International Women's Day and the Incredible Women in Gaming
Celebrating the women who've left lasting impacts in everything from science to gaming.
Each year, International Women’s Day looks to celebrate the cultural, economic, political, and social achievements of women all over the globe. The methods of celebration can be as simple as showing the women in your life (mothers, wives, sisters, friends) how much you appreciate them, or as complex as researching the accomplishments of women in fields such as science and politics.
No matter how you choose to celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s always nice to reflect on the key roles women have played and continue to play. Today, we highlight four different women who’ve left their mark on the world of video games. When it comes to sharing a common bond, Tetris has served as an introduction to gaming for each of these women.
Even though their gaming journey has taken them down very different paths from esports to game conferences, they’ll never forget the ways in which they discovered a passion for gaming. To find out more, we sent over some of our most burning questions in order to learn more about the gaming industry from a variety of different perspectives.
These perspectives include insight from esports star Stephanie Harvey, who’s become well-known for winning several Counter-Strike and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive competitions. She also works as a game designer at Ubisoft Montreal. When asked about how she discovered gaming, Stephanie explained:
“Gaming has always been a part of my life, way before it became my full-time job. I have early memories of gaming as young as 3 years old, at the same time I was also playing with dolls and [blocks].”
“My parents bought me a Game Boy for Christmas with only 1 game and it was Tetris. I would bring the console everywhere and I never got any other game for it. I just tried to beat myself over and over again, for years.”
Photo Credit: ©Stephanie Harvey
We also reached out to Jen McLean, who currently serves as the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). For those unfamiliar, the IGDA is a non-profit, professional association for over 12,000 game developers worldwide. Her response in regards to how she got into gaming is surprisingly similar even though she now works in a completely different area of gaming.
“When I was very young, I received an Atari 2600 for Christmas and I was hooked. One of my proudest childhood memories is taking a picture of my Pitfall score and sending it to Activision for a special certificate,” Jen stated before sharing her memories of playing Tetris on Game Boy.
“I was on the fencing team in college, and on road trips, I would borrow the coach's Game Boy and spend hours playing Tetris as we rode up and down I-95, traveling to meets.”
Another company like Jen’s working to make an impact on the world of gaming is Casual Connect. In gaming, Casual Connect is an annual event where game developers can connect with one another in a fun environment. We were able to get a hold of Yuliya Moshkaryova, Casual Connect’s Production Manager.
According to Yuliya, she spent hours playing Tetris (like Stephanie and Jen) with her sister growing up. However, Casual Connect served as the defining moment when she knew gaming was something she wanted to pursue professionally.
“Casual Connect impressed me so much. Just imagine, you’re a normal person who’s only seen your friends and parents working ‘normal’ jobs and then, bam! You’re at a high-level conference for games industry leaders with thousands of happy people whose work is networking, creating and playing games, posting in social media, creating art, and doing magic with coding. That was definitely the moment when I realized that I want to be one of them and earn money in the world of video games.”
With such diverse backgrounds in gaming, and common denominators like Tetris, we were curious as to how gaming has gone on to impact the lives of these women. For example, pursuing your passion can lead to some important life-defining moments. For Jen, these moments include having the opportunity to work with visionaries including Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds.
“At the time, I was a playtester, and many devs considered us beneath their notice,” Jen explained. “But both Sid and Brian went out of their way to solicit feedback from the playtesters, and to make sure the testers felt like valued included members of the team. They showed me what true leadership really is, and it’s a lesson that has stayed with me throughout my career.”
What’s more, these memorable events aren’t relegated to industry professionals alone. As we previously mentioned, you can celebrate International Women’s Day simply by showing the women in your life how much they mean to you. For Stephanie, her mom serves as a constant source of inspiration.
“Most of the hard-working women really inspire me. I admit I really like to see the good in things and learn from others to become better. People like my mom, someone that I have no idea how she is able to find the energy to do everything she does in a day, always pushes me to do better and be better.”
If you’re looking to pursue gaming like Stephanie, Jen, and Yuliya, each has a piece of useful advice for you based on their own personal experiences.
“I would say stay true to yourself and work on what makes you happy. It can seem like a very generic sentence but think about it this way: it will be hard no matter what you do, no matter who you are, so why not work in something you are passionate about,” Stephanie stated. “By doing so, you will inspire others to follow your path, and who knows, you might be the one doing this interview in a year or two!”
Jen chimed in with: “Be true to yourself. You can't fake passion, and it's far better to be authentic, and to love what you do, even if it may not seem like the 'right' choice, than to do something that doesn't feel like the right fit or best choice for you."
Meanwhile, Yuliya reiterated the importance of doing what you love, noting: “It’s simple and obvious advice, but it’s true. If you can call your job your lifestyle, that’s how you succeed.”
During our search for women in gaming, we also connected with Ksenia Klyuenkova who—like Stephanie–is known for her prowess at games like CS: GO. When we asked Ksenia about her experiences in gaming, she replied: “My love for games started when I was a kid. Back then, we didn’t have computers, and we were lucky if we had a chance to play console games. My favorites were gamepad Tetris and console Dendy. Since then, I’ve played different games, but never forgot what I started with.”
“Around 15 years ago I started playing Counter-Strike and now, thanks to RES gaming, I’m doing it professionally. Sometimes I think that our life is one big game. Decisions that we make always have consequences, good or bad, and like in games, we learn from our mistakes and become stronger and wiser.”
Ksenia makes a fantastic point about how games—particularly the ones we grow up with—can help teach us a lot about life. This is one of the many reasons why games and the people who play them are so important. On International Women’s Day, we celebrate women like Stephanie, Ksenia, Jen, and Yuliya who went from humble childhood beginnings playing Tetris and discovering their passions, to leaving lasting marks within the world of gaming, each in their own way.
Right now, there are hundreds of female game developers, influential gamers, and women in the gaming industry whose passion for games helped inspire them to follow their dreams. And in our own lives, we celebrate the women who introduced us to skills that have shaped us and made us into the people we are today.
All in all, we wish to thank the women in our lives and celebrate them on International Women’s Day for their continued impact on us, and on the world.