In Gamasutra there’s an excellent article by the Pixelles describing the seven primary reasons1 why women leave the games industry. In it, the Pixelles make the case for what we can do to retain women in the industry, and I agree with all of it.
I do believe – and I’m sure the Pixelles are also aware – that this is just part of the problem.
Opening the lid on the gaming industry’s can of worms is to dive into a homogenic monoculture where most participants are coming from pretty much exactly the same cultural background. We need to not only look at what companies can do to improve conditions for workers in order to retain women but also what can be done to break the cultural near-requirements that exist in the industry.
If you’ve listened to me speak, then you know that I believe we have to look further. We have to look at this holistically. We have to look at who’s encouraged to pick up a game controller, who’s encouraged and expected to want games, who’s encouraged to apply to game studios, who’s accepted, who’s promoted and mentored, what the contents of the games we release is and back again to square one.
I can’t even begin to tell you how painful it can be to create games with content that feels as if it goes against everything I believe in. I’ll do it, because most of the time I have nothing else to choose from if I want to stay in the gaming industry. I can use other means of my skillset or aspects of the game to keep me invested, plus I’m a professional, so unless the company is asking me to do something illegal or unethical, I’ll do my damned job, but it’s rare to feel unbridled enthusiasm when the game I’m working on is another deep dive into bro power fantasies. It’s like eating the same meal over and over and not even have access to anything else to eat. Soylent Green forever. It’s only occasionally you come across another experience, something you find tasty. Working in triple-A is very much like having Soylent Green every day. Sooner or later you forget what a real meal is like and you take what you can get.
To head off any “why don’t you just start your own studio?” or “why don’t you just get a job working with the games you like?” type questions, I’ll say this. Not everyone is cut out to start a studio. It usually takes financial security and it’s a lot of work. Add to that the bias against women when it comes to investment money, or any kind of money, and you’ve got a pretty steep uphill climb. Nothing is ever as simple as “why don’t you just”.
As for the other option, I’ve taken it a few times, but financial security – again – comes from the larger studios and triple-A development. And by financial security I’m not talking about anything fancy, just the ability to pay rent and bills, food sometimes optional. I’ve worked as a warehouse cleaning lady, I’ve lived from pay check to pay check. That’s not a good life. Sometimes you take what you can get.
Yes, nowadays I have skills that would allow me to leave the gaming industry. But despite all the difficulties this is what I know, and on occasion I even love it.
If we want to retain women and other marginalised groups in the industry, we have to start taking care of them starting with content. Representation, social tools that actually protect us and a zero tolerance for the Deep Silver/ Google Manifesto type worker expressing their opinions about women at work. I’m not even asking for them to be fired, just shut down fast. If developers write code using words like “whore” of if they spend what must have been hours drafting a memo about why women don’t belong in tech.
Micro aggressions, real aggressions, being the butt of a racist, sexist, transphobic, ableist, etc etc joke. All that has to stop.
We can talk about quality of life, work-life balance and equal pay until the cows come home. All of them stems from the culture that surrounds us and reinforces our biases, or so I believe. We need to act on all fronts.