Like so many things that seem like a little thing at the time, Filamena Young created a hashtag on Twitter to help her and others respond to Luke Crane's question of "Why are there so few lady game creators?"
I don't know if either one of them foresaw the upwelling of game industry professionals in all disciplines sharing simple, short descriptions of the things that make it hard to work there. Though once it started to grow, I don't think anyone was too surprised at the accompanying swell of vitriol.
I'm not going to address the companies trying to take advantage of it, or address the crudest and most hateful ways some have chosen to respond to women answering Luke's simple question. Every time I let myself refresh the list, I see someone has found a new and interesting way to drag the conversation towards the Pit of Despair, lurking among the more common spammers and kitchen/sandwich jokes. It's still moving very fast, and if I tried to keep up, this article would be an even bigger wall of text and some of it would be very rude.
And while I could spend another night with my jaw clenched, typing furiously in 140-character chunks, I thought it would be best to step back and breathe a bit. Instead of replying to individual entries, it might be better to summarize my rebuttals to some trends I've found in the negative responses on Twitter and the commentary section attached to some articles.
Outside of the fact that the issues being addressed are about how the female workers in the industry are treated and not about the games, it's still an incomprehensible thing to say.
Everyone comes up with those same four or five names, and all of them are from games that are at least four years old. Jade from Beyond Good and Evil is practically a poster-girl for this discussion; that game came out on November 11, 2003. Alyx Vance is usually high on the list. HalfLife 2 came out on November 14th, 2004. Oh, to be kind, we can use Episode 2 which was released October 10th, 2007. Portal (whether you're talking about Chell or GlaDOS) came out October 10, 2007. Mirror's Edge recently came back into play with it's announcement of a sequel, but Faith had already joined the list when it was released on November 12, 2008. Elika from Prince of Persia is the most recent I can think of; that one was released December 2, 2008.
For a comparison point, how many total games are released in a year? Well, that's a harder number to get in toto, but I can get some raw estimates. In 2008, EEDAR reported that 1,092 games were released. In 2009, there were 1,099 games released. So a rough estimate of a thousand games a year.
Say we are generous and stipulate there's 10 total popular good examples. Considering people's varying interpretations, that's probably not too far off -- some people do think that Bayonetta is a good feminine portrayal. That's 10 out of the estimated 9,000+ games that were released since Beyond Good and Evil came out. I'm not going to try to go all Nate Silver on something as subjective as what people think about character portrayals, but I can't think of any measure where 1/900 would seem like an equitable arrangement.
Even if we ignore quality of portrayal and just say anyone with boobs counts, we're still in a bad place. EEDAR released a report recently that a lot of people are looking at. They took a sample of 669 action games, shooters, and RPG's games released for this current console generation. Less than 300 games in their sample had the option of a female lead. There were only 24 female-only leads. To extrapolate that with our estimated full release numbers, out of the 7,000+ games released in that timeframe, that's approximately 250 games. With either set of numbers, that's roughly 3.5 percent.
The ESA says that women make up 45% of players, and women over 18 are the largest growing demographic. In fact, according to their numbers, there are more women over 18 playing than boys under 18 these days.
Some would write that off by saying that's all just girls who play Angry Birds. No, I don't think so. According to BioWare, 18% of gamers who played Mass Effect played FemShep. How many of those are actual girls is hard to say, but I believe the guys who like Jennifer Hale are at least partially balanced by the women I know who played the male Shepard because of the crap they get online if they don't. Remember: The single-player campaign has to be tied to multiplayer to get the Readiness percentages applied. Still, 18% is a heck of a lot better than 3.5%.
You may not be able to trust every statistic you're offered, but you can't write off an order-of-magnitude swing in even the most conservative estimates as being within the tolerance band for the statistical model. Times have changed, but not the way you think. What was never good enough is now doubly insufficient.
If you don't like it, then start your own company!
I'm not an entrepreneur. I'm a developer and a writer. Others are artists, designers, you name it. Why do we have to do something we're not good at to prove to you that we're good at anything?
And even if we did, we would still have to be involved in an industry that feels stacked against women. Female-led companies don't get anything like the same support from publishers and venture capital. That translates to less marketing money, and that translates to lower sales. And they are flat-out ignored by the industry press, which also equates to lower sales.
Companies like HER Interactive have worked hard for years in the shadows, making solid games with established IP's. They've been winning awards in the regular realms since 1999 for their series of Nancy Drew adventure games. Have you heard of them? With the recent resurgence of the adventure games genre, you would think this would be right up there.
But it's not. Just Google on any of the game titles and you'll see tumbleweeds rolling through, because the industry press ignores them. I did find a good article on Gamasutra about the company from 2007 I'll link here. IGN did review the Wii version of one of their games with a 7.5 score, but that was a two-fer; they got the whammy the big gaming press hands out for being a kid's game on top of the whammy for having a female protagonist.
It's a shame. These are solid, well-written games. They're exactly what we keep talking about when we discuss smart heroines not trading on cleavage. The only people that seem to pay attention to them are outside the industry. When I called out their last release in the relevant Game of the Week post, people were baffled. It's not like I even gave it the title.
Sorry, but separate is not equal in this situation either.
There are few women in the game industry because women aren't interested in games.
I see this one all the time for the rest of the technical fields as well. And it's just as much B.S. here as it is there. The fact that there are women here at all shows me how overwhelming the interest would be if we could address the actual barriers to entry.
If you had spent your youth being told not to worry your pretty head about it — that girls can't do that, that if you do that boys won't like you, and even if you try you'll fail (and often others in your class or the people in charge will do things to help make sure of it) — maybe you would think about looking into something else, too.
And even if you screw your courage to the sticking place and continue on because you really love it, things don't get much better. Let's see, I can work ridiculous hours, be treated like crap by my management, coworkers, community and customers alike, have all my decision-making, contributions, and accomplishments second-guessed and invalidated by virtue of my underwear, be paid less for the same work, and be discriminated against if I ever decide to do something crazy like have a family or a life. Geeze Louise, I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't just jump right on that!
That's happening in all industries.
I will agree with that, as far as it goes. My Daily Planet job is in the business-software realm, and I have a whole 'nother set of stories for that. But I'm waiting for someone to explain why that makes it okay in the games industry.
Sexism exists, but shaming isn't the way to fight it.
One commenter on Kotaku actually hauled out The Scarlet Letter, declaiming how this hashtag was going to stigmatize men, sullying their names and destroying their livelihoods. I don't know what Cliff's Notes version he read when he was assigned it in school, but this is Twitter. It's not like there is room to put names and stuff in 140 characters. No specific person is being shamed or driven out of town. People are just talking about things that have happened to them, and a lot of them are using their real names.
And, as much as I wish hanging names on these guys would do anything, real life has shown us different. We've got the saga of Brad Wardell and his adventures in workplace misogyny as an example of how a man can proudly admit to aggressive sexist behavior, in writing, publicly in an industry forum as well as in emails described in the publicly released case documentation, and still have men defending him and calling the woman who took him to court for it terrible things.
Maybe people who post that are feeling guilty by association because someone is talking about this in general? I get that this conversation might be uncomfortable, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for that. Imagine how uncomfortable it is to have this stuff directed at you, day in and day out.
And, by the way, if any of these commenters do have a good idea for what should be done about this problem, I'd really be glad to hear it.
Girls suck at games.
The epitome of cogent responses to this topic. I have a female friend with a gun-mounted chainsaw you need to meet. And another who has a lovely but deadly way with a Hidden Blade. But you wouldn't know who they were even if you could survive long enough to see the name floating above their head. To avoid listening to your crap, they both play muted and with gender-bent gamertags.
You're just complaining/it's not that bad/I've never seen that/That's only one time....
This one is sort of a catch-all for a lot of these responses, because I find it very difficult formulate a rebuttal to any particular one that doesn't include liberal use of unladylike language. It's just one more instance of being marginalized, invalidated, and dismissed due to my gender and age.
Just because something doesn't happen to you doesn't mean it never happens. And if you haven't seen this, I'm sorry, but you haven't been paying attention.
My most recent example was one I couldn't explain in 140 characters, or I would have slapped it up on Twitter. I was standing in the Halo 4 midnight launch line down at my usual game store. It had all run basically the same as my article on launches. I had gotten my receipt cleared, been assigned a ticket section, and said hello to many of the usual suspects on the way back to my spot.
Someone official was taking pictures of the line. As he took each shot, he had the people in the viewfinder cheer, which made it clear who he was aimed at. He started at the front, and then continued along it a section at a time. He skipped around me. An acquaintance behind me asked him why. He said flat out it was because he didn't want pictures of someone's mom in the materials.
For the record, none of my kids were with me and I'd just spent 15 minutes in a lively debate about some of the new weapons with some of the people in front of me that should have made it quite clear I was there in my own right. The acquaintance didn't say anything more, and the guy went on down the line. Later on, a different marketing guy came by to take more pictures, and he took pictures of my section of the line without comment. I don't know if I got into those or not, but I really didn't care by then. That incident and an annoying little 'tweener loudly going on about how the game sucked and was being turned into Call of Duty (even after someone else in the line made him admit he hadn't even played it yet) had combined with the dreary weather to take the shine off the whole night for me.
It's not like I'm moping around, eating ice-cream in my pajamas over this. I went home and blew holes in my first Prometheans before a sense of responsibility towards the next day's work sent me to bed. I'm not over-fond of having my picture taken anyways. I'm not mad at the acquaintance. He actually asked the guy and what do you say to that level of weapons-grade idiocy? But being written off yet again makes my blood boil.
Judging by the volume of that hash tag, I'm not the only one who has these issues. But no matter how many speak up, somehow that doesn't get through, and I don't know how to reach those who can't seem to understand.
The hashtag itself is still galloping along at full clip, and the internet has galloped right along with it. Articles discussing it have gone even as far as mainstream publications like Slate and Time Magazine. Industry stalwarts like Patrick Klepek over at Giant Bomb, Jim Sterling at Destructoid, and Luke Plunkett over at Kotaku have also weighed in.
And the question many have been asking is, now what? That's not a simple answer, either. Just raising awareness is helpful, but there is more out there.
- There are many supporting articles and blog entries linked from various tweets where women have written longer descriptions of the issues they face, and what they think needs to be done about them. Search them out if you sincerely want more meaty input.
- To compliment the list of woes, game writer and author Rhianna Pratchett created #1reasontobe. It's a hashtag that collects inspiring statements explaining why women stay in the industry in the face of all of this.
- Concrete action to help is also in the works. #1reasonmentors is another hashtag acting as a clearing house for men and women working in the games industry offering to help others get their break into the industry.