Ada Lovelace Day: Tracey John

I’ve been reading Tracey John’s work since her days at MTV Multiplayer. I recently met Tracey at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Tracey agreed to participate in this interview, despite her very busy post-GDC and pre-PAX East workload. So, a huge thank you to Tracey for setting aside some time for this interview!

Tracey John is a writer and journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. She has written feature articles about video games, technology, toys and geek culture at large for MTV News, The New York Post, NYLON Guys, ToyFare and Wizard. Her writing on the web can be found at Techland.com, Wired.com, Massively.com and many other sites. She currently is an editor at UGO.com covering tech, gaming, comics and toys.

Read on for our interview with Tracey!

Tracey John, "The Goods" Editor at UGO.com

Tracey John, "The Goods" Editor at UGO.com. Tracey is a young, Asian American woman.

Tell us a little about yourself. What is your personal background?

I was born in New York City, raised near Tampa, Florida and am of Chinese descent. My parents were born in Beira, Mozambique where they grew up in a Cantonese- and Portuguese-speaking community before coming to the United States in the ’70s. I have an identical twin sister, who is a talented and hard-working web and video producer for Logo Online.

What is your background in journalism?

I have a degree in Mass Media & Communication Studies from NYU. I wrote for my school paper and interned at CMJ New Music Monthly magazine and MTV News before becoming an online assistant producer at MTV.com. I later became an assistant music editor at MTV.com, where I once interviewed Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional) and made him walk out of an interview after I called him “emo.”

Have you always wanted to be a tech and gaming journalist? How did you arrive at where you are right now?

Ever since college, I thought for sure I would work in the music industry or be a music writer. Though I was a gamer since childhood (mostly NES, SNES, N64, Genesis, Dreamcast and PC) writing about video games for a living had never ever occurred to me until one day, in 2006, the then-games editor of MTV.com heard I played World of Warcraft and brought me onto his team as an associate editor for the now-defunct games.mtv.com website.

Even then, I didn’t really write about video games as much as produce packaged online video content. It wasn’t until 2007, when Stephen Totilo was getting his MTV Multiplayer blog (at the time, a single-person affair) into full swing that I was welcomed to join and write about video games full-time. And from 2007 to 2009, I wrote and reported for MTV Multiplayer.com, learning as much as I could from Stephen and our then-San Francisco reporter Patrick Klepek. I am very proud of the work we did there together, and it was the most formative time in my learning the ins and outs of video game reporting.

After I left MTV last year, I became a freelance contributor to Wired’s GameLife, AOL’s Massively and Time Inc.’s Techland, and was fortunate enough to write a few pieces for the New York Post, Time Out New York and Discover magazine.

Finally, I started a full-time gig at the Hearst-owned UGO.com in January as the editor of “The Goods” section, which covers technology, video games, toys, and comics. I’m also a contributor to 1UP.com.

The tech and gaming fields are quite male-dominated. What are your experiences of writing about technology, gadgets, and games? Do you think you receive any special attention, positive or negative, because you’re a woman?

Sure, I have certainly received attention—positive and negative—based on my gender. As a female in this industry, I stick out, for better or for worse. But because of it, I’ve gotten to meet and speak with my readers, my peers and some of my heroes as a result. I can’t complain about that.

I don’t think I’ve had any negative experiences outright. I get the feeling from reading comments that some may be quicker to dismiss my opinions on certain topics because of my gender—like whenever I’m offended at the gratuitous nudity of females or the lack of a female character option in video games, for instance. I’ll admit that I can’t remove my gender from what I write, and as a female gamer, I’ll let that pervade my writing when it makes sense or when there’s a point to be made.

I think there’s also a misconception that there are so few women out there as well. Though I do stand out, probably through the fortune of being able to work for a few big media outlets, there are plenty of women who are working in the industry. I am just one of many (if you even consider journalism part of the industry), and more and more women are playing games, writing about games and making games. We are not one-eyed unicorns!

And I like to think that the work I do makes me memorable too. :P

Is there anyone you haven’t interviewed yet who you would like to? Who is it, and why?

Ha, my list is endless. I want to interview everyone. I am generally curious about the developers and their craft, as well as about the opinions, emotions and reactions of the gamers who consume their work. I do have a current wishlist of people I want to interview, but I’ll surprise you in the next few months.

On one of the posts you wrote at MTV Multiplayer, you mentioned that you are a feminist. There is an undercurrent of anti-feminism in society, especially in a male-dominated culture like gaming. It was refreshing and inspiring that a games journalist would announce openly that she is a feminist, given the potential reactions from less enlightened readers. Many feminists talk about their “click” moment, the point at which they realise why feminism makes sense and informed their world view. Do you have a “click” moment? How did you come to come to the conclusion that feminism made sense to you?

Oh, thanks for saying so! I wish I could pin it down to one moment, but I think it’s something I realized more over time (thanks, college). I don’t adhere strictly to a certain set of theories, but I do call myself a feminist in the broad sense. Obviously, I think women should have equal rights and opportunities, and are capable of doing anything men can do.

As far as video games are concerned, it’s certainly still a male-dominated culture, but as I said before, more and more women are playing games, all kinds of games. I, as well as many of my female friends, enjoy many games that our male counterparts do. While I like playing male protagonists, I really would prefer not to see things like hyper-sexualized female characters or needlessly topless women, especially when there’s no ostensible point.

Great gameplay is great gameplay, but I can’t help but notice when certain elements of some games make it clearly known that it was not made with a female audience in mind. Granted, not all games can and should be made with everyone in mind. But it seems surprising that many big-budget games, whose goal is to sell as many copies as possible to the mass market, don’t always consider those outside the average 18-34 year-old straight male gamer demographic. Do heterosexual men just naturally play more video games, or do heterosexual men play more video games because they’re encouraged to, and the industry caters to their view of the world?

And it’s not just the content of the games either; the marketing of games is still aimed at this idea of the uber-heterosexual, girl-oogling male. “Booth babes,” while still prevalent, seem to be less frequent or less of an issue, but sexy women are still being used to publicize games (like Dante’s Inferno and True Crime to name some recent examples where I felt uncomfortable). At this point, publishers clearly have to know that such tactics can be offensive to people, male and female alike, but bad publicity is still publicity, I guess?

I think both male and female gamers deserve more credit than that though, and nothing can change unless we open it all up for discussion and examine ideas that are considered “the norm.”

Name one of your all-time favourite games. Why do you like it so much and has it had any sort of personal impact on you?

This one’s tough! I have a lot of favorite games spanning the years — World of Warcraft, Diablo II, Fallout 3, Mass Effect 2 (can you tell I like RPGs?) as well as Portal, Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, Crackdown, The Curse of Monkey Island

But one particular game that is near and dear to my heart—Sam & Max Hit the Road by LucasArts from back in the day. I have fond memories of my dad making me a boot disk to run the game on MS-DOS, playing that game for hours with my sister, loving the fact that I could point and click on anything and see something new. I also expanded my vocabulary and learned phrases such as, “Gratuitous violence is my forte!” I had played games before that, but that was the first one that really captured my attention for hours at a time and really made me want to play more games. Then World of Warcraft came much later, but that’s a whole nother story…

Is there any advice that you have for women who are aspiring journalists, that you would have liked to have heard when you were starting out?

This can apply to anyone I think, but I’d say… Be confident. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask questions. Write constantly. Read the type of things you want to write. Volunteer for assignments. Pitch ideas. Talk to people in the field who inspire you. Learn their methods. While this seems like really generic advice, I don’t think I knew any of this when I started, and I am still learning from my peers everyday.

Anything else to add?

Thanks to everyone at  Border House for doing what they do and inviting me here for an interview. If any readers have any questions or comments about anything, they can DM me on Twitter @TraceyJohn or contact me at my website (which badly needs an update) at www.traceyjohn.com.

Thank you so much, Tracey, for taking the time out of your no doubt busy day to participate in this interview!

This post is part of Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science. You can read more about Ada Lovelace Day at the website.

4 thoughts on “Ada Lovelace Day: Tracey John”

  1. Oh yeah, Sam & Max Hit The Road! That really was one of LucasArts’s best.

    “Quick, where can I put this bomb where it won’t hurt anybody we know or care about?”
    “Out the window, Sam; there’s nothing but strangers out there.”
    *Throw*
    *Boom*
    “I hope there was no-one on that bus.”
    “No-one we know, anyways.”

    Tracey, have you had a chance to play any of the new Telltale Sam & Max games?

  2. Hey DSimon,

    I actually started playing Season One recently (finally), and am really enjoying it. I’d love to play Hit the Road again though! Have you played them? Do you like them?

  3. Yep, I’ve played through both seasons, and I really enjoyed them quite a lot. They show a lot of the same completely ridiculous humor that the original game had.

    For example, about halfway through Season One you get Max elected as President of the United States (running against the reanimated Lincoln Memorial). In all the games from that point on, in both seasons, Max is still president. Although it doesn’t have much impact on his crime-fighting methods, he still regularly makes side comments about whatever he’s been doing as POTUS (such as holding a press conference in which he threatens to shoot people who question him about why he’s relaxed all gun control laws).

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