Impostor Syndrome, an entry in the 2013 Interactive Fiction Competition, tells the story of a female presenter at a technology conference. Within the first few pages I knew this is something I wanted to write about.
The Impostor Syndrome is an actual phenomenon where one cannot internalize their accomplishments and, despite any proof to the contrary, constantly believe they are frauds. Deirdra Kiai, writing as Georgiana Bourbonnais, constructs a compelling narrative around this phenomenon that I believe many women in the technology field can relate to. Aside from the experience of feeling like a lesser person due to your gender, Kiai also presents a realistic depiction of anxiety. I immediately connected with Georgiana through this shared experience. (Also, playing this game keyed up my anxiety so warning to anyone this may affect.)
You really get into the head of Georgiana and I believe this is an excellent medium through which we can show how harmful sexism in industry can be. I think that someone (read: a man) could get a better feel of what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry through this game. You constantly doubt yourself and feel like nothing you say or do is good enough simply because you have been repeatedly told you are inferior. You are made to feel like an “Impostor.”
The first line of the game is “You don’t belong up here.” From the very beginning you are under the impression that you are somehow not up to par. As you continue with your presentation you are reminded of all the reasons you don’t deserve to be a speaker at this conference. Your code is never good enough. You’re not as knowledgeable as some other people are. You were laid off because they thought you weren’t skilled enough – and they’re right aren’t they? They’re right about everything they’ve told you. You’re nowhere near as good as everyone around you. You’re a fraud. But you could have it worse right? So why are you even complaining? You’re so selfish.
The self-doubt is pervasive. It spreads from Georgiana to the player. I found myself wanting to get the game/presentation over with as soon as possible just to get out of an uncomfortable, albeit fictional, situation.
The game does end on a somewhat hopeful note; you commiserate with two other women in the industry and are told that there are people there for you. Yet this hope is diminished at the final screen that says “Some things never change.” For anyone questioning whether the technology industry is sexist, I would show them this piece and say that, sadly, the ‘Impostor Syndrome’ is an all too common experience.