Ashly Burch, 22, of Los Angeles, CA is a gamer. In fact, she’s been playing video games since she could hold a controller. With the help of some of her favorite titles like Harvest Moon and Mass Effect 2, she’s done everything from tending acres of virtual crops to conquering alien worlds. But high scores aside, she’s quickly becoming an influential voice in the video game industry.
When not busy tearing through the latest “platformer” with friends or her older brother, Anthony, Ashly is writing for Valve Software, acting in a highly popular web series, managing her blog, voice acting for recent hits like Borderlands 2, starring in independent films, adding to the conversation about gender equality in the game industry, and more.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had,” said Burch. “I really enjoy voice acting, but also really love asking questions and being a voice in this conversation.”
It all started in 2008 when Ashly and Anthony teamed up as a comedy duo to create a web series about new games and trends called “Hey Ash, Whatchya Playin’?” These two to three minute videos, which quickly grew in popularity, were first hosted on Destructoid, an online video game review site where Anthony worked at the time. A few months later, the series was picked up by GameTrailers where it’s since garnered over 14 million views.
“Anthony and I are lucky that we’ve carved out a niche for ourselves in the industry,” said Burch. “It’s given us a place where we can speak about things that are important to us like minority and gender representation, not only in the games themselves, but also in the development side.”
Surprisingly, recent studies by the Entertainment Software Association show that women 18 or older represent nearly half of the video game playing population, but only make up 11 percent of game designers and 3 percent of programmers.
While some gamers aren’t concerned with these issues, and are even hostile towards addressing them, Ashly and Anthony found a lot of their fans have responded positively. Their podcasts and Hey Ash videos have even helped some consider these subjects for the first time.
In addition to Hey Ash, Ashly runs a blog called “How Games Saved My Life,” which highlights the positive power of playing video games. The blog was originally inspired by how Harvest Moon for N64 helped her overcome anxiety issues when she was younger. She was also moved to respond to the negative media surrounding those who play video games.
“Games have been such a positive force in my life,” said Burch. “I wanted to share the possibility that they can do this for other people as well.”
How Games Saved My Life has become a venue for others to share their stories about how video games have helped them in their own lives. Ashly receives a wide range of submissions about issues such as overcoming depression and drug addiction, how games have brought friends together, healed relationships, and even helped prevent suicide.
But the industry still has a long way to go, said Burch. She argues that a better inclusion of women and minorities in gameplay and development will make for better business and a better product. Due to people like Ashly, this shift is slowly underway.
“I’d love for women in the games industry to feel as though they don’t have to look or act a certain way,” said Burch, “and that they don’t have to prove themselves as gamers. We’ve been really fortunate to address these issues with Hey Ash.”
Cover image courtesy of Ashly Burch.