I've been considering whether or not to write this for a while now, but I think it's time for it to get said. I've witnessed the continuing onslaught of sexism in this industry for a while now, and over the past little while it's continued unabated. There are incidents that range from the disappointing and childish - like the Bulletstrom breast size debate, to the appalling - like Penny Arcade's recently released t-shirt suggesting that rapists are a sports team that people should cheer for (there's a long back story to that and just looking at the t-shirt won't make sense if you're not familiar with it).
One of the things that often comes up from people who defend that sort of behaviour is that it's harmless and not really an indication of anything in the broader world. Well, in my experience that's very wrong, and I'm writing this post to demonstrate how. Earlier this year and last year I worked at a large game developer where I witnessed sexual harassment on a scale I've never seen before in any other industry that I've worked in. One distinguishing factor of a lot of this behaviour was one of the justifications for it that was given by some of the people engaged in it - that this kind of behaviour should be expected because this was the video game industry and this is how gamers behave.
I'm not really sure what the best way to organise this would be, and the things I'm going to describe don't really fit together in a clear way, so what I'm going to do is list a number of the incidents that I witnessed and then at the end try to tie it all up with some conclusions that I think can be drawn.
I'm clearly making some pretty serious allegations here and there's a lot of room for things to be misinterpreted, so I'm going to offer a series of caveats and explanations before I get going.
I'm not going to name the company this took place at because I think that would distract from the real issue here. The company did do an extremely poor job of dealing with these issues but they certainly didn't cause them. I am, however, writing this under my real name, because I want it to be clear that I think it's more important that this information gets out in the open than it is to protect my career prospects.
I will only be listing incidents that I personally witnessed and that I kept written records of. This means that I'm leaving out anything second hand and anything that might be distorted by my memory. As you can imagine, this means that I'm actually leaving out the majority of incidents that transpired.
While I don't know if anyone other than me has raised these issues with management, I do know that a number of my co-workers - both male and female - have raised them with me. To that end, I want it to be clear that I'm not accusing everyone at the company of engaging in this kind of behaviour; there were plenty of reasonable, respectful people, but this is sadly another instance where the jerks ruin it for everyone.
Finally, I want it to be clear that I'm not saying that these attitudes or behaviour were caused by playing video games. What I AM saying is that the game industry and gamer communities often reinforce these attitudes and that it's time for people to step up and put a stop to it.
So, with those explanations out of the way, here are some of the incidents that I witnessed (these all took place in common work areas with numerous people present).
A conversation that began with the comment that one particular woman was stupid, then a follow up conversation about how ALL women are stupid, followed by someone clarifying that it's actually only attractive women who are all stupid.
Conversations about how men should go about trying to make women at bars feel poorly about themselves to make them more likely to have sex with them.
When the issue of sexual harassment was raised, one of the leads declared that, in retaliation, a bunch of employees should open up MS Word on their computers and write "BITCH" in large letters across the screen. Clearly the implication was that female employees should know their role, accept their treatment, and be quiet. Unknown to the people involved, it was me and not a woman who had brought the issue to management's attention.
The same lead, in response to the issue being raised again by management, changed his phone's ringtone so that it would loudly play a clip of someone saying "BITCH!" every time he received a call or text message. He then went on to say in an unusually loud voice (making sure everyone in the area could hear him) that that sexism (as well as racism and homophobia) were standard behaviour for the video game industry, that anyone who works there should expect to be treated in that way, and that anyone who didn't like it should go find another industry to work in.
Another employee, also in response, suggested that they find a way to change the name of the WiFi server we used to "Sexual Harassment". That employee then went on later in the day to repeatedly interrupt a female employee every time she tried to express her opinion on a design issue by saying "Who cares, go make me a sandwich!"
Constant references to women as "bitches".
An employee who used his cell phone camera on the subway to take pictures of women's asses to show off to co-workers.
An employee who frequently wore shirts with phrases like "Me, you, and your mom."
An employee who frequently wore a shirt that said "Dead girls can't say no."
A producer one day noticed that someone was having trouble getting a battery out of a device. He told the employee that "You've got to treat it like a bitch!" He then proceeded to slap the phone into his hand before shouting "Take that you whore!"
You could practically write a novel about how frequently some of the women who worked there were hit on by male co-workers; many of these men continually asked the female employees out on dates even if they had previously said they were already in a relationship or otherwise not interested.
I've left out a large number of incidents because this is already getting pretty long, but that list is pretty illustrative of the range of things that occurred on a near-daily basis at times, from the petty and childish ("women are all stupid!") to the attempts to scare women out of the office ("if you don't like it then leave!").
It's worth noting that these issues were well known to management - I know that they were because I raised them myself on numerous occasions. No action was ever taken against any of these employees, and as far as I know, the lead who made the most appalling comments is still employed by the company in a supervisory position.
While sexist behaviour is present to some degree in most work places, and sexual harassment takes place in all sorts of industries, I've never witnessed anything like what I witnessed working in the game industry. The harassment of female employees was constant and unrelenting. A co-worker once said to me "I don't know why all the women who work here haven't quit already." It's a sentiment I understood.
The reason I'm writing this is because it's time for the men in this industry to step up. That means people in management need to enforce harassment policies and take serious action against people who engage in harassing behaviour. It means that men need to recognise how harmful this kind of behaviour is and put a stop to it. Tell your co-workers to cut it out. It also means not standing for this kind of behaviour in broader gaming communities, like forums and enthusiast web sites. It means that, when these incidents occur, we need to make it known that sexism is not going to be tolerated in our communities, that women are respected and welcome members of those communities, and that men who insist on being jerks are not. If you're not in junior high then you need to stop acting like you are. Time to grow up, game industry.