It was 2007 when comedy web series The Guild first premiered, years before Netflix and other streaming services made the internet the first place we turn to for movies and TV. The popular six-season show followed an online gamers’ guild as they obsessively spent hours playing a fantasy MMORPG while trying (and often struggling) to navigate offline life. Created, written by and starring actor/all-around creative Felicia Day, The Guild came from a very real place: Day was (and still is) a gamer, but wasn’t being given opportunities to express that passion.
The problem? Gaming was considered much more niche and came with a lot less prestige — and perceived value — than it does today. And when the rare gaming adaptation was made, it often felt like the people behind it knew nothing about the property they were working on. “It’s really hard to convince someone who isn’t in gaming culture, online culture, or geek culture that this is a huge fan base and that there are a lot of people out there who would love to watch this stuff,” says Day, whose most recent project is Audible podcast Third Eye. “Everytime I tried to shop [a project] to Hollywood, they’d be like ‘No, no one wants to watch tabletop games. No one wants to watch D&D.’ It blows up and it’s huge on the internet, but nobody is going to say that a mainstream audience will watch this, which is really sad because I think a mainstream audience would. And more people could discover how awesome gaming is and make it less niche.”
So Day — whose 100-plus acting credits include episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural — took matters into her own hands. While making The Guild, she also started her own production company (which she has since sold) and worked on other web series like Dragon Age: Redemption. But now, with acclaimed shows like Arcane or The Last Of Us becoming embedded in our pop culture zeitgeist, Hollywood is finally catching up with Day. And she’s seen the changes in attitude happening first-hand.
Today, Day says, there are more writers and creatives in the industry who are also gamers — or at least more familiar with that world than they have been in the past — that are ready to prove that old stigma wrong. “Storytellers are looking at the worlds of video games and saying, ‘There’s a lot here,’” she says, pointing to Prime Video’s upcoming adaptation of popular franchise Fallout as an example she’s excited about. “It’s just basically storytellers being gamers but also having made a lot of content for mainstream audiences and being able to balance those two.”
Another positive sign that more good things are still to come? The blockbuster success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie earlier this year. “That success [will] convince Hollywood that, yeah, this is an area we can look for stories — these are proven stories that are successful, they work. And Hollywood nowadays really doesn’t make anything unless it’s already proven before, so I guess that’s to the advantage of video games,” Day says. “There are more gaming fans around the world than anybody realizes, so the minute somebody gets it right, it’s going to be a true transition.”
And as the state of video game stories continues to progress in Hollywood, Day also hopes that women and other marginalized voices are included on the ride. As someone who has frequently worked with gaming companies to promote the industry, she looks back on some partnerships wondering if she was simply used as “window dressing” for better representation over stakeholders making tangible changes. At the end of the day, Day knows it’s up to both gaming and Hollywood companies to push forward and improve diversity in meaningful ways through things like mentorship programs. But she also believes that, ultimately, if she’s putting her face out there as a gamer, that will show other girls and femme-identifying people that there is space for them in this larger community.
“Over the years, I kind of rejected saying I was a ‘girl gamer’ — I was just a gamer, I didn’t want ‘girl’ attached to me,” Day says. “I realized that was because I was stigmatized for trying to present myself as a girl. … It was more about the way men reacted to women putting themselves forward as a woman in gaming than anything else. So I think it’s really important to have women stand up and say, ‘Yeah, I’m a woman in gaming and I want to help other women,’ and show people that there is a path forward.”