Jessica Price – Everything is Sexist, Now What? [INTERVIEW]

Jessica Price is a Project Manager at Paizo Publishing, the makers of Pathfinder. I was able to catch up with her via email about what she does and her experiences in the industry.

1.) What do you do as a project manager? And how long have you been with Paizo?

I’ve been with Paizo just over a year. As a project manager, I manage the production schedule, facilitate meetings and planning, and make sure that we’re working as efficiently as possible. I try to ensure that what we’re asking of members of the production team is realistic, and that once we’ve agreed that it’s realistic, we get it done on time. I also try to help the management team understand what we can get done with the time and resources we have and what trade-offs they might have to make to do new things.

Making sure we get things done on time sometimes means playing schedule Tetris. Sometimes it means helping developers set milestones or find other ways to focus and break down their work into manageable pieces. Sometimes it means making sure people communicate, or have the right software, or have someone else getting roadblocks out of their way so they can work. Sometimes it means helping out with things like editing. Sometimes it just means listening while someone talks himself through what he needs to do and how he’s going to get it done. And sometimes it means making sure that people have eaten lunch, or that they get coffee if they need it.

2.) What do you love about working in the gaming industry?

I work on entertainment that’s designed to bring people together, to put them in touch with their own creativity, and to help them be more playful (and playfulness is so easy to lose as an adult, and so important to making it through the day happy and sane). I get to do it with some of the brightest, funniest, most creative people in the world. And I get paid to do it.

3.) I know from other interviews that you have been harassed or disrespected for being a woman in our industry. Is there one particular instance that really stands out to you? If so, why?

Well, to be clear, I’m relatively new to the tabletop industry. I came from video games, and the experiences I’ve talked about were from that space, not tabletop games. My experience working on tabletop games has been much better. If we’re talking about video games, the worst thing I experienced personally was being harassed by a guy, and[remove and] telling him he needed to stop, and watching him clench his fists and take a step toward me. Then he noticed there was someone else nearby and stopped, but I don’t know, honestly, if he would have hit me if that person hadn’t been there. When I told my manager about it, he sort of shrugged and told me to let him know if anything changed.

The worst thing I witnessed was a discussion about intentionally making an ad for a shooter off-putting to women by implying that a female character was being raped. They wanted the audience to know it wasn’t a “girly game.” I knew one of the women on the team was a rape survivor, but I didn’t feel like I could say anything without being labeled as The Radical Feminist. It wasn’t just disheartening as a human being, it was disheartening as someone who loves games. I’d like to believe the best way to appeal to men is just to make an amazing game.

In contrast, the worst thing I’ve experienced in the tabletop industry is probably just random guys at cons calling me “baby,” or insisting on speaking to someone who “actually plays Pathfinder.” And I have to stifle the urge to shout “Dude, I’m in three Pathfinder campaigns right now, one of which I’m GMing!” If I tell them that, some of them still act like they don’t believe me.

I think part of the reason the experience I’ve had is so much better in tabletop games is that Paizo’s simply a great company. We have a female CEO, and she and the other members of the management team have managed to build a company that has all the energy and camaraderie of a startup, and then keep that energy and sense of everyone being on the same side going for a decade somehow. They’ve hired an amazing group of people who want to do right by their coworkers, their customers, and their game; and who are thoughtful and effective allies both for their colleagues, and for players who are members of groups that tend to be marginalized in gaming and geekdom. It’s not about being politically correct — it’s about wanting to share games with as many people as possible, and wanting everyone to feel welcome.

Also, the tabletop industry doesn’t seem to have the sort of reactionary, militant masculinity that you see in a lot of video game culture. While there are definitely examples of sexism, and even outright misogyny, the majority of what you see in the tabletop space is just leftover baggage from the early days of RPGing (cheesecake art, female characters as adjuncts to male heroes), and some assumptions that get made because women are a minority. When someone points it out, it tends to get fixed rather than defended.

4.) You just did a panel at PAX called “Everything is sexist, now what?” (Panel here, summary here) What can people do to overcome the fact that everything is sexist?

In short, there’s three categories of things I think people working in the industry and, to a lesser extent, players can do to make things better. And I think all of this goes for inclusiveness in general, not just of women

1. Work on being more aware of the issues, and of other perspectives.

Some of this is just learning to see what’s happening around you (if it’s not something that personally affects you, chances are you don’t notice it happening right in front of you unless you start trying to see it). Some of this is reading stuff by people who are different from you, listening to friends or colleagues who have different backgrounds and experiences, and so on. And a lot of this involves questioning yourself, your assumptions, your reactions, etc. It’s not wrong to like problematic things, but it is wrong that to insist that because you like them, they’re not problematic.

2. If you’re a content creator, work on broadening your perspective and trying to represent characters and perspectives that are different from yours.

This is so important — both just to tell better stories, and because of the way that stories shape how we think. There’s a reason that fascist governments try so hard to get rid of writers and artists that they can’t turn into propagandists: telling stories is *powerful.* Empathy is powerful — the ability to understand how other people think and how they experience life is practically a superpower when it comes to everything from getting political support or marketing something or pitching an idea effectively to having good relationships and knowing who to trust. When we talk about empathy, what we’re actually talking about is emotional imagination: the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how they’re feeling.

And that’s the fuel that drives most stories. Telling a story is basically asking people to let us guide them in imagining, and to be invested, they have to be able to understand and imagine what people in the story are experiencing. Storytelling is, at its root, an experience of shared empathy, and a fundamental part of human experience. Our brains turn things into narratives automatically, even events or sensory experiences that aren’t actually connected, otherwise we have trouble processing them. Stories allow us to understand what it is to be human, what acceptable behavior is, and what we should be striving for.

Maybe it’s overly idealistic of me, but I think that being a professional storyteller entails some responsibility. If we can evoke empathy from our audience for animals and aliens and monsters and fey, show them as thinking and feeling beings, give them opportunities to be heroes and ask our audience to see themselves in them, and then when it comes to human beings we only do that for people who are just like us and our audience, then I think we’re failing. And if there are people out there hearing our stories and playing our games, and they feel like our world doesn’t see them as beings capable of being heroes because we are willing to imagine our way into the heads of angels and robots and dragons but not gay guys or female leaders or black people, we’re wasting the power inherent in asking people to come imagine with us.

It can be scary — what if I get it wrong? What if the result seems stupid? What if I end up creating something that offends people instead of welcomes them? — but courage isn’t about what you do when you’re not afraid. And I believe we have a responsibility to try our best to get outside [of] our own experiences and try to invite people not like us in.

3. Work on making games/geekdom better.

Speak up when someone’s being harassed or excluded. Demand stories with a wider range of main characters. Resist being a gatekeeper and do what you can to welcome in people who aren’t like you.

The defining hallmark of geekiness, to me, has always been passion. “Geeking out” over something is being excited and passionate about it. Fandom is about loving something. And when you love something, I’d think you would want as many people as possible to love it too, that you’d be excited about sharing why you care so deeply about it. And a space where people have the freedom to be who they are without having to conform to some narrow definition of what constitutes being a proper geek, where we’re brought together by our passion for the entertainment we love without regard for gender or race or orientation (or for whether someone’s living up to some arbitrary standard of proper masculinity), seems like a world that’s better for everyone.

5.) What do you hate or wish you could change in the nerd community or gaming industry?

I think I’ve touched on it above, but in case it wasn’t explicit enough: I hate gatekeeping. I hate the idea that newcomers should have to prove some sort of level of knowledge or dedication before being welcomed to participate.

If you’re unfamiliar with something I love, GREAT. I get to share it with you. I get to experience the joy of discovering it for the first time again through you. I get to be a teacher. I get to be a native showing a visitor around a city I love. And there’s a chance you’ll love my city so much [that] you’ll decide to move there, and we can be neighbors, and maybe someday you’ll show me a part of it I didn’t know about, or build a new part of it for me to love. It’s hard to imagine anything better than that.

Every time I watch someone in games or fandom drive someone away because that person is a newbie, or didn’t sufficiently prove their fan cred, I watch an opportunity for that sort of joy and wonder and sharing die an untimely death.

6.) Are there any games that stick out to you that have great representations of women and other minorities?

Pathfinder, which is a big reason I took this job. 🙂 There are an increasing number of board games with a healthy selection of female characters. I was pleasantly surprised with the number of female characters, and the variety of roles they were shown in, in Arkham Horror, for example. [that were shown in Arkham Horror, for example.]

Bioware games are great about providing strong characters of different genders and orientations (<3 you, Commander Shepherd!). I love Portal and Portal 2 for subverting the very idea of what a first-person shooter is, and I love them even more for having a female main character and not making a big deal out of it. Chell is just there and she’s awesome and now let’s play with physics. Bethesda also does a good job of showing worlds without rigid gender roles.

7.) I Google images of Pathfinder art, and most of the images I saw of women had awesome drawings with realistic armor. It’s definitely a departure from DnD drawings of women. Does the company make an effort to make sure that women are not objectified in the art and style of their games?

The company makes an effort to provide diversity. We try to provide people with more variety, more options, not less. I think everyone here gets that it’s not a zero – sum game. You can have female characters who are wearing clothing that actually makes sense for what they’re supposed to be doing, *and* you can have female characters designed to appeal to the male gaze. You can have male characters that represent male power fantasies, *and* you can have male characters that are designed to be gratifying to people who want to ogle attractive guys. You can have male and female characters who aren’t traditionally attractive, and still show them being heroic. Just like the real world, our campaign setting, Golarion, has people for whom their sexuality is a major part of who they are and who like to show it off, and people who just want to slay the dragon, thank you very much, and don’t much care how they look while they’re doing it. We try to give all of them, and everything in between, the spotlight.

There are multiple people who review our text and experiment with switching up characters’ genders, orientations, nationalities, etc. and who review art descriptions and try to make sure that there’s a wide spectrum of character types.

8.) Do you have any advice for young women hoping to pursue a career in tabletop games?

Don’t be afraid to be who you are and to put that into your games. Do right by yourself and your teammates and your game, and let other people worry about the rest. And no matter how busy you get, never stop playing — play the game you’re working on, and play everything else you can get your hands on, from as many genres as possible and with as many different people, with different interests and backgrounds, as you can. It will make every game you work on better. Don’t be afraid to contact the people who make your favorite games. Many of them love talking to fans, and they’re a great source of knowledge and advice.

Thanks so much again Jessica for chatting with us! If you want more from Jessica, check out her Twitter!

One thought on “Jessica Price – Everything is Sexist, Now What? [INTERVIEW]

  1. Pingback: link dead radio: Art overload, GvG, and Changing a Comment culture | Healing the masses

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