GIRL GROUPS The Story Of One All Female Game Studio

At only four years old, independent game developer Giant Spacekat has become a symbol for women in gaming. Founded by Brianna Wu and Amanda Stenquist Warner, the studio is one of the only all female video game development teams in the industry and released their first game, Revolution 60, this year.

Wu, head of development, and Warner, lead animator, didn’t set out to only hire women for their studio. It made sense to bring lead programmer Maria Enderton and game designer Carolyn VanEseltine onto the team after they met and clicked. Being singled out for their all-female staff though is something that occasionally makes the team uncomfortable.

“Sometimes we shy away from mentioning it. We’ve become more comfortable with it but we just want to make a good game and we do think we are probably held to a different level of scrutiny because of the situation,” Warner says.

There’s no doubt women are treated differently when it comes to video games, whether you work in the industry or are just a gamer. Sexism, misogyny, and abuse are unfortunately a common norm if you’re female and somehow connected to video games. One look at the backlash Anita Sarkeesian faced for her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series or the harassment of an industry veteran by a games reporter via Facebook reveals just how poorly women are treated in the gaming community.
Wu has recei ved rape threats and says people are constantly threatening to assault her. She considered herself a feminist of sorts before co-founding Giant Spacekat, but over the years working in development her feelings on the issue have increased 100 times because of the harassment she sees and experiences everyday.

While she may not have asked to be put front and center as part of an all-female game studio leading the way for women in the industry, she now feel s it’s a battle that she must fight and sees it as her “own moral responsibility to speak to,” her experiences.

She doesn’t just face these sexist attitudes from gamers online, she has al so experienced them in person. Wu has attended business meetings where people have bullied her, conducted business where people have been condescending to her, and has had professional s shout down her opinions and tell her to watch her tone. Her experiences show that it’s not only everyday gamers that are aggressi ve to women but sometimes industry professional s as well.

“[It’s] people that are very threatened by the idea of change and women having a voice and really threatened by the idea that games could become something more than a ‘no girls allowed’ thing. That’s the best I figure.”
“I have experienced that it’s people that feel like their opinion supersedes my lived experiences. It’s maddening to deal with…,” Wu says. “[It’s] people that are very threatened by the idea of change and women having a voice and really threatened by the idea that games could become something more than a ‘no girls allowed’ thing. That’s the best I figure.”

Giant Spacekat’s  Revolution 60 may be getting more attention than other studios’ debut games as a result of its team being pulled into a spotlight as leaders for women in gaming; but it’s clear the game will earn plenty of attention on its own merit as well.

Revolution 60 is an interesting mix of Mass Effect dialogue choices with Heavy Rain-type gameplay. You perform actions through interacti ve combinations that require more than just swiping back and forth on the touch screen, keeping you on your toes. The graphics and cinematic sequences on the iPad in Epic’s Unreal Engine are beautiful and reminiscent of an anime style. When it came to the combat Warner says Joss Whedon, a creator known for his strong portrayal s of women, influenced her. According to Warner, the fighting is reminiscent of Buff y and Faith fighting each other in Buff y the Vampire Slayer.

What makes the game stand out even more though is that it features an all-female cast. Gamers follow the main character, an assassin named Holiday, who is working with her special ops team made up of three other woman to regain control of an orbital weapons platform.  With this cast, Giant Spacekat hopes to gi ve gamers interesting female lead characters.

Not only do female gamers and developers often face problems in the industry, but representations of women in games are al so often problematic as characters are labeled the damsel in distress or are scantily clothed and therefore the pleasure of looking at only.

“Generally female characters are these throwaway pieces. They’re there to be pretty for the male gaze and don’t contribute anything,” Warner says. While this may not always be the case, as Warner highlighted how the new Tomb Raider shows Lara Croft coming into her power herself, Warner does believe that the intent of characters is very important. “Our character styles have been described as
Barbie-like or on the sexier-side since they are wearing skin tight uniforms, but any concern goes away when you watch and play the game because I go out of my way to avoid certain shots. You might see [a character’s] butt by the extension of it being at the top of her legs, but the camera’s never fixated on it. It’s all about intent,” she explains.

The character design may have that Barbie look but Wu says she wanted to create women who felt beautiful. It drives her crazy when men behind character design don’t understand how something like hair is important to the style of a female character. “It was critical for me to design that,” Wu admits. “When you see characters so lovingly animated, you can really feel that attention to detail.”
The look of the characters though will be something that changes as the team works on a sequel. Revolution 60 is actually just the first in a trilogy of games. Wu realized after development that all the characters were similar in being tall and skinny. “In making the characters for  Revolution 60 I realized I am reinforcing something that’s a problem in industry, a lack of body type diversity. The sequel has a goal of showing more diversity off the skinny look. I’m learning as I go,” Wu says. “The sequel will have fewer white female characters as well to up the diversity.”

Even though the story evolved through development, Wu says it has remained all about these characters. She feels strongly about creating powerful women. “We wanted to create characters who you can really feel and relate to in a video game and especially on mobile, something that almost completely doesn’t exist whatsoever,” she says. “Infinity Blade is one of best on the tablet but the story is a shallow set of stereotypes and not a real character arc. When we started with Holiday we looked at the character, someone who has a point of view.”

Unlike other representations of women in games, Wu wanted these characters to be full, three-dimensional people with moral centers that would hit against each other. When two characters in the game conflict, the player can understand where they are coming from and what puts them at odds to create the drama since they are fleshed out.

“One of my criticisms of Mass Effect, which in my opinion is one of the best games
ever created, is that Mass Effect 2 kind of started the exact same way depending on what you chose,”

Similar to Bioware’s Mass Effect series, Revolution 60 allows you to make moral choices that will have consequences throughout the game, and give you different
results in the sequel. While Mass Effect had Paragon and Renegade choices, Revolution 60 has Professional and Rogue options.

Wu says gamers will be amazed by how different the sequel will start based on choices made in this first installment.“One of my criticisms of Mass Effect, which in my opinion is one of the best games ever created, is that Mass Effect 2 kind
of started the exact same way depending on what you chose,”

she says. “As a small company we can’t create a whole separate game but we can make you feel like your choices are more impactful so I can tell you right now your choices are going to matter a lot.”

Warner confirms that the size of the team meant they couldn’t branch out as much as they wanted this time around, but the growing pains from this game should mean they can inject more choice in the next one. Wu emphasized that there is a major decision at the end of this game that will leave players speechless. “We really
worked to make you feel for these characters. We wanted it to be a horrible moment of picking between two impossible decisions,” she explains.

It overall looks to be an impressive start for a new studio that has already received a lot of attention. Giant Spacekat appears to be on its way to making a name for itself not just as a company run by intelligent women working in an all too often sexist industry, but as a company of successful game developers pushing the boundaries of mobile gameplay.

"Revolution 60  is currently available to download for free on iPad and iPhone via the iTunes store."

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