Gaming is not typically an industry known for progressive gender representation — either on or off-screen. Character representation in games is often comically sexist, and issues like Gamergate typically plague the community and make for a, shall we say, less-than-welcoming environment for women who might want to get involved.
Fortunately, there are still games and studios out there who remind us that we are in fact making progress — that there is room for women in this industry — and Soma Games is one of those fantastic studios.
Not only did they just release “Lost Legends of Redwall: The Scout,” a beautiful stealth-adventure game based on the famed book series with a female lead character (Sly scout “Sophia” the mouse), but one of the team leads for developing this game was Art Director Erin Marantette.
Marantette was always interested in games, but never saw herself working in the industry. Though growing up she played Pokemon, Halo, Fable, League of Legends, and more, it wasn’t until an encouragement from her older brother that she started to believe she could get involved.
“When I was in middle school, we were looking at the Fable 2 art book when my brother told me, ‘You could do that.’ He planted the seed of interest — the idea that I could be more than a consumer of games, that I could influence and create them,” Marentette explains. And later, pursuing an art degree in college, it was through another branch of support that she was able to really break in. After confessing to a professor that she would love to use her art degree to make games, that professor introduced her to Chris Skaggs, the CCO/COO of Soma Games. “That connection got me an art internship after my freshman year during the summer of 2011, where I learned about the inner workings of a game company.” She kept up the relationship and now, seven years later, she’s the Art Director at the same company.
Although Marantette recognizes that sexism is a problem in the industry, it’s not something she’s experienced at Soma. “I’m lucky that my experience has been so positive, especially because I hear of so many hard and difficult [experiences]. Some are of embarrassment, shame, or harassment.
“My experience has not been that [at Soma]. I’m an outlier. I’ve felt uplifted, listened to, and given opportunities to grow as an artist and as a leader.” Soma Games, also known for “G Prime: Into The Rain,” is eager to see the industry change, and works to create a culture to reflect that. Marantette explains that part of the reason for choosing a female lead in the new Redwall series stemmed from that goal.
“As a company we felt that this decision was important,” she says. “We wanted to bring female representation to the front of our game. It was, in part, a response to the GamerGate harassment movement within the state of the gaming industry.”
Soma Games provides an artistic home for Marantette, where her responsibilities range from creative direction — she’s behind most of the character design of the Redwall games — to managing and leading a team of artists. “The art style is…my responsibility,” she explains. “As a a team we spent a month sifting through previous work to help nail down our design guidelines and terminology [for the Redwall game]. As we create new assets and bring in more people to the team, it is my responsibility to make sure the new members are up to date with our style guides and that the new art meets our standards.”
While Soma Games has been an enthusiastic support for Marantette’s career, she says outside support is helpful for navigating the industry as a whole. She cites her husband with this support, as well as a team of fellow gamer women. “I have found support in a community of women who work in Game Development. When I have questions or frustrations that are related to gender specific issues, they have been wonderful in giving advice and support. We give feedback on art pieces, listen to soundtracks made by each other, and help each other with career specific issues.”
That support is essential because, as Marantette explains, there’s really no clear path to break into the gaming industry. “Everyone’s story is different,” she says. “A lot of people go from their relevant university degree to an internship or junior position in a company. That’s what happened for me. However, I know plenty of people who came from separate careers, are self-taught, or entered the game industry through one job and then switched departments to where they are now.”
If gaming is a career dream for you, there might not be one clear entry point — but finding a supportive company like Soma is an excellent start. Add that with a community of like-minded peers (maybe a mastermind?) helping you grow, and you’ll be well on your way.
Plus, if Marantette and Soma have their way, each new generation of women will find the industry exponentially more supportive than the last.
“My hope is to see the industry change,” Marantette says. “I hope that by being apart of it, I can help change perspectives and lay a solid foundation for women in the future.”