Women in Game Development: Leigh Hallisey

With the recent release of NEW GAME!, a show all about women in game development, we thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to hear from REAL women kicking butt in the game dev industry!

 

leigh-halliseyLeigh Hallisey of FableVision Studios was kind enough to dedicate some of her time to giving us an inside look at her life and work!

 

  • Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re currently doing.

I’m Leigh Hallisey, the Creative Director of FableVision Studios. We are an educational digital media production company that creates apps, online and mobile games, animations and books for learners of all ages.

 

Games:

Georgia Race Through Time, Georgia Public Broadcasting: Online history game for 8th grade students that offers a more contextual learning approach to Georgia history.

Zoombinis, TERC:  A relaunch of the classic, beloved ’90s game “Logical Journey of Zoombinis,” for today’s generation. Through Zoombinis, players learn important life skills including algebraic thinking, data analysis, and theory formulation in a fun and engaging setting.

 

ParkPals: Kindness Rules, Committee for Children: Online game and app teaching empathy and social emotional learning skills to elementary school kids.

 

Animation:

The Paper Girls, Global Tinker: Animated short form series focused on STEM education about tween girl makers who discover a portal to a magic world made of paper.

 

Good Thinking!: The Science of Teaching Science, The Smithsonian Science Education Center: An engaging and entertaining web series designed to enhance K-8 science education, and deepen understanding of STEM topics for teachers and students alike.

 

Current projects: multiple classroom math literacy game for grades 1-3, augmented reality game for English literacy, animated films about mental health awareness and the US opioid epidemic.

 

 

  • What is your background in gaming? What are your favorite games?

My absolute fondest gaming memory is when I was about eight years old in 1980 and got a hand-held Space Invaders game for Christmas. It was practically surgically attached to me, and I loved hiding under the covers at night and playing for hours. I’m not as big of a gamer compared to a few of my co-workers but the games that I’m drawn to are super cute or quick hits—apps like Clawbert, Head’s Up and—this is mortifying—Solitaire. I also love the Exploding Kittens card game. I am definitely more of a TV/book person, which makes sense given that my role in game development at FableVision is coming up with narratives, characters, and scripts, in conjunction with the game designer and UX/UI designer.

 

 

  • How did you get to where you are now in the game development world?

I’ve always been a media junkie. After growing up on a steady diet of Pong, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Saturday Morning cartoons, the Love Boat and Miami Vice, I went to Wellesley College and majored in American Studies (modern history and literature). I got my Master’s in Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University where I focused on representations of race, gender, and sexuality in television and film.

I taught TV and popular culture at Boston University for many years, and helped start an entertainment company focused on creating positive role models for girls in STEM.

FableVision was my development partner , and eventually we sold the company and I went to work at FableVision, first as the Marketing Director, then as Creative Strategist, and now as Creative Director. FableVision is a small, nimble studio where you learn by doing, and there’s always someone who’s excited to share their knowledge with you.

Our game philosophy is that learning has to be embedded in game play, not stuck on top, and that good games are not “a reward” after doing traditional “drill and kill” style activities. We find that compelling narrative and relatable characters go a long way in engaging kids, especially ones that aren’t “gamers.”

I’ve learned a lot through play testing and running focus groups, like about what mechanics are developmentally appropriate, what’s “fun and sticky,” what character designs appeal to different age groups, and determining the right UI and controls that are actually intuitive.

 

 

  • What’s an average day for you? Can you walk us through some of the highlights and unique aspects of your day/job?

I’m lucky to work in a totally open studio environment with the most amazing people—artists, animators, developers, producers, marketers, even our President, Gary Goldberger, all sit together to allow for cross-disciplinary collaboration and fun conversations. I’m usually working on a dozen or so projects at a time, so every day is different and never boring. A lot of my day is impromptu meetings with producers and artists, problem solving, reviewing art, animation, and early prototypes. I do a ton of script writing, and usually I go offsite to a coffee shop to concentrate because I’m too tempted to join in on a fun conversation with my co-workers.

 

I have client meetings to walk them through scripts and concepts, and meet  with potential clients for business development. I do a lot of voiceover direction for games and animation, and write proposals to bid on new work. A few times a year, I speak at various gaming and educational conferences about our different projects and unique approach and perspective on media development.

 

 

  • When we first told you that we were releasing an anime about women in game development, what was your initial reaction? What are your thoughts on a show that highlights female game devs?

I pretty much did the happy Snoopy dance,the cabbage patch, and raised the roof, simultaneously! Young women need role models, in real life and popular culture, to show them what’s possible.  When girls see negative representations in media—stereotypes about what girls can and can’t do or be—or when they don’t see themselves at all (particularly girls of color), it limits their dreams and aspirations. There is a lack of womenand diversity in the gaming and animation worlds. We are missing out on the unique talents and perspectives of a whole part of humankind, and our culture and the products of our culture are suffering because of this. Short answer: I’m a really big fan of this show.

 

 

  • Do you think the visibility surrounding women in the gaming industry is growing? Are there still challenges?

It’s beyond a challenge, it’s into the realm of absurdity. Go to a developers conference or gaming company or animation studio and there are very few women.

 

It’s not surprising how rampant sexism is in the portrayal of female characters, especially in video games, when we see who is telling these stories. We know girls and women make up a huge percentage of the audience for these products, and events like COMICON show us that these are passionate, dedicated fans. The stories that keep coming out about sexual harassment and misogyny at the highest levels of animation and tech companies, the trolling and threats that plague women who dare to create or make their voice heard in these realms, is horrifying. We need to normalize the presence of women in these industries, at every level, and have them control their representations and stories. This, combined with positive, empowering onscreen portrayal of women in the tech and animation industries can help us level the playing field.

 

 

  • Is there anything else tied to the topic of women game developers/anime that you would like share? Feel free to elaborate! Do you have any advice for future women in game development?

It’s not easy to be “one of the only…” wherever you are, and it’s a tougher road. But if it’s where your passion lies, and your work doesn’t feel like work, then it’s a worthwhile risk to take. Seek out other women, and like-minded men, for mentorship. Have pride in your voice, don’t be afraid to be ambitious, and don’t doubt your gifts.