The computer engineer Kathleen Marty might have faced some doubters in her career as a woman working in a male-dominated field like video game development.
She hasn't been fazed by them in the least.
"I'm the youngest of seven kids -- I grew up with them telling me I can't do anything," said Marty, who's spent 13 years working on games at Raven Software. "So I never paid attention to that."
The barriers or discouragement women may face when entering into the video game industry was just one of the topics that Marty, along with four other women who occupy prominent spaces in Madison's burgeoning game economy, were tackling at a panel in downtown Madison Thursday night.
It's a salient topic, given that women are still very much a minority in the gaming industry. About 21 percent of people working in the field are women, according to recent surveys from the International Game Developers Association — up from 11 percent a decade ago. The figure drops down into the single digits when looking specifically at programming, design or executive positions.
Jennifer Javornik is the vice president of sales at Filament Games in Madison, and also holds a leadership position with the Madison Games Alliance — a group recently established by the Madison Region Economic Partnership to promote the city as home to a bustling video gaming cluster.
She said that there are other statistics that make her optimistic about the gender breakdown in the industry. Specifically, there are numbers indicating that a solid number of women are graduating with video game-associated media degrees, more so than in fields like information technology and engineering.
"It's not good, but it's better," said Javornik.
Panelists also discussed the diverse demographics of gaming, namely, the idea that gaming is an activity for males. Abigail Rindo, the director of production at Filament, said that she sees the idea that games are for boys is a total construction. She said that there's evidence that the idea of games as a product for boys actually springs from marketing tactics in the early days of the industry.
"So I don't think that games have never not been a girls activity, I think we've just been told it's not a girl activity," she said.
Katrina Tofflemire is a client representative with the company gameFI, a company that turns real-world work into video gaming challenges. She said that based on the analytics, it's clear that women are no less competitive than men, and that women also assume roles that may be considered stereotypically male.
"The majority of our users are females. And we've seen is that they're just as much the explorers or the killers as any of the male players," she said.
The panelists also touched on the fact that there can be challenges that arise from working in a male-dominated arena.
"In terms of practical advice, just know who your HR rep is," said Rindo.
But by and large, gender was by and large not the central topic of the conversation at the event. Panelists also discussed what coders need to know to get a job in game development — it's all about the portfolio — to the state of the video game industry in Madison.
Lisa Frank, a local artist, also talked about her experiences using virtual reality as a canvas for her work. Frank's immersive virtual art at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery garnered much attention regionally when it debuted five years ago.
The Women in Tech Meetup group in Madison organized the event, while the software development company Bendyworks hosted at their headquarters.