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Disclaimer: I was a key creative in what is often considered one of the more “dudebro” franchises out there, Gears of War. I’d also like to remind everyone out there that I went out of my way in working with our team, the writers, and Epic’s artists to make sure that female characters are represented well in that franchise. By the time we got around to Gears 3 the female soldiers were kicking butt right alongside the men in outfits that weren’t drastically different than the men’s, and with a restrained depiction of hair and makeup. (I was just tired of seeing stripper looking female game characters after all of those years…ironic, considering how exaggerated the men were.)
(I’m also not the best person to post about misogyny on the internet as I’ll be the first one to post a sexy picture of my wife or give young boys tips on how to flirt with girls.)
However, I can’t let this one slip, because there’s a deeper cancer plaguing our business.
Let’s talk about Anita Sarkeesian.
The “Tropes Vs. Women” controversy caught my attention when I noticed, right on Anita’s main Kickstarter image for her campaign, that there was Anya, front and center. I was surprised and a bit confused by this. As I mentioned above, she wasn’t an object to “win” in the Gears franchise. She was far from helpless as the franchise matured. Even then the franchise was famous or characters such as fan favorite Bernie, who was an older woman who kicked plenty of enemy butt as well.
Once her first video launched, I found it to be smart, informative, and well put together. She clearly knows what she’s doing and, even if you knew a lot of the information she was sharing it’s worth watching for the nostalgia of how comedic the repetitive nature the business has been with the Damsel in Distress motif. After watching the video I went to my Twitter feed to see what the fuss was about … were there really people out there who were still so very angry at what this woman was doing?
As it turns out, yes, there were. I heard a variety of responses. Before we dive into some of the thinking behind them, let’s look at some of the Kickstarter numbers and break it down a bit.
Anita was asking for 6000$ for her campaign. News hit the internet of the campaign, and the Taliban of videogaming responded in droves. Who was this…this…woman who wanted to analyze women in video games? How dare she! An army of bold (and, naturally, largely anonymous) men…no, wait, boys, because even adult males that acted in this manner are boys – proceeded to give her a digital stoning. We saw a public display that mirrored the worst of what the anonymous internet male culture has to offer. That young guy who assumes that a girl playing an online game is fat, ugly or slutty now had a CAUSE to rally behind!
And then a funny thing happened. Anita shared some of the heinous virtual abuse – bullying, in fact – on her website and people rallied behind her to the tune of over 150K. Folks who responded to my Twitter query were enraged by this fact! How dare she ask for money and then get … well, a whole lot more money! One guy even made a flash game where you can beat her up. How much of a bored, hateful loser must you be to even consider doing something like that?!
I’d like to take this moment and remind everyone out there that my good friends at Doublefine, not so long ago, also killed it on Kickstarter. After asking for 400K on Kickstarter they wound up with a final tally of 3.3m. Now, I read the Kickstarter page about campaigns that succeed and I didn’t find a single line about doing too well at Kickstarter. As far as I can tell, if you put up a campaign where you ask for 500 bucks to artistically photograph your ham sandwich and it becomes a thing online you’re welcome to do whatever you need to with the difference as long as you fulfill your promises to each backer.
So let me get this straight. Doublefine can win Kickstarter but a woman who wants to analyze the treatment of her gender in our business is somehow…exempt from this?
What color is the sky in the world you trolls live in?
I’m assuming you can do a decent web series for a pretty low amount of money. $6,000 sounds like a healthy budget, even maybe a bit much for what the Anonymous Internet Boy Taliban thought was needed for the videos. Here’s the thing, though, boys. It’s not your call on how much the series should cost, or how much she should be allowed to make on Kickstarter. (The Boys were so enraged by this as they believed she “scammed” money out of people. One man’s “scammed” is another’s “shut up and take my money.”)
You know, maybe people were just happy to donate money to a project that should see the light of day because of irrational immature male fear on the internet. It’s called voting with your dollars.
So let’s assume that Anita fulfills the promises to all of her backers and is then left with $144,000.00. I’m gathering this project is a self employed gig, so she most likely has to pay self employment tax. Fulfilling everything to the donors also costs money. When you earn that amount of money you are also in a higher tax bracket and you make more, you pay more. I’m not an accountant, but I’d estimate that when all is said and done and this project takes her a year then she might actually be able to pay herself a (gasp) good salary for her year’s work.
How dare she!
Heaven forbid a woman actually take a magnifying glass to our beloved hobby and actually try to unravel and figure out why things are the way they are in the effort that somehow she might change things? Why aren’t there more female protagonists? Are you protecting Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider or are you empowering her? And god dammit, where’s my Buffy game?
Shame on all of you.
My wife and I had dinner with the always amazing Warren Spector and his brilliant (and sharp tongued) wife Caroline last night and this very subject came up. Caroline was rather eager to speak up about it. We went back and forth on the subject and, I’m paraphrasing, but the takeaway that she said to me (and I’m sure she’ll do a great talk or article about it) is that we’re not supposed to be this crowd.
We’re the gamers, the dorks. We’re the ones who were on our computers during prom. We’re the ones that were in the back of the lunch room who were playing D&D instead of tossing a football around on the quad. We were supposed to be the open, friendly ones, the ones who welcomed all into our wonderful geeky circle.
We’re not supposed to be a mob that’s storming the gates with our pitchforks and torches.
We’re not the bullies. And that’s what happened to Anita.
Recently at the DICE summit in Las Vegas David Cage called on the industry to “grow up.” In some ways, David, I agree… we can do better in many, many areas. We can make more mature and engaging plot lines and explore unique game mechanics beyond sawing someone in half. The reason we haven’t? It’s because it’s fucking hard and we’re looking at an industry that is ever more risk averse as more and more money is needed to craft product.
However if we’re going to grow up as an industry we’re going to need the consumer to grow up a bit as well. The latent racism, homophobia, and misogyny online are black marks on an otherwise great hobby. Anonymity is the gasoline on the fire of hate that flares up on forums, chat rooms, and Xbox Live on daily basis.
Why are there so many shooters? Because it’s easy to make a trace in code to see if you virtually “tagged” someone. Why were there so many princesses in need of rescue? Because it was easy, and for many years we didn’t have the tools or desire to try something else. Why did Mario have a moustache originally? Because they didn’t have the graphical fidelity to depict much more. The purpose of research is to encourage rational thought in areas where there may have not been much before. If, by watching Anita’s videos I, as a developer, can reconsider how I depict women in any future product of mine then her work may very well be worth it.
And maybe, as a result of this, years later we may see more and more girls who are comfortable playing games, online or off, or going to a conference …or joining the industry in a professional manner.
This is where change sometimes starts, merely by asking “Why?”
"The purpose of research is to encourage rational thought in areas where there may have not been much before. If, by watching Anita’s videos I, as a developer, can reconsider how I depict women in any future product of mine then her work may very well be worth it.
And maybe, as a result of this, years later we may see more and more girls who are comfortable playing games, online or off, or going to a conference …or joining the industry in a professional manner.”
Quoting this part again, because this is exactly why what Anita Sarkeesian is doing is important. She doesn’t even have to be right about most of it (though she’s pretty spot on a lot of the time), she just has to help us in the industry look at the issue and think about it critically, more than we have been. We’re not taking your games away. We’re learning to make better games for a broader audience.
I wrote this in reply to a friend’s email about the ongoing games journalism conversation which is just the veneer of a campaign of hate against a woman who made a videogame. I was happy with it so here it is for everyone else. Ultimately I’m discussing the weird conundrum we’re in where we have to acknowledge that, yes, there are criticisms to be made of games journalism but these people and their abusive campaign are that problem. Sorry I’m still writing about this.
The whole thing is such a mess. Yes, there are problems with games journalism that can be summed up with the fact that games journalism is just, by and large, consumerist writing that acts as a semi-autonomous arm of gaming PR, nurturing a certain audience for certain games. What all these people who are part of the attack on women who make games don’t seem to understand is that they are exactly the status quo that is fostered and served by games journalism and its problems. The good parts of games journalism (the critiques of the industry, the coverage of non-commercial games, writing on gender and race and the such) are a sign of games journalism getting better, but, to these people, it is their privileged position being brought down a notch so all they see is conspiracies, helped along by famous youtubers who, despite being even more status-quo than mainstream games journalism, somehow get to be the ‘alternative’. Like the Tea Party getting to look like a real alternative to the Republican Party or something.There are criticisms to be made of mainstream games journalism that are synonymous with the ones these people are making, but they are about press being flown across the world and put up in fancy hotels to go to Ubisoft press events. They are not about a single indie developer maybe sleeping with a journalist who didn’t even write a review of her free game. But these people wouldn’t dare go after a triple-a game because those are exactly the games they want to play. They want the status-quo.The lack of coverage isn’t because everyone knows each other. It’s because mainstream games journalism, as loathe as it is to admit it, is primarily propped by this mainstream ‘gamer’ audience that it nurtures. Their main readership is the exact type of self-important gamer douchebag that needs to see conspiracies in games journalism. These trolls are scared of the games journalism boat being rocked, and the games journalism editors are afraid of rocking that boat. So instead of adamantly written editorials decrying the harassment, we get silence and a “oh this is sad” on twitter.I am pretty confident in saying that nepotism has nothing to do with what is currently going on. Yes, there are a lot of friends, but indies don’t get famous because they have friends who are games journalists. They have friends who are games journalists because they made really good games (or, at least, really good games within a certain, sellable-to-that-nurtured-gamer-readership slither of what can be a ‘good’ indie game). The people who are angry about Zoe Quinn are angry, primarily, because they come from such a narrow-sighed slither of ‘gamers’ that they can’t even comprehendhow Depression Quest might be a good game. They can’t figure it out. Like, it doesn’t even have graphics! Therefore there must be a conspiracy.So the problem with journalism here is the fear of rocking the boat when the whole thing needs to be capsized and the rats drowned. The thing is those decrying games journalism at the moment don’t realise they are the rats.
That this shit happens, specifically threats of all kinds and harassment of women in the game industry — that this happens and keeps happening over and over and over again, on every scale… this is why I speak out. It’s why I share links, it’s why I re-blog posts, it’s why I’m on social media.
It’s why I go to conventions and speak on panels about being a woman in the industry. (And about writing, and about games in general, and a host of other things too.)
It’s why I’m a feminist. It’s why I try to be an intersectional feminist, as best as I can.
It’s why I reach out to women wanting to be in the industry.
It’s why I mentor — both as a volunteer for Pixelles Montreal, and in general, whenever I can.
It’s why whenever our office has a Q&A with kids, teenagers & students at work, I volunteer.
It’s why I answer emails from strangers, it’s why I respond on LinkedIn whenever I have the chance, it’s why I take DMs on Twitter and try do do more.
It’s why I wish I had more time, more spoons, more energy. It’s why I wish I could answer all the correspondence and questions I get, via every social media I’m on. It’s why I hate that I can’t.
It’s why I wish I had more answers.
It’s why whenever someone snarks “well, I’m busy actually making games” and is condescending about women who talk on panels, who talk about feminism, I want to set things on fucking fire.
Being a woman and visible in the game industry, on social media, fucking hell in ANY industry, is tantamount to painting a target on your back.
Whether you’re perfect or not, whether your behavior is without reproach or not is irrelevant. Because the threats, the harassment, it’s just about you being a woman.
Talking while being a woman in the game industry is dangerous. You never know when someone will take a potshot at you, you never know what level of abuse is around the corner. You never know who will target you, or your friends, or your family. And that’s without even considering intersectionality and everything that comes with along with that.
Speaking out, being visible, it’s not for everyone. I don’t judge those who prefer not to be visible, are you kidding me? Holy shit do I ever understand!
But I will do nothing less but offer my full support to those who go out there and risk themselves, every day, doing so. I will do nothing less than have the back of other women in the industry, whatever job they may have.
You are one of mine. I will listen to you, I will answer your questions, I will support you, I will mentor you, I will be there.
I will do nothing less.
For those who aren’t a fan of this once-amazing series, The Walking Dead Game has always been lauded for its character diversity (with a wide range of different nationalities and racial backgrounds represented, well-written female characters and characters of all ages and body types featured prominently throughout the game).
In Season 2 we encountered Sarah, a Hispanic 15-year-old girl who is neurodivergent and has trouble coping with the horrors of the new world around her.
Now of course, being a female character and being disabled, she was immediately despised by the majority of the fandom. Slurs were tossed around, people frequently referred to her as “a liability”, and there were frequent posts made on Telltale’s forums, Facebook, Youtube, and elsewhere wishing her dead and hoping for a chance to kill her. This was nothing new - we had seen much of this before, with other female characters in the franchise. However, the ableism was rampant, and people would write essays about how she was “bringing the group down” and why her death would be a “good” thing for the other characters.
(spoilers) Her death came after the player was told several times by a pragmatic character that Sarah was dragging the group down, that she was a weakness, and that she “clearly” didn’t want to live (despite the fact that she screams and cries for help the entire time she’s being eaten). Instead of subverting that character’s pragmatism and showing that people with disabilities can still survive an apocalypse, she is killed even if the player chooses to save her (in a horrible manner, where she is partially crushed under a fallen balcony and then devoured alive by walkers as she screams for help). Her death served to further the already-prevalent fandom belief that disabled people are unnecessary weights holding survivors back, and makes total apocalyptic pragmatism look like a justified belief.
Of course, that made us (Sarah fans) angry and upset, especially considering many of us are ourselves neurodivergent (and several autistic teenage fans headcanoned her as being autistic) and the belief that characters like us are just liabilities is extremely hurtful. But that’s not what’s spurring me to make this post today.
So, here’s a thought:
The types of fandom that are most often considered traditional and acceptable, and which are often either male-dominated or coded as masculine, tend to be acquisitive, whether in terms of knowledge (obscure trivia) or merchandise (collectibles). Whereas, by contrast, the types of fandom most often considered insincere, non-serious or “unreal”, and which are often either female-dominated or coded as feminine, tend to be creative, such as making costumes, writing fanfic and drawing fanart.
Which is arguably an interesting expression of gender dynamics within fandom, in the sense of being a direct response to gender representation within the canon of particular franchises: namely, that because men, and particularly straight white cismen, are so ubiquitous within popular narrative(s), they have less need to create personal fan interpretations in order to see themselves represented, or to correct/ameliorate stereotypical portrayals; whereas women - and, indeed, members of any other group likely to suffer from poor representation - do.
Which isn’t to say that it’s impossible to be both an acquisitive and a creative fan - not by any stretch of the imagination. Nor am I trying to say that the only reason someone might be an acquisitive fan is because they’re complacent about issues of bias and representation, or that the only reason someone might be a creative fan is because they want to address an issue in the canon. Some people like to collect, some like to make, and some like both, or neither. It’s fine! But I do think that, when it comes to conversations about Fake Geek Girls and what being a “real fan” means - conversations which tend to be strongly gendered - the split between acquisition/creation tends to follow gender lines, too: that guys who know All The Facts and buy All The Merch are the REAL fans, whereas girls who just dress up and tell silly headcanon stories aren’t, and that maybe, there’s an interesting reason for why this might be.
[bolded for emphasis]
This is interesting. Especially because an extrapolation from that is that the ‘orthodox’, ‘traditional’ mode of interacting with a work - knowing, staying close to the first interpretation, valuing the refusal to budge from those first interpretations over being inclusive and fluid - is therefore masculine-coded, but it’s feminine-coded to be canonically fluid, intensely metacritical, artistically motivated, and to encourage creative deconstruction and reconstruction.
Which is probably a sliver of the backlash that grows into the Fake Geek Girl conversation - that people think the ‘text’ of their fandom ‘faith’ shouldn’t be tampered with or recontextualized, whereas other people insist that it has to evolve to meet the needs of the people who it serves?
I’m not sure how it accommodates for works like Welcome to Night Vale (a really good place, I think to discuss fandoms and their interactions with media), where the literalism of its canon is the establishment that blanks are required to be filled in by the audience. Fan-created artwork of any type, arguably, is as valuable a ‘history’ of Night Vale as Cecil’s radio show, because so many details are up in the air anyway, and have to be informed by the information you do still have (e.g. nothing says Cecil can’t be a blob, so what would it mean if he were a blob?).
This is absolutely fascinating to me now, and will surely make up a large part of actual notes I have about what I can now call ‘exegetical fandom theory’ and how people interact with and alter media.
The IeSF, or International e-Sports Federation, is a global organisation based in South Korea that is comprised of e-sports associations from across the world. Their stated aim is to promote e-sports as a “true sport”. The IeSF’s sixth World Championship will take place this November, in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Here’s the tournament list, from the organisation’s Facebook…
seeing the things people send you makes me worry about starting to make my own games. i'm weird too and i'm afraid that i'll be treated bad. what should i do?
Look. I’ve barely gotten any decent sleep since getting back in Boston so I might be a little aggro and cuss-heavy on this but I feel like I get this enough that I need to be.
Don’t let assholes stop you from doing what you love, if at all possible. Being weird is one more reason we need you here if you’re feeling up to it. Everyone is weird, come be weird with those of us who won’t treat you like shit for it.
If we’re not made to feel welcome in any “scene” because their image of what it is and what it can be and what a game designer looks like is so fragile that it can’t handle us, then we can make our own scene. People who resist change and new ideas and acceptance of growth and people who aren’t like them are standing on melting ice. We can throw better parties.
It’s sincerely fucked up to me that some asshole who has nothing better to do than to do the internet equivalent of shouting insults from car windows at passerbys could potentially keep someone from something that could change their life for the better as much as learning how to make games and program has changed mine. You know who doesn’t leave bullshit messages like the ones I get?
Anyone with anything interesting to do.
I wouldn’t ask anyone to take on this kind of work if they legit think that this kind of thing would destroy them - but I do want you to know that you would not be unsupported. I thrive because of other developers who commiserate with me and share their own struggles, and there’s no shortage of them from any background you can imagine. And think of it this way - if you’ve seen the (frankly small sliver of) hate that I get that I let the public see, then you know how toxic people can get. I’ve been very frank and upfront about how it’s impacted my life. But you also know another key part of it, the most important part of it.
I’m still here. I still love what I do. And the messages barely touch me anymore. I eat hatred and shit bad jokes in response on the days I can, and on the days I can’t I’m getting better at transmuting it into working on the projects that piss them off so much. Sometimes out of spite, sometimes out of feeling like I have something to prove, and sometimes out of needing to balance out the bile with love. The days I drink to deal with it are getting fewer and fewer, and I’m destroying myself over it a lot less these days - partially because my work and those who I work with rely on me, and I want to honor that in the ways they should be. It can get better.
None of them have scared me off, and they’re not going to. And while I still have a voice that’s worth anything at all in this industry, I will try and use it to help other people find theirs as well. You have my sword. Any of you reading this right now do. I mean to pay forward all the same support that’s been given me, ideally with at least a x2 modifier on it. And I’m far from the only person who feels that way.
Don’t feel the need to change yourself. Don’t be scared away outright. Don’t stop being you because some asshole can’t handle how rad you are. Don’t even heed any of this if it’s not good advice for you in particular. But if you do decide to walk this path, it doesn’t have to be alone, and it doesn’t have to be while bending to anyone’s will.
If you feel like joining us, we can do this together. No one has to be alone. And even the worst of shit gets easier in time.
It’s our medium too god damnit. Games are for everyone.
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