Clench Your Toes and Plan for the Future

Clench Your Toes and Plan for the Future

By Caitlin L. Conner.

“So, are you a model for the avatars?”

“Actually, I’m the Production Manager.” The older man smiled and blinked at me as I hid my embarrassment by rearranging the table display of plastic bracelets and shiny postcards advertising my game.

It was a conference on space technology. I’m still not sure why I was there. Space was present as a theme in our game, but the other booths on display advertised high tech bits of spacecraft. What was most surreal about the experience though was that the female rocket scientist to my right was taken totally seriously, whereas a young female running a video game booth was regarded as a promotional stunt. This is the direct side effect of booth babe culture on women who actually work in the industry. But not being taken seriously is not just limited to the ridiculousness of trade shows.

Being young and female in a traditionally male-dominated industry can be challenging to navigate. There will be instances where you feel slighted or belittled. This might be related to your age, this might be related to your gender, or it might be a combination of both. Strangers at trade shows will make references to your body and appearance and think they’re complementing you. You will go to social functions and when talking about your profession someone will say, “I didn’t know girls played games” or “What systems do you play” and god help you if you mention that you own a Wii, because also owning a PS3 and an Xbox cannot neutralize the “non-gamer” stigma of the Wii. You might make games for a living, but there’s always some jerk that thinks they’re the border guard of gamer-land and have the power to revoke your citizenship because you don’t think the national anthem is the word “Halo.”

What’s important to mention here is that the vast majority of negative encounters I’ve had in my gaming career are with third party individuals who seem to think that the industry hasn’t changed since the 80’s. The upside of this is that the people I work with directly have by and large been supportive of my work and my goals. But where I might be able to easily address some of my frustrations with someone who knows and trusts me, it is far more difficult to bring them up with strangers whose reactions could negatively impact my job.

So how do you address these slights without putting yourself in hot water? I wish my advice was just to throw chairs, but that doesn’t seem to go over well in business. These are the methods that have worked best for me:

  • Develop a Poker Face

It was brought to my attention this year by two of my trusted mentors that years of acting have given me incredibly expressive facial expressions that are not always appropriate in meetings. Being aware of this flaw has helped me to correct it and I can now actually play my cards rather than being the kid in a round of Go Fish who shows you their whole hand before they ask for something.

If keeping a neutral expression during a meeting is challenging for you as well I would also recommend choosing another part of your body to act as the emotional outlet. Toes are my favorite because you can clench them without anyone noticing. Hands are the worst choice because they’re as easy to read as faces and reveal the fact that you’re trying to be covert in your frustration, which then reads as phony.

  • Be Patient and Don’t Lead with Anger

When someone says something awful to you, they usually haven’t processed the underlying meaning of what they’ve said. The older man at the trade show thought he was paying me a compliment. Had I led with an angry response he likely would have been confused as to why I was suddenly being mean to him and gotten nothing out of our interaction.

Sometimes you have to just kindly laugh and then gently correct someone. If they don’t feel threatened no guards go up and they are more receptive to your message. And if you can reeducate someone to view the industry differently they will pass that viewpoint on beyond your own reach.

  • Have a Long Term Game Plan

It can be satisfying to get caught up in momentary frustrations. But if you root your perspective into a long term goal it can make it easier to ignore the things you can’t immediately change because you’re focused on how your successes will help to eventually affect these changes.

My goal is to start a video game development company. This is a large enough goal to keep me grounded because there are so many skills, abilities and connections I’ll need to develop before this plan will come to fruition that I have less energy to put into momentary concerns.

  • Analytics are Your Best Friend

The most sure fire method for being taken seriously is to start backing up all your points with real data. This is also a good method for checking that your assertions are accurate which can save you development time by eliminating options that aren’t going to help you meet your goals.

Being a woman in the games industry at this juncture requires you to be patient and strategic. It’s not satisfying to have to act so carefully, but if putting up with some nonsense will help me to eventually reach a sphere of influence where I can affect real change then I’ll go on clenching my toes and planning for the future.

Caitlin L. Conner is a Project Manager and Designer with credits on eleven titles spanning the casual and MMORPG genres. She also contributes writing on gaming and women-in-tech to AlleyWatch. You can connect with her on Twitter @caitlinlconner and find more of her work at her website