During her tenure as director of the USC Games Program, Tracy Fullerton has worked to promote an inclusive environment that will attract more diverse students to the program.
Her efforts seem to have paid off. The Princeton Review recognized USC Games as one of the top game design programs in North America, and in 2014 the program had women outnumber men, redefining the idea that game design is necessarily a male-dominated field.
Last week, Fullerton received Los Angeles magazine’s reader’s choice Woman of the Year award. The Daily Trojan sat down with her to ask about her work with USC Games and her plans for the program.
Daily Trojan: You were recently honored as reader’s choice Woman of the Year by Los Angeles magazine. What does this award mean to you?
Tracy Fullerton: It means a great deal to me for several reasons. First, as a native of Los Angeles, I grew up looking at the magazine and so to be honored by it now is very meaningful. Second, because I was nominated for this honor by a graduate of the Interactive Media & Games program, a former student, that also makes this even more special. And last, because of the amazing other women honored in this issue. To be named alongside people like Selma director Ava Duvernay, Los Angeles Clippers CEO Gillian Zucker and so many others is actually mind-blowing.
DT: How do you use your position as director of USC Games to encourage women in games?
TF: As director of USC Games, my job is to create an environment where our entire community of students can learn and grow as designers and developers of innovative entertainment. This means focusing on how teams are built and led, and how we all need to be part of creating an inclusive and diverse environment. It isn’t about encouraging one group or another, it is about creating a space where all individuals feel welcome and are able to do their best work together. We’ve been very successful in creating such an environment here, and so that becomes a positive feedback cycle, attracting more diverse students to the program and to the industry.
DT: Since you became director of USC Games in 2014, have you seen an increase in the number of women in games?
TF: In 2014 we hit a great milestone in the Interactive Media & Games division in the School of Cinematic Arts — gender balanced incoming classes at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. And since then, we’ve also seen a growing percentage [of women] in the CS Games program in the Viterbi School of Engineering. I see a day not far from now when we’ll have a balanced community across the entire USC Games community, which is a collaboration between these two programs.
DT: How does having women in the workplace or field positively impact the work environment, and how have you seen this at USC?
TF: Creating an inclusive community is about individuals learning to work together respectfully and in a way that allows everyone on a team to do the very best work they are capable of doing, and seeing that work build exponentially on the work of others. Everyone wants to work in a positive environment like that, and so learning best practices for creating these high functioning, healthy team environments is attractive to a much wider group of students. Those students, once they graduate and go into the industry, will be able to bring these strong team building and leadership skills to the projects they work on in the industry, as part of a next generation workforce with better, more inclusive work skills.
DT: What is your biggest goal for the future of USC Games?
TF: Recently, we started the first academic publishing label for games — USC Games Publishing. Also, two years ago, we started our pre-incubator program The Bridge, to help our graduating game development teams start their own companies. We’ve already seen a number of those teams find publishing deals and funding for their projects. And we’ve already published our first game on the USC Games Publishing label. So in addition to the success we’ve had in diversifying the program, I feel like I’ve already accomplished many of my biggest goals for the program. I would like to see the program grow in size, so that we really have the resources to work with all the students coming from other programs across campus who are interested in learning about games and new platforms for interactivity like VR or AR. We’ve got so many people wanting to get involved now, with these technologies, that what I’d really love to see is for us to grow the program and be able to open our doors wide to everyone who wants to learn.