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Dispatch from the Game Developers Conference: #1ReasonToBe a Woman in Gaming

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by Laura Karpman
March 25, 2014 1:30 PM
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Laura Karpman

Last week, I attended the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. This is a yearly pilgrimage for most people in games. I love writing music for games, and I do at least one major game project a year. It's a terrific venue for composers, a place where we can really stretch and write music that is dramatic and melodic. But if I'm one of the "2% of women composers in Hollywood," I can't even imagine what the numbers are in the game world. So as a woman over 50 who has no idea how to move a joystick, I had no idea if I would enjoy or benefit from this conference. But it was worth a try.

On my carefully constructed agenda, in between seminars and meetings, I included two Women in Gaming International (WIGI) activities: a party and an awards luncheon. WIGI is an organization devoted to gender diversity in a very male-oriented side of entertainment. 

I went to the first event at the Cartoon Art Museum, buttressed by two friends and ready to network -- or at least I told myself that. I find "networking" awkward at best, and miserable at worst. We went early and planted ourselves at a table. To my delight, lots of people stopped by and chatted, from a young woman making a kids' game about poop to Noah Falstein, a legend in the field and now Chief Game Designer at Google. (He wore a pair of Google Glass.) Whipping out cards (mine was a USB stick with my music on it) was simple; I met lots of terrific women and men. 

But the real highlight was the next day. At the WIGI award luncheon, very generously hosted by Microsoft, I sat at a table with several friends, including Jeanine Cowen, a gamer, composer, and the Vice President of Berklee College of Music, and the legendary Leslie Ann Jones, a Grammy-winning recording engineer who has produced and recorded many game scores. The rest of our table was filled with young female game developers, mostly in their twenties -- self-described math nerds who write computer code for major companies.

Parsons professor and game designer Colleen Macklin moderated the #1ReasonToBe panel, which asked super-smart women why they entered -- and have continued to stay -- in the video-game industry. There were many tough questions: including one on whether the panelists believed in affirmative action (one no, one HELL YES!) and whether it's possible to have a career and family (yes, but your life will be a hot mess).

The fantastic Robin Hunicke, the winner of the Ambassador Award, which honors women who have helped make the video-grame industry more hospitable to women, gave a memorable speech at the luncheon. 

Hunicke told a story about a recent talk in Sweden, a country famous for gender equity, where she was asked how to correct the gender inequality in gaming. She asked the women at that gathering to raise their hands. There were 8 in a group of 80. She responded, Why don't you ask a man?, and and went on to say, We can't work hard, raise families, and be asked to solve this problem as well. It's for men to solve as well. She declared that she hopes the Ambassador Award goes to a man next year. The cheers overwhelmed the couple of boos.

The luncheon was totally inspiring, honest, warm, and fun. At the end, a young woman who writes code turned to Leslie and me and said that sometimes she doesn't even want to go to work because of the overt sexism. But seeing us there -- we who have somehow lasted and made careers -- gave her hope. I told her that every day she goes to work, it's a feminist act.

Previously by Laura Karpman: "Why is Everyone Pointing at Me?"

With four Emmys and another seven nominations, an Annie nomination, and two GANG awards for her video-game music, Laura Karpman is one of a handful of female composers scoring film, television and video games today. She recently collaborated with Raphael Saadiq on the score for Kasi Lemmons' Black Nativity (Fox Searchlight). She has just completed The Galapagos Affair, starring Cate Blanchett, and is currently scoring Regarding Susan Sontag (HBO). Karpman is also currently working on recording her multimedia opera Ask Your Mama, an opus based on a text by Langston Hughes and commissioned by Carnegie Hall for singer Jessye Norman.

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