Yesterday, my twitter exploded with the hashtag #1reasonwhy. The origins was Luke Crane asking why there were so few women in game development. As any one of you know who have followed my blog for a while, this is a topic that is very close to my heart. I’ve tried to get more women into game development for about eight years now, and I’ve been in the business for about 12. By the way, the image – Bayonetta – is another reason why.
So why only 8 years of trying to get women into games? Because the first four years I believed all the crap that men* told me. Women – some women, obviously not me since I was in the games business – were simply not interested in games. I was an anomaly. A tough anomaly because only really cool women could handle being a woman in games. It was supposed to be a compliment when someone said “you’re one of the guys”. What it actually meant was that I sacrificed some parts of my personality in order to fit in. On the guys terms. And I had to play along. I had to moan about women being such wusses and not playing to be a part of the gang. I had to uncomfortably laugh when someone made a joke about stupid women. I had to be one of the guys and in being one of the guys I admitted that being a woman wasn’t good enough.
With that in mind I’d like to talk about what I’ve had happen to me, and I’d also like to tell all those disbelievers who keep saying “so, do something about it” what I’ve actually done about it.
What I’ve lived through
I’ve been patted on the head, literally, and been called “honey” (lilla gumman in Swedish, very patronising).
I’ve been told that the only thing the developer hated more than a game designer (I was a game designer) were QA people
I’ve been told that I don’t know how to design games, because I don’t know how to program
I’ve been told I suck as a game designer by the developers, at the same time as the publisher have sung my praise and said I was the best designer they’d ever worked with.
I’ve been the target of a campaign by developers where they purposefully withheld information about how the editor in a game worked to make sure that I would fail in creating assets I needed
I’ve had developers constantly turn up late to meetings I’ve set up, and talk among themselves while the meeting was in progress.
I’ve been questioned about my knowledge of games – sometimes just as a “normal” question, at one time as a two hour interview where I was questioned in detail about a game. I got the sense I was only questioned because the developer didn’t believe I had actually played the game.
I’ve had to “prove” myself countless times, by beating the developers in games or by proving that I know what I say I know.
I’m constantly asked what kind of games “women” or “girls” like. I always counter with “what kind of games do men/ boys like?”
I’m constantly asked to debate why there are so few women in games. I’m supposed to be willing to defend all the women who don’t want to be in games. Or I’m defending the women who are in games. Or I’m defending my own choices.
I can continue this list forever, unfortunately. But I find it very encouraging that twitter has made such an impact on the game press and media. It’s important to keep up the pressure. It’s important to know that it’s not just me and it’s important to know that there are a lot of men out there supporting us women in our struggle to create a more welcoming atmosphere for women in games. Unfortunately it still takes men for other men to listen.
What have I done
I’ve never said no to a speaking engagement. Ever. Whenever there has been a request to talk, I’ve done it, apart from really short notice stuff. I did a talk just the other week in Umeå and I’m going to Luleå to speak at a film convention next week. I try my best to be a good face for women in games. To show that we’re actually here, we do exist.
I’ve been involved in a game development education called Futuregames. I’ve done as much as I can to create a welcoming experience for women, at least I did, until I had to step down because of too much work. I’ve pointed out when teaching materials have been skewed to talk about the player as a man only. I’ve tried to be a good role model.
I’ve debated with dataspelsbranschen on a number of occasions when I’ve felt that the decisions that they’ve made have been questionable.
I’ve been interviewed for newspapers, podcasts and radio and I’ve tried to spread my ideas of what games can be. I’ve done about as much as I can to get more women into game development. I’ve tried to promote women devs as much as I can.
Maybe you feel that is not enough. But there’s only so much I can do.
EDIT: I’ve added the #1reasonwhy.net link to my permanent fixtures on the web. That and Fat, Ugly or Slutty are ways to show how deeply this crap goes and how hard, really really hard, it is not to get dragged into feeling like shit because I want to do what I love to do. One of the things I haven’t mentioned in this post is the treatment I’ve gotten from fellow role-players, and I haven’t brought up the convention experiences I’ve had or the times my reviews (Well. I say reviews. Mostly it was me.) have gotten trashed at forums and the like. And you (and I have to admit me as well) perhaps question why on Earth I keep doing this if it is so very costly to me. I LOVE GAMES. Despite all the crap, I absolutely adore games. I think games have so very much potential and I think it’s a crying shame that “only men” are welcome to enjoy them, build them, be a part of them. So when I’m told I’m not good enough, I get better because I love games. When I’m told my reviews (well, mostly me) suck, I get better because I love games. And I almost reached the breaking point. I’ve thought about leaving games behind. I’ve thought about changing jobs. I’ve thought about selling my 300+ game collection and just be done with it. And then something like Kagematsu or 1001 Nights comes along and I’m like “what am I thinking. I love games!” and it’s worth the pain. But it is a high cost, and I’ve paid a lot for my love of games. I’m still paying.
* Men as a generalisation. Women said the same things. And some didn’t and some men didn’t but in order to be able to actually write this blog post and not add “with the exception of”, I’m going to have to say men. As a group. Considering I’ve been classified as the group “women” for as long as I’ve been interested in games – mid 80’s – I think it’s only fair that I get to bunch men up as well.
2012-11-29 at 11:02
“I’ve been told that the only thing the developer hated more than a game designer (I was a game designer) were QA people”
Yeah as a QA person I get a lot of hate. But I always save ‘their’ necks and they usually (eventually) realize that my job is to be a failsafe of their work. I am the cleaning lady. xD
Now if I could only get a job doing QA testing in the game industry please. 😉
2012-11-29 at 11:26
I LOVE QA! Seriously. For me, QA is the only way to get some perspective on what the hell we’re doing, and how the player percieves it. There’s no way a designer can keep the perspective of the user unless being helped by QA.
2013-02-04 at 19:13
I’m a web developer who started out as a designer, so I can understand where this statement came from: “I’ve been told that I don’t know how to design games, because I don’t know how to program.”
That’s something I might have snapped at you, and it has nothing to do with your gender. Now, I can only speak in regards to web applications, but I know that writing code makes you aware of certain limitations when designing that you wouldn’t think of otherwise. And this is what makes us developers crazy when dealing with designers who know nothing about programming. Yes, your creation is fantastic and good-looking, but I can’t implement it exactly as you created it (not without hurting my brain anyway).
I’m the only female developer on my team, and the only one with a design background, but my work speaks for itself. Are there sexual harassment issues? Sometimes, but that has more to do with building websites for adult-related products marketed on adult websites and not because I have a vagina.
2013-02-04 at 19:55
Mary – I totally get what you mean, it is important to know the engine you work with. That’s why I make sure that I do understand what can and what can’t be done before I start designing. I also invariably work a lot with the scripting tools and in house editors, so I do understand what can and can’t be done from that point of view as well.
In this instance, I think my lack of code background was something for the coders to latch on to, because when they were told by production to stop harassing me about my work, they started in on the way I dressed and what I ate, which I hope you can agree has very little to do with how games are designed.
It’s very possible that the work I did was not good enough (although at the time I was told it was excellent), but circumstances and the way other women in the company were treated led me to believe it had nothing to do with the work I did, but rather what sex I belonged to.