This blog post is written in English, despite the fact that the discussion that prompted it is in Swedish. I feel the subject is important enough to warrant an international approach. In addition to that, I’m still in love with my Livescribe pen, but alas, the pen does not, as of yet, speak Swedish.
This all started with an article written by Aaron Vesterberg Ringhög, who, contrary to many other news outlets did not declare a victory regarding the representation of women at E3. The level of participation was less than 15% women, and the author felt that this was not good enough representation in a conference where the audience-or rather the consumers of games- consists of roughly 50% women.
The industry is struggling to meet the demands of an ever diversified and expanding market. In order to cater for this expanding market, the industry would do well in diversifying its workforce as well, not only because of an increased creative output. Ask anyone working with art or any other creative pursuit now they get ideas. It isn’t by regurgitating the same stuff over and over, without input from anywhere else. Innovation happens when you look at a problem from many different points of view. One way of ensuring that this happens is by having a diverse workforce.
But don’t just listen to me when it comes to these insights. Listen to developers at game companies such as Paradox, who in the same thread as the naysayers point out that diverse and equality driven teams increase profit. Or by all means Listen to BioWares David Gaider, who points out that there is no proof that diversity would in any way damage sales. On the contrary, their games Dragon Age Inquisition and Mass Effect 3, both diverse and focused on offering a wide choice of player character, sexuality, skin color and companions, were the best selling games yet in the company’s history. Or listen to the game developer veteran Cliff Blezinski when he talks about his new studio, Boss Key Productions.
“It’s one of those things where diversity, even at the studio level, it just makes for a more interesting environment.”, Blezinski says. “Apart from that making sense just in general, financially it makes sense.”
This financial point of view is key to Blezinski’s theory on diversity, which is that it’s not just a morally good thing but a financially good thing as well. He has actively sought more people of color and more women to join his team, and he believes that will lead to a better product with a wider appeal.
It became immediately apparent that an article pointing out the homogenous state of E3 would not fly in the context of being discussed at Svenska spelbranschen’s Facebook group. The first reply was the dear old “women aren’t interested in making games” and the even more common “there are no women to present the games, because they’re not that many in the business”. Another known argument is the “gender quota” argument where the act of making sure that all genders are represented equally is seen as letting the less competent individuals take the stage to present the games. We were also treated to a short appearance of the special guest star “those who want to make games will make games” and the “nerds have been stigmatized” arguments. We’ve also got the “the market controls what gets made” argument, the “women gamers only play Facebook and mobile games”, a surprise appearance by the biologist view that “hormones decide what we’re interested in from birth”. Another argument against increasing the women on stage during E3 was the “role-models won’t make a difference” argument. The “I don’t care who made my games as long as they’re good” and “it doesn’t matter if the player character is a man or woman” also popped up. Hell. I’ll just list them, shall I?
• E3 has no obligation to be role-models. E3 is for gamers and about games.
• Creative freedom – everyone should be free to do what they want
• Why doesn’t anyone in the thread care about men? Men go to war! And pick up trash!
• Women don’t have a right to be represented, so they should stop whining.
• It’s up to women to start working in games.
• Should we force developers to create games with female protagonists?
• It costs more to develop women characters.
• Can you prove that women are oppressed?
• I don’t understand the point of discussing this.
• Why should we force women into the industry?
• Find me the facts that women are oppressed
• Women don’t have a problem getting jobs in game development.
• The way you argue is a bit aggressive
• Equality doesn’t mean a 50/50 division. It means that the right person is in the right place.
The above reads like a “why women won’t work in games 101”, not because the arguments are valid, but because they’re not, and frankly, we’ve heard them all before, many times.
Women aren’t interested in making games
How would you know? Have you made sure to ask all of them? This is an invalid argument for the simple reason that it lumps all women into one category. It’s like saying “men like poetry.” No, wait, broetry. Xkcd still says it best. Men are allowed to be individuals, women are grouped together.
Robbing women of their individuality by lumping them together is stereotyping, not only unfair, but it is also creates or reinforces prejudices. Women aren’t expected to enjoy making games, leading to bias when hiring, in particular in a context where “a passion for games” is required. If there is a common knowledge that “women aren’t interested in games” it will affect the way people are recruited. There is already a bias present, where men are considered more competent than women. This has been confirmed in multiple studies. Slap a man’s name on a CV and he is considered more competent than a person with the same CV and a woman’s name on it.
(…) employers biased against women are less likely to take into account the fact that men, on average, boast more than women about their future performance, leading to suboptimal hiring choices that remain biased in favor of men.
In other words, stereotyping – which saying “women aren’t interested in making games” is – will lead to a bias when hiring. Bias causes suboptimal hiring choices, and is quite efficient at keeping women out of the gaming industry.
There are no women to present the games
Well that depends, doesn’t it? On what is presented and how it is presented. Why not follow Ubisoft’s lead? Why not bring the women who are working on the game on stage? And if that for some reason is impossible, why not solve the issue by professional presenters? I’m sure there are many ways to solve the issue, all that is required is some planning ahead, and perhaps to pull ones heads out of ones arse for three minutes and have a proper think.
Gender quotas are no good
Or perhaps the more accurate presentation of this argument is that “quotas cause incompetent people to steal space from competent people”. In Swedish, gender quotas are called “Könskvotering” or “positiv särbehandling”, and is defined as selecting an applicant from an underrepresented group if there are two candidates with the same qualifications. I think “affirmative action” might be an appropriate translation. In extreme cases, gender quotas can help create a better environment short term, which may lead to long term improvements. One study, with a focus on political leadership, concluded that gender quotas actually increased the competency within a group – at the cost of the mediocre men. In other words, there is no support for the supposition that affirmative action/ gender quotas would lower competency, but there is some support for the opposite, that it would raise competency.
Those who want to make games will make games
Not necessarily. In a culture that is on occasion threatening and unwelcoming, any marginalized group trying to gain entrance would experience a higher threshold to enter the culture or the industry. Consider a movement like GamerGate, a movement that says it is about ethics in gaming journalism, but built around a sexist blog post written by an ex-boyfriend to Zoe Quinn, Eron Gjoni, who decided that it would be a good idea to make public accusations about his ex-girlfriends sex-life in relation to games journalists. Accusations that turned out to be false, but nonetheless started an avalanche of hate towards primarily Zoe Quinn. Other women working with games and with gaming journalism were also hit hard by the harassment from primarily men who want to keep women out of the culture and the industry.
GamerGate is only one (very) visible example of the misogyny and prejudice that exists, still, in the industry and culture. Bias, stereotypes and prejudice all work together to create an atmosphere which makes it hard for women to exist in the world of games. In other words, not all those who want to make games will make games. The cost might be to high.
The nerds have been stigmatized
Yes. And? Seriously, what relevance has this argument? Nerds being treated badly in the 80’s and 90’s hardly justifies treating women badly now.
The market controls what games are made
Well… No. And yes. The thing is, it’s all connected. The publishers are risk averse and wont create games that have female leads. Games with female leads are not enjoying the same marketing budgets as male led games which in turn mean that they won’t sell as many copies, which supports the thesis that female led games won’t sell. In addition to that, there’s a hard to kill myth that gamers are young men between 13-26 years old, when in fact the the average gamer is closer to 35 years old, and 44% women.
Women gamers only play Facebook and mobile games
Yes! And even if it was relevant to any discussions about who should present at E3, the mobile market happen to be a growing market. The ESA has the statistics. But hey, it’s not relevant, because games are games. It doesn’t matter if you spend 4 hours on a console or 4 hours on a mobile phone playing, you’re still playing. Besides, I’ve seen numbers from earlier years that women make up about 30% of the console market. That is still a lot of money, so there.
Hormones decide what we’re interested in from birth
Yes. And fish – dead fish to boot – have emotional reactions to images of faces. There’s an excellent book called Delusions of Gender written by Cordelia Fine, in which Fine debunks most of the myths surrounding the “male” and “female” brain. The fish in question appears in the book as an example of how a significant statistical difference isn’t as significant as one might think when it comes to brain activity. Once again, bias rears its ugly head.
Role-models won’t make any difference
How would you know? You have them everywhere around you. If you’re white, and a man, it is difficult not to.There are some studies showing that women feel they are lacking role models in the workplace. There are also studies showing that a positive role model will have a significant impact on women’s performance. Not on men’s though. But that might be because you already have role models almost everywhere. One study concludes that:
Both women and men need to move to move towards changing their stereotypical cognitive schema of gender in the workplace, and this may be the key value of role models
In other words, role models do make a difference, both in performance and in changing people’s minds.
I don’t care who makes my games as long as they are good
Again, this will not affect you if you’re white and male, because chances are that someone just like you have made the game. Apart from that, Gaider had a very interesting take on how a team with women will change stories and outlooks:
Peer reviews are used to work out kinks and talk about concepts and approval. During one of those peer reviews, a sequence where a demon took on Leliana’s appearance and laid demon eggs inside the inquisitor was reviewed. Most of the male writers had no problem with this, but it made the women uncomfortable, as the sequence was experienced as rape.
Biezinski had a similar story when reviewing a player character with one of the women at Boss Key Productions, where she told him that the character’s outfit was sexualized, something none of the men reacted to.
“We had one character we were doing that had some interesting leggings go on,” Bleszinski says. “The other day, I asked Ana what she thought of that. She said, ‘Well, the laciness was kind of weird and oversexualized.’ So, yeah, we should probably change that. Just having that perspective is useful.”
This peer review system is certainly not a guarantee for a good game, but for me it adds quality. If the game is made with a diverse crew, the chances that it becomes a better game are higher. A game created by a diverse crew will also have a higher chance of telling a story that isn’t so very male-centric. Triple-A games currently tell the stories of men. Male power fantasies, in short. And games as a media reflect our current culture, whether you want to or not:
Since games involve fantasy-content divorced from everyday experience -it might be assumed that anything is possible within a cultural system. Since fantasy is the free play of a creative imagination, the limits of fantasy should be as broad as the limits of one’s mind. This is not the case, as each fantasy world is a fairly tight transformation by the players of their mundane, shared realities. While players can, in theory, create anything, they in fact create only those things that are engrossing and emotionally satisfying. Fantasy is constrained by the social expectations of players and of their world.
– source Gary Alan Fine, Shared Fantasy.
Fine is not the only one stating that we are limited by our surrounding culture, but I feel he says it the best. And it’s not just players affected by this adherence to what we see, hear and want to experience. Game developers and story writers are too. If the team is diverse, it stands to reason that the games will be as well.
It doesn’t matter if the player character is a man or a woman
How would you know? If you’re a man and white, you have plenty of options. If you’re a person of color or a woman, your options are limited.
I think I’ve said this a million times by now, but not all women are comfortable playing as men. But it isn’t only about feeling comfortable when playing, it is also about identity and what it takes to exist and feel good about oneself in the world. If women only exist in games as objects, not as people, it is hard to create an identity for them in games. It is very hard – or should be very hard – to identify with an object.
Women also need the opportunity to experience a reflection of themselves in games in a context where they are not objects and not sexualized. If our identity is only confirmed through inactivity, being an object to be saved or an object existing for the (male) viewers pleasure, we’re being robbed of individuality and the ability to act. Likewise, if men are the only people shown to have the agency to act, women will not get confirmation that they can act. Think of a game as a mirror. What image does it reflect back at you? How does it make you feel?
E3 has no obligation to be a role model
“E3 is for gamers” yes. And the number of women gamers are rising. So it should reflect the audience.
Have you ever worked with a publisher on a Triple-A game? No? Then you should know that publishers will have opinions on the content of the game. The idea of creative freedom is already boxed in by focus group testing, knee-jerk reactions to bad previews, the opinions of producers and the prejudices of “what a game should be”. Creative freedom is great in theory, but I know quite a few games that have had a diverse content set updated to a more conservative set, because higher ups had other ideas about what sells.
And again, look at Dragon Age Inquisition. There’s a diverse and inclusive game being criticized because it’s too diverse. I suppose creative freedom is only a valid argument when a game is being criticized for its sexism.
Why doesn’t anyone in the thread care about men’s situation?
Probably because that wasn’t what we were discussing. Thank you. however, for allowing me to shout “bingo!”, and for trying to derail a discussion that some of those who were discussing actually found important, partly because it affects their lives and careers. Also, we have no obligation to talk about what you want.
Women don’t have a right to be represented, so they should stop whining
We exist in the world. We partake of media. We have a right to voice our opinions. Usually, voicing ones opinions is not a problem as long as you’re a man, but as soon as women do it, it’s whining.
I also find it very interesting that up until this point in the discussion, most of the people commenting were men, so basically women should shut up, even if we’re not talking.
In short no, we have no “right” to be represented, but we do have a right to voice our opinions, also known as freedom of speech.
It’s up to women to start working in games!
Yes, and risk facing harassment, threats and bullying, like Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu. It’s all fun and games until someone threatens a bombing or a school shooting because you exist and have an opinion. Or rape and murder. Totally up to us to start making games – and presumably deal with a very threatening environment should we reach any kind of success.
See also all arguments made so far, and the ones after this one.
Should we force developers to make games with female protagonists?
Considering that “we’re” already “forcing” developers to make games with male protagonists, why not? Dontnod Entertainment had a hard time securing funding for Remember me as long as the protagonist was a woman.
“We had some (companies) that said, ‘well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed,'” Morris recalls. “You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.”
In another article, Leigh Alexander described how the results of focus tests were skewed to show that female protagonists weren’t received well.
But aside from pragmatic if strict business logic, studio sources claim there’s a culture of “preconceived notions” within Activision against which the design expertise of its leads can’t make headway — and that the focus testing is angled to support. “Most of the focus tests that I have seen run at Activision are very questionable,” says one source, an assertion with which the other sources agreed. “If someone from publishing has a point to prove or can’t get an idea in the game, the focus test questions are skewed, and the Activision feedback is skewed in their favor,” he says.
“I have sat in a focus test that in the team’s opinion went exceptionally well, but the feedback sent to the higher-ups from someone on the publishing side were skewed to be the exact opposite,” he adds — even in cases where according to the source “some of them stepped in our studio maybe twice in two years.”
So, the sources say, even if there was evidence to support positive focus-test response to a female lead character, ultimately that might not convince the publisher
The preconceived notions is something that I recognize, just like the skewing of results in favor of the preferred option. We’re not free from bias in hiring, and we’re certainly not free from bias when it comes to which games that are made. So really, the question that we should ask is “why are we forcing developers to make games with male protagonists?”
It costs more to develop women characters
A statement made (in)famous by the Assassins Creed developers Ubisoft, disproven a million times by developers everywhere. The answer is simple. If you have made plans to include women from the start, it’s easy. If women are an afterthought, it may be slightly more difficult, but it is never impossible. It’s a matter of prioritisation.
Can you prove that women are oppressed?
At this point in the conversation, using statistics to show that women get paid less for the same jobs etc. is usually pointless. So is pointing out that tons of research show that women get the tough end of the deal in online environments. But frankly, just read the rest of the blog post.
I don’t understand the point of discussing this
No one is forcing you. Please go away.
Why should we force women into the industry?
Why do you think this has anything to do with forcing women? Oh, and yeah, read the rest of the blog post.
Women don’t have a problem getting jobs in game development
… and I’m the Queen of Sheba. I also have a pet dinosaur named Bob. Also, read the rest of the blog post.
The way you argue is a bit aggressive
Oookay…. I could write a long reply detailing how women always have to be nice and accommodating, but frankly I don’t feel like it.
Equality doesn’t mean a 50/50 division. It means that the right person is in the right place
No. It means “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities. What would basically happen if the right person was actually in the right place.
This blog post took me days to research and compile. The kind of research that women who want to change the industry for the better are often asked to do, just to have their efforts dismissed with a random reason from a random dudebro. This, I think, is the worst offense. To never be heard, and have issues explained away as personal problems. The truth is that there IS bias out there. The truth is it ISN’T as easy for women to make a career in games as it is for men, hiring bias being just the tip of the iceberg.
I’ll close this with a quote from the thread:
Nå väl, fair enough, jag får ge mig eftersom det inte riktigt finns argument emot fler kvinnor i branschen eller fler kvinnliga spelkaraktärer
(l’ll have to give up since there aren’t any real objections against more women in the business or more women player characters).
This was a statement after 196 comments. My wish would be that that is the starting argument next time. There is NO reason women shouldn’t be a part of the industry or culture.