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May 30, 2023

Pride Month Employee Spotlight: Bernice Wong (she/her)

As we celebrate Pride Month in June, Zynga is proud to spotlight members of zPride, an LGBTQ+ employee resource group of more than 300 participants. Since 2010, zPride and their allies have been collaborating together to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment in gaming and beyond. We are honored to share their powerful narratives as they reflect on their personal journeys and discuss how they are creating affirmative spaces for everyone to show up as their authentic selves.

Join us as we kick off our spotlight series with Bernice Wong, Senior Experience Designer at Zynga, who is working on Words With Friends and serves as zPride’s co-lead for 2023. Read on to hear how her identity intersects with her love for gaming.

Tell us what you do at Zynga and what you do for fun outside of work.  

Have you ever been really frustrated or confused when using a product? My job is to prevent that from happening unintentionally as much as possible. As a User Experience Designer, I work with other disciplines to create designs that best address player needs. It’s a role where the day-to-day duties vary from system design to user testing to prototyping with tons of collaboration along the way, and much, much more! There are a bunch of pieces involved to make a product, and I try to make the pieces fit together in a player-centered way.

Outside of work, I love reading and creative writing at my local coffee shop, and hanging out with my partner and our 11-year-old domestic shorthair cat. My friend group and I are currently splitting our time between an 8-month Gloomhaven campaign and escape room runs. My happy places are eating delicious sushi, going to Barnes and Nobles — and honestly, just doing anything with my partner.

What would have been helpful for you to see in gaming when your personal identity was first taking shape?

It would’ve been helpful to see more diversity in games, characters, narratives — and the developers who make them. The conversations I grew up with often framed gaming and femininity as mutually exclusive, and depictions of the non-heteronormative experiences were practically non-existent. 

Growing up as a first generation Chinese American bisexual woman, I never saw my intersectionality represented. And when you don’t see yourself represented in the media, it feels like there’s something wrong with your story to begin with. Had there been more diverse representation growing up, I think I would’ve learned how to celebrate my unique perspective a lot quicker, instead of being ashamed of it because it didn’t fit the status quo. 

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the gaming industry?

I grew up playing games all my life. My first console was the Gameboy Color, and I fondly remember playing Tetris in the car to the light of street lamps. I’d watch playthroughs online when I was bored or stressed and fall asleep to them. I’ve met some of my closest friends and loved ones through hours and weekends of game time. And as a shy and awkward child (which I still am), games were the most meaningful way I connected with people. Long story short, I owed a lot of my creative inspirations and friends to video games. Although I didn’t know that making games could even be a career until college, I was convinced that video games were the ultimate medium for storytelling and I wanted to be a part of that.

How do you see your work contributing to more diverse and inclusive gaming experiences?

What’s wonderful about being a User Experience Designer is that my job boils down to empathy. I’m here to represent and identify the needs of our players, including those who tend to be forgotten about in the mainstream. Our audience comes from various races, sexualities, religions, genders, economics, and more! By representing that voice in the work room, my work helps broaden the range of people we’re trying to solve for, and better informs the needs of the product in return.

Also, creating more diverse and inclusive game experiences in the workforce can be done in so many different ways by anyone. It can start with having conversations about supporting marginalized players on your team (like brainstorming a #PlayWithPride feature, for example), or by encouraging different perspectives on your team to be comfortably shared, or volunteering to get involved with your company employee resource group (shoutout to zPride)!  All of that work ripples down to creating an accessible and diverse work culture, which also leads to the success of the business.

How has the gaming industry evolved in terms of its representation of queer identities?

It’s amazing to see how the industry has progressed. Before you would never see any LGBTQ+ content in games — now you have triple A titles with main characters who are queer (not a lot, but at least now it exists)! 

The indie game developer scene has also done an amazing job at proliferating LGBTQ+ themes and storylines that explore gender identity and sexuality. And developers are starting to prioritize accessibility, asking questions like ‘How can we give player customizations without requiring them to fit in the binary?” Now there are DEI consultants who studios work with, and there’s an expectation to hold leaders accountable. We’ve benefited from those who’ve paid it forward, and the attitude toward gaming culture is shifting to be more inclusive, diverse, and complete.

But there’s still a lot more work to do before LGBTQ+ representation reaches the norm, especially within the games industry. There’s a lot of education that needs to happen amongst leaders, stakeholders, and audiences. But I have to say, we have more queer representation than ever before. And comparing the games I grew up with up to the range of games the next generation of game developers have, I can’t wait to see how the game industry evolves even further.

What are your hopes for the future of the gaming industry in terms of representation and inclusion of queer identities?

I hope for diversity to be normalized. I hope for more visible LGBTQ+ people in senior leadership. I hope for more resources that can be provided to LGBTQ+ youth to learn that the game industry is a viable career, and support to help them stay in the industry. Ultimately, my hope is that one day, we won’t need once-a-year spotlights like this for LGBTQ+ narratives because every day would be a celebration of the community. We won’t need identity months or visibility days to be the only times where queer content is surfaced and discussed. My hope is that representation remains evergreen, and people can simply be respected for who they are instead of needing to fight for their right to exist. I look forward to the day when including queer content isn’t considered ‘risky’, or, dare I say, even controversial. I hope that the next generation makes our industry even more inclusive than it is now, and that every kid doesn’t have to look too hard to find a video game they can see themselves in.

What advice would you give to other queer individuals interested in pursuing a career in the gaming industry? 

To anyone who wants to pursue a career in games, go for it! You belong in this industry just as much as anyone else, and your perspective is going to change our industry for the better.

For those who are looking to make a difference, I’d say find what you value, find what you stand for, find your authenticity. Understand your truth so you can identify with what you want to advocate for. Your voice will be the guiding star that helps keep you grounded when things get muddy and difficult. Advocacy usually takes a bit of courage, passion, and vulnerability, all of which can quickly lead to exhaustion. Identify your boundaries and practice self care for when you need to rest, recover, and resurface. That’s the only way this kind of work remains sustainable.

Making a difference can also start small and anyone can do it! It can be amplifying an underrepresented colleague’s voice in a work meeting, or finding a way to get involved with diversity organizations, or calling out toxic behavior. Everyone can help build a kinder world in their own way, and it all starts with the small interactions we show towards each other.

Learn how Zynga is celebrating the LGBTQ+ community year-round by visiting https://www.zynga.com/playwithpride.