Early Interview Showcases GameDocs & WIGI Growth and Change
I’ve been looking in my WIGI archives for material to support an organization history document I’m working on. I found the text for an interview I did in 2007 when I was still in my first year of volunteering for the organization (and in my first decade in the game industry).
The content of this interview strikes me as “too cute”—kind of like a video you see of yourself in a school play in third grade. You’re struck by how young and enthusiastic you are.
The article used to be online in GameSpot. It was in the “Industry Spotlight” section, but the link is broken and I can’t find it with a search. Not sure what happened. Nevertheless, it shows how far WIGI has come as an organization and how far GameDocs has come as a company. Both entities have grown a lot and have gained a lot of maturity and wisdom.
[Interview of Belinda Van Sickle for GameSpot’s Industry Spotlight—original date circa July 2007]
Currently working on: Titles for Blizzard, Disney Interactive Studios, Sierra, Warner Bros. Interactive and other companies (can’t get into specifics because of various non-disclosure agreements. . . )
Company: (this can who you work for, freelancing or any volunteer work)
Women in Games International
Title: (what titles are you known as for the organizations and companies you work with?)
Community Coordinator (WIGI)
Alias: (the name you use in game)
Belinda (I like my name 😉
Location: (city and state or state and country is fine)
Santa Monica, CA
Favorite Platform(s): (PC, MAC, Xbox, DS, PS3, etc)
Mac and DS
Favorite Online Game: (what’s your favorite online video game?)
Jeopardy (I’m what they call a “hardcore casual gamer.” I’ve been playing casual games for about three hours a day since the early 90s. . . )
Gaming Influence: (who was the person that introduced you to video games?)
I actually found video games on my own in the late 1970s at my local public library. The Menlo Park, California library had a Radio Shack TRS-80 that used a Panasonic cassette tape recorder as a RAM disk and hard drive!
I played games on that machine and was a part of the Computer Club for a short time. I can’t even remember what the games were, but I do remember I got a “My Computer Likes Me” button, which was not a common idea at that time, nor was “computer” even a common term. . .
In the Computer Club, I remember I was a ten year-old girl in a room full of males, all at least a foot taller than me, talking to each other while I wandered among them on my way to the cookie table!
Flower: (What is your favorite flower?)
I guess for individual flowers, it’s the rose, but as far as flowering plants go, I like bougainvillea. It’s all over L.A.
About Belinda M. Van Sickle
You have a thick history in video games dating back to 1996. It is a pleasant surprise to find that you were a part of games like the Hexen/Heretic series! Please tell us about your career in the entertainment industry. (note: In addition, what types of tasks does a job like yours at GameDocs consist of? In relation to GameDocs, are you required to play a video game for a few hours before you can write about it? When it comes to WIGI you can mention the tasks you do if you want.)
In college I decided to become a writer. I ended up finishing an MA in creative writing with a screenplay as my thesis project. I moved to LA from the San Francisco Bay Area to be a screenwriter, but worked in the advertising industry as a writer and layout artist. After two years of freelancing at various companies, I got a job at Activision as a manual writer and layout artist and was in charge of all their manuals for nine years.
I have a very special place in my heart for Activision, since they got me into the game industry, which is such a perfect fit for me! I happily forgot about the movie industry and have been working solely on video game titles ever since.
After nearly ten years of working for other people, in November of 2005 I started GameDocs. We specialize in game manuals, packaging, sell sheets and other printed materials. Growth was conservative for the first six months or so, but business has been really exciting since the Fall of 2006. We’ve picked up several big clients and have been doing some really fun work.
I’ve been writing, designing and laying out game manuals since 1996. I used to play the games quite a lot when I first started at Activision and it was a hardcore PC game company. Since the console revolution, which requires chipped devices to play game builds, I haven’t been playing as many games before writing the manuals. I generally use game design documents and other materials.
Since the DS, which doesn’t require a chipped device to play builds, I’ve been playing a lot more games while writing manuals. But I still rely heavily on game design documents (which have gotten way better since 96!).
I spend a significant amount of my time on project management and layout, so writing is only a portion of my work. I also have employees who do writing, graphic design and layout for game packaging.
As a casual games lover, I also keep a very close eye on the casual games community. I’m interested in one day doing some casual game producing. By the way, my current favorite games are the “I Spy” type, especially Mystery Case Files! They’re not making new ones fast enough for me!
For Women in Games International, I’m the Community Coordinator and started the Linkedin WIGI group and the community mixers in Los Angeles. My main focus as a volunteer for WIGI is community building. I want to see a stronger community of women who work in the game industry. I want us know each other, network and be friends as much as possible.
It’s still true that if you’re a woman working for a small developer, you may be the only female in the company other than the receptionist. I think it can be isolating and discouraging and I want to help change that.
My interest in community building for women comes from having a B.A. in Feminist Studies and being a very active member of the Burning Man scene, which is all about community building among people. I wanted to bring those parts of my life into my video game industry career. When I started GameDocs, my focus was on building my network in the game industry, and my WIGI work has been a big part of that.
The Linkedin group and the mixers have been very successful for WIGI. A lot of new energy has come into the organization and we’ve had local organizers volunteer to host their own mixers in New York City, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago, Austin and Sydney, Australia!
Do you have any gadgets or digital devices you cannot do without? (note: example could be a Blackberry, Treo, a cell phone, Nintendo DS, your computer, etc.)
I kind of dread the idea of not having a Macintosh computer. I’ve been using Macs almost solely since 1986. The idea of having to switch to a PC scares me, but sometimes I get frustrated with things not working on Macs. . . And of course, all the games I can’t play. . . Augh!
But being a writer and graphic artist, the industry standard for that work is the Macintosh, and I love the operating system and interface.
Do you have any words of advice for women who would love to be doing what you are doing for a career? (note: In addition, for anyone who is interested in working in this profession, what kind of education, training or courses should they look at being involved in?)
Get a good education at the best university that fits you. Then don’t be afraid to take any job in the game industry you can get. Lots of people move up from QA and CS, as well as other departments.
Do all the networking you can at all the game industry-related events you get to. Focus on those events that are industry-related, not consumer-related, because you’re less likely to be lost in a crowd of gamers.
And take networking seriously. Everyone you meet is a contact, be it at school, in other jobs and elsewhere. The Internet has been a good object lesson in the “six degrees of separation” theory, and sites like Linkedin facilitate networking among friends of friends.
Be a part of Women in Games International! In our Linkedin group alone, you can connect to over 300 others in the industry. And WIGI’s got mentoring, the conferences, the mixers, an online career center and we’re growing all the time! If you think we need something, volunteer and make it happen!
For anyone who hasn’t attended a WIGI conference, can you describe what the focus is, and what they would experience for attending a conference?
Each conference has a different focus and different speakers. Generally they start with an individual keynote speaker, and then expand on similar topics with panel discussions. There are also roundtable meetings where attendees get a chance to share with others with special interests.
There are a lot of different kinds of people at the conference—some industry veterans along with new people, those who are trying to get into the industry and students.
The WIGI conferences are a good place to network and be a part of current discussion about women, games and the future of the industry. It’s amazing to see all the experience and enthusiasm out there!
How did you get involved with Women in Games International?
I saw an announcement for the first WIGI conference in 2005 in GamaSutra Daily, but it was too far away for me to go. When I saw the GamaSutra announcement for the February 2006 San Francisco conference, I made special plans to attend from Los Angeles. I had just started my company a few months before, and I was looking to change my level of industry involvement and networking.
It may have been during the conference itself or perhaps shortly thereafter that I came up with the idea for an online community for women working in the video game industry. I thought it would be a great way to foster a strong group of people interested in building their careers and helping each other.
During the Microsoft Women in Games Night at GDC 2006, I approached some WIGI people about the idea. I had thought about starting the online community on my own, but I decided it would be better to pool my energy with others working toward supporting women in games.
I originally wanted to set up my own server for the community, modeling it off Linkedin. After looking around for awhile for software and such, I decided Linkedin already had what I needed, so I started the group on that site.
Once I had over 100 people in the Linkedin group and it was growing every day, I started thinking about other ways to facilitate community building. I hosted the first WIGI Community Mixer last November in Los Angeles, and momentum has been building ever since!
WIGI has brought a new perspective to character development in video games. It’s refreshing to see how the purpose isn’t about developing video games just for female gamers. Have there been any changes you have seen in game development from companies who have had their employee attend a WIGI conference?
I haven’t noticed any specific changes in game development, but I have seen larger discussion in industry journals about subjects from WIGI conferences. Many parts of the industry are thinking about these issues and looking to move our business into the future.
The issue of the significant minority of women in the game industry, as well as the industry in general still developing for and marketing to a small group of men has been in many peoples’ awareness for years. WIGI has shown that awareness coupled with a “yeah, that’s too bad” mentality is not enough to create change.
And, of course, the industry is lately waking up to the fact that there’s an untapped market of 90+ percent of people who aren’t buying games. It’s just a fact of business: if the video game industry does not expand its business model and continue to build new markets, somebody else will, and they probably won’t know what they’re doing.
WIGI has brought the conversation to a larger number of people and has helped grow awareness, which will mean a bigger industry for all of us in the coming years.
WIGI Linkedin Group
Belinda M. Van Sickle Public Profile