GDC ’13: Women, Equality, And #1Reasons
Women have always been present in the gaming industry and their visibility and influence increases with each passing year. This is an absolutely wonderful thing, but bringing about change to the industry’s boys club is an arduous process. To shed light on the conditions that women had to deal with, the Twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy was created which stood for “the #1 reason why there aren’t more women making games,” and the stories of sexism and abuse that followed were distressing and endless.
In response, the companion hashtag #1reasontobe surfaced and brought to light women’s inspirational messages of their “#1 reason to be” gamers and game designers. Continuing the delivery of such a positive message was a GDC panel with six women from the industry each giving their “#1 reason to be” a woman in the industry, and they had amazing things to say.
Really inspiring. Here’s the intro, full text through the link:
I woke up to my niece’s phone call today. She had called to tell me that she finally had an answer to that fateful forever question of “what do you want to be when you grow up”. She wanted to make video games. This didn’t really surprise me - she always had a knack for summarizing complex game play in a few words. What did surprise me, however, was my inability to go back to sleep after that call. I lay awake, thinking about her future career choice, about how things are now, and how much I wish I could change them for her. I got up, and I wrote her this letter.
Here’s a list of games that were made by women, since I’ve never actually seen a list before!
A great list. The only way for an industry/artform/however you want to classify videogames to become more inclusive is for the creators to be more diverse. Also, great to know a bit of videogame history.
Not a complete list, but a good cross section. =D
Scrolling down I found that a commenter provided links to several blog posts by Lori Cole (who appears on the list) about the roles of women in the Quest for Glory series. She has some interesting things to say about the female characters in her games and how she wanted to subvert expectations. She also says that her original design included giving the player the ability to choose to play as a female character. Here are links to the blog posts, which I found really interesting:
These are a fabulous set of blog posts. Lori reflects on her contributions to games and women’s role in them. Really worth reading.
You’d expect a BBC list of the 100 most powerful women to include crafters of mainstream culture like pop star Adele, internationally bestselling author J.K. Rowling, and, of course, the Queen. But nestled in amongst political figures, business moguls, and Britain’s first openly gay Poet Laureate, there’s a brief description of the career of Siobhan Reddy, a woman who makes video games for a living.
Recognition of the power of women as well as the power of games? Naturally, we approve.
Always reblog The Mary Sue. =D
So, here’s a question: why are female video game protagonists so rare? Their absence is palpable, and we talk often of how we want to see more of them, but the why of it is typically addressed with generalizations about target audiences and a lack of women in game development. Penny Arcade Report senior editor Ben Kuchera wanted better answers than that, so he did what any red-blooded gamer would do — he found some numbers to crunch.
This sooo very much, this:
Where do I even start? What is there to say? I could talk about how I want to smash my head against the wall when I think of how Portal managed to surprise us with a female protagonist twenty years after Metroid came out. I could talk about how this article made me think of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, a game with an intriguing, awesome-sounding woman of color at the helm, whose exclusive release on a poorly-selling handheld console I completely forgot about thanks to a lack of marketing fanfare. I could talk about circular logic and player statistics and gender portrayals and all the other arguments that have been made a million times before. But while I find the things described in that article frustrating for a plethora of reasons, if I step back, I know that this problem wasn’t born in a vacuum. This isn’t something I can argue from a standpoint of gender equity or good storytelling, because at its core, it’s not about that. It’s about money, and it’s about everything that’s wrong with how the gaming industry works.
I happen to be fortunate. My team of writers on Dragon Age currently consists of nine people— most of which are female. It’s reached the point that, when we consider new hires and transfers, I tend to joke “ummm, we could use some more testosterone in here…” and give a big goofy grin. Mine is probably the only department that could get away with saying something like that.
And I’m not truly serious about it, anyhow. If having such a large number of women on my team has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t lump them into one category of preferences any more than you could the guys. Yes, there are those among my female writers who are more averse to combat and more attracted to the romance plots… but, you know what? That’s equally true for the male writers. Considering there are those among the women who would be seriously put out if a plot didn’t engage in some serious bloodletting, and who roll their eyes whenever the subject of gooey romance comes up, I think it’s pretty safe to say the stereotype of a “female gamer” doesn’t exist outside of the heads of men.
Which meant I was a little surprised when I learned something new the other day.
We were sitting down to peer review a plot— a peer review being the point where a plot has had its first writing pass completed, and whoever wrote it sits down with the other writers as well as representatives from cinematic design, editing, and level art to hear critique. We’ve all read it first, and written down our thoughts, and go around the table to relate any issues we encountered.
As it happened, most of the guys went first. Typical stuff— some stuff was good, some stuff needed work, etc. etc. Then one of the female writers went, and she brought up an issue. A big issue. It had to do with a sexual situation in the plot, which she explained could easily be interpreted as a form of rape.
It wasn’t intended that way. In fact, the writer of the plot was mortified. The intention was that it come across as creepy and subverting… but authorial intention is often irrelevant, and we must always consider how what we write will be interpreted. In this case, it was not a long trip for the person playing through the plot to see what was happening at a slightly different angle, and it was no longer good-creepy. It was bad-creepy. It was discomforting and not cool at all. And this female writer was not alone. All the other women at the table nodded their heads, and had noted the same thing in their critiques. So we discussed it, changes were made, and everything was better. Crisis averted.
All good, right? That’s what these reviews are for.
Here’s the thing: after the meeting was over, it struck me how sharply divided the reviewers were on gender lines. The guys involved, all reasonable and liberal-minded fellows I assure you (including me!) all automatically took the intended viewpoint of the author and didn’t see the issue. The girls had all taken the other side of the encounter, and saw it completely differently— all of them. As soon as it was pointed out, it was obvious… but why hadn’t we seen it?
And this thought occurred as well: if this had been a team with no female perspective present, it would have gone into the game that way. Had that female writer been the lone woman, would her view have been disregarded as an over-reaction? A lone outlier? How often does that happen on game development teams, ones made up of otherwise intelligent and liberal guys who are then shocked to find out that they inadvertently offended a group that is quickly approaching half of the gaming audience?
For the girls reading that, I imagine a bunch will roll their eyes and say “well, duh, pretty damn often.” But what about the guys? Will the idea make them uncomfortable? Will they come up with excuses, or go right to hostility? Guys, particularly in game development, are a pretty privileged bunch. That’s not meant as an insult; it’s just the way it is. The teams consist primarily of white guys and (shockingly) that’s who we assume our audience is— almost exclusively. But the gaming audience is changing, just as the nature of our games is changing, and perhaps there’s value in appreciating the fact that greater female representation in game development teams has a more practical benefit than equality for equality’s sake alone.
I loved directing things, controlling the flow of the action, affecting the emotions of players… I make games because it’s hard, challenging and wonderful… Because whenever I nearly master something, the whole thing changes. I do it because nothing else gives me the same sense of creative satisfaction and intellectual challenge. I make them because I’m inspired when I look at the work of others who share my passion. I make them because they’re there to be made.
-Brenda Garno Brathwaite COO and game designer, Loot Drop on why she makes games.
It’s rare these days for a major video game not to have a tie-in novel series – but it’s even rarer for the writer of those novels to be drafted in to the development team. Yet, that’s exactly what happened when Karen Traviss, the author of several Gears of War books, was invited to pen the storyline for Gears 3.
Previously responsible for a series of Star Wars novelisations, Traviss started out as a journalist, working as a defence correspondent for both print and TV. Her experience of writing about the armed forces has clearly come in useful for her work in the games industry: alongside the Gears novels, she’s also working on a series for Halo.
So what can a writer bring to a major games series, and how should a story be told through the medium of interactive entertainment? Here’s what Karen had to say…
A joint research project between the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education and the Department of Computing Science has found that, for high-school girls, the fun is in making video games, not just playing them.
Interesting article, but I’m not sure its only applicable to girls. Seems like it would be beneficial to anyone interested in computer science. =)
The Difference Engine Initiative - By introducing new gamemakers from under-represented groups into our community, the Difference Engine Initiative aims to diversify what kind of videogames are made. Our first focus is women, and so we have named this version of the Difference Engine after Ada Lovelace.
Those are some lucky Toronto Ladies! All of the games that were created are available at the website. They came up with some interesting stuff.
Today on Sup, Holmes? we have Christine Love, developer of Analogue: A Hate Story,Digital: A Love Story, the very EVO appropriate text-based fighting game Lake City Rumble II:The New Challengers, and many others. Christine designed a text-adventure which has become an underdog hit on Steam — quite an achievement in today’s graphics focused culture. I’d love to know how she pulled that off, and what her plans are for her next game. She’s also a big fighting game fan, so we’re sure to be talking about EVO, the FGC, and how the language of text adventures and fighters overlap.
Its quite a long video and her sound quality isn’t great, but there are some really interesting discussions. Also Christine Love is doing some pretty crazy things with computer games and she is doing it on her own terms, which is just beyond awesome!
If you remember hanging out at arcades as a kid, and blowing all of the quarters in your piggy bank every weekend, you definitely know about Centipede. The classic arcade game was bright, colorful, operated by a trackball, and difficult as hell: players must shoot a centipede that splits into more centipedes as it winds down the screen. But what you might not know, is that a large part of the iconic shoot ‘em up game was designed by Dona Bailey, one of the few women programmers for the Atari.
Zoe Quinn jokes that a lifelong devotion to video games ruined her eyesight. As a child, she would hide under her covers at night, shining a small flashlight on the pixelated characters on the tiny, green screen of her Nintendo GameBoy. As she grew up, she became as interested in building the games as she was playing them.
“I’m a mechanic’s daughter,” Quinn says, “I grew up taking things apart to find out how they work.” But she went into art instead of computer science. “The percentage of women hired into the industry is like margin-of-error small,” Quinn says. It’s not necessarily out of sexism, she suspects, but simply because so few women apply in the first place. It becomes, she says, “a chicken-or-the-egg problem.”