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Killer Women: Jennifer Hepler

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Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man's domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2006, 38% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Jennifer Hepler works for Bioware, a company well-known for making quality games with quality storylines that appeal to women as much as men. She is a Managing Editor and is currently working on the upcoming title, Dragon Age. Here's what she had to say:

Name: Jennifer Brandes Hepler
Title: Managing Editor -- Dragon Age
Company: Bioware Corporation

What's your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

I guess my earliest memory is some time in the Atari era. My brother and I had a used Atari, slightly after its heyday, with a bunch of hand-me-down games with no boxes and no way to figure out the rules. I remember some Centipede, Ms. Pac Man, Joust and Ghostbusters, but neither of us ever got very into it.

I'd have to say that I found games later more than grew up on them. While as a child of the '80s, I did have a Nintendo around during high school (and had a pet rabbit who would come running and grab the controller whenever he heard Tetris music), I generally saw it as something to do with my younger cousins, rather than something that was fun for me. I had a little more fun with the King's Quest and Leisure Suit Larry games, but never really got hooked.

In college, I got into paper-and-pencil RPGs (particularly Vampire and Shadowrun), and that was really my entry into this career.

7thguest.jpgWhat kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

I've got a BA in Creative Writing, and am slightly bitter because I can no longer rail that it's completely useless -- it let me immigrate to Canada as a skilled worker under NAFTA -- but I don't think my work in college had any direct connection to the fact that I'm working as a writer now.

I've known I wanted to be a writer since I was in fifth grade (my teacher, Matt Costello, is actually the writer of the Seventh Guest CD-ROM game series, as well as some pretty cool horror novels, and was my first mentor in the field). I think that the work I did in other writing jobs, the writing I did on my own, and my extensive experience in the SF/gaming community (I've run a small convention and many, many game demos at the bigger conventions), was much more valuable than my formal education. On the other hand, my non-writing classes at college let me get interesting background information on a whole bunch of topics which later made their way into my writing.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

Pretty much all the jobs I count have been writing jobs of one sort or another. I began writing for paper-and-pencil roleplaying games while I was still in college, writing supplements for games including Shadowrun, Earthdawn, Legend of the Five Rings, and Paranoia. I was actually writing my "Cyberpirates" book for Shadowrun on the afternoon of my college graduation, because my deadline was the next day. I also got my first taste of computer game writing during this time, doing a few freelance bits of writing and editing for an online trading card game, Sanctum.

After that, I did some hard time in Hollywood, writing for CBS television's CIA drama, The Agency, and developing many feature film scripts and TV pilots, including several based on both paper-and-pencil and computer RPGs. During this time, I was always interested in the convergence of games and traditional media, and was a founding member of the Writers Guild of America's New Media Writers Caucus, which offered the Guild's protections and associate membership to any working game writer.

My real entrance back to computer game design was through a job at Tomo Software, a start-up mobile phone game company, where I wrote and edited for their planned MMMG (massively multiplayer mobile game), SORA.

Then I joined Bioware this past October as a writer on Dragon Age and am having the time of my life.

dragon_age_logo_desk_800.jpgWas your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

I guess I just answered some of that above. Since I started working in paper-and-pencil RPGs, I've loved the gaming audience and how passionate they are about their games. Through my whole time in Hollywood, I always gravitated toward game-related projects, and when I went to GDC in 2005, it was like coming home. When I realized how much more I liked the people in the games industry than in film and television...and how much more passionate they were about their jobs...I began to actively pursue a full-time career in gaming.