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#1ReasonWhy: sexism, the future, and videogame culture

Sexism and exclusionism in videogames culture—once taken for granted—has increasingly been challenged over the last few years. The most visible flashpoint to date was a recent Twitter hashtag that became a space for shared stories and support. In this guest post, Leena van Deventer outlines what #1reasonwhy meant to her, and what it has inspired.

I’ve been aware that my play and work spaces are male-dominated for quite some time. I’ve witnessed people being treated unfairly and I’ve been treated unfairly. My friends have horror stories, I have horror stories, we talk about them together. It’s a thing and it’s been a thing for a while.

When #1ReasonWhy happened, I breathed a sigh of relief. Luke Crane of Kickstarter (and himself a game designer) asked innocently on twitter:

“Why are there so few lady game creators?”

When Filamena Young responded, ending her tweet with the hashtag #1ReasonWhy, it began. Soon, this hashtag was populated with tens of thousands of tweets, all horror stories doing their best to explain why videogames culture may be a problematic place for us to work and play.

I was glued to my computer. Look at all these brave women! Check out all that fortitude! Oh god the fortitude. It’s oozing out everywhere. War drums started, and I heard chants under all the tweets: “Enough. is. enough.”. My heart was racing.

Quickly, the #1ReasonMentors hashtag appeared, for women wanting help to find someone to help them. It was followed by the #1ReasonToBe hashtag, to remind us of why it’s a kick-ass job enough for us to put up with this crap in the first place.

As we carefully curate our personal space and who we associate with, we can start to forget certain behaviour exists. Horror stories remind us of the existence of our bubble, that there’s a big world out there, that there are people out there who are still blatant misogynists or unknowing sexists, and that women still exist who don’t associate with the term feminist, despite enjoying all the tasty cake feminist movements have provided them thus far. #1ReasonWhy was a call to check your bubble, and it was goooood.

I’ve felt like it’s been necessary for quite some time to organise myself in a feminist capacity to be there for the culture I love so much, but I didn’t really have many ideas how to go about it. All I knew is that horror stories can only get us so far, even though they had their place. A few months before the #1ReasonWhy hashtag I started brainstorming and asking experienced feminists and women in digital culture what I could do to help. I was shown how other fields are offering support systems to women creatives, what works, what doesn’t. I particularly like the notion behind nochicksnoexcuses.com.au, a rolling database of women experts that broadcasters, festival organisers and curators (and the like) could access so there was no way the excuse “We just couldn’t find any women” would fly when confronted about lack of diversity of opinion.

But I didn’t feel like that was the right fit for creatives in the game space. A framework of “experts” can also exclude a lot of people who have meaningful things to contribute, in our domain. Students and emerging practitioners still have a lot of wisdom to share.

I want to set up an online hub where women creatives can share the personal epiphanies about their craft they’ve been having, the lessons they’ve learned, and get help when they need it. A space that showcases amazing women game developers locally and from all over the world, asking them to write a blog article about something they’d like to share. A space where women can share their #1ReasonWhy, and be greeted with a knowing hug and reminded of #1ReasonToBe. A space that also welcomes non-games professionals to dip their toe in and see what this whole videogame malarky is all about—a safe space where they don’t have to prove “nerd cred” in order to earn permission to make something cool.

I want there to be a place to go to feel energised and not alone as a woman working in videogames, like I did when I was reading #1ReasonWhy. Both online, and in person. I want something steadfast and durable.

The hashtag felt so ephemeral. I was scared of losing it. “Where are we all going after this is done?! I don’t want to lose you all,” I tweeted. The groundswell behind movements lead by social media can seem so fleeting. There needs to be concrete action afterwards to make sure a difference is actually made.

I want to make a space where there’s a focus on the personal relationship between maker and craft. Where industry experience isn’t a nucleus, people still learning their path are valued and heard, and other people can help them. The maker’s journey is a fascinating one, and one that requires a lot of support, both moral and otherwise. Throw in a harsh gender imbalance and the need for support is even greater.

So I’m going to make this space. Horror stories can only get us so far, after all. So, women in digital culture: start writing down things you’re needing some help with. I’m going to try and put some women in front of you that will try to help. Don’t lose the momentum, don’t lose the urge to say enough is enough, and don’t lose contact. #1ReasonWhy was an important cultural moment. One we shouldn’t let disappear.

Leena van Deventer is a writer, editor, and game developer from Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on twitter @grassisleena

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  • 1
    John64
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    1. The first, a general comment: There are other games out there besides “Call of Duty”. The notion that “every game is about killing and war” is about as behind the times and out of date as thinking women don’t have the right to vote.

    2. “Why are there so few lady game creators?”

    Because very few women choose to study Computer Science (and beyond that, the hard maths and sciences that created modern computing). Apparently this is because women are put-off by the “geekiness”. “Women don’t feel they would fit in and so steer clear of computer-science majors and jobs, the researchers say. [...] In the geeky environment, women were significantly less interested than men in computer science”.

    And “Far more so than males, women cite a lack of a human focus and the dry, plug-and-chug nature of Computer Science coursework as reasons for not considering a major in the field; this is true of all engineering and many science majors, not just CS. [...] They also categorize programming as a “soulless” task. They view programmers as devoting more time to the understanding of machines than people; to many women this priority set is inexplicable and bizarre.”

    Of course, that would be horribly sexist and misogynist of men if they held a similar attitude about a course dominated by females (“I’m not taking that Women’s Studies course, it’s full of women who don’t shave and pictures of Germaine Greer! Besides, they don’t learn anything that’s actually useful”).

    Dare I say men and women think differently?

    3. I particularly like the notion behind nochicksnoexcuses.com.au

    Paging through the categories of speakers:
    Business – “activist”, “entertainer”, “blogger”, “commentator”
    Education & Family Life – “commentator”, “author”, “writer”
    Health – “Women’s health activist”, “writer”, “body image specialist”
    Law – “journalist”
    Science & Technology – “journalist”, “commentator”, “writer”

    There are very few speakers who are actually “in the field”, so to speak. A lot of writers, commentators, bloggers but only a handful I could see who actually ‘worked in the field’ and two of those were what I’d class as typically “female focussed fields” (IVF treatment and body image).

    I’m looking out of interest because I recently held a conference, although all our speakers were people who actually had jobs doing what they were talking about. We did have a female speaker – because she was an expert in her field (and that wasn’t a typically “female field” either).

    IE: Where’s the female Geologist, Computer Scientist or Math professor? And is it “men’s fault” that women don’t study these things – or the “woman’s fault” for choosing not to study them?

    Even the author of this piece herself started /writing/ about games. Not making them. I find that interesting. Does it suggest that men prefer to create (and the long, lonely hours spent sitting in front of a computer that entails), where-as women prefer to talk about it (with all their friends, while they socialise)?

    There’s nothing stopping a group of women getting together and setting up their own computer game company. That is, after all, how every computer game company was ever created. Typically a bunch of guys, all studying Computer Science, deciding they want to get together and make games. And then actually doing it. Not complaining about it.

    4. I lol’d at the image Crikey used to promote this particular piece on their Facebook page. An attractive female holding two controllers, not playing them. Holding them against her face. Because you know, that’s what you do with controllers. http://tinypic.com/r/vndpnm/6

    Me thinks a man chose that image.

  • 2
    z craig
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    hmmmm…I think the symmetry of the word ‘sexist’ (prejudice based on a person’s gender) completely escapes Leena van Deventer.

  • 3
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I had hoped that my blog would be a relatively safe space for Leena to write something like this, but so far, the comments have me thinking otherwise. I don’t usually wade into the comments, but I feel responsible for what kind of a space Game On is.

    Before any response on my behalf, I’d just like to say I more than stand behind Leena here – I think this piece is relevant and super important. We should continue posting pieces like this until we stop getting comments that dismiss authors like Leena implicitly for a lack of knowledge or grasp of the situation. If anyone understands the situation, it’s Leena van Deventer.

    z craig – I have no idea what you are talking about, but I feel you are trying to be condescending. No more of this, please.

    John64 – 1. We know. Leena knows. Filamena, as a game designer, knows.

    2. What are you quoting from? In any case, I suspect this is a chicken-and-egg problem. I recently attended a graduate show for a videogame development course here in Melbourne, and the gender balance was close to 50/50. It is entirely possible, and the fact that it usually doesn’t happen in degrees speaks volumes not about some implicit aversion on behalf of women, but about the courses themselves, their convenors, and university culture and administration.

    3. As a man, I think it is an important task to continue to open up traditionally male-dominate fields for more opportunities for women. I frankly don’t buy that there are a set of innocent circumstances that mean that women “just don’t study” these things. There are other reasons, some of which are obvious, and some of which need deeper examination.

    4. I agree. We’re looking for a different image.

    Finally – this can be a space for conversation. But, I will be watching – and moderating – this comment thread closely. What kind of space Game On is is very important to me, and I have no compunction in deleting comments that I feel push this blog in the wrong direction.

  • 4
    Michael Theiler
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t commented on a Dan piece because being a lazy time poor person, having to sign up was too mammoth a barrier. The comments here have compelled me.

    So all I want to say is this. After reading this piece I thought about what it would be to actually have more games made by a majority women team. I think there would be a high probability that they would be interesting, which I find compelling.

    Reading the piece made me think that I hope those teams of mainly women game devs still allow some guys to be on the team. As someone who works in this industry, I would love that opportunity, to work on interesting games.

    That’s what I got out of reading the above piece. I didn’t feel that the comments spoke to anything relevant, or represent the perspective of most male game devs.

  • 5
    z craig
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    In response to Daniel:

    The MacQuarie Dictionary defines ‘sexist’ as:
    adjective 1. of an attitude which stereotypes a person according to gender, or sexual preference, rather than judging on individual merits.

    Symmetry is about how balanced something is usually about a central point (like face, a shape), so when it applies to sexism, it pertains to the nature of the word’s meaning: that it means gender prejudice toward either a male, (sexism based on male gender) or a female (sexism based on female gender).

    Sexist is not a noun, (so a sexist is not a mysognist), and to define sexism, solely around feminism is quite self indulgent. I don’t game, I don’t really wish to be lumped in, though, on the basis of my gender with people who have certain traits, so Ms Van Deventer, noting I am sure you have some genuine concerns about sexism within the gaming culture, my view was that the stance of the piece was sexist, or prejudiced against males, based on some unreasonable (as pointed out by john64) conclusions, which were less than evidence based, more based on your emotions, so that is what I am talking about.

  • 6
    Lightfoot Anatoli
    Posted December 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    z craig: I think you’ll need to be more specific about what aspects of the piece are in your opinion sexist. Saying that “the stance of the piece was sexist” is to be vague to the point of meaninglessness.

    John64: You quote: “[women] view programmers as devoting more time to the understanding of machines than people; to many women this priority set is inexplicable and bizarre.”

    I’m not sure where this and your other quotes come from, but in my view they miss the point. The problem is not that women won’t consider careers in CS—that’s a symptom. The problem is that society tells them (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) that they shouldn’t consider those careers.

    How do we change this? Unfortunately I think the answer is probably “slowly”. But the first step is to correctly identify the problem.

  • 7
    Silver Lining
    Posted December 23, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    The majority of gamers are male. As a mother of boys and girls I have noted how instinctively boys gravitate to violence and killing games, despite me trying to engage them otherwise. game companies need to make money, so it is not surprising the games are predominantly violent in nature. Most girls simply do not like violent games, so perhaps it is not surprising so few have gravitated to the field of game design. When they do see games, all the women are wearing bondage style outfits, being overly sexy. no wonder they are not interested in making the games.
    however, I have noticed a shift towards games that provide more substance, art and beauty and comedy. “journey” , “Portal” and “Unfinished Swan” and these have captivated my boys. and drawn the interest of my girls. hopefully these games will inspire to choose careers in these areas.

    John 64, I was top of my maths and physics class, but the relentless harassment I received from my male classmates was more than I could bear. women don’t just “choose” not to study and work in these fields, they are often forced out by jealous competitive males who resent women achieving in subjects they feel ownership over. You sound just like one of those boys.

  • 8
    Stella Puhakka
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I’m rather surprised that some of us women around the industry have finally decided to stand up. It’s a pain to try to reach out to the industry, to be a part of it – as a customer, in my case – when I’m constantly required by other players, readers and fans to PROVE myself, even if I had been a part of it all longer than they had.. I’m glad, we’re making more noise of ourselves now!

    There was a point, where I wanted to become a game developer. That time is long gone, not because I lost interest in the field, but rather because I was told it was not my “place”. Whatever that was supposed to mean! I don’t understand WHAT John64 is talking about, on his points 2 and 3 especially, since I know many young women here in Finland who are studying Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography and other fields that he seems to think women aren’t interested in. I know as many girls as I know guys who have applied and been accepted to study in order to become someone in the fields of creating new content on computers and improving technology as a whole (sorry, my knowledge of related words in English is rather limited as I am not an expert)

    And on a site note, I don’t remember where I read it, but in Finland girls play more video games than guys do. The problem is that we’re not as open about is as guys tend to be, because we get told that it’s not what girls should be doing.

    I hope we don’t get kicked back into the hole of non-existence, because we do exist and have existed for quite a while now – People just need to start seeing that!

  • 9
    Ruprecht
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Great piece Leena. Thanks Dan for hosting it.

    As a male (but not in the industry) I kinda think one of the best things we can do is vacate the online space to an extent, to make room for others. I’ve contradicted myself by commenting, but wanted to show support.

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