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Game Developer Laura McWilliams Talks Gamergate One Year Later

A Still From GTFOJust 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 agewomen 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.

Two Types of Sexist Gamer Dudes We Don’t Talk About Enough

In a previous piece, I talked about sexism and progress within video games, and what I might tell my younger self about gaming to properly prepare her for the misogynistic gauntlet she would eventually find herself running in an attempt to continue enjoying one of her favorite hobbies. As I said there, I am optimistic that eventually I, and other women after me, won’t have to write pieces like this, or defend my, or any other woman’s place within the video game community. I am optimistic about this, but unfortunately, I am not confident. Largely, attention has been focused on the absolutely disgusting threats and attacks that women have faced from members of the video game community for calling out instances of sexism. This, paired with the staggering  statistics that, according to an infographic by The University of New England, “One in four women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner” and “Nearly one in five women have been raped in their lifetime,” paint a picture that women need to avoid any type of confrontation within the gaming community in order to avoid sexism. Unfortunately, things are not that easy. By only focusing on these most extreme examples of this issue there are other aspects that are largely being ignored. We need to continue focusing on the extremes, but we can’t ignore the other types of nearly constant sexism that women face within gaming. These smaller, (or perhaps simply less violent), issues show that these problems are heavily entrenched in this culture, and worrying about the worst of the offenses will not change that. Two of these issues I see most commonly can be personified by two archetypes of terrible, sexist gamers: The Sore Loser, and his brother, The Dismissive Know-It-All. The Sore Loser One of my favorite memories of this first type came a couple years ago while playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II online with some coworkers. When we played, we frequently had up to eight or nine people in our party, so we would play Ground War to stay all on one team. We ended up being matched against another large group for a few matches in a row, and each of these matches were really close. Three games in a row, a player on their team called in a Lodestar, and three games in a row, I ended up shooting it down before it could do very much damage to our team. When the game ended, our party switched to game chat, and when this Lodestar bro heard me, he immediately started complaining. He said that “real players” don’t use launchers and other typical crybaby nonsense (mostly of the incredibly sexist, ableist and homophobic variety). Now, this type of thing wouldn’t bother me, normally. This is a pretty typical thing to hear in a COD lobby. However, I know that there was a different motivation behind this behavior. If I had any doubt about this, they disappeared when he said things that suggested I only played the way I did because I’m a girl. It didn’t matter if I had just laid a Ramona Flowers level beatdown on him, it wasn’t legitimate. ramona

Image Courtesy of The Movie Network

This kind of sexist rhetoric is all over gaming. It is a dismissiveness that says girls can’t be real gamers, nerds, geeks, or however else you want to label your participation in these communities. It’s a type of poisonous masculinity that men use to explain why a female is better than them at something they perceive as solely belonging to them. It is the motivation behind these guys who act like they are an automatically superior gamer, or has some master’s degree in anti-terrorism (which is totally a real thing, by the way), that has led up to him being the perfect COD player. The Dismissive Know-It-All A less aggressive, but similarly-rooted problem also frequently presents itself to female gamers in the form of male gamers who inherently believe that they know more about gaming than you, regardless of your experience level or qualifications. This is not a problem just in the gaming community, but for women across many fields, especially in academia (Rebecca Solnit covers how widespread this issue is incredibly well in her book Men Explain Things to Me, which I highly recommend). I recently was playing Pokémon Snap on my N64, a game that I would challenge anyone to match my prowess in to this day, while a male friend was visiting. Upon starting the first level, he was immediately telling me all the things I was doing wrong. Every Pokémon I did not take a picture of, he informed me that I had just missed it. If a picture I took was slightly off-center, he made sure I knew it. Maybe this would have been helpful to someone who had never played this game before, but not me. I’ve beaten Pokémon Snap more times than anyone ever should, and I know every secret in that game beginning to end. I was specifically going back to that level just to get a few pictures that I thought I could improve, and was therefore setting myself up to make sure I nailed those ones. I wasn’t some lost, clueless beginner, but I was being treated as such, and this was far from the first time in my years of gaming. Again, this type of behavior stems from misogynistic thinking that says women don’t belong in gaming, and if they do, indeed, play games, that there’s no possible way that they’ll actually be any good at them. This wasn’t even a first-person shooter, or game specifically marketed toward men, necessarily. I’ve always thought of Pokémon as gender-neutral as they come, but I was still being told that this was outside of my domain. I immediately felt the urge to say something to my friend, but only one image came to mind.   stop

Image courtesy of emedco

This is not only an issue within gaming, but also within nearly all spheres that have been traditionally male-dominated. Within American culture it starts at the very top, with powerful corporations and political offices still being heavily run by men. Even with the political rise of Hillary Clinton over the last decade, women are still facing an uphill battle in almost every arena that they attempt to break into. According to Lara M. Brown, an Associate Professor and Program Director at George Washington University’s Political Management Program, in a piece for U.S. News, “When it comes to the presidency, it’s not a glass ceiling that a woman must break through, but a coffin lid nailed shut, six feet under.” This kind of thinking coming from an expert in the field (and a female one, at that), is not promising for wide sweeping change as far as power structures in this country goes. What Do We Do About It? We should never, ever ignore the most extreme examples of sexism within gaming. They are appalling, atrocious, and an unfortunate warning about some of the realities for women in this community. At the same time, however, we need to also draw attention to the smaller, more constant harassment and dismissal that female gamers, geeks, nerds, etc. face, because they are symptoms of a systematic and widespread issue. Don’t just accept these things as a reality that you have to live with. Be upset about them when they are upsetting, and say something about it when you feel comfortable and safe within the situation to do so. Utilize resources, such as filing abuse reports through whatever online gaming platform you use, and these great places to report and call out sexist gamers. Male gamers, call out your friends and fellow gamers when they are being sexist, homophobic, ableist, or otherwise discriminatory and violent in their language within the gaming community. Nobody should feel excluded or cast out from video gaming because of who they are, and your inherent position of privilege here can be greatly utilized to move things in the right direction. Last of all, fellow girl gamers, know that you belong in the video game community if you wish to be part of it, and no sexist gamer dude has the power to tell you otherwise.

How to Overcome Loss With Only Your Fists, a Butler, and Billions of Dollars: The Bruce Wayne Story

Meet Bruce Wayne: industrialist, billionaire owner of Wayne Enterprises, philanthropist, Gotham’s favorite son, playboy, orphan. His success is a heartwarming example of American enterprise and ingenuity. It’s the stuff of folklore, really—a life we can all look to and feel inspired.

Bruce Wayne Image Courtesy of Comic Vine

This is what I imagine most people picture when they think of Bruce Wayne. I mean, just look at how handsome and charming he is. He’s someone who overcomes a traumatic childhood and forgoes his own social advantages to fix the problems he sees in his own city. Surely, this character should be inspiring, right?

What would I tell my younger self about gaming today?

Recently, I am feeling pretty excited about the steps the gaming industry has made to transcend an all male demographic. This really shouldn’t come as any surprise, but there are still some people who are unable to understand why there is any reason for excitement at all. The attitude I most often encounter in open discussions about women in relation to gaming culture, as of late, is one of neutrality. More specifically, the notion that video game culture or nerd culture in and of itself is and always has been welcoming of women.