When this latest wave of VR hit back in 2014, it really was the wild west. Anyone with an open mind and willingness to work was welcome, meaning that former male dominated industry standards and limitations did not apply. It was the diversity of the indie community that held the industry up. Female community leaders also emerged, creating some of the most powerful and supportive communities I’ve ever been part of. I’m proud to have worked with a number of them through my years at Oculus witnessing some seminal projects come through by creators like Hyphen Labs, Eliza McNitt, Samantha Gorman, Yasmin Elayat and many more. We’re all setting the groundwork for VR today and we all need to continue ensuring that the foundation we lay is as diverse as the audiences we hope to serve. I feel fortunate to be part of this community of creative innovators.
-Yelena Rachitsky, Executive Producer at Oculus
I never thought that I would direct a documentary, let alone a virtual reality doc. After leaving film school, I chose to go down the documentary “producer path” and never looked back. Traveling While Black completely changed things for me. At first the transition from documentary to VR was rather daunting. It felt like everyone was speaking a foreign language, this was only exacerbated by the fact that the Felix & Paul Studios team were often speaking French! Now, oddly enough, VR makes more sense to me than traditional documentary filmmaking.
Thanks to a very patient team at Felix & Paul Studios, Roger and I were given the tool set and guidance that we needed to translate our skills as documentary filmmakers into VR documentarians. Roger and I informed the film with our documentary background by staying true to our roots. I insisted on having all real community members and Ben’s Chili Bowl patrons in the background instead of hiring extras. The response was overwhelming; everyone in the community wanted to come and be a part of capturing a small piece of Ben’s history.
This film and the process was a true collaboration; every decision was a communal one, bringing the best out of both of our teams’ expertise. Everyone who came into contact with our project wanted to help in any way that they could, from the community members to our crew. When we were confronted with a state of emergency snow storm in Washington DC, that essentially shut down the city, I wasn’t sure if the shoot was going to come together. This is when the strength of Ben’s community and our amazing crew truly shined. Our crew members all found their way to set, and a few of our crew members even recruited their friends and family to come out and be a part of the film. The three amazing young girls featured in the 1960s scene were our hairstylist Latrice’s daughter and two friends! Latrice even let the young women come and sleep over at her house during the storm to be sure that we had our subjects the next day. Though they weren’t originally scheduled to be in the project, those three young women are integral to the scene that ended up being a fan favorite, and I can’t imagine the piece without them.
The sense of community and support around the film was like nothing I have ever experienced. We wanted to bring our subjects into a community safe space to have a space for an open dialogue, but I never would have expected that this location would extend its sense of community to our team and crew. This is the magic of Ben’s and the people who spend their time there. My hope is that this sense of community translates to the experience I co-directed… check out Traveling While Black on the Oculus Store and let me know.
For me it’s all about people and the community. I’m happy to be surrounded by great people – our Tvori team, our users, creators, partners, vendors and the whole VR community is very inspiring. The community is still quite small but growing fast. It's a very special feeling when it seems like you know all the major players and contributors in the domain. You get support and feedback, and you can reach out to anyone and get a prompt response.
Our Tvori team is 8 people today, including interns, but we feel we are much bigger! We get amazing support from our creators in everything we do – they answer questions in the Tvori support group, they join us at major events and exhibitions, demo at the Tvori booth, present on behalf of Tvori and evangelize VR and Tvori just because they like the tool and want to help. We are grateful to each and every one of them. It’s more like a big family.
This is even true with our relationships with other VR creation tools. There is not much competition. We exchange experience, share findings, and help users enjoy and have a great time in VR. Our joint competition with Oculus Medium #TvoriMediumTime is a great example of these collaborative efforts. We try to stay in touch with many other teams working on VR creation tools and are happy to see it’s more about growing together in this market rather than competing. And this is quite a unique situation – we all are big fans of and believers in VR. We prefer to combine efforts to make this technology the next “Black Swan” and help VR penetrate.
I’m believe in the value of broad diversity (diversity of opinions, gender, minds, religion, etc.) and am sure that only such teams are well balanced and truly innovative.
At Tvori we are 50% female. This is a result of the skills and knowledge we were seeking while forming our team.
I’m happy to see that the VR community has many talented and amazing women. And I think this is another great advantage that VR has compared to other IT industries which have inherited male driven culture.
There is a great VR creative hub in Canada, driven by two very talented and active women, Samantha Luck and Olga Nabatova. I’m amazed how open they are to new technologies and tools, they keep experimenting with a range of software and push the limits of the tools they are using. They are actively sharing their results and findings with the community. I would like to take this opportunity to wish that all women in VR enjoy this journey and become active members of the community by joining Facebook groups, sharing art and helping others.
All of us in VR today are very lucky people. We’re observing a great shift on how people are interacting with digital objects, creating content and collaborating virtually. And this is just the beginning of the new technology era. VR hardware vendors are introducing a new generation of products and some features are taking our breath away with all the opportunities we get as software developers.
7 years ago, after shipping Journey, I sat down and asked myself a simple question: what is next? Looking over the things I had accomplished, and looking forward into the landscape of choices ahead, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to making a concrete, measurable difference in the number of women, queer folks and POC making games in our industry. As a result, I founded the BA program at UC Santa Cruz and co-founded Funomena. The goal with both of these initiatives was to create a safe space for creative expression that embraces change and envisions a future where everyone has a chance to be their true selves at work, play and in collaboration with each other.
Making games is not easy, and thinking about them requires approaching the work as art, communication, culture, code and creativity. It also takes many types of people to create a game collaboratively – and not just in terms of skills. Every member of a team brings important lessons and learnings from their own individual experiences. To celebrate that – I’d like to introduce you to a few of the folks who call Funomena home. Allena, Meghan, and Hannah are just a few of the wonderful women that work with us, but they each have lots of experience with VR and what makes the platform so special:
Allena Hail, Artist
"Working on Luna felt like I finally got to make the game I had entered the industry to make; something serene, fun, and beautiful. But the greatest moments were when I demoed the game at events. It was so thrilling to hand a headset to a stranger and have their first VR experience be something I made."
Meghan Auer, Artist
"As a 3D Artist; it is fantastic to create work in VR and for VR experiences. It is so easy to get lost in your own world. What I enjoy most in this Industry; is seeing others become immersed in the worlds that I have helped create. I've even started creating concept content directly in VR paint and sculpt tools since they help me see my art as it will be experienced while I create.”
Hannah Gamiel, Engineer
“Working previously on Obduction (Cyan, Inc.), which supports both 2D and VR modes, was both extremely challenging and very rewarding. As a programmer, being able to work on such emergent tech and line it up with each VR hardware release at that time was very fulfilling. But the most fulfilling portion of that project, to me, was watching long-time fans of our work at Cyan put on a VR headset for the very first time to experience the worlds we made. When you see people smiling, laughing, or crying tears of joy when playing your game for the first time in VR -- you know you've done something right. Because of that, I've made it my goal to continue working on experiences that bridge the gap between digital worlds and the real world we experience.”
In closing – I’d just like to let you all know that each of us has the power to expand the people our industry reaches by expanding who we hire, retain and listen to as we grow. Regardless of our gender, sexual orientation, cultural heritage or personal history. The power to change can be a simple as asking a good question at the right time, or making a helpful suggestion when it’s most needed. Even small changes in how you support and ally with your colleagues can make a huge difference. So today - please take a moment to consider how you can bring our industry closer to supporting women in the workplace - and be a part of the rising tide that floats all boats. Thank you!