I have been incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do an e-mail interview with Judy Bauer, an editor at Paizo Publishing. Judy primarily does editing for Pathfinder, and she has been kind enough to provide us with some extensive and awesome responses to our questions about her history, being a woman in the industry, and her work at Paizo. Thank you so much to Judy for her time!
Could you tell us a little more about your work at Paizo, and what books and systems you’ve had the opportunity to work on?
I’m an editor at Paizo, which for us means both copyediting and checking more developmental issues like clarity of rules, in-world continuity, plausibility of encounters, and gender balance/stereotypes. I started in 2010, and work on about every product line with words save Pathfinder Tales, so that’s every hardcover from the GameMastery Guide onward, every Adventure Path from Kingmaker onward, half the Pathfinder Scenarios from Season 1 onward, not to mention Pathfinder Campaign Setting books, Player Companions, Pathfinder Cards… It’s getting to be a long list!
What is your favorite project you’ve worked on at Paizo?
Probably Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Inner Sea World Guide, partly because I learned so much about our campaign setting in the process (I love that in the same setting you can fight dragons, dinosaurs, and undead aliens), and partly because it was a chance to reexamine the setting and tweak some aspects that weren’t working or that didn’t make sense in retrospect.
Did you play RPGs growing up? If so, what kind of experiences did you have as a female gamer?
Oh, totally. My dad had a lifetime subscription to Dragon, the red box, and a random selection of AD&D hardcovers that I browsed as a kid. He didn’t game himself, but loved that that I was interested in these books too. I first got a chance to play D&D when I was about 13 or so, was immediately hooked. I gamed whenever I could through grad school and now again that I’m working at Paizo, using whatever rule set the GM wanted to run.
I’ve had a couple bad experiences with pencil and paper RPGs (the worst being with another player who thought it would be a fun plot twist to mind control and rape my character, without clearing that with me). But I haven’t had anyone be condescending about my rules knowledge since junior high, and haven’t had problems with players being creepy since high school. I’ve mostly gamed with friends, though, and a good half of those groups included other women, which I’m sure makes a difference.
My one venture into MMOs, in contrast, really opened my eyes about how abusive and misogynistic gaming culture can be. There’s nothing like logging in to a screen full of graphic descriptions of your character (or you) being raped, complaining about it on some forum, then being flamed for having the audacity to be disgusted, you know? And, my bad luck, I’d picked an MMO that was totally unmoderated. I assembled some sympathetic players, and we started documenting incidences of in-game rape while campaigning the game’s creator to deal with the problem (he finally implemented an ignore option). I’m grateful for these allies, and glad I stuck it out and took action instead of walking away after the first time I was targeted, but wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It was really frustrating and demoralizing at the time, and definitely made me less excited about trying other MMOs.
Do you have any favorite RPGs? If so, why do you like them?
I’m pretty agnostic about rule systems—I’ll play about anything, including a friend’s homebrew rules with 42 (!) attributes, as long as the GM is good—and I’ve mostly played in homebrew settings. That said, I do have a soft spot for a few RPGs:
AD&D: This is the game I grew up with, and the system used in my longest-running campaign—my first RPG crush, I guess.
Call of Cthulhu: I love the setting, the gonzo concept, and the fact that because of the sanity mechanics, you’re not trying to win—you’re trying to lose as slowly as possible.
Exalted: The rules are so simple, the powers are intriguing, and you’re rewarded for doing crazy fantasy-superhero stunts!
Pathfinder: Every though I live and breathe this game every day, I’m still super excited about it (gripplis as PCs! Exploring the Crown of the World! Exploring other planets!). And I GMed for the first time using the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box!
As a woman in the gaming industry, how has your experience been in regards to finding work and getting recognition? Were there any particular challenges you experienced?
I entered the game industry somewhat by chance, having previously worked in textbook development, so my experience isn’t that wide. But I feel really fortunate to work at a company that values my perspective as a woman, and to have managers who trust me and back me up if I have concerns about some aspect of a product, and who push me to put myself forward at seminars and conventions. Public recognition is actually something that I’m still getting used to, since textbook writers and editors try to be pretty invisible.
Do you think that women in the industry need to support each other more? What do you think is being done in the industry to make female contributors more welcome?
Again, I can’t speak for the industry as a whole, but I know in Paizo’s design contest, RPG Superstar, we’re always cheering for women who make it to the top—the top people are our future freelancers, and sometimes our future coworkers. Additionally, several of our developers put quite a bit of effort into mentoring new freelancers, helping them strengthen their skills so they’ll be prepared to take on more complicated assignments, and we try to promote our freelancers whenever we can—like the awesome up-and-coming writers Savannah Broadway, Amanda Hamon, Tracy Hurley, Melissa Litwin, Amber Scott, and Christina Stiles!
Finally—this isn’t anything new, but I think it bears saying—treating other women as allies instead of competition can really improve the work (and con) environment and make it friendlier toward women. RPG publishing can still be a boys’ club, though it’s getting better; I find it very reassuring knowing others will back me up if I need to call shenanigans on something, and am glad to support them as well.
Paizo appears to have a lot of diversity in their management and contributors. Do you think it helps result in a better, more representative product?
It certainly helps! We want to see characters and settings that reflect ourselves, you know? And having been outsiders in various ways, we want to bring more people into our world.
Of course, being diverse in one dimension doesn’t mean you’re automatically inclusive across the board, even if you have the best of intentions. You really have to be alert to both opportunities for inclusion and warning signs that you’re excluding people or could cause offense, which can be hard when you’re also facing tight deadlines.
Feedback from our audience has been important for helping us improve, too. When we hear from fans that they appreciate interesting queer characters in adventures, a location doesn’t have as many female characters as they’d come to expect, or an encounter is potentially offensive or extremely upsetting, it helps us become more observant and strengthens our commitment to being more inclusive in the future.
When you are working on Paizo products, do you take gender representation and how women are portrayed into consideration?
Definitely. I try to keep that in mind all the time, to maintain gender balance in products and make sure female characters fill as wide of a variety of roles as the male characters—that they’re not always just victims, or villains, or prostitutes, or dead in the backstory.
This isn’t a policy I created; Paizo has always been committed to having balanced representation of women in its products. Half of our iconic characters for the character glasses are women, and in rules text and examples the style is to alternate between male and female pronouns to mix things up.
When I started, though, I noticed that while there were almost always female characters in adventures and in the campaign setting products, sometimes there weren’t very many, or they were all in the background, or all monsters. I was still fairly new and building trust with the developers, so I began counting male and female characters in products I was editing to back up my intuitions, and going to the developers with the numbers. A lot of them were surprised to learn the actual proportions of male to female characters in turnovers—perhaps because they’re are all men and used to seeing fewer female characters in RPG products, “some” female characters instinctively felt like “a lot” to them.
There was a little resistance to revising for gender balance, for the very fair reason that if you have to change characters’ gender or backstory during editing, at the end of the process, there’s a risk of introducing errors to a product. And sometimes your choices are limited because of the art ordered for characters. But my boss backed me up, and people gradually got into the habit of balancing characters during development, before I’d even see it. They also started giving feedback about gender balance to writers, which has helped as well—it’s so much easier if it’s there from the beginning. We’re still fine-tuning the process, but I think we’ve made real improvements.
What do you want to be known for in your career? When people think of “Judy Bauer”, what would you like their first thought to be?
“Adding women to adventures since 2010.”
Do you have any suggestions for women looking to work in the game industry?
I suspect the barriers differ a lot depending on what part of the industry you’re interested in—experience in other sectors will get you further as an editor or graphic designer than as a game designer, developer, or writer. For the latter three, writing groups and design competitions can be very helpful ways to get feedback on your work and strengthen your skills, and community publications are a great way to build up a portfolio (for would-be Pathfinder writers and developers, we always recommend Wayfinder and RPG Superstar in particular).
Of course, Kickstarter now provides an alternative route to entering the field and building a portfolio. While we hear most about new designers breaking into the industry, it’s a great opportunity for editors and graphic designers, too—you’re needed to make the game designers’ ideas shine!
It was a great experience to communicate with Judy and learn about her career. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work with Pathfinder! Thanks, Judy!