As the situation at work continues to unfold like a goddamn broken origami flower, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that despite the creativity and the willingness to try new things from developers, the power is firmly in the hands of the people with the money, i.e. the publishers, when it comes to the portrayal of women in games. Some of you may remember Leigh Alexander’s article about Activision, where it is pretty obvious that the publishers did pretty much what they wanted – and from what Alexander writes also interprets the market from their own wishes, and to fit their own purposes.
“Activision has no room for ‘we are making an open-world game with a Hong Kong action movie feel with a female lead,’ because that game doesn’t exist right now,” says one source. “What they do have room for is, ‘we are making an open-world game with a gangster main character who can steal cars and shoot people, but it will be in Hong Kong instead of Liberty City. And then they go, ‘Hey, GTA IV sold 10 million copies, so that’s what we expect from you.'”
Look to that methodology to explain why all of Activision’s flagship properties are male-led, says the source: “If Activision does not see a female lead in the top five games that year, they will not have a female lead,” says the other source. “And the people that don’t want a female lead will look at games like Wet and Bayonetta and use them as ‘statistics’ to ‘prove’ that female leads don’t move mass units.”
One thing that I’ve learned in this business is that it’s a man’s world and it will continue to be a man’s world until women are let in en masse in the decision making process. From what Edge reports, worldwide the numbers are going down if anything. One, two, five women in one project won’t cut it. It’s way too easy to stay quiet, say nothing, believe the spiel dribbled from the lips of chauvinism day by day if you’re alone or if your network is limited. I should know. I did.
I think what pains me the most is the argument that this is the way it is and since the games are profitable this is the way it should remain. As if any development with regards to female non-player or player characters is automatically a bad thing, because it isn’t what the professed audience wants. And it is said with a complete disregard to the idea that there may be other audiences out there, other target groups that may well buy just as many games as that dedicated group of 13 – 26 year old males.
For every publisher helt meeting at work, my soul shrivels up just a little bit more. I’m not part of the audience for the games I myself am making, nor do I really belong in a team made up of mostly men. Everything about the games business screams “get out!” to me. I guess it’s a package deal. Marketing tells me I don’t belong. The games tell me – with a few notable exceptions – that I don’t belong. Everyday sexisms and ignorant questions and comments that I get every day tell me that I am other. I just don’t belong. It is exhausting making games. And it is even more exhausting making games in an environment that by all outward appearances doesn’t want me there.
That’s why I find the support of my colleagues so very encouraging and heartening. Hidden beneath the surface of chauvinism there beats the hearts of decent men. There’s just this societal crust covering all and everything suppressing people and keeping them from speaking their minds. Unless their views tally nicely with the current norm. And this – I think – goes for everyone. It isn’t easy to speak up, not for me either. This text has been lying around for a few days now, waiting for me to pick up the courage and pour the bitterness out.
I feel like despairing and jumping for joy at the same time. Mostly though, I feel like playing a game where I am included, and not just an afterthought. Most of all I feel like it would be wonderful to be contacted, for once, not because of my femaleness in a male world but because I actually know something. Because I am an expert in my field. I may very well not be, but it would still be nice.
It would be a wonderful thing if every day wasn’t a struggle in some way. It would be wonderful if I could find a single safe haven somewhere where the everyday chauvinism couldn’t reach me to undermine my self esteem and sense of self worth. Where I didn’t have to fight.