Ed. note: This blog is presented anonymously. Gamasutra has verified the identity of the author and her role at a major studio.
I have an MBA. I have a few years of experience in the video game industry. I have an educational background in game development. I am a game developer. Yet, at industry networking events, I am almost always asked, “Do you play any games, you know, aside from Candy Crush?” or “What do you do at company X? Are you an artist?”
I walk into industry events and, because of my gender, I am assumed to be the least common denominator - the smallest sum of experience of anyone in the room. I am assumed to be the girlfriend, the artist, the casual game player. Rather, I am the game developer, the scripter/programmer, the gamer.
I get it - female game developers aren’t currently the norm. I am often the only women in the room or one of few, even at industry Meetup events.
This isn’t the first time I have written an article like this. I started a number of articles before but was never able to bring myself to publish them because I don’t want to be thought of as a female game developer. (By writing an article like this, I am drawing further attention to the fact that I am a female developer when I want is to be considered a game developer.)
Usually, it goes something like this:
I go to an industry event.
Within the first 5+ minutes, I get a question strongly implying that I have no professional reason to be there (via typical Candy Crush or art-related questions).
I receive 1+ follow up questions requiring me to regurgitate my entire CV within a 1-3 minute spiel, which is often met by a look of surprise as I delve further into my educational and professional background.
If possible, I try to make my exit from the conversation as quickly as possible in order to start a conversation about game development with anyone else.
(By this point, I feel unnerved and wish I said something to deflect the question and make it clear, without ruffling any feathers, that the question was sexist in nature.)
I try my best to enjoy the rest of the event and discuss game development...
...but inevitably, the brief, sexist interaction detracts from other conversations and wears away at me throughout the night (and days following).
When I return home, I consider or (more often) start writing an article just like this one...
...but I always abandon the article when I get close to finishing, not wanting to further perpetuate other developers seeing me as a female developer and unintentionally label myself as a female developer who writes about women issues.
Why is it such a bad thing to make such a (seemingly) insignificant comment (i.e. Candy Crush)?
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. All forms of sexism, including subtle questions, imply that a woman is at an industry event for something other than game development or for only the most feminine form of game development (interest in casual games or art). It decreases the value of her presence - by simply being there, she has to validate her worth by spouting off her CV, whereas a man is considered to be valid just by showing up (by which, I mean he is automatically considered a core part of a game development team).
I can’t speak for anyone besides myself, but as a result of these forms of “subtle sexism,” personally:
- I am less likely to attend industry events because of the psychological toll that springs from the constant invalidation of my abilities as a game developer.
This may result in 1 less female developer showing up to an event where few, if any, women are in attendance, adding to the perception that there are a smaller amount of female developers than there actually are.
- I waste my time thinking about sexism (including taking the time to write this article) rather than develop games.
This inevitably results in less time learning new programming languages and tools - the entire reason I’m in this industry.
- I question the current state of the industry and my own workplace performance, mostly in relation to my concerns of advancing my career in the long term amidst this socially ingrained sexism (manifesting in everyone, including myself - see Dr. Beverly Tatum’s definition of racism, which, at its core, is largely similar to the systems surrounding sexism).
I am less likely to put myself in the spotlight at consumer facing events. (If game developers allow sexism to permeate conversation, it is even more overtly pronounced among gamers.)
This also results in 1 less female present at events where it arguably counts the most - showing gamers and the world at large that females are, in fact, an important part of the development team.
This chain of events may seem obvious to me and other female developers, but it’s easy to dismiss seemingly inconsequential comments and questions. (I.e. “You must be an artist.”) If you’ve never had to think about these comments from a female’s perspective, you probably haven’t considered the impact that such a comment has (aka “male privilege”).
Ultimately, these comments compound over time and make women less likely to show up at events where they should feel included.
What can people do to make this behavior less prevalent? Well, it starts with you, no matter your gender or role within the industry:
When you overhear a “minor” comment or question implying a woman is at an industry event for anything besides development in a key role, speak up. If you hear “Do you play any games, you know, aside from Candy Crush?,” call out the “subtle” sexism overtly - “Hey man, what makes you think she only plays Candy Crush?” Remember, even if a comment bothers her, she may not say anything because she doesn’t want to be the one who “took an innocent comment or joke too seriously” (especially if she’s still trying to “make it” in the industry).
If being overt isn’t your style or you’re shy about calling out strangers, just think of something, anything to keep the comment from going unnoticed. You never know which “subtle” comment will keep a woman from coming back to industry events and potentially drive her from the industry entirely.
And women, as hard as it can be, flip a sexist comment or question around on itself. Think of what you could say in response to sexist comments on your way to industry events or parties so you’re prepared. I have a hard time doing this - no matter how many times it happens, I am always thrown off guard. Maybe it throws me off guard because I don’t encounter it on a daily basis since I am lucky to work with a great team of people (although over the years, I have encountered sexist comments and behaviors at game studios).
If asked “Are you an artist?” (even if you are one), say, “What makes you think I’m an artist?” While he may laugh or shrug off the sexist implications, at least you may get him thinking about why it is he asked that question. The more often these sexist questions and comments are turned around on him, the more likely it is that he will stop making them altogether.
If you have any additional suggestions for combatting “subtly” sexist comments, please share your ideas below, and please, speak out! Only by working together can we make the games industry a more pleasant and accessible place for everyone to enjoy developing games.