Ever ask anyone what they think of Japanese video games? Chances are, you might hear famous titles like Pokémon, Street Fighter and Metal Gear Solid, which have captured the hearts of millions with their innovative gameplay and striking visuals.
Since 1999, Girls2Pioneers* ambassador Emiko Iwasaki has been part of the thriving Japanese game industry. What sets her apart is that she is one of the very few female game designers to have risen to the position of General Games Director.
Emiko, who studied oil painting in university, wanted to pursue an art-related career after graduation. What began as a part-time artist job at a leading Japanese game studio, Arc System Works, became an 11-year career where she picked up game development skills from colleagues, and worked on numerous console games—most notably the popular Guilty Gear franchise.
“I learned the most while working on 16-bit hardware projects,” said Emiko. “The constraints of a hardware released more than two decades ago forced me to think outside the box and approach things differently.”
“These skills were valuable in developing future games such as Battle Fantasia, which I directed in 2006. Despite our lack of experience with 3D gaming animation, we knew how to work around our limitations and created an innovative 2.5D game—3D characters set in a 2D world,” she explained.
Battle Fantasia is known for its stylistic departure from conventional fighting games, and has since become a source of inspiration for critically acclaimed titles such as Street Fighter IV, something Emiko regards as one of her biggest contributions to the gaming industry.
Her climb to success, however, was not without its challenges. Speaking at the Singapore Committee for UN Women’s Redefining Narratives: Child’s Play event held at Microsoft Singapore’s headquarters, Emiko discussed the gender discrimination she has faced while working in the male-dominated industry.
One time, Emiko was assigned to develop a game and had only interns and new recruits to work with, whereas other all-male teams received experts and experienced staff.
“I didn’t think I would run into such situations. It was only when I began rising up the ranks that gender discrimination became more apparent to me,” Emiko added.
Japan’s strict hierarchical working culture made it even more difficult for Emiko to openly share her ideas and opinions during board meetings. Whenever there were work issues she wanted to address, her voice was often ignored and unheard.
Despite these obstacles, Emiko has never given up. Like the adventurous heroine in one of her favourite games, Dragon Quest III, she constantly strives to “level up and conquer any difficulties”. With the support of her team mates, she has always been ready to take on the next challenge.
Today, Emiko is dedicating herself to raise awareness on gender discrimination in the workplace and improve the career prospects of women in the video gaming industry. She hopes that through her sharing sessions, she can inspire more girls to enter the business of video gaming and unleash their creativity without restraints.
She offers these words of advice to aspiring female game developers: “Immerse yourself in game development, and never hesitate to learn new things. Connect with other like-minded individuals and share your ideas. Most importantly, start creating.”
*Launched in 2014 with MasterCard and Standard Chartered Bank, Girls2Pioneers encourages girls to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields where women are historically underrepresented.