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Time To Grow Up
by Adam Bishop on 10/16/10 01:21:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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.

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Sebastion Williams
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Well stated and supported, Adam, it sounds like the game industry may be on the cutting edge of technology and entertainment but employs neanderthals and does not support diversity and a harassment -free workplace. There are laws against these kinds of actions, not to mention that most of us would not want these things said about our mothers, wives, sisters or friends.

As a male, I constantly think of witty, but inappropriate things to say. In fact, just yesterday, I was speaking with two female colleagues in my office when we were discussing overweight pets. One mentioned her obese cat, I apologized before I said that sounds like a big pu55y! Neither were offended and both laughed along with me.

The workplace should be a place for ribald and risque humor, as long as everyone is in on the joke. Do you think these behaviors are tolerated in certain industries and positions because of the money they make or not wanting to "stifle the creative spirits" these industries employ?

Andrew Calhoun
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Nice! I have to say, the eagerness to enforce anti-harassment policies of any sort in the industry and educational institutions (I use that term loosely, some of them are institutions alright...) is lacking at best. I was on the student government at my particular school which I went to for additional vocational training after college, and lead a campaign to end, at first sexual harassment but expanded into total harassment. Needless to say, this would eventually become my downfall there and I left in disgust due to the lack of sincere standards, but am not discouraged from pursuing a career in the entertainment industry from that one occurrence. The back story behind that is a bit longer than I am willing to go into here.

People who thought I was wasting my time trying to stop sexual and general harassment and that people either 1. needed to know their place, 2. be given a reality check (this is true, but bullying is not the way to do it), and/or 3. Bitches and Ho's ain't shit. That was a huge one.

The problem is we also have a culture that seems to, rather than see a woman as an equal partner (latter half of the 20th, re: the more moderate elements of feminism) or economic unit for the production of new life and social/political alliance (sorry, that's how they were prior to the 20th century really), they are seen now simply as pleasure objects and masturbatory aides rather that human beings. And I find the boys who use that language and engage in that behavior most are the least likely to have a serious girlfriend or be able to find anything except their hand/sock or a hooker to pleasure them. Of course, this is my cultural sociology background talking.

I tell ribald jokes and say risque things about women all the time with my coworkers when we are in guys only mode and if they go too far, I speak up or shake my head and not engage in it. If someone on my team, especially if they were my subordinate said "Go make me a sandwich" to a female employee, I'd probably pull that individual aside and warn them verbally. If it occurred again, I'd probably either write them up or recommend termination. If I was on equal keel, I'd probably still pull them aside and point out how it really was not cool. If they tried to get in my face, I'd ask them politely to back off and let it go. If I was their subordinate, it'd be a bit harder, but I still might clear my throat disapprovingly. I have no problem standing up for doing what's right in that regard. And it further riles me when there are 'standards' and they are not enforced for one reason or another. And the industry and world is poorer for it when female members of the community are not respected.

Shoshannah Tekofsky
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Nice article. I'm at once glad that you write about this topic so candidly, and intimidate by the incidents you cite. I've worked for two years as a localization and QA tester and I'm relieved to say that I've never run into any form of sexual harassment. I've heard my fair share of tasteless jokes, but if someone really went overboard on a regular basis, I'd always have superiors that would correct such behavior. Reading your article, I'd say I've been fairly lucky with that.

Mark Raymond
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It's weird, because I've also worked in QA, where a lot of the guys can be quite young, and I don't remember coming across sexual harassment on the level you've described here.

However, it's a really unfortunate turn of events in the way misogynistic terminology has entered the common gaming vernacular – and is accepted and used without hesitation. One could argue that the associations are harmless, but I think the reality is probably otherwise. That's the really insidious part: a sexist, prejudiced culture has emerged, has already created an unhealthy perception of women in the minds of some gamers, and even the best of us have been caught out by it without even realising.

Morgan Ramsay
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"Time to grow up, game industry."

Yes, in other ways. Adam, your examples are of out-of-touch, socially awkward introverts who are hardly representative of honest professionals in the game industry at large. There are significant obstacles that women must surmount to achieve success in this and other industries, but the sort of behavior you've described is neither standard nor tolerable.

Larissa McCutcheon
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I've been noticing that the gaming world I grew up in has started to take an alarming shift. I can only speak for my own experiences, but I first started gaming on text based games and my first 'online' game was text based forum RP on CompuServe. I played my first game in the early 80s ('Suspended' for the C64), and attended GenCon in the 90s, etc. I never felt like women were so *hated* as they are now. Yeah, you got a couple creepers but most of the guys were pretty chill. You had the same nerd cred as anyone else and there were a lot of women.

Nowadays it's the cool thing to hate anyone different and to loudly profess how *old* PC BS is and how *sensitive* everyone else is. You can sit online in an MMO, FPS, or venture into forums and it's nothing but sexism, racism and homophobia. In an online world, it's become the uniform of gaming gangs. If you play X type of game, you self identify by hating X type of people.

Alan Jack
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Its appaling that this would happen in games development - but perhaps not surprising given the treatment of women and minorities in games themselves.

Out of interest, how old would you say the average developer there was? I distinctly remember some questionable incidents taking place at a developer I worked with, but it was a long time ago. I'd like to think this was perhaps an "old guard" thing, and the next generation will affect change for the better.

More than anything, though, making bold statements about what happened is brave and unquestionable morally upstanding, and I applaud you for it.

Mary Brady
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Awesome article!

Agreeing with everyone else that that is pretty appalling. The jerks in my high school weren't even THAT sexist, but most of them made jokes in the same vein. *sigh*Such is America today.

Though hopefully I'll end up working with a company that enforces their standards, reading your article made me wonder if someone is allowed to hit/slap another employee if said employee is being an insensitive jackass.

Because I think if I was in a situation where some asshole wasn't letting me voice my opinion because of my physical sex, I'd be fighting REALLY hard the urge to sock him in the jaw. Or kick him in the nuts, depends on if he's standing or sitting and the distance between us in the room. Seriously, I can imagine my fist slightly shaking and having to repeat "Breathe. Calm. Breathe." as my mental mantra if I was in that situation.

Aah, if only the world came with less jerks, then maybe we'd have more peace.

Roberta Davies
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"I don't know why all the women who work here haven't quit already." Not only quit, but then turned around and sued the company for harassment and constructive dismissal. Nothing makes a company face reality like having to pay out. Large amounts, repeatedly.

Christopher Wragg
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There's a pretty fine line between satire, risqué humor and sexism. Usually things turn out ok when your around people who know you and like you, if you slip up, and a joke's not quite told the way it should be, or if they don't get the satire, then they're able to let it pass, or will point it out in a reasonable fashion. But when talking to a stranger, or a new employee, they have no frame of reference and things can get out of hand all too easily.

But in truth what you're describing is pretty extreme and overt. It strikes me as odd that not a single woman at the firm has taken action against them as this form of blatant sexism is usually more easily combated than the subtle kind.

Arinn Dembo
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Wow. Well-written editorial. Can't believe this piece got fewer comments than mine, when it is so much more serious. This is a truly gruesome list of atrocities, and a truly repugnant rogue's gallery of twisted, fucked up, reprehensible misogynist ogres that you're describing. From a personal standpoint I would cheerfully hospitalize any of these jerks, but much more importantly, a good lawyer could slap a class action suit on this company that would be worth millions of dollars of damages, if you and the female victims put together your case and were willing and able to testify. It could certainly end the careers of at least a few of the producers and "leads", as well as potentially costing them a lot of money.

If things are this bad at major development studios and publishers, this entire industry may actually need a watchdog/legal defense organization to protect women who try to enter the business of game development from serious, systemic discrimination. Time to grow up, indeed.