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The Number One Reason Why…

Hey fellas, how would you like to play a video game that features scantily clad men with their junk overstatedly modeled and partially exposed? Yeah, I didn't think so.

I'm assuming if you're reading this then you consider yourself a gamer. Truth be told, that is the only assumption I make. I don't assume you're a male or female, white or black, or your console of choice is the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. And since we're being honest, I don't even really care about these qualities. What I do care about is that I publish something everybody who takes the time to read will find beneficial or at least entertaining. And to achieve that goal it is imperative I treat you all equally and fairly. I suppose one could argue the anonymity associated with the Internet is conducive to accomplishing this - the less I know about you the less likely I am to judge you. But that is only one variable. What happens when I do get to know some of you like I have, especially when learning we might be vastly different? Cats and Dogs oh my! The key is to treat everybody the same - treat them the way you would want to be treated. That whole Golden Rule concept.

There is an interesting discussion afoot in the world of Twitter that has captured my attention as I try to disassemble the issue in an effort to understand it. I know some of you are following the matter, and I know some of you despise Twitter and are not. But the issue is one that realistically affects us all, whether we're cognizant of it or not.

Why aren't there more women working in the video game development industry?

Or for that matter,

Why aren't there more women working in the video game industry?

Prior to being made aware of this issue, if you asked me why there aren't more women working in the video game industry I probably would have responded, "Maybe they just don't want to." I've heard quiet rumblings of this issue before but never really any widespread claims from industry experts. My real awareness of the issue started today after reading the Twitter posts with the hashtag #1reasonwhy posted by a number of women developers and their supporters listing their reasons why the video game development industry doesn't boast higher female employment numbers. The issue escalated and expanded its scope to include other disciplines in the industry including video game journalism. I was rather surprised to read some of the explanations and even more shocked this sort of stereotyping still exists, especially in this particular industry.

Perhaps I've lived a sheltered life having been in the military as long as I have. The military is one of the most diverse and integrated organizations you'll ever find. I recall when I was in Iraq working in a Network Operations Center, there were two supervisors managing the facility - one worked days and the other worked mids (12 hour days, 7 days a week). The two couldn't be more opposite including the fact one was female and the other male; one was Army and the other Navy. Well, I was the Navy guy. My counterpart and I were both equally qualified and capable of doing the job and we were both given the opportunity to do it, but we were worlds apart in nearly every other aspect. We had a completely different way of doing business, but at the end of the day - mission accomplished. I think the organization benefited from having that diversity. And by the way, her and I got along great and had mutual respect for one another.

To hear that discrimination exists within the development realm (and beyond) of our beloved video game industry doesn't make sense to me. It's not that I doubt the sincerity of the claims, because I absolutely do, especially after reading tweet after tweet where you can literally feel the hurt, pain...and dare I say - betrayal from those affected. It's just that if there is one industry where you would think freedom of expression and creativity would surpass anatomy, it's the video game industry, or at least the modern era instantiation of the industry. There was a time when gamers, and developers for that matter, were perceived as these nerdy, socially inept rejects. But come on, that was decades ago. We've moved well past that perception, haven't we? Wasn't that debunked a long time ago when guys like John Carmack and John Romero made it cool to be a gamer? With the percentage of women gamers only slightly trailing that of men, and with the age gap ever widening, defining what it is to be a gamer is nearly impossible and women having a larger role in this industry is inevitable. It's happening now.

So, why does discrimination exist or more importantly...how have we let this continue to exist?

Obviously there is no way I could tackle such a delicate and deep issue in the confines of a single blog, but I can make a few casual observations about the topic.

Well, first and foremost I guess we could take the "plausible deniability" approach and say that since we weren't aware it was going on it's not our fault. I'm going to be honest, as a gamer and a consumer who purchases games, I couldn't tell you who was individually involved with making the game I'm buying and playing (unless it's from Valve); certainly not the male to female employment percentages for the publishers and/or developers responsible for producing it.

Does that mean we have no responsibility in the matter? Well, that's up for you to decide on an individual level. But how many of us would scoff about buying clothes from Wal-Mart or any other manufacturer when learning the items were mass produced in some sweatshop in a third world country that forced its employees to work in harsh conditions for practically no wages. Some would boycott the store all together; some might still shop at the store but probably wouldn't speak very highly of it; and some wouldn't care at all and continue shopping there.

Would you be persuaded not to purchase a game if you knew the company responsible for making it discriminated against women developers?

I guess what I'm getting at, as the end user of these products we have the least visibility on the scope and severity of the issue. If you (the women video game developers who have experienced discrimination) want our support, we need to be informed...we need to know what companies, or even better, what individuals are guilty of this behavior. Otherwise, how else are we to respond? Obviously coming out and speaking against a particular individual or organization can be a death sentence to one's career, but as previously mentioned, the anonymity of the Internet should afford advocates for this cause to set up shop and inform the gaming community of offenders. Surely they're not all corrupt, right? Bottom line, we need to know who. As a proud father of a daughter who is very much into video gaming, I'd like to know if the individuals in the industry that I hold in such high regard and financially support by buying their products are going to give my daughter a fair shake and an equal opportunity should she pursue a career in the industry.

Compounding the issue is the double standards often associated between the sexes.

Without naming names, I can think of a certain female video game developer I follow on Twitter who used to have a profile pic of her posing rather provocatively in practically nothing holding a video game controller. I thought, "real classy lady" and dismissed the picture, but really I think it kind of tarnished the image of this particular person.

Many of the ladies commenting on the #1reasonwhy share how they've been treated and cite some specific examples. It's a shame this has occurred but not all of us male/guy/man gamers (and I'm guessing developers) are guilty of inappropriate behavior. I'd venture to say that the guilty are the minority (they're just the most vocal), that most of us are decent and openly acknowledge that women are just as good of gamers as we are, just as active as we are and I'm guessing, just as good at developing them too. I look at some of my favorite video games and the women who were involved with their development. And not just "involved" but leading the way.

Amy Hennig's work on the Uncharted series is nothing short of spectacular. It's my understanding she led the team responsible for the game in addition to being the writer. This game is without a doubt one of the greatest games ever created.

Kim Swift is another proven woman in the video game development industry. With games like Portal and the Left for Dead series in her portfolio, who can argue with her impressive resume? I'm sure there are plenty of male developers who wished they could say they worked on Portal.

Anyway, just like there are plenty of examples of men being pigs and treating women badly, there is no denying that some women, even women in the video game industry, exploit their features and femininity. You can't (or shouldn't) argue against sexism and femininity in one breath and then turn around and flaunt it for your benefit. If you do then you shouldn't expect to be taken seriously. I'd say like the men, this behavior is the exception and not the norm...but it still happens. And not just in the video game industry but in nearly every industry. This is a prevalent problem permeating throughout our society. I think it will eventually fix itself, at least in the realm of the video game industry, over time as the equilibrium between male and female gamers and developers equalizes.

Finally, I think the root cause of this problem...all problems for that matter is money. I've blogged about this before, but the video game industry is a business; and businessmen and women want to make money. Lots of money. If that means sacrificing standards to turn a profit, so be it. I'm not saying it's right, only that it's the truth...or at least my perception of the truth. It's why we see booth babes littered around the floor of E3 and why we see video games exploiting women get slammed by reviewers but still advertised on their website. It's the power of the almighty dollar hard at work. The very existence of some games survive off of the exaggerated representation of women, just look at the Dead or Alive series. I doubt there are very many women pounding on the door of Team Ninja looking for work. I'm just guessing though...I could be wrong. But seriously, look at a game like Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series which is known for having some rather edgy content. I'm not saying it isn't real or isn't right, but I could see how there might be conflict with women developers working on that sort of content and hesitation by the studio to bring them aboard. Again, just guessing.  

In closing, I doubt most of the ladies tweeting #1reasonwhy will happen across this little ole blog of mine, but I've been surprised before with some names who have read my blogs...so in the off chance it happens...

Ladies, know there are gamers out there who appreciate you and your contributions to the video games we love to play; sympathize with the challenges you face working in a male dominated industry, and hope you find peace and joy chasing your dreams and turning them into reality...

One should treat other gamers as one would like other gamers to treat oneself.

Peace, love and Donkey Kong.

Roger out.

 

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