I had a big, rambling post planned and half-written when this piece by games journos Laura Parker (Gamespot AU) and Tracey Lien (Hyper, Kotaku, freaking everywhere) went up early this afternoon. They’ve said everything I was going to far more succinctly and eloquently than I could have hoped to do, so go and read them right now.
A commenter on Ben Abraham’s piece on challenging sexism at Gamasutra said that he believed that “women don’t seem to particularly want to have this fight”. The comment was ignorant and dismissive of the issues at hand, but it brought up a good point: females in the industry don’t vocalise their opinions nearly as much as their male counterparts. Laura and Tracey outline exactly why: fear.
I can’t claim to be anywhere near as accomplished as these two women, but believe me, I feel that fear too (and, honestly, I could even partially credit it for my lack of accomplishment). It paralyses me every day at university, where I’m studying towards a game degree in classes that are dominated by young men.
In my first year, in my very first subject, I was the only girl in the classroom. I was soon asked whether I played the Sims, because “That’s the only game girls like, right?” When I honestly replied that I played the Sims as well as other games, I was asked if I played them to impress FPS-playing boys. There was an inherent implication that a girl could not be capable of having any profound, personal experience of a game the way a man apparently could.
Three years later, it’s evident that my classmates haven’t been educated much more on the topic. I watched as a girl was harassed repeatedly by a male who felt himself a more ‘worthy’ gamer because he played lengthy RPGs and she preferred casual games; she eventually dropped out, wrongly believing his repeated statement that a ‘casual gaming girl’ like herself could contribute nothing to the games industry.
When I tried to report the plagiarism of one of my school projects by two other (male) students, I was told by the (male) lecturer that I was taking things too seriously and that I was simply being ‘emotional’ – an insult that only ever seems to be leveraged at women, regardless of how composed or otherwise they may actually be.
An intelligent postgrad student told me that she felt crushed by the domineering attitude of her boyfriend of the time, who believed that he knew far more about games than she did because he played CoD4 several hours a night, while she ‘only’ wrote about them for her thesis. Another time, when only myself and one other girl were able to name an obscure PS2 game that a lecturer had brought up, a guy sitting behind me muttered, “Must be a girl game.” In yet another class, sweeping pronouncements about women’s apparent inability to engage with games was snidely justified with the statement, “My mother is a woman. Believe me, I know how women work.”
After three years amongst these people, after all the high distinctions and top-of-the-subject marks I’ve earned, I’m still given frustratingly little consideration because of my gender. I’m still made to believe that my opinions cannot possibly account for anything, and whenever I try to stand up for my ability, the “you’re being emotional, you’re taking things too seriously IT’S ONLY A GAME” card is inevitably played.
So I’ve learned to be silent. So has Tracey, and so has Laura, and so have too many other women in the games scene.
It’s a silence echoed in a recording of Freeplay’s ‘Words That We Use’ panel. In spite of the unrest manifesting itself on Twitter, that room, save for the panelists, was dead silent. The question has been asked a few times since, especially by panel members coming forward to make their own statements on the event: If we were so angry, why didn’t we speak up sooner?
Partway through the panel, the audience members were asked to raise their hands if they contributed to games criticism, or were interested in doing so. Seated near the back with a bunch of other games writers I knew through Twitter, a sea of hands shot up around me. My own remained firmly in my lap, furiously tweeting. I could see Ben Abraham at the corner of my eye, gesturing for me to get my hand the hell up, looking perplexed as I continued to not stand up for my own ability as a game critic.
It was Ben who would later stand up for us – to demand to know why the panelists couldn’t name a single female critic when he was seated next to two of them, or why an audience member thought it was possible for the gender issue to “sort itself out” without any further discussion. I was incredibly moved by Ben’s speech and thanked him after the panel ended, but I also felt extremely pathetic. How could I have stayed so quiet? What did it mean, that I had to wait for a man to stand up for me?
Reading Tracey and Laura’s email exchange is an incredible relief. I know now that my repression is not self-imagined. If two of Australia’s most prominent women in games writing feel the same crippling fear that I do, then the problem is clearly far more widespread than those in the industry would like to believe. Their coming forward would have been incredibly difficult, but if enough people read and listen to what they have to say, things will become a little easier for the rest of us women.
And you know what? I’m glad Ben stood up that day – not for us, but with us. As he would tell me in an email later, “It’s not cool. It pisses me off. And as such I’ll weather whatever blows and criticism it takes to stand with you and other women against sexism.”
Other Freeplay Stuff: Link Round-up
There have been a few developments since my last post here. Brendan Keogh’s fantastic analysis of the panel’s discussion of criticism is still generating debate. Panel member, journalist Andrew McMillen, has kindly provided a full audio recording of the hour-long panel. Ben Abraham’s excellent opinion piece on the topic of sexism went up at Gamasutra yesterday morning; both the article and a handful of the comments are worth a read, including thought from panel member Alison Croggon. Panel chair Leigh Klaver has made a blog, amusingly titled “THAT panel”, in response to a blog post by Searing Scarlet. Freeplay coordinator Paul Callaghan has blogged about the panel, amongst many other Freeplay things, here. Finally, Drew Taylor, another one of the panel members, wrote up his side of the story in a comment on my last post; it’s the most engagement we’ve had from the panelists so far, and I would really appreciate it if you would give it a read.