Posted on June 10 2015
This Week's Wednesday Woman is the inspirational and award-winning Siobhan Reddy, Studio Director at Media Molecule, a video gaming development studio in the UK. Siobhan won Production Award at the first ever Microsoft Women in Gaming Awards and, at the same awards last year, won the Innovator Award. She was also named in Fortune's 10 Powerful Women in Gaming 2014. Read her full story here:
Bardega: Can you tell us about your background and how you got into gaming?
Reddy: It was a combination of things – I have always been into stories, art, music, film and general make believe. As a teenager, I spent a lot of my time getting really into Sydney's live music, where there was a great culture of all ages music shows. This led to reading and writing to music fanzine creators and then finally making my own, which was a fun project.
My love of music also led to me getting a casual job at a record label with a collectibles catalogue, which I dutifully & gleefully did the data entry for. My fanzine gave way to making short films, a fork in the road led to working in a web design studio and then another led to England (from Australia), and yet another to games!
My first games job was as the most junior role, Production Assistant at Perfect Entertainment, where I was hired by Luci Black into a company led by a woman, Angela Sutherland. This was my first break, for which I will always be really grateful.
I then moved to Criterion Games, where I was hired by Fiona Sperry. I worked for Fiona for seven years and learned the craft of production working on the Burnout series. I joined Media Molecule in 2006, which had just been started by a bunch of my friends. Together, we have made LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway.. so far!
Bardega: How has your role evolved since you joined Media Molecule in 2006?
Reddy: I am part of a great Director team, and all of our roles have evolved as we have worked together and figured out what we want out of Media Molecule.
My parents had a business growing up and so I have always had a natural inclination to see businesses from a holistic perspective but Media Molecule is the first place I have been able to put that into practice. I have had to learn to be a lot more self-sufficient and not always need permission, reassurance, or be in favour. I think these are quite female things; I want to talk about things a lot more than the guys do and I have had to realise that’s not how everyone works. They just want me to make decisions and get on with it. Those changes actually really helped me as my role evolved to Studio Director.
Bardega: The gaming industry is seen as predominantly male. How do you think we get more women into tech / gaming?
Reddy: We have to start young! One of the biggest issues we have in increasing the number of women in the industry is increasing the amount of young people who consider it an option during their school years. It’s a craft and therefore needs practice so starting early is good!
By the age of twelve, many young women will have been put off working in tech by a parent, peer or teacher. This is absurd, and needs to change. I love that we get contacted by proactive ICT teachers out there who want to show their students another way, and a lot of these are from girls schools.
My fave story at the moment is that recently we had a maths class come through and one of girls in the class felt that, as a brilliant mathematician, her path was to become an accountant. I have nothing against accountants at all, but I introduced her to one of our graphics programmers here and he was able to show her some of the complex maths problems he was solving in order to create our gorgeous graphics engine.
Her eyes lit up as she realised that she could apply the thing she loves doing, maths, to something interesting, like games and she could get paid pretty well for that! Maybe that trip won’t have inspired her in any way, but *if it did* then it was because she wasn’t put off, and a teacher took an interest and encouraged her to think about her options.
Our hobbies as young people can form the adults we become, and it’s wonderful to have a job that’s a hobby! I wasn’t a games player, but I was always encouraged to try hard things, and gender was never a reason not to try something. I am lucky that I had the same access to computers and what I could do with them. I didn’t end up designing websites, or making movies, but I have ended up being Studio Director at Media Molecule, and some people think we are pretty cool! I am hopeful that coding people taught at schools will help here, and I love campaigns like Let Toys be Toys as they remind us of the ridiculous bias we are surrounded by. The more I have thought about this, I have felt that whilst unconscious bias is natural, not reflecting on your own as an adult and putting yourself through some self-criticism is not cool.
I also think we need to celebrate the successes, plus also recognise that sexism/lack of equality isn’t a “games industry" problem; it’s a human problem. The right thing is not to avoid your passion because of there are more men in the field. I have always been quite excited by the idea of people changing their worlds from within. I was a teenager in the 90s and I think that was a pretty interesting time for young women, and in fact punk, indie, grunge, Riot grrrl movement, all contributed to my feeling that women were an active part of the creative world. Maybe not 50/50 but definitely active and important.
I know that there were a lot of battles that they were fighting at that time (Riot grrrl), especially in how they were represented in the press, and also handling negative crowds. I am grateful for their leg up - they definitely contributed to me feeling like it was normal to get involved with what I thought was fun and interesting. I guess I feel like I want to build on that especially as I am a voice of someone who has had a positive experience, working for men and women.
Bardega: Great advice and we agree re: celebrating successes. Talking of success, you have won numerous awards - what has been your proudest career moment to date?
Reddy: Hmm, tricky one. I was very proud when we won best studio awards, and also of course when our games win awards. Also, being added onto BBC's Hour List (in 2013 Siobhan was named one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK by BBC's Woman's Hour) actually spearheaded a lot for me too, not least because it gave me a big kick up the bum to be a little more visible so that younger girls could see someone that they might be able to identify with, or at least could provide a positive role model to.
Saying that, all of the above is dwarfed by the moments when we get an email from players who have been touched by what we have made. That makes all the blood, sweat and tears totally worth it!
Bardega: And what/who inspires you?
Reddy: My amazing mum, sisters, aunts, cousins – who all just seem to be wonderful, fulfilled people.
Aside from them, I am very inspired by people like David Simon – I think he is genius at providing us a view into our world that forces us to reflect.
I have been reading the Kim Gordon biography recently and that’s a wonderful read about someone in a man’s world, but who found the joy and humour involved, as well as the difference. But most importantly it’s not the most defining part of her experience. I like to look to people who have found themselves in these situations but have found a way to forge their own path, and not let it get them down. That’s partly luck of the draw of who you end up with but as I always compare games teams with bands; I wouldn’t want to make games with people I didn’t want to go on tour with!
I have found reading her book really useful this year. We are all different in our approach to what we do, and sometimes you just have to keep on trucking and be guided by your own star system.
I was also very inspired as a youngster by Lynda Obst’s observations. Her thoughts on not being afraid to be yourself, sticking up for yourself, taking yourself seriously and not being afraid to be feminine were all really useful because there was a time when I thought maybe that’s not a good idea. It’s kind of mad but her book “Hello, he lied” was a really important touchstone when I was at the start of my career and continues to be one now... I still love that book! Also, just because we are women doesn’t mean we will all get along but we shouldn’t be more competitive with each other than anyone else. That just means we end up in an in-fight, which holds us all back. All wise words! THANK YOU LYNDA!
Games wise I've been very inspired by Amy Henning, and Meggan Scavio - both at the helm of big things, both walking different paths in games, but all walking their own path and therefore creating more for others. I could have actually listed a lot more here but these two popped to mind immediately.
Bardega: What advice, if any, would you give a younger Siobhan?
1) Anxiety/stress make you unhappy and not very nice to be around! Learn to meditate, it helps!
2) Just remember that we are all practising, all of the time. Don’t stay silent waiting for the magical moment you become a verbal/presentation genius, start practising, develop your voice.
3) Sometimes things are intimidating , so do what you need to do to prepare. If this means writing lists, then write them! If this means speaking to yourself in the car, on your walk to work, or listening to a certain song whilst eating a cupcake whatever! do the thing that helps your feel confident in what you need to achieve.
4) Listen to your body – and don’t fall for thinking that bad period pain is just a normal part of being a woman. Question that and get some actual answers.
5) Learn to grow herbs (I’d like to have cultivated an amazing veg patch by now)!