As I was looking through my Facebook feed while getting on the train earlier today, I saw a link to this blog post pop up. It's written by Jessica Curry, a prominent composer for games and all other kinds of media, about why she is taking a big step back from her role at The Chinese Room.
If you haven't read, I highly suggest you give it a look. It's wonderfully written and brings up some very powerful points about the state of the industry.
And it made me absolutely furious in a way I haven't been in a long time.
I love games. I have loved games for as long as I can remember. Forcing my Dad to play Kirby games with me all the time. Watching my Mom play Final Fantasy 8. Getting into arguments with my little brother about who could beat who at Tetris Attack. Looking forward to winter break, so I could sit downstairs in the basement, covered in blankets with our space heater pointed at me to make up for the cold, and catch up on all the RPGs I hadn't been able to play. Music and games kept me sane when I felt like everything was falling to pieces. The real world sucks, so I visited other worlds, other worlds I could interact with and change, instead. Without games to help me cope, I'm genuinely unsure of how I would have gotten through some of the worst parts of middle school and high school. Sometimes, you just need a break, you know?
That's a big part of why I'm working to be part of the games industry now. No, I'm not a doctor or a scientist and I can't cure cancer by making games and writing music. But what I think we forget is that we help people in a different way. Through the stories we tell and the worlds we create, we make people want to live. Happiness and hope is just as essential to life as food and water. As an interactive medium, games have so much potential for transmitting stories and ideas in ways that can truly affect people. When we give someone our game, we're not just asking them to observe - we're inviting them in, to play and create and make this bizarre new world their own. It belongs to the player as much as it belongs to us, an experience that is absolutely, completely shared. What I want, more than anything, is to help create these experiences for other people, to try and give others that same joy, the same breadth of emotions that other games have made me feel. Every time I play through Chrono Trigger, every time I cringe at the raw violence in Lisa, every time I cry like a baby when I reach the end of Undertale or Mother 3, I remember why I want to make games.
A few years ago, while I was still part of the Video Game Music Club at Berklee College of Music, I had gotten in touch with Jessica Curry to ask her to do an interview with us about her work. I remember being mortified when I realized that I had forgotten about time zones (somehow) when scheduling the interview, and that she was incredibly gracious through the entire thing. I spent so much time researching what she had done so that I could ask good, intelligent questions when the time finally came.
But mostly what I remember is what an incredible person she was during the interview. And I've had the same thoughts about every woman working in audio that I've had the chance to meet - that these are strong, amazing people, that despite what they might have to put up with, they have an amazing amount of confidence and passion for what they do. That these are women that work incredibly hard and give off an air of knowing exactly who they are and being unashamed of it. Women like Jessica Curry are huge role models to me. The women in the industry now are the ones helping to make things better for younger women, like me, looking to break in. We need them. They are living proof that, despite the horrible stories and the harassment, it is perfectly possible and normal for women to make games.
And that's why, when I read that third paragraph in Jessica's blog post today, it nearly broke me. Particularly this part:
I thought I was strong enough to lead the charge, to prove through talent and hard work and positivity that women have a vital role to play. Well, as tough as this is to admit to both myself and to you lot this is one fight that I’m personally not going to win. I leave it to people younger and fitter than me to carry on this crusade.
I have watched too many women leave the industry during the past year. I have seen too many women being harassed in the name of "ethics", I have heard too many stories of being mistaken for receptionists instead of being recognized as developers, and I, too, have experienced first-hand the garbage that everyone else is putting up with. I've been asked who's girlfriend I was when I went to an event for audio professionals at GDC, as if I had to "belong" to someone and couldn't actually be a professional. I've had a professor single out myself and the only other girl in a class of 20 and directly tell us that we were going to have a much harder time than everyone else before regaling us with stories about the "old days" where we'd have to visit the casting couch first before getting a job. And I've been lucky.
I am so grateful that nearly everyone I have ever met, both in college and at professional events, have been welcoming and accepting, and have recognized that there are issues that need to be fixed with regards to diversity. I am so thankful that the industry is beginning to discuss problems of representation, why it's important, and what can be done to change things. Make no mistake, things are getting better, and will only continue to get better.
But I am tired. And I am scared. When a woman like Jessica Curry decides to leave in part because of these kinds of issues, that is a sign that something is horribly, dreadfully wrong. Whenever I have the courage to bring up issues that women have in the industry to other people, the terrible but well-intentioned advice that I inevitably receive is, "Well, you just need to be strong". You need to be strong. And I believed that. I believed, for the longest time, that the reason that other women left the industry was that they didn't love games enough, they weren't passionate enough, that they were weak. So I naturally thought, by extension, by existing in this industry, I was stronger than them. And as long as I was strong and unwavering, there would be a place for me here. The only thing you need to succeed is blind, unquestioning passion.
But you know, recently, I've started to wonder - is it really an issue of being "strong"? Is the issue really that women just don't have thick enough skin? Because I'm beginning to think it's more than that. When a strong woman decides that enough is enough, when many strong women decide that enough is enough, I think it's time we listen. Because the problem is not them. There is nothing weak about speaking out against what you've been enduring, and to move on when seemingly no change has been made.
I am tired. And I am scared. I know, that because I am a woman, I am fighting a battle just to attempt to make a living doing something I love. That I will probably be harassed. That if I ever decide to have a family, I may have to give up entirely, because the game industry wants people that can work 80 hour weeks during crunch while everyone else expects me to be the main caretaker of the children. That if, by some strange chance, I do end up becoming a notable voice in the industry, I can look forward to death threats and doxxing. But mostly, my heart breaks when I think about how it is slowly becoming more and more difficult for me to look a young girl in the eye and honestly encourage her to follow her dreams and make games, knowing what she will have to face to do that.
Make no mistake - I will not give up. I will carry on the crusade. I want this industry to become a place where everyone can be accepted, because the more people there are, the more ideas we have, the better the games we create will be.
Every time I play through Chrono Trigger, every time I cringe at the raw violence in Lisa, every time I cry like a baby when I reach the end of Undertale or Mother 3, I remember why I want to make games. But, you know - days like today make it a little harder to keep going.