Interview with Ashton Williams of Xbox Live Arcade

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Ashton Williams – Community Coordinator at Xbox LIVE Arcade

Ashton “Vulcan” Williams is an amazing role model for females aspiring to get into the gaming industry.You may have seen her at this year’s E3 Microsoft conference playing a live demo of Killer Instinct or have  played against her in Call of Duty (and probably lost). She’s been a Call of Duty division leader in Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers (PMS), interned with Ubisoft’s Frag Dolls, and now is the Community Coordinator for Xbox Live Arcade at Microsoft.

Last week Kittie and I interviewed Ashton via Skype. We talked about her beginnings in the gamer community through PMS, what to do when you’re being heckled by rude people on the mic, stereotypes she’s had to disprove as a female gamer, and more.

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SVENNA

Well, Ashton. Let me first thank you for for taking the time to talk to Girl Gamer Vogue. Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

ASHTON

Sure, I started gaming like most people did at a really young age. I decided that’s what I needed to do for my career and life and job and money. So I went to school and I moved. I tried to be active in as many communities as I could. I made a move to Seattle and started working at Microsoft as the Community Coordinator for Xbox Live Arcade at Microsoft.

SVENNA

Did you get your degree in anything related to gaming?

ASHTON

I went for multiple degrees when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in gaming. Then I decided to get a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

SVENNA

You’re clearly a Star Trek fan with a username like “Vulcan.” What made you want to go by that?

ASHTON

That was one of the first gamer tags that I wanted when Xbox Live came out. Obviously, I had different variations of gamer tags with the word Vulcan. I was drawn to it specifically because I love the way Spock thinks. I love his logical views. I like that he can separate the human emotion from the logical side of situations and I try to have a good mix of both which is kind of what Spock eventually ends up doing throughout the series of Star trek. I just thought it was a good representation of how I try to approach situations. I kept with Vulcan for as long as I could.

SVENNA

How do you like the new movies?

ASHTON

I like them for what they are. They’re Star Trek movies. I, of course, like many other Star Trek fans out there, see little in discrepancies in the storylines and it kind of drives you insane sometimes but I generally like them. I think the cast is great. For what they are, they’re pretty good for Star Trek movies.

KITTIE

So, what games are you currently playing?

ASHTON

I think everybody has a backlog list of games they’re playing. Right now I’m on an Animal Crossing phase. I’m that person who carries their DS around when they’re walking down the street and bump into you. I’ve turned into that person. I always play Call of Duty. So, I will always be on Black Ops 2 or the latest Call of Duty. We just got The Last of Us, so I think I’m going to try to play that this weekend. I’ve heard great things about it so I’m excited to try it out. That and State of Decay. I’ve been playing a good bit of State of Decay for a couple days now. That’s been taking up a lot of time. [laughs]

SVENNA

What next-gen games are you most excited for?

ASHTON

Oh man.

SVENNA

I know, there’s too many!

ASHTON

I’m excited for Call of Duty Ghosts. That’s top on my list of games to play. Battlefield 4, Rise, Destiny — who isn’t excited about Destiny? I’m excited for Forza even though I’m really bad at racing games.

KITTIE

Same here.

ASHTON

I really want to play it. And I’m excited to Play Kingdom Hearts III.

SVENNA

Yes! Definitely!

KITTIE

Yes!

ASHTON

When I found out they’re going to put it on Xbox One, I was like, “Oh, yes. Thank you.” I’m done. But, there’s a good list of games I’m excited for but I think there are some I’m going to play back-to-back and have no life for a couple days.

SVENNA

Twitter basically exploded during the E3 Conference when they talked about Kingdom Hearts III. Everyone was just like, “OH MY GOD.”

ASHTON

I was sitting in my hotel room and I was getting ready. I had my laptop open and I was streaming it. That’s what I was waiting for the entire conference. I was waiting for Kingdom Hearts, so I started squealing when they showed it.

KITTIE

How did you get involved in PMS?

ASHTON

When I got into PMS Clan, I had been in a couple other small gaming clans/communities prior to PMS clan. I remember reading about the clan in a couple online websites and I was actually playing COD 4 one night and there was a PMS girl in my lobby. I messaged her and said, “I’m really interested, what can I do?” She talked to me, played a couple rounds, then showed me the website and introduced me to the other people in the division for Call of Duty and the rules and layout. I pretty much put in my recruitment application and there I went. I’m still there but not active because I’m so busy. I stayed a part of the clan for 4 or 5 years now. While I was there, I did all kinds of different things like working with recruits coming in, working with small teams, giving private practices. From practice captain to roster manager, then I eventually took over the entire COD division for Xbox 360. I did that for 2 1/2 years, then my life got really chaotic. I couldn’t give the girls the attention they needed and the time, effort, so I needed to let my co-leader take over. I still play with a lot of PMS girls from COD or Halo. I actually met my best friend, JeepChick, from PMS clan. Her and I talk every day and see each other. It’s a really important part of my gaming history.

KITTIE

That’s awesome. I remember when I was first recruited to PMS clan, you were the division leader.

ASHTON

Yeah, it’s been interesting to see where the girls have gone, what they’re doing now. I still hop on the forums occasionally and see what everyone’s doing. I definitely think PMS clan is a good way to play with other girls, get more involved. You also kind of grow up the longer you’re there. You go from having interactions with people you play with consistently to becoming really good friends with them. I’ve built so many friendships. Even my manager at Microsoft, she’s a PMS member from almost when they were created – PMS Tart. She’s in the community as well. It’s really cool to see all of these connections, even the people you don’t even expect if you’re at an event. And they refer to themselves and say, “I was Vulcan PMS for a very long time.” I think a lot more girls should be actively involved in joining up with other girls. The H20 side is awesome too – learning to play with the guys and working with them. The H20 side is also just as supportive and amazing as the clan itself. I definitely keep that as a little piece of my heart when I think about my coming up in the industry and  where I’m trying to go from here. I have a lot of roots in the clan. I remember when you were recruited, too. I remember seeing your gamer tag and thinking, “I like her gamer tag!”

KITTIE

That’s really awesome. It’s great that being in the clan has opened up so many doors for you.

ASHTON

You don’t anticipate anything to happen. I don’t think anyone really does. It turns into something like, you’re playing with some girls then you start going to play outside of practices with each other. Then you bring some H20s in and find out that you live 2 hours from somebody. You go to events with each other. That’s pretty much what happened with JeepChick and I. She lived 3 hours away from me and we had been playing together, talking on the phone. Then we said…”Hey, we should meet.” She drove down to Georgia when I lived there. It’s gone up ever since. It’s really cool to connect with people. Like I said, you never know who’s in PMS Clan or H20. It’s really cool.

KITTIE

Have you attended any major events through PMS Clan?

ASHTON

In terms of competing or general events?

KITTIE

Both.

ASHTON

I’ve never competed externally at MLG events with the clan. We did a lot of online game battles and played through those circuits. I did compete at a COD event in North Carolina that was  began the convention they had. They had a tournament for COD, so myself and 3 other girls in the area played. We did pretty well. I think we were fifth place out of a good 50, 60 teams. It was surprising, too because we all played in practices then we were just like, “Let’s go and have fun!” And we did pretty well. I’ve gone to a bunch of general conventions: E3, both PAX Prime and PAX East. I’ve gone to little events in the Atlanta area now the Seattle area. Anytime I know something’s going on, I try to make my way out there. I’ve only been to San Diego Comic Con once. But, I’d really like to go back out there and hang out, see more stuff. That’s one of those things when you go to events, you go purely for what you’re there for. But, when you go back there, you end up wanting to see more of the city. So, I definitely want to go back to San Diego and check it out. I think events are the best part of being a gamer, to be honest — besides games, obviously. Events are just fun.

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Ashton at this year’s Microsoft E3 conference playing Killer Instinct against co-worker, Torin Rettig.

SVENNA

So, you were involved in the first class of Frag Doll Cadettes in 2009. How did you get involved in Ubisoft’s all-female internship program?

ASHTON

So, this was kind of something I had thought about doing for quite some time, primarily because one of the founders of PMS Clan is a Frag Doll, Valkyrie. I heard about the Frag Dolls. My manager was a Frag Doll. I had known who they were for quite some time and  I wasn’t in their community, wasn’t well known to them. But, they were having a casting call in early 2009. I applied, pretty much knowing there was a big chance I wouldn’t be accepted because I was so new. I wasn’t accepted but two months later, I got an email from them saying, “I really want you to be in this new program we’re starting called the Frag Doll Cadette Academy. It’s basically a 6 month internship where you work with them in creating marketing promotions they do online, videos, blogs. You go to events with them for those 6 months, you play games with them — you kind of just get a different perspective of the industry. I was like, “Yeah, absolutely I’ll do it. Of course.” And, I eventually became a consistent Cadette for 3 1/2 years.

Even though my 6 month class ended, I was still asked to participate at events. In 2011, they asked if I’d be interested in becoming a finalist to become a Frag Doll. I was so excited, I made my application video, blog content. I was so excited. They wanted to send us to San Diego Comic Con to work the Ubisoft booth. It was so much fun, we had a blast. The whole team and all the other Cadette are so much fun to be around. That’s the highlight of anything. I unfortunately didn’t get it — which was fine. I was excited just to be considered in that situation. The Cadette academy has grown so much in what they do with the girls in terms of teaching and helping and showing them how the industry works from their perspective. It’s a great learning tool. They’ve seen a huge influx of girls applying when there’s a call for that because it’s such a great opportunity. You meet all these amazing people and learn the tools and strategies behind what they’re doing. IT’s a great stepping stone to figuring out what you want to do in the industry. It’s another section of my life that’s really awesome and I’m so excited that I was able to be apart of that from that start.

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Ashton with Spectra FD back when Ashton was a Frag Doll Cadette.

SVENNA

That’s really great. Do you still keep in touch with them?

ASHTON

I sure do. I talk to them on Twitter and Facebook. When I’m at events, I go and hang out with them. We’re pretty much in constant contact with them.

ASHTON

I still talk to them and play with them, see them at events. That’s another cool thing, too, is that I still talk to them even though I’ve moved on in my career path.

SVENNA

Kittie and I just participated in one of the Frag Doll Militia events and we played League of Legends. It was a lot of fun.

ASHTON

The group of Frag Dolls is so diverse. There’s a bunch of them who play League of Legends and WoW and they’re so into PC gaming. Then there’s a bunch of them that play RPGs, shooters, and table top games. They’re such a diverse group. Any chance you have to play with them, I’d definitely hop on.

KITTIE

What are some stereotypes you’ve had to disprove as a female gamer?

ASHTON

I think the biggest one would be that girls don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to electronics or video games or how to play video games – I think that’s a big one. I’ve witnessed it even when I’d work at Gamestop. I worked there for about 2 years. I’d witness it there when people would come into the store. I don’t think they thought I knew what an HDMI cable was when I did. Just silly stuff like that and even down to “girls don’t play Call of Duty” or “girls don’t get 46 kills and 7 deaths.” That’s the biggest thing we have to disprove a lot of times: the conception that we don’t know how to do something for no reason. I’ve been lucky enough in this industry and in the community that I’ve never felt attacked or felt that I wasn’t good enough. My stance, always when it came to gaming and figuring out what I wanted to do, I always just let it go. I always use this example. When you’re in middle school or high school and you hear there are these girls who don’t like what you’re wearing and they’re talking about you…the best thing you can do is ignore it. Show that you’re fine who you are and you have impotence in what you’re doing and how you feel about yourself. I’ve never let someone on XBL or on Steam making fun of me in a game let that bother me in terms of what I want to do or how I’m playing the game. It’s good for girls and guys to recognize there’s a huge problem in our industry that there’s this huge misconception about females. I think the best thing you can do is prove them wrong. I also think there’s a way you can handle situations you’re presented with that may make you feel comfortable. I learned this from JeepChick from PMS Clan. Say you’re playing a game…Call of Duty or another multiplayer game. And you’re talking with your girlfriends or some PMS Clanmates in a game and people start saying mean things… the best thing you can do is joke with them and show that it doesn’t bother you. You play and do well and kick butt. She is notorious for going in lobbies and people say mean things to her and by the end of the round, they’ve sent her a friend request because she’s hilarious and doesn’t let it bother her. People say really mean things but she’s having a blast. She’s not being mean back, she just goes with it and makes silly comments. By the end of it, they’re no longer saying mean things anymore. It’s interesting. I don’t want to ignore the fact that this does happens but for me personally, to handle the situations, it’s best if I prove them wrong. Sure, you want to call me a bad name in the game, but let’s just see who comes out on top at the end of the match. I think it’s a really sad portion of the community and our industry, but I think we have so much more room to grow and so much more information and knowledge to share with each other. Women are the best group of people to diffuse negativity or misconceptions about women in games. I think we’re doing a pretty kick ass job in showing people that. PMS Clan and the Frag Dolls… and just seeing all of these strong women in our industry like Bonnie Ross and Kiki Wolfkill. It’s awesome to see what they can do. They’re definitely out there showing off like, “hey, don’t discount the females here. We know just as much as you do.” I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to deal with it a lot personally, but I do want to see a big change and an uprising of women showing we do know what the hell we’re doing, so back off.

KITTIE

I think getting more women out there working in the gaming industry is definitely going to prove some guys wrong about us.

ASHTON

Absolutely, absolutely.

KITTIE

How do you feel about how women are portrayed in gaming?

ASHTON

In general or in games themselves?

KITTIE

Overall and in the industry.

ASHTON

I think there is a misconception about what people see compared to what’s really going on. For example, there are thousands of women that work at Microsoft. A ton of them. IT’s not like, when I go to work everyday, I’m one of 12 women in my building. That’s crazy. There’s women everywhere making a stronger impact on the industry and on events and pro gaming, e-sports, just everything. I think there’s a negative idea about women in games. That typical stereotype of being fat or not having any friends. I think that still exists but at the same time, that exists for men aswell. I don’t think that’s necessarily a gender topic. It’s really hard for me to say because I’m biased, but I think women are getting more and more recognition. You’re starting to see women doing more things publicly and showing what they know, showing that they can play. We’re in a generation  where we’re seeing a plea from the communities to have more female characters in games. I think it’s one of these situations where time can only fix the problem. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be fast enough but I think, as our generation moves forward, we’ll see a bigger uprising. The stereotypes we see now will slowly diminish. That’s why it’s so important that there are strong communities that have women in them – whether they’re female clans or are mixed.  I think that’s an important portion of the future of our industry. Also, education and learning what is affecting me and my friends – how are games affecting me? Is there a female character I can play? Can I have a female voice? Can I have different colored armor? There are so many possibilities here but I think they’re getting better. Compared to when I first started getting into games and getting active in communities, I’ve seen a growth in women who are open about playing games. Back in the early 2000’s, women were shy about playing games and being public on their microphones and openly talking about games to their friends. Now, no one cares. That’s huge. That changed from early 2000’s to 2005, 2006. You started seeing more women. 5 or 6 years sounds like a long time, but when you look at it now, it doesn’t seem that far behind you. I think there will be a process and it’s going to take some time before we see negative stereotypes completely disappear but I think we’re doing a damn good job of making that happen faster. To me, that’s the most important part of this whole generation of gaming. I think in no time, we won’t even see this anymore.

KITTIE

How do you think that game developers can get women to play more video games?

ASHTON

That’s a tough question because I think ti depends on the interest of women. You’ve always heard that a lot of developers were making games that targeted women specifically. People used Cooking Mama as a pure example of that. It’s really not though. When I look at it, I try to look at it from an overall perspective, not from me personally how I play games. The first video game I’ve ever played was DOOM on MS Dos. It’s a gory violent game. I know for other girls, it’s different. When I walk into GameStop or  Best Buy or you gotta look on Amazon, or anything, I see these DS games that are Nintendogs or Barbie games. It sounds crazy but imagine having a daughter. Of course you’re going to buy her that, not Castlevania. You’re wanting to spark her interest. It’s not so much of “I don’t think my daughter should be playing this or this.” It’s sparking the interest in games in general. When developers try to make these games, they have the artistic mindset towards it. I don’t think they aim it towards a gender. I could be wrong. Some people may think it’s definitely the case. For me personally, I believe they’re being more active. You[‘e seeing more and more of that happening even at conventions. When you go to PAX, you’re not only walking around Ubisoft’s booth with Frag  Dolls and marketing people — there are developers on the floor. That’s something that’s changed in our industry. That used to not be the case all the time. You have the opportunity to talk to these developers at PAX or E3 and say how you feel about it. Of course, the easy answer to that would be they should make more games for women or put more women in the games. Would you think that there would be a huge calling to women if Lara Croft wasn’t the head of Tomb Raider? If it was a guy, would it still have the same soul and depth it has? I think the first step would be to put more women characters in games and give them a strong, powerful role. That’s why I love Tomb Raider so much. We’re seeing a big gap that’s slowly closing between the consumer and developer. Nowadays, you’re seeing a lot more developers being more vocal and asking questions. That’s a great thing, too, it has to come from both ends. There has to be a draw from the developer and consumer. We’d all love to see more games with lead female roles. I think that will come. It goes back to what you guys just asked about “How are we represented?” I think that all ties in together. I think it’s all slowly getting in that one direction of having more women in the industry and in games. I think we’re getting there, but, duh, everybody wants to play as a female when they have the option.

KITTIE

So, if you had to make a top list of three of your favorite female gaming characters, who would be on your list?

ASHTON

This is going to sound really silly. I remember saying this in a podcast I did a couple years ago. They laughed at me because it was so random. Kairi from Kingdom Hearts.

KITTIE

I love her!

ASHTON

Just because she’s so cute and she’s so helpful. You just feel this love. You actually get attached to her for awhile then you see Namine later on in the series. That again is kind of like…a whole other situation where you’re like, “I love you! I want to play as you. You’re great.” Kairi would definitely be one of them. I’m sorry, but I love Lara  Croft. I just love her. I don’t care what size her boobs are.

SARA AND KITTIE

[Laugh]

ASHTON

She kicks so much butt. She’s like MacGyver. She encompasses this insane fighter and will power that’s so obvious when you play as her. It makes you feel like you can walk out your door and climb a tree with no ropes or something. I love Lara Croft. I remember the first time I played Tomb Raider on PS2. I’ve stuck with her and see the developments in the story and how she’s presented. I love Lara Croft. She’s one of my favorites. I think it’d be a sin if I didn’t say Cortana. My boyfriend has a Cortana tattoo on his leg. The first time I ever saw it, I just wanted to pet his leg and just touch it. Cortana, I mean, for an A.I. in a game…it’s just…you don’t ever anticipate being attached to a non-physical person in a game. To be attached to this blue thing makes you really surprised when your’e coming around to Halo 3 and Halo 4 and you’re like, “Oh my god, what’s happening to Cortana?” She’s so strong and helpful. I think the gaming community would boo me if I didn’t say  Cortana. I think there’s more, though, because Tifa’s another one. You can’t not say Tifa. We can make a long list. You asked for three, so I gave you three.

KITTIE

That’s a really good list.

ASHTON

Thank you!

SVENNA

What is the best advice you can give to women trying to attain a professional position in the industry?

ASHTON

I think anybody would tell you this…I think it’s a mixture of things. The first thing I would suggest is to play your heart out. Play the games you love. Try new ones. Explore everything that’s going on in our industry.  Where our games are moving towards and what you’re seeing. Be passionate about it. I’m the worst person at going and playing Call of Duty and getting really angry because I’m losing. But, I love Call of Duty. It doesn’t matter what the game is doing to me. The fact that it’s sparking an emotion within me is what makes me love it so much. The same thing happened with an arcade title that was Dust: An Elysian Tale. I got so attached to that game and it’s not a game I’d usually play, but it looked so beautiful. The art style, the music, and everything. I had a passion for that game. It will go with me to the grave. Just really immerse yourself. There’s only really three things on my list. The second would be to be involved, whether you go to an event in your hometown and can never make it to these events. Meet other people and show who you are, what you’re like, share your experience. Listen to the experiences of other people. Go to PAX or E3 or Comic Con or GDC or MLG. Wherever you go, it’s important to show yourself in the industry and show you have something to give. The last thing I would suggest is to educate yourself. Whether you go to school for something, do game design or voice acting, or as an artist, marketing, PR. Whatever it is you want to do, make sure you educate yourself. That’s an important tool for anything you do in life, to have some educate. To take that education and apply it. You girls are doing an amazing job with it right now by having a website, writing content, and doing interviews. Everything that you’re doing is a great start. Creating something. This industry is built off of people’s ideas of creating games, storylines, plots, and music. Showing you have something to offer and giving back into the industry is the best thing you can do.

SVENNA

What’re your plans for the future?

ASHTON

That’s a really rough question. I’d never in a million years imagine I’d be at Microsoft. It’s not something where I woke up one day and said, “I’d apply to Microsoft.” I never ever thought it would happen. I’d like to do more in public relations and marketing and assist in the future generation of gaming with my skills, what I’m learning and doing now and push that even further. I love what I do and I’m excited that I have so many opportunities within Microsoft where I can reach and help create. So, I don’t know. I don’t have any plans now. I plan on staying at Microsoft as long as I humanely can. But, you never know, though. Things change. Random things happen to you in life and that’s the great thing. For now, I’m going to try to keep chugging along here and see what more I can do in the realm of marketing and PR and pushing out some awesome arcade content. I wish I had a plan, that’s kind of sad I don’t have a plan, actually. Sometimes it’s good to not have a plan. Hopefully in five years, I’ll still be at arcade and you can come back to me and give me a high five.

SVENNA

Definitely! [laughs] Is there anything else you’d like to say?

ASHTON

No, not really. I wish I had a tagline or some music to play or something.

SVENNA

Do you have a motto or a mantra or anything?

ASHTON

Ugh, I don’t. That’s the worst for me with my gamer tag being know as Vulcan. I feel like I should say some “live long and prosper” stuff to you. I’m really excited you guys asked me to do this, so thank you very much. I’m excited to see the final product and tweet it and share it and show everybody how awesome you are.

SVENNA

Well, Ashton, thank you so much for the interview. I think you’re an amazing role model for women in the industry and gamers. I think you’ll continue to do well working at Microsoft.

ASHTON

Well, thank you so much! And I look forward to seeing both of you making appearances in the industry and doing awesome, cool things. I will call it right now- in like two years I will see both of you working at a huge company. I’ll be like, “What? See, I told you!”

SVENNA

That would be awesome.

ASHTON

It can happen, it could definitely happen. We need some women hard core. But, thank you guys again so much.

This interview was conducted by Sara “Svenna” Ventura and Krystal “KittieOnALeash” Carr for Girl Gamer Vogue on June 22, 2013 via Skype. You may not alter or reproduce this interview without contacting Girl Gamer Vogue prior.

Svenna is a writer and the Public Relations Director for Girl Gamer Vogue. For more from Svenna, check out her Twitter Twitch and YouTube Channel.

Kittie is a writer for Girl Gamer Vogue. For more from Kittie, check out her TwitterEtsyTwitch & YouTube.

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