woodbury’s Game Art & Design program is interdisciplinary within the School of Media, Culture & Design. You have to tackle a broad range of subjects. How does that play out in your overall education?
CN: The departments in MCD (School of Media, Culture & Design) have taught me to always keep observing and learning. I’ve gotten tons of valuable lessons on how to continue growing as an artist. I’ve learned many different trades during my time here from character design and environmental modeling to visual development and storyboarding. They are all invaluable. It’s also opened my eyes to new possibilities that I hadn’t even considered in high school.
JH: All of these courses have helped me grow and improve in Game Art and Design in some way. I have taken courses ranging from visual development, character design, and storyboarding to programming, 3D modeling, and animation. Making a game requires so many different skills whether you’re a programmer, designer, or artist. Having knowledge and an understanding of all aspects of the process is very helpful, especially since communication across disciplines is so important when working on a game with a team. I have had something valuable to gain with every course that I have taken whether it pertained to my specific focus or not.
ACR: Though the game industry remains male-dominated, a majority of gamers are now female and the ranks of women in the industry are growing rapidly. How relevant is the gender discussion to what you hope to do as game creator?
CN: It’s important that women are given a voice in gaming, but I also think that this is an inevitable future. As a female, this discussion is relevant. I would prefer not to be given death threats or doxed! But, I feel that it is eventually going to become one-sided.
ACR: Lastly, what do you hope to be doing in 5 years?
MP: It’s a possibility to have a career in film with this type of training, but because of my love for gaming I would greatly prefer to create video games. In 5 years, I’d like to do 3D modelling at a video game company.
JH: I hope to find myself working in the game industry. As an artist, I want to create something exciting and wonderful that people can enjoy- just like I did when I held a game controller for the first time.