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Carrie Heeter

Two year ago at the Serious Game Summit at GDC, I was sitting in the audience before things began, counting the number of female presenters (1) and the number of male presenters (everyone else) in the program. At that moment Ben Sawyer walked up to me, said there was going to be a Game Design Challenge the second afternoon, and would I be interested in being one of the competitors.
Realizing one cannot whine about under representation and then decline such an invitation, I said yes. He then handed me my assignment (each of the four competitors would be assigned to invent a serious game on a different topic; we had 1.5 days to come up with the concept and present, and we were encouraged to work with other attendees).
He handed me a sheet describing my assignment. I was to come up with a game for first time pregnant mothers. I was stunned at the topic. As a then 48 year old non-parent, I knew nothing about pregnancy. I cringed at having 1.5 days to come up with a game (I sure wanted to win this competition) on this topic. Talk about a pink game! This was “beyond Barbie” in ways I had not anticipated. I was glad though, not to have been assigned a war game like one of the other competitors.
The assignment completely warped my experience of attending the Serious Games Summit. Rather than making connections related to serious games, I spend each break listening to fathers tell me about their first time pregnancy experiences. An OBGYN from Stanford, LeRoy Henrich, kindly told me way more than I wanted to know (but things I needed to know) about pregnancy. I was up until 3am that night researching first time pregnancy and creating graphics for the proposed game: Game Baby, a mobile phone-based information and minigame subscription service for first time PARENTS (we expanded beyond mothers to avoid being sexist!). The service was aware of your due date and thus knew what was going on hormonally and developmentally in the pregnancy. It included things like a weekly hormonescope and mini-games appropriate to when in the pregnancy. Minigames included the Lamaze space invaders and the crying game to prepare you to recognize different kinds of cries.
Fellow attendees were very helpful in brainstorming and planning. LeRoy and I have kept in touch and in fact a proposal was submitted to NIH to do similar things, involving both of us as consultants. (It was not funded.)
I was not aware of the game challenge until I arrived. Some attendees were unhappy that I was invited at the last minute, when they had expressed interest much earlier in response to Ben’s call for interest. I totally understand their irritation. And I applaud Ben’s conscious choice to call on a female even though none had noticed the call and volunteered.
I felt enormous pressure to be credible and inventive. Being inventive is my idea of a good time. But doing so publicly as a representative of my gender on a this topic in this context was a very weird feeling.
I don’t think a winner was actually chosen. I came in with an elaborate powerpoint pitch, almost VC-ready. I heard grumbles that it was unfair of me to spend so much time preparing (instead of sleeping). A fellow attendee had even created a working version of Lamaze space invaders overnight.
Gender is an adventure.
You did well, Celia, to ask the question as you did. I don’t envy the woman who gets called upon next year. But I have a pretty good sense of how she will feel.


Thank you, Carrie. This comment has inspired me to create a new "thread" entitled "The Most Ridiculous Gender and Game Design Story Challenge." Please see the subsequent post for instructions.

Carrie Heeter

I think it worth noting my SGD story is a very positive example. The enaction feels weird, but it is exactly what we are asking for. Even in the best of times, there are stresses for everyone involved.

A game for first time pregnant mothers was actually a great assignment, rich in possibilities, as I discovered as I delved in to the topic, assisted by many others at the conference.

It was completely natural that I felt pressure to "prove myself and my gender" rather than just proving myself.

It is completely natural that people would be annoyed at me being asked instead of them.

Being a minority leads to feeling like a minority. I find myself more aware of "being female" or, as you say, being a person of gender in that context. In other contexts I am "just a person."

Those who are not in the minority feel like just a person. To them it must seem odd that "the others" ao hypersensitive/hyperaware of their minority status.

Eric Zimmerman


Thanks for your post. I wanted to write this short response to set the record straight about the issue of women panelists at the Game Design Challenge, as well as correct a few inaccuracies in what you wrote.

First, let me make it clear that I have lobbied every year to include women in the Game Design Challenge. The event is one of the most popular and highest-rated at the GDC each year, and for that reason, both the CMP staff and the conference Advisory Board have input on the speakers, and it is not up to me alone. Your assertion that it has “never occurred to me” to include women on the panel is wrong and – I must say – insulting as well.

In considering the larger context of my work in the game industry, it should be clear that tagging me as blind to issues of gender is simply inaccurate. The company I co-founded, Gamelab, has an a very intentional near-equal balance of gender, with women occupying most of our Director-level positions. A woman (Katie Salen) is the Executive Director of the nonprofit Gamelab Institute of Play. My work over the last 13 years in the game industry, from SiSSYFiGHT to Diner Dash, has often explored representation of female characters that go beyond typical roles of object-to-be-rescued or Lara Croft-style action pin-up. My academic work often addresses issues of game culture, including explicitly the representation of gender. Of the dozens and dozens of panels, workshops, seminars and conferences I have put together, I generally strive mightily for diversity of gender, among other things. And I often speak out against the lack of cultural sophistication among the culture of game developers and in games themselves.

Over and above these examples, it should be clear that the themes of the Game Design Challenge (love story, Emily Dickenson, needle and thread, etc) are “feminizing,” and that there is most certainly an interventionist and feminist intent to the challenges I devise. I don’t mean go overboard defending myself, but given the general sexist and gender-ignorant state of the game industry, you’re truly barking up the wrong tree to accuse me of a lack of sensitivity to gender and games.

At the Game Design Challenge earlier this week, when you asked me the question about women being on the panel, I most certainly did not say that “gender had nothing to do with it” – I could hardly imagine myself uttering such a phrase, after my many conversations with CMP about having women on the panel. What I actually said was that the makeup of the panel was determined in collaboration with CMP, and that gender was not the primary factor in selecting panelists. I also thanked you no less than three times during my short response for raising this important issue.

Despite the fact that the way you asked the question and your post here unfairly saddles me with sole responsibility (as well as inaccurately painting me as insensitive to these issues), I do hope that the end result is that the gender diversity of the Game Design Challenge event is broadened in the future. I encourage you and others to contact CMP with feedback on the panel and request that women be included next year. I will also do what I can on my end as well.

-eric zimmerman

Tracy Fullerton

Having known you for so long, Eric, I believe strongly in your personal integrity and I know that you yourself stand by what you say about gender inclusiveness in arenas where you are able to do so. You are not the problem, that is perfectly clear to me. I also want to thank you profusely for instigating such panels as this at the GDC. I remember all the years we used to go and complain about the bland nature of the conference, and you have really stuck your neck out to change that over the years.

I'm curious, however, about the reasoning and process behind the selection of participants in the Game Design Challenge, as it has bothered me horribly since the very first year.

Every year, I come faithfully and I wait to see if this will be the year a woman is allowed to take on the challenge. Every year I am disappointed. Not in content of the panel, not in the topic of the challenge, but in the lack of representation for such an important set of voices -- especially when you are offering challenges that are so interesting to me personally, and, I suspect to many other women designers.

What is CMP's reasoning? Can you explain it to us, please? Is it visibility? Sales? If so, that is pretty sad. The panel seems to me to be about inspiring the adventurous spirit of game design, not about all the other markers of success that so drive much of the other content of the show.

If indeed, the selection process is controlled by CMP, I'm actually even more disappointed. Because this means that there is probably no opportunity for change. That my hopes each year have been completely in vain. That I will never have a image from the panel to put up in my class showing a gender-balanced panel from the challenge.

Perhaps the REAL Game Design Challenge is actually how to change the selection process for the panel itself.

Again, thanks for all your efforts, Eric. This comment is not in anyway a slight of your work or attitude. Merely a comment on the bureaucracy surrounding it.

Matthew "Sajon" Weise

You don't have to know Eric that well to know he is a huge supporter of gender equality in the games industry. On the other hand Celia's comments are warranted inasmuch as they address public perception surrounding the Game Design Challenge. Regardless of what bureaucratic devices surround him, Eric is still presented as the spokesperson for the Game Design Challenge each year. This makes it sometimes difficult to separate Eric's values from those of CMP. Those of us know him know he is all for women in game design, but what about those who don't know him so well? Celia's comment that it "never occurred" to Eric to involve women in the Game Design Challenge may be incorrect, but it's very easy to see how the majority of people walking out of that room might assume it never occurred to him.

Eric has a huge amount of integrity on the issue of women in game design, but that's precisely what leaves people scratching their heads. Given Eric's passionate support of the issue, his appeal to the authority of a bureaucratic body feels like an evasive and unsatisfactory answer to a very important question... even if it is the truth.

In any case, I think Tracy's on the right track in terms of challenging the selection process. If bureaucracy is the problem, it may be time for more people to get organized and push hard for real results.



I absolutely concur with both Tracy and Matthew, and if you'll note, I specifically commented on the gender-inclusiveness of the game design challenge topics, your games, and also complimented your intelligence. And as I said in my post, I thought the panel was excellent.

However, I think your response that "gender has nothing to do with it" and "gender was not the primary factor," are two entirely different things" is a matter of semantics. When everyone on a panel, and indeed most people on most panels (note only two women in the Idie Game Summit, both of whom were students) are of a single gender, this demonstrates that gender is very much a primarily factor, that in fact gender exclusion is so inculcated into the CMP/game development culture that even someone as bright and gender-sensitive as yourself can miss the magnitude of enduring inequity that most everyone in this community takes for granted.

I have always held up your work as a model for what I'd like to see more of in the game industry, likewise your corporate culture, the fact that there were so many women's faces in the photo of your office (too bad you couldn't have brought them along to GDC and planted them on a few panels.)

I think where Tracy's expression of disappointment is coming from is that we are all friends, we've known you for many years, and we know you are not "part of the problem" as Tracy says. But yet, at the same time, even with people like Tracy among your closest friends and Katie in your very office, it's still relatively easy for you to "play along." You may not be part of the problem, but the problem embraces you as one of its own.

I guess what I would ask Eric is that you would join us in taking a stand. I write e-mails and complain to CMP all the time. But they couldn't care less what I say because I'm not part of the inner circle. As a woman and an academic, I'm nobody to them. On my own and with Ludica, I've put in panel proposals to GDC every year and been rejected every year but one. This is an anomaly; virtually everywhere else we submit (almost always in the context of peer review), our proposals are accepted. Ludica even put in a proposal two years ago to do a Girlie Game Jam in response to the fact that there has only ever been one person of gender in the Indie Game Jam, who happens to be the girlfriend of one of the organizers. Naturally, we got rejected.

As a friend, and as a colleague who has immense respect for your work, you are in a very good position to take a stand. And I would ask you, on behalf of myself, as well as all the women who participate in GDC, and who contribute to the game design community in general, stand up for what we know you believe in, for what you've demonstrated consistently in word and deed, next year, and anytime you are confronted with this issue, don't accept the status quo: insist that women be included, and not just on panels about "gender," but on the panels about design. You can do this at very little personal risk. Instead of "not being part of the problem," you have the unique opportunity to be part of the SOLUTION.

Ben Sawyer

Interesting inside information on what happened Carrie to you and it gives me further thought for future efforts like that at SGS and how to handle them better. I do hope overall we're balancing things out as much as we should. Gender equality in many many aspects of the SGS is really important to me and the space even more so.

The other women who competed was Elaine Raybourn who was given a war-game but and I was drawn to Elaine because she's worked on some of the ideas that might have been part of that pitch before and again I could trust Elaine would do a good job leading her team and balancing the many egos I expected to descend onto her challenge -- she was the only person not from an actual company. I will have to ask Elaine how she felt about her assignment a bit before I do a new one.

A couple additional items. Part of the reason I selected people on site and as a surprise was to simulate the fact that such requests do indeed come in out of the blue. I didn't want people to have weeks of time to prepare. Frankly the groups except for one did an amazing job in the little time (better then these guys did if you ask me). Half of my incoming calls on serious games from clients usually give me about 3-4 days if that to come up with enough semblance of an idea that they will continue further.

In terms of selecting people the reason I was more motivated for you wasn't 100% gender but the fact you had worked on gender design issues in games and as you had shown with your work before you could lead a group of people to produce ideas. So I knew you and could trust you'd work hard. To say I wasn't thinking (consciously or unconsciously) about gender would be a lie though as I certainly wasn't going to give it to a male to lead even with LeRoy in attendance. My motivation there was that if women in attendance were going to join in I figured there was no way in hell that having a male lead was going to be a good idea.

In retrospect I probably should have thought it through a bit more but I actually thought some of the ideas presented in Game Baby were great so from that perspective (outside looking in vs. inside looking out) it worked well. I still vividly recall Lara Croft with her gun pointed at a crying infant in the corner.

I can't recall if we provided a winner. Eric Marcoullier's group with the game about micro-lending I think was the best full design in my mind but GameBaby was the winner in that it actually sparked a real further collaboration and submission.

In terms of the GDC Game Challenge I think there was a small problem that isn't meant 100% as an excuse but since I'm privy to a bit of how things work at GDC and events in general let me say this (and certainly Eric can correct me).

The challenge works by bringing back the defending champion if they want to come back. That put Harvey there. So that's 1 of 3. The second slot you could see as being taken by Alexey because CMP/Board knew he was coming (was this his first GDC?) for his award the night before. This was something I think everyone wanted irregardless of the content (or other sensitivities) and for me it was fascinating to watch him work even if I couldn't decode a couple of items due to his imperfect English.

That means that there was room for only one more person. Now this could have been a women but now it's down to one person out of three. You could add a fourth but the time constraint would kill that. So I bet it came down to Person A or Person B. I'm not saying that meant it was hard to pick a suitable women designer but... it probably made it easy for whatever further circumstances to play out to do so as they did. Jaffe's profile has gotten quite big and here's a way to play on his draw as well.

None of that is an excuse for what happened but to show how the logic works in such a way that Eric and others like him aren't always left with as much room and leverage as you would think. Perhaps it leaves the board/cmp kicking themselves a bit and hopefully this becomes an opportunity. Again not an excuse per-se but just so you can see how these things happen.

Ian Bogost

Since I'm on a CMP GDC Advisory Board (the Serious Games one), I thought I'd offer some material suggestions for how you or anyone might make progress with CMP on this or related topics.

First, talk to members of the GDC advisory board -- http://www.gdconf.com/aboutus/advisoryboard.htm -- either directly or through your networks. They can help you move specific content requests through both that group and the CMP directorship. This is the group that actually approves and creates the content for the conference, and they have a great deal of influence. They are also reasonable people who likely want the same changes as you. They work in the industry and volunteer their time, but they should be especially receptive later this summer just before the GDC 2008 call for submissions opens.

As evidence of this, I point you to the Game Studies Download that Jane McGonigal, Mia Consalvo, and I just presented for the second year. For a long time game researchers complained that there was no representation of scholarly research at GDC. All of us, and Jane in particular, had a number of conversations with the advisory board members about how to make the subject work at GDC. We got a lot of good feedback and tuned our submission accordingly. We ended up with a content compromise last year that we weren't completely thrilled with -- but the session itself was very well attended and rated. In the Q&A last year, people even asked for the kind of content that we had been asked to exclude, which gave us more flexibility this year (for example, we had a philosophy study on our 2007 list). Coincidentally, you might also note that this panel is 2/3 female.

Second, talk earnestly with the conference organizers. Celia, you make a number of references to sending complaints to CMP, and I think that's absolutely the wrong strategy. Likewise, as Tracy mentioned, blaming Eric for this doesn't help anyone. I've gotten to know the folks who run GDC personally over the past few years and I believe they are good, decent people trying to do their jobs under a lot of pressure from a big international parent company. They are not the enemy. I do not think they are not "blocking" women from participating either; there were a number of successes this year that shouldn't be overlooked on account of this session alone. For example, you should note that Jane keynoted at the Serious Games Summit this year -- the first female keynote at a GDC event as far as I know. So there's already momentum in the right direction, and as Ben suggests I think there will be interest in taking the opportunity to do the right thing next time. I'm sure Eric would welcome a list of women designers to use in his conversations with the board and organizers next year. There is always more work to do, but in this case specific action will make more progress than protest.

Finally, can we please start spelling Emily Dickinson's name correctly? I think poetry scholars and fanatics, women and men alike, would rejoice ;).

Eric Zimmerman

I appreciate this discussion and I would like to address the process of selecting panelists for the Game Design Challenge. However, first I must unfortunately address more of Celia’s false accusations. Celia, when you write that “too bad you couldn't have brought them [Gamelab female staff] along to GDC and planted them on a few panels” you are incorrect in a few respects. Of the 21 Gamelab staff that attended GDC this year, almost half (9 of them) were female. Similarly, of the five Gamelab staff speaking at GDC, two of them were female. Also, as you must know, I am in no position to “plant” people on panels at a conference I do not organize, especially people from my own company.

I have to add that having to respond to the gratuitous aspersions you are casting my way is irritating. I would prefer to be spending my time discussing ways of improving the GDC rather than responding to your false assumptions.

All of that said, to answer Tracy’s question, the criteria for selecting Game Design Challenge panelists has generally been to select well-known game designers with broad name recognition among rank-and-file game developers, who have worked in the industry for several years (if not decades), and have shipped major retail titles. These are not “official” formal criteria, nor would they necessarily be my own criteria if I were to put together such a panel without having to accommodate the needs of CMP and the GDC Advisory Board. However, these are the kinds of criteria used to justify the selection of panelists, and the criteria used to rebuff my annual call for female panelists.

All I can say is that I will redouble my efforts in the coming year to include female panelists in the Game Design Challenge. I completely agree with Ian’s advice about not sending angry complaints but instead befriending Advisory Board members and getting advice about what kinds of panels to submit. It took me about five years of submitting rejected sessions to the GDC until I was able to better understand how they select sessions and I finally started speaking there.

I hope this email answers Tracy’s questions about how the panelists are selected. I cannot promise that there will be a woman on next year’s Game Design Challenge, but I will do what I can.

-eric zimmerman

Chris Hecker

I'm a GDC Advisory Board member. I can't speak to the Game Design Challenge participant selection, since I wasn't involved in it this year, but I'm willing to bet it played out much as Ben surmises. As Ian suggests, a list of candidates who would be good participants would probably be more useful than complaints. Complaints are welcome, of course, the more constructive the better...nobody who puts on the conference thinks it's perfect, and we're always looking for ways to make it better.

Ian also brings up the Game Studies Download development process, and I'm the person Jane worked with to make that happen, and it was a delight to work with her and to see it succeed. She inquired with an open mind why academic research doesn't get accepted very often, I described our rationale, what we looked for in talks, what we think attendees look for, and she took the feedback and they made something that was really great. And, as Ian says, the feedback last year indicated we should be even more liberal with the papers they covered, so hey, that's great too (we intentionally steered them towards more concrete papers the first year to be safe). I believe it scored even better this year than last...yay, iterative improvement!

I do feel compelled to point out that this quote is not telling the whole story:

> Ludica even put in a proposal two years ago
> to do a Girlie Game Jam in response to the
> fact that there has only ever been one person
> of gender in the Indie Game Jam, who happens
> to be the girlfriend of one of the organizers.
> Naturally, we got rejected.

First, but not actually important to the end result, the submission was quite intentionally personally insulting to multiple members of the Advisory Board. Not a great way to start out.

We factored that out, however, discussed the proposal like all the others, and you guys were told (or were supposed to be told, I wasn't the contact, but I believe I heard you were told) that game jams are supposed to submit to the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. No game jam has ever been given its own session, regardless of gender, and no game jam has been accepted speculatively before it happened. This submission was requesting both a full hour session and it hadn't happened yet, so there was no way to judge the success or whether interesting stuff had been learned in the jam.

You guys were told to have your jam, and submit to EGW, like everybody else. My guess is (and it's more than a guess, since I'm on the EGW Advisory Board too) it would have almost certainly have been accepted that year. A number of us, including those who were the object of the ire of the original submission, were very interested in seeing the results of your jam, not because most of us are cartoon misogynist monsters who hate the idea of women in the game industry, but because we very much want women to participate more in the industry and the GDC.

Now speaking for the Indie Game Jam, the entire point of the IGJ is to _not_ be The One True Game Jam to which people should try to get invited, like some velvet roped night club. The entire point is to inspire other people to do their own game jams. We've been pretty successful at this, judging from the number of jams that have happened since we started that reference us as inspiration, and that's awesome. Let 1024 flowers bloom! The IGJ is just a bunch of my friends, and that's all it was ever supposed to be; you're supposed to do your own jam.

So, don't let the man hold you down and stop you from doing your jam, just do it, and make it rock (or fail spectacularly and figure out why, because that's just as valuable...heck, we did it for IGJ3), and then submit to the EGW. I'm pretty sure it will be accepted.



Thanks to everyone for your input and suggestions. I apologize for any rancor that has been produced as a result. I think I am not the only one who possibly is harboring a little bit of anger about this situation, but I like the productive direction this conversation is going.

Chris, thanks so much for chiming in. In fact, Ludica was never given the directions you outline above. We would have been happy to follow them had we been asked.

In any case, I'm content to start working in a positive direction to make some improvements. Chris, how do we begin a dialog with the advisory board? I see that there are one or two women on the board, which is promising. What do you recommend as a strategy for brainstorming productively on how to improve female representation at GDC, especially where design is concerned?


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