I had the wonderful pleasure of talking with Ashley Soriano, professional gamer, future game designer, and all-around swell gal. It was an interview that was so awesome I had to cut it in half and hope I will have time to post the rest in the future. Enjoy!
Ashley Soriano is a multiple-title first-person shooter competitive gamer. A frequent competitor within the Major League Gaming Pro Circuit, she started her competitive career as a professional coach for the Shadowrun team Secret Weapon. After two years later within the Halo 3 and Halo: Reach circuit, she moves on to compete within Call of Duty: Black Ops this MLG season. In addition to national gaming competitions, she produces videos under partnership with Machinima and writes for a gaming blog Partybomb.net. Currently living in Los Angeles, she majors in Interactive Entertainment at the University of Southern California
Listen to the audio right here, or read the transcript below!
Me: Good, thank you so much for agreeing to do this.
Ashely: Oh no problem.
Me: Um, so it can just be really informal, chit-chatty, whatever back and forth. Um, I sent you the questions ahead of time just so we had an idea what to talk about. Um, the series that I'm doing for Bitch Magazine is just about, um, basically looking at video games and gaming from different kinds of perspectives from a social justice standpoint and I had asked a friend of mine if he could recommend any, um, women pro-gamers because I live in South Korea and I am horribly out of the loop, at the moment, and you were the first name that he recommended to me. So I've been kind of scattering around like a fiend trying to find contact information for you. So, here we are!
If you want to go ahead and introduce yourself just really quickly, ah, that would be great.
A: Um, OK, my name is Ashley. I'm 21 years old, I'm a college student at the University of Southern California. I've been a competitive gamer for the past three years.
Me: If you could kind of describe what you mean by "competitive gamer."
A: Oh, of course!
M: No, go 'head!
A: So, ah, as far as competitive gaming I've been doing local and national tournaments mainly through Major League Gaming, which is a national tournament based on the East Coast, but they also have a couple West Coast events.
M: No, go 'head, keep going.
A: I originally started as a professional coach, for Shadowrun back in 2007, whenever I first started, and then in 2009, 2010, I was part of, well I was part of an all female, uh, team called BAMF Ladies, and we were at, I think, five events, within 2009-10. I was also part of a bunch of other uh, (crosstalk) different teams.
M: Um, so I sent you the questions ahead of time a little bit, um, you said you were majoring in "Interactive Entertainment", uh, Video Game Design, uh, do you wanna describe that a little bit?
M: I thought that was interesting you described it as "Interactive Entertainment." Is that the official way they describe it in college?
A: Yes. (crosstalk) Um, here, at least. There are a bunch of different colleges that call it different names. They'll just go ahead and say it's video game design, but uh, at the University here they call it Interactive Entertainment because it's not only just about video game design, they encompass everything as far as entertainment in the sense that it's, ya know, more cinematic, they have us actually integrated within the film school. So, it's a lot more hands on with, not only gaming-wise, but also, um, what's the best way to put it, they're a couple of games where they aren't even games, you are just interacting, kind of like Kinect,
A: You don't have an objective, you are just experiencing it.
M: Um, what school are you going to, or do you want to say, you don't have to answer that.
A: Um, OK, no problem. University of Southern California.
M: OK, that's what I thought.
A: No problem.
M: So, do you think that getting more women into fields such as Interactive Entertainment and other tech fields inside the gaming industry, do you think that will eventually lead to a redirect in the way that games are marketed to gamers and, um, not just specifically heterosexual , young, white, male, gamers?
A: Uh, as far as it goes, at this point in time, now, it's the way that everything is set up within the game industry, the short answer: yes. Eventually. The long answer: It's like, it's right now, as far as everything goes it's more marketable and profitable to make games to white, young, male gamers, as you said. As far as things go, it's just like…I keep on saying that. (both laugh)
M: No, it's OK. (both laugh)
A: But, it's like, uh, they already market it because it's more profitable, and make more money off of it, and it's completely understandable. Ya know, having more females in the higher tiers of developers and producers, they may sway the market eventually, but there are so many companies out that not only are directed towards the male gamers, the ones that are making them the money right now, but also there are a couple that are in the wrong side of the genre,
A: The Cooking Mama genre, that
A: that look towards, uh, games for girls kinda thing, and it's just, you wanna bang your head, against the desk, because it's like they, rather than a couple of the hits like Diner Dash and the casual games, there are way too many awful games out there that are cute, cuddly, throwing up rainbows kind of thing.
M: What is that line, the Imagine Line, I think, um. That I see, imagine that you are a boutique owner, or imagine that you raise horses, or that you take care of kittens all day long.
A: No, I don't even want to deal with that! I just want to play a game that I can be enriched in, I'm not trying to imagine that I'm vacuuming the floor. (both laugh)
A …in the kitchen
M: because that's my life already. I'm already vacuuming the floor during the day. That's not exciting. I'm thinking, like, seeing, uh, playing a female soldier in a game like Medal of Honor or Call of Duty.
A: For sure.
M: Not even in a multi-player campaign, but um, like in the single-player campaign, or in a single-player co-op campaign. Something like that.
A: Sure. I think that's why I like Mirror's Edge more.
A: It was such an awesome game, as far as, I mean, like, it was mad short, but I mean it was an excellent game because it gave a female protagonist, and it had an interesting story behind it. And beautiful cinematics (cross talk). It was enriching.
A: I mean, too many companies are too scared out of their minds to put a female into the protag, protagonist role. And it's just like, we need to put some more into that. I mean, I'm not trying to say, oh, it should be dominated by female protagonists,
A: At least try.
M: More balance would be nice, to see more of them.
M: Not even in a, playable character kind of concept either, I remember when, um, Assassin's Creed came out, um, I don't know if you remember, all of the brouhaha that came out when, um, when the game was released, and um, everything that happened with Jade Raymond, um,
M: She was one of the lead developers and the internet storm, that happened because here is this conventionally attractive woman who was a big developer on a game, and there were internet comics just trashing her reputation. Because here was this attractive woman who was a lead developer on a game that happened to be really successful. And, that was really disappointing to me. You know, on a really popular game.
A: Absolutely. It's like, Assassin's Creed is a big deal now, and it's just like, whenever she was out there, it's like all the trolls came out, and they were like "Oh my god, a female!"
A: And they just exploded on it, and it's like, no! It's a really good game. Whenever Assassin's Creed came out, I mean, I have my opinions that it was repetitive or whatever, but it was a solid game. And, it had a great story.
M: Yeah, it was, honestly, I think, the first, XBox 360 game that I took on, and really took to, I uh, I was slow coming into the console world, and Assassin's Creed, I think, because of the linear game play, was easy for me to adjust to controls. That was really disheartening, I think, to watch. The way that all of that played out, when (cross talk)
A: She didn't, she, the only I was hoping that because they had a female in the front it'd be like "Oh, my gosh", ya know. It'd be more of a positive thing, but of course, all the kids just kind of like, "Oh, my god there's a female in this game" reaction to it.
Me: it was good to see that the franchise kept going forward, and here we are with the third game, and it's still a strong game going forward, and they are getting ready to pull out a third game, this year or next year, I can't remember. But, um, and I don't personally know if she is still behind that, I saw her with Assassin's Creed II, but, you know, I don't want to see that discourage people, ya know, like yourself going into that industry, and other women going into that industry, because of things, like that, that happen. You know. Or, game industries, when they put out games like Mirror's Edge, that should have been more well recepted than it was.
A: Absolutely, I mean, uh, I can't even think of, rather than Jade, there are a bunch of other female developers out there, but there just, like, aren't enough.
A: It's disheartening. It's really disheartening. I shouldn't even—
M: I wonder if , the reason that they're not as, public as Jade Raymond was with Assassin's Creed is because of what happened when that went down. You know, I think of um, Cori May, at BioWare, um, she was their first, um, they have her listed on her bio as their first female developer, or first female designer, one or the other I forget right off hand, um, but you don't, you don't hear from her. Um, outside of BioWare forums. You know when it comes to, uh, game releases and things of that sort. And, so you don't hear a lot.
A: They probably put them on the back then, because it's like, you have all the ones that come in, and the trolls, and then it just turns into a shitstorm of trying to make sure that people arent' so overwhelmed with the fact that there's a female on the face of the game but,
A: looking towards, oh "buy the game, buy the game." Just forget about it.
M: We don't want the negative attention (laughs)
A: (laughs) it's so
M: It's so (laughing) Oh, boy. So, I noticed on your website that you talk about having parents as gamers, and, uh, yay! I'm a parent and a gamer.
M: (laughs) Yay! I think that, I think that it really goes against what, um, a lot of people in our society and our culture think of when they think of video game culture, I think they think of, um, young gamers as, kind of these, anit-social, anti-parent ya know, kids who sit around and don't listen to their parents and stuff. Um. Do you see, you see, you obviously, I think, do you see gaming as a positive, family bonding experience?
A: Uh, in my experience, absolutely. I think it was, I think it's a lot easier today than it used to be. Um, way back when, when I used to game with my parents, we would do, we would do co-op on Super Mario and
A: It would be my, my mom would play Mario, and I would always play Luigi, and then, my dad, he would, he would always play like columns in Tetris, and uh some other (inaudible) games. But like, I would play with my mom, and it would just be a lot of fun.
A: Now, today you have Kinect, and obviously it's a four person and you can get everyone into it, kind of game system. I think it's really good. It, it turns into, like, you don't wanna have the kid sitting and doing multi-player with other people all the time, I mean, I mean, board games, you can still do that, but video gaming just makes it a lot easier. And a lot more interactive.
M: I was just going ot say that. It's kind of like the board game night used to be, ya know. I think, and now they have board games on your video game, you can play it on your XBox or your Wii. You can get out there and do it all together. Kinda neat. (clears throat)
Excuse me. Do you think that that encouraged you to go into pro-gaming as a career interest?
A: Ah, uh, not at all. (both laugh) I mean (laughing) I've always had my parents behind my back. Although they really didn't like pro-gaming at first, ya know, they got used to the idea. Um, everything as far as competing was purely influenced by my friends. I was actually an extremely casual, single-player gamer until I got myself XBox Live.
M: Nice. I wonder if that was the Thing, ya know at family functions, (imitates a family member) "So what is Ashley doing now?" "Oh, you know, she's doing her thing" (chuckles).
A: She's just playing Halo. (both laugh)
M: She's just playing Halo. (laughing)
A: And a year later, it's like "What, she's competing in Chicago, what?"
M: Very nice.
M: That's good that they were supportive. I think that's good, but I have these weird concepts of parenting. People look at me funny, like I've grown a third head, not a second one, but a third one, when I support my kid in some of the things that she likes to do. So.
A: People are (crosstalk) people are still getting used to gaming. (laughing) You just have to let it grown on them.
M: Which brings me to my next one, uh. When we bought our daughter her first World of Warcraft accout, one of our friends told us that we were setting her up to be one of the Jocks of the Future. Uh, what do you think of that?
A: Well, probably! I mean, I'm, I would encourage it. (laughing) As far as jocks in the future, yeah, like, uh, probably gonna be at the rate of competitive gaming and all of that is going. I mean, South Korea, they already have –
A: the whole Starcraft scene, Good lord. It's amazing.
M: Oh, yeah.
A: It's almost its national sport there.
M Oh yeah, crap, they have people here who get mobbed like, you know, like world soccer players and it's amazing the way they walk around and they are all in their matching jumpsuits and it's just… they have to build special arenas just to hold events here it's (inaudible)
A: Oh, I remember, I remember like, a year and a half ago there was this one contracted player who got, like, $400,000 in U.S. dollars just for a year contract, and that's just, amazing. Of course, the United States and the UK is catching up, but individual gaming leagues are just like, Major League Gaming, the European Console League, their getting there. (crosstalk) But South Korea's way, way in the future. But (laughing). I mean, they have their own television show they have –
M: Two cable channels (laughing)
A: Yes, oh! They have two cable channels, not one, but two.
M: Yes, two cable channels here, and one shows, round the clock, 24-7, ya know, nothing but people playing a game that is, what is Starcraft, 12, or 17 years old? It's an old game!
M: It's an amazingly old game. (laughing) And they are resistant to Starcraft II. (laughing) People are "OK, we accept that we may have to play this now", but they are, not wanting to let go of Starcraft, it's just, it's a phenomenon. It's amazing. So, when I say "The Jocks of the Future", I'm looking at South Korea, and I'm something I wanted to do with this interview series was talk to people in the US and kind of compare the way that the US gaming world is coming around to where South Korea is now, and see if there's a way that I think they're going to meet.
A: I don't think it will ever be on the same level. Considering they've just been further down the line, but, um, I think, I think it's catching up. The ECL has a lot of supporters behind, uh, not only ECL,, there are a whole bunch of different tournaments in the UK, and within Europe. But, um, oh, let me think here, but it's like there are a whole bunch, they have, and, in Europe they have a really big scene already. I think it's more than the US at this point. 'Cuz they already have a lot of sponsors like Steel Series, MSI, a lot of the computer, PC based sponsors all the way over there going "Hey, we wanna sponsor your team, let's build this up, but um. There's also Major League Gaming, which is the one I'm most affiliated with. Or, involved with. And, it's like, Major League Gaming was working with ESPN last year, were part of the online streams. Major League Gaming has dealt with so many sponsors in the past. They're with Dr. Pepper, (laughing) they're with Hot Pockets, they're with a bunch of like, upcoming or already like, established that's just, like… Oh! Old Spice, with the Old Spice Guy, (laughing) That's the big thing right there.
M: I'm going to have to catch up with this Old Spice Guy, because I've been out of the US cable loop for too long (laughs).
A: It's all over YouTube. Oh, my gosh, it's amazing.
Me: I'll check it out.
Do you see a time when women and girl gamers can drop the prenomer of "women and girls" from just gaming and just be gamers like everyone else?
A: Oh, man. It's just like, I even when you were just asking the question, I cringed at "girl gamer." (laughing) It just had like, a bad feeling in my spine,
A: (laughing) but, uh, the way that I see it is that to be quite frank, until there's a consistent team of girls, or at least, like, a co-ed team, in one of the national leagues running trains like, consistently doing well, it's gonna be a long time until "girl" is taken out of "girl gamer."
A: It's gonna be horrible. Cuz, like, girl gamers, like the title, it's just, like, it's already mocked, a ridiculous amount, not on XBox live, not PlayStatio, PlayStaion Network, but at tournaments, at events, like regular events, like PAX East, E3, it's because, like, no girl team, or no girls, make it to that serious level. We're always affiliated with, casual.
A: Not, like, uh, let me think here, like, for MLG, uh, the last time that a girl placed, uh, consistently, was in Halo 2 when we had Xena. Uh, she was most known for placing in the pro-circuit. But, we having had a single female presence that has been in the top tier for like, a long while. Yeah, it's (sighs), it's like females are on a lesser level than guys, it's like, The title of girl gamer is there because it's made to encompass the fact that females are not on the same level, they're just not as good. That's the concept, not. I'm not trying to say girls are not as good as guys.
M: No, I agree.
A: It's a perception.
M: Yeah. Uh, does a little part of you not want to let go of the title once you've fought to be really good? At being a girl gamer. I mean, (sighs), let me explain that better. (both laughing) That sounded better in my head. You, you've worked really hard to be in a position as a girl gamer, you know what I mean, and you hold your own. Um, do you have a little bit of resistance to let go of the part of you that is a girl gamer?
A: I think it's too much fun trying to fight it, but uh, (laughing) if it were to the point that I could get rid of the title absolutely, then that'd be great. I mean, I already try, not to ever call myself a female gamer, a girl gamer, anything like that, I mean, if I ever reference "girl gamer" in a conversation then I'll just say female, that plays games.
A: It should never be meshed together. There's nothing like, there's no correlation between being a girl and being a gamer.
A: So, I try so hard whenever I go to competitions I had to say to so many people who are like "You're the best girl gamer", I'm like "dude, no, I'm just a girl that happens to game."
M: Be a gamer.
No, I think there's like this weird place to me, in the, in the middle somewhere, obviously, you and I are not in the same league, obviously, at all, I mean I'm not a hard cord gamer (laughing) I just am very very interested in video games, I love video games, but, um, I, don't wanna let go of the fact that, I don't try to separate the fact that, ya know, that I'm a woman, I'm a girl, from it, and, that's not what I'm saying you're doing, um, at the same time, I don't wanna have to label myself "I'm a girl gamer." Because, you're right, it's meant to separate, you know "the girls from the men", how often do you hear that (laughing), you know, but, do you know what I mean, there's a, there's like a connect in there, I don't want people to erase the fact that I'm a woman from something, because them people are "Oh, I don't see gender at all, I just see people", ya know, and I think that's just a copout and guys are looking at something and they try to dismiss, ya know, crude behavior. But, at the same time, I don't want them to separate people and say "Oh, you're really good for a girl gamer." No, she's really good for a gamer. You know, look at everything that she's accomplished out there. So. (trails off) If that made any sense at all (laughs)
A: No, that made complete sense. I always get a lot of "You're good for a girl gamer."
M: Fabulous. Thank you, so much, for talking to me today.
A: No problem! It was fun.
M: I hope I haven't kept you from anything earthshatteringly important, (laughing), you know, like time to yourself.
A: Naw. I set my time. It was just right, so it was all good.
M: Great. Thank you so much.
Thank you to my friend, Ian, for the tip.