Sexism is dead. No, not really. It was swept under the rug and buried. Whether it was covered in fear of repercussions or simply because the behavior was considered “acceptable,” it is still here and resides in what I used to consider a free-thinking industry: video games.
In response to a tweet from Kickstarter’s Luke Crane, “Why are there so few lady game creators,” Twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy lists various answers as to why females in the video game industry seem so rare. When I delayed a League of Legends match with my friends to read about the uprising against video game industry sexism, I expected something similar to EA Games’ harsh treatment of their employees during crunch time.
The stories and reasons I read appalled me. According to Twitter user @SweetPavement, one reason is “Because if I succeed, I’m exceptional. And if I fail, I’m proof that women shouldn’t be in the industry.”
Some female developers may not even make it into the industry. Tweeter @GabrielleKent recalls a time she “Once heard an Art manager say, ‘We don’t need any more women, they’re more trouble than they’re worth,’ as he viewed applications.”
Even if a developer becomes successful, if she is female, tweeter @reynoldsphobia’s observation still stands — “Because you can’t just be a ‘game developer.’ No, you will always be a ‘female game developer.’”
Sadly, if a male tries to address the issue, they often face similar abuse, according to tweeter @ZachBrosz, who says, “Because just for sticking up for female gamers, I’m seen as a ‘traitor’ to the male gaming society. That or a white knight.”
Although “trolling” responses, for the sake of inciting conflict, populate the #1reasonwhy hashtag, at times it is hard to tell the difference between trolls and individuals who actually believe in what they tweeted.
Some responses on #1reasonwhy suggested the problem is not very serious and even claim that the hashtag makes things worse by promoting passivity. Some tweeters “jokingly” suggested that most of the women were actually men trying to impress a handful of women, no doubt inspired by the outdated phrase, “There are no women on the internet.”
One of the more disturbing comments stated, “I look at #1ReasonWhy and I laugh at all the feminists who think they matter. If you were good in your field, you wouldn’t be misrepresented.”
Oddly enough, this came from a supposed “game creator in the making.” Yet many of the negative tweets come from people who are not even in the gaming industry.
These responses did not surprise me. Compared to my own experiences and observations with some video game communities and the internet in general, these female developers deal with internet misogyny on a magnified scale. Many female developers are also gamers, which means that unfortunately in both the gamer community and their workplace, they face sexism.
Some, like blogger Cuppycake on The Border House Blog, deal with the most ridiculous harassment. Cuppycake’s experience in the game industry has been less than positive. She persevered despite the sexism she experienced. However, at a certain point she could no longer cope.
According to her blog post “My More-Than-#1ReasonWhy,” a massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming forum banded up against Cuppycake when an unspecified company hired her. Probably in disbelief of her competence, the MMO forum community attacked her for being female, claiming that she slept around to climb her way to her job.
One of her friends leaked photos of her to the angry internet mob. The mob boycotted any games she worked on and left threats through voicemails and posts. The company did not even remove her account when she asked, and left it up while she herself was banned. Any attempts to log in were met with accusations of being “an attention-seeking slut.”
While Cuppycake’s case bordered on the extreme, there are many small microaggressions that exist at the video game consumer/player level.
Choosing to be a team-supporting character that thrives behind the frontlines in an MMO marks someone as feminine. If someone asks about the identity of the player, if the player is female, somehow that “makes sense” and becomes the norm.
When someone states that they are a girl or woman, a mixture of “tits or GTFO” or “A/S/L” comments usually follow. For those who are unfamiliar, these internet catcalls mean “show your tits or get the fuck out,” and “Age/Sex/Location.”
When moderately pretty girls purchase “manly” video games like God of War, usually the clerk asks if it is for a boyfriend or a younger brother. I have made the mistake of using a microphone in Team Fortress 2 and watched my credibility go down the drain because of assumptions that I was female.
While many people would consider it better to remain gender-neutral, when someone states that she is female it tends to lead to a disproportionate amount of negative responses compared to when someone states that he is male.
It seems as though these microaggressions at the player/consumer level might infect the future members of the video game industry — that is, if players choose to pursue that path.
However, despite all the disheartening stories, there are other hashtags such as #1ReasonMentors, which gives advice to aspiring female developers, and #1ReasonToBe, which informs people about why game developers chose their career, despite the potential for harsh treatment.
Tweets of thanks drown out the trolling tweets in #1ReasonWhy. The few trolling tweets remembered and recorded by other bloggers and writers will remind forward-thinking game companies of which toxic individuals to avoid hiring.
Although I have read many sobering stories on these hashtags, I believe it was for the better. Sharing these experiences spreads awareness and shows solidarity for female developers who have often been told to keep silent.
As well as helping current female developers, the hashtags allow aspiring developers, both male and female, to connect with people already in the industry. Aspiring developers may also learn how to deal with sexism in the industry and fight it, instead of just ignoring it like so many in the past have done.
For more information, search Twitter hashtags #1ReasonWhy, #1ReasonToBe and #1ReasonMentor. Also, you can read Cuppycake’s full blog post at borderhouseblog.com/?p=9712.
VICTORIA TRANG is an avid gamer and self-identified gaming scholar. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.