I realize I have been neglecting this column. I've been keeping these kinda interesting topics in the back of my mind. At the same time, I have been busy with the WIGD (Women in Game Development) Virtual Development Team (http://www.girlsingames.com/
). The purpose of the VDT is to help women get experience making a game. We'd still welcome volunteers who want to join the design, art, audio, programming or business teams. Hopefully, the game, a RPG spoof called Henched, can be showcased at a conference next year.
What I want to talk about is Quality of Life issues. I've known for a while that Francois D. Laramee is heading the IGDA Quality of Life Committee. The White Paper on the topic promises to deliver a list of industry practices and their damaging effects on workers' quality of life. It's not even an issue that affects women only. Or just married people with kids. I mean, single guys might want a personal life too.
Just exactly what happens? Well, until the White Paper comes out with stats, there's anecdotal evidence of crunch times that last six months or constant staff turnover. Game companies seem to be looking for the single young male gamer who will devote his life to the company without getting paid highly for it. In fact, the new recruit should feel honored to be working there! Sure, there are women who fit right in, but if they have families, it can be a tough juggling act. If you need to pick up your kid from day care, you don't want to be working late. Plus, there's housework and those long hours can play havoc on a relationship.
It doesn't even help with the programming to be mentally or physically exhausted. Let's not even go into the health issues. Stress is a problem even without crunch time. The game industry can be a risky venture. If the publishing deal falls through, everybody gets laid off. When asked his motivation for suggesting the White Paper, Laramee pointed out that without any changes, the most talented people would leave the game industry because of burnout. And others would seek jobs in more stable industries.
I remember an article that hailed six bright female graduates of computer science from MIT. Ten years later, an author tracked them down and found that some of them weren't even working in computer science anymore. Those women had to make decisions about having a family and having a career. Despite advanced medical technologies, having it all isn't the norm for women.
There can even be a slight singles vs. marrieds animosity at work. Singles while working the long hours may look on resentfully as marrieds take off because they have a family reason to leave work. The singles feel like they are doing much more work than the marrieds.
Of course, there are some great companies out there and I hope the White Paper will illuminate the good practices as well as the bad ones. If you want to add to this discussion and give your opinion to the committee, check out the IGDA forums on Quality of Life or attend the related roundtable sessions at GDC.