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Is the Game Industry a Bad Place to Work
by Robert Madsen on 06/26/14 05:09:00 pm   Expert 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.

 

It appears to be vogue now to renounce the game industry as an evil empire.  A recent article posted at http://tinyurl.com/l5gcxo4 claims that "poor work conditions and sexism give games industry a bad rap".

It is true that the reports of sexism and bad working conditions give the industry a bad rap.  Note that I am agreeing the reports lead to the bad rap, not that I agree with the reports.

For example, the article cited that only 22% respondents identified themselves as women.  This is exactly in line with other national statistics.  For example, a quick Internet search revealed that about 20% of computer science degrees were earned by women in 2012 (http://tinyurl.com/kcxp2g7),. I realize that computer science is only one discipline used in the game industry.  My point is that if the national average of one of the key skills is at 20% while the game industry is at 22%, then we are not exceptional at all!

Now let's talk about sexism in games.  This is the part where I will really get in trouble.  It always bothers me that people bemoan the blatant use of exaggerated female sexuality in games, but no one ever mentions the same (and probably more pervasive) portrayal of women in almost every other visual media including art, opera, movies, and advertising to name a few.  So why single out the game industry?

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that the game industry actually has a split personality on this issue.  I constantly read articles about how the game industry needs to "mature" and "grow up".  Doesn't maturity imply that we can create game content that is mature? That we can use sexuality (or even over-use it, as is the case in most media) as both content and a means of promotion?

Last year there was a huge uproar because the IGDA had exotic dancers at one of their parties (and exotic does not equal nude).  The whole argument sounded very adolescent.  It occurs to me that adults were attending that party, which also included an abundant amount of alcohol, and adults should be able t handle adult oriented entertainment. Adults can also leave if they choose to. Maybe they should have had male exotic dancers as well! 

I don't see a problem with an adult industry using the same adult-oriented types of entertainment that you would expect to see at other similar types of events. Do you imagine that parties in other types of media (let's say in the movie or music industry) wouldn't use similar entertainment?  Part of growing up is being able to handle grown-up modes.  And by the way, I have never seen a single article that argues against the abundant use of alcohol at such parties.

Now, I admit:  I am not a woman.  If there are women who feel victimized by the game industry's portrayal of women, then I only hope that those same people also refrain from attending movies and concerts for the same reason.  And I certainly don't condone any kind of sexual discrimination or abuse under any circumstances. .

Let's finally talk about working conditions.  I agree that companies take advantage of their employees.  It was not uncommon for me to work 15 hour days 7 days a week at the studios where I was employed.  However, now that I am running my own studio, I am still working the same crazy hours.  The difference is that is my own choice. Apparently, 40% of my colleagues feel the same way and stay in the industry because they are willing to put in the hours.

Again, I don't think it is okay for studios to take advantage of their employees.  At least the studios that do it right offer other incentives and perks (flex time, holiday time off, end-of-year bonuses) to try to compensate...something you rarely see in other industries. 

The game industry is not exceptional in any of these areas.  I worked in corporate America long before I entered the game industry, and there were the same issues: fewer women, sexism, workers being taken advantage of (and without any perks). 

I agree that we should work toward being an industry that treats all people in an equitable manner.  We should encourage diversity in all ways.  However, it bothers me if including any particular group means we have to begin censoring our content or our celebrations.

Man...am I in trouble now for putting this into writing!


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Comments


David Cummins
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I feel that this post is trolling a bit, but I'll reply on the chance that you're not. You're using two different definitions of "adult". One means acting in a grown responsible manner, and one is a euphemism for sex. Sex is an acceptable part of being an adult, but it's not ALL of being an adult. Is someone's dirty old uncle who makes sex jokes all the time and slaps the waitress on the ass acting like an adult? I'd say no.

The gaming industry needs sex to be more proportional with the rest of society. It needs to explore other themes AS WELL AS sex. And sex needs to be shown from other angles, not just horny man + submissive woman. The movie industry has the same problem to a certain extent, but MUCH LESS than in games. There are plenty of movies available that wouldn't offend your wife/sister/mother. Games... it's more tricky.

Your comparison of 20% vs 22% is a bit of a false comparison. The problem is the 30% of women who are put off before they even sign up for CS classes. Is that your fault or my fault? Not directly. However the image of game studios is influenced by the games that they make. Why would women want to work in an industry that they perceive as very sexist? It's like if a strip club advertised for a bartender. Many qualified women might not want to apply for that job, due to (reasonable) expectations that they would be constantly hit on or looked down upon.

Robert Madsen
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Thanks David for your reply.

I am not in the habit of trolling and never have been. If anyone was trolling, it was the author of the article I cite and the headline they wrote. I am so tired of media trying to speak for our industry and tell everyone else how crappy it is to work here.

I really feel pretty strongly about the subject in that I think that WE bring a bad name on ourselves as an industry by exaggerating the claims (and/or allowing others to) of how BAD it is to work in our industry. My main point is that we are not extraordinary when compared to other industries. I am not saying that the game industry doesn't have problems, just that they aren't endemic to the game industry.

I actually agree with everything you have to say. First, I did mix the meanings of "adult" to mean both the mature aspects of adulthood as well as the more fringe aspects, which includes sexuality, drinking, and exotic dancers. I totally agree with your statement that this should include sexuality and many other more fringe aspects. These are certainly covered in other media. Why not games?

I also agree that the comparison between percentages between women getting a CS degree and women in the game industry is not completely accurate...I tried to say so in the original article. The game industry encompasses many other disciplines including art, management, marketing, and many of the women in the game industry come from these other areas. I do, however, think that the game industry is seen mostly as a technical field, and that the numbers of women in the game industry are, in general, a reflection of the numbers of women in other technical fields. We may even fare better because we draw from so many other disciplines.

"Why would women want to work in an industry that they perceive as very sexist?"

Well, why would women want to work in the movie or music industry? Why would women want to be bartenders? These are areas that are perceived to be much more sexist that the game industry. For that matter, why would women want to work in corporate America, where they are guaranteed to be "constantly hit on or looked down upon".

I am not a woman, but it seems to me that this outlook portrays women as though they are weak, sensitive creatures who need men to look out for them and make the world safe for them. If I WAS as woman, this is not how I would want the world to see me.

If there are women out there who would like to comment, then I would love to hear their replies whether or not they agree with what I have to say.


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