Women in Game Development: Rayla Heide

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!

 

raylaRayla Heide of Riot Games was kind enough to dedicate some of her time to giving us an inside look at her life and work!

 

 

  • Please tell us your name, position, and the work you’re currently doing.

I’m Rayla, a writer at Riot Games. I also go by “Jellbug”, my summoner name on League of Legends. I write stories about the champions in League of Legends through mediums like comics, short stories, character bios, and voiceover lines. One of my favorite parts of my job is taking a character from a video game and imagining what they’re like in everyday life – what are their dreams, fears, desires, what are they like in the mundane parts of their day – and then writing those explorations into a story. I especially like working with characters that are not-quite-human, or even seen by some as monstrous, to explore writing from the perspective of the “other”.

 

Here are some examples of my work:

Nami comic – Into the Abyss 

Skarner short story – Dreamsong

Ahri short story – Garden of Forgetting

Viktor short story – House on Emberflit Alley

Orianna short story – Fieram

Rammus short story – Caravan North

 

 

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

This is my first job in the game industry – I came from film, where I got to read tons of scripts and learn about story development. It’s hard to pick my favorite games, but they’d probably include WoW, Don’t Starve (and Don’t Starve Together!), The Walking Dead, Gone Home, Dragon Age, and Stardew Valley. I’ve also been playing a bunch of RimWorld recently, which is super addicting – I enjoy micromanaging virtual people and seeing what they end up doing with their own free will. Not sure what that says about me.

 

 

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

I started out as a department coordinator doing mostly admin work, but have always developed my own writing in my free time – I think I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about six years old. I got to work on a few writing projects before I was officially a writer, which gave me experience working with game developers and writing in a group environment. Eventually I was able to move into a professional writer role at Riot, which definitely feels like an impossible dream job that I’m grateful for every day.

 

 

  • 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 on quite a few different projects right now, so I tend to oscillate between attending meetings with my team where we check in with each other, brainstorm ideas, and figure out what our next sprint of deliverables are — and writing. The projects I’m working on right now are more collaborative, so I spend lots of time pitching ideas to other people, which is a fun change from writing words alone in a room.

 

As a writer on the Worldbuilding team, I usually write about characters that already exist in the game, which means I have to thoroughly understand the current canon. My first step in researching the character is to play them in League of Legends and get a sense of what their gameplay kit feels like, and read any stories they’re featured in. I often talk to players who main that champion to find out what they love about that character and what elements of their personality are unique to them. Next I write a list of key features about that character, and brainstorm how a story might demonstrate these – whether they are magical abilities, personality traits, fighting styles, or key motivations. After I have an outline, I’ll go back to the list to make sure the story showcases the character.

 

For example, when I wrote about Orianna, a clockwork girl who used to be human, I wanted to show how she is wistful for her mortal life and dreams of fitting in with a family, yet maintains her distance from people, struggling to understand their emotions. I told a story of a moment where Orianna was overjoyed when she found someone like herself – the mechanical creation Fieram – only to find out that he had no more sentience than a toaster.

 

When writing about Rammus, a mysterious creature from the desert, one of his key features is that no one really knows who he is or what his true motivation is, so I wrote a story from the perspective of a young boy who idolizes Rammus as a god even though others make fun of him for his beliefs, and eventually has the opportunity to meet him in the flesh.  

 

 

  • 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 love this idea! I am all for making game development a more visible career option for women, particularly for those who may not have many role models in the industry so far.

 

As a kid interested in writing, I could look to authors like Ursula K. Le Guin, J.K. Rowling, or K. A. Applegate (Animorphs forever!) as role models. I never questioned whether or not it was possible to be a female writer. But in the game industry, women developers are few and far between, and the ones that exist are far from household names. Increasing the visibility of women in games can be instrumental in encouraging young girls to see games as a possible career option.

 

 

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

I do appreciate that most people know that gender imbalance is an issue in the gaming industry, and like any kind of perspective imbalance, can lead to a lack of empathy and understanding of our player base. Creatively, this can mean products sometimes cater to a one-note or stereotypical male fantasy in a game, rather than exploring a wide variety of characters.

 

Not everyone is actively doing things to change this imbalance. We need to all become more self-aware of our own unconscious biases and realize that they affect how we treat other people every day. For people in positions of privilege, there are many opportunities to amplify the voices of minorities in meetings or help newcomers get a foot in the door.

 

 

  • 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?

I hope that people grow to see that diversity is incredibly valuable for creativity and innovation in businesses. People tend to hire employees who are like them — people who they identify with or see themselves in, people who like the same games and movies and books as them. But in the game industry, this can lead to a team that lacks perspective, that only intrinsically empathizes with 50% of our population. We need people to ask questions that no one else has thought of, people with a wide array of thoughts and perspectives and backgrounds that they can draw from to manifest truly amazing ideas.

 

So for anyone interested in game development — make your own games! Get a bunch of friends together and do a game jam. Don’t wait for someone to say yes to you, go out and create things on your own. There are more resources available than ever before for people to learn how to make games, so take advantage of them. And go create awesome.