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The Story These Stories Aren't Telling
by Elizabeth Sampat on 07/22/14 06:08:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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.


When I first saw the annual Gamasutra salary survey today, I felt great. In comparison to last year's numbers, it seemed like the gender gap was closing in a number of areas— possibly because the sheer number of women in the game industry has been steadily rising, too. And yeah, it wasn't a perfect 100% parity between genders, but sometimes you just want to feel the win, you know? And for all of a couple seconds, seeing that women in the industry make 86 percent of what men do— nine percent higher than the national average!— felt like a win.

And then the feeling went away.

There's a common truth well-known in social justice circles that hasn't quite made it to the mainstream feminist consciousness: that "77 cents on the dollar" average is a whitewash. Racism doesn't just ensure that white women make more than black or hispanic men— it fundamentally changes the tone of discourse around institutional sexism.

Yes, making 20% less than white men is still actionable, but it's not quite as shocking. White women rely on women of color to bring the average down in order to capture the hearts and minds of the culture, but rarely— if ever— center the experiences or the problems of the most marginalized women— the women most victimized by our racist, capitalist system.

Gamasutra didn't cover race in their salary survey, but the IGDA Developer Satisfaction Survey puts the game industry globally at 79% white. It also mentions that the number of women in the game industry has risen dramatically over the last decade, from 11% to 22%.

Is our shrinking gap because we're taking women more seriously, or because we're just happily hiring more white women?


Today on Polygon, there was a hard-hitting article about the harassment and hate that women face in the game industry. It pulled no punches, including actual, un-edited hate directed at women who dare to be part of the game industry in public. The first line of the article— no preamble other than a content warning, no context, was a quote:

"Women are the [n-word] of gender."

Nowhere else in the article— which focuses unwaveringly on the incredible threats and harassment women face in the industry, and how that abuse changes them— is race mentioned. It's just that first line, slapping you in the face. And as much as the rest of the article resonated with me, as much as the quotes from women I know and love and respect killed me, something still felt off.

Are we seriously starting a conversation about the abuse women face with the fact that a non-Black woman got called the n-word?

Game designer Chris Chinn put it perfectly:


 So many people in the game industry and in games culture get called the n-word every day, and I'm sure most of the people who hear that slur are actually Black. (And I'd bet that it happens more in the culture than the industry, since again, 2.5% of the game industry is black, but according to The Kaiser Family Foundation, African American youth between the ages of 8 and 18 play games 30 minutes more per day than white youth.)

The plight of women in the industry is a real struggle, and it deserves to be fought. It also deserves better than to appropriate the struggles of people of color for its own ends— and any struggle worth fighting will be fought on behalf of all women of all races, period.


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Isaiah Taylor
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Thank you writing about this Elizabeth.

Edgar Onukwugha
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"[...S]ince again, 2.5% of the game industry is black[...]"

These are some enlightening and (for me) frightening statistics. I've been looking for a game programmer job for about half a year after graduating college, and I still can't tell if people won't hire me due to my lack of skill or due to the origin of my name.

Maybe it's a good thing I've started making games of my own in the meantime. I probably wouldn't get a job in this industry otherwise.

Wes Jurica
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That last paragraph is good advice for anyone. :)

Genna Habibipour
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I've been thinking the same thing. I look around me and I'm happy to see more women, except racially it's still pretty homogeneous. (And I notice "Asian" isn't on the above chart, but from what I see, they would be right after white people as far as numbers go.)
In conversations with friends, we seemed to lean toward saying the same issues discouraging women most likely also discourage minorities - except to a greater degree when you consider children have a habit of inheriting their parents' professions (doctors raising doctors, construction workers raising construction workers, cooks raise cooks, etc).
It might not be such a large leap for a white female to take up a job working on a computer all day when her parents have corporate desk jobs. But if your family comes from a long line of work outside of that environment, there might be a lot of social pressure (within and outside their social circle) to stay within those jobs.
Again, it's about reaching out to people and saying "This is a valid opportunity for you if you want it."

Ran Cran
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The lack of "Asian" on the chart is very curious. Especially since (at least in 2005) they make up the largest minority in the gaming industry workforce.

Was this the result of grouping Asians and Caucasians together, or was it purposely omitted for other reasons? (I find it very hard to believe that it was the result of simple oversight or error)

Regardless, it means the data was likely massaged/tailored to reinforce a specific narrative.

As such, this study's value and credibility might be rather suspect.

Jonathan Lin
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The lack of data on Asians doesn't negate the confirmed data on other minority groups.

Larry Carney
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....It would be nice if the myriad flaws with the assumptions behind the ideology of the original article as articulated by the community could be addressed in subsequent articles dealing with the original article. (This goes for any series of articles where there are disputes and clarifications as to the data found in the "parent" article which community discourse is able to elucidate for both article authors and members of the community).

When they are not, and said subsequent articles delve into other controversial ideological matters, then it is hard to take these subsequent articles as seriously putting forth an effort into understanding ideas or basic elements of reality which are contrary to the world view of the authors. Otherwise the prospects for dialogue appear to be low, and I feel many are more than willing to not engage with the article due to feeling that they left behind being lectured to when they stopped being an undergrad.

Jeff Alexander
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Is Brianna Wu's Polygon piece "the original article" and Elizabeth Sampat's response here "the myriad flaws...articulated by the community", or is Elizabeth's post the original and this comment stream the commentary? And which authors does the second paragraph refer to? The grammar in this post is tough to parse.

Larry Carney
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The "parent" article is the gamasutra salary article, as it is from there that this article makes its overarching arguments, and it is the discussion within that article which refutes much of the basis which the author of this article uses to delve into other matters.

Haha, I agree, the overall prose of my original critique was a bit dry, but that is due to noticing how so many online gaming communities (even those purporting to be places for serious discussion amongst professionals) do not tolerate any perspective which diverges from a particular ideology, thus I attempted to make a neutral post, which perhaps obscured meaning a bit, however I will state that the greater obscuring of meaning is when a voice is not allowed to be heard in the first place, which is what I wanted to avoid.

Brianna Wu
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Hey, this is Brianna Wu. I'm the author of the piece you're critiquing.

I just wanted to say, I think this is a very fair criticism. And, I do acknowledge that as a white feminist there is perspective I lack on this issue. I also wanted to say, you are not the first person to reach out with that critique.

I do want to say, the reason I used that quote wasn't simply the N-word. It was just as much the rape threat mixed with necrophilia. I thought the trifecta was an effective opening line about the kind of threats that come my way - which DO make me fear for my safety.

I grew up in the dark heart of Mississippi. And I have seen so much racism in my life - I know listening is the first, best step. If you want to continue the conversation, feel free to reach out to me via my email.

Thanks again for the thoughtful, fair critique.

CE Sullivan
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That's a really good point. The author here didn't include the entire original quote. After reading it myself, the use of the quote makes much more sense.

Ran Cran
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This is anecdotal, but a close friend of mine worked for a big-name woman's apparel and fragrance retailer. He was the only male employed in his location, and most likely the entire district. He was hired to stock the shelves and organize the back room, but he was very ambitious and put in massive effort in overhauling their processes, and would spend extra time in the mall working to bring people into the store.

After 8 months of work, he met with the district manager (a female) who noticed the increased business and efficiency at his location. In this meeting he made a case for the benefits that he personally provided the company and he asked for a substantial raise -- Which she gave him.

At the end of the day, this male stock worker was actually earning more than the (female) store manager.

Was this unjust? Is it an example of sexism?

Quoted from the study:

Harvard University labor professor Claudia Goldin said in a recent paper
“The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours.”

The professor is effectively stating that the gender-gap in pay can be almost entirely attributed to a gender-gap in hours worked.

So, is she right?

Is it true that women work disproportionately less hours then men? Do women value a better work-life balance? Are they less competitive in regards to workplace performance? Are men disproportionately more ambitious and driven in a workplace environment?

If any of these statements are true, then the large-scale issues with pay-gap not really issues at all. Instead is quite simply a clear example of true justice in wages -- salaries that simply reflect the effort and time devoted to a company.

Here is another thought... If gaming (or any) companies can save 20-30% in salaries by hiring certain subsets of the population, why don't they hire ONLY those people and absolutely crush their competition?

Disclaimer: I am male, and I actually prefer a better work-life balance for myself. I certainly don't get paid as much as my bosses do, nor do I begrudge what they get paid, because working 60~70hrs a week just isn't worth it for me.

As I get older, I find myself reaching the same realization that many wise women have understood intuitively -- that after basic needs are met, some things are more important than money.

John Schabarker
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I have never understood why race and gender were a big deal for employers. I think that everyone of a respectable working caliber (as in how good they are at doing their job and experience) should get paid the same as a white male. I know if I ran a game company something like this would not be an issue at my establishment. Though I have to wonder if some companies pay like this as a way to bring in "cheaper labor".