Celebrating Women in VR: Q&A with Chloe Skew

Oculus Blog
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March 26, 2020
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So far this month, we’ve heard from StoryFile Camera and XR Lead Kate Wurzbacher, Polyarc Principal Artist Corinne Scrivens, Harmonix Music Systems VP of Creative Helen McWilliams, ARVORE Creative Director of Pixel Ripped Ana Ribeiro, and Sanzaru Games Head of Production Jenny Huang. Today, our celebration of Women’s History Month continues with Turtle Rock Studios Producer Chloe Skew, who was part of the team that brought epic adventure RPG Journey of the Gods to Oculus Quest.

How did you get your start in the tech industry?

Chloe Skew: I had a sort of winding path to get into games. Starting as an Art History major in college, I knew that artistry and creativity were important to me, but I had no idea at that time there could be a place for me in games. I worked in law right out of college, but I didn’t see it as a long-term career path and I continued playing computer games and hoping for something that could be more fulfilling. I made a serious effort to go to as many networking events as possible with people in games and eventually managed to get a position at CAA in their video game department. At CAA, I learned a lot about the business of making games and how deals come together. CAA represents Turtle Rock Studios, and that relationship meant that I was in regular communication with the President & GM. He was searching for someone with a varied skill set to work as both a PR & Marketing Coordinator with then publisher 2K and be a potential face for the studio livestream and community-facing media. It was an amazing opportunity to tackle something totally new and I got lucky that he was willing to gamble on me. That was over six years ago and since then, I’ve been able to transition from PR & Marketing to Community and into development production. The very first project I got to produce myself was with Oculus for Gear VR, and the most recent was Journey of the Gods on Quest, a title that will always hold a special place in my heart.

Who’s your favorite figure from Women’s history?

CS: I wrote an entire thesis on Sofonisba Anguissola as part of my Art History degree, and I think she’s incredibly inspiring. To explain a little without going on for 50 pages including citations, she was a Renaissance painter who focused primarily on portraiture and had a successful career selling her own self-portraits. As a woman in a traditionally male field, pursuing her art, struggling with how she was perceived by others, I found her relatable even though she lived from 1532 to 1625. Her art demonstrates self-awareness and a level of subtle social commentary that I find admirable for the time. She pushed back on the expectations of what women should do, testing the limits of what was acceptable, and achieved great success while still staying true to who she was.

How do you see yourself making history?

CS: I’ll be honest that when I think about my life and what I’m trying to accomplish, I don’t think about making history. My goals are more local and short-term. I want to be a person who helps others, especially others who are up against obstacles outside of their control. I don’t always find the opportunity to do that in my work, but when I do get to chime in on something to help make it more positive and inclusive, or when I can go a little further to help someone out who needs it, I try to do that.

If you could give one piece of advice to a young girl considering a career in tech or the arts, what would it be and why?

CS: Throw yourself 100% into the thing you love and don’t let anyone rain on your passion. It’s likely that you’ll be questioned, doubted, dismissed, or discouraged. It’s important that you can always go back to why you’re doing what you do and that it fulfills you on its own without the validation of others.

What concrete steps can people take to help make the tech industry a more inclusive and welcoming space?

CS: I think listening to each other and being patient is really important. I can only speak from my experience in the games industry, but knowing gamers and game developers, we’re all so passionate about what we play and how we make games, and with passion can come a certain impatience and an unintentional tendency to steamroll others who don’t agree. When there are people in the room who represent different backgrounds and points of view, taking a pause to ask them what they think and then actually listening can result in some really beautiful innovation. Groups that are exclusive and unwelcoming will shut down the ideas of others, dismissing and silencing them. The focus needs to be on embracing the opposite, where fresh perspective is encouraged and respected.

How do you go about designing games for a diverse audience and ensuring representation of strong women characters in your own work?

CS: As a producer, I see myself as more of a shepherd for the team and project, but I’m not a vision holder or the person calling the creative shots—I figure out when tasks should be done, but mostly not what those tasks are. That being said, one thing I love so much about Turtle Rock Studios is that anyone can have an idea and share creative suggestions or point out areas for improvement. In VR titles, like those we made for Oculus Quest, because of the need to show a body and hands and the time it takes to hook them up to perform a variety of actions, we’re a little limited in how we can vary the player’s identity. So in Journey of the Gods, the main character is androgynous to allow all players to see themselves as the protagonist. Even in smaller titles, or when given a set of limitations, it’s still possible to create inclusive stories and characters by having the willingness to come up with new solutions. It needs to be a conscious effort. Sure, it’s possible to rely on cliches and tropes from games past because it’s easy, but if people are willing to rise to the challenge of coming up with something new, I think there’s so much opportunity to push the industry forward.

What’s your favorite piece of AR/VR content and why?

CS: Is it cheating if I say Journey of the Gods? I truly love the world we created and the story we tell in that game; I think there’s so much character and depth. For me, it was a great combination of exploration and combat and, as a smaller game, it still provided a level of player progression, a character arc, memorable characters like our little owl helper or the old man who points the way. It takes you on an emotional journey with highs and lows, funny moments and a little touch of fear, all with an art style that was specifically designed around the Quest.