In the last three months I have read three books. The reason it has taken me this long to read three books is because they’re about games, and therefore not about me. I will explain this as I go along, but the basis of it all is that I am a woman. In game design literature – game development literature – or rather the literature I have read – as a woman, I don’t exist. Not existing, not being validated, reduces my motivation. I’ll even quote one of the boring books:
While they may matter to us, we simply don’t matter to them.
– Scott Rigby, Richard M. Ryan – Glued to Games
It may not be explicitly stated that as a woman, I don’t matter to these people, but it is everywhere. The quotes about games are all from men. The player defaults to a “he”, always and consistently, unless the writer is a woman, in which case it is a toss up.
It is totally shameless. “We did research on 20 year old men”. That research is then used as a basis for a theory about gamers and games. Player motivation is based on the ability to feel heroic, you say? And identifying with the hero? Feeling represente? Alright, I buy it. I don’t feel represented, because all the games you use, all the movie heroes you lift are all men.
These books keep telling me that in order to feel like I’m a part of something, I should probably be a man, or present as a man. A white man. The examples become even more poignant when all the negative aspects seem to be the only time women are involved. “This game was bad and made by a woman”. “This situation was annoying and caused by a woman”.
It isn’t obvious, though. I think that to a certain extent, the fact that I’ve studied literature and feminism and read a bunch of (not boring) books about queer readings and literary criticism and tools to pick literature apart, is prompting me to see all this.
It is, in a way, like negative space. Sometimes, to draw a complex or more complete image, look at what isn’t there to form an accurate picture. It is literally what I’m doing. Reading between the lines. Seeing all of us who are not a part of the picture and the inaccuracies that follow if those spaces aren’t noticed or seen.
These books tell half a story, and by doing that they also tell a different story. A story about exclusion.
How can we trust half a story? Considering how many people are left out, maybe barely a third or a fourth of a story? How do we trust that information to be real?
The answer is of course that we shouldn’t. What is represented is not necessarily the truth. It is skewed and warped like a funhouse mirrir, so that the entire reflection we see is that of a white, heterosexual, Western, cis-man.
We’re trying so hard to straighten out the mirrors, flattening them, letting other reflections through. It takes time, and the mirrors resist us.
Everything we design tells a story. Everything we neglect to design also tells a story. In the case of game development books, not a very flattering one.
In many cases, both in game design and in other areas of design, it tells a story of neglect, of ignorance, of entitlement. When people who have any kind of power over our lives choose not to see us, that is neglect. I remember speaking to a male research assistant, way back, asking about the research done on how violent games affect us. He said “we only do research on boys. Girls are too hormonal.” In the same way, the research from a company called Immersyve, when we hired them at the company I worked for, said they only did research on men, because “women don’t play games”. This is a company that provides services to the industry professionally. They only did research on men at the time. This kind of thinking is irresponsible, and it leads to the funhouse mirror.
Each game makes creative choices that, whether intended or accidental, impact the player experience.
– Scott Rigby, Richard M. Ryan – Glued to Games
For some, the reflection in the mirror is so string that anything outside of it fades away and they can write books about rhetoric and motivation without seeing the negative space, the place where the rest of us dwell. Talking about needs satisfaction, in the way Glued to Games does, without actually clarifying that the needs described are valid not only for the people in the mirror but those of us who remain unseen is kind of brazen if you ask me. We also want to be seen, but we are not. We also want to matter, but we do not. Our needs are not met. Only the needs of the reflection in the mirror. The massive entitlement that comes from ignoring two thirds, maybe even three fourths of a potential audience is mindboggling and yet, it is done. And it is done without reflecting on the impact the lack of design and thought and research has on those of us who live in the negative spaces.
We exist, but the world wants the funhouse mirror. We should be and remain invisible.