…professionally and casually.
Whether this turns into a low-key discussion or rant, I don’t know. I think I’m a pretty casual person, but discussion is important and representation/standing opinion is necessary. There was a time when I was afraid to express my thoughts on this subject, but have since realized that silence extremely counter productive and only feeds into the overall problem. Rather than take an argumentative stance, I’m going to try to tell a story. It’s a long, brutal, rewarding, often confusing, epic about my life as a female gamer (or as I prefer to be called, just a gamer).
Let me start by saying, I’m not going to talk about representation of women in games today. I’m talking about my personal experience as a woman, gamer, writer, etc.
Since starting my rocky perusal of the gaming industry, one of the first questions I’m often asked is “why do you want to get into games, as a woman?” Fair enough, especially when we consider the modern air of the industry, but I’d much rather be asked why I chose this field as a writer (and a fictional writer, at that). My ultimate answer to their question, with no hidden or ulterior motives, is that I love games. I love that games have an unparalleled and unique ability to tell stories, and I love the unyielding communities that form behind these worlds. As a writer, it’s an absolute dream to see your ideas materialized into something so personable and interactive. Some of my more formative and inspiring memories that led me to writing came from long days spent playing Ocarina of Time, and some of my favorite stories are ones that were played out via games.
Unfortunately, that answer can be overshadowed by my gender. Sometimes there’s an assumption that I am pursuing or even playings games due to some ulterior motive, whatever that may be, or to get attention. No, I love games just as I love storytelling, and figured meshing those two passions was the right path for me. Really, it’s as simply as that and there’s little more to it. But, as simple as my answer to that question may be, getting involved in the industry isn’t so straightforward nor without frustration (for anyone). As is, it’s a tough field to get into. On top of that, there is still a pretty low statistic of female developers compared to men. Heck, I hit adolescence at a time where simply playing games was more a boys club than a co-ed dormitory, let alone the involvement in actually making or talking professionally about them. Back in my Top E3 Games post, I wrote a very little blip on this:
As a woman and as a gamer, I want more representation in the industry, but I also want it to be done correctly. I became a writer because I love to tell stories. I’ve written work with both male and female protagonists, and it fluctuates based on the idea that I’m trying to portray. I’ve also decided to pursue a career in gaming because I simply love video games, it’s a dream come true to be able to interact with your work, and for that reason alone I will only provide constructive criticism. The industry is definitely still male-centric, but the answer to solving the problem of representation isn’t to pressure studios into making specific kinds of content. Instead, we need to focus on introducing more opinions into the field (cough, writers and designers) that have the ability to create even more compelling stories that can appeal to more than one demographic.
Let’s focus on the latter part of that assessment, I’m talking bodies in-studio here. Besides representation in games, via characters or thematics, there’s a lot to say about the lack of women that work on them. To solve any issue, we have to look at the subject’s foundation — and gaming is a little more complex than that alone. To see better representation in games, we need to see better representation of women working on them. To get more women working on games, we need to see some pretty big jumps from both the professional and consumer outlooks of the industry, which isn’t an easy or small task where there is no solid or straightforward solution.
As I stated earlier, it has personally been a rocky perusal. Like anyone, irregardless of gender, it’s a tough market and an even tougher field to get into. As a woman, my motives and talents are challenged on a daily basis by the public. This is something that I’m used to as a lady-gamer (I explicitly remember being told “boobs or gtfo” in my first and only online Counter-Strike match). That need to constantly prove my ability or knowledge of gaming is probably one of the more exhausting parts of the process, professionally and casually. While I personally haven’t faced explicit, outright sexism on the professional side of the spectrum, since I can usually trump any disbelief via conversation or the actual skill in my written fiction (…and have no tolerance for that in the workplace), there is a constant undertone that I need to try harder or make sure to verbalize my thoughts to prove myself that much more. That being said, I’ve meet and know many extremely supportive and open men in the industry that look at their female co-workers and peers as no less than themselves, and with the upmost respect.
…but let’s step away from the professional side of the business, and talk about what it’s like to be a female consumer. The “fun” stuff. Other than “boobs or GTFO,” which is extremely tame in comparison to other things I’ve been told, I’ve been kicked from online matches the minute people have heard my voice, realizing that I’m a girl. Instantly, and without reason. I’ve been accused of having someone else, a male, play for me whilst I talked to make myself look good. I’ve been shut out of conversations at parties or school, even smirked at by store employees when I’ve gone to pick up preorders. I’ve been stopped on the street for wearing t-shirts that reference certain games and told that I looked desperate or foolish. When I was still in college, I volunteered for a video game art exhibition and was approached by a random visitor who said “I didn’t know they hired booth-babes for this thing!” When I explained that I was studying to work on games in future, they scoffed and walked away.
It wasn’t always this hostile, though. Now being 23, I grew up right when the gaming world was really getting big. Everyone was starting to acknowledge it in some way, and close to when I started grade school, Pokemon cards hit shelves in the US. It was an absolute frenzy. Think 2nd grade blackmarket during recess after they were banned on school grounds. You could gain popularity across the masses if you flashed a holographic Charizard card, and I happened to be fully loaded with a name that set me right at the top of the food chain. Indigo, my actual, birth-given and legal name, was a little weird to most in the early 90’s (even today), but when Pokemon came out and started spreading like wildfire, they had something new to associate it with: the Indigo Plateau. Only the best trainers, the coolest trainers got to go there, and I convinced the vast majority of my school that I was the namesake of that very establishment.
Thankfully, I moved before anyone figured out that I made spewed totally rubbish, but for the better part of a year I was regarded as absolute royalty. I could name all of the original 150 Pokemon in order, rattle off the raps, and actually backup my verbal domination with a full team of six maxed-out pocket monsters. My knowledge and skills were not challenged, irregardless of the fact that I wore frilly pink dresses and unicorn t-shirts on the daily. No one cared whether you were a girl or boy, we were all totally unified by our absolute love of the franchise. Unfortunately, that unity severely diminished with age and the inevitable rise of mainstream gaming.
By no means am I saying that all non-female players are bad people. Hell, many of them aren’t — most of them probably aren’t. While I’ve interacted with some truly nasty people, I’ve also met some of the most accepting, inclusive peers through gaming. We all share a passion, and thus make up a pretty grand community. Why anyone would want to exclude people from that community, I can’t say.
Initially, I wanted to avoid talking about these issues head-on to avoid bad reception. But that fear is a part of the problem. I’m not reared up with a pitchfork and torch ready to burn down the patriarchy and skewer my foes, but I am reared up to show ever single man that I interact with in the field that I’m just as prepared and ready to help produce the best quality product, in my case story, that I can. I’m also ready to show any woman or girl, fellow gamer, or skeptic that I love video games, and that there’s no reason to hide that love. Right now, I don’t have a platform to truly make a big difference, but, as we all should, I’m constantly working on that. My participation in the discussion isn’t because I plan on sitting back, complaining, and expecting change to happen by taking to the keyboard and ranting. No, I’m actively working on enforcing change and I will not give up. Whether that means getting published as an author and moving my way onto a platform where I can better vocalize my opinions and produce work that feeds encourages diversity, or working in-studio as a writer and providing my ideas and thoughts on content, participation is key to enforcing change.