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Influental Women in the Gaming Industry: Jessica Chobot

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Jessica Chobot gained exposure in the gaming world when a picture of her licking a Sony PSP surfaced in 2005. That photo has been parodied heavily since and has been attempted by many as an example of the “fake gamer girl” stereotype. Little did anyone know what Chobot would acomplish. Instead of letting that break her. Chobot used it to fuel her career. Since, she has worked for IGN, become a writer, a voice actress for games, and also works for the Nerdist.

There is always a risk of being mocked when a person is un-apologetically excited and open about loving “geeky” things. For women, it is even more so. That is why it is important to share the stories of people who have taken that passion and turned it into a career.

Chobot was hired by IGN full time in 2006. She quickly won over fans with her fun personality and knowledge of video games. As her popularity grew so did her role in IGN. Chobot was able to foray into The Daily Fix, IGN Strategize and IGN GameBreaks for FOX Television.

nerdist-jessicaChobot has been able to traveled for IGN and represent them in multiple forums. She has also gotten to write for; FHM UK, Mania.com and MAXIM print. She has also appeared on many shows such as but not limited to; Attack of the Show, ABC World News, EXTRA!, FOX News Live and CBS News as an industry expert. Chobot has been a weekly commentator on multiple radio shows and has also had guest star appearances on the Syfy channel’s Sci vs Fi.  The Nerdist also currently benefits from Chobot adding her talents to their roster.

Chobot is a very passionate fan of anime. She has been able to use her fame to appear on commercials for ADV’s Anime Network. Chobot continues to find new forums to live her passions. She has also gotten to show her love of gaming by guest staring on Geek and Sundry, including a one shot D&D game with Vin Diesel.  

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Jessica Chobot has shown how important it is to geek out and follow your passion. If you work hard and let your personality shine you will be able to achieve anything you set your mind to. 

Always keep sparkling! 

WashingCon – the District’s Best Board Game Convention

WashingCOn2WashingCon marked its 3rd anniversary as DC’s premiere board game convention with over a thousand gamers attending to play games, check out panels, inspect new releases from a few game studios, and participate in tournaments.

The organization of this event was on point – check in was a breeze, staff were easy to identify in their hot pink shirts (and plentiful throughout the rooms), and even the free game table, while understandably slow, was well managed. Anyone I approached for info was either quick to answer or to help us find who could answer (at one point I was led on a spirited chase across and around the hall to track down the RPG organizer – great pre-gaming workout!) There were notably MANY women volunteers – no real surprise with Labyrinth Games store owner Kathleen Donahue as  WashingCon co-sponsor but certainly awesome to see.

The borrowing library was well stocked with new games as well as classics. Check in/out was a little fiddly but it didn’t take us long to get out into the play space, which was abundant. Ample space between tables also meant there were no ‘dead zones’ (inaccessible spots that just become wasted space) at the center of rows and no one felt trapped once the hall began to fill up. Play was lively, but the volume was tolerable.

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Events were a mix of panels, tournaments, meet and greets, and demos. There were a couple to choose from in each time slot, which gave enough variety to fill up a day but not so much that we felt like you’d be missing tons of things by picking a few to attend. Of particular note was the focus on education through gaming – panels like Pokemon for Parents and Teachers and a special area for educators to check out STEM and language games echoed Labyrinth’s commitment to education and the community. Additionally, events for both new players and new designers created a welcoming environment. My personal favorite was the Women in Games panel featuring retails, designers, and con-runners in a lively discussion about the past and future of women in the gaming community, and creating more inclusive spaces.

(Speaking of inclusive spaces, WashingCon’s Zero-Tolerance policy for harassment is clear, being posted near check in, included in the program, and printed on the back of every badge. There is no wiggle room here, and the organizers are absolute in their desire for every attendee to be comfortable and ‘Play Nicely’.)

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A little room on the east side hosted RPGs. Spaces for games where reserved online, a great decision which entirely negated the long hopeful line we’ve seen at places like PAXU. Games were interesting and well moderated and a good eye was kept out for time. My only issue was volume  – this area was packed full of enthusiastic role players so it was easy for the din to rise enough that you had to strain to hear someone across the table.

Several designers were demo-ing games as well. I was particularly taken with Catlilli Game’s STEM based offerings (enough that I interviewed designer Catherine Swanwick  about women in games and game development not too long ago.) I also tried Twistocity, an hysterical tongue twister game that wound up becoming a must-buy for a friend. I attempted to resist the siren call of game buying but still wound up bringing home Herbaceous and our first Unlock.

WashingCon 2018 is one of my most eagerly anticipated cons this year (out of the twelve to fifteen I’ll be visiting.) It’ll be held at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center September 8-9. Tickets go on sale March 1st. If you’re planning on going send me a note via Girls play Games – lets play something together!

Influental Women in the Gaming Industry Satine Phoenix

satine Satine Phoenix is a true force in the gaming industry. She has been using her fame to promote gaming. Satine has also helped force people to rethink stereotypes about the gamers who play Dungeons and Dragons and how.  

Satine is not what the media portrays a gamer to be and that is important. Too many times we have seen the same depiction of Dungeons and Dragons players. A group of mostly white boys in their mom’s basement. However that isn’t even what most of us gamers in the community are anymore. We are of many races, genders and playing styles. We livestream; play in gaming stores, play on our computers, we gather wherever we can and yes sometimes that is in our parents basements. Satine knows that the perception of gaming needs to change with us.

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Satine has worked in both the porn and fetish industries. There she gained confidence in herself. She also met many different people and found that many of them are huge nerds. Together they would read the same books and game together. Satine decided to use her fame to broaden the spectrum of what a gamer is.

Satine and her friends have made calendars featuring different geeky women. She has used her gifts to draw female monsters. She animates videos. She plays Dungeons and Dragons with all kinds of gamers. In 2010 she started a web series called I Hit It With My Axe.  There she gathered women of all different backgrounds; many some of whom were porn stars, strippers models and a hairdresser, to play Dungeons and Dragons.

satine dance Satine has been also become a big part of Geek and Sundry There she has been spreading the good news about Dungeons and Dragons. She has gamed for charity. Satine has also has an awesome series where she gives Game Masters different tips. She has gotten the opportunity to play games with Wil Wheaton on Tabletop.  

In short Satine Phoenix is a talented, hardworking and giving member of the gaming community. She seeks out nerds and gives them a spotlight. Satine reminds us that it is cool to be different. We should seek out what makes us happy and then share that with the world. She is helping us break Dungeons and Dragons out of the basement and into the mainstream where is belongs.

Always keep sparkling! 

It Takes a Village – Board Game Grrrls and the Importance of Women Gaming Groups

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Games of all sorts are a fantastic way to connect with people whether they’re old friends or you’ve just met. Whenever my partner and I move to a new area our first priority is finding a local game group, and a few of those folks always wind up becoming good friends. For women this can be a little intimidating – sometimes game spaces seem very male dominated, or one or two of the members can be unintentionally (or intentionally) creepy. In the past decade gaming has seen the rise of girl-friendly or girl-only groups both to build positive space for established lady gamers and to create a welcoming environment for new ones. I caught up with Board Game Grrrls facebook group founder Saille Warner Norton this week to talk about games, grrrls, and the importance of  inclusive game spaces.

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Why did you start Board Game Grrrls?

I did it on a whim after Yet Another Awful Thread on another FB board game group. I’ve always been community orientated, and I am one of the admins on another female focused geek group, so it was an easy jump for me to create. I thought I’d maybe get a handful of other female gamers to chat with about gaming. I used “Grrrl” because I came of age during the Riot Grrrls movement of the 90’s, and I think that history and meaning is suitable for us today.

Whats your favorite game? Least favorite? Why?
I have yet to pinpoint my favorite game. I have a number of games that I will always play.  Currently, I’m on a Sagrada kick. I also love Tokaido and Karmaka. Both games are beautiful. My favorite games tend to be ones with gorgeous art and mechanics that match their themes. I also play quite a few 2 player abstract games, like Santorini and Onitama, with my eldest. He’s been playing chess since he was 7, and its one of the only ways I have a chance to beat him!  My least favorite is hands down, Cards Against Humanity. CAH allows people to bring out their worst selves under the guise of a game. It is all the -ists rolled into one. I really don’t understand the fun of that. Now that being said, I hold great respect for the company for putting their ill gotten gains towards a greater good. I’m just not sure the ends justifies the means in this case.
Do you feel like the game community is general welcoming towards women? How could it be improved?
My local community seems very welcoming, in general. Several of our local game stores are woman owned. But I know that is not the situation across the board. I hear reports all the time of women being treated poorly by both store employees and other gamers at the table. One would think in this highly competitive market stores at least would be more welcoming and inclusive. Private gaming groups seem to be much more welcoming. But issues still come up. I think awareness is the number one way to improve inclusiveness. We need men to step in and be the ones calling out misogyny and sexism in our gaming communities. Women need to know that our gaming spaces are safe and that should there be an issue, other players have our backs. Unfortunately, I think online communities still have a very long way to go.
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Influential Female Characters: Keyleth

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Most of my readers and our fans know that when I started gaming again, my Dungeon Master suggested I watch some Critical Role to help me. I have a habit of getting stuck in my own head and being too worried about rules to just play and have fun. The show did help and also give me the idea to try what has become my favorite class in D&D because of  the Druid, Keyleth. I felt for Keyleth because her backstory. I was also really interested in her powers. I started playing Druids and that has become the class which I feel most comfortable, but I would never have chosen that class so quickly if not for watching Keyleth.

Keyleth is a Druid of the Air Ashari. Without giving away too much for those readers who are catching up on Critical Role, here is a little bit of her backstory. Keyleth has always been a talented druid, even when she was a child. Her father was the Arch Druid of her people and her mother left at an early age. Keyleth’s  father sees her potential and chooses her to be his successor. As it is then explained in the old intro, “ Just like that, her jovial childhood was stripped and replaced with endless spell memorization, teachings from ancient traditions, and exceedingly high expectations.” Here, I thought my school days were rough. 

 

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We never really hear about Keyleth having childhood friends. Nor, as it would seem,  has she had a lot of socialization till she is sent away from her tribe. When her father thinks she is ready, Keyleth is sent on a journey to the other Ashari tribes to “establish respect” with their leaders where she becomes a member of Vox Machina, what the group is known as, along the way. Because of this upbringing Keyleth is awkward and, at times, socially inept. She is also reckless in times of stress.

Keyleth is played by Marisha Ray who is not only a gamer, but also an actress and writer. Marisha often comes under fire for her style of gameplay. There are many reasons for why viewers don’t enjoy how she plays. Some of which are because of how their Dungeon Master allows his players to experiment and, some say, he is not enough of a rule enforcer. Marisha also really commits to playing Keyleth, flaws and all. She doesn’t polish her just because she isn’t the most popular character. I know that some of her particularly cringe-worthy moments make it difficult for me to watch her as well.

That being said, I give Marisha a lot of credit. She took a character who comes from a strict and sheltered religious background to thrust her into the world which does not follow the rules. Keyleth has gone through a lot of growing and evolving throughtout the game thus far. She has put aside many of the religious beliefs that she grew up with and has had to learn how to interact with people who have not. Keyleth continues to find her own strength and control over her powers. This has been particularly hard for her since they scare her at times. She also has come to terms with guilt that she continues to bury throughout the game.

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In short, Keyleth is an evolving and flawed character. She is very real because of her flaws. She is kind. She feels things very deeply, including remorse when she makes a mistake. Keyleth is struggling to be worthy of the responsibilities thrust upon her by others. She is finding herself, making herself better and helping those around her.

Keyleth helped me to understand that it is okay for me to play characters who unflinchingly believe in good. That I can play a character who isn’t a perfect hero from jump. Marisha has taught me that it is okay to make a mistake in game and learn from it. Keyleth inspires me to be creative with my characters. To allow an awkward moment to happen if it is what I think my character would do at the time.

She is a great example of being present in the moment of gameplay. Of going with your gut as a player. Of taking a risk because it might lead to something awesome. Keyleth is all of us just trying to figure the world out. She is us trying to figure ourselves out. Keyleth is all of us, just with awesome powers and a really cool headpiece.

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Check out episodes of Critical Role here.  

You can listen to a pretty rad soundtrack that Marisha put together for Keyleth here.

Always keep sparkling!

Influential Females Character: Alice Liddell

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Alice Liddell is the protagonist of American McGee’s Alice, a game that takes place years after Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. While Alice has been away, Wonderland has become corrupted, or maybe Alice has. Now, she has to return and fight to make things right again. That way, she can save Wonderland and herself.

American McGee’s Alice was created by American McGee and released in 2000. The game is inspired by and takes place in the world of Lewis Carroll’s works, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Thankfully this world lends itself well to the gaming genre.

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Alice has lost everything since her return from Wonderland. Her family and home are gone due to a fire. She even seems to have lost her sanity. At the start of the game, she is being treated in a mental institution called Rutledge Asylum. Alice’s guilt has put her into a catatonic state. The only thing she has from her childhood is a stuffed white rabbit.

Alice is then sucked back into Wonderland by the White Rabbit.  Apparently, Wonderland has been turned into a twisted and macabre version of what it once was under the rule of the Red Queen. With the help of the Cheshire Cat, Alice must bring Wonderland, and possibly her mind, back to rights. She completes tasks and fights her way to her enemy. Only then can Wonderland be restored and, hopefully, Alice’s sanity.

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Alice has always had a soft spot in my heart. I love the idea of taking a such a well known character and being able to say, “well, what if?” What if Wonderland is real? What if Alice is insane? What if the two are tied together? Then, making a world from there that is full of danger.

The fact that Alice is allowed to question her sanity makes her a very important character. So many people deal with different mental illnesses every day. We fight our way through each hour. Alice also has to fight to be sane. That struggle has not always been a focus in story lines.

Alice is a strong character who is allowed to struggle.

The game is also well constructed with an interesting take on Wonderland.

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Always keep sparkling!

Catlilli Games – When Science meets Board Gaming

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I had the good fortune to meet the driving force behind Catlilli Games at my first game demo at WashingCon last month. I was immediately hooked by Tacto, a programming in the guise of Tic-Tac-Toe that both teaches programming AND is genuinely fun to play. Catlilli Games has successfully bridged the gap between learning AND fun, developing educational games that are exciting to play in addition to teaching STEM.  Since the company was formed they’ve won numerous awards including awards from the Imagination Gaming Awards and three International Serious Play Awards this year. This week I sat down again with Catherine Swanwick to talk about women in games and game development.

What prompted you to get into game design, and why educational games?
I’ve loved board games my whole life.  I used to collect them and my parents would become exasperated when they took up so much room.  When I became a teacher, I started creating them (simple, short ones) whenever I could for the classroom.  One of my colleagues, Jon Nardolilli, did the same thing, and I discovered that not only was he a board game lover, too, but that he had designed his own actual full-length game.  I became inspired and started to design games, also.  We decided to form our own company, Catlilli Games (part of my first name and part of his last name).  We are both STEM teachers, and as a former scientist, I am passionate about educating the public about STEM concepts.  It’s the reason I became a teacher.  My company, Catlilli Games, is extremely mission-driven.  We want to transform STEM education with gaming.

How long have you been gaming?
I’ve collected/played/loved board games my entire life. I only started designing games in Jan. 2015 when Catlilli Games was founded.

Do you feel like the game design industry and tabletop community is positive towards women? Why?
Overall, I have to say that no, I don’t feel the game design industry/tabletop community is welcoming towards women.  I haven’t experienced outright animosity, but I am naturally excluded from gaming groups, and I do feel slightly uncomfortable when I want to attend game nights at stores but they are mostly men.  However, there are pockets of very welcoming communities, such as Labyrinth on Capitol Hill (Washington DC), where I have found men and women present in equal numbers and I have always felt a warm, friendly, accepting vibe toward women.

Whats your favorite game? Least favorite?
My favorite game is so very difficult to choose!  In general, I like cooperative games (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Mole Rats in Space – basically anything by Matt Leacock), although I do have a special place in my heart for Machi Koro.  My absolute LEAST favorite game is PieFace – I call it my archenemy.  It goes against everything I stand for as a game designer.

Why do you think educational games are beneficial/important?
Games are important for education because they are a natural way of engaging students.  They automatically stimulate their attention, and they let them interact with the material in a hands-on, creative, exciting way.  Even better, they allow students to talk through questions/problems and learn from each other in many ways.  I also believe that gaming experiences will help them retain the material for longer periods of time.

Whats your favorite stage of the design process?
My favorite part of the design process are the very earliest stages, when I or my former partner had the seed of an idea and knew it has the potential to make a great game, so we would sit for hours going through all the permutations to set up an initial prototype.  The excitement is indescribable.

Looking for an entertaining way to help a kid in your life with science? You can purchase Catlilli Games from their website. (And try Tacto – its outstanding!)