This morning, I found out about #1reasonwhy. In the last day, many women working in the game industry have been posting on Twitter, each of them sharing their experience as a professional woman working in an industry that, even today in 2012, struggles with sexism and discrimination. Reading their stories was shocking to me, as a woman and as a long time gamer. It made me sad for an industry that I had higher expectations for. But at its core, the AAA game industry suffers from the same assumptions that plague many “old boy’s club” companies: it is a male dominated field that believes they have no reason to market to women, that women can only make “games for women”, and that women don’t enjoy the same things in a game that men do.
This is bullshit.
I am 38 years old, a woman, and a gamer. I’ve been a gamer since I was a child, playing Pac-Man and Frogger. In my teens, I played Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering. As an adult, I continue to play “tabletop RPGs”, computer and console games. I don’t play Facebook games. I have no interest in them, when I could be shooting aliens in Mass Effect 3 or Gears of War 3. There is this perception that women only play Facebook games, or that only women play them.
This is bullshit.
A good friend of mine plays Facebook games. A lot of people, both men and women, do. A lot of them aren’t “gamers”, and some of them are. Some of them are kids, and some are grandmothers. My friend who plays on Facebook? She got tired of the limitations and asked me, a gamer, what else she could do. Now she plays Diablo 3 on her PC. I guess you could say Facebook games are gateway games that anyone can play, not just women.
The gaming industry is big money. A best-selling console game now makes as much (or more) money as a blockbuster movie does. No one questions whether or not men and women go to those movies. But apparently the gaming industry believes that only men buy their games that sell over 3 million copies in the first week. Many companies believe they don’t need women to design or contribute to these games, because after all, women don’t buy them.
Leaving aside the completely asinine idea that women don’t have anything to offer a game marketed for men, I think the games industry is really missing the boat by ignoring the female gender. In the distant past, maybe games were something largely played by boys and men, but that stereotype is as incorrect as it is outdated. I think the games industry believes that all they need to make is Call of Duty X: The Same as The Last Nine Games. And you know what? That’s a very successful franchise, but it’s my husband’s least favorite first person shooter, because it is the same damn game over and over! Like many gamers I know, male and female, he is appreciative of more.
I am a girl gamer, and personally, I think games could only benefit from having more real input from female designers, writers, developers, artists, you name it! I’m not saying there aren’t men who do these jobs, and do a great job at them. But I am saying that the games industry is depriving their product of something special when they don’t give women the same chance to contribute on every level. This is true for all of the male players, but guess what games industry? WOMEN PLAY GAMES. More than that, we play the so-called AAA console games!
I am a girl gamer, and here are some of the games I have played or currently play: Gears of War 3, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the entire Mass Effect trilogy, including Mass Effect 3 online multiplayer, the Assassin’s Creed games, the Dragon Age series, Skyrim, Fallout…yes, as you can see I have a “type”, RPG, or roleplaying games. However, I am just really discovering multiplayer online games such as Gears of War 3, and do you want to know why? Because Mass Effect 3, an RPG game that has a recognized female gamer following, took a risk and added an online multiplayer mode. And it was fun! First and third person shooter type games don’t market to women. They should. They should give us characters to care about, a story to enjoy (it doesn’t have to be as big as an RPG story), and female characters to play. I like to play Anya when I play Gears.
I am a girl gamer, and I don’t just share my husband’s Xbox; I have my own damn Xbox. I play my own games. I play games with him. I play games with my male and female real life friends. I play games with male and female players I’ve met online.
I am a girl gamer, and I have friends who are girl gamers. There are enough of us in my own circle of friends that we can have an all-girl team when we play Diablo 3 or Mass Effect 3.
I am a girl gamer, and my husband’s friends text me to play with them as much as they text him, sometimes more.
I am a girl gamer, and often when I play online, there are male gamers who are surprised that I am a girl, that I play, and that I like playing. They ask me how they can get their girlfriends and wives to give it a try, and to answer that, I return to my original point: the game industry needs to wake up and realize they have two genders to make games for and market to.
I am a girl gamer, and I don’t want games about puppies, or shopping, or fashion. I like games where I get to be the heroine and save the universe. I like games where there is a good story, where I care about what happens to the world, the universe, and the characters. I like games where I get to be the badass.
I am a girl gamer, and I like games that have a romantic subplot, or hot male characters to look at, just like men like games with hot female characters. This isn’t necessary for me to enjoy a game, but I think most female gamers and game designers will agree with me when I say it sure doesn’t hurt!
I am a girl gamer, and I like to play online with other gamers. I am learning to be brave and try games I would never have tried before because of the male gamers I play with. Not because of the gaming industry, which doesn’t market these games to me, but because my male gamer friends tell me “If you like X game, you should really try Y, because I think you’d like it.” And sometimes they tell me when I shouldn’t try a game, because they know I won’t enjoy it. Sadly, this happens more often than it should. More often than it would, if female developers were given the same weight as their male counterparts.
I am a girl gamer, and I support female game designers, writers, artists, developers, and more. They should not have to deal with sexism in their field. They should not be condescended to, or minimalized, or ignored. I believe they could bring something special to the gaming industry. I believe they could help make the kind of games that I want to play, that other women want to play, and that men want to play, too.
Wake up, games industry.
In addition to being a gamer geek, Charity Vandehey is a writer, jewelry artist and espresso addict. She’s been writing online in one form or another since 2002. Visit her Etsy store, Byzantium Lotus!
Okay, I have been observing an incredibly frustrating pattern in conversations relating to privilege, which is that, in short, people who have privilege loathe being told they have it and will bend over backward to try to invalidate any claim they might have to it, as if being sensitive to various issues, or at least not outright misogynist/racist/antisemitic/homophobic/transphobic/etc. somehow removes any inherent privilege, like fancy stain remover.
People will point to some action they have taken in the past to support the rights of some group of people—be it women, minorities, GLBTQ, the socially awkward, whatever—and say, “But I did this thing. So I’m totally not acting privileged, so you should totally shut up and stop attacking me (because criticism totally = attack).” Worse, I’ve seen people say, “Whatever, I don’t know why you are whining. Get over it.” This response is extremely common in discussions about misogyny in comic books and the video game industry, and pretty much always comes from men. Go figure.
So I am going to boil privilege down for you, and for very easy reference. Because privilege is not something you got on you, like dirt. Privilege is not an accessory you can discard when it seems inconvenient. Privilege is not something you can whittle down with actions, like it’s just below your health bar in a video game.
You need to stop thinking about privilege in terms of attitude (although, that’s part of it), action, inaction. Privilege is, if we condense it down to its most fundamental aspect, the ability to walk away from a given struggle and know that your rights will not be affected in the slightest bit by the outcome of that struggle. Privilege is the ability to throw up your hands and say, “I’m done arguing about this,” or, “this can wait for the next election,” or, “Why are we still discussing this— isn’t this settled/aren’t there more important issues in the world?” It’s the ability to say, “I don’t like the criticism I have gotten over my part in this discussion, so I am leaving the discussion entirely.”
I’m going to repeat the primary point, here, just to be as clear as possible: Privilege is the ability to walk away from a given struggle and know that your rights will not be affected in the slightest bit by the outcome of that struggle.
So, folks: stop being bitches about being called out about your privilege. Recognize it for what it is. Make damn sure you understand what it means—about your approach to the world around you, about the issues you have never had to study and fully understand, about the opportunities you take for granted—and own it.