I’m a number in the games industry. I know a handful of somebodies, but basically I’m a nobody. I don’t mean that as an insult to myself. I mean that I don’t have a brand, a huge twitter following, an indie title I’m pushing, or a youtube channel. I just have a job in games. A job that I love. I'm your average gamer. I am also female.
It occurred to me this week that most people who have talked about the recent harassment and women in games discussions are well-known. What is the experience of one rather unfamous female in the industry? And what does a rather average female gamer (no, I don't reject that term) think of the prevailing depiction of female characters in games over many years?
For the latter, I would ask you to have a thought experiment with me: Imagine a world where all of the examples of female objectification in games were actually male objectification. Replace all the female strippers you’ve seen with males in skimpy thongs, begging for female attention. Imagine the camera as it would pan along the male body. Imagine throwing money at them and caressing their bodies as game mechanics. Imagine having sex with them and then killing them in the game to satisfy a trophy or storyline opportunity. Imagine throwing a naked male prostitute out of the way over a balcony to ensure your stealth is maintained. Imagine brutal mutilation, rape, sex or sodomy as a game mechanic done to a male character, perhaps even warranting a humorous trophy.
Replace in your mind male objectification for every female objectification you’ve ever experienced in a game. Watch the latest Tropes installments if you have trouble thinking of scenes to do this with, even if you don't agree with them. Do it for every single scene. Do you find this repulsive? Uncomfortable? Would you play that game? How would it change your experience or your interest to play such a the game, regardless of your gender or sexual orientation? What if it was 50% of the game? Or 20%? Or just 1%? If you are male, how would you truly feel about growing up in a games culture where this is normal, from boyhood to grown adult?
The truth is, when I did this thought experiment I was shocked to find myself even far more repulsed by these idea than I’d felt by the myriad similar female depictions that I had actually seen in a game and not just imagined. I feel that we must love, protect and value the men and boys of our communities, making these images incredibly disturbing to me. The ideas above almost give me a physically sick reaction. Thus I am shocked and a little sad to discover today my own dulled senses to female objectification and violence. I am not saying that games with female objectification are inherently bad or should be destroyed, but I am amazed how many there are. The percentage of AAA games with these features is astounding. They do not all have some lofty satirical value that would make them in and of themselves commentary.
As an average game industry professional, I can just relay my experience so far. Overall, it could be worse. It should probably be much better. It has not been without its rougher days, particularly when I first joined the industry. Early on I had two developers make crude sexual jokes about me in my presence. I was also told by our then junior producer in front of the team that I must be a lesbian because I play video games. I did not report these things, and none of these men are with the company any more due to unrelated issues. This was years ago now (and since I now run hiring, we thankfully now have a wonderfully professional team), and I can realistically pass these situations off as the result of a cloistered, immature workforce. Still...
What actually remains the biggest challenge daily for me is simply the lack of credibility that being a woman seems to imbue. At GDC, the male attendees outside of #1ReasonToBe consistently doubted my presence as legitimate until I expressly justified my presence with a complete list of games played – including difficulty levels. Once established, those attendees, instead of now treating me as a legitimate colleague, usually decided to make a pass at me. So I went in their eyes from being illegitemate attendee due to gender to sexual prospect. Heads they win, tails I lose. This is not equality.
At #1ReasonToBe, as all those incredibly articulate, talented industry leaders stood up and told their stories, a small part of me thought, This is surely it. End of discussion on women in games. I was on an endcap, but a young game designer sat to my left. I don’t remember who spoke first, but after we stood up to leave he said, Thank you for being part of the industry despite these challenges. I was so incredibly touched by that. I recall thanking him for supporting the talk and for trying to learn about what I vaguely termed “this”. I remain grateful to every game developer who was in that room. We need more of you.
I’m a nobody, but I still hope you’ll hear me when I say: Games is an exceedingly fun profession, but a profession none the less. The choices we make about how we treat each other and see each other, male or female, matter. They affect our entire outlook and interactions. Games is an exceedingly fun profession, but it’s not a frat party, it’s not a dating service, and it’s not a game.