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Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet regularly takes viewers behind the scenes of its titular game (and its titular expansion) as it follows the game's development team as they work to produce regular updates and other features of the game. Now, thanks to the Apple TV+'s show's Comic-Con@Home panel, fans will have the chance to go behind the actual scenes and meet some of the women involved in making the show as they discussed female representation both on-screen and behind the lens.
Seeing as Mythic Quest itself is a collaboration (or "crossover") between Apple TV+ and the game company Ubisoft, the panel featured women from both the TV side of production, including co-creator Megan Ganz and writer/actor Ashly Burch, as well as women from the game production side, like Director of TV Development at Ubisoft Film & Television Danielle Kreinik and VP of Product Development at Ubisoft Red Storm Elizabeth “Liz” Loverso. The panel was moderated by host Erin Ashley Simon (VENN).
Over the course of the panel, the women discuss their experience working on the show, along with the changes that have taken place over time in the television and video game industries, with everyone noting that there has been a lot of change for the better since the early days.
“When I was playing games, your only option was Princess Peach, or a character that seemed to have agency but really their only purpose in the narrative was to be damsel-ed or to be sexualized in some way,” says Burch, a long-term voice actor, whose latest characters include The Last of Us II’s Mel and Borderland 3’s Tina. “But now, a game that I’m in, Horizon Zero Dawn, the only protagonist is a woman. She’s not really sexualized at all, and she’s a really complex character.”
But just because there has been a “dramatic improvement” in the types of female characters now available for players, it doesn’t mean that things have necessarily changed on the development side of things, as Burch says that women are still underrepresented when it comes to roles that require a STEM background, despite the increased focus on the number of women working in STEM.
“It’s a systemic issue,” says Burch. “Even now there’s increased attention toward increasing the amount of women in STEM. But even still, girls are not encouraged to follow pathways like programming and coding.”
Loverso, whose company actually oversees the production of the fictional game showcased within the series, says that creating well-written and well-designed characters is one of the ways to attract more girls and women into STEM so they become interested in these kinds of roles, as over half of gamers today are women.
“It’s helping female [players] realize that they can go into gaming,” says Loverso, who’s been working in the video game industry for more than 20 years and is aware of the bad reputation it has — with some women not feeling safe working in an all-male environment, as it’s been in the past. “We’ve had to improve our hiring practices so we are encouraging women to apply for the jobs, as well as getting girls to participate in things early in things we support, like Girls Make Games or Girls Who Code. [We’re] hoping to change the industry as a whole as we go forward, so we have a larger group of women in jobs like programming, writing, and design, as well as testers' roles, so that other women and girls coming up can see that this is a viable option for a career path.”
But attracting women to roles in STEM-related careers is just half the battle. The other half is making sure they have a support system in place when they get there that can help guide them through the requirements of their roles and give them the space to learn and make mistakes, should they need it.
“I realized there wasn’t a structure in place at the time to have female mentors in positions above you,” says Ganz of her initial TV writing experiences. “If there were women above me, they had gone through such a difficult time to get there that they had internalized the idea that women share the same space in the writers’ room.”
Since then, Ganz has spent more than a decade writing for television, having worked in a few different writers' rooms, including those for Community and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. During this time, she’s seen more women get hired as TV writers, but she still feels there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of diverse hiring practices.
“Women are not diversity. We’re half the population,” states Ganz. “We need to make sure we’re bringing in diverse voices and not expecting everyone to be a representation of their ethnicity or their age or their gender, but judge them individually and make sure that we’re figuring out who the person is and not just checking a box.”
Of course, this comes back to what Mythic Quest is doing, both in terms of ensuring they have an inclusive writers' room that allows people to grow, as well as writing female characters in different positions within the game studio — be it Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao), who is Lead Designer on the game, or Dana (Imani Hakim) and Rachel (Burch), who are both game testers. It’s a big step from having women just playing assistants or HR managers, though the show has both in the form of Jo (Jessica Ennis) and Carol (Naomi Ekperigin), as well as Sue (Caitlin McGee), who plays the in-show game’s community manager and fields players’ complaints.
Ganz says this is intentional, as are some of the power dynamics in play within the series.
“It was very important to us to represent women on the show, but realistically. A lot of the women are occupying lower-level positions at the studio because right now that’s reflective of the industry,” says the show's co-creator. “People are coming in, but there’s a glut of women at that lower level, and women like Poppy are exceptional. And that’s why as a show we treat her as an exception to the rule."
And of course, as Burch (who plays one of the women depicted in the show) says, seeing this range of roles depicted on screen is yet another way to show women the kinds of jobs they could have if they chose to go into game design, while ideally portraying the industry as a viable career option in general.
“It doesn’t occur to a lot of people, but there are options that are sort of not the well-trodden paths,” says Burch of one of the other barriers that sometimes prevent women from going into careers in STEM. “And if you see people in those positions, it makes it all the more plausible that you could then do that."
As for the future of women working in film and television, everyone seemed hopeful.
"[Representation] is an issue that needs to be attacked from multiple angles," says Burch. "But it does seem like we’re heading in the right direction with it.”
All nine episodes of Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet are available to stream on Apple TV+ right now. The show has been renewed for a second season.
Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of Comic-Con@Home 2020. You can watch the full Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet panel above.