Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, Is It Right To Label Women In Gaming As ‘Women In Gaming’?

As someone that writes about feminism and gaming there is a certain expectation that I have particular interest in women that work in gaming. Recently the idea had occurred that I could do a list of profiles of successful women that currently work in gaming, developers, writers and journalists. A whole blog post celebrating the lives of women already making a success of themselves in the industry. But something stopped me, one thought…

If I were a women that worked in gaming I would be annoyed to be on that kind of list. Why? Because I would want everyone to focus on my work rather my gender.

womenatwork

 

That thought made me pause and wonder, is there too much focus on the gender of women that work in gaming rather than on their work itself?

Those that claim to want gaming to be more progressive are quick to point out that there are not as many women that work in gaming as there are men. Some claim that gaming as a hobby needs to be a more welcoming space for women to come and work, citing harassment and sexism as the reason women may avoid choosing a career in gaming. I have made it clear in past entries that I believe the gaming media has made gaming seem like a scary and exclusionary place for women, focusing on stories of sexism and fear rather than positive stories of success. As someone that would wish to support women in gaming it may be a natural thing for me to want to highlight examples of successful women in gaming, yet is this actually helpful? Does ignoring the individuality of women that are forging career paths in gaming and characterising them with the blanket label of ‘Women In Gaming’ do anything but give them an air of novelty, of ‘other’?

davidattenborough

 “Ah look! Here we have a prime example of the rare and elusive ‘Woman In Gaming’ a species known for their shyness, their scarcity and of course their boobies…”

I wanted to get some more opinions from women that actually work in gaming on whether they thought being labelled as ‘Women In Gaming’ is unhelpful. I was curious if they thought there is too much focus on gender, particularly by the gaming media, and whether that focus should be concentrated more on their work. I asked a game developer and a game journalist for their thoughts. The authors of these comments will remain anonymous, quotes are unedited except for spelling and grammar.

The first woman that I spoke to is a game developer, when I asked her if women are being held back by their characterisation as ‘Women In Gaming’ and whether there is too much focus on gender she said

“Absolutely, because when you focus on gender, the discussion stops being about games. When you interview a woman what makes her different from any other game dev? They have to find a “Hook” to promote the women and they always use harassment sadly. It’s very hard to get an interview published if you’re not offering juicy harassment stories. The journalists are very irresponsible as they know this person will get attacked because they have no merit and it proves their narrative. I refer to it as clickmeat or virtual punching bag articles”

I asked her to clarify whether she meant that the developer had no merit or the media, she replied

“The developer, the journalists don’t care if they have merit, they just want a piece of meat to dangle in front of the audience and they tend to pick mediocre people as they get attacked the most, and they blame it on gender. For example nobody says a peep about Nix Hydra, they are rich successful business ladies”

Nix Hydra is an LA based entertainment studio, founded by two female Yale students, that makes games and apps specifically aimed at young women. Last year Nix Hydra obtained over $5 million in funding.

The second woman I asked is a freelance games journalist and writer for gaming publications. Her comments were as follows

“Hmm. Well. “Women in gaming” certainly strips us of our individuality. I’m not sure if that holds us back per se, but it may impact our ability to be taken seriously as unique and important thinkers regarding games. That’s what Othering does. Is there too much focus on my gender? Yes. Is there too much speculation regarding my sexuality, political beliefs, and appearance? Yes, yes and yes. If one more person calls me a “polarizing figure” I’m going to scream. My ideas aren’t that radical. I don’t think you can paint all gamers with the same brush though. For some people, gender is very important. Other people don’t care. Regarding the industry at large? My concern is that companies may be afraid to hire outspoken women because we’re seen as “trouble” Then again, my own situation proves that false, so I don’t know, you know?”

When I replied that the idea of companies being afraid to hire outspoken women had not occurred to me, she responded

“Well if the perception is that women need special treatment, a company looking for profits is going to avoid that. Of course they’ll never admit that, but companies already avoid women who may go on maternity leave, so it’s a concern. I think that those who truly believe there’s gender stereotyping in the industry need to be extremely careful about how they proceed. Real sexism is insidious, and this call out crap may hurt every woman currently looking for work since it claims to speak for all women”

I asked her if she thought that the media is partly to blame for the focus on gender rather than work, she responded

“Of course. We KNOW the media does, in fact, cultivate a perception that the world is scarier than it really is. One could even say the narrative about women in gaming is an extension of rape culture: normalizing abuse of women instead of stopping it”

The focus of the media on industry sexism against women that work in gaming is almost certainly doing more harm than good, creating a climate of fear that leaves them feeling that gaming is openly hostile towards them. Not every woman that works in gaming experiences sexism or harassment, though of course it is terrible for the ones that do. However it seems that the gaming media would have us believe that experiences of harassment and sexism are almost certain to occur to every woman that puts her head above the parapet as a ‘Woman In Gaming’,  purely for being a woman. Perhaps is it worth looking at some of the treatment that some women have received in the gaming industry.

womeningaming

Roberta Williams is widely considered to be a pioneer of gaming, she co-founded the company that would later become Sierra Entertainment. You’ll often find her name on lists of the most influential or important people in gaming of all time, not women but people. The full interview that this comes from can be found here. Now it is worth pointing out that this interview was conducted in 2006 and by that point Roberta Williams had already been retired for seven years. During Roberta’s twenty year career the internet was in it’s infancy and there was no such thing as social media. However Williams makes it clear that her experience of working in the game industry was a positive one.

Other women that have worked in the industry have also spoken of their positive experience of working in the gaming industry. Another woman that has made an incredible career in the video game industry is Amy Hennig, formerly creative director for Naughty Dog and currently working on Visceral Games as yet untitled Star Wars project. Hennig has worked on titles such as the Uncharted series and Legacy Of Kain.

Hennig                                     Taken from this 2007 LA Times article  

This year at the Game Developers Conference 2015 Hennig made it clear that in her twenty years of working in gaming she has never received harassment. She blamed the media for fueling fear, saying that during the past year the game media had falsely painted gaming as a hostile place for women. She stated

“This industry is a haven for me. The Internet is a toxic place. Gamer culture can be noxious. The media can elevate negativity….We need to turn that around, Come on in. The water is fine.”

I could continue to name examples but then this would become the list of awesome women that work in gaming that I wanted to avoid writing. Here’s the thing, when Hennig and Williams were starting to make their careers in gaming they really were unusual, there were very few women choosing making video games as a career path at that point. In their time? These women were novelties.

However times have changed, there are now more women working in the gaming industry than ever before, again maybe not as many as some would like, but still the days of being a rarity are long gone.

ubisoft montreal

 

“If women don’t join this industry because they believe sexism will limit them, they’re missing out.” Gabrielle Toledano Executive Vice President and Chief Talent Officer at EA

Recent picture from Ubisoft Montreal

So why does the gaming press still treat these women like some oddity? Yes sexism does exist in gaming, as it exists everywhere else, and conversations about experiences of sexism are important ones to have. However, do they have to ask every woman if she has experienced sexism like it’s a given instead of letting her volunteer the information if she feels it is relevant or warranted? Do they have to make mention of each woman as a ‘Woman In Gaming’ in every single article rather than on making it about her work as an individual? Must they seemingly expect individual women to speak for every woman that has even even thought about video games? By focusing on the gender of women rather than the work they do gaming journalists are inadvertently reinforcing the idea that these women are special and should be treated differently from the men, this is detrimental to the cause for equality. Holding big signs with arrows on them saying “LOOK! WE HAVE WOMEN!” above the heads of women working in gaming creates a sense that they are alien, that they do not belong.

And it isn’t true, women have always been there, both as creators and as players. If the gaming press truly wants to be an ally to women? Maybe instead of zeroing in on their gender it could redirect that attention to their achievements. Maybe instead of being a ‘Woman In Gaming’ we can all just be in gaming, no capitals, no air quotes, no gender politics and no assumptions, just people all working together equally in an industry that we love. Then maybe one day if I do decide to write a list, it can be of awesome people that design and create fantastic video gaming experiences, with their gender as little more than a barely relevant footnote.

Thanks For Reading

Angela

 

Find me on Twitter on @Angelheartnight

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, Is It Right To Label Women In Gaming As ‘Women In Gaming’?

  1. Isn’t this just an elaborated form of the argument that if you pay attention to gender then you are sexist? Pointing out how few women work in the industry (from the IGDA 22% at producer level and much less for all other positions) is necessary to investigate why this is so.

    Having women talk about their experiences surely serves to give role models and help work against any prejudices that may exist? I have noticed for example that many in the industry believe that women’s brains are so wired that they have less interest in technical positions.

    It is a fact that with sexism and gender equality being such a hot topic that particularly women are going to be asked about it in interviews, just as since the GDC panel led by David Mullich about ageism will probably make it a likely topic to be covered in interviews with industry ‘veterans’.

    Does your argument mean that we should ignore these people’s stories because to look at age discrimination in the industry is, in itself, ageist? That the age of employees should be ignored, so that the status quo can go unchallenged? Or should discussions be held and research done to establish if there are any barriers to older employees and how best to tackle them if there are any?

    Anyway, I have enjoyed reading your blog – but it is sadly one-dimensional and far too often in my humble opinion seems to be more of a rationalisation of a view point rather than an explanation or justification. It has been however a pleasure to read something so well written and that does not feel the need to insult those of a different opinion and use imaginative expletives to describe them.

    Thanks for Writing ^^

    1. The reason for the blog is more to inspire discussion than anything else. My point is not that paying attention to gender is sexist, more that it shouldn’t be the entire focus and it shouldn’t take precedence over the quality of a person’s work. Being a woman is a huge part of who I am but it it not everything and I don’t wish to be solely defined by it. Yes it is important for those that experience any form of discrimination to be able to talk about it, however at the moment when it comes to women it seems to be the ONLY thing the gaming press wants to talk about and I don’t believe that does promote positive role models in the industry. We rarely hear about any positive examples, it’s nothing but negativity. The media takes it upon itself to scaremonger women that may have otherwise considered a career in gaming by unfairly labeling it as more sexist than other industries. I believe there is a danger here of going too far the other way, where too much focus on gender leads to quotas and assertions that the only reason women have got anywhere in the industry is because of their gender. The key is to find the right balance.

  2. I understand your point that if all that is discussed is the negative aspects, this is a really bad thing. I admit that I more follow the media through the industry side (on a trade website) than on consumer websites and there I certainly see a lot of positive stuff, from women advancing in their career, articles about women as role models, education programs about game development for girls and so on.

    It is very clear that a sizable portion of the industry both recognises the benefits of more women working in the industry and is working hard toward removing any possible barriers to women entering or staying.

    Sadly it is also clear that there is a sizable portion that does not see the benefit. In an article I had mentioned above about an educational program for girls that describes how the girls that took part had bloomed throughout the course and how rewarding the whole experience had been for the tutors and the participants the comments were full of “and where can boys get this training?” and “and are they going to make better games than boys would?” by users that were obviously insulted by the idea that women should benefit in any way that men don’t.

    I think the media need to continue to challenge the idea that gaming is a male-orientated hobby. And part of that is highlighting that 67% of the non-male (all participants that choose an option other than male, it wasn’t actually an option in the survey ^^) employees in the industry think that sexism in games is the industry’s main fault in the 2014 IGDA survey. Part of that is dealing with harassment and openly condemning it, not using it as an excuse to attack ‘professional victims’ or to propound a ‘not all gamers’ argument.

    The gaming industry and its consumers have real issues in dealing with anything that sounds as if it might be about feminism, to the point that meaningful debate is nearly impossible because of all the anger and hate on boths sides of the argument. Imho, the worst of this is not the insulting or even the harassment as terrible as that is for anyone, but the amount of rank stupidity that we as a group allow to be stated unproblematically as it backs up one position or the other.

    So I would like to extend my thanks you again for being calm and reasonable, even if I do rarely agree with you and thanks again for taking the time and effort to make such an interesting blog. I still haven’t gotten past choosing a name for mine – really must stop typing so many comments on stuff ^^

  3. This whole issue reminds me a lot of univeristy alumni newsletters, and professional association magazines – at least the ones I receive for engineering and sciences. They have a section on people profiles. And like you suggest, they focus on achievements first and foremost. If you pay particular attention to gender (and are aware of actual departmental gender ratios) then you realize they do go through the trouble of balancing it. It’s subtle and an appropriate form of affirmative action designed to normalize implicit associations. Everyone on those lists, regardless of gender deserve to be there. It takes extra care, but no one is filler, and it’s not sensationalized. Occasionally, we might get a Women in STEM issue, but that’s an complimentary approach to the above and not a replacement.

    Then I look at the games industry… I vaguely remember Game Developer Magazine trying out industry profiles in the past but that was stopped and skewed heavily towards high-profile men. Their interview format also tended to skew male. It did not seem like they even tried gender balancing because there were quite a lot of female devs and women driven companies even back then. Very few ever showed up. It was textbook reporter bias.

    I too am wary about the press. I don’t believe this whole auxiliary reporting and press industry has the experience to know how to handle diversity issues. They lack the institutional knowledge that universities have developed. Having utterly failed it once before because they naively tried to do representative as-they-come reporting, they now glomp on to the only other option: this mess we see today. It is painful to watch.

    This normalizing approach is a long, expensive process that requires fortitude and patience. This is probably one of those things IGDA should have picked up as a core component but not part of the Women in Gaming SIG. They’ve done some interviews in the webinar series, but that format is horrible and doesn’t tick the same boxes as the alumni style newsletters.

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