Gaming panel speaker rates Australasia ahead of US for industry culture

Lifetime gamer and gaming community manager Tara Brannigan believes industry culture in Australasia is galaxies apart from that in the United States, where she began her career.

“When attending gaming conferences in the States I would often get asked by other participants, ‘who are you here with?’, and they didn’t mean which company but whose girlfriend or wife you were. It might seem a small thing, but that automatic assumption that you do not belong can get really tiring.”

“In contrast, when attending GCAP and PAX Australia this year, the first question I was typically asked was which company I worked for. The automatic assumption was that I belonged, because why wouldn’t I? It was a really welcome change.”

Ms Brannigan will join Stephan Schütze, Theo Baynton, Lara Dubuk and facilitator Alan Bell, on the gaming panel Death & the Maiden, which considers the use of women, death and violence in gaming narratives. The panel is part of the AnimfxNZ 2014 digital entertainment event which kicks off at the Paramount Theatre in Wellington this Friday.

Ms Brannigan’s career has also included time at Xbox and PopCap Games. She worked on the record-breaking 1 vs 100 for Xbox LIVE and on international hits like Zuma Blitz and Hidden Agenda.

“Moving to work in Wellington was a really pleasant experience. I never felt that initial challenge to prove myself as a ‘real’ gamer or part of the industry, but was instead accepted as someone who (probably) knew what she was doing.” 

She says she appreciates women in senior positions speaking at international conferences can be a huge boost to other women in the gaming industry. “That’s part of why I push myself to do more speaking engagements, so that you can see it is totally possible. Providing more examples of women working in a diverse set of roles and responsibilities in the industry can be a great way to help encourage more girls to pursue those roles themselves someday.”

Ms Brannigan grew up in Michigan and Seattle. She decided not to pursue a college degree and instead briefly studied 3D animation at a local community college. “I didn’t want a $50,000 dollar per year debt when I wasn’t yet certain what I wanted to do.”

She says she has always been a gamer. “I never really thought of it as anything unusual until other kids started to make a big deal out of it. It wasn’t until I was maybe 10 or 11 that it even occurred to me as something ‘odd’ or otherwise atypical.”

Undeterred, she continued gaming for fun and worked as a consultant in web design. Although she enjoyed the customer consultation part of the job, working in gaming still appealed to her. She became a game tester and eventually moved to Microsoft as a QA engineer.

Ms Brannigan is a passionate advocate for the growing role of player engagement in development.

“Building communications with the customer and fostering real relationships is vital for long term success. If you have to spend eight hours talking with one real person sometimes that’s fine, as the purpose is to build relationships and trust. And as with any relationship, that can take time.”

She believes that changing the way women and death are treated in the gaming narrative will come in large part from the community, through consumer feedback or through smaller teams and individuals choosing to tell their stories through the medium of games.

Ms Brannigan says tools for creating games are becoming easier to use and more accessible, so games with one or a very small number of makers are emerging. These widen the opportunity to tell new stories and add diversity and successful games can get picked up by corporations. Traditional games won’t lose out to this, but there will be more choice available.