Jennifer Owings

We had a chat with Jennifer from Blizzard.

QRM: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in the games industry?

Jennifer: In a nutshell, I “play Tetris” with people, time, and money, making sure that projects can get done on time, on budget, and with the appropriate number of resources. I also work with teams to ensure that our workflows and processes are running smoothly and efficiently across all of our pipelines and departments.

QRM: How long have you been involved in the game industry, and what projects have you worked on? What are you working on currently?

Jennifer: I have been in the games industry for almost 13 years now. I have worked on World of Warcraft, StarCraft 2, Overwatch, Diablo 3, and Hearthstone. The benefit of being in the Cinematic department is that you get to touch almost all of Blizzard’s IPs through work on our Pre-Render projects, In Game cut scenes and our 2.5D content.

QRM: What inspired you to get started in the games industry?

Jennifer: My Mom! She was a huge gamer in the 80s. She got a Nintendo in the 80s and we would all gather in the living room to watch her play. She beat Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Dr. Mario. I bragged about her all the time to my friends and she would cheer us on as we played. My Dad was the one who brought in a PC (an IBM Personal System 2, I believe) and I was fascinated with it from the beginning. A teacher in first grade got me into PC games, starting with the King’s Quest series, and they are still some of my favorite games to this day.

QRM: In what ways do you feel your experiences as a queer person manifest in the games you work on, and influence the work you do?

Jennifer: Being queer has definitely given me a different perspective as a people manager. It has taught me to be empathetic and patient, things that I have had to learn in order to be accepting of myself. It has also encouraged me to open a dialogue with our developers about how we make design and other creative decisions. It is important to me that our games represent our diverse player base and I try to educate and provide alternative perspectives in order to make sure that we are doing our best to reflect the uniqueness of all our players.

QRM: Do you have a favourite queer character—in games or media more generally? If so, what is it about them that makes them your favourite?
Question asked by @kamienw.

Jennifer: I love how Sam Greenbriar is portrayed in <em<Gone Home. I think she is incredibly relatable and written very well. I found myself connecting to her character so much throughout that game and it was nice to see a character like her so lovingly developed. I also love that that the Dragon Age series allows your character to be any sexuality. That made me feel incredibly invested in my character. The time and energy put into developing multiple romantic scenarios made me feel seen and valued as a queer person.

QRM: Have you ever encountered roadblocks in trying to include queer characters in games? What do you think is preventing greater diversity within games?
Question asked by @dustinalex91.

Jennifer: I have seen a lot of discussion around inclusion in games and I think that there is a big need for a way to educate all creators about, not only the unique needs of the queer community, but how they see the world and like to be represented. There are so many different, beautiful incarnations of gender identity, expression and sexuality that providing guidance and insights into how that can manifest is essential to representing a community sincerely and correctly. We have found success in having key members of the community provide feedback and iteration in the early stages of development to ensure that we are creating an authentic narrative.

QRM: Why do you think it is important that queer audiences are able to see themselves represented in the games they play, and in the developers who make the games they see? What can we do to improve the industry for queer audiences and devs?

Jennifer: For me, personally, I struggled with my identity as a bisexual woman from as early as I can remember. I didn’t understand who I was, or the feelings I had. There was no representation or information regarding bisexuality when I was growing up and I was not able to embrace my full identity until I finally saw and heard stories from other bisexuals. If I didn’t have that, I would have continued to think that I was broken or odd. I think it is particularly important to be visible because there continues to be a lack of visibility and acceptance for the bisexual community (bi-erasure), and I want to stand up and show people that there are out and proud bisexuals in the world.

I think that we can improve the industry by practicing and promoting acceptance through our stories, our games, and diversifying our workforce. I think we should prioritize minority voices that might otherwise be lost. We should also provide support systems for queer and other minority groups in the industry to make sure that we are continuing to evolve.

QRM: Have you ever mentored somebody in your role in games, or been mentored? If so, what made these experiences worthwhile for you?
Question asked by @pepelanova.

Jennifer: I have both mentored and been had amazing mentors in my life. This has been key to me growing and learning not only in my career, but in my personal life. I strongly encourage everyone to find a mentor that can give them guidance and to return the favor by being available to others in need. It is important to build a community of people that believe in you and want to help you succeed. Equally important is perpetuating that practice so that others in need can benefit from it.

These experiences were worthwhile because it iterated that, while I might feel alone in my journey, there were people that I could depend on for support. When I doubted myself or was unsure how to move forward, others were there to help me shoulder that burden and provide advice or just empathy. None of us have to be alone.

QRM: In what ways can non-queer folk increase and support queer diversity present within games, as well as in the industry more broadly? How can we all work to support intersectional approaches to diversity, and why is this important?

Jennifer: Non-queer folk can support the queer community in games by speaking up about diversity and inclusion. Not just in games and how characters/stories are portrayed, but in hiring practices and seeking out minority candidates for roles within the game space. They can support and uplift minority voices in gaming communities and, most importantly, listen and educate those that might not be as knowledgeable about the importance of diversity.

QRM: Is there a message that you would like to share with the queer game players, game studies researchers, and other interested folks who comprise the Queerly Represent Me community?

Jennifer: It has been a long journey for me in terms of working toward a career and identity that I am completely comfortable with and proud of. It doesn’t happen overnight, and there are still times that I struggle with who I am and what my future will look like. But surrounding myself with a community of people that reflects my values and shares in celebrating my queerness has made all the difference. Life is too short to not know your worth and the unique perspective that you bring to the world. Embrace that your voice is important, use it to champion your beliefs and speak up for those that either cannot or haven’t found theirs yet.


You can find Jennifer on Twitter.