The gaming industry, along with an increased focus on women in games, has experienced significant growth and change over the years and is only now starting to unlock its true potential for promoting empathy, inclusivity, and understanding.
Although 48% of women admit to playing video games, only 6% identify as video gamers. The gaming industry has faced numerous challenges, including toxic environments, equality, violence, diversity, and inclusion. On this episode of The Chris Hood Digital Show, we are honored to be joined by two esteemed guests, Kate Edwards, an award-winning advocate featured on Forbes’ Women 50 Over 50 List, and Joanie Kraut, CEO of the exceptional organization Women in Games International, to discuss their perspectives on representation in the industry, communities, storytelling, and the power games have to evoke empathy and challenge norms.
Women in the Game Industry
For women aspiring to join the gaming industry, it is crucial to remember that your unique perspective and skillset are valuable assets in a rapidly evolving field. Start by identifying your strengths, passions, and areas of interest, and research the various roles and opportunities available in the industry. Do not be deterred by challenges or the feeling of being an outsider, as overcoming these obstacles will make you a more resilient and resourceful professional.
Seek mentorship from groups like WIGI (Women in Games International) and IGDA (International Game Developers Association), network with like-minded individuals, and participate in industry events to build connections and expand your knowledge. Stay up-to-date with industry trends and developments, and never stop learning, as continuous growth is essential in the dynamic gaming world. Embrace your identity as a woman in the gaming industry. Remember that your presence and contributions are critical to shaping a more inclusive, diverse, and innovative future for everyone.
“It really comes down to how do you determine how your skill set best fits within this industry? And you have to do quite a bit of homework to figure that out, because the game industry is constantly evolving and it’s constantly changing, and there’s new roles that are popping up all the time in response to different technologies that are being developed or different narrative approaches.” – Kate Edwards
The Power of Gaming and Empathy
Gaming uniquely evokes empathy, allowing players to explore different cultures, races, and perspectives through diverse character and narrative choices.
By providing valuable insights into different cultures, races, and ways of life, games can help people better understand other people’s perspectives. Joanie Kraut adds that by promoting diverse representation and creating authentic storytelling in games, the industry helps normalize working alongside people from different backgrounds, making gaming experiences more inclusive and enriching for all involved.
“One of the most powerful things about games as a medium is that it is an empathy engine.” – Kate Edwards
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is a common struggle for many in the gaming industry, particularly women and underrepresented individuals. Joanie Kraut explains that many people in the industry constantly try to prove that they belong and deserve a spot at the table. One of the critical goals of WIGI’s mentorship programs is to help individuals overcome imposter syndrome and recognize their value within the industry.
“But there is always that correlation between what is it that you’re passionate about, what is it that you’re excited about? If you care this much that you need a narrative that you can tell yourself before you fall asleep, you care, you want to be here, you’re in the right space, and you just need to find that link.” – Joanie Kraut
Finding Your Place in the Gaming Industry
As the gaming industry evolves and changes, new roles and opportunities emerge. Kate Edwards encourages those interested in joining the industry to do their homework and determine how their skill set best fits within the constantly evolving landscape. She also reminds young people that they are not just “students” or “whatever” but the industry’s future.
“Sometimes I talk with young people and they’re like, I’m just a student or I’m just a whatever. And I’m like you’re not just anything. You are the future of this industry. Whether you see yourself that way or not, you are the future of this industry.” – Kate Edwards
Changing the Identity of Women Gamers
Joanie Kraut believes that changing the identity of what it means to be a gamer has opened many people’s eyes to the potential of gaming. Normalizing diverse characters, appearances, and skills in games has contributed to a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all.
“Not only experience it, but normalize it. It really creates that normalization that there’s so many different opportunities to be different characters, to look different ways, to have different classes, to have different skills and to work together as a team.” – Joanie Kraut
The Impact of Influencers
Influencers have played a significant role in shaping the gaming industry and supporting more women in games. Joanie Kraut points out that influencers can encourage or discourage certain behaviors through their actions and interactions with games, making them a powerful force within the industry.
“We’ve also seen a big shift with influencers. Having an influencer play a game who either is encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors has been really powerful.” – Joanie Kraut
The Future of Gaming
The future of gaming promises to be an immersive, inclusive, and transformative experience, thanks to technological advancements and a growing emphasis on diversity. With the integration of virtual and augmented reality, players will be able to step into vivid, interactive worlds that blur the line between the digital and physical realms. Artificial intelligence and procedural generation will allow for more dynamic, responsive, and personalized gameplay, adapting to individual preferences and playstyles. As the gaming community continues to embrace representation and inclusivity, we can anticipate a broader range of stories and characters that reflect the rich tapestry of human experiences, fostering empathy and understanding among gamers worldwide.
- Kate Edwards – LinkedIn
- Set Jetters
- Joanie Kraut – LinkedIn
- Women in Games International
- International Game Developers Association
Hey everyone, thanks for listening. For my friends and family, it’s no secret that I love video games. From a very early age I was hooked on them and by the late ninety s, I became active in the gaming industry. Along my journey, I met amazing writers, artists, scientists and women. Despite 48% acknowledging they have played video games, only 6% of women identify as video gamers.
On top of that, the gaming industry has been hit with several critical issues with toxic cultures, equality, violence, diversity and inclusion. Joining me today are two legendary guests. Kate Edwards, an award winning advocate and on Forbes Women 50 over 50 list, along with Joanie Kraut, CEO of a fabulous organization, Women in Games International. To cover all of these topics and more to support the show, visit chrishood.com/show. Subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast platform. Follow us on social media or you can email me directly [email protected]
I’m Chris Hood and let’s get connected.
Connecting access granted. It’s the Chris Hood Digital Show, where global business and technology leaders meet to discuss strategy, innovation and digital acceleration. 54321, your digital evolution starts now. Here’s your host, Chris Hood.
I am so excited to have both of you here today. And since all of the best games have incredible origin stories, Joanie, would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and how you got into the gaming industry?
Sure. I actually kind of accidentally fell into the games industry, which the more people I talk to, it seems like the more that is actually a pretty common story. I started off as a writer.
I was writing for a newspaper. I was the editor at my school paper. I love researching things and I love story. Story is very important to me, so I play a lot of RPGs. So I actually ended up not loving how much gray area there was within some of these stories and within the way people were pitching some of the stories that were affecting other people’s actual lives.
And so I moved from writing into data and it was like having finance, having data. It was black or red, there was no gray area. These are the data points. This is how it is. These are the facts.
And so I’m a huge data nerd. I love Excel, I love color coordinating data sets. I really got into data and then finance because of data and so just economics and analytics and just kind of really studying things to be able to tell the bigger picture story from very specific facts and very specific data points. I kind of grew up without much means and so the only computer I really had access to was at the local library. And so when I went to college, I was needing to learn about computers and how to use computers.
It was going to be essential, especially as an accountant, getting into software and everything. And so I was dating a guy at the time. And he was like, you are being so analytical with this. You are not having fun with trying to learn computers. You need to gamify this.
And so he got me a copy of World of Warcraft. And so in playing Warcraft, I learned how to troubleshoot my computer. I learned how to actually learn how to build my computer. Everything from cooling to why am I failing at this raid? Why did I just disconnect during a raid?
And it’s because my fan and you can’t put things on top of your computer and just different little things like that. So that really got me into gaming. And at the time, I found a mouse and it was just like butter on a warm pan. It was just amazing mouse. And so I was in my stage in my career where I really wanted to care.
I really wanted to move up in my career and get that next step, but I just didn’t care about my job at the time. And I had a mentor who said, what is it that makes you happy? What is it that gets you up on a Monday morning? What is it that you look forward to? And without even thinking, I said, My mouse.
I love my mouse. I love being able to play this game with my mouse. And she said, Go home and look and see who makes that mouse. And those are going to be your people. Those are going be the people that are the same passion level as you.
They’re going to be passionate about the same game as you. It was a mouse created specifically for the game that I was playing. So I went home and I was steel series. And I was like, what is it? Steel series.
And so I looked them up and I was like ten minutes from their HQ. They were hiring for a finance person. And I was just like, what are the odds? And so that was kind of my segue into the games industry. They were working with esports professionals to build out the best peripherals possible.
They are the most winningest peripherals in the industry. They have really high quality. And I got to work with these people who were passionate about gaming, who are passionate about esports, who are passionate about the games industry. And ever since then, I’ve just been hooked. So I’ve been in tech and gaming for over 20 years now and just kind of creating that space for other people within the industry was so important to me.
While working at Steel Series, I actually met Keisha Howard from the Sugar Gamers, and they were creating a really positive space for people to just come to connect who were interested in gaming. And it was a really powerful opportunity to just be in this space of people who were not the normal or the traditional gamers. And so there was a lot of women, there were a lot of people of color. There were just a lot of underrepresented people in this space. And a couple of years later, when I found WIGI, I was like, oh my God, you guys are doing this, but on an international level, and the focus is more on professional development.
So when I started at WIGI, I was their CFO. I was doing the finances, and as I was pulling all the data and analytics, I was like, we could be doing so much more, we could be doing so much more, and on such a bigger scale. And so finally they were kind of like, take it, see what you can do. And we’ve redid the logo. We’ve rebuilt the programs portfolio.
We now have over 90 programs, workshops, panels, and initiatives that we run every year. And it’s just a huge opportunity to create that mentorship and that quality professional development opportunity. But we also do kind of bring that gamifying aspect to it as well. So we’re helping you level up creating that diverse representation and normalizing more people in the industry on the professional side.
Are you playing Dragon Flight?
Heck yes, I’m playing Dragonfly.
Okay, well, we’ll have to connect offline then. I’ve got my warlock going. Kate, what’s interesting is you have a similar story. I do.
So my background, again, just like Joanie, is not in the game industry initially. I’ve been now working in the game industry. It’ll be 30 years come April 2023, so just a couple of months from now. But the way I got into it is I’m actually a geographer and a cartographer. And I was doing my graduate school work in the Seattle area where I’m based at the University of Washington, and I just finished my master’s degree about using VR for cartography.
That was way back in 1991 when VR hardly even worked. But I got a call from our geography department, got a call from Microsoft because they needed a cartographer to work on encarter encyclopedia, which a lot of people don’t remember unless you’re of a certain age. But that was the last major encyclopedia before Wikipedia showed up online. And so I went over and thought it was going to be a six month contract to do the maps for InCarda, which was a super fun project. They paid well.
I was a starving grad student who had just gotten married. So it’s just like, yeah, I’m going to do this work. And after six months they’re like, okay, we’re going to extend your contract because now we need you to work on this. Sure, why not? And that just kept going until they eventually offered me a full time position to be what we called the geopolitical strategist for Microsoft because they needed somebody who could help them navigate a lot of the complicated cartographic issues.
Like, how do you show Taiwan, how do you show Western Sahara, how do you show the West Bank? All of these sensitive geopolitical disputes around the world and I could do that. That was part of what I knew, that’s part of what I did. And so I took the full time position. I kind of put my PhD on hold and eventually initially I was working only on the mapping products at Microsoft.
But then as I got questions from all over the company when they found out that there was a geographer working there, like is this gesture okay? Is this flag okay? Is this okay? Is that color okay? And I could answer most of those questions based on my backgrounds and I’m just like this is super fun.
So I actually ran an internal alias called Dr. Ware at Microsoft and so basically people would just email Dr. Ware and I would just answer questions. So I guess I sort of unofficially got my PhD. But eventually I saw this huge need that arose in the late 90s where the company was making some grievous mistakes.
Like one product group would make a huge mistake in a market like South Korea, then a few months later another product group who has no reason to talk to the other one because they’re so siloed in the company made a very similar mistake and got the government very very upset. And that gave me the idea that there needs to be a way to coordinate this kind of knowledge across the company. And so I created a proposal to create a new kind of team at Microsoft called Geopolitical Strategy. And it took me about seven months to get approval. I had to go through five different VPs before the last one finally said.
Within five minutes he’s like done, let’s make this happen. And that’s what got me working on games because my mandate for that team at Microsoft covered every product in the company. So I had already been working on Windows and Office and stuff like that with a bunch of cultural and geopolitical issues. But then the games had gotten started. We had a lot of PC games at that time, the Xbox was kind of in the background at that point, but that’s what got me starting to work on games.
Basically did it gorilla fashion, talking with the teams and reaching out to them and saying hey, how can I help? But then eventually it got more formalized after the games division made a couple of really grievous errors. And so after that it became a normal thing and that’s when I found my true calling because I’m doing this work which I call culturalization on video games. And I’m like I could not be happier because I’ve been a gamer ever since Pong showed up when I was seven years old, way back when. I love games, I love the medium.
So that’s how I basically got my starting games. When I left Microsoft in 2005 to become self employed, I decided to focus primarily on video games as my consulting work. And even to this day almost 30 years later, I would say about 80% of my work is in games, the other 20% is still like cartographic and geopolitical consulting for some companies. But then after I’d been in the industry a while, around 2010, 2011, somewhere in there, I’d been around for almost 20 years already in the industry and I really kind of grew this concern, I guess an advocacy side of the work I was doing. I mean, I love working on games, but I love the people I work with even more and I love being around them.
I mean, they are definitely my group, they are my people. But I also saw a lot of things like the rampant sexism going on in the workplace and crunch and work life balance problems. And so I started finding a way to be more vocal about that, which eventually led to me running the International Game Developers Association starting in 2012 to speak out about these issues and to be an advocate on behalf of developers. And so I had a great time in that role, minus the fact that I was running the organization during Gamergate, which made me one of their primary targets during that time with death threats and harassment and all that fun stuff. But it was worth it because I knew we were fighting the good fight.
And I also knew that in the long term we were definitely on the right side of history with what we were fighting for. And so then eventually I left that position in 2017. And then a couple of years later, the Global Game Jam, which came out of the IGDA around the time that I took over the IGDA, the Global Game Jam approached me and asked if I would be interested in taking over that organization, which I did and ran that for three years and had a great time because the Global Game Jam being the world’s largest game creation event is just amazing fun. You get to interact with cultures and people from all around the world. Over 100 countries participate, tens of thousands of people, and it was such a fun event.
I’m still on the board of directors of that I’m on the board of directors of TakeThis.org, which deals with mental health in the game industry and several other advisory roles just because I love keeping that advocacy vibe going, because I still want to see this industry change for the better. But I’m still doing my culturalization consulting. And then more recently during the pandemic, I did a Pivot and I co founded a company called Set Jetters, which is a film tourism app because visiting filming locations has been a hobby of mine since I was a teenager. So yeah, so a lot of stuff going on.
I’m glad you mentioned the IGDA the International Game Developers Association. One year I was asked to speak at GDC on behalf of the IGDA with a bunch of students, scholarship winners. I remember getting on a bus of about 30 students. And the number one question was around what you both outlined in your introduction. I asked everyone on the bus, what degree program are you in? One said healthcare, one said fashion design, another said astronomy.
And they all wanted to know how they could leverage their degree to get into the gaming industry. And Joanie, I think you said it. Ultimately, what is your passion? Are these similar themes that you hear when coaching young people coming up in this space?
Absolutely. There’s always imposter syndrome. There’s always the idea that maybe I don’t belong here, maybe I’m not the right person. But you would have that in any industry. So I think it’s just that you care so much about gaming that you want to find that direct correlation, especially women and underserved people, underrepresented people within the industry, they’re constantly trying to prove that they belong at the table. And so they need this narrative in their head to explain why they’re there and why they deserve this seat and why they deserve this spot.
So one of the biggest things that we really focus on during our mentorship programs is recognizing that Impostor syndrome, overcoming that Impostor Syndrome silencing, that Impostor Syndrome. But there is always that correlation between what is it that you’re passionate about, what is it that you’re excited about? If you care this much that you need a narrative that you can tell yourself before you fall asleep, you care, you want to be here, you’re in the right space, and you just need to find that link. We support the full, like the global games industry, so it’s video games, tabletop and esports. And so we’re really trying to encompass just diversity and representation within all of these different sectors.
So everything from legal teams needing you need legal advice, especially if you’re an Esworth organization. Doctors helping people with posture and just are they sitting correctly and are they getting the most out of their time? And their mental health is a huge thing. There’s so many pathways and there’s so many opportunities, and if there isn’t one that you love right now, create it. There’s so many amazing new opportunities since even I got into the industry, that they didn’t exist back then.
It’s beyond social media. It’s beyond just being a TikTok person. There’s so many more extra pieces that if you can prove the worth and why this position or this job or this role needs to be within the organization, people will listen. People want to grow. They want to continue to develop their studios, develop their games, and develop these opportunities.
We do get a lot of people that come in and they’re like, well, I have twelve years of experience, but it’s in this thing, so should I start in Q and A? And we’re like, no, use that experience. Do make it transferable when you move into the industry. And so we talk a lot about navigating our careers from one industry into the next. You’re not starting over, you’re starting different.
And so there’s a huge opportunity to transition as well. We get that question a lot, for sure. The only thing I would add to that is that because I think that’s exactly right. Fantastic advice. And I mentor a lot of young people who want to get in this industry and people who are more experienced, who, like Joanie said, they’ve already been working in a career for years and they want to get in this industry.
And to me, it really comes down to how do you determine how your skill set best fits within this industry? And you have to do quite a bit of homework to figure that out, because the game industry is constantly evolving and it’s constantly changing, and there’s new roles that are popping up all the time in response to different technologies that are being developed or different narrative approaches. I mean, that’s one of the things I love about this industry, as I often mention in some of the lectures I give, is that we are at the forefront of basically evolving how humans tell stories from one generation to another. And that doesn’t mean all the other forms of communication are invalid. I mean, they’re still around literature and film and television and radio and all these other forms of media.
But I look at us and I say, we are really at the forefront of how that’s evolving and how that’s becoming, adding the interactive dimension to storytelling and how we pass those stories along. And that, to me, is super exciting. And when I mention that to people, I’m like, take it seriously. Sometimes I talk with young people and they’re like, I’m just a student or I’m just a whatever. And I’m like you’re not just anything.
You are the future of this industry. Whether you see yourself that way or not, you are the future of this industry. And especially for people who don’t necessarily go to school for game design or game programming or something, we need desperately those other viewpoints that are outside of kind of that narrow way of thinking, like, I’m a game designer, that’s great. We need those people too. But we also need people from a vast array of fields who can add to the collective knowledge of the industry and help us figure out how do we go forward.
But a lot of that, especially if you’re coming at this from outside of traditional function within the game industry, you really have to be imaginative about how your skills fit here, and you might just have to get really creative. One of the key pieces of advice I give young people and maybe this is not appropriate post pandemic, but I gave this advice pre pandemic is I said, you need to become a virus. Which basically, I mean, is like, find a job at a game company that you would like to work for. It’s not going to be your dream job. I mean, far from it.
It’ll probably be some basic thing or just some other function like Joanie mentioned, accounting and finance background maybe. Start there. If you want to work more on the creative side, that’s great, but start where you have the skill and once you’re in the company, then you can infect them from within, exactly like a virus does with the really cool ideas you have for the other skills that you bring to the table. And I often find that doing it from within is far easier than trying to approach from the outside and try to say, hey, I’m a consultant, I can help you with this. Yeah, prove it.
Show me how you can help us. But doing it from within often is a really effective approach and yeah, you might have to spend a few years doing a job that’s not ideal, but we all do that. That’s not new.
We talk about the transferable skills from outside the industry to inside the industry. We also know that video games have had a massive impact on other industries setting up virtual worlds to accelerate learning.
Cryptocurrencies is all video game based architectural planning, healthcare. But what is the role of video games if we think about this from an inclusion perspective?
Well, I mean, my response to that is pretty simple, I guess. I see games. One of the most powerful things about games as a medium is that it is an empathy engine.
And I think it’s an empathy engine in a way that is far more effective than film and television and other forms of more passive entertainment where you’re just basically just sitting back and watching something. I mean, certainly there’s all these other mediums that can evoke emotion and evoke thought provoking changes to how you approach things. But I think games have that potential to do it even far more because you are actually experiencing it interacting as the character, interacting in that place of somebody, whoever it might be, in a different time, in a different culture, a different race, whatever it could be. And I think we have that potential that I still don’t think has been fully realized in the games medium. We’re starting to see great games come out that really explore the power of empathy through games.
But I think we’re only scratching the surface still. And I think as games continue to evolve and explore these narratives that are more, I would say, dealing with challenging themes that we confront every day in our real world lives, I think it’s going to be even more evident the power that games really have. And so I think it has the potential for being really fundamentally game changing, pun, I guess, intended for a lot of people. Because it’s like if you actually you can watch a story on a movie about a certain cultural group or something, you can feel a response to it. But I think if you have the chance to actually role play as that person in a game and experience what life would be like for that person or for that culture, whether it is a real world based game, or whether it’s a fantasy game that uses allegory as many of them do.
I think it has tremendous potential to help people understand really what’s going on or to think about things differently. So I’m really excited for that potential.
Not only experience it, but normalize it. It really creates that normalization that there’s so many different opportunities to be different characters, to look different ways, to have different classes, to have different skills and to work together as a team. I play Warcraft a lot and my partner and I played for over too long.
We started in 2006 and I love playing a holy priest. I love being the healer, I love having that opportunity. I also love being an undead holy priest because I just think it’s so funny that I’m reviving people and I’m dead. My partner loves to be the tank and so having those two classes together, we can just level really quickly. It’s that opportunity to see that you’re not the same and you have very different skills and that’s why you’re doing so well.
If we were both squishies, we’d be dying all the time. So we have that opportunity to normalize. Working together, to normalize using different skill sets is going to be the thing that gets us ahead. Sorry, I keep going to warcraft. That’s my game.
But we have this guild and we have these different people who pick their character based on how they feel represented. And I think having somebody cry because they feel seen in a game as they’re trying to create their character or they feel represented in a space because there’s a story that relates to them or to their upbringing that nobody else is telling is a really powerful opportunity and tool. And we see a lot of what we call Revenge Studios, where people are so fed up with what they’re being said at this one studio, they go off and they create their own studio. I Love Revenge Studios. I love the first game that comes out of a revenge studio.
It’s always the most just gritty in your face and powerful storytelling game. And so there’s that huge opportunity to create that representation and create that story for you. And you don’t know how many people it’s going to resonate with and how many more games it’s going to create because nobody else has seen that representation. We see it a lot with Laura Croft, that was huge. That was pivotal for me as a girl to not be the damsel in distress, being carried from castle to castle, to finally be the person who was solving the puzzles and be the person who was able to do the combat and really be smart and be a smart woman who is playing a game.
It was really a powerful story. And now with Alloy, I am obsessed with Alloy and my daughter just playing with me or watching me play and she’s just like, that could be me. And having that representation, it’s so powerful. And I think we’re doing a lot to kind of move in the way of, again, normalizing those stories and just creating space for people to then continue to have those conversations and creating that opportunity is so huge. And that’s piece that we’re really trying to push, especially with how people are creating the games, making sure that you’re bringing in those people with those backgrounds and those stories to create those games. So it’s not that performative, but actually truly that authentic storytelling.
If we were to overly simplify the gender conversation and ask a lot of people, I believe the perception would be that there are more women playing video games today than there were, say 20 years ago. But statistically over the course of the last 20 years, the average has remained the same, around 45 47%. Do you have any insights as to why this is the case?
I think a lot of it is that people weren’t identifying themselves as gamers and now it’s kind of normalizing it. So even when I was in high school, I didn’t talk to anybody about gaming because I felt like it would be weird and I didn’t want to be weird in high school. I was weird enough on other things that I could leave Mountain behind. But even everything from mobile gamers to my mom was obsessed with the farming game on Facebook. She’d never considered herself a gamer. And so I think kind of changing the identity of what does it mean to be a gamer has really opened a lot of people’s eyes to maybe my obsession with my mobile game for 6 hours a day is making me a gamer.
And I think there’s a lot more acceptance around women being gamers as well now too. And so people kind of are coming into the realization that they are a gamer. So instead of just saying are you a gamer? The question now becomes do you play on a mobile device? Any games on a mobile device?
And so people are saying yes I play on a mobile, yes, I do play on a PC. Yes I do play on a console. And so the label of gamer is now being changed to a question of actual usage and actual what are you doing? And so then, okay, you do game, so you are a gamer. That’s one of the biggest shifts that I’ve kind of seen personally.
Yeah, I would agree 100% because I’ve had many conversations with people, I look for people who are playing games, especially women, especially if they’re older women. You’re at the grocery store and you’re in a long line or something like that and I see someone. Playing a game. And so I’ll just butt in and they’ll say, oh, that’s cool, so you’re a gamer. They’ll be like, no, I’m not one of those.
I’m not a gamer. I’m not one of those. Because to them, what is a gamer? It’s some teenage male in the mom’s basement, blah, blah, blah, the same old narrative, which is completely false these days. I’m not sure if it’s still true today, but I know it was a few years ago where the fastest growing group among gamers was 30 and 40 something women was by far the fastest growing group.
And when I would quote that to people who are outside the game industry, they’d be like, no, that can’t be true. There’s no way that’s true. It is. That’s the statistics we know, we’re the industry, we understand this, but because the media has often written that narrative over and over again that gamers are young males, just people find it really hard to get past that. And I think we’re still finding that to a degree today.
But I agree that that percentage shift is really, I think, more due to the fact that that term has been more widely adopted as that’s just again, something that people do, any people do, not just a certain demographic, I think. Too, as you mentioned earlier with the pandemic video games are bad. Video games are causing violence. Video games are an addiction. And then during the pandemic, it was like, video games might be saving a lot of lives right now.
Video games might be your space for mental health, VR might be the opportunity for you to go outside and interact, and Pokemon Go might be the reason people are actually leaving their homes to go and play a game. So I think it kind of made it not a bad thing, and because it became a positive title that you could then accept, a lot of people were also more excited to accept the gamer title as well. And I would just add, I don’t think it’s too far to say that I think the pandemic really was a major shift in perception about the game industry and the role of games because I think it really did normalize it like Joanie mentioned, and I think that’s going to just carry forward. So if there’s one good thing that came out of it, at least for the game industry, I think that’s a major point.
The three of us are well aware that the gaming community is relatively small, but also extremely strong. It’s one of the staples of games. But how is this community evolving not just from the pandemic, but looking forward, what is the community going to become?
Well, I think that’s one of the things I look at very closely in relation to my culturalization work, because so much of the reaction that we get to the game content obviously is being fueled by community reaction. It’s not just the social media factor, even though it’s a big part of it. But it’s essentially how does a community opt to react to something or not to react or however they’re going to respond to something that’s in the game, whether it’s a feature change or a new character or an underrepresented group that is now featured or whatever the case might be.
I think that a lot of game companies, they certainly understand by now that community is absolutely fundamental to their success. And a lot of companies spend a tremendous amount of time investing in the community engagement, having teams of community managers, which frankly, in my view are still the unsung heroes of this industry at the moment. I mean, it’s a very difficult job for which they need to be paid more and there needs to be more of them in my view. But it’s really difficult because you’re dealing with like you said, there are episodes of toxicity that happen even in good communities. There are always some episodes that happen with bad players who happen to be in the community or other issues.
But ultimately I think what’s really great about it is that it’s that collective love of that particular game, of games in general, but also of that particular game that really helps to self regulate the community to a big degree. And we see that happening across many different franchises and games. And so the role of community managers more or less to keep shepherding that dynamic where they self police because nobody wants the game to be shut down, nobody wants there to be a huge disruption of any kind. And so it’s in everyone’s best interest to basically police together. Kind of like what Riot did, where they actually implemented that system where you get positively reinforced for reporting bad players and bad actors within the community rather than just issuing a report, you actually get rewarded in a way for helping out and helping to self police the community.
And I think we’re going to see even more robust tools do that. I mean, of course, we’re seeing a lot of AI tools being developed now which are helping with community management, because that is, to me, the biggest challenge with community management is the Asymmetrical problem, where you’ve got even if you have a team of 50 community managers, if you’re like, talking about warcraft, how many millions of players are there? So that asymmetry between the regulation team or the oversight team, and the community is always going to be there. And so you have to find other ways to deal with it. And I think the AI tools are helping out too.
But I just think as we move along, companies are going to even more and better understand how to engage the community and realize that the game itself is obviously important because that’s around which the community congeals. But the community itself is really in the long term where the success lies. The success of warcraft, for example, as a franchise, is, I would say, squarely on the shoulders of the community that has kept it going and not just the game itself.
No, I totally agree. And I think AI has really, really helped increase that opportunity for that reporting to have very real consequences. And so it kind of becomes like, well, I don’t want to get banned for a week because I don’t know what I would do. I’d be so bored. So that people kind of stop engaging in certain activities, or they just want to avoid it altogether. So that response time, having those very real rules, having those very real consequences, and then having an AI bot say this was bad enough to ban you until a real person can review it, has been very, very powerful, for sure. We’ve also seen a big shift with influencers.
So having an influencer play a game who either is encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors has been really powerful because all of those viewers are also understanding and realizing that maybe this was a joke, maybe this wasn’t acceptable, maybe this was something that truly affected somebody else. And having it be a real person who’s playing a game kind of takes away that robotic aspect and makes it a real human being. So having these really powerful, just forward facing influencers has created an amazing shift in some communities, has also created a terrible shift in other communities. So it’s give or take, and we’ve also seen a lot of new communities coming up as well. So I was a huge CSCO fan.
I still love the game, but the community has always been incredibly toxic. And there’s a lot of psychological studies about when you come on the mic as a woman and you have a more female identifying voice, it was actually that the other players were feeling like you were trying to trick them because your skin is a male, but they’re all male skins. You can’t opt to be a female in CSGO, so there’s no way that I can help you with that problem. So all of a sudden, Valerien came out, and now you can kind of choose what you look like, but there’s also an opportunity to create a new community and to recreate what that looks like. So there’s a lot of trying to fix old communities that’s happening, but there’s also a lot of shifts into maybe this is just how this space is going to be, so let’s create a new space that is more welcoming. So we’ve definitely kind of seen a lot of those shifts as well.
If a young woman listening to this episode right now is trying to get into the gaming industry today, what’s your advice for her?
Well, I would say, first of all, as we’ve kind of mentioned before, make sure you identify what exactly your passion is. What about the game industry excites you, and what role do you want to have in the industry because there’s many different things you could do. So basically identify that passion, and once you’ve identified it, then be unashamedly out there networking like crazy.
Don’t be shy. It’s hard, I know. I mean, I’m an introvert. I can fake extroversion really well. But you need to basically put yourself out there as much as you can and network, find mentors and do the best you can to just start making connections, because ultimately, that’s how jobs happen, is making those connections and talking with people about what you’re passionate about and what you can bring to the table.
Thank you both. I loved this conversation and appreciate both of you for being here today.
Thank you very much. It was great.
And thanks to all of you who are listening.
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