Mélissandre and I share a passion for diversity in the gaming & tech industry. Naturally, we caught up for a chat about her, how she got into the gaming industry and her advice to get into the gaming industry.
Please Mélissandre, introduce yourself: who are you?
My name is Mélissandre Monatus. I happen to think that first names and names are heavy with meaning. I would continue by giving a pretty awkward answer based on my personal history but which to me is my ‘true’ answer. My first name comes from my mother, a white woman from the French peasantry; she gave me my first name after heroin taken from a random photo novel of her time, changing the spelling slightly by adding an ‘S’, (so it sounded S rather than Z). It had been an issue to register on my birth certificate until a few years ago actually as it was not a familiar name. My surname, on the other hand, comes from a French officer whose responsibility was to randomly establish a civil status for thousands of slaves following the abolition of slavery in 1848. Thus, my black father’s direct slave ancestor was given the name “MONNATUS” on February 21, 1849, in Martinique; MONNATUS’ with the double ‘N’ became MONATUS over the centuries for no apparent reason.
So, in short, I am a mixed-race woman born out of a wealthy but painful global History, which led to the emergence of a new society (that of the French West Indies), a new culture (the creole), with a mystery on where in Western Africa, me and thus my ancestors could be from.
It is how I define myself for now. My career path, somehow, leads me closer to always better understand who I am.
How did you get into the video games industry, what was your career progression like, and what is the work experience you are the proudest of?
While studying marketing, I had to find an annual internship for my two years of study. The first year was in luxury cosmetics. The second-year was in a game and software publishing company named Anuman Interactive (a start-up at the time) where I worked as a Junior Product Manager. From that point, it became clear to me that this was the sector I wanted to go for! That experience had been mainly my Sesame to join one of the leaders in the videogame industry, Activision UK (near London).
From there, I chose to pursue my career in this industry (in London, then Paris). Maybe also a little out of rebellion? Indeed, my father was against the idea of me playing video games; which I thought was unfair at the time. He thought that videogames were useless; and that I should learn how to develop them instead (although one does not go without the other, I was in lousy disposition to succeed as a developer).
But funny enough, it was precisely at Activision that I had the chance to work on Lucas Art’s game catalogue, and therefore on one of my favourite games I was not allowed to play (which I still managed to play secretly of course): Monkey Island. I felt that I took my revenge because somehow I did work on this game, although not as a dev, and I was proud of my accomplishments.
In short, I had the opportunity to work for major publishers such as Activision Blizzard, Capcom Europe, or Wargaming Europe. Then I decided to turn to independent studios such as Wako Factory or Lightbulb Crew.
Today, I am a freelance working for independent studios or start-ups related to the video game & esports industry. I also practice as a teacher in high schools specialised in the business of videogame and esports. Also, I happen to work toward projects related to Africa and also associated with the French West Indies.
One of the jobs I am most proud of is the implementation of the Africa Corner program, on behalf of the Ivorian company named Paradise Game. Paradise Game’s mission with the Africa Corner’s agenda is to give visibility to African studios/developers and their video games internationally across business events and consumer shows, such as DevCom, Game Connection and the main one, Paris Games Week. It had never been done to display between five to twelve African studios and their games coming from different part of Africa.
In your opinion, what efforts the video game industry can make to attract and retain talents from a diverse background? And for black women?
It is a rather complicated question to answer because women have already little presence in the video game industry. It is estimated that their presence is about 15% in France, which is very little, so to have black women in the video game industry in France is even more challenging.
Awareness is gradually changing and already present in the United States, where large companies from inside or outside the industry have understood that diversity is an excellent benefit. Inclusion helps to make more significant games because different visions are an asset and result in more fabulous ideas. I believe that is of high importance to bring diverse backgrounds, cultures, way of thinking to unique projects, especially when making cultural products like videogames.
Unfortunately, for this to happen, I still look at the US. There, they understood it because they had been obliged to respond to the equal opportunity laws and ethnic quota policy. So we will find black women in the industry in the long run in France, too. Maybe by resorting to quotas? We are currently a small number. So there is room for growth.
The last point, in my opinion, would be the ability for women to project themselves into a male-dominated professional environment.
Perhaps, for me, it has been easier to integrate such industry, because, through my studies, I evolved in schools with extreme male dominance (a choice imposed by my father). Simply said, we were two girls per class, and we were maybe ten in total throughout the whole high-school. So I was trained pretty quickly to this type of environment.
But I have to admit that it allowed me to gain self-confidence and to tell myself that I am as capable as any man.
Working in a male environment also meant working harder than any man, which was exhausting because if I felt legitimate, I still had to do more to be considered as equal to them. Get my voice heard, for instance, especially that I am a petite woman.
Luckily associations like Women In Games work actively around those issues, and they bring solutions by educating the industry leaders, and workers, and women who feel like jumping to the industry but are not quite sure how. They train them in different ways so that they eventually feel as legitimate as anyone else to work in that industry.
To retain talents, equal salaries between women and men for the same job would already be a good start!
As for specifically black women, I only would say the same: feel legitimate, be proud of who you are; use your differences, your history, your background and showcase them as significant assets to create new opportunities.
To illustrate my point, I would refer to Madame Muriel Tramis as the best example I can think of:
She is a French black, Martiniquaise of origin who was decorated in 2018 with the Legion of Honour for her career in the videogame industry. She created many games like Adi /Adibou, the famous educational videogames for children, as well as games about her culture and history (e.g., Freedom, à videogame about a slave who tries to escape a plantation). Or about the societal transformations of the West Indies after the slavery abolition (i.e. Mewilow videogame). And even erotical videogames where women are the leading characters with assertive and uninhibited sexuality (e.g., Emmanuelle, Geisha, Fascinatio).
These are among other many examples where she has been a real pioneer. But most importantly, she used her differences to produce great unheard-of games, and new ways to talk about subjects considered taboo in her time!
Any words of advice for anyone looking to be part of the games industry today?
I would answer that it is through hard work, talent, passion and self-acceptance that one can integrate the videogame industry. Even if actually, that can serve in any other industry, I would add that this is in the videogame industry that I feel it is ‘more’ tolerated to find all types of people from various backgrounds (that be ethnics, genders, disabled people…). And especially within the indie game section of that industry, because they understand better to my point how important it is to welcome differences to enrich gameplay, artistic styles, original game scenarios. Indies studios dare to create games for or about minorities.
I have personally evolved in marketing, communication and media. And in my fields, I reckon that companies prefer people who have long term experience in their industry. So, I believe that working as an intern the sooner possible and make your way up would help.
Also, having a minimum of cultural background, being curious, interested in diverse topics (literature, cinema, music and any other arts) are a must. To my point actually, most people in that industry have greater general culture and openness than any other sectors I have worked in.
Finally, networking is also critical. So taking part in videogame festivals, conferences, events, join online groups, take part in workshops and game jams, would also greatly help (obviously when COVID19 pandemic is sorted.)
With this advice, I trust anyone can access and succeed in that industry.
I hope that my advice will help people to get into the industry, and specifically support black women in their career option.
To contact Melissandre:
Email: [email protected]