Women and the Future of Gaming
Back in the ’90s, I was a young woman working in the gaming industry – specifically, I was online editor for Electronic Gaming Monthly and a liaison to Gamespot. I faced challenges, of course, but it was fun work. I deeply respected the people (still do) and loved the environment. I truly believed that my bosses weren’t utilizing me to my full potential, but I felt like a bit of a pioneer because I was the first woman on the editorial staff (although we had great female copy editors, graphic artists, and support staff). Even if I only changed a few attitudes, and I hope I did, it was enough for me.
I was full of optimism as an employee of Nuke.com, then EGM. I hoped, as I played networked Duke Nukem 3D with work friends after hours, for games that didn’t so obviously exclude my point of view. I hoped my supervisor, who apologized for moving me to EGM work because “I know you don’t like games, Helen,” would see how dedicated I was to the cause. I hoped, when I was moved to EGM, that my work – including a much-sought-after interview with Tom Clancy (I made the first media request Red Storm Entertainment ever got) and a feature on game controllers for an EGM annual – would lead my bosses to realize I could be an asset. I hoped I was involved in an industry that was going places – one that defined the future and could show us what was possible in terms of technology, in terms of human development, and in terms of storytelling.
At this point in time, my involvement with EGM was more like a novelty than anything else. I was insulated in many ways, and the Internet was new. I never got the hate the women in the industry get now. I didn’t receive one single rape or death threat, even though I posted news stories on Gamespot daily. In associating with me, people were overly polite or perhaps unwittingly exclusionary, but no one attacked me. I never had to deal with the “fake geek girl” assumption. At least, not to my face. I’m fairly certain the higher-ups didn’t know what exactly to do with me, and my prospects probably weren’t all that good in the end. Still, I felt comfortable at EGM.
Ultimately, my career hopes were not realized. I got laid off in late 1997 and moved on, with all my stories about being a girl at a gaming magazine untold. Even then, I still felt optimistic as an industry-watcher when I saw all these smart, savvy women come in to start making games, reporting on games, becoming names in the industry in the way I never did. Progress, I thought. Maybe I’m not really part of it, but it’s awesome.
I moved on to bigger and better things, but I never forgot my roots. I stayed away from the industry until 2009, when Ziff-Davis, Inc. stopped publishing EGM. This freed me. Within two months, I was writing about games again. For several years after that, I dreamed about getting back into the industry in some more important capacity. I helped with some gaming journalism start-ups in my spare time, wrote reviews and interviews and features of the type I was not able to do at EGM, developed a gaming news-gathering operation, helped produce game preview videos. Et cetera. It felt good to be back.
However, I’ve discovered something interesting. Over the past year, thanks to a seemingly constant glut of articles alleging harassment, threats, name-calling, and general bad behavior involving the male detractors of women in the industry – along with news of women leaving toxic male-driven gaming environments and my own personal experiences interacting with gamers online – I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want a larger part in the gaming industry any longer.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock these past few weeks you may have missed all the news about Zoe Quinn. She’s the female developer who has been the target of horrible personal attacks since an ex implied she might have slept with a games journalist who never actually reviewed her game Depression Quest (see image above). Then there’s the controversy surrounding the treatment of feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian of “Tropes vs. Women,” who felt unsafe enough to leave her home after a series of Twitter threats. I’ll refrain from regurgitating all the details of these stories; suffice it to say, they’re ugly, they’re messy, they’re complicated and I just don’t have the energy. But boiled down, it’s pretty simple: gamer boys are being assholes. They’re personally attacking women in disgusting, unacceptable ways. Whatever the truth about Quinn’s personal and private relationships, she doesn’t deserve this level of vitriol. I don’t necessarily agree with Sarkeesian’s critiques or methods, but she doesn’t deserve it either.
We all know the Internet can be creepy and hateful. But lately, in the gaming area, it’s become more than that. It’s become soul-destroying for women. We’re talking invasions of privacy and threats of violence using the language of rape. We’re talking misogyny of the highest order. We’re talking about the fact that every time I read about harassment of women in the industry, my hope dies a little more. Sarkeesian and Quinn are trying to improve things in their own ways, yet the gamers attacking them are treating them like enemies that don’t deserve the lowliest of human rights. This isn’t the gaming industry I ever wanted to see. I used to think this would pass. Now I’m not sure we can fix it.
I imagine there are other women who feel like me. Women who wish to break into the industry, or do an indie project, or just be more visible in the games that they play. They feel like they can’t, because Zoe Quinn isn’t an aberration, unfortunately. She’s a warning. Message received, immature gaming guys of the Internet. You’re going to keep battering us till we give, and some of us will be beaten. And the gaming industry will suffer for it. Already has, probably – there’s likely no way of knowing how many women have been turned off by incidents like these, whether high-profile or low-level. There’s no way of calculating the amount of ideas, plans, innovations, and contributions we’ve lost as a result. I can’t blame women for quitting the fight under these conditions.
I guess, when I was a gamer girl in the 1990s, I didn’t realize that some of the changes I’d see in my lifetime would take us backward instead of forward. I didn’t anticipate that I’d feel less safe in a gaming environment in 2014 than in 1997. My hope for women in the industry is at a very low ebb, these days.
But, more importantly, I see that gaming isn’t the future I imagined. Instead of opening up our worlds to new vistas and explorations, the public face of gaming right now defines all those things we ought to have left in the past.