Well, this is quite the development today. Brenda Brathwaite Romero, one of the biggest names in gaming and especially one of the biggest female names in the industry, has resigned from the International Game Developer’s Association. The reason for this dramatic decision can be summed up in two words: exotic dancers.
So here’s the story: on Tuesday night, the IGDA co-sponsored a party with YetiZen, [Editor's Note: IGDA's original event plans fell through last minute, and they then partnered with YetiZen] a company who does something kinda sorta related to helping startups, I think; their website isn’t very clear to me. At said party were at least three dancers on the floor in skimpy, revealing outfits and several more walking through the crowd on stilts. The backlash was fast, and the fallout has been substantial. IGDA board member Darius Kazemi resigned from his position despite being 3 days away from his term ending and Women In Games Boston withdrew their support. But the biggest story to come of this is Brenda Romero deciding to step down as co-chair of the IGDA Women in Games SIG.
Brenda has been a fierce and vocal supporter of female and LGBT presence in video games and in the gaming industry, and mere hours before the party she hosted a panel discussion titled #1reasontobe where she and five other female industry pros spoke on their experiences. We attended the panel and all five ladies had amazing things to say, so it’s very saddening to have that experience followed so soon by atavistic sexism. Brenda’s decision was hard, but she said in an interview with Polygon,
“I woke up to DMs, texts and links to news of the IGDA party. It really saddens me. I have been a long-time supporter of the IGDA. However, my silence would have been complicity. I had no choice. And just hours after our panel, too.”
IGDA Director Kate Edwards released a statement to try to distance themselves from the poor choice in entertainment:
“As many of you know, the IGDA was a co-presenter of the YetiZen party Tuesday evening. We recognize that some of the performers’ costumes at the party were inappropriate, and also some of the activities they performed were not what we expected or approved. We regret that the IGDA was involved in this situation. We do not condone activities that objectify or demean women or any other group of people. One of the core values of the IGDA is encouraging inclusion and diversity. Obviously we need to be more vigilant in our efforts. We intend to be so in the future.”
The response from YetiZen was less encouraging. When asked about the incident, CEO Sana Choudary told Kotaku (sic throughout),
“Reason for this unlike the people spreading this in the press now I actually have critical business meetings and milestones we need to hit next few days. Business success doesn’t come if I let every person with a bone take away my concentration from my key goals.”
Translation: I have more important things to do.
No hon, you don’t. Right now the most important thing to do is run damage control because two days ago no one knew anything about your company, but today everyone does and none of the attention is good. Your top priority is saving your company. The second most important thing is deciding what your next career move is going to be because I don’t see YetiZen surviving the fallout from this.
We are better than this. This is the Game Developers Conference, not the sleazy boat show from Showgirls. The average gamer is 30 and 47% of them are female, yet as an industry we still behave like we’re marketing to hormonal teenage boys even when marketing to each other. It’s encouraging that the response to this debacle has been swift and largely positive or apologetic. It’ll be even better when it doesn’t happen at all.