A follow up post to my previous post wherein I try to expand on some of the topics brought up by zegerman on not played. I’ll also try to explain some basic concepts about Women in Games, and feminist views on games, although I realise that may be a lost cause. This is by the way totally unrelated to not played.
I’ve also posted a comment relevant to my specific part in the blog post at the blog, so it is very possible that the discussion may continue at not played. I do however realize that the comments posted at not played is somewhat lacking in detail, hence this monster post.
Women in Games
The first thing to understand about women seeking equality in games is not to censor, forbid or Change How We Play Forever, although I’d not be adverse to that last part. We could use some innovation in games. What we want is not to remove anything. We want to add.
Read that again.
We don’t want to remove anything from games. Speaking for myself, I really don’t care that we make games like Dead Island, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Assassins Creed etc. I couldn’t care less. By all means, continue to make them. What I DO care about is to not only make games like Dead Island, Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, Witcher etc. I want there to be more gaming experiences to choose from. Not just one, very specific experience. The only way that the games we have today could possibly be affected by this is if it turns out that other games with a wider appeal are actually more popular and make more money than the current triple-A titles, in which case there may be a turn toward a more diverse experience in games, and the money spent on triple-A title will be reduced.
To be honest, a lot points towards us heading that way anyway what with tablet gaming, mobile gaming etc. Huge triple-A productions cost a lot of money and the risks are pretty big. Free to play is just one model that affects the way we play and the contents of the games.
But just to make sure that I’m being clear.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean that I want to censor games. It doesn’t mean that I hate all games. It doesn’t mean that I want women to star in ALL games. It means that some depictions of women in games are problematic, and I want to change that by increasing the diversity of games. So no censorship. No taking away current subject matters or even depiction of women. Just make it easier for us who don’t enjoy playing white, heterosexual males ogling women to find games that suit us better.
To make you feel better, anti-feminist, anti-change dude/tte, I’ve been in the business for 13 years. Not much has changed over that time. You’ll probably have lost all interest in games by the time we see any change, judging by the time it takes.
Deterring women from games
Mr Åkerblom went on to make 2 bold statements, which did not sit quite right with me though. Firstly he stated that we should stop designing games which actively deter women. I would argue that very few (if any) games are designed to actively deter women. Sure, we have plenty of games which women might feel less enticed to play for one reason or another, but actively deter women from playing? I would argue that the very ESA numbers he used show that women are not deterred from gaming.
Games may not be designed to actively deter players, but the content may still be objectionable to some players. The operative words here are of course “some players”. Not all women care about content where the digital representation of their gender is used as a reward, it’s just not that important to them. Not all men enjoy games where they are rewarded for their supposed sexuality, and that in turn is important to them. Some players think it’s a problem, but play anyway, because the game has other virtues.
Note that despite not actively designing a game to be repellent, the game can still be problematic to players. And even more important it’s not just women who have a problem with the games. What Åkerblom said about stop designing games that actively deter women, I would like to add to by stating that it’s time to start designing games for a wider audience that aren’t so insistent on excluding women (regardless if it is an active or passive exclusion). It’s very easy to see a pattern in the games made by triple-A studios, and game designers in general, since I’m not only looking at digital games. Content is just one problematic area. Context is also a problem. We often get games about what we view as traditionally male contexts. The narratives are about men, the world in general is about men.
In the presentation held by Andy Walsh, he talked about a lot of characteristics that would broaden the content of a game quite dramatically. For me, adding female, non-white, old or young, disability and sexuality IS to design a game that does not actively deter women or other players for which these things matter. Important to note is also that the depictions shouldn’t be stereotypical, but I think that was part of the intent package. It is pointed out in the text that it is fantastic when a subject doesn’t cover just female equality. My counter point to that is that it is amazing when a game covers more than white, heterosexual males, and that the points Andy Walsh brought up may not seem overtly feministic, but that it is precisely that type of broadening of subjects that at least I as a feminist am looking for.
As for the amount of women playing, I’ve heard it used both as an argument for why games shouldn’t have to change at all and an argument for that women only play Facebook games.
This is by the way not a reflection of the blog text at not played. This is an association I made when reading the argument about the ESA statistics that ensued on Twitter. Not with Åkerblom who actually said it, but with me who quoted the statistics.
Some detractors state that the high percentage of women in the statistics point to that women only play Facebook and social games and that those types of games are not to be considered games at all. The women playing “real games” are according to those detractors completely non-existent.
On the other hand the statistics are also taken as proof, or support for the idea that the content of the games doesn’t have to change at all. In both instances, we (women) lose, because either we don’t play “real games” or we play “real games”. In either case nothing needs to happen to change the content of games.
If there was one thing I did not really agree with regarding that part of her talk it was her choice of words. Ms. Roos claimed that harassment is “rampant” in games, and I feel this might well be a bit dramatizing the issue, as I know many women in the games industry and female gamers who I have talked to about this in the last few months who have never experienced issues. I do not dispute that there are issues, nor that her personal experience were felt acutely, quite the contrary, but I feel rampant is making it sound a lot more extreme. There are literally millions of people on xbox live for example and I’d like to think that the vast majority of these people are normal, nice and in no way abusive towards other gamers.
I feel I have to make a correction with regards to the use of the word “rampant”. Yes, I did use it. But the whole sentence (which can be heard in my talk, and which I’m pretty sure I used while giving the talk since I followed script closely) is the following: “sexism is rampant in some areas of the gaming culture as well”. Later in the talk, I also point out that many women do not experience sexism at all.
With the above I of course mean exactly what I say. Some areas of gaming culture is swamped by sexism, racism and homophobia. Just because everyone doesn’t run into it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in forums, work places and games.
I have no doubt that the abusive players, the ones that send stuff to other players and end up on fat, ugly or slutty, are nice and normal as well outside their chosen play media. I do however think that the environment that hosts games for the most part isn’t that concerned about trash talk and that this normalizes the abuse heaped on players of both sexes to a certain extent. Perhaps to the extent that most of them sign off after having called someone a “fag” safe in the knowledge that they’re nice people.
As an aside, there are also many different ways that sexism expresses itself. Not all of them are as obvious as being harassed. Having the women judged as less competent when reading CVs is one. Pushing women into administrative roles (because the idea is that the creative genius is male) is another.
She did however state that it was not always fun and that in order to get a paycheck she has to work on games that don’t care about her as a woman, on games that are not for her. She admitted working on games that perpetuate tropes and that she is actively contributing to a sexist culture but that she has little choice as indie did not pay enough and posed a risk. She feels the games she works on don’t inspire pride and she feels that women often don’t seem to exist. This to me was quite interesting, and I have to say I disagree with her stance. I can say this from personal experience as well. As I have pointed out in my motivation post, I strongly believe in working for the right reasons to be able to perform at ones best and also to be as creative as possible. I believe that a paycheck is the wrong reason to do anything, but of course this is how i see it and every person is different.
Again I feel that the emphasis is slightly wrong or that I perhaps expressed myself clumsily. The size of the paycheck is only one part of the problem. Finding a job at all in the games industry is difficult. I would say finding a job is difficult, period, regardless if it is Indie or if it is Triple-A. I happen to be a woman. There are a multitude of examples of “oh, it’s a girl”, resulting in the HR person (or whomever is in charge of hiring) leaving my CV in the waste paper basket.
To expand on my experiences, I’ve had to take jobs as a cleaning woman while at the same time having a few years’ experience as a game designer, level designer and producer, just to put food on the table. For me, working in the industry hasn’t been a given. I have not been able to pick and choose what I work with. I’ve had to take what I could get, provided I wanted to work with games, and I do want to work with games. A paycheck – to me who am not only supporting myself but also the person I live with – is vital for me to have any kind of safety. Getting a paycheck is good. Getting a paycheck making games is awesome. What would be even more awesome would be if I could get a paycheck working with games that I actually sympathize with. Until I can do that, I have to rely on being professional and finding my motivation in making games, which I love to do, but perhaps on a smaller scale than loving the whole game. I can still find parts of the game making process enjoyable, even if the content is sexist. In short, I do not have the privilege to say no to a job just because I don’t like parts of it. I simply can’t afford it.
Good and bad games
There was really only one point towards the end of her talk which I disagreed with. Ms. Roos stated that there were no games for boys and girls, there were only good games and bad games. I think her sentiment is correct, that games should be created for everyone to be accessible, however reality shows that there is a distinction between what type of games men and women play, at least in some cases. This, I believe, is simply down to taste and while there are crossover points and people who enjoy all forms of gaming, I think Ms. Roos’ statement is a bit too generic. A demographic analysis of social networking for games and other media shows this nicely I think.
When I stated that there are only good and bad games, I meant just that. But I never stated that there are only good games and they look exactly like this. It’s hard to be anything BUT generic in a talk that spans an hour, and isn’t really about game experiences. I’m not sure I understand exactly what is meant by this passage or what sources are cited.
I don’t know if I agree when it comes to the differences between male and female gaming habits either, I think it differs more depending on what other demands a player has on his or her time. Jesper Juul posited that gamers play differently based on age, social demands etc. In his book The Casual Revolution, gamers’ habits are detailed fairly well, and it is less related to gender than it is to family, age etc.
The responsibility of the industry
Other than “design games differently” as expressed by Ms. Sarkeesian and Mr. Walsh, nothing concrete came out. And while they both have a point, I think it’s too easy to just leave the responsibility with the industry.
I think this clearly shows that the buck does not necessarily start and stop with the games industry but that the issue is much deeper rooted in upbringing, parenting and education. I strongly feel that those are the key elements that need to be addressed and that this current focus on games and the games industry, while valid to a degree, is an easy outlet. Essentially what the aim seems to be is to cure the symptoms but not the underlying illness.
The responsibility, I felt while listening, was placed on each and every one of us, not just the industry. What is important to note though, is that it is very difficult to change society when you have no power. In order to change, the privileged will have to help the non-privileged.
Without John Stuart Mill, I think the feminist movement wouldn’t have gotten half as far as it did. In this particular case, the industry is the institution in power, so putting responsibility on the industry for changing things is not in any way wrong. I’d also like to point out that to get to the position we are today, talking about equality in games, talking about problematic depictions of women, men, sexuality, race etc. a lot of us have been fighting for a very long time. We have taken our responsibility and by criticism, by talking, by making people aware we do what we can to change things. None of us are taking the easy way out and shifting the blame. None of us say “it’s someone else’s responsibility”. But there is only so much we can do. Asking the industry to actually act is not too much to ask I feel.
To say “we have to change society before we change the industry” is just not going to work. My belief, and I know I share this with many others, is that we can start making a difference in a small way, where we stand right now. That goes for the industry as well. Looking at content, context, target audience etc and at the same time looking at working environment, who is hired etc can never be wrong, and it will in the long run help out in the mission to get more women to play games, enjoy working with tech, enjoy working with games and want to study game development. The other option, to my mind, would be to say “let’s not do anything”. Small steps toward equality are still steps.
A few closing words
While I am open with my feminism and my personal stories about what it is like being a woman in the games industry, I’m aware that this can put me at a disadvantage.
I’ve had a couple of discussions, not very productive, on twitter where I’ve been accused of being an extremist, hating men, ignorance etc, all because I’m a feminist.
That word seems to be a red flag to some. I recently talked about definitions on twitter, but I got so fed up on the rhetoric that I quickly stopped arguing. What I dislike about “everyone is free to make their own definitions” is that that makes it impossible to talk to each other. Impossible. So I will supply you with exactly what kind of feminist I am, exactly what the definition of that feminism is.
Feminism for me is the belief that all people are entitled to the same civil rights and liberties and can be intellectual equals regardless of gender.
I do not hate men. I am not an extremist (a person who favours or resorts to immoderate, uncompromising, or fanatical methods or behaviour, esp in being politically radical – free dictionary), I am a person, a gamer, a game designer.
However, by expressing my views and appending a “feminist” to them, I run the risk of being harassed. I also run the risk of not getting hired. Being called an extremist, etc etc etc. I still think it is important to say that I am a feminist. We have a way to go yet. We still have issues to handle, battles to fight. To put it in gamer terms: I’m a human. Lvl 10 feminist.