The Gaming Industry, just like other Tech Industries, is dominated by males. There are more men in total and more men in managing positions. There are even more male customers for games. So yeah it is a pretty male-dominant world I work in.
Working in the gaming industry for four years (more if you count in my voluntary work before) and being a member of the “gaming community” for some more years, I’ve seen things changing in the gaming industry, and could compare to changes outside the industry as well.
And yes, there were changes. In the games themselves unfortunately the change was to have more and more overly sexualized female characters. And in the industry behind? More women started to work in this industry, same as in other tech industries. However the approach to female co-workers didn’t change.
A little side note before I actually start: this may not apply to all gaming companies and I’d be more than happy to hear other female colleagues shouting out positive examples of a gender neutral work atmosphere in a gaming company.
Here is my personal Top 10 List of “Why it sucks to be female in the gaming industry.”
10. “Do you play Games”?
It’s funny how often I overheard colleagues being asked “Which Games do you play?”. As a female when someone asks me, the question is “Do you play games” rather than which Games I play.
No, I don’t play games. I work in Gaming because the industry pays so good. D’oh,
It might be something that is not “such a big deal” but after a while it started pissing me off. For the record: I do play Games. I fucking love Games. I started with playing Lemmings, played Indiana Jones, same as Gothic or American McGee’s Alice etc. to end up with mostly Roleplaying Games (Single and MMO) and League of Legends. And no, my favorite Games are not Flyff and Candy Crush. Just a side note, I don’t even consider the last one to be a real game, but that is another story and shall be told another time.
9. “So in which department do you work, Marketing or something?”
While for me in particular it is true that I work (better: worked) in one of the “femalish” sectors of the Gaming Industry, Community Management, I do know many female colleagues for whom this isn’t true. There are Producers and Project Managers, Game Designers and Database Analysts who are female, and in all other fields related to this industry there are women who do these jobs and do them great.
As with the “Do you play Games?” It’s not the question itself that bothers me, it’s the fact that when addressed to a male the phrasing is more like “So in which department do you work, IT?”
8. “This will work fine for a female audience.”
I’m aware that this isn’t naturally specific for the Gaming industry, but when it comes to Marketing plans, they often try to tackle down those funny target groups they learned about in business schools. These target groups are often divided by demographics and most often gender has a high rank in those. I participated in a couple of meetings where guys (usually I was the only female or we were the minority) sat together wondering if cute baby dragons could be emphasised more in the advertisements, because they are more likely to attract female players. And I sat there, simply stunned by the stupidity of these discussions. A Game that is not about cute little baby dragons should not emphasise them in ads. A Game that is about cute little baby dragons does not necessarily has a more female audience.
When I, as a female look for a game to play I look for: challenging gameplay. Surprise! I don’t care about your great graphics, I don’t care if you have cute little baby dragons. If your game fails about the most important part of games: fun, disport and challenge, you failed to win me as a customer.
I’ve never met a gamer (definitions about what a gamer is may vary but I’m talking about both, male and female) who said “I kept playing the game because of little cute baby dragons”, and I’ve never met a gamer who said “I’ve started playing the game because of that trailer showing cute little baby dragons and I sticked to it because I still liked it when I noticed the cute little baby dragons actually appear in only one cut scene.”
This is just as annoying as these games trying to attract male players with nude (or nude-armored) female characters. One time, I even saw a strategy browser game, advertising with a nearly naked (nipples were hidden and the place where her vagina must be was… let’s say answering the question about whether she would shave her pubes or not). It’s vile to assume that women will find anything attractive that has a baby face and men like everything that has tits. It reduces both, men and women alike to basic animal instincts and hetero stereotypes.
The gaming industry that has marketing focusing on that instead of the product has, from my point of view, failed their customers (and potential customers).
7. “May I help you with that?”
I don’t mind if someone kindly offers me his/her help for something. I do mind if I get offered help for tech stuff (like installing a program on my working PC) while male colleagues are not getting offered the same help. I’ve even seen E-Mails like “if one of the ladies needs help setting this up…”. Especially in the gaming industry I’d assume that every employee does know how to do the basic stuff on a PC, smart phone, whatsoever main device of the games the company works on. Apparently I’m wrong. It’s only men who know such things. Women need help, just like those princesses in their castles, that never managed to get out on their own.
An offer for help should not be gender related, unless the topic that help is needed for is gender specific. And no, being able to install software isn’t. Asking for a tampon is.
6. “You’re cool.”
While there are plenty of discriminating colleagues, this also includes some who positively discriminate. Being told that it is cool to work in the Gaming industry as a woman is not cool. And no, I don’t want to be considered especially cool, especially different from “normal” women, etc. For women it should be normal, natural and just as cool as for any man to work in gaming.
5. “It’s natural you don’t like shooters. You are a girl.”
When human resources are distributed to game projects there are often gender stereotypes determining who gets on which project. Casual, Simulation, Roleplay? Female colleagues. Adventure, Strategy, Shooter, Horror, Racer? Male colleagues. When you ask why, you get the answer (with which I agree) that you should like the project you work on and would like to play it yourself. Just that it is considered that, as a woman, you don’t like shooters. Or (I even came across this) that you would not be able to understand the mostly male audience.
4. “Just make sure she does not break anything.”
That was the statement of a manager to the colleague showing me the working tools right after I’ve started into a new job. I’ve just gotten access to the admin tools for the games I’d work on and he said that. Similar to “May I help you with that?” this is again assuming that women are somehow incapable of working with technology. Plus, when that statement was made, I already had some experience in the industry. I was not new to it. I worked with various tools before.
This was not only offensive against women, it also was a serious management fail (no manager should say something like that about a new employee to the employee who is supposed to train the new one). It does not even matter if he was kidding or not.
3. The “Babes”
Who ever visited a gaming convention saw them: young women in shorts and (belly free) shirts or barely covering anything game costumes, with their tits pressed up to their chins, smiling into the cameras no matter who touches them. I can tell you that it is not funny to be at a convention for the exhibitors. It’s hard work. People sweat. It’s loud. It smells like human crowd salad. These women stand there in their high heels, being watched at, being photographed and filmed, being touched, even at their butts and boobs. They are used at other fairs as well, just not in costumes and in gaming almost every exhibitor has “babes”. Click here for a Top 5 ranking of the “hottest Babes at the E3 2013”, if you need this illustrated.
It’s the old “sex sells” thinking, but there is more to it.
Gaming conventions attract young people and even if there is an age restriction to certain game areas, the babes run around everywhere. At the GamesCom e.g. there are kids as young as 12 running around alone, being confronted with these women. They’ll see women that don’t say anything when being touched by various (most of the time male) people. Women that smile when a sweaty guy puts his hand on their asses. Women that seem to come from another world, with all these fantasy costumes, but still having their boobs and legs and hips exposed as if this would be normal in any world. They see fiction coming true. Children of that age are not able to get the abstract idea that these are real women that play being fantasy creatures or fiction characters, which are based on the idea of someone in the real world. To a child, these are real people, just dressed up as something from a game. If they don’t know the reference it may even be worse.
Unfortunately this is the image of women that is wide-spread amongst the gaming community. There are like “the nerd girls”, women that are considered unattractive but who can be teammates, who may even compete with men. And there are “the babes”, women that are attractive, but are not of use in an actual game.
This image that is born in games, carried into the gaming community is also establishing a “sexy” OR “intelligent” view on women in the industry. There are the “coworkers” who are often not seen as women, but rather “one of the guys” and there are the “hotties” that managed to work in the industry somehow, but most likely because of titty bonus or because they work in the “women fields” like HR, Marketing, Accounting (but not in leading positions).
2. “Men like it that way”
When raising concerns about sexualized female bodies in advertisement or merchandise, about descriptions of violence against women that are unnecessary cruel or detailed, you often get cut off with “men like it that way.” or “It’s okay, our male audience will like it”. When you are starting to discuss it, you get told that it is not the time to start a debate about principles. Or that you interpret too much into it. Or that you’re hysterical. Or that you can stop working on the project if you feel uncomfortable with how it is done.
1. “How does a beautiful girl like you happen to work in gaming?”
Yes, I was asked that exact question by a (male) colleague. And I repeatedly heard similar questions.
It is so wrong in so many ways, that I don’t even know where to start. Can’t I work in gaming because I’m female? Because I’m beautiful? Is “girl” assuming that I’m rather young? Does it confuse you that I’m working at all? Can I punch you in the face?
Thanks to Giraffe for the Brainstorming assistance.