Interview with Phoenix Perry: Tackling Sexism in Games Head-on at GDC
Phoenix Perry, game developer and founder of the Code Liberation Foundation, chatted for a while with Blackman ‘N Robin’s Jourdan Cameron on sexism in the game industry, facing down the old guard at GDC, and how she plans to change the face of the industry for the better. It was during GDC that she encountered some rather serious resistance to her goal of helping women in the game industry. Still, she wouldn’t let it stop her.
Jourdan Cameron: Ms. Perry, it’s a pleasure to be talking with you! I’d like to ask you, what’s your role within the game industry?
Phoenix Perry: I have several hats:
1. I own a game company called Dozen Eyes with Ben Johnson.
2. I am an adjunct at NYU in CS, Game Dev and Visual Design.
JC: Those are some nifty hats, Ms. Perry. So, how did you get involved in the game industry?
PP: Back in 2004 I had the idea to make a game about empathy, and I switched from making films to games and have been doing similar things since.
JC: Very nice, can you tell us about the game?
PP: Honey is an interactive game exploring issues of sustainability, survival, and environment. This powerful game demonstrates even the smallest creatures’ vital importance to their ecosystem as they struggle to survive in a unique, fantasy world. Focusing on keeping an ecology alive, the gamer’s job appears deceptively simple. Playing all the bees, they collect honey and maintain the beehive population. Meanwhile an evil force, the Heart Eater, sucks the life out of the land.
The player can choose to help rid the world of the monster or selfishly let other animals die and just collect pollen. The choice to battle the Heart Eater ultimately ends in total self sacrifice for the greater good and survival of future hives. Honey calls attention the role we all have in creating our world, and the responsibilities that life carries. Also installed are acrylic sculptures and life sized prints from this mythical world.
JC: Whoa. That sounds amazing!
PP: I want to remake it using the tech now- it was a super early vector art game for PC.
JC: I take it you have an appreciation for things with an ecological background? Might I ask, are you at all familiar with the works of Hayao Miyazaki? This almost sounds like a game he’d make. If, of course, he made games. [NOTE: Studio Ghibli did release a game some while back.]
PP: I love him! My friends have given me his toys before because we are so in alignment. He’s the bees knees.
JC: What’s your favorite Miyazaki film? I’m partial to Nausicaä myself.
PP: Totoro, because I love the cat that carries the little mice like critters. I gave a toy of it to a little girl in my building. I adore seeing the little ones!
JC: So, you also mentioned the Code Liberation Foundation- can you tell us more about that?
PP: At the CLF, I working with young women to run an organization to teach women to program games for free. This year these young women have by and large had the doors thrown open for them; they are a delightful pack. From Indiecade, to Games for Change to Nylon Magazine, the NYTimes, Rock Paper Shotgun- the list just goes on. They taught 500 women to code in 147 hours of classes in 2013. It was remarkable dedication, and on top, of that they all publish outstanding games.
Nina’s [Nina Freeman] Ladylike is here at the IGF as an honorable mention. Jane’s [Jane Friedhoff] work with Romero was all over- even Kotaku wrote about it. Yet at the GDC, all of our talks were rejected, our workshop was rejected, and we’ve had no one from any of the old guard include us in any of the women in games events. It’s laughable, and last night was my final straw. We ran a workshop regardless- we came to a city we didn’t know and threw a 3 hour long Unity workshop sponsored by Women Who Code and Nike.
JC: Was there any indication as to why your workshops were rejected? It seems like there’s a nasty amount of internal politics involved.
PP: They said there wasn’t enough interest for a coding workshop for women at the GDC, which is just hilarious.
JC: Hilarious in the sad sort of way.
PP: I promise you, if we’d have run it, you’d have had a hard time fitting people in the room. We sell out every class we hold- the demand is huge. This is more about an industry change, and it’s also about being welcoming to new things and new approaches and to new people. The GDC feels really like it’s an old guard and I really do appreciate their efforts to include women, however, it’s not enough. An all male line up at the IGS for main talks?
Invite-only women in games events? Unacceptable, especially for women who are here, who are speaking or showing and still not included. I mean Jesus Christ, how much more do we need to do before you’d include us?
This is a problem because I’ve watched it really, really discourage my young women. There’s just no need for this.
JC: That is absolutely absurd.
PP: My problem with this is that it’s my own community. I watched tweets roll by about this lunch, as did Jane- it was depressing. Meanwhile Time magazine wrote in the middle to feature us for being women in games, changing the field. Now that the women who are already in it change their attitude and welcome the younger women versus, say, “well it was hard for me, so tough,” there’s just no need for that. The women own it to each other to be inclusive- it’s already so hard to be here. We need to pull each other up and be accountable for it. This isn’t just about men- it’s about us and the kind of community we want to form. I want one where we are kind to each other and support each other. Call me crazy, but I believe we can do it because if it’s like this for white women, imagine for minorities. it’s just wrong on every level. You can’t hear @aNuchallenger called “An angry black man” in his talk from the crowd and not do something.
We have to stop this crap on every level. That’s what I want. Inclusion, acceptance, compassion, and empathy. End of story.
JC: That is a big goal, and a beautiful one.
PP: Thanks! On that note I have to run for GDC antics today.
JC: Well, it was wonderful talking to you Ms. Perry!