Video games and sexism: How women are using twitter to speak up
Here's a fun fact: The Entertainment Software Association reported in 2012 that 47 percent of all people who identify as gamers are female. That means nearly half of the industry's 25 billion dollars comes from someone's mom, sister, girlfriend, wife, or daughter. But when it comes to the game development community, that percentage is severely under represented.
So why are there so few "lady creators?" That's how developer Luke Crane worded it on Twitter on Nov. 26, 2012. Writer for Machine Age Productions, Filamena Young responded to Crane with the hashtag #1reasonwhy. Neither of them could have known it at the time, but that initial exchange fired up waves of tweets from women in the game industry, speaking up and sharing their stories of sexism in the game industry. All had the hashtag #1reasonwhy in response to Crane's question. The tweets told stories that ranged from embarrassingly dumb behavior to the actively bigoted to profoundly disgusting.
Rhianna Pratchett, story writer for the upcoming Tomb Raider game tweeted "#1reasonwhy because creating appropriately dressed female characters is viewed as a rarity, rather than the norm." (@rhipratchett, Nov. 27, 2012.)
Kim Swift, one of the key minds behind Valve Software's hit puzzle game Portal tweeted "Because I get mistaken for the receptionist or day-hire marketing at trade shows #1reasonwhy." (@K2theSwift, Nov. 27, 2012)
Leigh Alexander, a writer for Gamasutra.com, one of the industry's most highly regarded outlets, wrote "#1reasonwhy because even freelance I produce as much industry content as some entire websites, and I'm still 'that feminist writer." (@LeighAlexander, Nov. 27, 2012)
Ashley Burch is the star of her own internet video game themed comedy series "Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'." She wrote "because I am confronted with rape or violence in the comments section of Hey Ash videos #1reasonwhy ." (@heyashwp, Nov. 27, 2012)
Searching the #1reasonwhy hashtag on Twitter will reveal hundreds of similar accounts: Women getting hit on at trade shows, having ideas turned down in meetings for fear of scaring off the "core demographic," even incidents of sexual harassment. It's no secret that gaming has been viewed as a boy's club for as long as it has been around. The industry has allowed certain trends and practices that would make many women uncomfortable. Many game companies use "booth babes" to attract attention at trade shows. Marketers portray games as testosterone fueled power fantasies. Female characters are often depicted the damsel in distress or super sexualized eye-candy.
There are those who actively deny any sexism present in the industry and even go as far as to mock the women (and men) who try to speak up about it. Looking at some of the responses to women speaking up was enough to explain why the issue continues to be kept quiet. Searching #1reasonwhy brings up some of these individuals alongside the stories:
"If you support #1reasonwhy then you are telling the male gaming populace that they are rapists."(@MundaneMatt, Nov. 30th, 2012)
"#1reasonwhy You're all crazy aren't you? Just DONT GIVE A ****, jeez stupid women." (@AndrewVareikis, Nov.27, 2012)
There are plenty more where that came from. These severely misguided men make up a small percentage of the gaming population. But the problem is not the numbers they possess, but how strong a voice they have. And even worse is that these men are catered to in the sense that game companies primarily market to male demographics. It's this sort of culture that discourages female participation. It's ridiculous that females who work in the industry need to address issues of equality in 2012. It's sad when female gamers feel they have to avoid using microphones in multiplayer games in fear of being called slut or bitch. It's nonsense that a female who like video games more often than not will be referred to as a "girl gamer" instead of just "gamer."
That's why the #1reasonwhy hashtag is such a big deal. It allows victims of sexist behavior in the games industry to let others finally be aware of this silent issue. But infinitely more important is that it lets women who feel oppressed know that they are not alone and that their voices combined can ring louder than that of the oppressive vocal minority. Action must also take place from the males of the industry, whether creators or enjoyers of games. Speaking up against sexist activity will let women inside and outside the gaming culture know that this sort of behavior will not be accepted anymore.
So take this not as a message of the poor state of affairs in games, please. Take this as a rallying call to join in on the conversation and to speak up and to discourage such gross immaturity from being so prevalent. Let the world know that when it comes to sexism, the games industry isn't playing around anymore.
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