#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."

Latest comments (12)

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters4 years ago
@Tom - I didn't understand that either. I could understand it if the company she worked for suddenly took a radical new direction and started making war games, but then your choice is no different from anyone else's. Either put up with it, or go work somewhere else. Unless you're a director it's not up to you.
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Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer 4 years ago
I am very sorry but I didn't understand a lot from the statements, I think they were "edited" too much by the author and the statements don't seem to connect.

One point though I wish to talk about, and that is showing empathy. I think that is something to be learned, because we as men don't use to show empathy to other men, especially in a work environment and especially in technical fields.

Generally when men gather together, one showing any kind of weakness has no empathy from others, but instead is getting bashed or the others laugh at him. We can show empathy at home to our wives because there is no man around to see our sensible side, but usually within a group where more men are present we put the "tough" mask on. It is not premeditated, it just happens. So take a group of 10 men and one woman. If the woman needs empathy at some point, none of the man present will do that because he's afraid to not be the only one and get ridiculed by the others. It is a form of social pressure, and I really don't see any way out of it. If anyone knows one, please let me know about it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mihai Cozma on 28th March 2013 5:58pm

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M.H. Williams Staff Writer, USgamer4 years ago

The talks weren't particularly connected, apart from being delivered by important women in the gaming industry. Each presenter had her own story and presentation, delivered separately.
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Show all comments (12)
Jade Law Senior concept artist, Reloaded Productions4 years ago
I'm going to do what this woman is doing and only speak for myself and my insecurities, but unlike her I'm not going to do so under the pretense that my subjective opinion makes me a role model.

So to start -I like the booth babes at e3..
Most of them are really chatty and enjoy being there too, and I love seeing professional quality cosplay. Just because there are attractive women walking around its a problem? Leigh must hate going to the beach on sunny days.

And honestly, if she didnt want to work on SOCOM thats more of a personal issue than a gender based one. I know many talented girls who've worked on everything from survival horrors to sexy chick with guns FPS and they've enjoyed their work, myself included.

This is all too subjective, its her individual experience and insecurities, all im reading is righteous indignation.
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Well Jade, I guess it's nice for you that you can ignore and even enjoy the endemic objectification of women by our industry, but please don't characterise those of us - and there are quite a few, men and women alike - who are sick and tired of it as mere prudes. I have no problem with cosplayers or sexy women, but when 'sexy' - and an incredibly narrow visual ideal of sexy, even - is more or less the default descriptor for women in videogames, it gets old.

I mean, it is righteous indignation. We have a right to be pissed off about it, as Leigh said herself in the panel. Using women as eye-candy(and I'm not talking about cosplayers, I'm talking about booth babes, ie. paying women to stand around looking pretty and pleasing congoers) makes plenty of people who want to believe that we work in a professional, mature industry uncomfortable and pissed off. It's a relic of a bygone era when women were believed to be little more than either sexual playthings or mothers, and plenty of other shows like PAX and Eurogamer Expo have banned the use of booth babes because it is exclusionary, it makes people uncomfortable, it's sexist. The fact that E3 has reversed its booth babe ban is saddening, frankly, because it signals that the show doesn't care about the thousands of gamers, developers and potential developers alike who are turned off by sexist advertising practises.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 29th March 2013 12:48pm

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Tim Ogul Illustrator 4 years ago
Jessica, it's true that the vast majority of female characters in games are "sexy," but the vast majority of male characters are "sexy" too, so that's not really a thing. Videogame characters in general tend to be sexy because people prefer sexy character to unsexy ones. I mean, look at the box art for Bioshock Infinite, Liz got back-cover billing, it's Booker's manly gaze on the front.

As for "booth babes," I have no strong opinions one way or the other. If an attractive booth babe attracts more attention to the booth in question then good for them, they are getting more eyes on their product, and paying some nice young lady to just stand around all day, win/win. If it doesn't bring positive attention to their game then they're probably doing themselves a disservice, but that's for their marketing team to decide. Either way if "booth babes" are the core problem with women in gaming then I think we can safely say "crisis averted."

Now, as for a more general issue of games and girls, the inclusion of female-oriented content, like female player models, male love interests, etc., I agree that those angles should be pursued, when it's feasible to do so, but in many genres (though not all), if you only have the budget to fully flesh out one gender and one selection of love interests, then it stands to reason to choose to go with a male the majority of the time, just because it will most appeal to the largest possible portion of the audience. I mean, if you're forced to target either 60% or 40%, why would you choose to only go after the 40%? Games that offer both sides, such as Mass Effect, can benefit greatly from having that option, but not all games have the budget, or the creative flexibility to manage that.

Reward developers that offer well rounded gender choices, and reward games that choose to include a default female lead, but don't harangue companies for featuring male leads if they have every reason to believe that this will result in higher sales for their games. If you want them to change their practices, don't criticize them for not having enough female inclusion, that and two bucks will buy you a soda. Instead, show them that offering more female inclusion will lead to higher sales in the products that do offer it. You show them profits, and they'll show you female inclusion out the wazzoo.
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Jade Law Senior concept artist, Reloaded Productions4 years ago
Jessica have you ever even been to a big con like E3?
Have you even spoken to a booth babe? Most will tell you they certainly don't feel objectified and find their jobs empowering, they're put in control situations. They don't feel objectified so why should I, as a developer standing with them, representing the same product feel objectified?
Clearly by now you've read that theres a lot of people who dislike boothbabes, but equally there are those who like them or dont even mind them.

You find it sexist, I don't. There is no right or wrong in this case and really i feel it should be left up to publishers to choose themselves how they want to advertise their products as with many other industries. Sure some people are sick of it, but some of as aren't. You know what I'm sick of? Women using their gender to complain about things based on their own personal insecurities.

We do work in a professional industry, one of the largest in the world. We have a really good standard of equality, most cases of sexism boil down to personal cases.
Define mature, what does that even mean? How does it apply? Can you actually give me one good reason why it needs to mature? Who does it benefit and why? How will that differentiate us from other entertainment industries... is music and film mature or not? How does this affect actual developers, female or otherwise. What do we gain.. and what do we also lose?

Or are you just throwing it around in a blanket statement?

I feel like theres a lot of talk going on right now about female developers and little of it benefits the individual actually seeking gender equality WITHIN development.
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@Tim Ogul
Jessica, it's true that the vast majority of female characters in games are "sexy," but the vast majority of male characters are "sexy" too, so that's not really a thing.
They're not, though. That's a false equivalency and it gets used too frequently whenever sexism in games comes up. Male heroes are often depicted as being strong and having huge arms, yes, but the way that image is presented is not sexualised. It's not just about the visual design, it's about the context.

I would honestly love for some enterprising indie to create a game where the male hero is dressed and posed the way female characters are. I guarantee you, most young male gamers would run screaming in horror in case it made them gay. - this image sums it up perfectly. You can't just say "Women wear sexy outfits, men have big muscles, that's the same thing". It's not. Not even close.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 4 years ago
It will be interesting to see if non programming game development systems like Unity and Construct2 succeed in getting over the maths gender gap. It would be excellent if they did.
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Jade Law Senior concept artist, Reloaded Productions4 years ago
The image you posted doesnt sum it up perfectly, its like the hawkeye initiative.
Hyper-masculinity is the equivalent to the "sexy" female character art. Its not about portraying them the same but exaggerating the anatomy that makes them "attractive" or even just pursuing the ideal. This is a very different thing for different genders.

Frank Frazettas work is almost the epitome of this balance, males and females he designed for things like conan wear the same amount of clothing. The males are strong, defiant and muscular, the females usually in poses that highlight their chests and waists.
One of the previous games i worked on had a bug where the female model would sometimes use the male anim set. And they looked awful, standing and lurching around like a large muscular man. It was not pretty, thats the equivalent of what you're proposing with a male posed like a women.

Theres a much larger conversation here but please understand even though not everyone even finds it sexy, an artist will usually always aim for the ideal in marketing. Artists have done this for thousands of years and we continue to do so today.

read this and many stats like it, theres so many factors at play, I read a lot of psychology reports that link back to why this is, the individual may not always agree but you're catering to the group, not the individual.
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Tim Ogul Illustrator 4 years ago
@Dan, but that's a false equivalency too. Posing and dressing male characters like female characters is meaningless, because men are not women. Men do not typically dress like women, or act like women, and when they do, they are typically not viewed as particularly desirable to women. In real life, women tend to wear more revealing clothing than men do. do real women dress like videogame characters? Typically not, but neither do real men tend to dress like male characters.

A male character who is "alpha," and strong, and masculine is typically seen as attractive to female viewers as a woman who is supportive, and attractive, and feminine is to a male viewer. I'm not necessarily talking the meathead "bro" Gears type characters (who have Valkyrie equivalent female counterparts), but most male leads like Nathan Drake, Booker DeWitt, Link, Solid Snake, etc. cut a figure and attitude that is as attractive to female gamers as their female counterparts are to male ones. There are plenty of cases of games which have female leads, and in many of those there are male characters who take a subordinate role as well.

Various projects in which people dress male characters up in female outfits and the pose them in feminine poses are farcical, and usually amusing, but they don't actually make any rational point on the nature of women in media, any more than putting a Hitler mustache on a politician of choice really makes a rational point about their policies.
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Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst 4 years ago
I judge people based on their contribution to the art form.

"Booth babes" are demeaning to both genders. They make women look supine and men look asinine. That isn't helping anyone.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gareth Eckley on 31st March 2013 4:11am

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