17th Annual Women in Gaming Luncheon Encourages Women to “Be You”

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Team Xbox was proud to sponsor the 17th Annual Women in Gaming luncheon, held last week during the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. Over 400 women attended to connect with friends, meet new people and celebrate their accomplishments. The theme “Be You” was a call to empower attendees to celebrate their authentic selves and skills they bring to the game industry every day.

The event was moderated by the vibrant Erin Wayne from Twitch, with five incredible speakers from across the games industry offered their inspiring stories of how “being themselves” led to success.  Read on to learn about this year’s speakers, or watch the full stream on demand on Beam and Twitch.

Jenny Xu, MIT Student, Owner of JCSOFT Inc

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Jenny was one of our WiG Game Changers last year and started in game design through drawing and animation. She frequently shared her early work online, which provided a source of positive feedback and confidence to try new things, despite encountering her fair share of “trolls and haters.” Jenny, now only 18 years old, has developed over 50 online games, played by over 4 million people.

Jenny likens her experience to playing a role-playing game. She might have been the hero, but it was her friends and family that made up her party – they were “the warriors and the healers in my story,” she said. “They were there to support me whenever I needed something or when I was feeling down. My friends and family were always there to fight for me.” She encouraged the members of the audience to look around for those people in their lives that were there to support their dreams.

Elizabeth Maler, CEO of Accidental Queens

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Elizabeth’s early game dev experiences were not easy. She now runs three-woman studio in France, but she talked about the open sexism and harassment she endured and how she was told that the harassment she was experience was just part of “how the industry works and that I would just have to get used to it.” Not being the type to take that for an answer, she began asking pointed questions during her job interviews.

“My first question was: how many women work at your company? My second question was: why aren’t there more? Because usually the number was usually really low. My third question was: what are you willing to do in order to get more women? Some companies didn’t like me asking these questions, and they felt really uncomfortable. But that was OK, because the companies that were not OK with me asking these questions were the companies I didn’t want to go to work in. So that was a good filter.”

Maureen Fan, CEO and co-founder of Baobob Studios

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Maureen focused largely on the push and pull in her life between doing what she truly wants to do and what people expects her to do, and how she finds ways to bring her passion to life in those seemingly tough situations. Whether it was creating her own major at Stanford, or finding her own animation internships while pursuing a business degree from Harvard – she told the crowd that she always pushed for what she wanted. After spending time at both Pixar and Zynga, she took a bold risk by starting her own VR animation studio, where she struggled against cynicism and perceived skepticism because she was a woman.

She has persevered, and now her company is up and running. Her advice to women in the room was that you should refuse to let people bucket you into something you’re not because of what they expect. Only you know what you can do and how you can lead.

Dr. Kelli Dunlap Psy.D, Psychologist & Game Designer

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Kelli, a lifelong gamer and a psychology student, spent much of her academic career questioning the negative media coverage suggesting links between aggression and video games, as it contradicted her own positive personal experiences. Her final project proved she was right, and there was no correlation. Kelli encountered academic pressure and stigma – she was warned by a professor that focusing on video games would damage her career since it was perceived as childish and not worthy of academic study.

But Kelli persists and continues to inject gaming into her work. “There was an assignment of ‘What would Freud say about X?’ and I’d say ‘Freud would say this about Halo.” She continues to follow her passion by working on clinical papers even after she was accepted into a game design fellowship program.

Mariebeth Aquino, Founder of 360Opportunity

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A native of Vienna, Mariebeth realized early in her computer science days that she wanted to make games and restarted the then-dormant chapter of the IGDA (International Game Developers Association) to bring people together to share ideas and support each other.

“I see myself as an opportunity maker with infectious enthusiasm. And I tried to bring people together to help them out.” While she worked to help game development communities organize and advocate for themselves, she faced increasing harassment online and offline, and eventually ended up hitting a point where she had nothing left to give. “I was so involved in running the whole thing that forgot myself. I burned out.”

As too many women do, she made the agonizing decision to leave the industry. She shared that she didn’t plan on even attending GDC until a friend asked her to be on the Women in Gaming panel. Now, after being among her friends and fellow developers, she’s resolving to stay and fight for what she believes in. “No matter what I encounter. Whatever failures I face. I will stand up. I will be myself!”

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The Women in Gaming luncheon finished out the day with an extended Q&A from the audience, with topics including hiring practices, improvements in diversity, women in STEM roles, support for students, and much more. We really hope you’ll take the time to watch them, as well as the whole panel.

Thank you to Erin Wayne for moderating, our fine panel of inspiring speakers and everyone that attended. We’re incredibly proud to lead the Women in Gaming team – feel free to join the conversation by following @WomeninGaming on Twitter and lending your support!