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Influential Women in the Gaming Industry: Brianna Wu

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Brianna Wu is a game developer. She is also the head of Giant Spacekat which is a female lead gaming development team. She is also often a speaker on the subject of women in the tech industry.

Brianna found a love of technology early in her life. This would serve her well as that love helped her to pave her own way. She was adopted into a conservative family that she would not always feel like she belonged in. Learning to program and work on computers are some of her happiest memories as a child. Thankfully her family supported her in her love of technology and provided her with resources that have helped her to become a successful woman in the field of gaming.

That support helped her to start her first business as a teenager. From her parents’ garage she would modify cars and computers. By the time she was in college, she had saved up a nice nest egg, which enabled her to leave the program she was not happy in. Brianna went through many changes and challenges that helped her find her own views and voice in the world during this time. This journey would help her discover what she wanted out of life, and gaming.

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Brianna started Giant Spacekat in 2010. The company was not started with a strong feminist stance in mind. Brianna simply wanted to make things that she liked and wanted to see in games. It turns out that what she wanted was a more inclusive gaming space. This tone led to Revolution 60, the first game from Giant Spacekat, that featured all female operatives and strong feminist overtones in the game.

As she spoke with more women in the gaming industry, Brianna found that many of them were having similar experiences to herself. This led her to changing the culture of her studio. It also led Brianna to taking on more speaking appearances and writing about women in the gaming industry.

Brianna Wu is an example of how life takes us on paths we may not expect. Everything is a learning experience and we are meant to grow on this journey we call life.

Always keep sparkling!

 

Women in Gaming: Carol Shaw

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As an old-school gamer, it’s always been a part of life that women game, and women develop games.  From the beginning, advertising has included boys and girls playing Nintendo together, men and women at the arcade, and in company photos from some of the greats.  While there’s never been an even split, it never seemed strange to me that girls in my neighborhood liked video games as much as I did.  It was only within the last ten years or so that people have not only raised the question “Is it enough?” but also began to inundate our gaming news with so much negativity about being a woman in this industry.

I’ve interviewed female developers and gamers about this, and while their experiences vary greatly, most agree that the lack of positive coverage of women in gaming is a hindrance to making any substantial change.  When young women start looking at gaming as a possible interest, many will be turned away by the lack of any good examples in the media.  Let’s face it, bad news sells, but it also skews our perspective.  Take a look yourself and you’ll find top searches are a mix of contradictory stories, negative and frightening press, and too few articles about the women who have helped shape this hobby we all love.  So I’m glad to be able to do a little profile on one of the first, Carol Shaw.

Carol Shaw is credited as the first female game designer with two titles for the Atari 2600 in 1978.  Polo, which was never released, and 3D Tic-tac-toe.  She worked for Atari, Activision, and Tandem Computers during her career.  Her game credits are not long, but as far as I and many gamers are concerned, they are pivotal in early game development.  Her lesser known credits include Othello, Video Checkers, Calculator, and Happy Trails.

Her early childhood, she notes, was mostly spent with an interest in her brother’s railroad set rather than the typical girl’s toys of the time.  Her father was an engineer and she excelled in mathematics in school, all of which likely lent themselves to her interest in computer sciences.  In fact, her first introduction to gaming and computers was together in high school with text-based games many of us can remember if we’re old enough.  She attended Berkeley, achieving a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, and eventually finishing a master’s in Computer Sciences.  From there, it was onto Atari, who was the leading video game company at the time.

Before we talk about the game most consider the best of her work, and one of the top games Atari ever had, I want to bring up Super Breakout.  We had a lot of games on the Atari growing up, but there’s only a handful I remember.  One of those is Super Breakout.  It’s a game where you control a flat paddle, similar to what you find in Pong, and use it to bounce a ball around the screen.  At the top of the screen are bricks you are trying to destroy with said ball.  Let it hit the bottom of the screen and you lose a ‘life’, or ball.  I believe you had three balls to use.  Higher levels added a double layered paddle, and sometimes balls were trapped in the bricks, that once released into play, could all be bounced around to destroy more bricks.  As long as you kept at least one ball in play, you were in the game.  To this day, its one of the more challenging and fun games I’ve ever played, and we have Carol to thank for it.

Then there’s River Raid.  We had this on the Atari 5200, which Carol helped port over from her original design.  This game was by far my favorite, and is probably the reason I later fell in love with flight simulators.  River Raid, if you’re never played it, is based around navigating a plane through an obstacle course inside an ever-narrowing channel.  The screen moves forward and you can speed that up, but you can navigate the plane left or right.  You have to dodge, or shoot, balloons, helicopters, and other planes while avoiding contact with the sides of the channel.  It was probably more difficult than any game I’ve played, and I never did beat it.  This game is considered by many to be the best 8-bit game Atari ever put out.

There’s a great, and thorough interview with Carol over on Vintage Computing and Gaming.

Let us know what you think about Carol Shaw’s games in the comments below!

 

There’s Something for Everyone in Gaming but Everything Isn’t for You

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That statement is pretty blunt, “There’s something for everyone in gaming, but everything isn’t for you.”  I imagine you’ve had one of three reactions reading it:  you either, one, nod your head and get it right away, two, give your computer screen a confused look because you aren’t sure if you should be upset by it, or, three, get upset and start to formulate a rebuttal to tell me how offensive this is.  Bear with me for a minute while I lay this out for you.

As I write this, there is another article being written about how games need to become less violent, more this, less that, and so on and so on.  There’s always someone, somewhere, trying to make the case that games are bad for us.  There are people, whether they are being honest or not, that think every game should fit into their own set of morals and standards.  Sounds a little nuts, doesn’t it?  I do hope you think so, because, if you don’t, you probably won’t like the rest of this.

Gaming has been evolving for decades now, growing from a niche novelty item into the largest entertainment industry in the world.  We’ve gone from just a couple of consoles and PC to countless platforms including handhelds and VR.  Where once your selection of games was fairly limited with just three games released in 1972, we’ve had about 680 games released this year.  The genres available to you are more than I can list, and just about anyone can find something to play.  Maybe that’s why it is estimated that 44% of the world is playing some sort of video game.

The beauty of gaming is it has those niches.  It has genres within genres, all of which appeal to someone.  The reality is they don’t appeal to everyone, and they shouldn’t.  Every one of us has a genre we don’t like, or type of game we think is awful.  There are games we won’t even try because of platform, publisher, subject matter, or genre.  That’s absolutely normal, and we shouldn’t do anything to change it.  Just like we all have book categories we don’t like.  Do we actually consider changing those to fit our tastes?  I wouldn’t pick up a romance novel any more than I’d play a Japanese dating simulator.  I couldn’t imagine demanding romance writers start writing their books more like fantasy adventures so I would find them more entertaining.

What it boils down to is there are definitely games out there for me, but not every game is for me.  That’s actually pretty great because it means more people will have games to play.  If every game fit my tastes, I can assure you many gamers wouldn’t find something they liked.  Our tastes are different.  I like FPS games, RPGs and MMOs, and I play just one mobile game.  I know a lot of people that don’t like any of those genres.  For FPS games, I play military sims almost exclusively, but thousands and thousands like Overwatch, a type of FPS I don’t care for.

Hopefully it’s making a lot more sense now.  But what’s the point?  Point is, when you see people saying “this game shouldn’t exist,” or “I don’t like that, change it,” keep one thing in mind.  Even if you agree with their dislike of whatever game they’re talking about, the next person may say it about a game you like.  As a matter of fact, I can guarantee that whatever game you do like, there’s people out there who don’t.  Imagine if we all stood up and said “I’m offended by that, ban it,” or started a petition to pull a game from store shelves.  How many games would we be left with?  So, when someone says a game shouldn’t exist, even if we don’t like it, we have to say, “yes, it should.”  Otherwise, we can’t really say much if someone comes after the games we like.

Please, Stop.

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Lords, ladies, lads, and lassies, I am Max Urso and I implore you: Please, stop.

This is not a rant, this is a plea.

The gaming industry is inundated with pre-ordered, crowd-funded, early-access betas that fill the internet with hatred and vitriol when they fail to appease. We’re so addicted to instant gratification that we can’t wait for a finished product to come out. The game developers are more than happy to take our money to fund their unfinished products. It’s a dysfunctional relationship, and I’m not sure who the abuser is and who is the enabler.

Mind you, I’m as guilty as the next guy of feeding into this destructive behavior. My Steam library is full of early-access games that I’ve booted up maybe once or twice, only to toss them aside in favor of the next new game that’s not quite ready for the light of day. I have over 100 games in there that aren’t getting played because I’ve drifted back to World of Warcraft and Diablo III. That will change in an instant though, bets are already placed as to how long I’ll stick with my WoW subscription this time. All it will take is a shiny new game on the horizon to catch my eye.

Then, there’s the case of games that are blatant lies. No Man’s Sky sold itself on false promises. There were over 200,000 players on launch day on Steam alone, and today there’s slightly over 2,000. That’s a 90% loss due to features not present in the finished product but talked of in the promotional media leading up to it’s release. These remaining few die hard fans who read between the lines, ignored the hype, and knew what they were buying are the only ones still playing it.

My gaming habits aside, I still play NMS. I like it, but I made it my own (The Lost Files 1). I don’t play it everyday, but I do enjoy it. My point is that we, as consumers, are obligated to think before we spend our money. It’s too easy to click-click-click and purchase a game without thinking of the consequences, but we must. The game developers will keep offering pre-orders if we keep buying into it.

Day one patches, and paid DLCs (that years ago would have been free) are more of the same bad relationship symptoms between us and them. If nobody bought DLCs, then would they still make them? Would they instead offer them for free or as part of the initial content?

Use the power of your wallet intelligently. Wait for the release. Wait for reviews. Sure, most critics seemed biased or possibly even show a preference, but that’s why we need to do our research. Stop giving the game developers an excuse to release a shoddy game. It is the responsibility of the developers to put out a finished, polished product, and it is our responsibility to hold them accountable by not paying for anything less.

 

Unity Promotes Women with Workshops

Unity Promotes Women with Workshops

CiLi4fcWEAAUzCxIt’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of encouraging more women to get involved in the gaming industry. While I lack the education and computer know-how to start making games myself, I applaud the women who are able to pull through the negativity of the media constantly telling them “it’s a man’s industry” and do what they love.

That being said, Unity has launched a series of free and open global workshops, called “Women in Gaming,” in an effort to empower women and encourage them to pursue careers in the video game industry.

These workshops discuss many of the issues women face when attempting to advance their careers in gaming. At the same time, they allow for the people in attendance to network with each other and learn from each other. Other topics covered in the workshop include organizational dynamics, leadership skills and strategic thinking.

The first two workshops have already happened. The first took place in Amsterdam on June 1st. The speaker was Fiona Sperry, the founder of Three Fields Entertainment. The second workshop was in San Francisco, CA, at UC Berkeley with Professor Dana Carvey.

The next three workshops are below:

  • July 28 – Shanghai, China. Special Guests: Amy Huang (AVP at NetEase Capital), Evelyn Liu (CTO at Firevale), and Yanyan Xiong (Founder of Shenzhenware).
  • September 22 – San Francisco, CA. Special Guest: Nanea Reeves (President and COO of textPlus)
  • Early November (date TBD) – Los Angeles, CA at University of Southern California. Special guest: Professor Tracey Fullerton.

1441576529unity-logoEach of the special guest speakers has been successful within the gaming industry. In the workshops, they will be sharing their experiences and insights with those in attendance.

While I wish we didn’t need to have initiatives like this within the gaming industry (and other “male-dominated” industries such as computer programming – see Girls Who Code), I applaud Unity for taking this step. As a woman myself, I can attest to how many times I’ve been told, “but that’s for boys,” in regards to video games or other nerdy things that I enjoy. Initiatives like this not only bring us just a little bit closer to eliminating that negativity in the world, but also gives young gamer girls strong women to look up to.

All of the workshops are free and open to the public. If you’d like to register for one, click here.