Women Working In Games: Sega PR’s Tali Fischer On Progress, Sweatpants, And Naked Women At The VGAs

This week, I spoke to different women working in games. Today’s interview is the last of the series.

We’ve heard from journalists Morgan Webb and Jane Pinckard as well as game developers Elspeth Tory and Brenda Brathwaite.

Another sector of gaming that I wanted to delve into was public relations. There are many, many women working in public relations in general, and gaming is no exception. When I was asking around for female game developers, I stumbled upon Tali Fischer, who was willing to answer my questions via e-mail earlier this week.

Currently a public relations manager at Sega of America, the 32 year-old has been working in gaming PR for eight years. She seems to have had a positive experience overall and doesn’t see any sexism within the video games industry:

Fischer: …I feel like there is this constant scrutiny on everyone’s behavior looking for an indication of sexism here. Almost like people outside the industry hope there is more sexism to point a finger at. I don’t feel like there is. I do feel like every industry has its politics and every industry has its personality conflicts and every industry has its extreme example of bad interpersonal behavior. But when it comes to video games, there really is no dramatic story of women prevailing over the big bad men. …

Read on for Fischer’s thoughts on what it’s like to work in gaming PR, how the industry has evolved, and speaking with journalists about Lara Croft’s breasts…

Multiplayer: How did you get started in the industry? Can you give some background on what you’ve done and what you do now?

Fischer: I fell into the industry actually. I finished school and moved back home and started job hunting. I called up a company called Guilletmot in Montreal. I knew the name and that they were involved in video games somehow, but I really didn’t know too much about the industry itself. It was almost like video games chose me, because I got the job and haven’t looked back since. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some great companies and in some amazing studios, and now I get to work with a video game icon — Sonic the Hedgehog.

Multiplayer: Do you think being a woman posed any challenges that you don’t think men would’ve faced along your career? Did you have to work harder to prove yourself because you’re a woman?

Fischer: I think being a woman in general poses challenges in life that men don’t face. But I’ve never felt, in my career, that I was judged unfairly because of my gender. In fact, I would say the video game industry has really embraced having women in it, especially women who actually play games. I think there is a respect there that we wouldn’t get working anywhere else. Nerdiness is supported and nurtured in the video games industry, and I am definitely as nerdy as they get.

Multiplayer: Did you ever feel that people have different expectations of you because you’re a woman?

Fischer: I can’t say that I do. I think people have expectations more based on how long I’ve been working in video games and doing PR but as a woman — no.

Multiplayer: Did you ever feel you were treated differently based on your sex within the industry? By co-workers, journalists, developers or others?

Fischer: Nope — and that is why I love working in this industry. I know it sounds a little cheesy, but it seems like a big happy family. Everyone is pretty down-to-earth and easy to get along with.

Multiplayer: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in the industry?

Fischer: Hmmm — that is a really tough question. I think there are advantages to being in the video games industry but I don’t know how much that changes based on gender. I often think that because this is such a young and progressive industry, we don’t run into as many old-school anti-women working mentalities as maybe some other industries are accused of. I would be lying if I said I didn’t still get that little thrill when people ask me what I do and get really excited when I tell them that I work in video games. It makes me feel like a bit of a celebrity amongst the game fans. I honestly can’t think of anything that makes for a gender-based advantage or disadvantage in this industry. I would like to think that is just because most of the people who do this are great.

Multiplayer: I’ve heard some horror stories about PR: PR women seducing game journalists, game journalists treating PR women with disrespect. Is there any truth to those sort of stories?

Fischer: I can honestly say I have never run into that. I’ve been treated fairly and with respect throughout my career. I’ve worked with some amazing journalists who have become great friends. We have all heard the stories though, and I think those apply to every industry. Every industry has its urban myths about how people get ahead. But when it comes down to it, there isn’t a great scandal in this industry, just a bunch of really passionate people working as hard as they can to get the best work done.

Multiplayer: Have you ever felt that your gender was an advantage to helping you in your job?

Fischer: No, I’ve never felt that way. I’ve always felt that I am fortunate enough to have the right personality to do PR and the passion for video games to be successful in this industry. I see myself as incredibly lucky. When I hear people say that being good at PR is a gender-related thing, I think it fundamentally takes away from someone just being good because they are good. It has nothing to do with anything but talent and skill and a willingness to work as hard as you can to excel.

Multiplayer: Is it easier to relate to female game journalists versus male game journalists? Why or why not?

Fischer: Nope. I find it pretty easy to relate to anyone. We are all culturally in the same boat — we play the same games, watch the same shows, read the same books– which again, isn’t about gender. Generationally, we can all relate to each other.

Multiplayer: Working in gaming PR, have you ever felt any awkwardness when dealing with journalists or developers?

Fischer: I have definitely found myself in situations where I work with someone I admire and have felt awkward in that you-are-my-hero kind of way. But that is about it.

Multiplayer: In gaming PR, do you have to be a gamer? Are most publicists gamers?

Fischer: There are absolutely people in gaming PR who aren’t gamers. Personally, I definitely feel there is an advantage to being a gamer or at least having an appreciation for what video games are. Knowing what a gamer likes means you know what a gamer is looking for in a game — and that helps immensely.

Multiplayer: Do you ever feel self-conscious when playing games in front of or with men?

Fischer: Only when I’m no good at the game — and it doesn’t matter who else is in the room — if I can’t win, I don’t want to play. I’m a bit of a perfectionist that way. Even though I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself when playing “Samba de Amigo” or “Guitar Hero” and maybe a little “DDR.”

Multiplayer: Do you ever put any thought into what you wear when going to events? (I feel that guys have to worry less about their image than women.)

Fischer: Of course I do! But I also worry about what I wear to go to the corner store to get milk (even though the older I get, the more I think sweatpants are acceptable weekend attire).

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

Fischer: The video games industry has definitely evolved. When I look back on when I started, I can safely say that I worked mostly with men — especially on the development side. But it is now eight years later and there are women everywhere. I guess an evolution like that is worth talking about and makes for an interesting story.

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

Fischer: I think gamers have stereotypically been portrayed as these anti-social guys playing alone in their basement. But that stereotype that is so completely off now, gamers are thrilled to know how many other people there are doing it and it is even more interesting to show that it isn’t a guy thing… there are women out there too. It is a social thing.

Multiplayer: Why do you think there aren’t more women gamers?

Fischer: Maybe because so many people grew up believing that stereotype? I look at girls today– and my sister is the perfect example. She is 12 and has Wii and DS and plays PS2 and PC games. She is definitely growing up a gamer. Video games are for everyone now and as these new generations grow up into the target market, we will see a change in who the core gamer is.

Multiplayer: What can women do to cope and overcome sexism in the gaming industry (if you think it exists)?

Fischer: I think people overall need to stop trying to look for it. We all work hard. Male, female, old, young. It has stopped being about anything other than the quality of work you put out.

Multiplayer: What do you think of the way people reacted to Jade Raymond on the internet?

Fischer: Jade Raymond is definitely a beautiful woman and a great speaker. That will always make someone appealing (though I think that works if the spokesperson is male or female). People react to her because she isn’t that stereotype gamer, and they aren’t sure how to take her yet.

Multiplayer: What advice do you have for women in the industry who have to deal with this type of scrutiny? Can women avoid it?

Fischer: Well, being that I’ve never felt those things, I don’t know what advice to offer that would really be helpful. All I can say is that this industry recognizes the people who work hard and have a true passion for what they do so be persistent and work hard and success will follow.

Multiplayer: Do you feel like you should be a spokesperson for female gamers?

Fischer: Sure. I think anyone can be a spokesperson for female gamers. Anyone who can appreciate what games have to offer, the worlds they take you to and adventures they lead you on, can talk about what makes them awesome. And everyone’s thoughts and experiences and passions will be completely different. That is what makes the industry so exciting. Each experience is so individual.

Since this interview was done via e-mail, I had some follow-up questions for Fischer. She wrote me back yesterday:

Multiplayer: Before, when I asked you about women overcoming sexism in gaming, you said: “I think people overall need to stop trying to look for it. We all work hard. Male, female, old, young. It has stopped being about anything other than the quality of work you put out.”

What do you mean by people “trying to look for it”? Do you think people are finding sexism where it doesn’t exist? What do you say to things that are blatantly sexist, such as comments about women’s appearances on these gaming blogs?

Fischer: Well, it is like one of the questions you asked earlier — why are the press so interested in women/sexism in gaming. I don’t know… but I feel like there is this constant scrutiny on everyone’s behavior looking for an indication of sexism here. Almost like people outside the industry hope there is more sexism to point a finger at. I don’t feel like there is. I do feel like every industry has its politics and every industry has its personality conflicts and every industry has its extreme example of bad interpersonal behavior. But when it comes to video games, there really is no dramatic story of women prevailing over the big bad men. There will be no video game version of “North Country“! :)

Multiplayer: To follow-up my question about deciding what to wear to events, is there a standard code for PR women about what they should wear to events? Do you think other women may take it too far sometimes?

Fischer: There is definitely no standard code for women. Just a standard code in general of trying to look professional. In general, do I think as a society we worry about looks too much? Well, that is a whole different debate. But I will happily spearhead the crusade for footie pajamas at the workplace!

Multiplayer: When I asked you about what you thought of the way people reacted to Jade Raymond on the internet, you said, “People react to her because she isn’t that stereotype gamer and they aren’t sure how to take her yet.”

But why do you think gamers aren’t sure how to react to her? Earlier you mentioned that you think gamers are thrilled to have women making games, but that didn’t seem to be the case for Jade looking at a lot of the comments made about her.

Fischer: To be honest, I haven’t really been following all the comments made about Jade. I just hear rumors that people have been critical. I think there are always people who are intimidated by people who are good-looking or successful and maybe that is where negative comments come from. Honestly, I don’t know. It seems there is always someone who wants to rock the boat and criticize though, even when there is nothing to criticize someone for.

I do think that, for the most part, people are thrilled to have gamers of all ages, genders, backgrounds, likes, dislikes out there because it forces the market to make all kinds of games to reach out to different kinds of gamers. The more varied the market, the more varied the games. Who wouldn’t be excited about there being more choice out there?

Multiplayer: You were at Eidos before you came to Sega. Was it ever awkward talking about Lara Croft or seeing how guys reacted to her? Did you feel like you had to emphasize how sexualized she is? Or to be blunt, did you even find yourself talking to reporters about Lara’s breasts ever? How’d that go?

Fischer: Well, I would be lying if I said the topic didn’t come up. But it was always said with a sense of humor. It was never a dirty-old-man-staring kind of icky situation. I do kind of find it interesting how a cyber-vixen like Lara can have such huge admirers in the real world. I think it is a real tribute to how far the graphics in the industry have some.

Multiplayer: Did you watch the Video Game Awards over the past weekend? They showed nude women being painted on with various video game themes. How do you feel about women being shown like this to promote video games?

Fischer: When it comes down to it — beauty sells. No matter what industry. Putting a good looking guy out front (like Abercrombie) appeals, having beautiful women starring in television shows appeals, and so does a great figure in body paint. The day we start looking at something like this and saying it is a bad thing and is sexist is the day we need to re-evaluate pop culture as a whole. Look at any magazine cover for beauty or health or men’s magazines — it is just as provocative. When it comes down to it, we all like eye candy. That isn’t video game-specific — it is a cultural thing. I’d be happy if they painted George Clooney and threw him up there!

This interview is the last in our week-long series of “Women Working in Games.” Got thoughts on Tali Fischer’s interview or any of the other interviews? Let us know!