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#1ReasonToBe panel shows female devs still struggling for equality

GDC 2013: Women in gaming still have a ways to go to find daylight

Today at GDC 2013's #1ReasonToBe panel, a diverse group of women from the game industry took to the stage to talk about how issues within our industry have affected them. Each woman explored a different issue in their talk, ranging from minority issues to E3's booth babe policy.

In her presentation, Gamasutra editor-at-large Leigh Alexander talked about being a positive force and role model in the industry.

"The biggest challenge women in particular have in the industry is not that there are too many booth babes at E3. We're part of a system. If more people were simply willing to be human and patient instead of righteous, we would have a healthier working culture," she said. "It's not about policing displays of sexuality. To me, the question is: Is this a positive female character or is this a heroic female character?"

"I don't want to have to be tough or positive. I just want to be treated with respect and empathy, and that's what I want for my colleagues as well."

"In my work that means practicing the behavior that I want to see in others, which is to care, listen, learn, and then take action. When someone says 'I don't feel safe in this space', people'sr job is not to rebut, to judge their reactions as an invitation to debate, or to tell them what they need to do so you can stop being made uncomfortable by them," Alexander said.

She also added that being positive is fine, but that should not trump the ability to be angry when something is wrong.

"I also like to see people celebrating things about their work, and being super-positive, and that's what I want as well. But, I just want to make sure we're aware on the potential undertone when we're focused on being inspirational that may suggest that we're not allowed to be angry also. We have not won this thing yet. Everyone deserves to be heard in whatever way they want," she said.

Microsoft Studios game designer Kim McAuliffe told the audience about her problem with the fact that the player is always assumed to be male. She explained that one of her first games was The Sims 2 for Nintendo DS, which had the option to flirt with NPCs. As originally conceived, the game lacked attractive options for female players, but after the issue was pointed out, the team worked hard to create equal options for both genders.

McAuliffe also related her uncomfortable experience with being a developer on Sony's SOCOM series due to the violent content.

"I worked on SOCOM 4, but it made me uncomfortable. Increasingly, I felt I did wrong by designers because I wanted learn something that was outside what was currently considered to be the core. I wanted to work on games for kids and families."

"Then Minecraft came along, and showed us that the gaming audience at large is really more diverse than we currently think it is," she said. "I'd like to postulate that one of the reasons so few women are in the industry is that the assumption that gamers are male make female players feel like they're on the fringes. When girls feel truly welcome as players, they'll naturally grow to be part of the industry."

Storm8 game designer Elizabeth Sampat took issues with the "rules" women needed to follow in order to become a part of the industry. Sampat began by developing tabletop games, before moving in digital titles. She explained the hard truths of female developers dealing with some within the industry.

"There will always be people that are incapable of taking you seriously. No matter what I say, no matter what I wear, no matter how I change myself in the hopes of chasing legitimacy, the changes I made to myself will always alienate someone," she said.

"No matter how amazing or progressive a company is, if it's big enough, there will always be that one asshole who can't take me seriously. I could go to my boss and he could tell me to be more assertive, but if I have deadline and my team is counting on me and that one asshole is the one thing in my way, its faster and more effective to have a man talk to him for me."

Game critic Mattie Brice talked about the industry and media's narrow focus on certain types of games.

"We often say that life is a game. What are the rules of this game that we're playing, what are the rules of this industry? No one may explicitly say any of these things, but all of these assumptions we make are still there. They choose who is paid and not paid. What goes on in our shows and what is given a proper advertising budget. What kinds of games are validated?" Brice asked.

"Do we want to prime gamers and prime people who will be making our games to have this very narrow assumption about what games are? I can tell you we have a very small, narrow scope. We're strangling our industry by having such a narrow perspective."

"We have been diverse. I am not a new demographic. I have not been starting to play games in the past couple of years. My sister, my friends; we are not a new demographic to be served. We have been here," said Brice. "Be adamantly inclusive."

Finally, industry veteran Brenda Romero slammed the Electronic Entertainment Expo for its position on booth babes at its event.

"It was just everywhere, it was just absolutely everywhere. I don't care, do whatever you want to do. But it caused a lot of issues with people who were present, it created a sexually-charged environment. For me, it felt like I was walking through a construction site," Romero said.

Romero related sexual comments made during a business transaction, noting that it would be sexual harassment in any other workplace. She then made a point with a series of slides about the games and technology she goes to E3 to talk about, juxtaposed with images of nearly-naked men.

"In looking for images for this, I found myself unable to focus on my presentation. I found myself unable to not respond physically to the beautiful images that I'm seeing. If it affects me, if affects you," she emphasized with language we cannot include here.

Romero then talked about her 12-year old daughter, who at the age of 10 started coding. Romero explained that her daughter gave her a Christmas present.

"At Christmas she got me this book. Inside it said something that moved me more than anything she's ever said. She said she just wants to make a video game with me. That's her dream," she said to applause. "And so, E3, please change it so I can can go to your place and say, 'I'm proud of where mommy works.' And feel that she will be safe there and not gazed upon. It's all I'm asking."

Mike Williams avatar

Mike Williams

Reviews Editor, USgamer

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.