Women Working In Games: G4’s Morgan Webb Talks ‘X-Play’ And Being A Pin-Up

As a female gamer myself, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about women in the gaming industry.

And it’s not just me. Other people have been discussing the topic during the past few weeks.

From extreme and public cases, such as the recent sexualized comic about “Assassin’s Creed” producer Jade Raymond to even subtle instances where male developers overlook me to speak to my male associates, I’ve noticed that women gamers are viewed and treated differently from (and by) their male counterparts. But this is nothing new, and people have talked about it before.

Recently, I decided to track down some major women in the industry to really discuss what it’s like to be a woman working in games. In this special week-long Multiplayer series, I’ll be publishing an interview with a different woman every day. From journalists to developers to publicists, these women told me about their personal experiences. Had they encountered sexism in this predominantly male industry? Is the gaming industry an environment where women can thrive? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a female in this field?

One woman that first came to my mind was G4’s Morgan Webb. As the co-host of the video game program “X-Play,” she’s a highly visible woman in gaming, and last week she gave me an honest interview over the phone. Here’s an excerpt, where she answers my question about the negative attention some women gamers get, particularly on the Internet:

Webb: I do not read fan e-mail because 0.1 percent of people ruin it for everybody, and I don’t read forums because 0.1 percent of people ruin it for everybody. And it would be really great if I could go on a forum and talk to people who like the show and talk about games, but I can’t because there’s some 14 year-old jerk somewhere who just wants to be an idiot and try and get attention.

Make the jump to read more of Ms. Webb’s candid responses about posing for Maxim, Jade Raymond, and why the world doesn’t really need more women playing games…

Morgan Webb is the co-host and senior segment producer of the video game review show “X-Play.” The 29 year-old, Los Angeles native has always been a gamer and learned about computers in her spare time during college (she majored in Rhetoric and minored in Italian). Following a stint as a website administrator for a dot-com company, she became an associate producer for TechTV’s “The Screen Savers.” From there she was promoted to an on-air position hosting segments on operating systems and tech tips, and then began co-hosting “X-Play” with Adam Sessler in 2003. Since then, she’s become sort of a pin-up girl for male gamers, thanks to photo spreads in lad mags like FHM and Maxim. She also hosts daily video segments of the latest tech news on her website WebbAlert.

Multiplayer: Tell me about your career and how you got the job at “X-Play.”

Webb: I needed a job and so I go a job at TechTV, and I was doing research and was the tape producer, so it wasn’t actually on-air or meant to be on-air at all. I just had a good knowledge of computers and technology, and so they hired me to basically do a little bit of technical work for them. Then I started doing little segments like tech help segments on-air; no games just computers. Windows tips, how to install hard drives and that kind of thing. A few times out of the week I would go on [TV], and I started to go on a little more and started to go on a little more. And when they were revamping a show called “Extended Play” with Adam Sessler — he’d been on that show for a while — they wanted to update it and turn it into a show called “X-Play.” And they were looking for a woman who knew about video games and I happened to be working in the company, knew everybody, and I’d been friends with Adam. They knew I that liked to play games and that’s how they hired me to be on “X-Play.”

Multiplayer: Do you think you encountered any challenges during your career that men would’ve never had to face?

Webb: Not really. I mean, I think there’s sort of two ways to look at it. One way to look at it is just technology and video games in general. People assume you don’t really know anything, and I remember I would be sitting next to somebody on “The Screen Savers” — and I have tons of work experience and IT experience — and somebody would come up and ask the guy next to me, who had no experience really with computers at all, “How do you do this thing with the computer?” It would sort of be frustrating, but I would try to not take it too personally. And really, I don’t really need to spend my life fixing people’s computers for them, but on the one hand there’s that side of it, you know. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be where I am if I were a man, to be honest. I wouldn’t be on the show. I wouldn’t be writing columns for FHM. I wouldn’t be considered just like a rare and interesting… specimen or whatever, if I weren’t a woman. So I am where I am because I’m a woman and that’s just the way it is.

Multiplayer: Are you suggesting that if you were a man with the same knowledge, you wouldn’t be as successful as you are now?

Webb: Here’s the thing: television is different then the rest of the world. I have faith in the fact that if I didn’t find this television show, I would have a great job. And I don’t think that I have this job solely because I’m a woman. But I think that yeah, television is different, and they want a show with a man and a woman. They’re looking around for a woman who knows a lot about video games, and they’re looking and looking and looking and then they come across me. I think it’s changing, and I think that there’s lots more women who are interested and knowledgeable about video games, but it’s just… I don’t really want to make this like a huge something about society because I really don’t think that it is that. I just think realistically, in television, they’re thinking, “We’re going to have better ratings if we put a cute girl up there.” And I think they got lucky and they found a woman who really actually knows about video games and likes them because television’s default is just going to be to find the “cute” woman, and not really care [what she knows]. …

I do think about it a lot. It used to really bother me that men, and not purposefully and not really with any malice, would assume that I don’t really know what I’m talking about or would know less than a man on the topic, but then I have to just say, you know what, if I were a guy, I’d probably be like an editor at GameSpot, you know what I mean? Which is fine, which is totally respectable, but I wouldn’t have my own TV show.

Multiplayer: Do you feel people have different expectations of you because you’re a woman?

Webb: Oh yeah, if somebody sees me — and I always get recognized at the airport for some reason, I don’t know why that is — but I’m walking down the airport… and they ask me, “Do you really play games?” And I used to kind of get insulted because I don’t walk up to you and question your credentials for your job.

Multiplayer: You would think that with your TV show, it would be pretty obvious that you play games.

Webb: You know, I don’t know… [sighs] You’d think. But yeah, if you just watch “X-Play” once in a while or something like that, or if you don’t catch E3 when I’m doing live interviews, you might think, “Oh, she can’t possibly play games!” I try to be understanding about that and appreciate that they watch the show and everything.

Multiplayer: Do you think that some people might just think that you’re just a pretty face reading a script?

Webb: Yeah, and I also think the other thing that happens is like, if people are fans and they see me, they get nervous and they can’t necessarily think of…

Multiplayer: The best thing to say?

Webb: You know what I mean! People just say things and they probably walk away and they’re like “Oh, that was dumb.” [laughs]

Multiplayer: So you give them the benefit of the doubt…

Webb: Exactly. I’m always nice. We just appreciate that people, it’s not like our show is “Dancing with the Stars.” We appreciate that they watch and we all have something in common because we like to play games. They’re my people. We are a nation of nerds.

Multiplayer: Did you ever feel that you were treated differently based on your gender within the industry?

Webb: You know, I don’t really think so at this point because we all sort of know each other. We see each other at parties and hang out, and I’m probably more recognizable, and Adam Sessler is recognizable, because we’re on TV. And so people probably recognize us a little more. But again, a nation of nerds. I’m a nerd with some spit polish and somebody to do my hair. [laughs]

Multiplayer: Do you feel self-conscious going to gaming events and sometimes being the only female around?

Webb: Not really. And the thing is, I’m not the only female around. There’s other women, and the PR departments are all female. And I think part of it is just because I’m used to it. [laughs] I’m so used to being one of the only women so yeah, there’s been many times I can think of when I’m sitting at a table with game journalists. We’re at an event and we decide to go get food, and I look around and that’s like 20 people and I’m the only woman. I mean, I’m so used to it that I don’t think I even notice anymore.

Multiplayer: When you’re going to do an on-camera interview, do you think about what you wear? I feel like most men don’t have to worry about their image as much as women do.

Webb: It’s not even most men. I mean, Adam has to go into make-up and wardrobe, too. I don’t think it’s men versus women because it’s TV. Because a guy can be on TV and they go in for 10 minutes; they do a little bit of powder so they’re not shiny and a little bit of hairspray so their hair is under control, and then they go out there. But if if I’m doing an interview, I’m in makeup for an hour and-a-half. It sucks. [laughs]

Multiplayer: And how do you feel about having to do that versus the 10-minute makeover?

Webb: I mean, it’s just like what are you going to do. [laughs] It’s frustrating sometimes when we’re at E3 and Adam’s off playing games and I’m sitting in makeup. It really sucks. On the other hand, what am I going to do? It’s how it is.

Multiplayer: Do you have any input at all on what you wear? Do they ever ask you to wear something that you don’t feel comfortable with?

Webb: Oh no, I absolutely have input. [The wardrobe department goes] shopping and they pick it out. I usually try it on and we sort of agree… If I’m not comfortable in it, then I’m not going to wear it. Or if it’s too small or too big, I go, “Okay maybe I would like this in a different color.” But we’ve also been working together a long time so it’s not like they don’t know what I like and what I feel is too low cut or too tight or something like that.

Multiplayer: I was reading Jane Pinckard’s blog Game Girl Advance, and she basically wrote, “It’s hard to be a woman in gaming but it’s even harder to be a beautiful woman in gaming.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement?

Webb: [sighs] I feel like it’s not really fair for me because I… Like I have a TV show and that gives me so much exposure and legitimacy, I don’t know if I necessarily know how it would be [otherwise]. It’s sort of not fair because I feel I’ve gotten a lot of legitimacy because I’ve been given the opportunity to get on stage and interview Phil Harrison and do a lot of these things that I think would be a struggle if I were woman without this platform. And I can’t really understand that struggle, and I feel bad that I can’t. [laughs] Because I know it’s not really fair because I just kind of fell into the situation. But you know, yeah, it would probably be hard, but it probably would be easier in its own way because people are going to remember you. Even just any woman, you’re “the woman.” You stick out in some people’s minds, and I think that would give you an advantage. And I think that’s hard to focus on that, especially as I get older and try to focus on the advantages that being a woman in this industry bring you versus the disadvantages. Because I think in the end, the guys want women around because, I’d want women around, and they’re going to respect you if you know your s–t… I try to remind myself that when I get frustrated, when the 17th person asks me if I really play video games, I try to remind myself that there a lot of advantages and not be mean to this poor guy who like is looking at me with these hopeful eyes. [laughs] “Say yes, please say yes.”

Multiplayer: As a prominent woman in gaming, do you feel like you should be a spokesperson for women gamers?

Webb: I think that people would like me to be, and I think that I’m sort of a little bit reluctant to take that role on. People often try to get me… “Don’t you want to encourage young women to play video games?” I’m like eh. It’s not like anyone’s keeping them from playing games. They’re free to if they so choose and second of all, I think being in the gaming industry is great. There’s a lot of jobs for women, and I think that if more women are in the gaming industry, there’s going to be a lot more games for women… Men and women — and I’m an exception because I like to shoot people in the head in my video games — but they realistically like different video games. And I think women, when they look at games like “Soul Calibur,” where all the women are wearing spandex everything, a woman looks at that game and says, “This game isn’t made for me. This game was made for men and I can see that.” And whether that’s conscious or subconscious, it’s going to turn her off.

On the other hand, games are supposed to be fun and like a time-waster. And I don’t think the world will necessarily be a better place if I get lots of young woman to play video games. Does that make sense? But if a woman wants to play video games, more power to her. They’re fun, and I enjoy it. It makes me feel like a happier person, but I have a lot of girlfriends who couldn’t care less about video games… and I don’t think their lives are missing anything for that. But on the other hand, I would be happy if there were more women in the video game industry. I think there would be more video games for women. So it would sort of be perpetuating, but I don’t think it’s a noble mission to… there are bigger problems in the world than women not playing video games. [laughs]

Multiplayer: Do you think it’s harder for women to break into the industry?

Webb: I don’t think so. I think if a woman comes in with good credentials, strong writing skills and a visible passion for [gaming], I think she’s going to have an advantage. I think employers recognize that hey, it’s probably good to have some women in here. [laughs]

Multiplayer: Why do you think that there are so few women right now though?

Webb: I think it’s changing. You do see a lot of women now at the conventions. You see these women coming up, and I think in five years, it’s not going to be me and one other woman in the room. It’s going to be a lot.

Multiplayer: Why do you think that the gaming press and gamers in general focus on women the way they do?

Webb: Because boys like girls, straight up. Because Nerd #14 getting hired at Kotaku; not a story. Hot chick? Story. You talk to her about why they’re a woman in the gaming industry. Guys all think, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if there were more? Even though she’d veto my triple-X busted woman that I want to put in this video game.” [laughs]

Multiplayer: But what about all the negative attention, like the focus on Jade Raymond…

Webb: She made a great game. Yeah, people can be mean. That made me mad, because she’s so nice. But I mean, that’s the thing, you’re just not going to be left alone. Like I’ve gotten so many horrible e-mails, I don’t even want to read them anymore. But that’s just being on TV. They don’t think that you’re really a person. They just write you. Sometimes I would write people back and go, “You kiss your momma with that mouth?” And then they go, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think you read these e-mails.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” But I think that’s a problem with anybody in the public eye. I don’t think that necessarily has anything to do with women in games. I think it’s just you obviously don’t exist because you’re — I don’t even want to use the word “famous” for myself but… known.

Here’s the thing: 99.9 percent of people are awesome and cool and fine and normal, and there’s the 0.1 percent of people who are morons and chicken-s–t a–holes, and they ruin it for everybody. And that sucks because I do not read fan e-mail because 0.1 percent of people ruin it for everybody, and I don’t read forums because 0.1 percent of people ruin it for everybody. And it would be really great if I could go on a forum and talk to people who like the show and talk about games, but I can’t because there’s some 14 year-old jerk somewhere who just wants to be an idiot and try and get attention. And then you can’t engage them because if you give them attention, then they win. And it’s really unfortunate, and I wish that weren’t true but that’s the nature of the Internet; everybody gets a voice whether or not they deserve one, and I think it’d be great to get some sort of verification system so people could take ownership of their names and reputations. I think that situation, there could be some really interesting conversations. Until that day, I stay away.

Multiplayer: Does it feel odd being the object of desire by so many people, especially gamers?

Webb: You know, when you don’t read the forums,you don’t really think about it. If you don’t really interact with fan sites and that kind of thing, then you just kind of live your life. Which is good. I don’t want to constantly read fan forums and find people who think I’m “hot” or something because then that’s not a normal life. I feel like you can’t really live like that because then your entire ego is going to be wrapped up in what random people think of you and what forum you land on that day because half the forums are going to be like “She’s dumb and she has ugly hair” or something. People are just going to write how your hair was ugly that day or how your outfit was stupid or how you look fat or whatever and it’s like, you know what? I’m trying, I’m working really hard, and I’m putting myself out there. What’s my other option? Sit at home? Play video games all day? Oh wait… [laughs]

Multiplayer: You’ve posed for men’s magazines like Maxim and FHM. How were you approached to do that and what was your initial reaction?

Webb: Oh, they just call you up. They just call up your PR department, or your PR dept calls them up. I forgot how that went. But they say, “Hey you wanna pose?” and you’re like, “Uhhh, yeah okay.” And then they pick a date and that’s it. [laughs]

Multiplayer: But did you have to think about it?

Webb: Yeah… Well, first of all, it kind of kills your legitimacy a little bit, if you sort of present yourself as, “Oh, I’m the hot chick” because nobody thinks you actually know anything because pretty girls are stupid apparently. Um, I learned that.

Multiplayer: So was that a lesson you learned from posing for Maxim?

Webb: No, no, no. I actually had a good experience with that, but that’s what made me think about it initially was you know, you try, you work hard to keep your legitimacy and then somebody is saying if you present yourself as a bikini girl, bikini girls aren’t necessarily smart. But I think they presented it well, there was the article with it, [FHM or Maxim] never tried to get me to do something I wasn’t comfortable with. They made it a comfortable experience, so I didn’t really feel like it was a bad thing to do. Yeah, but I mean I had to think about it a little bit. It’s just sort of you have to think about how you present yourself.

Multiplayer: How did you think that doing those spreads has impacted your career?

Webb: I don’t know. People talk about it a lot, but I don’t know. I mean… I don’t really know the answer to that question. [laughs] It’s like I still have the same job, I still work on my same show, and it’s not like it got me some fancy job on “Dancing with the Stars” or something.

Multiplayer: Do you want to be on “Dancing with the Stars”?

Webb: No! [laughs] I don’t know why I keep coming back to that. But yeah, [the photo spreads] seemed like a good opportunity. I was able to test it out before I agreed to do a year’s worth of pictures and stuff.

Multiplayer: Would you consider doing it again in the future?

Webb: I don’t know. I sort of doubt it. But you know, never say never.

Multiplayer: Do you think people viewed you as “dumb” because you posed in Maxim?

Webb: Yeah, I think that there were some people who believed that.

Multiplayer: But despite that, it was still something you wanted to do?

Webb: I just felt it was something that was probably good for my career and good for my show because really, I would love more people to be aware of “X-Play” and so it was just a good promotional opportunity for my show. I just work with so many great people and it’s our baby. I just want our show to do well and if I can do something to help promote my show then it’s sort of irresponsible of me not to do it. Especially since they weren’t trying to push me in a direction that I didn’t feel comfortable with, so I just think that, I don’t know, it made sense for that reason.

Multiplayer: What would you say to people who might criticize you for doing that?

Webb: People criticize everything that you do. You just can’t worry about it. You just have to make your best decision with the available information and you know, try your best. I think that a lot of people that criticize spend a lot of time criticizing but don’t spend a lot of time doing their own thing or putting themselves at risk. So I don’t really like to accept criticism from people who don’t put themselves out there in some way.

Got thoughts on Morgan Webb’s interview? Let us know! And check back later to see more interviews from women working in games. Next up: Game Girl Advance’s Jane Pinckard, “Assassin’s Creed”’s Elspeth Tory,”Sex in Video Games” author Brenda Brathwaite and Sega PR’s Tali Fischer.