An Industry Divided

At this year's Game Developers Conference, many people spoke out in support of a more equitable and inclusive gaming industry. But it's clear that there's still a great deal of resistance to this perspective.

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It was a gesture that beautifully encapsulated so much of what last week's Game Developers Conference was about for me. After his game, the socially conscious retail simulator Cart Life, had won numerous accolades at Wednesday night's IGF Awards, Richard Hofmeier replaced Cart Life with Howling Dogs, a game by designer Porpentine, on the computer set up to demonstrate the game at the IGF Pavilion on the show floor. No longer feeling as if his game needed the attention, he took the opportunity to shine a light on a game created using Twine, making a clear statement in support of the notion that Twine games are legitimate games worthy of serious consideration. And the selection of Howling Dogs in particular says that the creative work of a self-identified queer tranarchafeminist like Porpentine should be showcased and engaged with and celebrated just as much as the work of any other creator or the members of any other group.

My encounter with Hofmeier's act on Thursday evening capped off a few days of wonderfully encouraging talks about reclaiming games as an inclusive space for all kinds of players and all kinds of expression. On Wednesday, I'd attended the #1ReasonToBe panel. Inspired by the #1ReasonWhy and #1ReasonToBe Twitter hashtags, which had gained momentum and garnered attention last November, the panel featured six extraordinary women who shared their perspectives on life as women who play, create, and write about games. The day prior, I'd heard Halo: Reach writer Tom Abernathy talk about how games offered so few heroes his daughter could see herself in; at this panel, writer Mattie Brice lamented that, to see herself reflected in a game character, she'd had to make her own game, Mainichi. If a novice like her could whip up a game with a character in which she could see herself in a week, she wondered, couldn't those who make games professionally sometimes give her options that would let her see herself in them?

If you don't have some sort of balance within your games, Gaider asked, what sort of message are you sending about who is welcome to play your games?
At the same panel, game designer Brenda Romero passionately and humorously excoriated the atmosphere of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, one of the most visible manifestations of the industry's lingering unwillingness to treat women as equals. Romero made it clear that her problems aren't with displays of sexuality or healthy sexual expression, but with the creation of a sexually charged atmosphere that favors the perceptions and desires of men and objectifies women. Romero's passion for the industry runs deep. "It is my calling. My friends. My family. My home," she said. Now, one thing her 12-year-old daughter dreams of doing is making a game with her. Romero pleaded for E3 to be changed so that it could be the sort of place that she could take her daughter to and be proud of.

Of course, many don't understand why the presence of booth babes, or the widespread marginalization and objectification of women in games, is a problem at all. In his talk on Thursday, BioWare writer David Gaider addressed this issue. It's about privilege. As Gaider summed it up, privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it's not a problem for you personally. He brought up a post that made some waves in the BioWare forums in March of 2011, in which a player expressed outrage at being confronted with a gay romance option when playing Dragon Age: Origins. He asserted that BioWare was defying the wishes of its straight male fan base by including such romance options. "It's ridiculous," the player wrote, "that I even have to use a term like Straight Male Gamers, when in the past I would only have to say fans." To this player, as Gaider put it, the fact that there might be options in Dragon Age that appealed to other types of players was not a quality but an imbalance of the natural order. Straight male gamers are still at the top of the totem pole when it comes to having games that cater specifically to their interests, and to some of them, things like gay romance options represent a diluting of the purity of gaming that, by rights, should belong solely to them.

BioWare is well aware, though, that many of its fans aren't male and plenty of them aren't straight. If you don't have some sort of balance within your games, Gaider asked, what sort of message are you sending about who is welcome to play your games? He urged game makers to ask themselves questions when making a game: Could this character be female? Could they be black? Could they be gay? And if you're worried that maybe you don't know how to write characters who belong to groups that you don't belong to, talk to people who do belong to those groups. Hire them. Listen to them.

GDC week offered a portrait of an industry in conflict with itself, both in terms of how it sees itself from the inside and in terms of how players see it.
I confess, I got goose bumps during both the #1ReasonToBe panel and Gaider's talk. Hearing an inclusive vision of the industry championed so powerfully by Brenda Romero, David Gaider, and others was profoundly encouraging to me, as someone who has always felt that games should be for everyone. But these past few days have also provided plenty of reminders of the deeply rooted problems plaguing the industry. On Tuesday, Crystal Dynamics employee Meagan Marie recounted in her blog a mortifying experience that happened at the previous week's PAX East, and how it was no isolated incident, but simply the latest in a long string of objectifying treatment she has both witnessed and experienced over the past several years. On Wednesday night, almost as if to underscore just how widespread and thoughtless the devaluation of women throughout the industry that Brenda Romero had criticized is, a party thrown by the International Game Developers Association employed scantily clad women dancers as entertainment. This led Brenda Romero to resign as co-chair of the IGDA, and Christa Charter, a former Xbox community manager with 17 years of experience in the industry, to write frankly about her own encounters with sexism.

So in some ways, GDC week offered a portrait of an industry in conflict with itself, both in terms of how it sees itself from the inside and in terms of how players see it. During the #1ReasonToBe panel, Mattie Brice talked about how, when games like her own Mainichi, Anna Anthropy's Dys4ia, and other nontraditional games are used in non-gaming-related classes, responses to the experiences they offer are positive, and peoples' notions of what games can communicate are broadened. But when such games are shown in game studies classes, Brice continued, they tend to be viewed as not games at all due to their lack of traditional elements. Brice questioned whether we want to prime the people who will make games to have such a narrow interpretation of what games are, saying that such a limited interpretation can only strangle our industry's potential for creativity. I worry about this, too.

But I'm hopeful now, more hopeful than I've ever been, that the future of gaming will be more inclusive and diverse than its past. I don't think the road will be smooth or easy, but there's reason to believe this is a battle worth fighting. That reason was in Papo & Yo designer Vander Caballero's talk as he lamented that games are part of the reason children today know what an AK-47 is, and how his story shows that you can make games without being part of that system, games designed to nurture and heal. That reason was in the unwavering confidence of Brenda Romero, whose contributions to gaming date back to Sir-Tech's landmark Wizardry role-playing games of the early 1980s, as she shouted, "I founded this fucking industry, motherfuckers!" That reason was in Anna Anthropy's righteous anger as she seethed and raged her way through a version of Cara Ellison's poem "Romero's Wives." And it was in the sign at the IGF Pavilion on the show floor that had once touted Richard Hofmeier's Cart Life, but had been vandalized by Hofmeier himself to celebrate Howling Dogs by Porpentine.

Every voice that speaks out in favor of diversity or against the marginalization of women and minorities can help contribute to the cultural shift this industry needs.
Obviously, it's not enough yet. It's not even remotely close to being enough. The idea of a more diverse and inclusive industry needs to radiate out from these GDC talks and gestures; it needs to manifest itself in more equitable and welcoming atmospheres at conferences like E3, in the design of games, and in the messages the characters and content of those games send to players about who games are for. It's still an uphill battle, and if you believe in it, then you should speak up, too, in conversations and in message board comments, wherever you can, because every voice that speaks out in favor of diversity or against the marginalization of women and minorities can help contribute to the cultural shift this industry needs. The more momentum this movement can build, the better, but it now seems pretty clear: those of us who see gaming as a place that should welcome all kinds of players, all kinds of designers, and all kinds of experiences are here to stay.

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Discussion

954 comments
juninhotorres
juninhotorres

Thanks for your article. I used to think it was a hopeless fight. I'm glad to know there are people out there who can see there's something wrong with videogame industry. =]

dark_kartos
dark_kartos

sigh....you should really stop writing articles like these, seriously. Please, just quit. You always writing about men this..or women... that. Games are meant to be played.

edjos
edjos

talk about putting words in my mouth. I actually enjoy inclusion and diversity the problem is when people use it as an excuse to insult me.

proclaimor
proclaimor

The vast majority of gamers are young men, therefore, the best way to market products to them is with beautiful young women. That is just knowing who your target demographic will pay attention and buy from. It's economics not sexism. When the Obama white house was accused of promoting young beautiful women the people leveling the complaints were old fat and ugly women who were obviously jealous of the attention garnered by their more desirable coworkers. As the demographic changes, so will the marketing.

I don't want to see the med lab on the Normandy offer a sex change to Shepard. Femshep looks better without an adam's apple and man hands. Ezio shouldn't have to dress like a courtesan to blend in with the croud.

Booth girls are legitimate salespersons, they're not stripping and pole dancing. Now a bunch are going to lose their jobs, great work.

GITY69
GITY69

It is a culmination of the same message she has been saying for a while. It is also directly related to the PAX incident that caused massive overreaction including the resignation of to female exec's over a very foolish comment made by a single person. This was then exaggerated by the blog that was linked in the article.   My point being that using these broad arguments paints a scenario of the average gamer to be a major sexist and creates problems where there are none. Statistically this is demonstrably true, if not every booth babe would be mobbed by hordes. There are a minority of games that cater to a minority niche. If that niche grows more power to them I wont complain. If my niche seems sexist to you that's fine you don't have to consume it live and let live. 



jerryklu2003
jerryklu2003

We don't buy Tomb Raider mostly for Laura's boobs. We pay the game for fun. Most players don't judge games by genders or objectification. I will still buy a MGS game even Kojima replaces Snake with a lesbian as long as it's fun to play!!!!!

JD_Escobar
JD_Escobar

The way I see it is if they think this is a problem, or they see an "untapped" market they should create there own games to appeal to this.  I'm black and the majority of my friends are black, if was to make a game with them that character is basically guaranteed to be black. I can't see why this cannot be done for their situation.  For example the Def Jam games were targeted for a hip-hop fan base, me and most of my friends owned this game because it appealed to us, just as anime games are created for and specifically target anime fans.  If gays and feminists believe there is an untapped market and to extent I'm sure there is they should create and market games specifically for this.  Not all games can be AAA titles, and not all financially successful games need to be AAA.  

Klikandclick
Klikandclick

Hopefully all of this nonsense won't cause developers to lose sight of the most important aspect of all: the fun factor in video games.

cboye18
cboye18

I think that the industry needs to fall, just like '83.... 

DavidByron
DavidByron

If a man complained about pathetic stuff like this he'd be laughed at and then fired.  Why do we put up with these feminists constantly portraying women as miserable pathetic creatures as this article does?  Most women are not feminists.  Most women disagree with what feminism is about.  Most women don't pretend to be offended by pathetic stuff like a dongle joke or whatever.

When it comes down to it this sort of article is sexist and it's hate speech.

DavidByron
DavidByron

If a man complained about pathetic stuff like this he'd be laughed at and then fired.  Why do we put up with these feminists constantly portraying women as weak miserable pathetic creatures as this article does?  Most women are not feminists.  Most women disagree with what feminism is about.  Most women don't pretend to be offended by pathetic stuff like a dongle joke or whatever.

When it comes down to it this sort of article is sexist and it's hate speech.

GasparNolasco
GasparNolasco

The lack of diversity in games came from the same place the lack of creativity came. Investments became bigger (and are growing this past generation) and publishers had to appeal to the biggest demographic, the biggest demographic being white heterosexual males that like shooters.

See what happened to Tomb Raider or Sleeping dogs. Those are games that didn't have white male protagonists and they undersold.

So I don't think posting in forums or gamestop will change anything. If people really thought lack of diversity in games was a problem, they would've gone and bought Sleeping Dogs and Tomb Raider instead of the yearly copy of Call of Duty.

Ravenlore_basic
Ravenlore_basic

Great work Carolyn.  IT HAS ONLY BEGUN. 

But when it happens, people will wonder what all the fuss was about, as the new normal will seem.... normal. 

Kiaininja
Kiaininja

It's great that the industry is having this kind of problem, it means that their gaming user base is expanding out to more demographics that are interested in investing on games that cater to their tastes. If they want to grow their business they can't stay pandering to a small group of hormone infested young teens forever. I just hope companies are up to the task of expanding their game's inclusiveness to other variety of gamers and not have to be dragged kicking and screaming. If their going to act like grumpy business men that are too stupid or lazy to change then sooner or later their going to suffer.

zyxe
zyxe moderator

@edjos if you could give specific examples, that would really help.

QueerGamersXist
QueerGamersXist

@proclaimor yeah, EWWW men wearings womens cloths!! EWWWW transgender people! EWWWW! 

...seriously, grow the %#$ up.

BRiDeath
BRiDeath

@jerryklu2003 The thing is though, because of that shitty obnoxious 12-year old boy that every goddamn publisher tries to appeal to, Kojima knows that it would be "career-suicide" to have gamers play as a lesbian as the sole protagonist. A few years ago, I might have agreed with you fully. But with the recent events, especially that eye-opening Penny Arcade interview of the Remember Me devs, it's becoming all too clear that male consumers' desires have created this situation in the first place.

Ravenlore_basic
Ravenlore_basic

@jerryklu2003 That's good, yet games are still stuck with people picking the same stereotypes to fill many preconceived roles in games.  It may be true that those developers have limited exposure to cultures outside their own everyday experiences, but games should not be trapped by those limitations.  THOUGH I really do understand the difficulties of such endeavors as picking a culture that is not one's own.  

lordbest
lordbest

@somatzu I disagree, by calling out the games industry for its backwards and ultimately self-destructive behaviour (ignoring and marginalizing half their demographic) change can be hastened. 

zyxe
zyxe moderator

@somatzu do you not believe that addressing and discussing these issues can speed up the process, though?

lordbest
lordbest

@DavidByron Feminism is about equality for women. Most women do not disagree with that. Unfortunately a lot of women (and even more men) do not understand what feminism actually *is* because it has been woefully misrepresented in popular culture. Often by ignorant or frightened men. 

To put it simply feminism is the belief that women should have the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as men.

RobDev
RobDev

@DavidByron WTF are you on about. It's an article complaining about the actual sexism and harrassment felt by ACTUAL people. Who are you do marginalize what they go through. you are some kind of idiot if you think complaining about sexism is sexist or hate speech  you've made a fool of yourself with this comment and it's pretty typical of males. NO ONE should ever be fired for complaining about harassment. Knob.

zyxe
zyxe moderator

@DavidByron Please do your argument a favor and point out where this article perpetuates hate speech, or how it portrays women as miserable pathetic creatures. Otherwise, it would appear that you did not bother actually reading the article.

Millard11
Millard11

@GasparNolasco Tomb Raider sold its highest numbers of the series since its inception. Thats not something i made up it was posted by Crystal Dynamics. But I see what you are getting at. If they want real change its up to the indie game space to change it. If it takes off then and only then will the AAA market change. Until that point major companies will only make games that will sell. 

Shanks_D_Chop
Shanks_D_Chop

@Ravenlore_basic WHAT has only begun? When WHAT happens? WHAT new normal? The normal will stay normal because... dun-dah-dah-DUN! It's normal. It's the standard, the average. Deal with it, like everyone else has. You know, equally.

Ravenlore_basic
Ravenlore_basic

@Kiaininja I am just happy that the Indie games are growing and have a lot of platforms to work on as they will be the ones to change things the most. 

The stale FPS will fall to other interactions. With the new consoles Graphics can give way to AI, and physics, which have not gotten enough attention.  

renger6002
renger6002

@Ravenlore_basic @jerryklu2003 

It's pretty presumptuous to say the games are "trapped" by limitations or that games are "stuck" with people picking the same stereotyped. It's easy to just say "oh yeah those stereotypes are the devil, screw society". Most likely the makers just want to make games like that, for whatever reason. If you don't like it, you make your own. 

If Kojima does decide to cast a leading female (of whatever sexuality), it would be because it fits his vision and I'm sure some publishers would be behind him. To try to kind of force more female leads is a classic case of overcompensation and is also unfair to the artist. It's like certain companies hiring women because they get incentives from the government and not necessarily on their suitability. Is that really the point here? Is Carolyn going to be happy with "pity" games that someone was forced to make so that they hit a diversity quota?

I would argue that if the market was there for games like that they would get made. I am 100% sure companies like EA could not care less about genders or sexuality as long as they know they can make money. And they spend millions of dollars on marketing research so they really know their demographic. If there is an untapped market, indie gamers should go for it. That will be a much more legitimate way to bring attention to said market.

jerryklu2003
jerryklu2003

@Ravenlore_basic @jerryklu2003 I get your point, but gaming industry is still young as a form as an entertainment industry. It took a lot longer time to make movies having the varieties of story sets today. I know it's not quite fare comparing like this due to different ages, but this partially makes my point. There are still a lot people who don't understand about video games that they will judge video games strictly. This might pressure game story writers worrying about making a non-mainstream character. But since this is a much mind-open age, they'll get their chances eventually and a lot sooner comparing with movie. I don't deny issues that this article mentions about are truly happening, but there's no need to worry so much like this. What we need is only a little  bit of patience

renger6002
renger6002

@lordbest @DavidByron

If it's been misrepresented it's been misrepresented by feminists. 

I tried to learn. I really did. A quick trip to a couple of their websites and facebook pages opened my eyes to hate towards men, other women, and the most ridiculous things like Obama tweeting that he wants to protect the rights of daughters, wives, and moms. Seriously. Look this stuff up, not isolated incidents.

Sure the definition of feminism is supposed to be equality for women. But they don't seem to be asking for equality. They are (yes I am generalizing in the hopes that a feminist here proves me wrong) nitpicky, unreasonable, and on a whole tend to be melodramatic and unresponsive to criticism (with a usual response accusing the critic of hating women or being a misogynist, and part of the patriarchy- it all screams of teen angst)

I think a more appropriate term that wouldn't have put everyone on the defensive would've been human rights. But no. That wasn't special enough.

DavidByron
DavidByron

@zyxeThe whole article is pushing the feminist hate movement view of men as evil creatures that constantly rape and attack women, and that women are their weak and helpless victims.  If you really want an example of that how about this piece?

"Romero made it clear that her problems aren't with displays of sexuality or healthy sexual expression, but with the creation of a sexually charged atmosphere that favors the perceptions and desires of men and objectifies women"

This article says men are evil and women are their helpless victims.  That is hate speech.  Now I am wondering if you read the article?  From the rest of your comments I am not sure if you are supporting the hate or if you have just fallen for the cover story that all this is about "diversity" or whatever.  Nobody objects to diversity.  This article was about hate, not diversity.

DavidByron
DavidByron

@B00GIEL0VE I read opinion poll results when they are published you moron.  So yes, yes I do know what most women think without having to meet them all.  Oh the power of science.

GasparNolasco
GasparNolasco

@Millard11 Yes, I'm aware the new Tomb Raider sold impressive numbers compared to the other games in the series, but it was also the most they ever spent to make and market a TR game so far. They needed about 5 million copies sold to start making a profit out of it and, until last month, it sold about 3.5 million copies. I also agree those kind of margins of success are ridiculous and the AAA market is bloated and in the verge of a crash in the next gen.

Publishers should try lowering their budget and investing in projects that can pay for themselves selling less instead of focusing their market so much. Games like Telltale's Walking Dead and Dragons Dogma are good examples of those, they are both successful even though they sold under 2 million in their respective launching months.

I also totally agree -- Indie and lower budget games like the aforementioned Walking Dead could make a good difference. But it's hard to expect it from AAA devs and publishers at this point, there's simply too much money at stake.

Kiaininja
Kiaininja

@Shanks_D_Chop @Ravenlore_basic Lol, if normal always stayed the same we would still be dress like a character out of a Dickens novel. Thank goodness we didn't stay stuck in the Disco Era wearing bell bottoms and tie die shirts with a big bushy fro on our heads.

Zeddikus
Zeddikus

@zyxe @renger6002 @Ravenlore_basic @jerryklu2003 No one is stopping you from making any game you want. Start a kickstarter, or work in your basement for years all by your self until your opus is completed. No one owes you anything. If it is good, it will be noticed. If there is a market, it will be bought. The only thing you have to fear, is failure.

zyxe
zyxe moderator

@renger6002@Ravenlore_basic@jerryklu2003

"I would argue that if the market was there for games like that they would get made."

with that mentality, you could argue that there should never be a new successful invention because, if there were a market for it, it would have already been made. markets change, ideas change, new products find markets we didn't know existed all the time and become successful. having the mentality that everything useful has already been done is self-defeating and ensures that nothing will ever change.

zyxe
zyxe moderator

@renger6002 @lordbest @DavidByron feminism is different things to different people, but i would have to say that feminism as a whole is misrepresented by BOTH sides. feminism should be a subset of human rights, but feminism does not exclude the idea that other subsets are in need of a boost as well. what i would really like to see is where you believe nitpicking, lack of reason and melodrama have occurred. 

i also believe that if the term "human rights" had been used, while you are correct it is a part of human rights, people would have then complained that this issue is smaller than the whole of human rights and isn't appropriate, either.

Polexia_
Polexia_

@DavidByron @zyxe Except that the feminist movement exists and is therefore PART of "diversity" of opinion. You have already judged and condemned it, so how exactly can you back up saying that "no one" (including yourself, presumably) "objects to diversity." You just did, bra.

zyxe
zyxe moderator

@DavidByron @zyxe that is a whopping stretch. it isn't saying that all men are evil and women are helpless victims. it's saying that once again an atmosphere of the tone of objectifying women and favoring men has been created, and it's quite commonplace. what's worse is this was just after a group of panels were trying to discuss how to stop this from being the norm in the gaming world.

Polexia_
Polexia_

@DavidByron @B00GIEL0VE So you read a few articles or looked up some stats that said "most women" feel X way. Well, I've read articles that conclude that in the sample polled, "most men" would rape if they knew they would not get caught. So I guess if most women aren't feminists, then most men are would-be rapists. Because "teh powrr ov sciense" [sic]

Shanks_D_Chop
Shanks_D_Chop

@somatzu Pretty quote but it's rather irrelevant. Your own challenge is only half baked. You say that my comment displays overwhelming confusion. So. Enlighten me. Further up the page you call out DavidByron for showing "lots of backwardness" but do nothing to actually validate your point.

So I am waiting for you to finish your "point".

Shanks_D_Chop
Shanks_D_Chop

@Kiaininja @Shanks_D_Chop @Ravenlore_basic I didn't say normal would stay the same, I said it'll stay normal as in the average and the mainstream. So don't expect transgendered protagonists to ever become the norm because, in real life, it ain't normal. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm saying it's not normal.