Pride Month Employee Spotlight: Heather Decker (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.
We wrap up our spotlight series with Heather Decker, an Executive Producer at Zynga, to talk about how her identity as a LGBTQ+ woman and mother shapes the way she approaches game development.
Tell us what you do at Zynga and what you do for fun outside of work.
At Zynga, I lead production on the Applied AI team, maintaining our roadmap, ensuring that our team has the right processes in place to collaborate successfully, and working with leadership across the company for all things artificial intelligence (AI) at the company.
In my personal time, I enjoy cuddling kitties, playing games, gardening, staying active, and appreciating nature.
What would have been helpful for you to see in gaming when your personal identity was first taking shape?
In the small town I grew up in, there was no queer representation to speak of. Videogames were one of my favorite pastimes from a very young age and it would have been extremely meaningful for me to see queer women portrayed positively in them much earlier on.
Later on in life, games ended up being a powerful part of my journey to fully understanding my identity, essentially giving me the opportunity I needed to test drive what I believed to be true about myself in a fun, safe space. It was so affirming! I want everyone to have the opportunity to be themselves in the virtual spaces we’re creating. It can mean so much!
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the gaming industry?
My lifelong love of video games definitely inspired me to pursue this career! I have a lot of family to thank for encouraging my boundless childhood creativity and providing access to a variety of games.
When I was working my way through college, my mom was a huge support and my young daughter inspired me to work as hard as I could toward my goals. There was nothing more motivating than forging a better life for us and making her proud!
How do you think your identity as a queer game maker influences your approach to game development?
As a queer woman in a leadership position at a game company, my unique perspective influences so many things I touch. For example, anytime I playtest something, I can give feedback that could help make it more inclusive.
When people create media like games, their perspectives and life experiences inevitably bleed into them to some degree. Deliberately fostering more diverse teams in the game industry by extension means more diverse and inclusive gaming experiences will come to light than we’ve ever seen.
How has the gaming industry evolved in terms of its representation of queer identities?
We’ve come such a long way since my childhood! There are entire queer stories being told now through the medium of games! Character creation systems are being built that represent us in more meaningful ways than the previous lack of gender choices or strict binary gender choices. Games that include a romance mechanic have expanded beyond just offering heteronormative choices. This past year, I was absolutely overjoyed to play a mainstream AAA game with a queer woman as the protagonist! These are only a couple of examples of strides I’ve been seeing across the industry.
What are your hopes for the future of the gaming industry in terms of representation and inclusion of queer identities?
I’m looking forward to seeing this momentum continue! I want to see even more mainstream games with queer characters, countless options on how you can present as a player character, and queer stories regularly taking the spotlight. I’m excited to see the number of LGBTQ+ folks in the game industry continue to grow, filling out leadership positions that drive decisions at companies. This is going to be a huge part of continuing to shape the future of games.
What advice would you give to someone looking to make a difference in the gaming industry?
Who you are is a strength that you bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, believe in yourself, and put yourself forward for opportunities. Find good mentors and inspiring role models as you strive, then work to pay it forward and elevate those around you when you get there. If we all keep trying to lift each other up, we’ll no doubt soar.
Learn how Zynga is celebrating the LGBTQ+ community year-round by visiting https://www.zynga.com/playwithpride.