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How I Got Started with WIGI (And How You Can, Too!)

It was in 2006 that I first approached representatives from Women in Games International looking to start a community for women working in the video game industry.

Belinda Van Sickle, Blogger

February 27, 2012

4 Min Read

I’ve been in the game industry since 1997, but first attended GDC in 2006. At the conference, I was lucky enough to see a sign advertising the Microsoft Women in Games soiree. I attended the event that year (and every year since). It was at that MS party in 2006 where I first approached representatives from Women in Games International looking to start a community for women working in the video game industry.

I had just attended the second WIGI event ever, a conference in San Francisco, about three weeks before GDC 2006. Event though at that time I had been working in video games for nine years and would always see old friends in the halls at E3, I didn’t recognize a single face at the WIGI conference. I thought about it and realized the likely reason was most of the attendees were women, and most of my colleagues in nine years had been men.

I thought to myself, “Wow, it can be really isolating to be a women working in games. If you’re working at a small developer, it could be just you and the receptionist!”

So a thought percolated in my head for a couple of weeks. I approached the WIGI folks at the Microsoft Women in Games event and told them my idea of an online community for women in the game industry.

They said, “Go for it!” and a few months later I started the WIGI Linkedin group. In November of 2006, I held the first WIGI networking mixer in Los Angeles. Through 2007 I helped coordinators in other regions create their own mixers and held additional Los Angeles and San Diego events. I also volunteered at all WIGI conference events.

By 2008, I was the de facto leader of WIGI as the organization grew into more regional chapters and events, collaborated with the IGDA Women in Games special interest group to create GameMentorOnline and started our annual GDC and E3 events. WIGI grew the community and created D-L-C panel discussions and WAM—Women and Men networking events. We built a lively Facebook group and started a quarterly newsletter.

We’re continually adding new chapters and building new corporate partnerships with sponsors eager to support diversity, education and career building events and programs in the game industry. WIGI has also collaborated with the Girl Scouts at their Girltopia event in Los Angeles and to create a game design badge.

Since I started with WIGI in 2006, the organization has grown from about 300 members to over 4000 members. In 2009, WIGI formally incorporated with myself as CEO. I have been a key volunteer for all our efforts and the leader and chief motivator of the second largest professional organization in the game industry. And WIGI does all this with no paid stuff—all the work myself and other volunteers do is in service to our careers and our colleagues in the industry.

Through my work in WIGI, I have been honored to be the featured interview subject in several trade and national articles. I am also the only member of the Healthy Media Commission on positive images of women in girls in the media from the video game industry.  People from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the British House of Commons, and C-level executives of major film, broadcast, online and print media populate the high-level lobbying organization.

I have also been asked to speak at several events including Casual Connect and the NAB show. In collaboration with the IGDA Los Angeles chapter, I was the intro speaker at an event called “Southern California Game Industry Initiatives: A Conversation Between Business & Government.” This event talked about creating business incentives for the game industry and included members of city of Glendale government and game industry leaders.

WIGI also has been working for a year on a joint project with the Consulate General of Canada in Los Angeles to create a groundbreaking workshop. The October 2011 event was the kick-off of an academic study of the game industry with the intention of learning concrete ways to improve diversity in the industry. We have academics from UCLA, USC, Simon Fraser University, the University of Toronto and other prestigious schools currently creating the study instrument and doing background research.

I’m very proud of the service WIGI provides to the game industry and feel lucky that my background in volunteering, leadership of non-profits and consensus building has given me the skills needed to lead the organization. I’m also very thankful that my entrepreneurship has given me the support time the group needs. We also have several regional volunteers and a Los Angeles-based Executive Team that leads the international efforts of WIGI.

WIGI is always looking for new volunteers. We need regional Chapter Leads and Associates, assistants at our conference events, speakers at our WAM and D-L-C meetings and corporate sponsors of all our programs. Contact [email protected] if you have a bright idea for improving diversity in the game industry, want to help with existing WIGI projects or have sponsor leads. We need folks like you to step up, get involved and let us know how we’re doing! See you at our GDC party Wednesday night in San Francisco. Please introduce yourself if you get a chance!

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