The challenge of the typical woman’s experience in the gaming industry have recently been brought to light thanks to a hashtag #1reasonwhy that encouraged women developers, critics and publishers to share their experiences in what remains a male dominated industry. Shortly after its conception, the hashtag went viral. Thousands of tweets later, it resulted in an advocacy talk at GDC.
I attended the panel and was encouraged by the diverse, powerful, and thoughtful voices on stage. The panel included Robin Hunicke, Leigh Alexander, Mattie Brice, Kim McAuliffe, and Elizabeth Sampat. I was personally challenged by the panel.
Leigh Alexander, well-known game journalist, shared the ways that she is trying to become a better listener and encouraged all of us to work on listening to others and considering our own biases. She said, “every sexist is convinced that he is not a sexist.” Alexander’s words struck close to home–none of us should assume that we are absent of sexist biases as we live in a world full of far reaching systemic forces that have long given privilege to men. We are all called to consider ourselves with sober judgement–that means being aware that we all have sexist biases that we may not even be aware of. That is why panels like #1Reasontobe are so important, they give us an opportunity to acknowledge our biases, confront them, and overcome them.
Robin Hunicke, developer and co-creator of Journey, shared that while in a cab here at GDC her driver remarked that she was “the hottest damn nerd” he had ever seen upon hearing that she makes videogames. Hunicke reflected on this experience in the panel, “I know that I am a curious person, but I don’t want to be a curiosity . . . I am sick of people choosing for me before we have even had a conversation.” She followed this up by encouraging us all to be actively working to broaden participation in the industry. Elizabeth Sampat, game designer at Storm8, shared a number of her experiences making games on male dominated teams but most memorably, she said, “people will tell you to be more aggressive but they don’t see what aggressiveness can cost you . . . those who tell you to fight back won’t read your hate mail.” Meanwhile, Mattie Brice focused on the systemic factors that lead to the problems of sexism in the industry.
Each talk was important and illuminating, but Brenda Romero’s talk won her a standing ovation and stole the show. Romero shared that back in 2006 in response to her advocacy, E3 issued a policy to limit booth babes but that policy never really took effect past the first year it was in effect. Romero listed all the many reasons she feels it is important for her to attend E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) each year, each given its own slide set over a background of scantily clad sexy man. Thus illustrating that E3′s countless booth babes make for a disgustingly unprofessional work environment.
Romero closed her talk by sharing with audience that her 12 year old daughter recently told Romero that she wants to make a game with her. As the father of a daughter myself, I wanted to hug Romero when she said that she didn’t want to see booth babes at E3 anymore because she wants her daughter to “feel safe there and not gazed upon. That is all I am asking.”