Sexism in Games – A Mea Culpa
If Meaghan Marie’s recent post about the sexism she’s encountered in the games industry was at all shocking to you, you either don’t work in the games industry or you’ve had your head up your ass. I applaud her for writing it—it took guts. But she’s just shedding light on attitudes and practices that are business as usual in the industry.
Lots of people read and commented on the post. It created a bubble of discussion that seemed to be beneficial. Then I saw this picture from one of the parties at the Game Developers Conference.
A woman posted it and defended it in comments. This is not to call out this prominent female in the industry because I like her and her involvement in games has done far more good than harm for women. I was taken aback because her caption wasn’t one of disbelief or disgust it was just “oh look.” As if she doesn’t even see the sexism anymore.
Here’s the thing. If you want to survive or thrive in the industry as a woman you could fight this shit every day of your life and never make a dent in it. All you’d do is destroy your own career. If you want to get along you either stop seeing it or you become complicit.
Sexism is rampant in the games industry. How it compares to other industries I couldn’t say. I’ve only ever been in games, and I’ve been in it for 18 years. The sexism I want to talk about is that within the industry itself. Not the fan communities and not the in-game experience though those are without doubt unfriendly places for women.
How can I begin to tell you what it’s like to work in a business that treats you like a curiosity and a plaything? Which anecdotal nuggets can I bust out to illustrate my point? I have 18 years of incidents to draw from. Should I go for shock value and tell you about the time a coworker asked me into his office to proofread a document and whipped his dick out? Naw, that was a one-off. Except that he showed his dick to me on several subsequent occasions. He thought it was funny. I didn’t report him to HR or do anything about it. I told a couple female coworkers and they thought it was funny. Weird, but nothing to get worked up about.
Or how about the time my manager thought it would be amusing to close out one of my Inside Xbox videos with audio of me pretending to have sex in the shower with a video game character? Did I feel uncomfortable? Yes. Did I protest? No.
Other things that barely even made a ripple on the radar: I wore a pendant with a “D” on it (My husband’s first initial). First co-worker “What’s the D for?” Second co-worker “Cup size.” And I laughed.
I laughed when I caught game studio executives taking pictures down my shirt. I laughed when I caught a co-worker at my company looking up my skirt on the stairs. I laughed and found an excuse to change the subject when co-workers instant messaged me with detailed accounts of the kind of sex they wanted to have with me.
I don’t go to GDC anymore, but I confess that when I did, one of my roles there was to get women to attend the party that my employer threw. To try to skew the sausage-fest male female ratio to more attractive (for male developers and publishers) levels. They wanted me to bring hot chicks. Eye candy. So the devs would have something pretty to look at and flirt with. And I did it. Year after year. No, I wasn’t Heidi Fleiss, but I participated in making those women objects.
Why did I do that? For my personal gain. I liked going to GDC. And if I kept bringing boobs to the party, I kept getting to go.
Why did I laugh off the upskirt pics, the ‘nice tits, can I touch them’ comments, the random ‘suck my cock’ text messages from industry dudes I barely knew? I’m not entirely sure. Part of it was the attention. Everyone likes attention. And maybe the gross stuff was the price to pay for the nice stuff. And yes there was nice stuff. Lots of flattery and free drinks and dinners and tickets to stuff and trips. My end of it was to bring the chicks, wear short skirts, smile a lot, and laugh it off when some drunk got grabby or, in one instance, shouted across a party at the top of his lungs “Trixie! I’m going to have sex with you tonight!” Note: He did not.
Why didn’t I report the dick dangler, the coworker who took upskirt photos of me on a business trip, or the exec who hinted I’d be safe from the next round of layoffs if I put out? Why didn’t I have a partner developer thrown out of a party when he shoved his tongue down my throat? Why didn’t I call out every ass-grabbing, talk to my tits, sexist shithead?
Because I was afraid of being “that woman.” The once that the internet jumps all over. I knew my career was fucked the minute I went through that door, so I chose silence and the status quo. I was a coward and I didn’t even attempt to make things better for myself or any other woman trying to do their thing in the games industry.
I was absolutely complicit in the way I was treated because I kept holding up my end of the bargain. I got to hang out in the boy’s clubhouse because I showed some skin, laughed at their jokes and didn’t get too worked up if they pinched my ass.
So I’m sorry for that. I apologize to every woman who comes after me that finds shit like this still happening.
To women who actually have the ovaries to stand up and do something about it, like Brenda Romero: You have my utmost respect and admiration.