The porcelain is pristine in the ladies room at GDC – the Game Developer Conference, the largest conference of digital game designers in the world, held recently in San Francisco.
At first it seemed yet another sausage-centric room so familiar to Hollywood, where the best thing a girl can say is it’s a great place to pee. But immediately it was clear that this place was different, and while the female game designers were definitely in the minority they were proud and powerful.
Women like Brenda Brathwaite, of Loot Drop and LOLapps, who has been a pioneer in games for almost 30 years (since 1981!) at Atari, Electronic Arts and more. Or Colleen Macklin of Parsons, designer of the official “GDC MetaGame”, which pits game fans against each other to defend the most innovative, buzz-worthy or engaging games of their field. Or Tracy Fullerton, head of USC’s Game Innovation Lab and designer of games for NBC, TBS, MTV, Sony, Intel, Microsoft and more.
These women are highly accomplished, esteemed by their male and female peers and – shocker! – don’t seem to spend much time thinking about how remarkable their female-ness in game development is. They just spend their time developing great games.
Damn was I envious. Why does Hollywood suck at this? What is GDC’s secret that we can – in true Hollywood tradition – co-opt and commercialize?
The answer was in the community – the band of innovators and wild geniuses who operate at the fringes of creativity and the cutting edge of technology. Now WOAH – before tomatoes start flying – this is not to say that all gamers and game designers are outsiders. 100 million global FarmVille players clearly represent a quorum. But would it be so bad to be outside of the mainstream? It is freeing to start already outside the lines – you can draw wherever you want and have your artwork judged only by its beauty.
Being a women in game development is like being an outsider in a room full of outsiders. You may be different, but so is everyone else so let’s roll up our sleeves together and get to work. This is not to diminish the struggles these women face, nor to ignore real structural issues such as lack of encouragement of young girls to pursue technical computer skills. But from my perspective – wistfully looking over the fence at the greener grass – the community is supportive and encouraging, the wagons pre-circled.
We women in Hollywood are outsiders in a world that presumes to be mainstream, in fact presumes to set the mainstream. We exhaust ourselves trying to follow established paths and we do our work under a spotlight, with increased scrutiny that smothers creativity before it can grow.
None of this is rocket science. Hell it’s not even computer science, and even the 19-year-old GDC volunteers hold advanced degrees in that which put my pathetic understanding to shame. I’m just impressed. Just lamely trying to play catch up to the incredibly cool women (& men!) I met.
I took a lot home with me from San Francisco, but most of all this: My movie-lady sisters, we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re not on the fringes here in Hollywood. So maybe it’s time to embrace it. Embrace the freedom that comes from F-U-ing the mainstream and more importantly, use it. When there’s no one else in the ladies room, it means you can throw a party in there. Or dress it like a set, rig lights and shoot one hell of a great movie.
Emily Dell is a Writer & Director in LA. Her last film B-GIRL is on Showtime and she is prepping her next film BATTLE with Producer & sister Elizabeth Dell.