As a woman who has managed to stumble her way into the gaming world, I’ve seen the advent of the home gaming system, the height of coin-op arcades, the first forays into home computing and the beginning of the internet. Technology has blazed ahead at breakneck pace ever since. The only things that seem to be dragging along are the perceptions of females as gamers and as professionals within the game development industry. We continue to struggle to this day to define who we are in that world and are discovering ourselves to be a diverse and diaphanous demographic.
Perhaps I have a unique perspective, having been raised on gaming from its inception. I don’t recall ever being told I couldn’t play because I was a girl. Instead, I put up with the usual little sister stigma and forced myself into everything my older brother was doing, be it reading his comic books and novels, muscling in on his Dungeons and Dragons games, or stealing time on his computer. The Atari was thankfully a family item from the start, and I spent much of my time flipping the score on Pitfall or Asteroids. My childhood was spent as a tomboy, relatively untouched by the gender issue.
In my twenties, my weekends usually found me at some friend’s LAN party. We’d lug mid-tower CPUs and antiquated CRT monitors to someone’s overly cramped, badly ventilated apartment to spend a night drinking “swill” (which was really canned Nestea) and playing. I was often the only female in attendance. On rare occasion, a gaming troglodyte would enter into our group and remark on the “cute girl” that was going to attempt to play along. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say the cries of anguish over being killed or beaten by a girl weren’t enjoyable.
But it wasn’t until I made the decision to attend a tech school that I realized how sheltered I had been from the traditional bias toward women in technology. I was one of three to five women attending out of about 200 students. For the first time, I felt I was an oddity wandering the halls in this predominantly male school. For the first time, I felt intimidated based on gender alone. Most importantly, no one was encouraging gaming or animation as a real career option, in any capacity.
As such, I’d say that my career in gaming began as a happy accident. While I had gone to school with the intentions of attaining a degree in multimedia, things just hadn’t fallen my way. After leaving school, I created a small web design company and began writing, on the side, for a small fan site called Aerynth Atheneaum for the MMOG, Shadowbane. It wasn’t until I became involved more deeply in the Shadowbane community that things began to look up. I made a few waves as a female author, and when the site manager of Shadowbane Vault, Chris Mancil, was hired by Ubi Soft to become Shadowbane‘s Community Manager, he offered me his former job. I spent my time working to cultivate my little corner of the community, while occasionally interjecting on behalf of other female gamers.
From there, new avenues began to open up. Brady Games was venturing into the realm of MMOG strategy guides, and were starting off with Shadowbane. When Brady asked Chris Mancil for names, he gave them mine and my soon-to-be co-author John Henderson’s. Little did I know this would lead to two more book contracts with Brady Games for Artifact Entertainment’s Horizons and for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. I believe I was the first female author Brady had ever worked with. But like all good things, it didn’t come easy.
Trying to juggle pregnancies and later, two small children, as well as my work was not as easy as they make it seem on television. While co-workers were ordering in pizza and sleeping late, I was juggling grocery shopping, diapering, feedings, gaming, writing and very limited amounts of sleep. It was as if I blinked and both of my children were walking despite the fact they were never far away from me by my desk. My co-workers were infinitely patient with me, but I grew more and more frustrated with attempting to handle working at home and taking care of a family.
After many years, I’ve returned to my community roots and work as the Assistant Community Manager of Shadowbane. Some would say I have been lucky, and I would agree. I’ve seen an evolution among the female gaming population. We once were a hidden demographic and we now find ourselves openly struggling to pronounce our existence without wielding a sledgehammer. We are daughters, sisters and mothers of all ages, types and interests.
I now have two daughters of my own. While I continue to make my way fumblingly through this strange world of gaming, I hope to instill in them the idea that they can in fact do anything they wish, even pursue a career in the game development industry. Some things have changed since I was a girl, working my way to carpal tunnel on an Atari controller. Some things still need to change when it comes to acknowledging women as gamers and developers in the industry we have grown up loving.
Danielle “Sachant” Vanderlip is currently the Assistant Community Manager for Shadowbane for Wolfpack Studios a Ubi Soft Company. She is also the Co-Author of the Official Brady Games Strategy Guides for Shadowbane, Horizons and World of Warcraft.