Brenda Romero, game director and founder of Romero Games, talks about the progress the gaming industry has made and what needs to happen to make the industry more welcoming for all.
How did you begin gaming, and do you think the gaming world has changed for women since then?
When I was quite young, my mother would take me to yard sales. We didn’t have a lot of money, and so she’d give me a dime to buy whatever I found. Obviously, you can’t get much for a dime, so I ended up picking up board games that were missing some of their pieces. I’d take those pieces and the back sides of the boards themselves and make my own board games. That started my love affair with games.
Eventually, this led to arcades and to the PC when I finally got my first job in the game industry. I got started when I was just a kid, only 15 years old. It was the dream job! I played games, memorized them, and when people called to ask questions like how they might defeat an enemy, I’d give them gameplay advice. It was the absolute perfect job for a kid.
Games have changed so much for women since then. When I got started, you couldn’t choose to play as a female character. That didn’t happen until 1986. Nowadays, there are strong female leads in AAA games, and I feel that the breadth of experience in games takes into account many more stories than just the typical power fantasies. That said, we do have a way to go.
What do you think the gaming industry will look like in 5 years?
It’s such a simple yet tricky question. The past five years have led to a wonderful explosion of small, short-play indie games, and I think that trend will continue. Tools like Unity and Unreal make game creation accessible to far more people, and platforms like Steam and the Epic store provide millions of potential customers for those creators. I am also hoping that games continue to branch out into healthcare-related fields and we see more games to help people with mental health, recovery, isolation, and stress.
Can you talk about the reality of being a woman in the gaming industry?
There are two ways to look at it. On the one hand, among game developers, we are the few, but we are increasing in number. We have seen our share of difficulties, particularly with online harassment in the past few years. On the other hand, we are the keepers of gameplay yet to be explored and stories yet to be told. A game director’s background gives them a unique angle they can bring to a gameplay experience.
Women are the majority audience, particularly when you consider casual games, and women actually own a majority of consoles. I work with a great group of people, so day to day, my thoughts are filled with the world or experience I am creating.
What are three actions we can take to ensure a more diverse gaming industry?
Visibility — people want to see someone like them making games and see someone like them inside of a game. This is so critically important. If you can’t see yourself, it sends a strong message.
Accessibility – games and STEM provide such an incredible opportunity for low-income kids like me. Kids need access to technology from an early age, even if that technology is just systems thinking in the form of board games.
Drop the myths – games are for girls and IT is for girls. So many young women hear “games aren’t for girls” and internalize that. That needs to stop. Also, a woman invented programming, and many of programming’s most important concepts come from women (the compiler, the optimizing compiler, pointers, and more).
Do you have any resources for women who are looking to either get into gaming or find a community for themselves?
Check out Girls Who Code. I welcome people to contact me directly, of course. For people who are looking to start with analog games, I wrote a book called “Challenges for Game Designers” that gives an overview of game design and provides literally hundreds of exercises.