Jess Tompkins

Communication Science

Jessica Tompkins, Ph.D. student in Communication Science, is bringing her passion for video games to IU. As the Lead Intern for WESiT’s new Special Interest Group, Women in Gaming, she enjoys having opportunities to work within a community of like-minded people, and encourages anyone and everyone to come to a Women in Gaming meeting. “I would love to have you participate—even if you know absolutely nothing about games,” said Tompkins. “I believe everyone can benefit from playing a good video game in the company of others.”

This supportive, inclusive attitude has likely been nurtured by the amount of support Tompkins says she was surprised to receive from professors, colleagues and friends. “No one has ever challenged me or asked me why I tried to make a video game about a controversial historical scenario,” she said. “There’s a very good community of game designers and developers—both faculty and students at IU—who want to support women in this endeavor. It’s important that women know that!”

As a Ph.D. student in the Media School, Tompkins studies the intersection of video games and gender. Specifically, she says she is personally invested in issues related to gender representations in games as well as the marginalization of women and minorities in the video game industry. Tompkins looks for opportunities to encourage and mentor undergraduates who want to work in the gaming field professionally, which led her to get involved with CEWiT after attending last year’s “Techie Women Have More” conference.

Tompkins says in the next five to 10 years, she sees herself as a recent Ph.D. graduate, teaching and researching at a university. “But learning, always learning, and never stagnating,” she adds. “I love the challenges that arise while learning something new. When I’m introduced to new tech and I’m uncertain exactly how it works—I like to remedy that as soon as possible by playing with the tech and teaching myself how to use it to my benefit.”

The challenges Tompkins faces in the tech world do not weaken her passion for the industry, and she wishes others knew how they could benefit from problem-solving skills. “Like with just about anything else, technological competency and mastery requires practice, determination, and a touch of creative thinking,” Tompkins said. “If you want to succeed you can’t be afraid of hard work—but the payoff is worth it.”

Currently, Tompkins teaches computer lab sections of the Media School Course “Game Art and Sound,” and is most proud of a research paper she co-authored titled “Sexy, Strong, and Secondary: An Analysis of the Portrayal of Female Video Game Characters from 1983 to 2014,” which was placed in the “Top Four Competitive Student Papers in Mass Communication” at the 2015 National Communication Association Conference.

When she has time outside of her research and studies, Tompkins likes to, unsurprisingly, play video games on PC and PlayStation. She also makes costumes based on fictional characters, a practice sometimes referred to as cosplay. Her advice for incoming students is to study and work hard. “When professors assign you a reading or a project it usually is for your personal benefit and intellectual growth,” Tompkins said. “Never underestimate the power of knowledge – because knowledge is power.”