What It's Like To Be a Woman in School for Game Development

Posted by | January 15, 2014 | News | No Comments
game dev at computer

Mariko, aka Gamerwife, recently spoke to Tina Kalinger, a game developer-in-training, as part of her series of fantastic interviews of women in game development.

Kalinger (not pictured) never considered herself a gamer while growing up—she simply played all the games her brothers bought. It never even occurred to her that she might make a living in game development.

Then she came across a new program at the University of Utah: the Master’s of Entertainment Arts and Engineering. The first person she spoke to about the program was its manager, Corrine Lewis. Lewis encouraged Kalinger, and in fact this program actively encourages applicants from diverse backgrounds—a rare thing in game development.

The track Kalinger chose at the University featured a variety of things that we don’t often think about going into this field—art, engineering, community research projects at hospitals, game jams, competitions, and more. It turns out (and most game developers know this) that a lot goes into game-making. It isn’t just math and computers!

Some of the challenges Kalinger has experienced are long hours, close quarters, and the feeling she’s on the wrong path: “It is difficult work and I feel insecure, like I’m failing, because I have never done this before and I didn’t embrace being a gamer for so long. There is also the ‘video games aren’t a real, stable career’ thing from some well-meaning family members and such, but so far I’ve encountered that very little.”

But Kalinger has experienced a lot of good things in the program, too:

The camaraderie we have in my cohort is even more unbelievable! We see each other in school so much and STILL want to hang out on the weekends. Even the faculty arrange extra-curricular activities like Magic tournaments or a D&D night to expand our horizons. We all fit together, though. That’s probably one of my favorite things. It’s sappy, but the differences in our backgrounds brings a lot to the table, and adds even more to our projects.

But what about the questions of harassment and discrimination against women in the industry? Kalinger notes that outside of school, she gets a lot of flack for her interests and career choices. However, even though she’s only one out of nine women in a program consisting of 50 people, she’s experienced little of that sentiment within the track. It’s heartening to hear that, especially in an industry that is well known for its problems with sexism. Indirectly, of course, there are issues; comments from classmates and superiors, long-held (but wrong) assumptions, and off-color jokes occur frequently.

Kalinger’s advice for new developers, or those interested in the industry: save your ideas. Write them down somewhere! Chances are most of them won’t be any good, but you  never know. (My two cents? Ideas can be magic—if not for you, then maybe for someone else.)

For young women looking to become developers, Kalinger says this:

I know this is going to sound really motivational-speaker-y, but: YOU CAN DO IT. Seriously. You can get into games…Actual degree programs are becoming more and more widespread, too—forgive the pun, but make sure you do your homework. Find out what classes you take for the degree. Talk to the faculty, alumni, and current students. Ask them what their experience is and how their classes are taught and what sort of work you do. Ask any question you can think of, because it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge…If you’re anything like me, it might be your own self-doubt holding you back.

 For the rest of the interview series, check out Gamerwife’s Dames Who Make Games articles. You can find Tina Kalinger at her blog and on Twitter.

Keezy Young

About Keezy Young

Keezy is a gamer, illustrator, and designer. Her background is in teaching and tutoring kids from ages 9 to 19, and she's led workshops for young women in STEM. She is also holds a certificate in teaching English. Her first memory of gaming is when her dad taught her to play the first Warcraft when she was five. You can find her at Key of Zee and on Twitter @KeezyBees.