"We now have not just the ability to speak up, but the ability to try to change the gaming industry."

My pet peeve is: People who are unkind to service workers My favorite country is: Japan

Jo Graylock

Setting a new standard for diversity in the gaming industry

RECOGNIZING WHEN CHANGE IS NECESSARY. Jo Graylock no longer wants to be the smartest person in the room. Working as a designer in the fiercely competitive gaming industry, Jo realized they had succumbed to its toxic culture where long hours, comparatively low pay, and little consideration for marginalized developers were the norm. "It led me to try to be right all the time, or more often than maybe would be enjoyable to work with for anyone around me. I thought that was the path of how you became successful in the games industry."

Ten years into Jo's gaming career, a cancer diagnosis dramatically shifted their perspective, forcing them to consider what legacy they wanted to leave. Rather than have people think of them as someone who argued every point to the bitter end, they wanted to be someone who people were excited to have on their team, who gets the best work out of everybody. "That's a legacy, and it's funny because it's flipped my perspective on failure. Me being the only person talking in the room is now a critical failure."

Jo's health scare (they are now ten years cancer-free) ignited the idea for Sprocket Games, a brand-new games company creating cross-platform, social adventure games. Launched with fellow gaming veterans Josiah Kiehl, Nicholas Tittley, and Reina Sweet, an essential aspect of Sprocket is to create a studio that supports a diverse and inclusive workforce. "We want to start a company that does a lot better right from the start, not tries to do better when they have terrible news about them. We want to take wonderful care of folks and build a diverse team that, from day one, can build a game that will reach many different audiences."

FINDING YOUR TRIBE. For Jo, gaming was a form of escape during their childhood. Raised in Missouri and a keen maths and science student, they couldn't figure out why they felt awkward in many social groups. Games and digital spaces offered a safe space that promised bigger worlds and allowed Jo to explore their identity. "I'm someone who mostly came out later in life, and I think I can speak for us older millennials in saying that gaming was a very unifying thing for us. There's a tremendous amount of queer folks in game development. I think it's because so many of us found some of our strongest sense of belonging in games - whether it was the progressive characters, or because it led us to find other queer folks that we could talk to."

However, when Jo first entered the industry, they discovered most studios were overwhelmingly white and straight male-dominated. They primarily built games for that audience, where women are sex objects, and primary characters lack depth. "That also meant that if you were a marginalized developer, your boss was probably still a straight white dude, and that person was doing the hiring. It's taken more of us getting into positions where we now have not just the ability to speak up, but the ability to try to change the gaming industry."

While the gaming industry is slowly diversifying, Sprocket aims to lead the charge, and it's already seeing the positive effects. "All of a sudden, we have a great deal more perspectives, and we're always looking to add more, and that's built into our values and hiring practices. We want to prove these things with an almost scientific approach because some of us have worked through the industry when it wasn't good, and we know where we'll revert to if more folks don’t adopt this ethos."

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Presented with Pride Here is the first collection of one hundred incredible and inspiring LGBTQIA+ venture-backed entrepreneurs featured in this year's Gaingels 100.