Just over a year ago, the controversial hashtag #gamergate rocked the internet and the world of video games. The purpose of the movement, according to it’s supporters, was that it sought to bring to attention the corruption in video game journalism, but the debate was quickly taken over by by rampant sexism.
The hashtag quickly devolved, leading to online abuse of any woman who dared talk about the sexism they've experienced in video game culture. As I mentioned in a previous post, there were many who assumed that women staking their claim in video game culture was somehow a slight against men; that women's empowerment was oppressive.
The consequences of gamergate have been far reaching. Video game culture has been painted as the least welcoming online space for women. Popular video game critics have been threatened with doxxing and rape. A transgender game developer jumped off a bridge after experiencing online abuse. While the controversy has settled significantly, many women in the industry still have a hard time speaking up about these issues, and you can hardly blame them. In tech fields, being the woman who talks about the issues women face defines you. By bringing up these issues, women effectively ‘other’ themselves in a field where they are vastly outnumbered. In an interview with NPR, game developer Laura McWilliams argues that having conversations about the issues women face in gaming is impossible. It’s considered off topic, it’s considered political, it’s considered identity politics--even when you’re trying to talk about something that literally just happened to you. So that makes it difficult. And then it is compounded by the fact that I think there’s almost nothing you can [talk about] that’s not going to make someone feel attacked and make somebody feel angry at you. I have friends who won’t speak up about it, regardless of their experience, whether it’s been good or bad, because of the environment right now. And I think that that’s what we need to get past, because as long as we can’t talk about it, it means we can’t do anything about it. We’re just paralyzed. One reason the video game industry is having such a hard time with the issue might stem around the fact that the technology field itself is male oriented. Many women have been prominent figures in the technology sphere; Margaret Hamilton created the software that made it possible to land on the moon, and Grace Hopper coined the term ‘debugging’. But still women are largely absent from the profession decades later. In the early 1980's women held 37.1 percent of the positions in the computer science field, but with the spread of home-based PCs, the number of women in computer science positions decreased significantly. Despite the efforts made by many programs encouraging girls to learn how to code from an early age, women who pursue careers in the technology sector are leaving nearly as quickly as they come in. McWilliams adds that the sexist abuse women receive in the industry directly affects how many people join the field, saying,Games are one of the lower-paying areas of tech ... compared to non-game related [software] jobs, and because of that the barriers to entry for women have just made women think it's just maybe not worth the extra effort to make less, work more hours, have to move all of the time and put up with all of this crap.McWilliams echoes a common worry among women in gaming: that changes in the industry won’t come quickly enough. In an interview with USA Today,McWilliams remarks that she has heard more women talk about and act on leaving game development this year than in her previous 22 years of experience combined.
Worries like this make the need for open discussion about gender based abuses more urgent. Any women attracted to the gaming industry as it currently stands are statistically more likely to leave shortly after entering the field. If women aren't participating in the gaming industry, status quos remain stagnant and unchanged. McWilliams points out,
We’ll also stay in our narrow little rut of assumptions: that game developers are white men and that games are for (and) about or only bought by white men. The loss of women’s voices in the gaming industry would have negative consequences, detrimental to the future of the profession. Games are being developed that are world-building, educational, exploratory, personal, beautiful, and creative, all of which can be attributed to people with diverse backgrounds respectfully working together on a project. There is a bright future in store for women in gaming, so long as the community and industry develops a healthy discourse surrounding the unique issues that women face.