Girl Power 2

Girl Power 2
Meet Denise Fulton

N. Evan Van Zelfden | 20 Jun 2006 08:00
Girl Power 2 - RSS 2.0

She was in the New York Times. She keynoted a conference. She worked at Microsoft, Dreamworks, EA and Ion Storm. She is respected, responsible and riveting. And she develops videogames. Now, meet Denise Fulton ...

Just Something I Did
Fulton grew up playing games. "My dad taught computer science at the university. So, I grew up around computers, and playing games from the time I was tiny," Fulton says, listing games as one formative influence.

Fulton recalls her small-town Ohio upbringing. "I grew up playing Adventure on the Commodore; lying on the shag rug, playing the Atari. That was my background. I never thought it was strange. And I never thought it was notable. It was just something I did."

Though they were an influence, games didn't stand out, either. "I always took [gaming] for granted." Fulton says, "It was just one of the things I did. I've always been a book-worm, I always liked movies and I always listened to music. I never thought games were unusual."

Nor did she consider it a possible career. "I never thought I would end up in the videogame industry," Fulton recalls. "Never crossed my mind when I was growing up."

Defining Gender
Today Fulton is studio head at Midway Studios-Austin. She climbed the ladder, and now holds a position of power. And when you talk about the path to get there, there is an overwhelming temptation to focus on gender.

Tempting, except, for Fulton. "Don't let gender define you," she has stated more than once, and publicly. "The very best people don't think about their gender a whole lot - male or female - because it's beside the point."

Fulton believes strongly in achievement, and meritocracy. "Focus on the achievement, not the gender." Which is not to say she hasn't faced other challenges with gender, and the videogame industry.

Fulton tells one story of working at EA, and one of the women that worked for Fulton says "Hey, I'm pregnant. I'm not sure how to go about this. Do I take maternity leave?"

Fulton replies, "Gee, I don't know, I'll go find out." After checking with HR, Fulton discovers that EA didn't have a maternity program in place. "You can take that two ways," Fulton recalls.

The reason wasn't because EA didn't want it. It wasn't that they didn't think it was important. It was that it hadn't yet come up. It was that simple.

Fulton instituted a maternity program, and notes that many things are like that. "It's not necessarily a bias where people are being malicious, or not wanting something to happen, it's just that it hasn't come up.

"And you, as a woman - or as anyone in this industry - can make these changes: if you just trust that it can happen." And given all this, Fulton still believes the best defense will be more women in the industry.

Seattle Sounds Really Cool
When Fulton studied graphic design at school, she thought of herself as an artist, not a tech person. However, "computers weren't scary to me. And that made a big difference. When I took classes, I didn't have a problem getting in front of a computer and starting to work there, and I started to make a niche for myself, as a woman with computer skills, early on.

"When I finished school, I had a choice," Fulton recalls. "I could have gone to Hallmark to make wrapping-paper. Or I could have gone to Microsoft to do UI design. At the time, I'm 21, I'm thinking 'Seattle sounds really cool.'"

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