First, I spoke with two journalists: Morgan Webb of G4’s “X-Play” and Jane Pinckard of the blog Game Girl Advance. They both had different perspectives about being a woman working in games. Now, I bring you another female voice in the world of gaming but on the development side: Ubisoft’s Elspeth Tory, the project manager for animation on “Assassin’s Creed.”
I know what you’re thinking. With all the hubbub surrounding “Assassin’s Creed” producer Jade Raymond, why not talk to Raymond herself? I originally asked Ubisoft to speak with Raymond, but was told by a company rep that she was “not interested at this time.” Totally understandable. However, Ubisoft suggested Tory, since she was available and another female able to speak about working on “Assassin’s Creed.”
I admit that I knew very little of Tory before the interview, but I learned that she was an animator on games such as Microids’ “Syberia II” and Ubisoft’s “Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones.” I didn’t know what to expect, but the 29 year-old gamer was very honest about her experiences when we spoke on the phone last week.
Here’s an excerpt from when I asked her if she’s ever felt uncomfortable in the workplace:
Tory: … At some point, there was a woman who came in for an interview, and she was an attractive woman, apparently. We had these windows in our meeting room that were high up. And the guys, at some point, I so clearly remember this, they actually got up on their desks to look in on the woman in her interview. And they were making comments. Like, that was the kind of working environment that I was in. It wasn’t all the time, but it was ridiculous! … This was at Microids when that happened. I specifically remember it, and I was so disappointed. …
Make the jump to read more of Tory talking about doubting herself, having to do well for womankind, and the comments made about her co-worker…
Multiplayer: How did you get started in the industry?
Tory: Initially, I did my Bachelor’s in English Literature and Ethics, which is of course a natural progression into gaming. [Laughs] I finished that and by then, I’d always been working on animation on the side — drawing and computer graphics — and I really loved that. So by the time I finished I decided that it would be worth doing a course in computer animation just to see if I was any good at it before becoming a lawyer. [Laughs] Which I didn’t end up doing.
I took this seven-month program up in Montreal, and from there I went to work straight for Microids, because they were hiring. I’d always loved video games, so that was certainly appealing to me. But when you come out as an animator, you can work in gaming or in advertising or TV, but gaming seemed to hold the most, in terms of stability, was the most stable industry. Plus they have that really cool mix of artistic and tech. So if you’re someone like me who likes problem-solving, then gaming is hugely appealing. Plus it just seemed like a really, really creative environment with lots of new challenges. So that’s how I ended up there.
I was at Microids for three and-a-half years, and then I left for Ubisoft, and then a month later Ubisoft bought Microids. [Laughs] I’ve been in the industry I guess six and-a-half, seven years now.
Multiplayer: What was your position at Microids?
Tory: I started off as an animator. I was an animator on “Syberia II,” and then I became lead animator on a game called “Still Life.”
Multiplayer: I loved “Syberia.” And so then you transitioned over to Ubisoft…
Tory: Oh, cool! Yeah, I transitioned to Ubisoft, and initially I wanted to start back as an animator just to kind of learn the ropes. That may be a confidence issue which may have to do with being a woman, I’m not sure. I was insecure about starting here and I didn’t necessarily want to jump right into a lead position. So I worked as an animator on “Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones,” which was an amazing project to work on. So cool. And after that I really felt pretty confident again so I decided to apply for a lead position again, and that’s when there was an opening on “Assassin’s” for the project manager for animation, which is purely a management position, just because there’s so much to organize. So I ended up going onto that and was on that for two years. The longest project I’ve been on. But it was great. It was a difficult adjustment at first just because it was such a high level of quality and so much data and people to manage. But it was such an amazing project to work on.
Multiplayer: Can you talk a little bit more about the confidence issue you had?
Tory: I think, having talked to some of my female friends, it almost feels like often we need to — and this may just be lack of experience in general in any industry — but feeling the need to prove yourself before getting rewarded, as opposed to knowing that you’re good enough and going in saying, “I know I can do this” and just taking the job. I think, at least initially, I always felt like I sort of had to go in and prove myself and say, “You know what, I can do this. See, I can do it.” And then people would be like, “Oh yeah, she can do it.” And then they’d give me the okay to move up the ladder. Whereas I think a lot of other people — and I don’t know if this is a guy/girl thing — would be confident enough to step in there and say, “You know what, I know I can do this and I don’t need to prove myself first. I’m just going to take the job and then prove myself while doing it.” So that’s something I’ve learned in general, that it’s better to just take the plunge and go do that. But it certainly was a bit intimidating at first, I think. If I’d jumped from a small company to a big one as a lead, I don’t know how well that would have been taken. I’m sure I could have done it, now. I know I could have. But there was that initial hesitation.
Multiplayer: In you career, do you think that being a woman has posed any challenges you don’t think men would have faced?
Tory: I do feel like, initially I really had to prove myself to be taken seriously. And it’s really at the beginning. It was in the first two years, just trying to get in there and to be taken seriously. Again, I don’t know if it’s specifically related to being a woman or just being new in the industry, but I think it was more difficult at first than it would have been for a guy coming in. I really do genuinely think that. But once you’re in and you’ve done a game or two and you’ve proven yourself, you’re like, “Wow, okay, I can do it.” And then once you get past that, I don’t think it’s as much of an issue now. In the people we’re hiring now, gender is never an issue. I’ve even been on projects where they want to have more women on to balance it out, like if it’s in the casual game section, which Ubisoft is really pushing with the “Games for Everyone.” So there’s really a push to try to get more women on the teams.
So I think that that’s something, again, that had to do more with the youth of the industry and the fact that it was a little more immature, and you had immature people hiring you and immature people running things at times. You did sort of feel like, “Come on… take me seriously for once.” [Laughs] But once you prove yourself, again, it’s just that notion that you always to kind of do that one little extra step. But I really find that the industry’s grown up a lot in the past five years.
Multiplayer: What kind of extra steps did you have to take to prove you were capable?
Tory: I had to show that I was technical. I mean, again, this may just be me personally, but I had to show that I could just do everything. I could problem-solve, I could fix things. It’s almost as if, because there are so few women, I didn’t want to let the women down. If there are very few women, you’re almost like the person who is forging the path, right? If you do a good job they’re going to be more likely to say, “This is great, we need more women.” So I think there’s this pressure — it’s maybe a bit self-imposed — where you really feel like you want to show them that you’re not bad at this. And it’s really, really important not to screw up. So I really felt an incredible pressure to try and — that’s maybe the proving myself that I’m talking about. Just to let them know that I can do this, I am this good, I can really make this happen, and you’re not going to be disappointed. So that was really a big, big push in my first years in the industry, just to make sure that they understood that I’m really good at this and I’m not going to let you down. Whereas I don’t know if a guy would put that pressure on himself — whereas as a woman, you’re pretty conscious of it.
Multiplayer: Would you say that there external pressures as well as internal pressures that made you feel that way?
Tory: I don’t know if it was so much external. I think it was maybe my experience in the industry, and just that I’d only been in there for a few years. And in the back of your mind you’re always saying, “Oh, there must be people that are more qualified than me to do this.” I think it’s the fact that we’re also a very young industry, so we sort of assume, “I’ve only got three years of experience, I couldn’t possibly be qualified to do this.” But at the end of the day, you actually know it better than a lot of other people. So I don’t think it’s necessarily external pressure, just external experience and seeing people maybe not do a great job, or seeing people have trouble and thinking, “Oh, I might have the same problem.” And just not being confident enough to know you can do it.
Multiplayer: You may have doubted yourself, but do you feel that people in general have different expectations of you because you’re a woman?
Tory: It’s funny, I think initially when I started in the industry, that was probably the case. People were generally surprised if I could technically problem-solve. But now, yeah, I really don’t find that. I find it’s just — people are known as being good at X, Y or Z and that just precedes you, and it’s not an issue anymore. I think initially I did feel like, “Okay, I really have to do this to prove myself.” But once you’ve been somewhere for a while, everyone knows what you can do. So it’s kind of nice. You just know you can do it, people know you can do it. And every new project, for sure, every time you start a new project, everyone has to prove themselves again on some level. Because you’re usually with a different producer, you’re with a different team, everything switches up. So that’s good, it keeps you on your toes. So that’s not necessarily unique to women in the industry. Every time you start a new project you have to push a little harder and be like, “Here I go again.” So I’ve kind of gotten over that whole lack of confidence.
I think there have been enough women in the industry now that there really isn’t any pressure as a woman to prove yourself anymore. I think there has been so many great people out there doing things that right now, I think it’s completely open-ended. Anyone who comes in, you just want to know that they’re good. Their gender is irrelevant. I don’t think there are those expectations anymore. The trail has been blazed; it’s established. There just aren’t that many women in the industry, but everybody knows that they’re just as capable and that’s not an issue. Everybody’s had experiences with good people so they know we’re all capable of doing it. I don’t think it’s as much of an issue now as it was. I think it’s just a fact that the industry has been getting more mature and older and more women have established themselves in this industry and done a really good job so I don’t think it’s as much of a problem now so much as it was initially, when it was really a boys’ club and it was really, really limited to guys. I’m really happy with the progress that’s been made.
Multiplayer: Speaking of the boys’ club, did you ever feel that you were treated differently in the workplace because you’re a woman?
Tory: Actually, there was one story that was so bizarre. At some point, there was a woman who came in for an interview, and she was an attractive woman, apparently. We had these windows in our meeting room that were high up. And the guys, at some point, I so clearly remember this, they actually got up on their desks to look in on the woman in her interview. And they were making comments. Like, that was the kind of working environment that I was in. It wasn’t all the time, but it was ridiculous!
Multiplayer: And where was this?
Tory: [Laughs] This was at Microids when that happened. That was one instance. I specifically remember it, and I was so disappointed. That just gives you an idea of the age of the people I was working with.
Multiplayer: Do you think you were just so chummy with these guys, and they felt so comfortable that they could do these things in front of you?
Tory: Yeah, maybe I was just one of the guys. I think they slot you into a camp. You’re either… again, these are initial things when you start off in the industry. Some of the ways that I tried to make myself part of the gang was like playing video games at lunch. That’s a great way to break down that barrier and be like, “I’m just one of the guys here, I’m just playing with you, I do everything that you guys do.” So I think you just have to push a little harder to make sure that they get you’re somebody who understands gaming, who likes to play, just to sort of break down that stereotype.
Multiplayer: I have been in some of the same situations. But it’s like, although I speak “Guy,” I’m still a girl.
Tory: [Laughs] That’s a good way to describe it. You know how it works…
Multiplayer: I mean, I definitely have a sense of humor, but sometimes I don’t want to hear some of these things…
Tory: I know, I know. And that’s the stuff. If they get too comfortable, then you hear conversations like that. And you think, aren’t we really beyond this? But I think that’s so much better at a big company. I think there’s a lot less of that at a big company.
Multiplayer: There’s probably more diversity at a bigger company. Not to mention a huge HR department.
Tory: Exactly. And I just don’t think it would happen now; the industry’s much older and more mature. So, I do feel the difference between a small company and a big one. Though I had an amazing time. It was such an amazing family, and I totally got along. There are just times where you’re just like, “Uch.” You know? And you can’t get away from it because it’s people on your team…
Multiplayer: I’m sure they didn’t even realize it.
Tory: No, they were just being themselves. Literally, the fact that they were doing it in front of me shows that I was just one of the boys. “Hey, check out the chick in the meeting room.” Like, what? What are you doing? We’re working here. But yeah, I’m glad that things are so much better now. If anything, in terms of doing all sorts of things in the gaming industry now, I think there’s a real push to try to get more women out there and to get more women as the spokespeople for games. And for certain things it’s worked in my favor to get more publicity. I got to go on a tour for “Assassin’s.” I think the game industry’s very conscious there aren’t many women, and they’re really trying to push to encourage that. I’m glad there’s been a flip.
Multiplayer: Your job on “Assassin’s Creed” was to manage the animators. How many women were on your team?
Tory: One. [Laughs] Just one out of 14, I think in total. So it wasn’t that bad. I would have loved to have more, but sometimes it’s just coincidence. I think usually there are more women in animation than in, let’s say, programming. But there happened to only be one on this one.
Multiplayer: Was it weird, with you in your management role, telling a group of mostly men what to do?
Tory: Yeah, I didn’t find that to be too much of a problem, because I’d been a lead before at Microids, and it was all guys. So I wasn’t surprised by that. I think it’s just… you’re nervous about your first day on the job and you come in. Yeah at that point, when I started, I was the only woman in the room, so that was a little intimidating. [Laughs] I think that’s just more to do with starting a new job and having a lot of responsibility on the biggest game that Ubisoft is putting out, and having a lot of talented people who are expecting you to do a really good job. So I just kind of threw myself into it and I said, “I can do it. I know I can do it.” And you know what? It was fine. It was actually okay. So it was a little intimidating just because the expectations were so high, but I didn’t find that anyone had made me feel like I couldn’t do it. I really felt like I had a lot of support. I felt really comfortable stepping into the job apart from my own small insecurities about the fact that it was such a big project.
Multiplayer: So you never felt any resentment at all in any of your positions as a woman in a management role overseeing men?
Tory: It’s funny. I’d say I have in the past and when I was in the smaller company, there were certainly incidents. Not necessarily with animators, but with other teams, where you’re trying to defend your team. I’d say that’s where you sometimes get into conflicts. But never with the animators themselves. I find generally they’re really great, very understanding, very accepting, accommodating. I think there’s a really good flow of information that was flowing between animators and their leads and in general, there’s a good relationship there and I did not feel any different as their lead. Sometimes with other departments you’d run into problems, but I think those are maybe problems that would have been there regardless. And that was really just in the beginning of my career.
I think when the industry was younger, when people in general were younger — five, six years ago — a lot of the people I was working with were 23 year-old guys. And I can really, really feel the difference now that everybody’s getting a bit older. We’re all getting better at what we do, and I think people are more mature. So that may just have to do with the maturity of the industry. I don’t feel any tension on that level at all right now. And I didn’t feel it at all on “Assassin’s.”
Multiplayer: To be clear, in those previous conflicts, did you feel any of those were based on your gender?
Tory: It’s hard to tell. Some of them, yeah, I think some maybe guys have issues with women telling them what to do. I think there’s probably some of that involved with it. It was very rare, and it was probably a few people you run into every once in a while who were problematic. But usually those people didn’t last long in the industry because they had attitude problems to start with. As I said it wasn’t usually my employees who had problems. Generally, you’d run into other people in other departments who were difficult. They had problems and they don’t usually last long. I think most companies are usually pretty good at filtering out people who have issues. Fortunately it probably hasn’t been very frequent, and I would say it was sort of isolated in the beginning of my career with certain people who just really shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Multiplayer: Just curious: how many women work at Ubisoft as a whole? Though that might be a PR question…
Tory: I think the percentage is 20% out of 1,500. It would be interesting to see how many of the women are in production because I know a lot of the women are in HR in the building itself, but in terms of production you’ll find there are a lot of women in lead positions at Ubisoft. We have a lot of women producers, like three that I can think of right off the bat. We have a lot of female project managers for animation in particular. That’s when I find it will be interesting at the lead meetings, or when we have a gathering or event, you’ll actually see a lot of women, proportionally. So that’s good, at least. Even if our numbers are small, if we’re more kind of high profile, I think that’s pretty good.
[Note: PR later told me that in 2006/2007 fiscal year ending March 31, women represented 20% of Ubisoft’s worldwide staff. Their report also said that women accounted for 39% of senior management and 41% of business personnel.]
Multiplayer: What would you say that the advantages and disadvantages are of being a woman in the industry?
Tory: Well, the advantages… I don’t know if it’s necessarily advantages, apart from the fact that, as I said, there’s this sort of push to get more women in the industry. Just from my very personal perspective, I think the fact that I was a woman, and I was doing this triple-A game, I think it was good to be able to show me as a spokesperson for the game. I think that helped. I’m articulate too, so I’m not going to say that wasn’t part of it as well. But I think it’s neat to be able to have women go out there and promote a game, especially if we had important roles on the project. So I think [“Assassin’s Creed”] was a neat opportunity for me. I’m sure on some level it would have happened eventually, but I think for this particular project, it certainly helped to get me out there. I got to travel a little bit and meet with a lot of journalists. So, on that level, that’s an advantage. I don’t think there are necessarily lots of other advantages. [Laughs] I think it’s really unique to right now that maybe there’s this push to try and promote us.
Multiplayer: Especially since it’s a growing industry that’s mostly male. It would obviously be some sort of advantage to be remembered.
Tory: Exactly. And this happens in a lot of different industries, for sure. But I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily an advantage to be a woman in the gaming industry right now. I’d say it’s about even. But since there is that push for more women, I think that women have just as much opportunity to get in now as men, and I think that’s great. Disadvantages.. Sort of like the ones I was talking about earlier. The whole notion of trying to get into a boys’ club and being one of the guys, and how do you bond with a group of people when you don’t necessarily want to go out for beers with them every Friday night? It’s not as obvious, in terms of how to fit in with the group. But I think you find ways to make it happen. Like I know on some projects, if there’s guy and there’s a bunch of guys on his team, they’ll go out for beers every Friday night. I’m not necessarily going to be doing that with my team. I’ll go out for sure, but maybe we’ll go out just to do something else or something that would work better for a team of mixed men and women. Like going to see an animated movie if it’s relevant to our animation skills. I think you really have to try to find new ways to bond with your team, which a guy wouldn’t necessarily have a challenge with. Not that I can’t go out for beers with my team, I can certainly do that. Trying to find ways to make it more inclusive for everybody that aren’t sort of in the stereotype. You really have to be creative, I guess.
Right now, I don’t know if there are any main disadvantages. You come onto the team and you’re the only girl, it’s a little less obvious. You just try to become buddies with everybody. But at the same time I don’t think it’s any kind of barrier. You just have to get creative about how you get to know people, like playing video games with them, or trying to organize team activities. At least as a manager, that’s what I try to do, too. We had a pool night. As I said, we only had one other woman on the team so it wasn’t as much of an issue, but it’s important to try to get people to get to know each other quickly and just become friends so that barrier’s gone.
Multiplayer: One disadvantage I can think of is that people can doubt your abilities. When I was interviewing Morgan Webb, she said that guys still come up to her and ask, “Do you really play games?” And in Jade Raymond’s case, people were doubting her work experience…
Tory: There’s a real difference, I find, between what you experience internally, in the company, and what you feel from the outside on the forums, which are ridiculous. The stuff on forums is ridiculous. It’s so misogynistic, and it’s awful. And so I really try to separate myself from that. I find at least internally, the industry itself, when we talk about the actual companies and our working environment, I feel it’s a lot better, and I feel there’s a decent amount of respect going on there. But when you want to step outside, it’s exactly what you’re saying. Experienced producers like Jade, who was a programmer, is a huge gamer, really somebody who knows what she’s talking about. And people say, “Are you just a marketing tool?” And it’s just like, “What are you talking about?” So I think on that level, I don’t know if that’s calling it the industry, or just the demographic who are playing are just not getting it.
Multiplayer: So it seems that you’re saying with gamers — or outside the industry — there’s the negativity, but within the industry, it’s not like that at all?
Tory: Totally. Things have not gotten better outside the industry. For me, the important thing is in my working environment everybody gets taken seriously, and I am not in any way impeded in my progression. So that’s really important to me. On “Assassin’s” I started getting more exposure. You do an interview on GameTrailers, and you start getting comments. I was told to never go look at the comments, because they’re appalling!
But [being in the spotlight] has been an eye-opening experience for me. The forums in general, and basically all the websites that include all of these people who are really condescending and, I don’t know… It leaves a sour taste in your mouth. You just kind of feel like we’re making progress, we’re getting more women out there, the faces of the games are changing, and I think that’s so good. And then any time you put a woman in the position where she’s talking about things, there has to be at least a good chunk of talk about, for Jade, talking about how beautiful she is. Completely irrelevant to what’s going on and her job.
Multiplayer: Why do you think people reacted to Jade that way on the Internet?
Tory: It was really frustrating… The whole fan club thing, I think that’s fun and whatever. To me it’s just when they start criticizing her intelligence or her ability… It’s very frustrating to see that when you’ve worked with somebody for two years, and you know they’re good at what they do and they’re competent. I’ve found that she’s been an amazing role model for me, and to have people sit there and just, without any prior knowledge essentially, and truly because she’s a woman and she’s pretty, to rip into her. And to sort of imply that she couldn’t possibly have any idea what she’s doing. I think that’s a bit immature. It’s the kind of thing you expect from a 12 year-old. And maybe it is 12 year-olds making the posts. It could very well be. And if that’s possible, it’s not something I should worry about, because it’s just a 12 year-old making the posts. But it’s just the kind of thing that is not encouraging and doesn’t necessarily encourage other women to go in when they see that kind of flack. And I don’t know if there are a lot of other industries where a woman would get that kind of flack. If a woman was directing a movie, would there be that kind of feedback? Possibly. There are probably a lot of people who just don’t like women creating. … I’m sure it’s not most of them. I’m sure there’s a good chunk of people out there who are playing games who respect women.
Multiplayer: I feel like with the Internet, there are 100 people who like you and then there’s maybe 10 who don’t, but the 100 people don’t feel the need to comment at all, while the 10 who hate you do…
Tory: Yeah. Like, “You bitch! Why are you talking?” Someone even made fun of my Canadian accent. He said it’s — I shouldn’t even say it. I remember, he said, “Stop saying aboot, bitch.” I’m like, wow. Isn’t that crazy? It’s a forum, right? So it’s completely anonymous. And there’s a lot of stuff. I remember at some point I did an interview, I can’t remember what site it was on, but there was something like, “Who would you rather do, Jade or Elspeth?” And that was really bad. That was there for a few days and then it was gone. But that’s the kind of thing that, obviously as a guy, you’d never have to put up with.
Multiplayer: How did you feel about having something like that posted about you?
Tory: I thought it was just really immature, and it was frustrating. I’m glad it was taken down, but it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t… I want other women to come into the industry, I want them to feel comfortable, I want them to feel like this is a really great environment to work in. And it is. But there’s this whole other side that comes with it, which is once you’re in the public eye, and if you’re working on high-profile games — and that’s more and more the case — it’s tough for people to genuinely believe that — I don’t know — they don’t believe what you do. It’s just the forums. It’s probably a really good idea to just disregard the forums, but I’m sure a lot of people you’ve talked to have experienced it too with journalists or people asking them silly questions. I don’t know. I would just wish that this weren’t the case, because I want more women to feel comfortable coming into the industry, and I don’t know if they’re going to feel comfortable if there’s always this kind of turmoil.
Multiplayer: Do you think that’s partly why there are not as many women in game development?
Tory: I don’t know why there aren’t that many women coming into it right now. I’m just hoping the message is just getting out that we’re here, and we’re involved. And there are so many women gamers too, at all different levels. They’re not all necessarily playing the hardcore games, but they certainly play. I mean, a lot of women play “The Sims” games. I think it’s also a very stable industry, which to me is very appealing. If you ever want to have a family, there’s that stability. It’s a full-time job, as opposed to doing contract work in animation or in other things. So I don’t know why the message isn’t quite getting out yet. I am starting to see more women coming in. Like the project I’m currently working on, which I can’t actually talk about, but it’s a casual game and we have at least 35% women on the project, and that’s fantastic. It’s kind of a neat change. So I’m hoping that that trend is going to continue. But yeah, I don’t know. I’d love to hear the stats on if the numbers are growing or not. I imagine that they are, though.
Multiplayer: Do you think stuff on the Internet, like the Jade comic, would really turn women off from working in the industry?
Tory: I don’t know if it would. It shouldn’t turn people off. If anything, it should turn people into coming to work for us to try and change things, to get more women in here. I think if anyone sees that kind of stuff — I mean, it may turn them away, and I really hope it doesn’t. But I hope that if they see that and they see the ridiculous comments that are being made — it’s typical I think of any industry where it’s new to have women in it. I’m sure that 20 years ago when other women were forging the way in other industries, they were getting that kind of flack, initially. “Oh, what’s she doing? She shouldn’t been running this show!” [Laughs] So I’m sure it’s just the way that things go and it takes time for people to adjust to seeing women in different roles, in particular in this industry which seems so stereotypically male. So I’m just hoping that if they see it, they’ll think, “Okay, I need to get there, we need to change this. We need to get more women in here and just stop this now.”
Multiplayer: Why do you think gamers focus on women in the gaming industry the way they do? Do you think that gamers are just so unfamiliar with seeing attractive women developing games?
Tory: I think some of them probably love it. I think some of them love the articles and love hearing about it. I think there are certain people, probably a small group, who probably are active on the forums, who just don’t like the idea that — I don’t know — that a woman was in charge of their game that they love. I don’t know. There’s just a lot of anger out there, and maybe that’s just teenage angst and they’re directing it towards somebody because she’s up there and she’s very visible. That’s the other thing, too. Since we’re so online, I think it’s easy for people to get access, to make comments, without any consequences, necessarily. As you said, they probably wouldn’t say that kind of stuff in-person. So it may just be the nature of our industry that we’re very online.
Multiplayer: And women are so new to the industry. And if you’re very attractive, people want to say stuff about it.
Tory: Exactly. And that just may be the Internet, right? You put up a video on YouTube, you get tons of comments. You get people saying idiotic stuff. I mean, it sucks. That’s just one of the unfortunate things about certain parts of the Internet is that you get this ability to completely release all your criticism without any consequences necessarily, and without even really thinking about it. I don’t know, is that person actually, really a misogynist? I don’t know. I mean it feels like it when you read some of the comments. It’s really surprising and you’re just saying, “Wow, it’s really unfortunate that someone would say that kind of stuff.” I think right now in the game industry, there’s a real push to try to promote the women who are involved and to try and figure out what is — kind of like your articles. What is going on for women? Right now there is that aspect of promoting certain people in a very particular way. I’m hoping that we get over that. If we do it will mean that things are a little better. It’ll mean it’s more normal to have a woman running the show.
Multiplayer: When you go on interviews, like going on tour for “Assassin’s,” do you feel self-conscious about what you’re wearing? Do you feel like you have to put more thought into what you wear?
Tory: I kind of do, and I definitely think that that’s something that women will be more conscious of because of that publicity factor, where you know that people are going to focus on your appearance. A lot more than with a guy. They wouldn’t care. They’d be like, “Oh, nice hat.”
Multiplayer: Men could just wear a T-shirt and pants.
Tory: It totally doesn’t matter. But women, for sure, I’ll admit to that. Being more paranoid about what I was wearing. It would be like, “Okay, I can’t wear that, I have to make sure I wear this,” and try not to give off the wrong impression. You have to be neutral.
Multiplayer: I feel like guys would never really have to think about that.
Tory: I don’t think that they do. I think that is a huge difference.
Multiplayer: So do you think, “Oh, I can’t wear that, it’s a little too low-cut”?
Tory: Yeah, or do you put on makeup, do you not put on makeup? How do you do your hair? And everything you do, the way that you present yourself is going to be scrutinized by everyone watching that. So for sure, I think it’s something we have to think about a lot more than guys do. Because of this negative feedback that comes back. So generally I go more conservative so people wouldn’t say anything about it.
Multiplayer: You almost can’t avoid it, no matter what. I mean, they made fun of your accent, and you can’t change that.
Tory: Yeah, so far no comments on the clothes, thank God. I’ve managed to avoid that.
Multiplayer: So in general, what do you think women in the industry can do to overcome sexism?
Tory: Well, as I said in the industry itself, within work, I think a lot of those barriers have been broken down and we just need to continue to push up the ranks to get into higher positions, to be more visible, and I think that’s already starting and I hope that continues. So internally I’d say that’s the thing. If you’re already in the gaming industry, push to become more visible. Push your skills, become the expert. Be that person that shows everyone that we’re pretty kick-ass and that we need more of us.
Externally, it’s a tough call. Once we start appealing to a broader audience, I think the casual games — for sure big companies are trying to appeal to a wider bracket, so that they can sell more games. And the Wii, I think, has done a lot for that. Once that audience is broader I think that’ll really change the perception, let’s say. Because it’s not just a bunch of 12 year-old guys in their basement, and maybe the comments will be more muted, and maybe there would be articles or journalists or people reviewing this stuff who are going to be more conscious of the audience that’s going to be reading it. So maybe there would be less appeal to writing about how “hot” somebody is, because that just wouldn’t be appropriate in the real world. [Laughs]
Multiplayer: You talk about how women should be become more visible. You’ve obviously become more visible by working on “Assassin’s Creed.” Do you feel like you should be a spokesperson for women developers and gamers?
Tory: Well, I don’t know, a spokesperson so much. You just get that feeling that sometimes when people have stereotypes that if you come along and reinforce it, it just makes things infinitely worse. So let’s say that a lot of guys think, “I don’t know if a woman can do that well.” Let’s say that’s what they thought initially. And then you come along and, [they realize] “Hey, you do it well.” So I think that I really felt that pressure to just make sure that every time, if anyone had a stereotype, that I broke it. And that’s something that I think it was important for me to do, just as a personal quest, to make sure that any other woman who came along, that that stereotype wouldn’t be there. At least the last woman they worked with was good at what they do, and they know that it wasn’t going to be an issue. I didn’t want anyone else to face potentially the same stereotype.
Multiplayer: When disparaging stuff comes out on the Internet, what advice do you have for women dealing with that type of scrutiny?
Tory: Don’t read the forums! [Laughs] Don’t read the forums. That’s what I was told by some people and I stopped doing that, so that’s good. That’s helping. And try and focus on the positive aspect of what you do and the end result. I think it’s tough to know what to do. Do you react against it? Do you sort of say things verbally? Again, I think it’s more about visibility. So if people are having issues, well then we’re just going to go out there and make more games that are kick-ass and more games where there is a woman running it and more games where we’re doing a great job. I think it’s just going to have to eventually erode. It’ll just eventually come to an end, and it’ll be completely normal to have high-profile women on big projects.
Even on “Assassin’s” it is becoming normal. We had a female producer, we had two or three female leads on the project. We had a lot of women on the team, maybe not specifically in animation, but I think that’s already one step forward. In game design, it’s just going to start happening, and it would be great if that happened sooner rather than later. For specific things to do, I think it’s just try and push in the direction we’re going in, which is becoming more visible, and the rest will follow.
Got thoughts on Elspeth Tory’s interview? Let us know! And check back later to see more interviews from women working in games. Next up: Brenda Brathwaite, game designer and author of “Sex in Video Games.”