Black Professionals In Games: Sony’s Felice Standifer On Gender, Race And Positive Images
Now we have Felice Standifer, a producer at Sony Computer Entertainment of America. Working in the industry since 1993, Standifer has been a producer on several racing titles, including the “ATV” series and “MotorStorm” as well as the non-racing “Eye of Judgment.”
During our conversation, we talked about her personal experiences working as a black woman in the industry. I asked her if gender or race has played a more significant role in her career:
I would say gender [has affected my career] more so than race. I think sometimes [people] aren’t sure if you really play games or if you really know what you’re doing. So I wouldn’t say race, I would say gender because you still run into those kinds of people that can be surprised or “What kind of games do you play?”
Read on to learn about how she was mistaken for a booth worker at E3 and why she has a problem with “Grand Theft Auto” …
With a degree in social sciences from UC Berkeley, Standifer focused on communications, but did some programming on her own. She started in the industry as an administrator at Sony Imagesoft in 1993. She moved up to an office manager of operations and moved into product development in 2000.Then she became an associate producer for “Twisted Metal 2” and “Jet Moto,” and from there went on to produce the “ATV” franchise in 2001. Most recently she’s produced several titles localized from other territories, including “Kingdom of Paradise,” “Eye of Judgment” and “MotorStorm.”
Multiplayer: Have you ever felt that your race has presented any challenges in your career path?
Standifer: No, I have not. The business — when I first started in Imagesoft — was such a tight knit group. I worked with males; of course, it was male-dominated. But I worked with a great group of people then. So I think that I have not seen any challenges because I work with great people that I learned a lot from. I worked under several producers as well as several different directors and I learned from all of them. Not only did I work for males, I worked for Connie Booth for about a year in production, and you don’t get to work with a lot of women in production. So I was fortunate to work with her. I’ve gotten a lot of great assets for my career path for each director that I worked for.
Multiplayer: Do you feel that gender issues have been more of a challenge than race?
Standifer: I would say gender [has affected my career] more so than race. I think sometimes [people] aren’t sure if you really play games or if you really know what you’re doing. So I wouldn’t say race, I would say gender because you still run into those kinds of people that can be surprised or “What kind of games do you play?” Although I worked on racing titles, my favorite was always shooters. I like shooter games. I did play in the arcade growing up — didn’t think I’d end up in video games. But I really enjoyed it. But I’d definitely say gender because you get women who play. But you get more women who play puzzle games and different types of games, maybe not hardcore games like shooters. I remember playing “Doom” in the office with the guys in the evening.
Multiplayer: Why didn’t you think that you would end up in video games? Was it not encouraged?
Standifer: Not that it wasn’t encouraged, but it wasn’t an industry I knew much about. I mean you would go to the arcade and play but never really think about a job in that field. I didn’t really know about the industry and started out as an administrator and learned about the industry while I was working in it.
Multiplayer: Have you had any instances where people thought you were a casual gamer and didn’t take you seriously until they got to talk to you more?
Standifer: I’ve had that years ago, at the larger E3s where people thought I was just hired just to work at the booth. I have had that experience before, yes.
Multiplayer: Was it an awkward situation? Was it like, “Oh you actually work here?”
Standifer: That’s exactly how it was. “Oh, you actually work for Sony; you weren’t actually hired to work here [at the booth].”
Multiplayer: Do you feel that your race has presented any advantages or disadvantages specifically?
Standifer: I don’t think it has presented any disadvantages, and I’m not going to say necessarily advantages because I feel I’ve worked just as hard as others in the industry on the titles I’ve worked on trying to make sure they’re triple-A titles.
Multiplayer: Being that you are an African-American and a woman you do sort of stand out though.
Standifer: I’m not sure if it’s an advantage, but you’re right. I do definitely stand out. Females are one thing, let alone a person of color — it’s very rare. But being here at Sony, when it comes to race, there have been several people in product development that were male. But producers, artists… I’ve always known people of color since I’ve been in the industry from the test department, from the product development department, in all of the areas. So when it comes to race, it’s not like I’ve been alone. It’s fewer people, it’s fewer women than men of color, of course.
Multiplayer: Why do you think there are so few African-Americans in the game industry?
Standifer: I think it’s not encouraged because you still have people who think that it’s not a real job. I think a lot of people don’t know how to get into the industry and don’t look at all the different areas in the game industry that you could work in. It’s not necessarily making a game as a programmer and artist, but there’s a legal staff, there’s a marketing staff, there’s a PR staff. There are so many entities, and I think that people don’t realize that and that there are so many ways to get into the industry. And they have a lot of great ideas, and they think, “Oh it’s so easy” and it’s not. It’s a challenge, it’s definitely a challenge.
Multiplayer: Do you think that it’s a challenge more specific to African-Americans and that may account for why there are so few in game development at this time?
Standifer: There’s probably a couple of reasons. Not knowing what road to take to get in if they wanted to be an artist, what road do they need to focus on in school to get into the industry. And as it grows, it gets more difficult to get into. I’m not sure if they’re even applying. When you’re getting resumes, you don’t know who’s applying and who’s not. I’ve seen a lot filtered through the QA department. But sometimes they may realize it’s more work than they thought and decide that it’s not an industry that they want to be in because it can require at times a lot of long hours and a lot of hard work. So it’s part of educating African-Americans on the industry and figuring out what they want to do.
I run into individuals that go, “Oh, I want to make video games.” And then when the question is thrown out about what they do want to do, they talk about all the game ideas but not really a specified category. Because they may not know what that road really entails or if they want to be a game designer, or if they want to be an artist, and even in the field of art there are so many areas — there’s texturing, there’s modeling and etcetera. So a lot of it is the education process. And then finding ways to get into the game industry. A lot of people that come through, come through the QA department.
Multiplayer: Do you think diversity is important in the video games industry?
Standifer: I think diversity is very important in the video games industry, especially if games themselves are going to be diverse with different cultures and different characters. A lot of games are character-based and you don’t want things to be offensive. And there are cases where people are not necessarily trying to be offensive, but they’re pulling their ideas from their own knowledge and that does not necessarily mean it’s always correct. And so sometimes it’s good to have those second eyes or those other opinions or just someone to say, “Hey you may not realize it, but that could be offensive to this particular race or culture.”
Multiplayer: What do you think about the way African-Americans have been presented in games? Like “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” for instance?
Standifer: When I think of “Grand Theft Auto,” that of course is not portrayed in the best light. It can look very negative to some. But at the same time you have to ask who’s actually purchasing the game. Why is it so successful? I think when you start to touching on certain issues, in order for people to look at it and realize that it’s having a negative impact, then the consumer has to take a stand and not purchase it.
Because if you’re purchasing it, and it’s selling, it gives the people making the game a feeling that it’s okay because people are buying this game. I also think that controversy sells, and those are controversial titles; I think that definitely helps their sales. Because people actually want to see what is going on, and why so many people talking about this game. Any time you here a lot of hype about any title, whether it has to deal with race or anything, people tend to buy it because they hear so much about it.
Multiplayer: So do you think that portrayal of African-Americans is okay to be out there?
Standifer: My personal opinion, I don’t think the representation is needed. That’s my personal opinion. You can have games and not stereotype them. There are shooters out there and different games all day long but they’re not stereotyped. …
I think it shows particular races in a rather negative light. Whether or not it’s okay to be out there, that’s kind of very personal — whether or not it’s a game I want to be a part of. It’s not something that I, per se, would want to be a part of because I think it’s negative, and if I’m going to make something about my own race or other races, I would not want to point out every negative aspect.
With every race there are negative aspects and there are positives. But I would not take a stand to point out every negative about [a particular race]. And I don’t think those games have issues just with race, there’s killing to prostitution, etcetera. And I have heard people say it shows America in a bad light as a whole. …
What people take away from it really depends on their mentality. And whether or not you can distinguish what is real, what is not. That’s a very individual thing. I would hope for someone who is older, they would know the difference. But whether or not the 12 or 13 year-old who’s playing it — not that they should be playing it because it’s rated “M” but they still play it — that’s where you could have some issues.
Multiplayer: In general, would like to see more games geared toward African-Americans?
Standifer: I don’t think games should be geared necessarily towards African-Americans because once again you could isolate another audience. It’s just if you’re going to see representation of African-Americans you try to do it in the best light. …
And there’s always different opinions of what’s great and what’s not great. [Video games are] a form of art. You try to — I don’t want to say necessarily please — but you try to think of the larger audience. There always could be some small advocate you don’t appeal to.
Multiplayer: Like Nerjyzed, a company specifically making games for an urban audience. They made the “Black College Football Experience.” People have argued that they are alienating certain segments of the gaming population…
Standifer: When it comes to Nerjyzed, I don’t think they’re alienating anyone. When you take black college football, it’s very well known — kind of like college football as a whole. When it came to the sports titles, there’s “We’re gonna do NFL, we’re gonna do college.” And they’re gonna do black college. Because it’s a big thing with the bands performing and etcetera and it’s more than just black people who go to those games.
I don’t think they’re isolating. I think in that particular case they’re educating. There’s this whole thing that goes on around these black college games, and the battle of the bands, etcetera. So in that case it’s more education, and it’s another area in sports that they felt they could capitalize on because it had not been done.
Multiplayer: Do you have any advice to aspiring game designers of all races and sexes?
Standifer: In general, keep abreast on the industry. You’re not going to be able to play everything out there, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. For instance, I’m not big on RPGs. If it’s something that you really love and like doing, you work at it like any other job. And don’t let the fact that it is predominately a male environment deter you from doing your job.