Sunday, 2 December 2012

#1ReasonWhy

This has been an insane few days.

For anyone who isn't a member of Twitter, a few days ago, a man by the name of Luke Crane posted this tweet:


It's a simple enough question, with a simple enough answer (that we'll come to later on). I doubt Luke Crane, or anyone else, could've predicted the response he received to this single tweet. Many, many, many people waded in with their answers, each stating one reason why there were so few lady game creators (hence the hashtag "#1ReasonWhy"). These came from all manner of people from inside and outside the gaming industry.

Obviously, I didn't read them all. I don't even have a Twitter account, since I prefer to read long messages rather than short ones. Thankfully, however, there were plenty of articles on the subject, all showing some of the examples of #1ReasonWhy tweets. The hashtag even earned its own site. All-in-all, there's been an astounding outpouring of support for and from women in the gaming industry.

With it, there's also been an astounding outpouring of hypocrisy, biased arguments and double standards, to the point that its difficult to even know where to begin. Before we go into the tweets themselves, take a look at a couple of the articles that I've been perusing.

This article from Gamespot was where the #1ReasonWhy hashtag first caught my attention. This article, by Carolyn Petit and Laura Parker, does a decent job of explaining what the hashtag is but doesn't really go beyond the "we have to do something!" attitude. They don't reach any conclusions on what to do but overall, the attitude expressed is a step up from the sentiments expressed elsewhere.

Case in point: this article by Nathan Grayson on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. To sum up, it's one big call-to-arms "for men to stop acting like self-centered slobs. It’s time for men to stop turning every step of progress into an agonizing uphill battle". It has a rather disturbing, "you're either with us or against us" attitude, so men who disagree or just don't wish to help are targets of Grayson's ire. In spite of the writer's claim that he is "not trying to propose some damsel-in-distress “let’s handsomely save the day” argument," this may be one of the biggest examples of "White Knighting" I've ever seen online. It's a condescending pep talk that assumes the worst of men and, coincidentally, is a real-life example of what I mentioned in my previous two blog posts; it suggests that men are only valuable based on how useful they are to women. If they're not being useful to women, they're "self-centered slobs".

I haven't got into the actual reasons given by the #1ReasonWhy hashtags yet. Something I should make clear is that there isn't enough time in the world to go through every single tweet, obviously, and there may be some good, legitimate reasons that I haven't seen. However, just browsing through the reports on #1ReasonWhy, I didn't find a single tweet I cared for and most of them highlight exactly why people like myself take issue with the focus on women in gaming. Let's jump right in. What's a reason why there are so few lady game creators?


There's going to be more from Rhianna Pratchett before this blog is over with but this is as good a place as any to start. Creating appropriately-dressed female characters is a rarity, rather than the norm, according to Pratchett. This is a reason why there are so few lady game creators.

The first thought that sprung to mind when reading this was, "isn't that an incentive for women to join the video game industry rather than avoid it?" Presumably, if there's something women want to change in the gaming industry, staying out of it and complaining isn't as effective a method as getting involved and being able to influence things. So it doesn't make sense for the lack of appropriately-dressed female characters to be a reason why women aren't creating video games and, if Pratchett thinks it is, she paints women as a very illogical bunch.

The second thought I had about this was one that I had been thinking about before I ever saw the tweet. When having various debates about gender issues elsewhere online, it felt like the critics of the portrayal of women in video games would cherry pick their examples and use them of evidence of a wider issue. For example, using Ivy from Soul Calibur as an example of sexualised women while ignoring the same series' Talim, Cassandra, Hilde, Amy and Seung Mina. They'll acknowledge the notoriously misogynistic Metroid: Other M without necessarily singing the praises of Samus herself as an example of positive female portrayals in games. And no matter what great strides the industry makes in "appropriately-dressed female characters" -- Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2. Elena Fisher from Uncharted. Jennifer Mui from Mercenaries. Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Amaterasu from Okami. Lara Croft's latest redesign. Various RPGs from both Japan and the West -- the industry will always, always, always still be stereotyped as one filled with scantily-clad female designs by the same women who should be pleased by the progress.

Next:


You might know Ashly Burch from the "Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'" video series on Gametrailers (and maybe elsewhere; I don't follow them very closely). And after reading this tweet, you'd be forgiven for thinking that she's new to the internet.

Look, I'm not saying that threats of rape and violence isn't a good reason for women to avoid the video game industry. It's a good reason for anyone to avoid the industry of whoever is making those threats. However, like I said, this is the internet and these comments come with the territory. I've been on messageboards where I've suffered both threats before. Well, I can't quite recall a rape threat but I can recall other threats of sexual violence very vividly.

I dealt with this by using the ignore functions of certain forums and avoiding others entirely. It works well. Also, yes, I developed a thicker skin. Which is an argument I hate having to use because I've been given that "helpful" piece of advice before and it's an incredibly irritating thing to read. It implies there's something wrong with you rather than the obnoxious moron throwing you insults. However, keep something in mind here; Ashly Burch is a public figure, thanks to her videos. All public figures receive mindless insults. Did she think she'd escape the insults simply because she's female? More worryingly, does she think that's a good reason that she should?

If anyone wants to crack down on the trolls that make these comments, be my guest. However, you'd have to be a pretty despicable person to only do it for half the gaming population while leaving the other half to suffer the insults and threats.


Wow, talk about stereotypical.

While I'd certainly agree there's not enough investment in AAA games about something other than war -- I'm not sure about the other three. I can think of one AAA western, a few contenders for AAA racing games and absolutely no sports ones, let alone football -- there's some unfortunate implications here. There's a disturbing undertone that paints the majority of the "male-dominated" video game industry as being incredibly stereotypically male. For that matter, it paints the women already in the video game industry with the exact same brush.


I assume Samit Sarkar is talking about this particular press release:
What a Character 2 (400 Microsoft Points) – Kasumi hops into a black bunny swimsuit, Mila masquerades as Bass while Zack transforms into an alien, and Christie turns heads in black leather bondage gear.
First of all, let's get the obvious out the way; we've now completely ignored common, if stereotypical, criticisms of the gaming industry and devolved completely into speculation. Unless we're meant to assume that Sarkar knows the sexual interests of every woman interested in joining the gaming industry, I think he's clutching at straws here. Secondly, it's just like the Rhianna Pratchett example above; joining the industry would give women a better chance to have their voices heard. It's an incentive to join and the costume is hardly going to disappear simply because they choose to remain gamers rather than developers/journalists, is it?

Thirdly, and this is an important point, it's an example of the hypocrisy and lack of research done to support the #1ReasonWhy campaign (if it can be called that). Take a look at this Lee Chaolan costume from Tekken 6:


That's Lee in his "bondage gear" costume. I was searching for the Tekken Tag Tournament 2 version -- I didn't even know it appeared in Tekken 6 -- but the fact that it was featured in two games in the series supports my argument more; two Tekken games where Lee sports a costume that emphasies his abs and yet the one worn by a woman in a game known for its sexualised female characters is the eyebrow-raiser? Sex-negative feminists like to pounce on games that sexualise female characters but the poor research and hypocrisy shown by Sarkar above shows that they really couldn't care less about the men. "Oh, there are other examples of bondage gear in games? Oh, who cares, it's on a man."


This was actually one of the first tweets about the #1ReasonWhy issue I saw and, almost immediately, it made me realise why I disliked the campaign.

In spite of the fact that I criticise a lot of supposedly-feminist arguments here on this blog, I have a lot of love and respect for women. A lot. I think if women want to achieve their goals, they have the intelligence and talent to do so. That goes for the gaming industry as well. Although feminist arguments have always been subjects of my criticism, women themselves never have been. I'll come back to this in a second.

Going back to Rhianna's tweet; "But what if the player is female?" Let's assume she's talking about a stereotypically masculine game, such as Gears Of War. A squad of burly men who curse in every sentence, walking around in heavy sci-fi armour and blasting aliens. It seems like a game that would warrant Rhianna's question. "But what if the player is female?"

My response would have to be, "she'll enjoy the game as much as a male player". If I was a female gamer, I know that I would be tremendously insulted by Pratchett's statement that there's something different about me that needs to be catered to by developers. Simply because of my sex, a new question needs to be asked because there's an assumption that I should be treated differently. That unless something is added or changed to suit me, I'll see a gameplay video and say, "oh, I can't play this. I'm female!"

So although feminist arguments have always been subjects of my criticism, women themselves never have been and I would never hold such a low opinion of women to think that they can't adapt to play any game. This is what struck me about the #1ReasonWhy campaign as a whole; it treats women like children who need to be catered to rather than rational and mature adults who can adapt. These tweets are not asking for equality, for women to be treated the same as the men. These are asking for special treatment. They demand the industry adapt to them rather than they adapt to it.

In the sidebar, I link to a men's rights activist on Youtube called GirlWritesWhat. She once said something that I think describes this situation quite well: "Anti-feminism is the radical notion that women are adults". There is nothing in these tweets to make women seem strong or independent. If these tweets were to be listened to, the women demanding change would, effectively, be children; needing other people to give them change rather than changing things for themselves. And I completely despair at this whole fiasco because of it.

There are honestly so many eyebrow-raising tweets for #1ReasonWhy that I've had to decide against using some of them that I've had saved specifically for this blog. That's irritating but it's probably for the best; this blog post would never end if I took the time out to respond to every single one. There are a few other things I wanted to mention though.

First of all, it's worth reading this interview with Christine Phelan of Valve. I'll quote the relevant portion of the interview:
"It certainly seems as though Phelan’s experiences in the industry have been overwhelmingly positive thus far. And she’s not afraid to express her disgruntlement when FMV – referring to recent allegations that the video game industry is too male-dominated and even sexist – asks whether she has faced any particular challenges or obstacles in her career due to her gender.
“Aaaah, I really hate this question!” she replies. “I think asking it only serves to highlight the fact that I am a minority in my industry, and there are so many more interesting questions that could be asked instead!
“There are a ton of dudes in the games industry, yes – it’s a bit of a pickle jar.  I have never, however, been treated as anything but a team member and an equal by my coworkers and it’s a major disservice to them that folks automatically assume they will treat me differently because I am a woman.  At the end of the day I am the work I produce, not a pair of boobs.  It’s individuals who may or may not be sexist, and those are folks who reside in the broader ‘asshole’ category that applies to all things, not just games.
“I think the only challenge, if it can be called one, is that people assume I am challenged because I am a woman in this industry.  I am a game developer first, and my gender has nothing to do with it.”
I know for a fact people will say "well, it's Valve. They know how to treat people!" which I think does more to undermine Phelan's point than highlight it. I can't help thinking that painting all developers as sexist assholes except "internet-approved" ones is something to be avoided. As Phelan says, it's a disservice to her coworkers. She raises some other good points. "It's individuals who may or may not be sexist, and those are folks who reside in the broader ‘asshole’ category that applies to all things, not just games". For example, is Ashly Burch under the impression that it's only gamers who make impolite comments? Likewise, a bunch of tweets I didn't post mentioned being groped at conventions. Holding up the gaming industry as an example of this rather than specific "assholes" in every industry doesn't do anybody any favours. In fact, it's exactly what Jack Thompson used to do.

When I read the scapegoat reasons people use -- and that's really all the #1ReasonWhy campaign is -- I can't help but shake my head. Not because of the branding of an industry I love as "sexist" but the fact that it comes across as incredibly unprofessional. This might seem like an odd tangent but I'm a fan of The Apprentice (the UK version). A few seasons ago, one of the final five candidates was criticised by an interviewer for his reliance on "blame culture"; he blamed his parents for their lack of support and he blamed his former business partner for their business going under. He was unable to take responsibility for himself. That's what my mind kept going back to when reading some of these tweets; "blame culture" would be a perfect term to describe it.

Remember back at the start of this blog? Luke Crane asked "where are there so few lady creators?" I said this was a simple enough question with a simple enough answer. The simple enough answer is this: "there aren't enough women who are interested in games development enough to get involved in it". That's it. The #1ReasonWhy tweets are looking for reasons why women aren't interested in games development but in spite of the silly stereotyping of an entire sex based on things like outfits, hurtful comments and "but what if the player is female?" but while these people are all looking for scapegoats, the fact is that it's simply an industry that appeals to more men than women. Let's say I enrolled in a games development course and saw a greater number of men than women. Would my logical mind say, "more men than women. Must be sexism," or, "more men than women. Women mustn't have been as interested"?

Luckily, someone brought this point up on Twitter:


This is a Twitter user called Jason Clem talking to Kevin VanOrd, senior editor at Gamespot. First of all, I was glad to finally find out why Gamespot posts so many articles about women in games on their website, but I was a lot more pleased to find that someone called a #1ReasonWhy-er out on the illogical argument. What we see here is the typical treatment of women as children from the feminist, VanOrd, when the sensible, rational critic actually suggests a way to help them out. The whole argument can be summed up like this:

Clem: "Well, maybe more women should get involved and take more prominent roles in the industry then."
VanOrd: "No, no, they can't! The industry needs to be fixed first, those poor dears just can't handle it as it is!"

Looks very different when it's written down like that, doesn't it? Yet that's the message being sent out every time women in the video game industry play the victim card.

Clem himself gave me permission to post this conversation and, according to him, VanOrd blocked him after this short exchange. When looking through the #1ReasonWhy topic I spoke to him in, however, I came across this fantastic post by a fellow member of the AVoiceForMen forums (username "Crow"). Frankly, it blows my "simple enough explanation" out of the water:
"One of the largest issues I tend to come across in these sorts of communal outbursts is the complete and utter disregard for any notion of progression or any understanding of how time works. Yes, you read that right, feminists just don't seem to understand the notion of "time".

Yes, most game development is male-dominated. Why? It's pretty simple: Ten years ago, the individuals who developed games were almost 100% male because they grew up in the '70's and early 80's. They were raised and found their hobby in gaming at a time when it was very, very male dominated. These individuals grew up loving games, and then they
put in their time to work their way up the ladder or start their own studios. Simply put: how would we expect anything else?

Now these rants and raves about women in gaming is evidence of the
progress of the industry. They show that more women are involved now than ten or twenty years ago. This is progress, and it is easily evidence of greater diversity in gaming.

So what will happen now? give it another ten years and the legions of women who entered gaming as an industry in the last ten years (and even more contemporaneously) will
put in their time and get promoted and have a shot at making their own games.

This is the very sort of progress that the feminists are telling everyone doesn't exist.


Time + investment = change. It's simple. It's why media outlets aren't inundated with stories of homophobia, because that movement achieved it's goals wonderfully are is now in a post-achievement era where their injustices are acute and made up of smaller battles (of course not entirely finished, but comparatively). The Gay Rights movement won their battles a decade ago, and we're beginning to see the evidence and payoff for that community now.


A lot of this "gaming is sexist!" crud smells greatly of entitlement. The idea I get from wading through the articles, comments and Twitter hashtags is that women want the power, and they want it now. There's no concern that it takes time and investment, they're sick of being seen as what they are: overwhelmingly a younger, less-industry-advanced group who do not yet have power and control because very, very few women went into gaming as a career from the generation that sits in charge now. Give it ten years and it'll be very different.


Hell, it somewhat upsets me because there's no understanding that gaming has only been a very profitable industry for a short while. The individuals and companies who took the risks and often the awful results were men, and they paved the roads so that the entitled, whiny women of today can feel harassed and discriminated against in an industry that is profitable and popular."
So there we are. If there's a more sensible explanation for the lack of female creators in the video game industry, I've never read it. Crow's post highlights the logical reasons why there are so few female creators and does it without resorting to scapegoats.

There's more to be said on the bombardment of biased comments from the #1ReasonWhy campaign. A lot more. I'll leave it here for now though but before I do, I'd like to give some advice to any women who are in -- or thinking about getting into -- the video game industry.

First of all, just do it. There is no reason for you not to. #NoReasonWhy

Don't wait for things to change to suit you. There's a female comedian here in the UK called Sarah Millican who said something I think is appropriate here: "Don't look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Stomp along there and turn the fucker on yourself". You're a grown woman, not a child. You can change things.

There's a Margaret Thatcher quote I've been trying to work in here somewhere but could never find the right place for it. She famously said, "I owe nothing to women's lib". While searching for a good source for this quote, I actually found a better one:
American attorney, political commentator and Thatcher fan Carol Platt Liebau agrees. "Unfortunately feminism has become associated with a specific set of left-wing policy views centering around government-imposed solutions to perceived gender-based inequities, rather than simply with true female liberation – the opportunity, regardless of gender, to make one’s own choices and use one’s abilities to the fullest."
Whatever your stance on Thatcher's political career, I think both of these statements are appropriate. Thatcher's "I owe nothing to women's lib" made me think about Christine Phelan's view above. She, of course, didn't say that. The closest she said was, "at the end of the day I am the work I produce, not a pair of boobs," and, "I am a game developer first, and my gender has nothing to do with it." For all the begging for change and blaming of the current state of the game industry by the #1ReasonWhy-ers, there are women who have been successful in the industry. Not because things were changed to suit them but because of their own skills. Getting where they were on their own merits is something to be proud of and, believe it or not, exactly what the men in the industry have to do too. If I were female, I know I'd prefer that to the idea that I only got where I was because I had help.

So that's Thatcher's quote in a nutshell. Liebau's practically sums up the entire #1ReasonWhy campaign in a nutshell (but the critics in this case expect the gaming industry, rather than the government, to be the one with the solutions). "The opportunity, regardless of gender, to make one’s own choices and use one’s abilities to the fullest," is what everyone should bear in mind here. Women, you have that opportunity. You can use your abilities to their fullest in the video game industry and by insisting that you can't, that something must change, you're effectively creating your own glass ceiling.

Please feel free to leave a comment or write to me at themalesofgames@gmail.com.

8 comments:

  1. You say that women have the opportunity, the same as men, to get into the game industry.

    Except they are discouraged from entering the field because of the pay gap. (Game developers actually make less than developers in most other sectors of the economy, and women have a wider pay gap in the games industry putting the games industry at even a more personally 'losing' proposition financially)

    And if you as a woman enter into the games industry, you spend a lot of time proving yourself. Proving that you have the position you have because you are good, and not because you are a woman and were hired to help with the workplace balance numbers.

    And often you get pushed into doing scut work below your hiring grade in order to prove yourself.

    Your assertion that women have the same opportunity as men in the games industry is false on the face of it, and the rest of your argument falls flat without the center support concept that there is parity.

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  2. @Zedrik

    I, honestly, find your assertion in conclusion (that "the rest of [the] argument falls flat without the center support concept that there is parity") to be untenable due to the fact that you're placing the entire burden of proof on a theoretical concept ("parity") which can be disproven with far greater ease than supported (which is, for any concept as such, next to impossible).

    Is there parity? no, there isn't. But it isn't, truly, about parity but about exploring and engaging with the subject's origins, causes and effects.

    Again, this is an industry with a fast GROWING number of female contributors. I just went looking (somewhat quickly) for data concerning the number of women in the industry over time, and couldn't find it via Google. This hashtag is front and center, though, and I can't help but feel like, in the age of immediate and persistent access to information, this particular sub-cultural anxiety is recent and imminent. Of course I've been playing games long enough as a serious hobby to know that these conversations are far from new and they're far from "unknown".

    But I can't help but see logical reasons for this disparity in treatment/advancement, and if you want to engage and actively work to change things you have to have an understanding of the WHY and not just the WHAT. I feel the explanation (while certainly under-developed) of the HISTORY of the issue is a far more concrete place to begin than to start with some theoretical, all-encompassing model where there exists a knowing, explicit conspiracy to "hold women back".

    That doesn't mean that there isn't sexism or that sexism isn't an issue, but #1reasonwhy more women aren't game developers? because women weren't entering the industry in contemporary numbers until recently. Are there going to be bosses, co-workers, etc., who are sexist and awful? of course. Are there going to be examples where women are penalized for being women? unfortunately, yes. But those are acute issues which may or may not be a large-scale issue within the specific developer/publisher/etc.

    Will women be successful at opening up the industry? absolutely. Will there exist better cultures and better treatment of women in the industry? absolutely. Just, not today and not tomorrow. I think the salient point that today's entry-level workers will be tomorrow's leaders is absolutely integral to the questions raised.

    Ask again in 10 years, and then again in 20. Like it or not, it takes time. If women were entering the gaming industry like they are now back in the 80's and 90's, this wouldn't be a question. The few "token" game developers who are women are predominantly made up of 40+ year old individuals who have found their road leading to that spot after many years.

    Instead of creating anger, resentment and blame, why don't we try to foster respect, courage and admiration.

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  3. So what about equality in gaming frightens you?

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    Replies
    1. Nothing. Otherwise I'd be frightened right now.

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    2. classic example of a feminist's inability to make a valid point. gj on representing your movement.

      Delete
  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tiw0fSIhOEk&list=LLRTouAIlBU4pBYAKRRId18A&feature=mh_lolz

    There seems to be a problem with sexism against men in the industry, if this guy is to be believed. It's not a very reliable source, but it would make sense considering how open women are about supposed sexism against them without any fear for repercussions.

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  5. the klan could take lessons from feminism on how to run a hate movement.

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  6. I just want to let you know that I really don't think that Ivy is a sexist portrayal of women in the least. She owns her sexuality.

    ReplyDelete