As a visual effects artist on Overwatch, a video game that has reached more than 35 million players and counting, Rachel Day has proven my parents wrong. Let me explain: growing up, my mum and dad told me that playing video games would get me nowhere in life. There wasn't a job market for it, they said. People who play video games as adults end up living in their mothers' basements, they warned.
Lo and behold, Day is living proof that a career in the gaming industry is not just plausible, but that the opportunities within it have grown exponentially over the last decade or so. There are professional gaming leagues, games on multitudes of platforms, and careers in nearly every aspect of gaming, from accounting to in-depth game development.
Recently, Blizzard Entertainment — one of the biggest gaming companies — took over the Anaheim Convention Center in Southern California to host the 11th Annual Blizzcon. Over the course of two days, 30,000+ fans gathered from around the world to share their love for all things Blizz-related, cheer on their favourite e-sports teams, and try out new features coming to Blizzard games.
Day, who started out interning with Blizzard Entertainment while pursuing her degree in visual game programming at the Art Institute of Orange County, took the time to sit down with POPSUGAR during the weekend's festivities on Nov. 4. She began her career with Blizzard as an associate technical artist for Diablo III before delving into the constantly evolving world of Overwatch, where she is a visual effects artist. During our conversation, Day discussed her love of video games, her experience in a male-dominated field, and her dream cosplay.
POPSUGAR: What drew you to the world of gaming in the first place?
Rachel Day: For that story, we have to go all the way back to — literally — when I was born. The night before I was born, my dad bought an Atari, so I have had an Atari in my life since I remember what life is. I remember being, like, 5 or 6 years old with my brother, sitting in our room playing video games, and then from there, we had one of the very first PCs that you could have, and we would play the original Doom and Heretic and Wolfenstein and all that stuff. My life has always revolved around video games.
"It doesn't have to be a singular demographic. There are so many people that love video games."
PS: Did you find it difficult to get into the field?
RD: A little bit . . . I started out as a psychology major, and then realised I had to be in school for 12 years to actually do what I wanted to do, so I said, "Never mind!" I actually like playing video games, obviously, and then doing art at the same time, so I enrolled in an art school. From there, I realised that [working in the video game industry] is actually a job that somebody does and learned a little bit about how to do it. And then I was fortunate enough to get two internships with Blizzard doing QA [Editor's note: QA stands for quality assurance, to ensure the game is ready to be played and free of bugs or glitches]. I knew this was a company I wanted to be at, and luckily, right before I graduated, they said, "Hey, we have an associate-level position opening up — do you want to apply for it?" . . . And here we are! So I feel like I got super lucky. It was hard work, but timing was definitely on my side.
PS: It's a male-dominated industry, which is obvious even here at the convention. Have you run into any obstacles with that?
RD: Like you said, it is a male-dominated industry, but I don't think of it as that. When I come into work, I'm just there with my coworkers. It doesn't really matter that much. It's something that we're aware of and something that we know exists and happens. But, personally, I've had extremely good experiences working with people. I've never felt like what I'm saying doesn't matter to people. I've never been cast out of a meeting or talked over or whatever, so I think we're really conscious of it. And, especially on the Overwatch team, we're very proud of our diverse cast of characters, and I'm very proud that we have so many different types of people that you can connect with as a character in Overwatch. We hope people look at the roster and find a little bit of themselves in it.
PS: That's drawn a lot of players to the Overwatch arena. What's the consensus you've heard from the audience, in terms of diversity — especially with Overwatch being the biggest game in the world?
RD: It's been received pretty well (laughs)! I've seen and heard quite a bit of people saying thank you for showing this side of people. We have a grandma who is a sniper. How freaking cool is that? You make this entire roster of characters and you think, "Hmm, what should be the next thing to make in a shooter? Let's go for Grandma!" Why not?
I'm so glad that we're just showing all aspects of life and it doesn't have to be a singular demographic. There are so many people that love video games. Even just walking around here at Blizzcon, you see families, you see everybody. It's the full spectrum, and it's great.
PS: What kind of advice do you have — specifically for young women — looking to get into the art or design aspects of the video game industry?
RD: There's never a closed door. That's the first thing. If you get to a point where you feel like you're stuck, just keep pushing forward. There will be another opportunity, there will be more time, so don't take no for an answer and just keep going.
Secondly, learn as much as you can. I've never stopped learning. We have a saying at Blizzard — "Learn and grow" — and we are constantly learning and growing. We're taking classes and all of that stuff and trying to improve ourselves, so constant improvement is key.
Specifically for people wanting to get into art — always be creating! Even if it's not video game art — I don't go home and make video game art. I do that for my job. I go home and I make costumes or I go home and create photography projects and things like that. It's still keeping your mind sharp. Always be creating.
PS: Moving into your work in cosplay: what was the first cosplay that you created on your own?
RD: Daenerys from Game of Thrones! It was the Dothraki outfit! We had all this sack cloth kind of stuff and I was trying to figure out how I could wear it all day without being itchy. We made resin-cast coins for her coin belt . . . That's the cool thing about cosplay: you get to dig into all of the details of the character. Where does the button go? What's scripted on those coins?
PS: What's one thing you wish people would stop assuming about cosplayers and female cosplayers in particular?
RD: Oh, man! OK, I think cosplay is a really good expression of fandom. I have heard people say, like, "Oh, you're a fake gamer." Why would you spend months making a costume if you weren't passionate about it? So, if that's a stigma we could get rid of, that would be awesome. Because clearly, who's going to spend that much money and time [on] something if they don't care about it?
PS: The Cosplay Is Not Consent Movement is gaining a lot of traction, which is great. Have you come across anything like that during your time cosplaying?
RD: I won't get into details, but yeah, there are some personal experiences that come out of that. When you expose yourself to a community, there's the risk of [negative experiences]. I've even seen improvements since that was made . . . I think that was two ComicCons ago that they were really pushing the Cosplay Is Not Consent. I think making awareness is helping out. A lot of times, people just don't understand what they're expected to do, or how they're expected to behave, and I think just having a conversation — having it out in public — really does help.
It's a conversation. It's humanity. It's people interacting with each other. I think there are so many sides to the issue, and I think it's awesome that we can have a conversation about it. It's not hidden behind closed doors or shoved under a rug. It's something that we're open to talking about.
PS: And finally, if you had an infinite budget of money and time, what would you cosplay as? What would you love to create?
RD: I issued this challenge to somebody, but I think I would love to take it on myself: Orisa (a tank character from Overwatch). The full movable mesh pieces to the back. That would be the most epic dream piece. I feel like that would take years to make, but . . .