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Part Three of a multi-part series. Start from the begin­ning of the series ,vis­it the parts index or read Part 2 – Business 101 here

Women play video games. Women devel­op video games. Women love video games. This shouldn’t be such a hard con­cept to grasp. Games media talks about “wom­en in gam­ing” and “wom­en in the indus­try” like they are gen­uine­ly inca­pable of grasp­ing the­se painful­ly obvi­ous obser­va­tions. You want to know the real con­spir­a­cy again­st wom­en in the games indus­try? Here’s the scoop.

side woman 1Let’s first address the per­ceived lack of female char­ac­ters in games. In 2008 the world expe­ri­enced a finan­cial con­trac­tion that affect­ed all indus­tries, espe­cial­ly in west­ern economies. This added to a sit­u­a­tion where mas­sive­ly increased devel­op­ment costs for high-definition gam­ing and inflat­ed mar­ket­ing bud­gets cre­at­ed a cli­mate where if a flag­ship con­sole release failed then it had a shot at bring­ing the pub­lish­er down with it. This shaped a gam­ing land­scape in which the pub­lish­ers for “next-gen” gam­ing con­soles were shit-scared of los­ing mon­ey and adopt­ed game cre­ation prac­tices that were ultra cau­tious in their adher­ence to the for­mu­las of pre­vi­ous suc­cess­ful titles, whilst also attempt­ing to emu­late the suc­cess­es of their com­peti­tors. It’s not that “wom­en in games” were sti­fled, every­thing was sti­fled. We almost lost entire gen­res. Publishers damn near stopped push­ing big-budget RTS (real-time strat­e­gy) games in the last five years and yet no one goes on about the intol­er­ance and big­otry towards RTS fans with­in the games indus­try because the­se games are not get­ting rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Until the recent release of Grey Goo their rep­re­sen­ta­tion had shrunk to Starcraft 2 and pret­ty much dick all else. Excluding re-makes and re-masters, name five big bud­get AAA RTS games in the last five years. I can’t do it and I’m a fan of the gen­re.

For the longest time the hor­ror game gen­re seemed dead in the water as well. It took the release of low­er bud­get PC titles to give it a kick in the pants and stop hor­ror games from being com­plete­ly fold­ed into the action game gen­re. Look at the homog­e­nized piles of box-ticking that was the Dead Space sequels or Resident Evil 6 and think about the sor­ry state much of the out­put of major pub­lish­ers has been this area.

Creativity and inno­va­tion has suf­fered across the board. There wasn’t a resis­tance to female lead char­ac­ters because of sex­ism, big­otry, misog­y­ny, patri­archy or con­spir­a­cy; it was out of finan­cial cau­tion and part of the wider pic­ture of games being made to stick closer to tried and true for­mu­las. It’s not a unique prob­lem but rather a symp­tom of the wider issues that, for oth­er sec­tors, games jour­nal­ists seem to have read­i­ly iden­ti­fied. It would seem obvi­ous to any­one with even a hint of mar­ket­ing expe­ri­ence that games were being over focus-tested and that the bal­ance of pow­er between mar­ket­ing and cre­ative depart­ments has shift­ed to an unhealthy degree. How can a games jour­nal­ist who gets paid to do their “craft” not see that the rea­son for Dead Space hav­ing its atmos­pher­ic hor­ror aspects gut­ted is the same rea­son for a lack of pro­gres­sion in lead char­ac­ters that don’t already con­form to a proven for­mu­la? Let’s do the same exer­cise from our RTS exam­ple again, name five big bud­get AAA games in the last five years, but with strong female leads in them:

  • Tomb Raider (2013): A game received to much fem­i­nist fan­fare by both the gam­ing press and gamers alike.
  • Remember Me: With mixed reviews but a decent female lead. Sold poor­ly but still con­sti­tut­ed a wide scale home con­sole and PC release.
  • Bayonetta Two:  A kick-ass and icon­ic female lead that para­dox­i­cal­ly gets many to grab a torch and pitch-fork. As I’ve said before, an excep­tion­al game.
  • Portal 2: Chell is wom­an, for what lit­tle dif­fer­ence that makes to the game; Portal is a very high pro­file game from a very well-known devel­op­er with a sin­gle human char­ac­ter. And it’s a female.
  • Lollipop Chainsaw: Yes, this was a major release and a major­ly under­rat­ed game. Fun, sil­ly and with a mad sense of humour.

side woman 2Now many in the “games are sex­ist” camp will argue they don’t like some of the­se female pro­tag­o­nists, but their pref­er­ence are imma­te­ri­al in the free mar­ket. To say “that exam­ple does not count because I don’t like it” is shift­ing the goal posts and inject­ing a sub­jec­tive qual­i­fier that lets you dis­miss evi­dence. Those five exam­ples off the top of my head are games that saw a wide release and had a high bud­get that also have a strong solo female lead char­ac­ter. The list for games in which you have gen­der choic­es is pret­ty long too: every­thing from the Dragon Age series, the Saints Row series, to the Elder Scrolls series. There are plen­ty of games with an ensem­ble cast that give equal foot­ing to female char­ac­ters as well, like Borderlands. These are only touch­ing on the upper tier of games pub­lish­ing. The prob­lem of cau­tion I men­tioned ear­lier didn’t pre­vent the last five years from hav­ing a large amount of games with female leads, female cast mem­bers and a huge amount of games with a choice of female char­ac­ters that have come from the more inde­pen­dent­ly devel­oped are­na.

Some people’s assump­tions are also pred­i­cat­ed on the notion that wom­en can only relate to female char­ac­ters. This doesn’t seem to be the case and what research there is out there looks to point to there being lit­tle pref­er­ence to lead char­ac­ter gen­der, as peo­ple play­ing video games tend to project them­selves onto a game’s char­ac­ters. The notion that female NPCs have “no agen­cy” is also a gross mis­un­der­stand­ing; NPCs often get more devel­op­ment and are more relat­able than lead char­ac­ters (see: Elizabeth from Bioshock: Infinite). They can be more fleshed out as char­ac­ters because we are not meant to be pro­ject­ing our­selves onto them. I’m sure most peo­ple who play video games as a hob­by could tell you the effect of see­ing your­self as the main char­ac­ter, that’s why so many main char­ac­ters are blank slates and  why I think the fierce debate about “female leads” is moot. We would be here all day talk­ing about how many games have decent female NPCs or side char­ac­ters. If the main char­ac­ter all but dis­ap­pears after the inser­tion of your­self, apart from in non-gameplay sec­tions, how is it any dif­fer­ent than being an NPC?

side woman thingy thingSo why do we have so many jour­nal­ists run­ning around like headless chick­ens telling us the sky is falling because there are too few female pro­tag­o­nists in games? There have cer­tain­ly been less in recent his­to­ry, but as I’ve said, that is out of lazi­ness and finan­cial para­noia. Do you real­ly want to get more female char­ac­ters in games and on the front of video games cas­es? Prove they sell well. Put your mon­ey where your mouth is and do some real leg-work instead of bitch­ing about it. Making games is a busi­ness. Attacking it pure­ly from a moral­is­tic, sex-negative, per­spec­tive will get you nowhere. It’s hard for com­pa­nies to know what you want instinc­tu­al­ly. They know what you don’t want when you swift­ly grab your pitch-forks in the next “think of the wom­en” moral pan­ic that comes up, but that offers no con­struc­tive points to work with. If I worked as a devel­op­er, I wouldn’t have a clue what the gam­ing press was shriek­ing for aside from the fact that if I do decide to cre­ate a female char­ac­ter, I’m walk­ing on egg-shells when it comes to my exe­cu­tion. There is an army of writ­ers out there just wait­ing to twist your words into the next “wom­en are too hard to ani­mate” non-scandal that will whip their read­ers into a right­eous fren­zy. There are peo­ple like Jason “Lolicon Fantasy” Schrier who will glee­ful­ly attack you as a “14 year old boy” for hav­ing exag­ger­at­ed char­ac­ter designs.

This idea of neg­a­tive sex­u­al­i­sa­tion is pred­i­cat­ed on the idea that wom­en them­selves don’t enjoy the char­ac­ters and aes­thet­ics that have been brand­ed sex­ist or misog­y­nis­tic by some. Women have breasts. Some wom­en have large breasts. I apol­o­gize if this makes you uncom­fort­able. Do I think there is an over­ly large per­cent­age of games like this? Yes, actu­al­ly, I do. The key is breed­ing vari­ety. You shouldn’t demand some­one else shrink to make you feel tall and you shouldn’t try to grow one mar­ket at cost of anoth­er. There is still vast untapped growth in the video games mar­ket and if you think you can sell to an untapped demo­graph­ic… then go for it. Romantic come­dies do not insist that action movies stop exist­ing to be eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable. There will always be a mar­ket for puerile big bounc­ing tit­ties. That’s the way it should be but that, by no means, should be the only aes­thet­ic out there. There is room for all kinds of female design; this isn’t a zero sum game. You can make female char­ac­ters that look how­ev­er you want. Although judg­ing by the demure sex­less vision some have for female char­ac­ters, you might have to go back to more puri­tan­i­cal times to find an audi­ence for them.

Now we get onto the oth­er issue that has become sep­a­rat­ed from real­i­ty. There is much hand-wringing over “wom­en in the indus­try” and loud trum­pet­ing of how unwel­com­ing game devel­op­ment and the tech indus­try is to wom­en. But if you actu­al­ly talk to the­se wom­en, you will find a dif­fer­ent sen­ti­ment. A use­ful but often ignored arti­cle on the sub­ject was writ­ten by Gabrielle Toledano, Executive Vice President and Chief Talent Officer for Electronic Arts. She wrote an impas­sioned plea in 2013 in Forbes:

Cast aside the pre­con­cep­tions, and look for the oppor­tu­ni­ties and places to make an impact.  And I can tell you first-hand that in the video game indus­try wom­en are not just wel­come, we are nec­es­sary and we are equal.”

side gabHere is a female exec­u­tive for one of the biggest AAA devel­op­ers and pub­lish­ers lay­ing bare the myth of “ram­pant sex­ism and misog­y­ny” as being just that, a myth. Pure scare­mon­ger­ing. As Gabrielle says, the lack of female devel­op­ers reflects the gen­er­al lack of female can­di­dates. Equality in employ­ment laws means you take the best can­di­date for the job regard­less of gen­der. These employ­ment polices can’t have bias either way by law.

So those ask­ing for a “50÷50” gen­der rep­re­sen­ta­tion in all areas of devel­op­ment (an arbi­trary and mean­ing­less quo­ta in of itself) are real­ly ask­ing for a mag­i­cal over­haul of the entire jobs mar­ket or to tip the scales in favour of female can­di­dates. Equality of oppor­tu­ni­ty is all you can ever expect in a fair and equal sys­tem. You’ve got a senior female exec­u­tive in one of the biggest video game com­pa­nies in the world telling you this. When is it going to sink in for some peo­ple?

If she had put out that arti­cle this week, I guar­an­tee she would be pil­lo­ried far and wide in the gam­ing press for excus­ing sex­ism. She might have even been accused of “hav­ing a GamerGate opin­ion” and thus accused of “sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism”. This is the rhetoric we see in the games press; they would rather accuse peo­ple of being ter­ror­ists than admit that may­be, just may­be, the larg­er gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty and game devel­op­ers out there are wel­com­ing and open to wom­en, even above and beyond most oth­er indus­tries. This wall of noise about how some kind of “anti-diversity” con­spir­a­cy in the gam­ing world is being ramped up, but EA them­selves have been named one of the best places to work by the Human Rights Campaign, win­ning a dis­tinc­tion given to busi­ness­es based on their “cor­po­rate poli­cies and prac­tices per­ti­nent to les­bian, gay, bisex­u­al and trans­gen­der employ­ees.” This isn’t just for game devel­op­ers or the tech sec­tor. This is an award that con­sid­ers all large busi­ness and EA came out as one of the top. For three years in a row. Three years. EA is much maligned for some of its anti-consumer mar­ket choic­es but its pro-female and pro-LGBT cre­den­tials seem to be one of the things they don’t have a prob­lem with. So where exact­ly is this “anti-diversity” con­spir­a­cy in the games indus­try we keep hear­ing about? Well, it doesn’t seem to be com­ing from AAA devel­op­ers like EA, as many indie devel­op­ers and cer­tain games media out­lets keep try­ing to sug­gest to us. It cer­tain­ly isn’t com­ing from the coastal indie scene or indus­try bod­ies, who seem to have an almost patho­log­i­cal fix­a­tion on talk­ing about race, sex­u­al­i­ty and gen­der diver­si­ty. Where is con­spir­a­cy? Can any­one show me? Could it be that this entire prob­lem was trumped up by peo­ple who have an inter­est in stir­ring up emo­tion­al sto­ries for their read­ers or poten­tial back­ers?

side women 4So AAA devel­op­ers are pro-diversity, gamers are pro-diversity, the indie devs are obses­sive­ly pro-diversity and the gam­ing press takes every oppor­tu­ni­ty it can to blare on about need­ing “bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion.” In seem­ing des­per­a­tion, ele­ments of the press and indie “scene” have tried to accuse the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty of being some­how anti-woman. This has been met with the expect­ed reac­tion of “…u wot mate?”  For an indus­try to accuse its read­ers and con­sumers of some­how being the basis of an anti-woman con­spir­a­cy is luna­cy. Nowhere was this more clear than in the World of Warcraft forums in the wake of Blizzards slight gaf, helped along by the Doritos pope him­self Geoff Keighley. Many of the threads were sad­ly delet­ed, but the gen­er­al reac­tion from a great many female WoW play­ers is that they had been a part of the MMO com­mu­ni­ty for many years with lit­tle or no expe­ri­ence of feel­ing like a sec­ond class gamer. I’ve played WoW. My friends mum got me into it. The com­mu­ni­ty is diverse; most MMO com­mu­ni­ties have a very strong female con­tin­gent. If you’re try­ing to get female gamers to tell you the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty is some kind of “boys club” you’re going to be lis­ten­ing to a minor­i­ty of voic­es telling you exact­ly what you want to hear. Go and ask most female gamers how they feel. Why doesn’t the press do that more?

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You wouldn’t know any of this by read­ing mod­ern games jour­nal­ism. The “wom­en issue” has revealed that gam­ing pub­li­ca­tions are inca­pable of putting crit­i­cal thought over out­rage and clicks. Incapable of fos­ter­ing a debate and inca­pable of fac­ing up to real­i­ty over ide­ol­o­gy. They con­tin­ue to push their mis­in­for­ma­tion to dri­ve a wedge in the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty; mak­ing their base of sup­port small­er and small­er until they turn off all gamers, male and female alike. You wouldn’t even think game devel­op­ers had female exec­u­tives from the way the press bangs on about this “recent” cru­sade to get wom­en into games. Naked self-publicists would like you to for­get the lega­cy and con­tri­bu­tion of wom­en to the games indus­try through­out the decades. They dis­re­spect that lin­eage for the sake of their own finan­cial and polit­i­cal expe­di­en­cy. In order to do this, one has to be deaf and blind to real­i­ty. They would rather do this than acknowl­edge the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty and devel­op­ment world is wel­com­ing to wom­en and female tal­ent, and that our hob­by is home to one of the most for­ward think­ing and diverse groups of peo­ple on the face of the Earth. Massive game pub­lish­ers win awards for how they han­dle their employ­ees and com­mu­ni­ties far and wide have been home to wom­en for decades. This is the real­i­ty of the games indus­try and its com­mu­ni­ty: stri­dent, fierce, bat­tered by eco­nom­ic tur­bu­lence and beset by many prob­lems but nev­er let­ting those define and mire them.

The games indus­try and com­mu­ni­ty isn’t per­fect but the warped image put for­ward in the dying cries of the gam­ing press — as they slide into their inevitable and wel­come irrel­e­van­cy — are gross dis­tor­tions of real­i­ty meant to exploit and prof­it from an imag­i­nary mon­ster and in the process drag the rep­u­ta­tion of the games indus­try and com­mu­ni­ty through the dirt for their own gain.

Continued in Part 4: The Mobile Menace

Visit the the Parts Index

Scrumpmonkey can also be found on YouTube, on Twitter and on Medium. You can also read more about him in his writer intro­duc­tion for SuperNerdLand

https://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/header-woman.pnghttps://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/header-woman-150x150.pngJohn SweeneyEditorialDeath of Games Journalism,Editorial,Games Media Part Three of a multi-part series. Start from the begin­ning of the series ,vis­it the parts index or read Part 2 – Business 101 here Women play video games. Women devel­op video games. Women love video games. This shouldn’t be such a hard con­cept to grasp. Games media talks about “wom­en in gam­ing” and…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.