Yesterday, the Twitter hashtag #1ReasonWhy exploded into a tremendous outpouring of stories about sexism encountered by women who work in various aspects of the games industry. Over the course of this correspondence, GameSpot editors Laura Parker and Carolyn Petit analyse the importance of the hashtag, sharing thoughts on what the huge response to it means, and where the industry goes from here.
The #1ReasonWhy is a rapidly growing collection of tweets from women who work in various facets of the game industry recounting negative experiences they have had in their respective fields.
Of course, stories about sexist attitudes in the games industry are nothing new: it's an issue that has been much discussed this past year. (Take the Kickstarter project by Anita Sarkeesian a few months ago about portrayals of women in video games for instance, which generated a great deal of discussion.) But what was immediately remarkable about #1ReasonWhy to me was the tremendous outpouring of stories and feelings from so many women, this groundswell of frustration and anger from so many sources.
On one hand, it was a painful reminder to me of the reality of just how rampant sexist attitudes and behavior are in this industry, an industry that should, I feel, reflect the fact that games can be enjoyed by all sorts of people, that they can bring people together, that they're certainly not just for men.
On the other hand, it was inspiring to see so many voices speaking out, sharing their stories, standing up and calling for change. I'm kind of flabbergasted by the extent to which the hashtag has exploded. To me, that speaks to long-simmering feelings about a pretty severe imbalance that needs to be discussed and addressed. What was your initial reaction?
The swell of support for #1ReasonWhy over the last two days is a sign that things need to change. Sexism in the games industry is something that has been discussed more and more over the last two years, and it's so encouraging to see so many women from all parts of the game industry--developers, journalists, writers--speaking up to support each other and make their voice heard in this debate.
One of the things that became clear from reading some of the tweets--the hashtag has been used over 22,000 times on Twitter to date--is how similar some of these experiences are. Up to now it has been really hard to talk about this issue with a united voice because there are so many different attitudes and views in the industry surrounding how best to tackle sexism and attitudes to women. But the hashtag helped identify where some of these problems lie, and even inspired some industry leaders to take action via the #1ReasonMentor response: a call to arms to help connect young women in the industry to more experienced mentors.
For too long we've merely talked about sexist attitudes and behaviour in the games industry. Talk is good, but we need to take action. This is a step in the right direction.
What do you think should happen next? We can't let this fizzle out. How can the industry come together to make the most of this solidarity? How can this message reach the decision-makers and those who hold the power to incite change?
It's a difficult question without easy answers, but I think the hashtag gives us some reasons to be hopeful. You mentioned the #1ReasonMentor hashtag that came out of it; this should lead to some connections being formed that result in at least a few more women getting into the industry.
One of the more disheartening recurring themes in the shared stories for me was that of hiring practices that overwhelmingly favor men, maintaining the status quo of gaming as a hugely male-dominated industry. Anything that gets more women involved in designing, writing and programming games is a very good thing. I hope that many individuals in the industry, women and men, are motivated by this organic Internet uprising to find ways large and small to challenge existing attitudes, criticize sexist behavior, and incite positive change.
I also think that those of us in the media have both an ability and a responsibility to keep this discussion going, to find ways to investigate and spotlight systemic imbalances like this. Many #1ReasonWhy tweets I saw were from women expressing a reluctance to speak out and share their stories out of fear of repercussions. That fear is a huge problem in and of itself. It's clear that the hashtag offers only a relatively small glimpse into a deep-seated problem that isn't going to go away overnight. If we in the industry get complacent, it may never go away. We need to keep finding ways to make these stories heard. We need to continue fighting for the idea that gaming is not a boys' club, that it doesn't make long-term sense culturally or financially for developers to exclude women from the creation of games, or to market games in ways that insult and alienate women.
I think the general perception of who games are for is already in the process of evolving. There's momentum that's (much too slowly) taking us toward a more inclusive, more equitable industry; we need to not only keep that motivation going but speed it along when we can. If journalists are aggressive in continuing to cover the problem of sexism in the industry in its many forms, and if people participating in programs like #1ReasonMentor keep the ball rolling, I believe it'll be a better industry ten years from now than it is today. It may sound silly, but I really think it's up to all of us to do what we can.
So hopefully this is, in a sense, just the start of what will be an ongoing discussion. Any last thoughts on this for now?
I also hope #1ReasonWhy reached developers, publishers and gamemakers who are responsible for hiring talent in the industry. If influential development studios get onboard and pledge their support for this cause (as Bungie has done as well as Halo 4 developers Bonnie Ross and Kiki Wolfkill) and take some sort of stand to say that they do, and they will, pay more attention to how females in the industry are treated from now on, then I think something really positive can come of this.
I agree the media has a responsibility to keep this discussion going. It's not just the industry's practices that have to change, it's also the attitude of consumers and players. Sites like FatUglyorSlutty really highlight the extent of this problem and send a very clear message: this shit has to stop. You're right when you say that what needs to happen now is that the industry needs to re-analyse the way it makes and markets games. Women cannot and should not be excluded either in the creation of games, or in the way games are marketed.
So everyone has a part to play. Developers have a responsibility to ensure the development industry is an equal opportunity environment where women feel comfortable and valued for their skills; publishers have a responsibility to speak to both male and female gamers on equal terms and not alienate or insult one or the other; and consumers have a responsibility to accept the changes taking place in the gaming demographic and make gaming welcome and accessible to all.
#1ReasonWhy is a step in the right direction. All we have to now is make sure that people pay attention.