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I’m a “Woman In Games.”

This is inspired by my friend and general inspiration to us all, Robin Hunicke, and her thought-provoking and necessary blog post over at Funomena. I totally share her frustrations with being pegged as a Woman In Games, and I applaud her decision to not answer THE QUESTIONS unless the person asking is willing to ask them of everyone, not just the visible women. My tactics are a bit different, though.

I haven’t posted here in quite some time, and the last three or four months have been exhausting, so I am going to be incredibly transparent.

I know a lot of women in games who don’t want to talk about being Women In Games, and I don’t blame them one bit. It gets so tiring to do what you love and no one cares— no one notices. These devs want to be known for their work, not their gender, and honestly who can blame them? You feel like you’re progressing in your career, you feel like you’re really making movement, and you’re still known for the same thing you’ve always been known for— just being a woman.

Sometimes I feel like I’m professionally female. I know imposter syndrome hits everyone, but I’m pretty sure over half the people who have told me how much they respect or admire me or my “work” over the last twelve months couldn’t name a single game I’ve worked on. I don’t labor in obscurity, not always anyway— my game Deadbolt was a finalist at Indiecade last year and that was amazing. But when I stood on a stage in front of hundreds of people at the GDC microtalks, and I looked down into the audience and realized this was the first time I’d been asked in front of an audience that size to talk about anything other than gender— to actually talk about why I love making games, and not the things that hinder me from making them— I almost cried.

I got suckered into being quoted for some Polygon article that wasn’t actually about what the journalist told me it was about. And yeah, that sucked but whatever, I stand by what I said. But a friend of mine— someone I love and respect and think the world of— grumpily commented on twitter that the reporter quoted me wholly without context for my contributions to the industry, without naming the games I made. And I thought, well, no shit he didn’t name my “contributions” or my games. Could you?

One of the things I said in my GDC talk this year about Women In Games was that it’s funny to me how we talk about important voices in games, but not people. I’m definitely a disembodied voice; a game industry “personality.” When industry friends introduce me to people and they ask me what I do, I don’t know what to tell them; I usually say I make weird browser games no one plays and I yell on the Internet. I used to get introduced in real life to people as “Face-palming Wonder Woman,” but now that I’ve changed my Twitter avatar they just call me twoscooters.

I’m a voice that yells, and eyes that roll. I live in your computer and in our industry in a way that the things I make never, ever will.

And you know what? I’ve made my peace with that.

I make games because I need to make games; I need to, like the way you need to go to the bathroom. I’d be making these games even if no one knew who I was, and so I can’t get angry that I’m well-known for things that AREN’T my games. My games aren’t the games that concern me; they’re getting made no matter what, and sure I’d like if more people played them, but they exist, they’re free, the option to play them is there. That’s all I can ask for.

The games that concern me are the games that will never get made— the ones women would make if they saw that anyone had their back. The games that don’t get made because women quietly leave because they feel like nothing will ever change. The games that don’t get made because women don’t think about games as a thing THEY can make, or because they don’t want to leap without knowing that someone will catch them.

So here’s my Women In Games manifesto:

I am here. I am here and I will catch you every fucking time. I will be loud, I will always answer THE QUESTIONS— and depending on how often I’ve answered them recently and how much I am dying inside, I will do my best to answer them with a smile. I will go on Twitch.tv shows with an audience of thousands while people tell me SQUEAL PIGGY in  chat and I will still answer “not all men” comment-questions from the grognards watching, and I will hold my own. I will never turn down an opportunity to talk about Women In Games if it is within my power. I will be patient, or angry, or vengeful, or conciliatory, whatever is necessary to get the job done. And at the end of the day, when I make a game and no one cares, I will keep that inside me and I will not complain.

And I will do all of that for YOU,  because we need you. You and the games you will make.

Those games mean everything to me.

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Quit Fucking Going To PAX Already, What Is Wrong With You

In case you have been living under a rock, on Mars, with your fingers in your ears: Penny Arcade, the owners of the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), have a problem. Or rather, they are a problem. I say they, despite the fact that most of the poison comes from Mike “Gabriel” Krahulik, because Jerry “Tycho” Holkins and Robert Khoo support and enable Mike, which makes them part of the problem.

This shit has been going on (and worsening) for three years, so I will give you the high-level list of issues, with links.

Mike and Jerry posted a rape joke. They were respectfully called out on it. Mike lost his shit. People continued to try to reason with him. Rape survivors who called out the joke were harassed, threatened with rape and murder, and Penny Arcade responded by printing T-shirts for people who were in support of the rape joke and selling them as merch.

Due to public outcry, Penny Arcade took down the merch. (They continued to make rape jokes.)

Mike publicly supported a Kickstarter that was removed because it was a game about raping schoolgirls.

An Enforcer was accused of sexually assaulting a woman using the Enforcer network as a way to get closer to her, and Penny Arcade covered it up and did not address it publicly. When asked, Mike said he would not have done anything differently, and that not releasing the name of the assaulter or the fact that the assault took place was the right call. (The PA forum thread where the survivor brought the attack to light was quickly closed by a moderator who found it “irrelevant.”)

Mike publicly denies the gender identities of trans men and women, doubles down with bullying, and is eventually cowed into making a donation to a non-trans-specific, but otherwise worthwhile charity.

And today, on stage at PAX, Mike publicly stated the one fucking thing that PA ever did right— removing the Dickwolves merchandise— was a mistake. And the crowd went wild, and the men who own PA with him agreed soberly, and that is the convention that everyone says is best and most inclusive. A place where the owners can say “We should have continued to profit off of the suffering of others” in the biggest auditorium the convention offered and the crowd went wild.

Look. People are allowed to make their own choices, but part of making your own choices is that you’ve got to live with the choices you make and their consequences. And sometimes, the consequence of a choice you make is that people won’t want to give you time, money, or energy. (Looking at you, Penny Arcade.) But sometimes the consequence is that people will think less of you. People who would otherwise care about you and think that you’re an okay person will look at you in a different way because of the choices that you make in your life, and that’s okay. And if you choose to continue to go to PAX, that will happen. So here’s a quick FEB for you.

Frequently Exclaimed “But!”s

But it’s not like this Dickwolves stuff bothers ME!

Divide the number of women in your life that you care about by six. That’s probably about the number of sexual assault survivors you know: one in six women, and one in 33 men, are survivors. How do you think those people feel? If you don’t believe me, if none of the people in your life have told you that they are sexual assault survivors, it’s probably because they didn’t feel comfortable telling you. You may ALREADY be alienating the people close to you. Do you want to be the kind of person your loved ones can feel safe around, or open up to? Then maybe you should start being bothered by things that aren’t all about you.

But all my friends and I go to PAX and we just hang out in a bubble and it’s fun! It’s not even about PAX itself!

So why do you need to give American dollars to these men-children who refuse to learn a lesson? Why can’t you hang out in Seattle and go to the parties and NOT GIVE PAX YOUR MONEY?

But PAX is a totally different entity from Penny Arcade. I don’t read the comic, I just go to the convention.

Not consuming a free product, and continuing to shell out for a product that costs money, is maybe the shittiest most backward way to possibly try to boycott something. PAX is not a completely different entity. The money still puts food on the table of someone who apologized for voicing his opinion that trans women aren’t women without ever acknowledging their gender identities. The pass you purchased helps a rape apologist sleep a little better at night.

But it’s a really good convention. What happens in the comic has nothing to do with PAX!

Were you not paying attention before? Look, even if you divorce money from the whole thing, the most popular panels and activities at PAX are all about the Penny Arcade guys and how great their comic is. PAX is a convention that, at its heart, is about celebrating Penny Arcade. It’s the PENNY ARCADE EXPO. Please stop being willfully ignorant.

But I didn’t give them money! My company has a booth, or I’m just speaking on some panels.

THAT IS EVEN WORSE. You are giving them something more valuable than money: legitimacy. You are providing the content that people are giving Penny Arcade money for. QUIT DOING THAT.

But isn’t refusing to attend the coward’s way out? Can’t we reform PAX from within?

See also “But PAX and Penny Arcade are not the same thing!” They ARE the same thing. They’re hopelessly intertwined. There’s no “reforming” the parts of PAX that are bad, because the parts of PAX that are bad are the owners of PAX. And again— PAX is not some public-works project that will always exist. It’s a money-making commercial conference. If you want to do all of that work, why not do it at Geek Girl Con or GaymerX or make your own thing?

But I have to go for work! PAX is mandatory in the game industry or you fail!

That is total bullshit. If you are the person deciding to bring your game to PAX: the game industry existed long before Penny Arcade and it will exist for a long time after. You can be successful without PAX, just ask The Fullbright Company. And if you’re an employee being told to go to PAX: does your company know how shitty the Penny Arcade guys are? Maybe tell them. If you’re afraid it will sound too personal, you can just link them to this article where the Financial Post compares Mike to Chris Brown. That’ll sound plenty official.

But there are no other cool conventions to go to!

I already linked Geek Girl Con and GaymerX. There’s also GenCon, Dreamation, DexCon, DragonCon (who successfully ousted their gross owner!) and a million others. You can do this. I believe in you.

But I really think Mike learned his lesson this time.

It’s been three years, my friend. He is playing you like a fool. He’s not going to learn a lesson until someone makes him.

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That’s Not A Game

As I mentioned in my previous post, my 9-year-old daughter is autistic. There’s a misconception that autistics can’t feel emotion as viscerally as neurotypical people; on the contrary, many autistics feel emotions with an intense empathy that requires distancing themselves, or else they get swept away. Gwen is like this; when she cries, and she cries often, it’s a wet, sobby, theatrical affair. It’s loud. It’s messy. Much of the time, it’s annoying.

This weekend I watched her go through the entirety of Journey on her own. As she got to the end of the snow level, and her beautiful scarf blew away like petals on the icy wind, I watched her cry. I’ve never seen her cry like that before: it was silent. She stubbornly pushed her tears out of her eyes and kept trudging, in total silence, pushing towards the light at the top of the mountain.

***

Leigh Alexander, who is among my favorite smart people talking about games, tweeted some awesome stuff that has been on my mind lately:

This is something incredibly important to me. When I got my start in tabletop RPGs, my exposure to modern game design wasn’t D&D; it was the weird indie game Jonathan was working on about bodhisattvas trapped in a subway station bringing on the end of existence. It was the game Shreyas was making about wu xia films where the passive-aggressive tension in a scene was measured by the location of a real, physical knife at the table. When I finally released my first tabletop RPG, It’s Complicated, one of the initial reviews said something that’s burned in me ever since: It’s like someone who has never seen a roleplaying game before tried to make a roleplaying game.

That throwaway sentence didn’t matter, in the long run: It’s Complicated sold out of a number of printings, still sells steadily. It was nominated for some awards. People play and love it. That’s all that matters now. But then? Nervously sharing my first creation with the world? Yeah, it fucking mattered.

People who want the game industry to “grow up” snort derisively when people use the term gamer. “We don’t call people who listen to music music-ers,” they sneer. I feel that this well-intentioned argument robs games of their interactive power, of their place in the minds and hearts of so many. People love books and music they can identify with, that they can project themselves into; the interactivity of games blurs the line between the consumer and art like no other medium. Even with games like Dys4ia, which detractors say “isn’t a real game,” what word would you use? You don’t view Dys4ia. You don’t read it or listen to it. You are a part of it.  Some don’t feel like they had any meaningful choices? Ridiculous. They made the most meaningful choice already:

They played it.

People call themselves gamers because they identify intensely with the act of playing games. It’s a refuge for many: the richest form of escapism, a place where people can feel understood, powerful. A place where gamers can slip into someone else’s skin— someone better at life. Or not better! But at least in a game, you have as many tries as you need to get it right.

And this— this power, this safety— this is why so many people want to guard the definition of “game” like it’s the Ark Of The Covenant.

When something belongs to everyone, no one controls it. What does it mean if games are a place where privileged people go to feel powerful, and those privileged people could end up slipping into the skin of someone who constantly feels afraid? If you claim the mantle of gamer as a part of your identity, and these weird, powerful narratives are games— the raw, glitter-encrusted womanhood of Ke$ha, the  gut-wrenching senselessness of your wife’s death — then you have to claim these narratives as part of your identity.

And that, I think, is the real debate. The real argument isn’t over what set of mechanics we accept; it’s over what narratives and creators we will embrace.

The broader our definition of game, the more types of games that people get exposed to, the more games themselves will diversify. And for a lot of FPS-loving, AAA-bred, EA-hating, self-anointed tastemakers— they see all of those experiments and balk. You’d think if they can handle Bioshock Infinite, they wouldn’t get squeamish watching that many edges bleed.

***

My whole body was tense when Gwen’s character collapsed in the snow. I felt like an awful mom; it just occurred to me, right then, that she had never finished a game before. This kid couldn’t handle reading The Little Engine That Could because she got so worried about the fucking train, and now I’m letting her play this? She’ll be in therapy for the rest of her life. And then the white-robed figures appeared, and then her body lifted from the ground.

The look on her face is burned into my mind forever.

That one look.

I remember when I was her age, playing Commander Keen for the first time. There was a power-up just out of reach. I was still figuring out how to use the pogo stick, but I had an idea— if I could just get the timing right. The idea that this one thing, this pogo stick, suddenly opened up entirely new worlds of interaction for me within the game— I had the same look on my face Gwen had, I’m sure of it.

Both of us basking in wonder as we realized, for the first time, that the goal was in reach after all.

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Autism Day Of Mourning

There’s an epidemic in our country.

I am not talking about the rising number of autism diagnoses in the last few years; those are good things. There’s always been neurodiversity in the world, and understanding what makes people neurologically different and giving those people support so they can live the fullest lives possible is a fantastic leap.

There’s an epidemic in our country, and it looks like this:

Autism epidemicParents, nannies, teachers and caretakers have murdered the autistic people under their care. Often, these murders are acquitted. Almost exclusively, these murderers are pitied in the press: it must be so hard to take care of a child who’s different. It must be hard to love a child who can’t tell you they love you. “We’re not saying it was right,” the media backtracks, “We’re just saying we understand.” Or, “This was tragic for everyone involved”— implying that it was a sad inevitability that this person murdered the vulnerable person in their care, not that it was a deliberate choice.

My 9-year-old daughter is autistic. She was six the first time she told me she loved me. She is smart and quirky and hilarious, and has a fast-temper and obsessive-compulsive tendencies and sucks at being flexible with her schedule. I’d be lying if I said it was always easy to raise her; it’s not. But I’ve never met someone who is easier to love.

Tomorrow, March 1st, is the Autism Day of Mourning. Sponsored by the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, an organization that champions neurodiversity and the inclusion of autistic voices in all movements, legislation, and discussion related to autism. ASAN puts it best in their presser:

Day of Mourning began as a response to the murder of George Hodgins, a 22-year-old autistic man from California, and to the way people were talking about his death. Far too often, when a disabled person is murdered by a caregiver, journalists write as though it is the disabled victim who has perpetrated a crime simply by existing. In discussing the killing, people say that we should feel sorry for the murderer, because they had to live with a disabled relative. When a disabled person is murdered, many people act as though the murder victim’s life, not their death, was a tragedy.

On March 30th, 2012, we held vigils in 18 cities to remember those we have lost, and to remind the world that their lives had value.

On March 31st, 2012, a 4-year-old autistic boy named Daniel Corby was drowned in a bathtub by his mother.

There is so much work to be done to change public perceptions about the worth and the quality of our lives.

So, from now until March 1st at 11:59 PM Pacific time, the money from all PDF sales of my games will be donated to ASAN in solidarity. Not only that, but I will personally match the amount of PDF sales, up to $1,000.

This is an epidemic that can only be cured through social change— through recognizing the worth of the human beings around us. That’s what ASAN’s fighting for, and that’s what I’m fighting for, too.

 

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Everything Is Game Design

Well, not everything. Cheese isn’t game design, for example. But most things are.

Everyone has their own definition of what a game is, so I’ll give mine quickly so we can get on with it: a game is a series of rules that mold behavior. This can be railroady, like Super Mario Bros; it can be more of an enticing suggestion, like the End Dragon in Minecraft. When you choose to engage with rules that dictate how you should interact with the world around you, you’re choosing to play a game.

Good Game Design

The mark of good rules— not subjectively good rules, not fun rules, but rules that work— is that the rules guide the players’ behavior in the way that the designer intends. Think of every game as a treasure hunt. If the clues/arrows/rules do not get the player to the big X, then the clues/arrows/rules suck. There are a ton of individual workflows that can lead to a successful game design, but my process always starts with the same two questions:

  • What do I want a session of play to be like for the player?
  • How do I get the player to that place?

You can start with the extensive history of the world, or with your cool dice mechanic if it’s tabletop, or with the sweet mood board you spent all day putting together in the extra conference room if you’re making a video game. But if you don’t tie that stuff to the end experience of the player, you’re not going to have good design.

Bad Game Design

So if all of that is true, it stands to reason that bad rules discourage the behavior the designer wants, or encourages behavior that is not related to the designer’s goals. You’d think this wouldn’t happen often, or if it did, that it wouldn’t make its way into our daily lives often, if at all.

You’d be wrong.

Throwing Bad Design After Bad: the problem with “Gamification”

Earlier today, I said this on Twitter: “Gamification” assumes all games share the same mechanics, which means everything that’s gamified is basically the same shitty game. Using badges and leaderboards and offering toothless points for clearly-commercial activities isn’t a magic formula that will engage anyone at any time. Demographics are different, behavior is different— things that will work to motivate users of product X will not work to motivate users of product Y. And no one is motivated by badges.

The core principle to remember is that game design is everywhere. Instead of trying to stick a crappy, half-formed game onto real life, the real challenge— the one that’s tough, the one that will bring the greatest results— is to fix the bad game design that’s all around us. Abstract points won’t motivate employees who aren’t motivated by a paycheck! Finding the reward structures and the rules that are already in place, and figuring out how to make them more effective, is the key to making life better for everyone— not adding an additional layer of uninspiring mechanics that push us to engage with mechanics that already suck.

Bad Design Is Everywhere

I asked my Twitter followers for examples of bad everyday game design, and they did not disappoint: tenure, the DMV, the American healthcare system, and the stock market were just a few of the responses. Finding bad design is easy, once you know the questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s supposed to be the goal here?
  • Is this experience set up to help or hinder my ability to reach that goal?

I’m thinking about doing a series of blog posts breaking down specific examples of bad design, so feel free to offer suggestions in the comments.

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Designed Experiences, Mediums and Genres

My mother is not the first person you would consider going to the Disneyland theme parks with. She’s 66, and she finds even the Dumbo ride to be violently nauseating from the spinning. As a result, when we recently spent two days there with my family, she regarded every ride with suspicion, going on the “experience” rides and avoiding anything twisting, spinning, or flying.

When we made it over to California Adventure, I talked her into going on a ride called Soarin’ Over California. Of course, simply judging by the name, she was dubious. Another flying ride! But I made her go on it anyway.

If you’re not familiar with it: Soarin’ Over California simulates a trip over California in a hangglider. You sit in a big bench seat, strapped in, and get lifted into the air in front of a huge, floor-to-ceiling, 180-degree movie screen. Wind blows in your face. When you fly over the redwoods, you smell pine; when you fly over orange groves you get a faint whiff of oranges. It’s incredibly immersive and maybe the one thing that makes those Parkhopper tickets worth it, at least for one day.*

As we were exiting the ride, I asked my mother what she thought about it. She waved me off. Oh great, I thought. She hated it. I don’t get it! It wasn’t the least bit scary or motion-sickness-inducing! When we got outside the ride, I asked her again, and she took off her sunglasses. There were tears in her eyes.

My mom is 66 years old and spent most of her teen years and adulthood in California. She had memories of every single place we flew over, and the immersive nature of the ride brought them all rushing back. “I just love this state so damn much,” she said to me, voice a bit strangled.

One of the biggest traps we can fall into as designers is to conflate mediums and genres. I never thought a theme park ride could make my mother cry! And, of course, the only reason it hadn’t happened was because no one had tried to do it. This revelation isn’t exactly news in the game design world, thanks to the Wii and the Kinect and the iPad and the Gameboy DS, but it seems like it is a lesson we are resistant to learning. Maybe it’s because people who make games now are people who loved games as they were, and everyone wants to design games that they themselves will love and play.

(Incidentally: THIS is the reason it’s so important to do outreach and inclusiveness to attract women, people of color and others with diverse backgrounds and experiences to design games! Our medium wants to be as loved and respected as cinema, but it will not be until it is embraced by EVERY walk of life the way that cinema has been; and that happened through more and more people wanting to share their unique visions through film.)

Whatever the reason, we limit ourselves when we think that a medium belongs only to a certain demographic: roleplaying games are for dorky guys aged 16-30. Social games are for housewives aged 30-40. Console games are for bros aged 18-24. The Wii is for kids. Has there ever been a video game that made my mother cry? No, but then, I don’t think anyone has designed an experience in a video game expressly to make her cry, either.

This is one of the reasons I’m so psyched to work for Loot Drop. I feel strongly that Ghost Recon Commander is breaking down the idea of “social games” as a genre, and helping them mature into their own as a medium. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it; Ghost Recon Commander goes live soon. If you like shooters, why don’t you give it a spin and see what the medium can do?

 

* I feel obligated to note that there was one other thing that made CA Adventure worth it for us: front row seats for the amazing Aladdin stage show and a private meet-and-greet  afterward. But that’s not really an experience open to everyone.

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Photos: Síochán Leat

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday near and dear to my heart, here are some photos I took of Brenda Brathwaite’s profound and moving game about the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland, Síochán Leat. I wrote a blog post about the game previously, which is handily linked in the title.

Here are the photos. Tom Hall set up all the lighting equipment and backgrounds; I just shamelessly stole his setup.

 

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In Defense of Women In Games Initiatives [Long, full of quotes]

This is in response to Leigh Alexander’s thoughtful and comprehensive write-up of Mare Sheppard’s GDC talk about “The problem with ‘Women in Games’ initiatives.” I will admit freely that I’ve not seen the talk in its entirety; I look forward to doing so once it goes up online. This is simply my reaction to the Gamasutra article about the talk, and the Gamasutra blog post Sheppard made for background about the topic. Perhaps those links are inappropriate or not representational of Sheppard’s actual views or what she actually said! If this is the case, I will freely apologize when set straight. But the things I’ve read strike me as incredibly problematic, and indicative of the kinds of arguments and statements that have been used to other and exclude minorities for decades. As such, it feels as though the bits of interesting and potentially useful thoughts in Sheppard’s talk have been drowned and outweighed by problematic rhetoric.

[N.B. This section previously said: While it may be difficult for me to believe that it was a bunch of angry feminists who discounted the advice of male allies and would rather talk and exchange business cards than get down to work, I was not there and have no evidence to the contrary.

I have, since publishing this article, been approached by a few of the DEI participants who feel as though Sheppard has drastically and tragically misconstrued an experience they found uplifting and unifying.]

 Stereotypes and Barriers

The Gamasutra article begins with an innocuous premise— that stereotypes are harmful, and that pervasive gender-based stereotypes have much to do with the lack of representation of women in the games industry. Sure; I’ll go with that. But then, Sheppard takes it to a weird place:

Stereotyping “underscores the feeling echoed throughout our culture that women are abnormal, unusual and different,” she says. “This feeling that they don’t fit or don’t belong keeps many women from entering game development and similar fields.”

[...]

Stereotypes affect how women perceive other women as well; women frequently complain that they abandon game events because “there are no women” there, and even when Sheppard points out that there were women in attendance, she gets a response like “well, that was somebody’s girlfriend.” Even women can be reductive of and dismissive of one another.

At this point, Sheppard seems to be arguing that A) gender-based stereotypes are bad for women, and B) these gender-based stereotypes are predominantly the fault of women. Though she does not explicitly say the fault is predominantly that of female devs, there is absolutely zero mention or discussion of these hurtful stereotypes and their expressions by, or impact on, men.

Instead, she makes an argument that women-only spaces are the cause for the ill-feelings of male devs, and implies that these initiatives are a type of soft misandry— while assuming that women involved in the incubator were less deserving or would work less hard than men for the same exposure:

And given that the idea of a women-focused games incubator generally draws so much media attention and celebration, Sheppard feared that the participants would be resented by other independent developers, who have had to work extremely hard to receive press attention and the same degree of celebration.

[...]

“These women in games initiatives push us closer to a gender-stratified industry, where we have game developers and ‘female game developers’… these designations separate us, emphasize our differences and marginalize one gender while privileging the other,” Sheppard says.

In the program she was disappointed to see many expressed a “discriminatory attitude towards men and a de-valuing of their potential contributions.”

The attempt to “Transcend” gender diminishes everyone

Personal anecdote time. I’m actually sympathetic to these arguments, because they are very similar to my viewpoint years ago— I was incredibly uncomfortable in spaces where I felt the contributions of women were privileged over men, and felt strongly that what I thought of as “reverse sexism” was just as harmful as misogyny. What changed? It’s not that I suddenly experienced a ton of new sexist behavior directed at me. It’s not that I suddenly felt the need for female-only spaces where I could truly celebrate my lack of a Y chromosome.

I listened to women who’ve had it worse than me, and I did my homework on social justice. And, it turns out, a lot of the attitudes and arguments presented in Sheppard’s talk (as presented in the article) are incredibly common sentiments that have been used to silence or discount minorities for years.

People who have experienced injustice often have a tendency to identify themselves strongly by their anger, by a reaction to their injury, and by absolute rejection of a perceived perpetrator – even if many of those perceptions have to do with their own stereotyping and endemic biases.

“It’s vital to grow beyond simply rejecting men and instead to reject the constructs of gender entirely,” says Sheppard. She believes that in some cases, aims to target discrimination and inequality by favoring marginalized people can actually further it. In such cases, individuals are still allowing stereotypes to form the basis of their understanding of people, possibly to lasting negative consequences.

St. Cloud State University debunks many of these fairly well— blaming the minority’s anger or willingness to talk about inequality for their marginalization and the myth of the equal playing field are particularly present here. But I’m going to talk about the one thing that bothers me the most: the idea that gender is “irrelevant” and should be “transcended.”

I would not call my gender the defining trait of who I am, but I find Sheppard’s unease with women for whom “gender was a very important part of their personalities, lives and identities” kind of baffling. Even if you as a person do not personally strongly identify with your gender, the point is that the rest of the world strongly identifies you with your gender. Your gender is obvious without speaking to you (or, if not, you open yourself up to further discrimination and ridicule). Our entire society is based around a male-female split: in advertising, in where you go to the restroom and what part of a gym you use, in clothing and on your driver’s license and what indignities you suffer once a year at the hands of your gender-specialized doctor. (And for that matter, whether your insurance will cover your sexual health— but that’s a different debate.)

It does not matter whether or not you define yourself as a woman, because the world has done it for you. And as long as the games industry does not exist in a vacuum— as long as people go home to the larger and unfortunately unequal society we live in— we cannot transcend gender in the game industry.

I don’t naturally gravitate to women-only spaces, but I appreciate their existence and what they do for the women who are most comfortable there. Sheppard says for herself (when not lamenting that “learning was secondary to the formation of bonds and relationships” in the women-in-games incubator she ran) that “12 women made their first game in a supportive environment.” By every definition, that is a success. I’m a pretty strong swimmer, but I wouldn’t deride life preservers as privileging people who can’t swim over those who worked hard to learn how to swim against the tide.

More than all of this, though, I don’t want people to forget that I’m a woman. I don’t want to have to transcend gender. The idea that getting rid of something about myself I accept and on occasion even like is the ideal diminishes the totality of who I am. (Not to mention the problems inherent in a culture with a majority, where “transcending X” usually translates to “Be more like the majority.”) I think there’s a lost opportunity when diversity is promoted by downplaying the things that make us diverse. The pressure to “fit in” to the majority’s culture and their line of thinking can prevent women from discovering what makes them unique and valuable— and giving them safe spaces to think differently and discover what they bring to the table can ultimately foster a wider variety of viewpoints than if they jumped into the ocean with both feet.

An Addendum: Corporate Culture

Sheppard’s blog post talks about the ways in which corporate culture can be exclusionary, and it’s perhaps the biggest case of her getting it right and wrong all at once.

If you are hiring, pursue a gender-neutral environment that strikes a balance between action figures, game merchandise & comics, and plants, graphic art & minimalist clean lines. Show people a space that treats them as equal, allows them to bring their own personality, rather than asking them to fit into a less broadly defined and potentially limiting architecture (Cheryan et al., 2009).

The idea that the “nerd” stereotype is the main and most predominant barrier to females entering game development (which she does not say, but again, is the only example she gives) is personally offensive to me as a female nerd and also kind of baffling. Never before have geeky pursuits been so celebrated in the mainstream culture, and never have so many women happily admitted to “geeking out.” Additionally— and especially in the game dev world— those particular examples can be great indicators of a shared cultural literacy that can really benefit game development. (As can football memorabilia if you’re making a Madden game, or magazine covers if you’re making a fashion game.)

For the record: Loot Drop is an incredibly diverse work environment, with as many female game designers as male, and a host of other women in the office, too— as well as a wide variety of ethnicities, or as Brenda would say, “We look like the fuckin’ United Nations.” This is while selecting to rigidly maintain a corporate culture which includes a basic cultural literacy of, and fierce passion for games of all stripes. We’ve had long company-wide discussions of makeup and cute shoes, and we will ardently argue about the merits of Chrono Trigger or Star Trek versus Star Wars.

Sheppard says “Socialization has biased us all in some way, and while it’s easy for us to see each other’s biases, we’re reluctant to see them in ourselves,” and I feel like this is perhaps the most pervasive truth of the entire article.