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JC Lau's blog about geekery, gender and other rants

Women in Gaming: an evening with Halo: Nightfall

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Last Thursday, at the Big Picture in downtown Seattle, I found out about the male-dominated history of the community for women in the videogame industry.

L-R: Jessica Shea, Marta Beck, Holly Barbacovi and Kiki Wolfkill, all of 343 industries. Image courtesy of Jason Pankow.

Bonnie Ross, CVP of 343 Industries, recounted how she and several other women organized a cocktail event at the annual Game Developers Conference as a networking opportunity for women in 2001. Considering that women only make up around 5-20% of their fields, and that on average they earned 86 cents on every dollar that men made in the US game industry, it was crucial for women to have an opportunity to meet others within their profession.

However, more men than women turned up to the event.

“It was actually pretty funny, the first event, because we put out all the flyers for this networking event and guys thought it was a dating event, so we had more guys than women show up,” Ross told the packed theater, to laughs and groans.

However, from there, the networking event evolved into a lunch, where the earliest incarnations had just a “handful of tables”. The last GDC Women in Gaming lunch (held in San Francisco in March this year) had more than 250 women at the event.

Such is the setting for the Seattle-based Women in Gaming community, which held its inaugural event on November 13. Sponsored by Xbox, about one hundred local women in the videogame industry gathered over Halo-themed drinks to make new connections and watch a sneak preview of the first two episodes of Halo: Nightfall. The first episode had been released with The Master Chief Collection, and the second episode officially aired on Tuesday, November 18.

Part of the great success of the evening was due to the overall tone of the event. Marta Beck, the Program Manager for Xbox’s Women in Gaming, said that “the goal was to create a fun, intimate setting where women felt comfortable networking and meeting other women in the industry.” And that goal was certainly accomplished. Over the course of three hours, I met game designers, artists, writers, journalists and players from across the Puget Sound area. Instead of the usual, printed nametags, we were invited to make our own with as much creativity as we could muster, and discussions over stickers and colored markers easily turned into networking opportunities. It was also a safe, informal environment; as a recent transplant to both the Seattle area and the game industry, I felt as if I could talk to anyone in the room, and it was fantastic to feel included right away.

Holly Barbacovi, the Operations Manager at 343 industries, also noted the value of such events for women. “Groups like this are important because women are a minority in games and tech in general,” she said. “It’s important to have opportunities to see others like you, compare stories, and reinforce that this is a phenomenal career to pursue.”

The Halo: Nightfall launch was certainly such an event. We talked about work, feminism, and what we did in our spare time (LARPing, cupcakes, roller derby and building computers came up in multiple conversations). Although there were a handful of industry war stories about terrible bosses, Gamergate and impostor syndrome, the vast majority of the discussion by far was centered on how much we loved gaming and what we did.

Of course, the evening wouldn’t be complete without some references to the Halo franchise. Along with the Halo: Nightfall screening, we were each given a copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection (which released last Tuesday), and there was even an Xbox One giveaway with Jen Taylor (who voices Cortana in the series) doing the drawing.

Image courtesy of JC Lau.

Halo: Nightfall is a five-part sci-fi action series on the Halo Channel, available with The Master Chief Collection. As part of extending the Halouniverse beyond the game, it introduces a character who will have a primary role in Halo 5, which will be released next year.

Image courtesy of @zippyrella

The evening was a fantastic opportunity to meet and network with other women in the videogame industry. The camaraderie, warmth and positivity were truly invigorating and inspiring. Beck also comments that future events will “expand to include women in tech who love games, not limited to women working in games.” If this initial event was anything to go by, the Women in Gaming community shows great promise for fostering a strong network of not just colleagues, but potential friendships. As one attendee observed on the way to the post-event venue, “I came here with some people I work with, and now I’m leaving with three friends that I’ve just met”.

Tweets from the event can be seen with the hashtag #WIGSeattle. The Women in Gaming community plans to have more gatherings in Seattle.

This article was originally published at GeekGirlCon

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