No smart people think that women shouldn't play videogames (except perhaps people who think we all need more fresh air), but there's still a real problem with representation, and costumes, and attitudes in the industry that makes it a hostile place for women to be players and, especially, designers of games.
- THE LAST OF US Fun fact: the developers of the all-the-awards-winning The Last of Us, a survival-horror game with a playable female character, had to fight to get their game's focus groups to include women! Awesome!
It's clear to many of us that it would be a good thing for more women to be involved in the making of videogames. We believe videogames are the next big art form, and they are amazing and interactive and great—and that the current system just doesn't seem to care about a female audience (either acknowledging the one that's already here, or trying to grow it). Having more women working in the industry seems like a big part of the solution—but it's not an easy one. At last week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, however, some people on the ground started talking about how the industry needs to make big changes—and less excuses—to make this happen.
Elizabeth Sampat, a senior game designer at Storm8, took on some of the commonly blabbed excuses given for game companies not hiring women—for example, that they don't fit the entrenched "company culture" that makes game design work.
"If you can't find any women who can fit into your company culture," Sampat said in her GDC panel, "Have you considered that your company culture might, you know, suck?"
Veteran game developer Brenda Romero told industry leaders that, while awesome progress is being made, they needed to stop blaming victims in the sexual harassment cases that happen at game conventions and other industry events.
Of course, everyone (not just the women) needs to care about representation of women, not just for the sake of female players, but for the sake of male players and the games themselves—which is why this is my favorite quote from GDC: Manveer Heir, who worked on the Mass Effect games (in which you could play a female badass, just saying), told his colleagues that they needed to stop portraying minority, women and LGBTQ characters in their games as stereotypes:
"These negative stereotypes effect the identity of individuals in these groups," Heir said. "They affect the way people think and treat others in the real world, and [they] perpetuate the social injustices that occur in these different groups."
Game design is a boy's club, and in the comment sections of the world (and in my life), women often get told that this is a place that men made for themselves and we should leave them alone. But if game designers want a reason to start thinking about making better female characters, to make games and the games industry open and welcoming to women, I have one right here:
The status quo has created a hub for a subculture of 13-to-20-year-old-boys who spend their time playing games, viewing exclusively sexualized female characters, and then going online to post ignorant, sexist remarks and horrible threats to any woman who dares step into, let alone question, their world. So yeah, if your piece of art makes kids like that want to defend it so vehemently, maybe you should try just a little bit harder to remind them that women are human beings, like you—and remember that fact yourself.
To end on a happy note, a standing ovation for the team behind Titanfall for putting playable women in your game and letting them wear clothes.