I follow the twitter accounts of a lot of really wonderful women in gaming, and as such I am frequently reminded of how much sexism pervades the industry in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious. Conversely, I’ve become aware of the many ways I have it really, really great, and how that’s unfortunately not a universal thing.
On a recent episode of Isometric, the gang was discussing the various ways that sexism complicates the life of women in the industry, and mused about asking the guy on the show to write an article about what it was like as a guy in the game industry. They laughed it off, but the thought germinated in my head, and I realized I enjoy a lot of unearned privileges that women don’t, and the more I thought about it, the more surfaced.
More and more came to light as I was writing this article. It was staggering to me, the options and acceptance I had available to me as a guy that aren’t generally available to a woman.
Please understand, I’m not trying to say anything directly about the experiences of all ladies in the gaming industry. I know a great many women who are exceptions to many of these things. But they’re the exceptions, and men can generally enjoy these privileges effortlessly. I think it’s important to recognize that, and to recognize that the problem isn’t just the men that overtly act sexist, but also those of us who don’t recognize that we are benefitting from and perpetuating a sexist system.
As a guy in the gaming industry, these are the things I don’t normally think about, but really, really ought to:
I go to PAX and other conventions when I can afford to. This is fairly often compared to some, since I make more than a woman with the same experience would for the same job.
I always feel safe when I attend. I once went to PAX Prime in Seattle by myself. I went to a pub crawl by myself and drunkenly made a new group of friends without ever once worrying if I was going to get raped or taken advantage of. I was too busy trying to figure out if I could have scored if I were single.
I shared a hotel room with three people I’ve never met before. I found it easily, since many guys were looking for another guy to help defray hotel costs, and I never once worried for my safety while I was sleeping or drunk or showering.
I see female videogame characters depicted wearing next to nothing with huge breasts, and I say “Hey! I’m a feminist! Don’t show me that crap! Show me real women instead!” But largely, I’m not upset because this issue hurts me personally. If I’m honest, I’m upset because – as someone whose life hasn’t been directly impacted by sexism – I’m not personally hurt, I’m just not being marketed to effectively.
Then I go and say something stupid like “Wow, the female character models in Dark Souls are just weird – no curves at all!” without a hint of irony. And then I defend myself when I’m called out on it. For way too long.
I find misogynists funny. Not “I’d encourage more of that humorous behaviour” funny, but “Oh wow, you’ve got to laugh at this moron” funny. I’ve never had to deal with this kind of behaviour personally, so I can intellectualize it and laugh. This hurts the women around me, but many are too nice to call me out on it.
When I go on-camera to promote our game, I hardly ever worry about people judging me based on my grooming. I mean, sometimes I’ll quickly re-do my ponytail or if I’m feeling incredibly vain I’ll let my hair down, but that’s about the extent of it. I may not have even shaved that day. I never worry about what people are going to think about how I look. I never worry about people rating me out of ten, or calling me fuckable, or fat, or hot, or whorish.
I don’t have to worry about coming up with a strategy to deal with an abusive chat channel about my stream. I can read it without having to skip over hurtful comments about my appearance.
People will trust that I am there solely to impart information about the game. Nobody will ever, ever assume that I am there to try to improve numbers, or that I’m being fed talking points. I don’t have to work for this trust. It’s implicit.
Most videogames are made for me, or at least people like me. The male viewpoint is assumed. Guys are driving the stories forward. Guys are the main characters. Guys get all the good lines, the good weapons, the good games.
When videogames about women are made, they’re cynically made for guys anyway, about topics guys care about. Women in videogames – the women guys are supposed to empathize with anyway – are stripped of their stereotypical female traits and cast as merely strong and brave and given stereotypically masculine traits. God forbid a leading lady in a game involve herself in something as “feminine” as needlepoint. And there’s absolutely zero chance a guy would, unless you’re playing it off for laughs.
Nope, more and more, women are funnelled into either being damseled or masculinized, with no other archetypes or character traits allowed. Because that’s what sells to guys.
I consider myself a feminist, but I don’t have the same experience and conviction as those who have actually experienced sexism firsthand. And so I hear about the horrible treatment of women in our industry and get frustrated. That’s it, just frustrated. Not angry, not sorrowful, not “so frustrated I could scream”, just regular old intellectually frustrated. None of this has ever happened to me, and so I lack the context to allow me to even understand the level of emotion appropriate for such stories.
Not that I usually do anything about it, though. Far too often, I don’t recognize that simply failing to be actively part of the problem doesn’t equate with being part of the solution. And it’s not as if I have to deal with the same stakes when trying to do something about it. For example, I don’t have to worry about rape threats for writing something like this.
So why don’t I write more?
I can play my own gender in pretty much any videogame, harassment-free. I can speak on voice-chat, harassment-free. I can record and stream my face and body, harassment-free. I can be assertive without being called a bitch. I can be friendly without people assuming I’m flirting. I can say “no thank-you” and be respected.
This all comes for free, right out of the box, no assembly required.
I don’t think about these things. I mean, not unless I really sit down and think about it. Entire days will pass and I won’t notice how easy I have it, or how safe I feel, or how catered to I am. This is normal to me. This is the way things are.
In the meantime I am still fucking things up. I am still using problematic language, I am still offending people. I am still unaware of more things than I am aware of, even though I am learning all the time. I say dumb things to good friends. I am frequently reminded of how wrong I was even a short year or month or day ago. I am forever “not getting it” because – despite my good intentions – I am an outsider to the problems I would like to try to fix.
But most of the time, I don’t notice. And therein lies the problem.
Also thanks to my good friends IRL who helped me revise the initial drafts of this post. I know I didn’t please all of you, but well, I’m working on it.)