Women have always been present in the gaming industry and their visibility and influence increases with each passing year. This is an absolutely wonderful thing, but bringing about change to the industry’s boys club is an arduous process. To shed light on the conditions that women had to deal with, the Twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy was created which stood for “the #1 reason why there aren’t more women making games,” and the stories of sexism and abuse that followed were distressing and endless.
In response, the companion hashtag #1reasontobe surfaced and brought to light women’s inspirational messages of their “#1 reason to be” gamers and game designers. Continuing the delivery of such a positive message was a GDC panel with six women from the industry each giving their “#1 reason to be” a woman in the industry, and they had amazing things to say.
First up was Robin Hunickie, co-founder of Funomena who had worked on Thatgamecompany’s award-winning Journey. Robin wanted to be curious, not a curiosity, in gaming and started her career with a hypertext narrative of what it’s like to become a girl. Later inspired by the legendary Will Wright, she dove into the industry and determined that to affect change you need to evangelize and catalyze, even if it means creating something small. She threw down the gauntlet on women in the workplace by declaring that you are either bringing women in, or you are in the way.
Following her was Leigh Alexander, Gamasutra’s Editor-at-Large, who, speaking as someone both in and out of the industry, addressed that its more prevalent problems are subtle unexamined prejudices rather than booth babes, and exacerbating these is that fact that empathy is hard to learn. Still, she pointed out that this is everyone’s industry now, and that the increasing variety of voices and perspectives will result in a better industry.
Expanding on the idea that it’s everyone’s industry, Kim McAuliffe from Microsoft Studios addressed the “imposter complex” she felt for not wanting to work on violent, “core” games (citing work on popular shooters which she didn’t enjoy), but also brought up that the core is changing. All devs start as players and assuming that all players are male shoves women to the fringe, when in fact they are part of the core now. Women just want to play as themselves. She expressed utter delight in her work with National Geographic’s Kinect titles and took it to heart that she was creating games for children and families, who are also part of this changing core of players.
Elizabeth Sampat of Storm8 had some harsh but impassioned advice to offer. She said that there will always be people incapable of accepting women and taking them seriously, and that those who say to fight them won’t see the hate mail and the death threats that come once the fighting begins. She discussed the challenges women in in the industry face to simultaneously be assertive but not a bitch, feminine but not overly so, a ‘real’ gamer without outshining the boys. She also offered up this absolutely beautiful retort to give when asked “What happened to you?” by people wondering when you became such a bitch. The answer: “You did.”
A prime example of Elizabeth’s advice in action is the utterly disgusting fallout that happened around Anita Sarkeesian. When she Kickstarted her “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” series, the dregs of internet cesspools that be found on sites like 4chan and Reddit set out to destroy a woman who dared question the inequalities in their comfortable status quo. It is only because Anita had the bravery to show the abuse heaped upon her that we even know how extensive the cruelty was. To her credit, when I met Anita at a separate panel she was very sweet and seems to have avoided becoming “such a bitch” despite having every right to do just that.
Mattie Brice, an MA student at SFSU and activist blogger, took the stage next and echoed Kim’s sentiment that women just want to play as themselves. Mattie went so far as to create Mainichi in order to see someone like herself portrayed in a game. Having been a blogger for years, she expressed her frustration that men have been praised for the very things that she has been condemned for writing about, whether it be gender identity or queer issues in gaming, and that both her classes and the industry have a very narrow definition of what constitutes a game. Like Kim and Leigh, Mattie mentions that women aren’t a “new” demographic to be served, that they’ve been there all along and just value certain styles and writing over others.
Then, to end the discussion on a bang, Brenda Romero took the stage and was flawless. Brenda has been in the industry for over 30 years and worked on the successful Wizardry series, among many many others, and has been a vocal proponent of equal treatment for women in the industry. She especially had a bone to pick with E3, comparing it to walking through a construction site, and that the booth babes, catcalls, and bad behavior would have qualified as sexual harassment in a regular work environment. She noted that she was not anti-booth babe, as she is very sex-positive and sees no use in criticizing the women, but rather against the sexist culture that the presence of booth babes creates at otherwise professional events.
She was equally fed up with it at GDC in the past, and when it made a resurgence at a GDC-sponsored party just hours after she gave this talk, she resigned. Despite all of that, she enjoys being a woman in the industry because “I make something out of my head that someone else pays for.” Mrs. Romero ended her presentation by saying that she hopes the industry can change enough that she can feel comfortable bringing her daughter, who games and wrote that her dream is “To make a video game with my mom.”, to work with her.
And that’s a pretty awesome reason to be.
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