Art by Janet Bruesselbach (not featured in Downfall, but look out for it in Uprising)
Hi gang, Alice here with my big ol’ social justice stick. This article is in celebration of International Women’s Day (8th March every year) and the incredible, talented women we’re lucky to have as part of the team and contributing to the project.
I spoke to a few of the women who have worked on the upcoming Ashes: Downfall set about their contributions to the project, their role models, and any advice they have for the rest of us. I also threw my own answers into the mix so people can get a bit more of an idea about me and why I think this is important.
The first question I asked was what International Women’s Day means to the team, and why they think it’s important that we still celebrate or mark it out in some way.
Nicita (Moderation Coordinator): International Women’s Day is a day to remember that we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. It makes me hope that one day, I’ll be able to go for walks at night without having to be scared.
Akira (Jnet Coordinator): As a trans women to be honest IWD can be terrifying - on one hand it can be amazingly validating to be accepted by peers on this day and celebrated along with them - on the other hand there's always the real fear of exclusion with phrases like “not a real woman” being thrown around directed towards me.
I find myself lucky that I’m surrounded by accepting people, but I also know a lot of people aren’t as lucky. So to me - the important thing is acceptance of ALL women.
Kayli (Rules Editor): I’ve lived in privilege my whole life, and I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to find sexism’s nastier influences to be primarily absent on me. Nevertheless, it’s everywhere I look. It’s very clear to me that I am the exception rather than the rule, and I think it’s important to use whatever platform one might have to pursue agendas that make the world better for everyone. International Women’s Day provides a widely acknowledged excuse to do the work that desperately needs to be done, supporting women around the world (especially those in intersectional communities who need extra support, such as women of color and trans women).
Absotively (Web Dev): To me it’s an acknowledgement that we still have issues with sexism that we need to address as a society, and a day when people show that they understand that and they want to see it fixed and are willing to work towards that.
Janet B (Artist): I enjoy the pomp and ritual of the men bedecking me in the customary silk drapings and the encircling with laurel crowns, but to be honest my favorite part is the salted meat banquet.
shanodin (Equality, Diversity, & Inclusion Team Lead) (aka the person writing this article!): Only 32% of the MPs in the UK are women. Trans women face discrimination on a daily basis. Women are blamed when men assault them. Some countries still sell child brides. There’s a woman being sued right now in the USA because she chose to have an abortion. A child in Argentina was forced to give birth to her rapist’s baby. The life expectancy of a trans woman of colour is 35. We must do better.
I’m always interested in why people are who they are, what driving forces got them there, and who they modelled themselves on. I asked our team who their top women role models are and what stories really show off why.
Janet: I don't have a good answer for this! When I was younger I wanted to be Irene Gallo, art director for Tor Books, and interned with her. I got older and bleaker and identified strongly with Alice Sheldon, a.k.a. James Tiptree Jr., who struggled with what can best be described as patriarchy-induced depression, and whose writing is a study in the non-progression of history and life a study in compromise and evasion of narrative goals. Smaller-scale and aesthetically, at least with NISEI, I strive to make work like Liiga Shmilskalne, but I don't know much about her personally. On a fourth hand, I lately have allowed professional envy of my own generational peers, such as Molly Crabapple and Alison Sommers, to become aspirational. But I most admire people who don't even fit into a "role model" concept, who I couldn't possibly become, but who model the variety of ways to exist and create and an irreverence toward gender's relevance toward accomplishment or success.
Nicita: I saw my first movie in the cinema when I was 5, which was Mulan, and I was completely blown away. I loved that character with all my heart and I still do. Apart from that, I’ll always have a soft spot for characters with strong opinions who follow their heart- like Hermione, Kira Nerys, Eowyn, Merida…
Absotively: Lately I’ve been following a few more women in tech on Twitter, and I’ve really appreciated their very clear discussion about how sexism manifests in the tech industry, so I’m going to say Jen Simmons and Sarah Mei. I’m also lucky to work with several other female programmers, whose skill I very much admire.
shanodin: I didn’t appreciate how tough this question was to answer when I asked it! There are so many incredible women out there. I’m lucky enough to know some absolutely incredible women. One who particularly stands out is Millie Lavelle, who takes everything in her stride. Of the famous ones, the one I admire most might be Maya Angelou. I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” when I was about 13 and could hardly believe the troubles she had come through to be such a powerful force in the world. Margaret Hamilton, the woman who sent us to the moon, is also a bit of a hero. Women have been a silent, hidden part of every aspect of the world - read Headstrong by Rachel Swaby to get an idea of how much. I don’t really have any specific stories though just an internal collage of memories of my mum and stories about other incredible women.
Kayli: There are a lot of women out there who do things I wish I could do and things I respect the heck out of, but top of my list will always be my moms. They fought to be together long before the world said that that was an acceptable thing, and they fought for the rights of others at the same time. One of my moms fought sexism in the schools she attended, playing “male” sports and wearing pants when the snow fell, both of which her school didn’t allow. The other performed in multiple marches and at multiple rallies, using her music to fight for civil rights. Together, they fought (for three years) to have a child that belonged legally to both of them - me. I was the first adoption by a same-sex parent in Fresno County, California. They’d been together for over 30 years by the time they were legally married.
How does one pick a favorite story about one’s parents? Though many stories strike me throughout my memories, one of the ones that I remember the most took place during one of California’s many voting battles for gay rights. I was seven when the fight over Proposition 8 happened, and I made a sign proclaiming our support for gay marriage (a simple “No on Prop 8”) and hung it on a tree outside our house. The sign was very clearly made by a child. A few days later, we woke up to the sign hanging limply from the tree, torn up, I assumed, by a storm. I promptly made another one and hung it back up. My moms later told me that letting me make that second sign was one of the scariest things they ever did - because the sign wasn’t torn; it had been shredded by a knife. But they didn’t want to teach me to back down to threats, and so they let me do it. I can only hope that one day I live up to that bravery.
Unsurprisingly, Sunny is my favorite runner. Those of you who attended Magnum Opus may remember my Sunny cosplay. :)
Passing on wisdom and advice is a vital part of a society - enabling those who come after us with the wisdom we have gained. What advice do you wish you had received when you were aspiring to become what you are? What advice would you give now?
Nicita: Don’t let other people’s insecurities restrict your growth.
Janet: I would warn them not to be stubborn or lazy about being just as good as men - it doesn't matter what they think or wish, they have to be better. Still.
Kayli: I feel like I am still an aspiring new editor! I have no idea what advice to give, honestly, besides take care of yourself (mentally and physically) even when it doesn’t seem like the best thing to do for your career.
Absotively: Pay attention to people and groups working on addressing sexism in tech, because they often have valuable insight and programs. Understand that when people with more privilege sound more confident than you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that confidence is earned.
shanodin: I wish I was told how to take criticism - it’s something I am still working on to this day. As for aspiring developers (my professional job) I have no specific advice so I’ll say this: love what you love, unashamedly. No guilty pleasures, please. You don’t need to be guilty of who you are.
Akira: To experiment, don’t try to emulate someone else's style find your own, art’s a very powerful and emotional thing and your natural style will reflect you in it.
Although the women, enbies, and others involved are awesome, NISEI, the playtesters, and the playerbase is still highly male dominated. For many women this is the case across their professional lives as well, so I asked for some thoughts on what it’s like to work on male-dominated teams.
Kayli: I’ve been blessed to be in workspaces with reasonable gender balance through most of my life, even working in the gaming industry. Though my day-job boss is male, our staff is about 50/50, and he’s never treated me with anything but the utmost respect. In NISEI specifically, the men are also only about 50% of the rules team, and everyone on the team has been nothing but supportive throughout, discussing disagreements and approaching all ideas with equal attention.
Absotively: Most of my software development experience has actually been on a team with more women than men, so I don’t have a huge amount of insight here. But my university program was certainly more male-dominated, and when I go to tech events there are often a lot more men than women. I think one big challenge is that it can be easy to think that you’re being treated differently because you’re new, or because of some other reason that’s specific to you, when of course sexism is often a big factor. For me, reading more about what other women in tech face has been very helpful for understanding the bigger picture.
Nicita: I don’t think I can say anything that Pixar hasn’t already said better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6uuIHpFkuo
shanodin: It can be very intimidating to be the only woman in a room full of men, something I’ve experienced many times, but as much as you can you shouldn’t let it stop you attending events and enjoying them. In terms of practical advice the main thing I can think of is this: don’t let yourself get talked over in meetings; if someone interrupts, say calmly “excuse me, I wasn’t finished making my point.” - if you work on the same team for a while this will gradually sink in. Research has shown that if women speak around 15% of the time and men 85%, the men will perceive the conversation as being equal. If women speak 35%, it will be perceived as being dominated by the women. Fight to make sure your voice is heard.
I asked a few people a few other questions too.
Kayli, what drew you to the rules editor position?
Mostly I was drawn to this position because my experience is in rules editing, and I wanted to help wherever I could to keep this amazing game alive. It’s been a positive experience the whole way through.
Aki, you are credited as an artist in the set for the card ‘Congratulations!’ - tell us a bit about your art creation process and any particular things that made creating this piece fun and interesting.
As a photographer I always try to capture quite gloomy, isolated, almost abandoned atmospheres in my location shots, using angles and time of day to achieve this. I remember one piece from college where I took a photo of the common room - usually bustling with people - at night in low light and the tv set to the color of a dead channel, longways with the TV in the foreground, it proved to be quite an unnerving juxtaposition to the usual carefree place that room once was.
In deep dream my compositions tend to be the same, isolated almost ethereal in nature, with a few exceptions - such as the rather brash artwork of “Congratulations!”
“Congratulations!” was interesting for me cause it was a break from my usual style, I wanted the art to be really in your face and as un-subtle as possible. Unlike my practice deep dreams it wasn't done by training my photos with other photos, I started playing around with parts of Gimp I’d never really used before -fractal and spiral generation. After a few attempts and not getting the gold sheen on the scroll I wanted, I went back to my photography roots and spilled a jar of change on a table and took a picture of that and used that to train the scroll and artifacts, and we got the gold metallic effect I wanted. The entire process was experimenting, and learning what works and what doesn’t and what to change under the help of of the creative team. Even scrapping the entire piece and starting again several times.
Janet, thinking about the art you did for the Ashes set, particularly ‘"Baklan" Bochkin’, what was fun about creating the piece? What were your favourite sources of inspiration? What is it like to see your art printed on a game you love?
I'm so glad to finally get to make art for Netrunner! I kept procrastinating sending a portfolio in to FFG, but even amazing artists I know sent one didn't get work from them, and my work has been more fine art oriented for years - so I treat digital media as itself, using default brushes and keeping the style painterly. When working totally imaginatively it's convenient that I like to cheat in realism with cool/warm lighting combos - perfect for the warm glow of a holo screen in the cold world of the city. I must admit I'm generally better at inventing more feminine characters, so I continuously had to masc the guy up, but I'm glad he still looks youthful.
What are your favourite details on the piece?
I got the sense with Baklan that there was supposed to be tension to his partnership with Az, and that he was a threatening man with an internal soft side and a love for tinkering beyond criminal practicality. It's not very clear but in the background in his room, there is a Bolshoi Ballet poster. And his name means "cormorant", so his most prominent tattoo is a big black bird.
Now, it wouldn’t be right for me to drag you all the way through an article during spoiler season without including a little something, and what better than this card, Climactic Showdown, with art by the incredible Diana Simonova (Anthela Vaulor), featuring art of a key upcoming character.