Why Should I Care About Sexism in the Gaming Industry?

I’ve never considered myself much of a feminist. Sure, I believe women can do anything men can, and should be allowed to if they so desire. And yes, there were times when I fought my way to be allowed onto the primary school boys cricket team – not for equal rights but because I wanted to play cricket, damnit! Plus I was better than half the boys on the team anyway.

So in that case I would consider myself more of an individualist. You want to do something? Great, go do it!

But the feminist movement has played an important role in allowing me, a middle-class young woman to not only pursue my desires, but even to possess such an attitude. I think we all know that by now.

Even with the advances western society has made in its attitude towards women there is little argument that women still struggle in the workplace. There is a noticeable pay gap between men and women. There are fewer women at the higher end of management. Certain industries are dominated by men. It feels like we have discussed this topic, and the reasons for the imbalance, to death.

But why are there so few women in gaming – and why should I care?

Let’s start with the obvious ones. Working in gaming. There are fewer women working in gaming because:

-Women have babies. They take time off work to have a baby and sometimes don’t come back because they stay with their family or fall behind with their skills and/or knowledge which harms their job prospects.

-A lot of men work in gaming. Some women feel threatened at either the prospect or the reality of being the only woman in the department or company.

-Like on the internet, it is not uncommon for men to want to protect their territory. And so, women are made to feel unwelcome in the gaming industry. You’ve seen it online: girls are no good at games. So why would they be any good at making them?

Of course, these problems affect many industries. Why has the gaming industry been singled out?

In the gaming industry, some men just don’t get it. They don’t understand why making a female game character look like a porn star is insulting, unrealistic or just plain stupid. They say silly things like the female programmer on the team gained her promotion not because she was the best on the team but because she has ‘a nice rack’. THIS is sexism. This is not ok.

What about the women and the women in gaming themselves? Have they been doing themselves a disservice? Are they ‘blocking’ the progression of other females within the industry? Should they be speaking out for women as a whole and waving the feminism flag that allowed them to be standing in that position at all?

It seems not. Across the industry women are banding together through #1reasonwhy, supporting each other and those wanting to enter the industry, with the aim of improving the treatment of women in the industry.

To be honest I didn’t know there was a problem with the women. It seems like everyone who wants to be there is fighting her ground. Everywhere I look I see scholarships for women in technology, talks encouraging high school girls to consider gaming at university, interviews with female business achievers – artists, developers, CEOs.

Right, so we are encouraging women to get into gaming but there is another problem with women and the gaming industry? Female characters seem to be a second thought, or at least only there as eye candy. At least that’s been a recurring theme in the #1reasonwhy campaign. However a quick scan of female characters in recent gaming history reveals perhaps more about your attitude towards a character’s reason for being than that of the developers.

Mass Effect’s FemShep, Metroid’s Samus Aran, Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft are all strong, driven characters and whether or not skimpy armour or bouncing breasts bother you in combat the same can be said for iconic female characters in Street Fighter, World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic and so many more. Do we need more quality female characters? Simply put, it seems like quality games have quality females in the writing.

Female leads simply don’t sell games in the same quantity that male leads do. However more and more we are seeing female character options when given the choice, though it might only be a 3:1 choice in male to female choices. Developers are thinking about their female players, and it shows.

Finally let’s look at the players. Many a survey of the gaming world reveals females being harassed for simply being female, despite the endless statistics we hear on females making up half or more of the market. There is a massive problem here of the attitudes of not just teenage boys but also grown men and their inability to accept women into their world. Like so many online issues these days, the ability to hide behind the veil of anonymity does not force the individuals to change their behaviours or attitudes and it is one of those issues that warrants mass re-education at a societal level. Let’s not enter that debate right now.

So why should I care about sexism in the gaming industry? Because women in games have raised it as an issue and I know that many of my favourite games have been designed, developed, programmed, produced and marketed by women. Women are just as good at making (and playing) games as men. We don’t want to lose these women and we don’t want to scare away any girls thinking about gaming as a career.

That’s what we need to teach our little girls – and boys for that matter.

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