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April 29, 2013 | by  | in Arts Games |
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Growing Pains

The mainstream video-game industry tends to act like a sweaty crowd of pubescent teenagers. Or rather, a large majority of the people
involved in it do. It’s a relatively new industry, sure—especially by comparison to middle-aged-but-can-still-let-its-hair-down film or old-guy-in-comfy-slippers novel. The way that women tend to be treated—in development, the press or games themselves—is pretty emblematic of this pimply, wispy-stachioed stage in the industry’s life that it quickly needs to grow out of.

How women are represented in games is pretty revealing of the industry’s viewpoint. It’s also an area that’s had a lot of coverage and is well-known. Chainmail bikinis in Aion, ‘jiggle physics’ in Dead or Alive (they’re exactly what they sound like) and female characters being cast almost exclusively as sassy and/or sexy sidekicks in games like Enslaved or Halo—chances are, if there’s a female character her jumpsuit is mostly unzipped and her lips are extra-pouty. While this is more of an issue with Japanese rather than Western developers, it’s an obvious area where some improvement could be made. These representations are insulting both to women, for obvious reasons, and to the men who take offence at the obvious attempts at pandering to them through sexytimes. Some developers definitely try to counter this trend (Bioware’s Mass Effect or Dragon Age titles, for example), but overall, games tend to give women a poor showing—if they even feature any at all.

Less well-known is how terribly women can be treated within the industry. This came to light in a major way late last year with the #1reasonwhy Twitter campaign. This encouraged mostly female members of the video-game press and development industry to tweet about misogynistic or discriminatory actions they’ve been exposed to in the course of working in the video-game industry. These make for both shocking and sad reading—mistreatment by co-workers and fans at conventions, assumptions that women can only work on the pinkest and most glittery ‘girl games’, people thinking it’s okay to comment on someone’s appearance and not their work at trade shows. The #1reasonwhy campaign gives a look on the generally invisible ‘other side’ of the industry, the place of producers rather than product. Seeing that women are treated in basically the same saddening/maddening way on both sides is definitely a sobering thought.

It’s not all doom, gloom, and hatred of wombs in the industry, though. A second campaign, #1reasontobe, arose shortly after the first. This allows women from across the industry to say why they put up with everything thrown at them. It’s definitely inspiring stuff. These are clearly people fighting for and doing something they believe in: “because my 3 year old niece… deserve[s] better than this”; “plain and simple, I love making games and I love playing games”; “because some of us have never encountered these scenarios [of #1reasonwhy]”. There’s not a hint of defeat or dismay at the poor treatment in #1reasonwhy, and this is something for the entire industry to aspire to.

The defence that ‘the video games industry is a boys’ club; if you can’t take the heat then leave’, isn’t even nearly good enough. Development and fandom should be inclusive, not exclusive. We’re all clearly passionate about the same thing and isn’t that enough? The more viewpoints, the more diverse narratives we can both tell and be exposed to. Ain’t nothin’ bad about that, so now’s the time to stop standing in the way of it.

This isn’t meant to be a rant from atop a soapbox wonkily propped on the back of a high horse, even if in retrospect it looks a lot like one. Rather, it’s to make you, Reader Jo/Joe, think about the representation of gender in games and also about the people that make them. If we want games to be considered art, or more respectable, or be more accepted and less stigmatised, the easiest thing to do is to think about hard or scary stuff like this. Being passive with video games definitely does not help anyone—actively thinking is the next step for the mainstream part of this industry to take in growing up.

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