Siobhan Reddy: Girls, Games and GTA
"I wouldn't work in a band making music I hated with people that I thought were horrible"
Siobhan Reddy might be from Media Molecule, but like everyone in the gaming world when she sits down with GamesIndustry International the conversation somehow drifts onto the topic of Grand Theft Auto V.
"I think GTA is GTA, it's an amazingly huge incredible achievement from that team, I would have loved there to be a female character but maybe there will be one? And I would rather they spend the time getting something right than just changing the skin," she says.
"I think it would be really fascinating to see them create a deeply flawed and amazing woman - I don't know what her character would be - but I'd love to see it because I think they are a really really incredible studio."
"But they don't have to though, that's the thing. They just don't have to, and they could just choose to do that forever and we'd all be like that's a shame, but they don't actually have too. But they're so influential it would be really great."
The lack of a female character (who isn't a whore, drunk or stripper) in one of the year's biggest titles is a fitting topic of discussion given that Reddy has just given her keynote speech at the Women In Games conference in London, where she spoke about the responsibility of women in the industry to stand up and be heard, and to make a difference by changing games they're unhappy with, or not working on them at all.
"I think that we have a choice. It's like the band analogy, and it's like I wouldn't work in a band making music I hated with people that I thought were horrible. Because you just have to take too many leaps of faith," she says.
"I do know that we who make games have choices, and that we make creative decisions every single day, thousands every day in a team, and I would love to get people within teams, both men and women. It's not just about women. And there's so many games that get that right, and there are so many games doing it which are really good, but then there are some that just do it so poorly."
Reddy made her own stand at Media Molecule. It's not a studio you would expect to think struggled with issues of sexism any more than you'd expect Santa Claus to have a crack habit, but Reddy says questioning everything is important. Including why the lead character in the studio's latest game, Tearaway, was automatically designed as male.
After some discussion with the team and some concept art gender reassignment, players can now choose from two main characters, Iota and Atoi. Reddy thinks more women can make changes like this, if they can just find the confidence to stand up.
"I don't work with anyone who was making any decisions based on being sexist, but they immediately felt that that's what I was saying," she explains.
"And I'm a big believer that if someone had come back and said, 'You know what? This is the story of Iota, this is why it is a male story', then I would have been like okay, that's cool. But we can't just walk into it without saying why didn't we choose to draw a female character? Is it just because we drew a picture? We should at least question it."
And when she did question it she found that, like most of us, artists draw on their own experiences, and their experience just happened to be being a dude.
Reddy is also trying to influence the games industry for the better in a wider context, talking at Women In Games, working with BAFTA's Games Committee and collaborating with Belinda Parmar of Lady Geek to help encourage young women to explore careers in technology.
"There are a lot of women who are here today who are all people trying to instrument big changes, in terms of perception issues or education or actually actively getting out there and exposing young girls to technology and games," she says of Women In Games, name checking Parmar and Marie Claire Isaaman of Norwich University.
"When I was looking around I was really impressed by that. Because I think what has become clear to me is that there are a lot of women who are influential, who want to do things, but actually we all just need to meet each other."
"What has become clear to me is that there are a lot of women who are influential, who want to do things, but actually we all just need to meet each other"
The decision to become more involved in helping other women in the games industry has been a fairly recent one for Reddy, but probably not an unexpected one given her riot grrl past and a brilliant sounding feminist mother. For her getting involved was about confidence, and overcoming her nerves when it comes to public speaking.
"I'm on the GDC Advisory Board and so Meggan [Scavio] asked me to be a part of that a few years ago, which is an amazing honour. So that was one thing, I just started to do more of that, I've done a producer boot camp and I did a talk last year and I realised it's my own nerves. Everyone has them, and they shouldn't be really debilitating," she smiles.
Asked if she thought there was a culture of female developers and executives being uncomfortable about putting themselves forward when it came to promoting games, she has mixed feelings.
"I think that's very real... I find that I don't talk externally for the studio for two reasons. One is I believe that when it comes to talking about our games I'm not the creative director or the designer," she explains.
"And it's so easy to say Alex [Evans] and Mark [Healey] and Kareem [Ettouney] are so amazing, they're so good at it. Alex is so comfortable on stage that sometimes you just put the best person forward. And what I've learnt is that that's fine in that context but when there are events like today or I'm doing a talk at GDC or if there are events where I am actually the best person for it and I'm choosing to put someone else forward, that's wrong."
She says people at the studio find it strange to think she might suffer from nerves, and in person it's easy to see why. To use the words of a 50 year-old advertising executive she's feisty and forthright, and you get the sense that she's very used to managing Media Molecule's mix of characters, dogs and occasionally small children.
"We've always wanted somewhere where people who have kids can actually continue to work, rather than having children and then having to go somewhere else. And that environment has been important in being flexible."
"Do we want to have dogs in the office? Well I have a dog, so yes! Are we going to have children in the office? Well, people have kids and we want them to come in! I've always liked the idea of the family thing."
In some ways Media Molecule sounds like a bit of a wonderland for developers, late nights are rare, the vibe is one of creativity and collaboration rather than crunch periods and Mountain Dew addictions.
"I think we just have a really great team actually. And there's so many different types of people. When I look at LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway - they might seem really different but they share creative gaming - everybody there is united around the idea of making things and then making games which are about making things."
Add to that a shared sense of humour, "the best medicine in a crisis" a good respect level even when things are getting a bit shouty and a team of not one, not two, but five directors, and you have at least part of the Media Molecule recipe for success mapped out. Success that means LittleBigPlanet, the studio's first game, is still going strong, and has impacted the studio beyond sales figures and awards.
"We've hired like a third of our company from the community. It's probably not a third now, but at one point it was a third of people came from LBP," says Reddy.
"With both LBP and Tearaway the game has a life outside of just 'the game.' One of the new things people have had to get used to in game design or think about in game design, is the world of what your making no longer just finishes. It never finishes, ever. I remember with LBP just thinking, when do we ever go on holiday? Because you're just basically constantly working with customer support and community management and all the emails."
"The positivity you get fuels everybody wanting to do more."
Tearaway is due for release on November 22 on PlayStation Vita, and the team currently has an unannounced PlayStation 4 project in the works.