Australian women game for career growth overseas

A screenshot from the tower-building puzzle game Tricky Towers.
PHOTO

Rebecca Fernandez was a member of the programming team that made Tricky Towers.

SUPPLIED: ACMI

Siobhan Reddy and Rebecca Fernandez are two Australian women working abroad to take their careers in the video game industry to the next level.

When the global financial crisis hit in the late 2000s, Australia’s resilience was not actually good news for its fledgling video game industry.

The strong Australian dollar meant foreign investment dried up, and several high-profile studios closed their doors.

Some Australian coders, producers and designers living abroad took advantage of the more established industry overseas to build their careers.

“I’ve probably never worked anywhere in the [game] industry where there hasn’t been … a couple of Aussies,” Siobhan Reddy, co-founder of the UK-based video game development studio Media Molecule, says.

An animated character flies into the sky in the video game Tearaway Unfolded.

PHOTO Siobhan Reddy is a co-founder of Media Molecule, the studio behind Tearaway Unfolded.

SUPPLIED: ACMI

Rebecca Fernandez, a video game programmer also based in the UK, studied at the University of Wollongong and ran an independent game studio with friends before looking to further her career elsewhere.

“There are definitely a lot more roles in Europe,” she says.

“A lot more opportunities for career growth or learning.”

Siobhan and Rebecca are featured in the Code Breakers exhibition at the Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne, highlighting the work of women from Australia and New Zealand in the game industry.

Defeating gender stereotypes

Growing up in Wollongong, Rebecca says she didn’t feel that playing video games was a gendered activity.

“No one really saw it as a boys’ thing or a girls’ thing, at least that I noticed,” she says. “Maybe they did and I just didn’t pay any attention.”

A portrait of a woman in front of a grey wall.

PHOTO After getting her start in video game programming in Wollongong, Rebecca is now working in the UK.

SUPPLIED: ACMI

Despite never feeling that being a woman precluded her from a career as a programmer, Rebecca did encounter some sexism from other students at university.

“I remember being in one practical programming class … and some guy there is like, ‘you code like a woman’.

“I’d just sit there and do my work and be finished before [them].

“I was proud that I was good at it.”

In Europe, Rebecca has worked for WeirdBeard in the Netherlands — the studio behind Tricky Towers — and is now working in the UK for TT Games as an engine programmer, working on game mechanics.

“I spent [yesterday] trying to figure out why one piece of grass is shaking in the wind more than it’s supposed to, which sounds really silly, but it breaks the immersion [of the game] if suddenly there’s something acting really strangely.”

Encouraging the next generation of women

For Siobhan, her brothers and sisters were all interested in video games growing up, but it was some time before she considered a career in the industry.

“As my love of technology grew, I … had this realisation that [games] combined all of these different aspects of culture that I was very interested in — storytelling, emotions and playfulness all in one package,” she says.

She moved to the UK when she was 18 and worked as a producer with established game studios before co-founding Media Molecule. Their first game LittleBigPlanet was a massive hit and their follow-up title, Tearaway, was met with similar critical acclaim.

A portrait of a woman standing in front of a multicoloured backdrop.

PHOTO Australian Siobhan Reddy built her career in the video game industry in the UK.

SUPPLIED: ACMI

Although she doesn’t feel that sexism is unique to the game industry, Siobhan says that Media Molecule have made efforts to have more women on staff.

“We’re up to about 35 per cent [of our staff being women],” she says.

Siobhan believes that increasing the profile of women in the industry will encourage a new generation of game makers.

“[It is] important for people to see me and the women within Media Molecule and see that you can have a career.

“I found that as we’ve [made ourselves more visible], we have more women applying [for jobs with us].”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the percentage of game developers working in Australia who identify as female increased from 8.7 per cent in 2012 to 15 per cent in 2016.

Siobhan says that encouraging school-aged girls to take an interest in technology will see that figure continue to increase.

“By the time a young girl is in Year 8, she will have probably been put off technology by parents, teachers or peers,” she says.

“That’s something that we have to change.”

Four men and a woman with their arms around each other smile at the camera on a sunny day.

PHOTO Media Molecule co-founders (L-R) Kareem Ettouney, Alex Evans, Mark Healey, Siobhan Reddy and Dave Smith.

SUPPLIED: MEDIA MOLECULE

Growing opportunities in Australia

Although Siobhan and Rebecca took advantage of opportunities in Europe to build their careers, they both agree that the Australian game industry is starting to make waves internationally.

YOUTUBE:Armello – Launch Trailer

Siobhan cites titles like Monument Valley and Armello as examples of the creative games coming out of Australia, and collaborative workspaces like The Arcade in Melbourne as fostering independent development.

Other Australian women are working to increase their presence in the industry through organisations like Girl Geek Academy and WiDGET (Women in Development, Games and Everything Tech).

“Now is an amazing time for games in Australia,” Siobhan says. “There’s a lot of really brilliant things happening.”

“I’d love to go home at some stage and make some games — that would be really great.”