If you follow tabletop RPGs closely, you’ll already know who Amanda Valentine is. Her work as Development Editor and Project Manager on some of the most popular games over the past few years makes her one of the more important RPG professionals out there, and her impressive roster of collaborations includes Evil Hat, Margaret Weis Productions, Galileo Games, Bully Pulpit Games, and Crafty Games among the others.
A Gaming As Women interview with Amanda was long overdue. So, thanks for answering our questions, Amanda – and without further ado, let’s get started from the basics.
Gamer Origin Story
What’s the first RPG you ever played?
The very first game I ever played was Star Frontiers with my husband Clark, who was my boyfriend at the time. But the first game that really grabbed me was 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons.
How did you get involved in that game?
When we were newlyweds, Clark and I were involved in a church group, and one of the people asked about roleplaying games and whether they were, well, evil. The other guy in the group said, “No. I still have all my stuff. You guys want to play and see for yourselves?” So our church group also became our gaming group. It was Clark, our GM, me, and three other women–and since then, I’ve never been in a steady gaming group where I was the only woman!
What about that first game made you want to play again?
It was a lot of fun. It was a great thing to do with our friends, and I knew Clark had enjoyed it a lot when he was younger. When we moved back to Pennsylvania, we met Cam and Jess Banks and started gaming again. We’ve had a game group ever since.
Working in the RPG industry
From gamer to professional in the gaming industry – what was the path that took you where you are now? How was your experience as a woman?
When Cam started writing for Dragonlance, he asked Clark and me to look over an adventure he was writing–I’ve always suspected that he only asked me so as not to exclude me, but I decided he needed an editor and volunteered to be that person. (If you’re really interested, you can read about how my editing career got started on my blog.) Cam and I have been working together for about 8 years now, and I’ve also branched out to other companies such as Evil Hat, Galileo Games, Bully Pulpit Games, and Crafty Games.
With the companies I’ve worked with, I’ve always felt like an equal. Occasionally I’m explicitly asked to bring a female perspective to whatever game I’m editing, but other than that I’ve just been part of the team.
Sometimes at conventions I’m aware of being in a minority–occasionally I’ve been with a group of fellow game industry professionals and realized I’m the only woman. There have been times when customers have looked at me as the booth babe, even though I worked on the games I’m selling. But overall I’ve been really lucky.
Last year your work was instrumental in the ENnies result of the Dresden Files RPG. In this year’s ENnies nominations, your name pops up again in the work you did for Margaret Weis Productions and Galileo Games – can you tell us more about your work on Marvel, the Smallville High School Yearbook, and Bulldogs?
I had a fairly standard editing position on Bulldogs!–the book was pretty much finished when I joined the team, and my primary job was to smooth out the differences in tone between Brennan Taylor and Brian Engard who wrote and designed the game together. I made sure that styles and conventions stayed consistent throughout the book and kept an eye out for sections of the rules that might be confusing or unclear.
I’m the managing editor of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying line. For the Basic Game I was also the text editor, meaning I served a similar role to the one I played in Bulldogs! Now my primary role is organizing a fantastic team of editors who do most of the text editing, then my pass ensures that even with many writers, editors, and developers every Marvel Heroic Roleplaying book has the same feel and tone, as well as making sure all the styles, terms, and formatting are applied correctly.
For the Smallville High School Yearbook, I was also the project manager, in addition to the editor. An involved editor often plays a role that overlaps with project manager and developer, and the High School Yearbook was my chance to really take on those roles. I chose writers, worked on the outline, talked with Tiara Agresta (our brilliant layout person) about how the book should look, and basically had a hand in all the decisions that were made. I had such a great team for that book, and we had a lot of fun putting it together. Our goal was to make a guidebook for any kind of high school setting–not just Smallville and not even necessarily just the Cortex Plus system–and I think we succeeded in that. I might be a little biased, though!
Something we’ve touched upon briefly while arranging this conversation is the role and impact of editing on the final product. While in some cases editing is reduced to copy editing and proofing, in others it’s a crucial developmental contribution. This broad spectrum of activities is difficult to grasp and analyze while looking at the finished product, and yet it deserves some kind of recognition. What are your thoughts on the subject?
I think one of the major issues is that you should never be able to identify the specific contributions of a good editor unless you’re comparing versions of the book in progress. If you can look at one of my books and say “Oh, yeah, I see Amanda’s fingerprints all over this” then I didn’t do my job very well. A well edited book stands out because of what you don’t see, and that’s hard to identify. If the text runs smoothly, the organization of the content makes sense, the styles are applied consistently, there aren’t glaring holes in the rules, etc., then the book has likely been well edited. Basically, it’s an editor’s job to make sure that nothing pulls you out of your experience of reading the book.
Unless you can compare the final book to early drafts, though, it’s hard to know what part of that credit goes to the editor and how much of it goes to a great team of writers, designers, developers, and project managers. Game books in particular are team projects and generally no single person can take credit for any aspect of the book.
In addition to that, the role of the editor depends a lot on when she’s brought into a project. Sometimes, if it’s at the very end, it’s primarily copyediting and proofreading. But the earlier the editor joins the project, the more likely that she’ll play a role in how the book is organized, help set the tone and style, and possibly even help in developing some of the rules. (Or, if you’re like me, you might be hired as a copyeditor but turn into a developmental editor because you think the book could really use that kind of help!)
There’s been some talk about how the ENnies ought to have an editing award, but I don’t know how that would be determined unless it was decided by the teams that individual editors had worked with–as I mentioned before, a reader shouldn’t explicitly see the impact of the editor. I think it’s much easier to tell when a book hasn’t been well edited. Most of the writers I know happily credit their editors any time their writing is praised, so there’s an argument to be made that the Best Writing award includes the editor. A development or managing editor may also contribute to Best Production Values. On some level, though, depending on her role, an editor may have an impact on any of the possible awards!
One thing that really bothered me when the Dresden Files RPG was getting a lot of praise is that the writers are all listed, yet because I was the editor, my name was never mentioned in reviews or award nominations. I never felt slighted by my team–I was on stage for every award it won and they were great about mentioning my contributions–but I kind of wanted credit from others for the 5 years of my life that I spent on those books! Fred Hicks has talked about getting rid of specific labels in the credits, because creating game books is often such a team effort. Nearly everyone plays multiple roles and has some impact on almost every aspect of the book.
Interaction with the gamer culture as a woman and a parent
How is your interaction with the gaming community as a woman?
I’ve been really lucky and I haven’t encountered any of the problems that I know many women deal with. I feel like for the most part being a woman has just been accepted as part of who I am and never used as something to make me feel like I’m “other.” There have always been other women in any of my long term game groups. Even when I’m the only woman working on a book, I feel like I’m just part of the team, hired for what I can bring to the project. I became part of the gaming community after I was married–I wonder if that’s part of it? I was never a young single woman trying to become part of the gaming community.
Because Clark and I go to conventions together, on occasion I’ll be dismissed as “the spouse” by people I’m meeting for the first time. However, it seems like there’s always someone willing to correct that misconception with a proper introduction!
At the intersection of your role as a gamer and a professional in the industry and your parenthood lie gaming conventions. Recently you’ve written about this subject and the role of children in the gaming community. How family-friendly do you find conventions, and the gaming community in general?
My convention experience is limited to Origins Game Fair and GenCon so far. Origins has been really great with the kids, although it definitely takes some preparation and it helps a lot that we bring my mom along to help watch the kids. GenCon has taken huge strides in becoming more kid friendly, but we’re going to wait until the kids are older because of the sheer size of the convention and the fact that it isn’t all under one roof. I’ve heard fantastic things about Dex Con as a kid-friendly con, and one of these years we’ll definitely go check it out.
So, based on that limited experience, overall I feel like the gaming community is welcoming of young gamers–most seem to recognize that we need kids to be involved if this industry is going to thrive. Conventions feel less and less like an “adults only” environment as activities for kids are added to schedules and accommodations are made to help families come to cons together.
Also, I’m aware of more games aimed specifically at kids and games that are taking kids into account–one of our goals with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying was to make sure that kids around the ages of 10 and up could play it, possibly even without adults. How well that worked remains to be seen, I think, but it was definitely something we had in mind.
On the other hand, I continue to cringe about some of the portrayals of women in art work, some of the graphic violence, etc. There’s definitely some stuff openly on display that makes me uncomfortable when I’m walking around with my kids. (I reflected on how some of these stereotypes can be damaging to kids on my blog.)
Your expertise and passion for literature, coupled with your experience as a mother, brought you to create the Reads 4 Tweens website. Could you tell us more about it?
I was already reading a lot of middle grade and YA books because 1. I enjoy them, having studied them academically and 2. I have kids who read a lot, and when possible I like to preview any books that might be inappropriate for their age and stage of life. I realized that a lot of other parents were having trouble helping their kids choose appropriate books–no matter how well-intentioned you are, it’s impossible to keep up with the rate at which many kids consume books!
So I started Reads 4 Tweens. It’s a website with reviews of books with middle grade readers in mind–that’s roughly ages 8 to 12. The main difference is that these reviews aren’t aimed at kids. They’re aimed at the adults who help them choose books, and they’re full of spoilers, because it’s often that dramatic twist that you wish you knew about before it’s well after bedtime and your kid is sobbing because her favorite character just got killed off.
The intention isn’t to make judgement calls on “good” or “bad” books (although I do share my overall impressions of them) or to keep kids from reading anything. But if a book deals with death or other big issues, it often helps if you can talk to your kids about it. This website is intended to help parents and educators be prepared for those conversations. Also, if there’s an issue your kid is dealing with, the site might help you choose books that explore that in some way.
We have about 80 books reviewed so far, and hopefully it will keep growing. I’m happy to accept reviews from guest reviewers! Please contact me if you’re interested.
Do you have advice for women who want to get into the industry, or parents, or generally anything you want to say to the GAW readers?
My mom tells a story from my unathletic childhood. Every day I’d ask if I could join the neighborhood kickball game and be crushed when they’d ignore me or be otherwise unenthusiastic. Then one day instead of wondering if I could play, I asked whose team I was on–and they let me play. I don’t remember this, but I do remember playing kickball in the neighborhood so there may be truth to it.
Of course, had the neighborhood kids been bullies and jerks, that story wouldn’t have a positive ending. I have been very lucky that I’ve encountered very few intentional bullies and jerks in the gaming industry, so it’s been easy for me to act like I belong. Whether it’s a game or a game book, several times I’ve been able to ask some equivalent of “Whose team am I on?” and I’ve been welcomed.
All of this is a long way to say that in the absence of people intent on making you unwelcome, sometimes being welcomed is a matter of making it clear that you want to be part of something. When possible, ask whose team you’re on instead of waiting to be invited. Sometimes people don’t realize you’re waiting for an invitation.
As to raising geeklings, having kids really changes how you can approach gaming–suddenly your time really isn’t your own anymore. However, eventually it gets easier as the kids get older and more independent and eventually may want to play games with you.
My big lesson from this year, now that my kids are 10 & 11, is that they’re not going to copy my interests. Sure, there are many that we share. But I also need to learn how to encourage their interests in things that may not mirror mine.
We’re also learning how to trade off–we play a game with them and then they let us play a game on our own without interruption. We dedicate one convention as a family vacation, and we go to the other alone. It’s a matter of balance and of involving them in purposeful ways that accommodate them as the gamers they are.