In celebration of Women’s History Month, USC Games interviewed Heart Machine senior producer and USC Games adjunct professor Lesley Mathieson (she/her). Mathieson was recently a panellist at the 2022 Game Developers Conference (GDC), where she presented “Women Building Careers in the Games Industry: What It’s Gonna Take” alongside Cynthia Zhang, Martzi Campos, and Erin Reynolds. Below, Mathieson shares her own experience as a woman in the games industry.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Tell me about yourself! Who are you, what do you do, and what are you passionate about in games?
A: I am currently a senior producer at Heart Machine, as well as an adjunct professor in the AGP class in the USC Games program. I’ve been in the video game industry for over twenty years at this point—actually, maybe coming up on twenty-five. I’ve done a wide variety of things. I’m most known for my work on the PlayStation series Ratchet & Clank; I was one of the original three Ratchet & Clank designers on the PlayStation 2, and I worked on several of those games with Insomniac, as well as Resistance: Fall of Man. I then co-founded my own studio to produce the PSP Ratchet & Clank games as well. Since then, I’ve run a couple of different studios, I’ve made a companion robot for children, and now I’m back working on a game again.
Q: Either personally or professionally, what does Women’s History Month mean to you?
A: I think it’s important to go back and highlight things. I’m personally a fan of history, so I spend a lot of time reading anecdotes, and it is far, far too common to read stories where you find out that women were critically involved in things, created things, or invented things—and those things were swept under the carpet at the time. One of the things that always comes to mind recently was a documentary I watched on the woman who discovered pulsars—and how her contribution was basically ignored for the purposes of things like the Nobel Prize and so forth, which went to her professor at the time without any mention of her contribution.
So, I think it’s really important to have time to highlight these things because then these stories start to come out. People start actually looking and paying attention, and that’s when you hear about what women have done. It’s an important thing to acknowledge because it so frequently has not been in the past.
Q: How does your identity as a woman intersect with your identity as a game developer?
A: It’s interesting. I started in the game industry at a time when there were very few women in it. Now, it’s very different comparatively. There’re still not enough women in the game
industry, but just compared to then, it’s already increased a lot. When I was with Insomniac, I used to do interviews with the press just because I was a woman working on a video game, and that was enough to gain me attention and interviews. So, I’m glad to see that changing over time. For me, I think I’ve had a lot of luck with the people that I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with generally very open people who are mainly focused on my work—not always, I think—but that’s mainly what I’ve dealt with in the game industry. However, that’s certainly not always the case with women in the past in the game industry.
I don’t think those two identities can be separated in any way because of the attention given to them, given the timing. People used to even ask me, “Oh, you like video games?” because at the time that I was growing up it was just not common for women to like games. It’s nice to see that evolving. Both my daughters are huge, huge gamers, and no one even bats an eye at that, because now, that is the norm. It’s really nice to see that change.
Q: You’re giving a topical talk with a few others at GDC. Would you like to give an overview of what you’re going to cover?
A: It’s mainly a bunch of very talented women—and me—on a panel, and the idea is to cover things that have been successful for us, things that we think would help people, what resources might help people who are trying to get into games, what women may encounter in games, and what our advice to them would be in a variety of circumstances. I think there’s a lot of good information to people who are looking to move into a career in games.
Q: Who is a female hero—from either a game or real life—who inspires you?
A: That’s tricky; I never have a good answer for these things. I’ll go back to one of my favorite games. The main character is a woman, and I always enjoyed the game and the character so much, and that was Beyond Good and Evil—the character Jade. I always loved her.