Suzanne Park’s Loathe at First Sight is a comedic and charismatic romance set in the video game industry. The protagonist Melody Joo, a Korean American, has landed her very first job in the gaming industry as a production assistant at Seventeen Studios. She learns quickly that this field isn’t friendly to anyone who isn’t a white male. Blatant sexism and racism trickles down from the studio’s obnoxious CEO, Ian MacKenzie.
As a joke, Melody comes up with an idea for a game about male strippers fighting in a post-apocalyptic world. However, her joke becomes the “studio’s most high-profile project,” and she’s the one leading it. Now, Melody has to deal with jealous co-workers and harassment in and out of the office, while leading a team on a project that is seemingly doomed to fail.
In addition, the new intern that’s now on her team is the CEO’s “infuriating” nephew, but while their relationship starts off rocky, Melody soon learns that he’s everything she needs, both professionally and romantically.
Loathe at First Sight is a fun and delightful read, but it accurately highlights the toxicity many women face in the gaming industry. Ritual Motion had the chance to chat with author Suzanne Park about Loathe, her own experiences with sexism, and how to deal with negativity in the workplace.
Q: Loathe at First Sight is a fun, romantic comedy, but it really highlights the sexism and toxicity many women face in the video game industry. How did you come up with the idea behind the story, and what message are you hoping it sends to other women?
Suzanne Park: In 2016, when I started writing Loathe at First Sight, I had the full intention of writing a lighthearted romp. One of my best friends is a producer at a large, well-known game developer and she led an all-male production team. She was my muse. I thought to myself, “Hmmm, I don’t think anyone’s tried to write a comedic novel about a woman working at a fast-paced, exciting game company. I want to be the first!”
I asked my friend J if she could give me a tour of her company, and she not only did that, but she treated me to lunch first.
“Are you writing about Gamergate?” She asked as she spooned partially-company-subsidized frozen yogurt into her mouth. “I hope you do. Because everything that happened, and is still happening, is so f@#$d up.”
Gamergate? I’d read articles about Gamergate and seen some nasty stuff on twitter, but I was no expert on the matter, nor did I want to be. So nope, I said, I’m not planning to write about that. Everything I read about it was confusing, convoluted, and dangerous. I wanted my book to be humorous and fun, not scary and depressing.
After a lengthy and informative company tour, she sent me on my way with posters, stickers, and other cool swag. With my arms full of gaming freebies, I thought for sure that was the part of gaming I was going to focus on in my book— the fun, whimsical, thrilling part. But on my drive home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that glamorizing an industry where racism and sexism was rampant was a disservice to my future readers. I made an agreement with myself: I’ll do the research, and I’ll write what is true. I’ll take my story where it will naturally go on it’s own.
Most of what you’ll read in Loathe At First Sight is absurd and humorous, but there are some cringe-worthy and very serious parts as well that were important to my story. I don’t shy away from the macro- and microaggressions, racism, sexism, and harassment prevalent in the game world. Publishers Weekly said that I wrote a novel from a female game producer’s perspective that makes “tough topics go down easy by couching them in wry humor,” so I hope I was successful in providing a balance of seriousness with comedy. I also hope as more media sheds light on the gaming industry, perhaps with books like mine, it will continue to evolve and change for the better.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your background?
Park: My formal career training was in marketing, but I also started out doing stand-up comedy right out of college. At first, stand-up was pretty hard for me— not the joke writing, but the performing part. I got better with practice and learned some performance tricks over time that veteran comedians passed down to me. Like don’t squint at the blinding bright stage lights. Don’t play with the mic cord. Take a sip of water if you forget a joke. It was both thrilling and terrifying each time I went on stage, and I always had that pit-in-stomach-oh-no-vomity feeling when I took a mic in my hand. Some people say it gets easier with each performance, but for me it never felt comfortable. I was good at faking it, though.
There were challenges though, being a female comic. The comedy field is 95% male, and I was constantly surrounded by crass locker room talk pre- and post- shows. In-your-face sexism was something I knew well. I always felt like I shouldered a burden to prove over and over again that female comics could be funny. It was exhausting. I can’t even count the number of times I was told after getting off the stage, “hey, you were ACTUALLY pretty good.” I knew what they were thinking. For a girl. Looking back though, I’m glad I did it. All in all I did pretty well— I performed in competitions and placed in them. I met some great people. Stand-up comedy gave me self-confidence and I was able to hone comedy writing skills for my books.
Q: What are some barriers you’ve faced as a woman in your industry?
Park: There’s been a ton of publishing discourse about how female authors who write a certain type of fiction with a predominantly female audience are called Women’s Fiction authors. Male Science Fiction authors, who write books for primarily male audiences aren’t labeled Male Fiction authors. There are a number of men who have read my YA and adult debut releases, both comedies, and enjoyed them. So for an author like me, I wonder if my books are getting in the right people’s hands.
Q: Do you have any advice for women on how to deal with toxicity in the workplace?
Park: In the past, when I worked in the tech industry, I found it important to surround myself with people who advocated for me. This meant colleagues who could commiserate or allies who weren’t in my same boat but could help advocate for me in meetings with support. This also means going out of your way to find those people, and that can be a little weird, networking and introducing yourself to others, but what I’ve found from experience is that people actually like it when people go out of their way to introduce themselves.
I also recommend showcasing wins to people in higher positions. This might not be for everyone, but when I worked at a huge company on a large advertising team, I used to put all the ads I worked on on the intimidating general manager’s chair with a note, something like: “Great to see this team get these out the door! The product team loves the work!” He’d see me later and mention it in casual conversation and my colleagues were so impressed. How did the general manager know what I was working on? It’s because I got my accomplishments in front of him and he remembered me because I took initiative. I controlled the narrative he had in his head about me. And the best thing? I didn’t even have to talk to him. It didn’t take much, just a color printer and a post-it. But he always remembered my name.
If you can, and you’re in a position to be able to do this, addressing issues directly and strategically by providing constructive input to those who are causing harm can help chip away at the problem, too. But this can be hard to do, depending on the relationship dynamics.
Sadly, there’s no silver bullet to fix the issue, but you can definitely go on the defense or offense with BB pellets.
Q: What other books have you written?
Park: In addition to Loathe at First Sight, I debuted this spring with a Young Adult novel called The Perfect Escape. It’s about a Korean-American teen Nate Kim who meets his dream girl in a zombie escape room where they both work. Because they both need money, they enter a weekend survivalist competition together. Two teens in the wilderness, surviving the elements, what could possibly go wrong?
Next year I’m releasing two more books! Another YA romantic comedy called Sunny Song Will Never be Famous, about a social-media addicted teen who is sent to a digital detox summer camp in Iowa. I’m excited because like with my obsessive zombie and survival guide research for the other book, I know a LOT about rustic farm life now. That book will be out June 2021. I also have another adult workplace romantic comedy that will be released in September 2021— I just finished that draft and the title and cover reveal are coming soon! It’s about a former investment banker who pursues a new career hosting a YouTube Korean cooking channel, but her Korean mother walks on set and the show goes viral. Like with the other books I’ve written, prepare for more escapism in 2021!