Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Jade Raymond: "What can a bunch of identical white men offer that's new?"

"What can a bunch of identical, white, 32-year-old males who shop at Gap or wear the same free games t-shirt offer that's new?" - Jade Raymond, Managing Director of Ubisoft Toronto, Develop Magazine #128, June 2012

Two blog posts ago, I mentioned an Understanding Industry class at my college where I was placed into a group that had to come up with points about diversity within games and the games industry. As well as having access to the internet, some magazines were also handed out as research materials. On the front cover of one of them -- Develop Magazine #128 -- was a picture of Jade Raymond and the teaser "on starting a studio from scratch, being a parent, and diversity in games". I asked if I could look at the magazine and, quickly reading the interview, I came across the quote above.

Right from the start, it should be clear what's wrong with this statement. The thing about diversity as a definition is that it suggests inclusivity. Having a work environment with a rich variety of ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religious backgrounds, a mix of able-bodied and disabled people, etc. is how I would describe "diversity". Unfortunately, it feels like Jade Raymond's quote is the definition that the games industry goes by nowadays; one of exclusion rather than inclusion.

I'm a white male. I'm studying game development in college and, in the two groups I've been in, only four students have been female (out of thirty-four). None have been non-white. Which leaves thirty white guys aged between sixteen and twenty-six (and I actually think there are only two people over the age of twenty). We all have different opinions and influences. Different ideas for games and different areas we'll excel and struggle in.

Before anyone criticises me for this, I should point out that I am not saying, "us white guys have it so hard!" However, it's hard not to feel insulted by the fact that there are prominent members in the games industry who assign a lower value to my ideas because I'm a white male. It means my ideas aren't judged on their own merits but based on my sex and skin colour. The same applies for a non-white or non-male (or both) person, although their ideas would be given a higher value rather than a lower one. It makes me wonder how, say, a black woman in the games industry might feel about this attitude; were her ideas taken on board because they're good or just because the ideas of a black woman are "something new"? Is she an individual or has she been reduced to nothing but her sex and skin colour in the same way I'm dismissed because of mine?

The bottom line is that Jade Raymond doesn't get to define "diversity" the way she wants to, to exclude the people with the skin colours and genders that she dislikes. This seems to be a trend with so-called "social justice warriors", if I can borrow a Tumblr term. It's fine to support groups that they feel are underrepresented ... but they take an extra step and feel free to badmouth the groups they feel are the "wrong" sex, "wrong" sexuality, with the "wrong" skin colour. Who cares, it's just white guys, right? Either they won't care or they're offended, in which case they're not worth listening to anyway. The writer of this Tumblr response says it better than I could.

While researching topics on financial issues in the games industry today, I came across more dismissiveness towards men in this article on gamesindustry.biz. The whole thing isn't important so here's the relevant part:
"There are uncharitable explanations which often point to uncomfortable truths - self-styled "gamers" have built something of a boys' treehouse over the years, and dislike the invasion of new demographics which can include such unwelcome treehouse guests as women, homosexuals, trans people, ethnic and religious minorities, and even - gasp! - their own mothers and relatives. Is nothing sacred?!"
It's actually becoming very tiresome to have to constantly defend myself as a male gamer. To have to clarify how open I am to different groups "joining in" on gaming (not that I have any idea how they could be kept out; it's gaming, for goodness' sake). Yet no matter how many male gamers clearly state they disagree with online abuse and hostility, we still find ourselves painted with the same "dudebro" brush. Develop Magazine and gamesindustry.biz aren't just gaming journalist sites. They're specifically about the industry. So I have to face up to a frustrating truth that I'm training to enter an industry that I've loved since I was four years old and yet that industry doesn't care one bit about me. Either they constantly reinforce the idea that straight white male gamers like me are the villain in the real-life game of diversity or they tell me that I'm actually rather useless and unwelcome, as Jade Raymond did above. All in the name of diversity!

The thing is, if the writer of that article, Rob Fahey, really wants to talk about "uncomfortable truths" and treehouses, here's one that it's time to grow up and acknowledge; I picture feminist gamers sitting in the gender issues treehouse. They get to have their say on the subject as much as they want. They've pulled up the ladder. They've nailed a "no boyz allowed" sign on the door. Yet when us boys come to the bottom of the tree, asking to share the treehouse, we get insulted and told we're unimportant, our issues don't exist and we're all misogynist assholes or self-centered slobs. To be honest, I'm getting pretty sick of it.

In answer to Jade Raymond's question -- what can I, as a white male, offer that's new? -- I would have to say, "the same new ideas that other men and women, regardless of their ethnicity, have brought to the table before me". If you'll allow me to state the obvious for a moment, the whole point of equality is that we're all equal, regardless of sex, ethnicity and sexual orientation. I have literally no idea how "supporting diversity" became so distorted to mean "male-bashing" and, worryingly, how it became so accepted by figures in the gaming industry as high-profile as Jade Raymond.

Here are the facts; white male gamers are not a final boss to be slain to bring peace and happiness to the diversity kingdom. Nor are white male employees in the games industry a group to be torn down simply to build up the benefits of a diversity. A diverse work environment can be praised without dismissing and denigrating one of the groups that would be in any diverse work environment. I don't see how anyone could fail to see that without being incredibly ignorant.

Besides, just place any other group in that quote and see how it sounds. Imagine how it would read if a male developer casually said, "women? Pfft! What can they offer the industry that's new?!" or, "black people are all identical, what new ideas do they have?"

Then again, this is Jade Raymond. A person who I was actually very fond of when the first Assassin's Creed game was released. She seemed friendly and insightful during interviews, which were a far cry from the insulting dismissiveness of the Develop Magazine quote. However, according to Wikipedia, Jade Raymond is on the Board of Directors of Women In Film And Television International, "dedicated to advancing professional development and achievement for women working in all areas of film, video, and other screen-based media". So at the very least, I think white men working in the games industry would be able to offer at least one thing new, specifically for Jade; how to gain employment based on their abilities and not on whether they belong to any organisations that exist only to give them a headstart because they're female.


I need somewhere to vent my frustrations with college; I completely hate the games development course I'm on. Last week was possibly the most boring week of my life, thanks to a ton of homework and being bogged down with theory classes the entire week. There are only four real practical classes right now and one of them, modelling 3D characters, was cancelled and the other, Animation, has been cancelled permanently. Supposedly, we'll be able to make up what we miss in the Animation class elsewhere and everyone will be given work experience placements to compensate, which sounds kind of cool. Unfortunately, right now, it's awful. We had a Sound & Music class last week that was more like a physics and biology lesson, since we learned about what sound is and how we hear it. I dislike that class as it is; the first twenty minutes of every lesson is spent listening to a song that a student in the group has chosen, while the tutor switches the lights off. I'm not very musical, so I'm bored senseless the entire time and, honestly, if I wanted to sit in a dark room and listen to loud or depressing music, I could do that at home.

Plus, remember when I mentioned that I switched groups to get a better timetable? I wish I hadn't. I preferred the people in my old group. They seemed more mature, were quieter during classes and were more interested in talking about games. I can't go back to my old group either; I made too big a deal over what a hassle the travelling schedule was. And I have to imagine that if I stayed in my first group, I'd be thinking how much better my own group had it because of the schedule. It seems like every decision I've made since starting college has made my situation worse.

I have been able to find a couple of bright spots, if you want to call them that. The first was the only girl in my group, who I finally had the chance to chat to about Anita Sarkeesian, albeit briefly. We caught each other walking to college one morning and I asked what she thought about Anita on the way. "Well, what do you think about her?" she asked me straight away. "I'm not a fan," I said honestly. She smiled and said she wasn't a fan either. While we made our way inside, she said that she found Anita to be too picky and, even though there are some poor examples of female characters, there are plenty of good ones too. She summed things up with "we've got bigger problems". I suspect people will think her turning the question around and asking me what I thought of Anita first was odd but her answer seemed to be genuine.

Finally, it's worth looking at this comic on a Tumblr titled "Social Justice Stupidity". It's very simple and remarkably accurate. (Edit: Unless I'm much mistaken, it seems like that entire Tumblr account has been deleted since this blog was written) I'm actually very pleased that there are artists willing to draw anti-feminist cartoons and comics because it seems like they get the point across far better than long-winded blogs like my own. I feel like this particular blog could've had more depth to it but there's only so much I can criticise when I'm repeatedly saying that there's a right way to use diversity and avoiding using the phrase "diversity has gone too far" because I think it sounds kind of racist.

The thing is, this issue is horrible. It's insulting. Demeaning. It's even quite intolerant. Yet nobody is interested in criticising Jade Raymond for her comments because all that's at stake is the feelings of a bunch of straight white gamers. The boogeyman of diversity in the games industry.

Comments and e-mails, as always, are welcome. themalesofgames@gmail.com is my email address.