Veronica Belmont looks like any ordinary 31-year-old, sipping her cappuccino at Four Barrel Coffee and playing the best free solitaire on her phone. Her bangs are coiffed (she trims them herself) and her nails shine with a purple-glitter manicure.
And then she opens her mouth.
“Maybe it’s not 50-50 in ‘Call of Duty,’” she says referring to the split between male and female users of a video game that simulates a violent first-person shooter, “but that’s not to say it won’t be in a few years.”
Not if Belmont, a leading female tech and video game expert (1.6 million Twitter followers), has anything to say about it. Recently, Belmont, who lives in the Mission with her cat, Devo, and her husband, Ryan Block, who founded gdgt, a tech-product website, talked to Mission Local about gaming, women and the Mission.
The host of Tekzilla, a weekly show where she delivers tech and gadget advice and answers viewer’s questions, wants to see more women designing gadgets and games. The first hurdle, however, is a shallow hiring pool that Belmont wants to fill by getting young women interested early on.
“If younger girls see that there’s a place for them, that there’s an industry that’s willing to accept them, there will be more women getting into game development and engineering,” she says.
She uses her own childhood to illustrate her point.
My parents never told me it was weird for girls to like video games or never tried to prevent me from playing with computers, according to Belmont. “I came into the industry thinking, ‘This is what I do and this is how it’s supposed to be,’” she says. “I never really got a sense that it wasn’t a place for women or for girls to be interested in it.”
That interest eventually drew her to CNET (now CBS Interactive), her first gig in San Francisco, where she got her start in on-air hosting.
Nearly a decade later, Belmont hosts two web series shows on Discovery Network’s Revision3, a San Francisco-based digital production company. These include Tekzilla and Fact or Fictional, in which she explores whether technology from TV, movies, comics and games is achievable. For one episode, she and chemistry PhD Dr. Jovana J. Grbic tackled the science behind “Breaking Bad,” including the scene in which Walter White jumpstarts a dead car battery by building his own battery from used RV parts.
In PopSugar Girls’ Guide: The Sync Up, Belmont provides technology tips, from must-have travel apps to picking best music-streaming services. She also co-hosts video show and podcast, The Sword and Laser, a science fiction and fantasy-themed book club. Currently, Sword and Laser is reading Cherie Priest’s “Boneshaker.” Belmont’s other read includes “Dark Currents,” a book from the Agent of Hel series by Jacqueline Carey. “It’s kind of like an urban-fantasy-paranormal-romance mash-up,” she says. “Dark Currents” is part of Belmont’s other book club, Vaginal Fantasy.
Today, the tech host in the process of launching her first book, a science fiction and fantasy anthology, inspired by short stories submitted by her Sword and Laser viewers. “We had hundreds upon hundreds of submission, and we whittled it down to 20 picks,” says Belmont, noting that the collection includes 10 science fiction and 10 fantasy picks. “Most of the authors are previously unpublished.”
But Belmont is fully aware that the tech world is male dominant.
“There’s still some pretty rampant sexism going on,” she says.
While she’s been fairly lucky, she hasn’t been able to escape the occasional misogynistic comments on message boards or while playing a game.
If one person is saying something about me on the Internet, I can laugh it off pretty easily, she explains. “I think, ‘Wow, that’s really antiquated, way to go,’” she says.
She sees social media as artillery to combat sexism. “Women are standing up together and saying [sexism] is not acceptable,” she says.
The more women who enter gaming, she says, the the better. Already, Belmont says, half—if not more—of all casual gamers are women.
It’s also increasing on the design side. Nearly half of UK video game developers are female. “Women are comfortable to talk about their passions in video games, comic books, tech and geek culture in general,” says Belmont.
And, women aren’t just paying more attention to the industry, they’re willing to pay for the product, too. The Entertainment Software Association reported that 45 percent of players today are women.
“Women are putting money into this industry in a major way,” says Belmont, adding that now more than ever women are playing games—Candy Crush, Angry Birds and FarmVille.
“It’s impossible for developers not to ignore that segment of the population,” she says.
Some companies are already getting the hint. A few years ago, Mattel put out computer engineer Barbie. Recently, Girls Scouts launched Be the Video Game Developer, a contest to incentivize girls to explore video game development.
Last year, one feminist-forward father even hacked Legend of Zelda’s Link into a female figure.
She highlights other games as “Child of Light,” about Aurora, a princess trapped in a waking dream, and “Gone Home,” about a 15-year-old girl. “Gone Home” was developed by an indie video game studio whose female co-founder includes Karla Zimonja.
“It’s fantastic,” says Belmont. “When I was that age, we didn’t have games like that.”
As a video host Belmont would have an easier time finding work in a place like Los Angeles or New York, but enjoys being at the center of the technology hub. “This is the only place I think I’ll only live,” says the woman who grew up in Connecticut. “It feels tailor-made for me in a lot of ways.”
Some of her favorite local stops include Four Barrel, Voyager, Puerto Alegre and Arinell (“It’s the best slice of pizza you’ve ever had.”). She also likes checking out Sunday Streets, art openings on 14th street, and music shows at Brick and Mortar.
She understands, however, that the city’s tech boom and its influx of tech elites have created a bigger income gap.
“It’s hard to reconcile such a huge income disparity. These rich 24-year-olds are coming into the city and buying million-dollar condos,” she says, acknowledging that she might be part of the problem. “Buildings and condos are so expensive; where do the families that have lived here for generations go?”
It’s a really weird time for San Francisco, she explains.
Even though Belmont worries about the impact, she views Facebook’s recent decision to build a development complex for their workers as a mistake. “That’s not going to benefit Facebook in any way,” she says. “If you’re building for a city and for a culture, you need to be out in the city, out in that culture and taking those ideas and integrating that into the product, rather than basically building from a walled garden.”
Zappos, the online shoe and clothing company based in Las Vegas, has it right, she adds, noting how their CEO encourages workers to go out for lunch into the city. If you set yourself apart from that too much, you miss an opportunity to learn from different cultures and integrate that into your work, she says.
“Living in Mission is great because you’re always meeting new people and getting new ideas and talking about new projects and collaborating together—that’s valuable,” she says.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t have as many friends who were into the same thing as I was, and now I feel like I have an entire city of people who are into the same things I’m into.”