New Zealand based developer/publisher, Runaway, is on a mission to bring awareness and gender equality to the gaming industry through the use of the social media campaign, #GirlsBehindTheGames.

Despite only being a few weeks old, the campaign has gained a lot of steam. Many women have used the campaign as an opportunity to finally shed light onto their awesome contributions to the gaming industry.

We had a chance to speak to Caroline and Lisa, two of the minds behind the social media campaign, #GirlsBehindTheGames.

Oliver: So first, Lisa, Caroline could you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Caroline: I work at RunawayPlay as their Games Marketer. In a very general sense I make sure that the company and the amazing games being produced are known about and easily found by players.

Lisa: I’ve been working at Runaway for around 2 and a half years as the Community Manager and just over a year as a game and narrative designer. I did an honors degree in Communication Studies and my thesis was about indigenous storytelling in video games.

Oliver: How did you get started working in games?

Caroline: I joined a club at uni called “CompSci Girls” because there weren’t many girls at all in my classes, and the club offered a supportive place, with games and pizza. The club had a lot of networking events for us where companies and women in the industry could talk to us. Which is where I meet the women from Runaway Play, who regularly talked at the club’s events. They invited the CompSci Girls to the office to meet and chat with everyone, then took us out to lunch. Zoe, Runaway’s managing director, emailed me saying she would love to talk to me about job possibilities at Runaway. From there I kept emailing (probably a bit too much) and ended up getting an internship, then two months into interning and a week before graduating, I was offered a Junior Marketing role.

Lisa: I was nearing the end of my university studies and had no idea what I was going to do. I didn’t even know NZ (New Zealand) had a gaming industry and the prospect of ever working in it was completely absurd to me. But I googled NZ game companies out of curiosity and saw that Runaway was local, they were looking for a Community Manager which seemed to perfectly fit the skills I had gained in my degree. I remember the interview being really surreal, Tim and Zoe asked me questions like “what games are you playing right now?” and “tell us about your thesis on video games?”. It was like talking to friends. This was the first job I applied for and they liked me so much they hired me!

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Oliver: I believe, and please correct me if I’m wrong, one of the focal points of this campaign is to bring awareness and give props to the woman who have been involved in all facets of gaming for a number years. Additionally it is to inspire the future generation of girls to be involved with gaming, while also creating a space where woman can equally represented?

Lisa: That’s a great way of summing it up, yes!

Oliver: When did you first realize there was a need for this campaign? Was there a single moment or incident that took place, where you were like, “okay, we need to start this now?” or was it something you had been thinking about for quite some time?

Lisa: I believe it was when we were all sat in a marketing meeting together for Flutter VR. We got a little (a lot) off topic and were talking about gender diversity in general.

Oliver: When exactly did you launch the campaign and how as the reception been thus far?

Caroline: Runaway launched the campaign the same day that Jacinda Ardern (the Prime Minister of New Zealand) came to visit the studio, January 26th. The reception has been great and bit overwhelming for all of us. All the responses to the campaign have been so positive and really encouraging! We hadn’t expected the twitter campaign to get as much traction as it has. We thought we would have to put out most of the content to try get the visibility of our own studio, with the women in it doing amazing things, being supported and content like that to help show the women that did follow the campaign or came across it that there are women out there and it is a great industry to work in. But it has just exploded which is amazing! There is now a huge visibility of the women in the industry already which there hadn’t been before. You can now openly see the great work women do and the amazing games that women have worked on. There is also a platform for women to gain advice on how to get into gaming from women already in the industry, and specially a platform in which women can help support other women. Where beforehand it was hard to find any sources that gave you advice to get into the field, no real visibility of the amazing work women do within the gaming industry.

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Oliver: When did you guys start playing video games?

Caroline: I started when I was about 6 when my older brother got a Gameboy and the
game Pokemon Gold for his birthday, and whenever he wasn’t using it, I would sneakily play on it, and would do so with most of his games/gaming consoles ever since.

Lisa: I remember playing Aladdin and Sonic the Hedgehog on our Sega. I must’ve been around 4 or 5 years old. My parents are really into technology, they bought my brother and I a Nintendo 64 too as well as a PS2. We had a video camcorder when no one else did and my Dad would let me use that too. We couldn’t afford a computer until I was a lot older but I remember spending a lot of time playing The Sims and Roller Coaster Tycoon at my friends houses too. As a side note, we have people at Runaway who work here who don’t play games at all. Being dedicated to games is cool, but it’s not a prerequisite to enter the industry and shouldn’t discourage anyone.

Oliver: What game/s are you playing right now?

Caroline: On my mobile, right now I am playing “Sky: Light Awaits” produced by thatgamecompany (which is currently on limited release only available within NZ), which is amazing and I highly recommend. On my console I just finished Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which was such a great game, Bethesda really did amazing job! Now I am playing Middle Earth: Shadow of War.

Lisa: I’ve just started Finding Paradise, the sequel to one of my favourite games, To the Moon. Finally started Horizon Zero Dawn too. I’m also playing this great mobile game by Hit Point, the same company who made Neko Atsume, it’s called Tabi Kaeru. It’s about a little traveling frog who you pack snacks and supplies for and are rewarded with photos of them on their travels. It’s helping me learn Japanese, too.

Oliver: The emphasis behind this campaign is obviously girls behind the games, however could you speak to the overall need for diversity in games? I’m a ‘minority’ and I’ve yet to see a good representation of someone who looks like me…all I see are caricatures! And that’s just in the game themselves. There is a lack of representation in every category from actors, to community managers, to engineers, to journalists.

Lisa: I think that’s one of the coolest things from the campaign is we’ve seen additional hashtags addressing and challenging this, like #wocbehindthegames. The conversation is largely about gender imbalance, but we should also be challenging the gender binary too. People have so many ways of expressing their gender identity. Ways of expressing their race, indigeneity, sexuality. I’m Maori, I’m bisexual, I’m x y and z. Diversity in the industry doesn’t start or stop with male and female gender parity. That is just one facet of it. Amplifying and celebrating the voices of minorities anywhere is an incredibly important step towards this.
Oliver: What advice, if any do you have for females trying to break into the industry?

Caroline: My advice would be to take every possible opportunity out there. If you want to go to uni or go back to uni and study Computer Science then absolutely do it, even if you’ve never coded before, there always great tutors willing to teach you. Basically whatever scares you the most, do it. Networking and taking Computer Science scared me so much because i’m really shy & didn’t want to be bad at the paper as well as the only girl there. But I did it anyway and it paid off. It pays off sometimes just to say “F it”.

Lisa: I was privileged enough to go to university to gain university qualifications which helped a lot but was convinced I would have to move to Auckland or Wellington (in the North Island of New Zealand) where it’s more expensive to live, further away from friends and family. I didn’t end up having to! I suppose my best advice would be look locally first, reach out to companies who are close to you. If there are meetups in your area, attend those meetups. Apply for scholarships to attend local and international conferences. Download free software and tutorials if you’re interested in coding. Write stories. Be curious. From what I’ve seen in the hashtag, people in the industry are more than happy to answer any questions you have so I would also say just go ahead and email and ask questions too.

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Oliver: In what ways can people help or contribute to this campaign?

Lisa: Visibility is the most important thing. Sharing your own stories and using the hashtags on Twitter. Helping other women who want to be a part of the games industry.

Caroline: Definitely what Lisa said. If you’re a woman in the industry already, speaking out at conferences/events, helping someone who is just coming into the industry or wants to come in to the industry by mentoring them, even if you are just helping give advice to the new girl at work is all incredibly helpful. Things that will make be a big difference in the industry, isn’t just someone holding a big event to help raise awareness but is also women in the industry supporting and encouraging each other, even if it feels like it’s the small effort – it all adds up!

Oliver: Thank you guys so much! You are wonderful and what you’re doing with this campaign is really something special.

Make sure you follow #girlsbehindthegames and if you are a girl behind the game, let us know your story!

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