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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.

MeaganMarie

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.

GDCsexism

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.

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47 thoughts on “Sexism in Games – A Mea Culpa

  1. Sometimes sexism isn’t as blatant or even as vulgar. I work for a strong “boys’ club” company so I’ve encountered it. At my former job in the company I didn’t realize one instance until it had done some damage to my confidence. The second instance (yes, both happened in same department) resulted in me returning the same attitude right back at him. For example, he commented how the women in the company should be required to only wear dresses again and go back to working as secretaries since that is a role they were best at. With a big smile on my face, I responded I thought it was a great idea because it would finally show how truly incompetent the men were in our department. He seemed very confused on how to respond so wisely, did not. After a few interactions like this with one, he stopped talking to me like that.

    I had fellow coworkers caution me about responding this way because I would get in trouble. They said I should ignore him because he was foreign (He was from Sweden) and this sexism was probably a culture thing. That was not the thing to say to me. I don’t give a shit where he is from and my culture made me want to punch him in his face but I didn’t.

    He was reported to HR by some fellow employees but nothing changed so neither did my “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. Oh and asking him nicely or telling him it was wrong to say that, just made him worse so why should I have to take it. While I don’t advocate this since I know not all managers and HR reps are this stupid when it comes to sexism, it ultimately worked for me. Would I have responded in kind to this POS reporter? Oh hell yes, I would have done my best to make that little fucker cry but that is me and I don’t always act like a level-headed adult. :)

    • wow. .if theres Any culture that focus one femenism at the moment it is Sweden. I´m a Swede and that guys sounds llike a Ass.

  2. Other industries aren’t like this. The guys who make games are total losers and they try to compensate for this by forming a boy’s club. Sexist behavior makes them feel like one of the guys. Just look at them.

    Are there women who like this environment? What’s their problem?

    Also, seriously, what kind of idiot whips his cock out?

    • The kind of idiot that doesn’t experience any consequences from whipping his dick out.

    • Just so you realize, women who like that environment shouldn’t be asked “what their problem” is. A lot of sexism is cultural roles and conditioning. If a woman likes it, it’s because she was taught to and now believes it’s appropriate. It’s not her fault. She should be educated and helped, not snarked.

    • “The guys who make games are total losers and they try to compensate for this by forming a boy’s club.”

      There are some real jerks, but there are also plenty of people who are great, genuine, kind, brilliant, and don’t behave like this. You can’t throw sweeping generalizations like this out there, because when you do, you risk turning decent people away at the door.

      Also, as a guy who’s been in the industry for quite some time now, I feel it’s more than disingenuous to suggest that all guys who make games are “total losers” who “form boy’s clubs” – it’s offensive.

      I sympathize with women who’ve had poor experiences. The experiences above are horrific, and there’s simply no excuse for them. If you have an experience like this with someone, you have an obligation to tell them it’s not appropriate; if you don’t, they’ll think that their behavior is acceptable, and that if someone complains later, then the person raising the issue then is the anomaly.

  3. The cover of your book has a school girl skirt big boobs, girls in picture you sarcastically comment on big boobs short skirt. I’m confused drawing ok real life not? Don’t get me wrong things that men do that cross the line completely wrong and should be punished or tables turn and completely humiliated in public. It’s just that the girls in the picture chose to dress that way and get paid or get perks (free drinks gifts etc..) Girls dressing this way or however they feel they want to isn’t something that should be bashed when your own book cover shows the same thing

    • Just to be clear: mea culpa is in fact Latin for “my fault.” It is an admission of guilt.

    • Those girls are employed by game companies and/or convention organizers to attend events and dress that way; unfortunately that they are present at all is representative of the fact that a) such conventions cater primarily to a heterosexual male attendance base and b) their presence in revealing attire is expected and welcomed. That’s the problem. The message it sends is, “Welcome to the event, boys! We know how much you like to ogle girlflesh, so feast your eyes! Oh…oh, you’re a girl, huh? Well geez, this might make you really uncomfortable, huh…? Oh well! On with the show!”

      The underlying message is “hey, don’t worry about it, you’re in good company here. It’s okay to objectify THESE women!” And it isn’t. There’s a difference between a woman dressing in revealing clothing in public, on her own time, and doing so because she has been paid to do so: the difference being that she may not necessarily feel completely comfortable doing so but she is anyway for a paycheck. There’s a similarity too, though: you don’t get to make assumptions about or objectify her in either case. It’s never okay.

      Am I coming through on FM? It’s. Never. Okay.

    • So a woman has to be either puritan if she wants to be respected? I woman can choose to be sexy and dress in as little as she wishes… its not the sum of her parts. Just because she has a sexy image on the cover of her book does not mean she advocates objectivism. Its attitudes like yours that help keep the misogynistic culture alive. A woman can still choose to be sexy without having to accept abusive treatment.

      You sentiment is akin to that of saying a rape victim ‘asked for it’ because she was dressed a certain way.

      • Because she has a sexy girl on her book then bashes other girls for dressing sexy like her book cover makes her a hypocrite thats my point! Not even close to saying anything near a rape victim asked for it.

      • You know what’s funny? You’re using a depiction of a fictional character to shore up your argument.

        You know what’s sad? You’re attributing motives to both the fictional character and her creator.

        Your point is ridiculous. There’s nothing remotely hypocritical going on here.

      • Warrior on said:

        @phkna: There’s nothing wrong with being sexy. There is something wrong with how beautiful people are treated. And there is something very wrong with how certain people pursue their “romantic” interests.

      • phkna, did it ever occur to you that the cover of the book usually depicts the book’s main subject?

    • Unless those are children, they are not girls. They are grown women. Unless, of course, all those males are also boys. Hey, boy…. Oh yeah, guys don’t like that too much, do they?

  4. Also, I just looked through Meagan Marie’s site. If she wants to be taken seriously professionally, she shouldn’t be playing sexy dress up online for the world to see. People will assume that she’s coasting by on her looks. She obviously likes the attention, but as she hasn’t learned, bad attention follows. She’s young and dumb.

    • Bad attention follows because too many people make the assumption that men are all hypersexed beasts who are one panty flash or nipple slip away from becoming a serial rapist. Most men (I hope) know that there’s a pretty clear distinction between noticing an attractive woman and having a private thought about her and jumping to the massive conclusion that she is dressing that way to attract their attention and approaching her in a way that makes her uncomfortable.

      You are slut-shaming and attempting to put it under the guise of some kind of logical argument. You really shouldn’t.

      • No. I’m saying it’s unprofessional to present yourself in an intentionally sexual manner for your coworkers to see. This wouldn’t fly in most industries.

        Yes I am using a logical argument.

      • Hart Thorn on said:

        Sooo…. I went and had a look at Ms. Marie’s blog, and apparently R thinks the state of being an attractive woman is presenting yourself in an “intentionally sexual manner”. Jesus, I’ve seen college brochures with more flesh peddling.

        So no. your argument != logic.

    • I may be young, “R,” but I’m not dumb. Continuing to cosplay is something I made a conscious decision to do, as to stop would be disingenuous to who I am. I’ve written about it before: http://www.meagan-marie.com/faq/faq-game-industry-advice/faq-gaming/#13

      If people think I’m costing by on my looks, and not because I’ve had a single-minded mission to work in this industry since I was a young teenager, then they know nothing about me. Much like you.

      • Thanks for stopping by, Meagan. I in no way intend to throw any shade your way or up your troll quotient. And I certainly didn’t mean to imply that YOU have your head up your ass. It’s all the people in the industry reading your story and going “whaaaaa? no way!”

      • Didn’t feel that way in the slightest, Trixie! I think it’s important that more of us speak out. I’m getting so many DMs/PMs and so on with women telling me they have similar stories, but there still seems to be a perception that this sort of behavior is rare. Thank you for sharing, too. And I’m so sorry to hear of all the stuff you’ve had to put up with throughout the years. Brave of you to admit that staying quiet isn’t the right answer, too.

    • So because she’s pretty, she wants negative attention? Seriously bro…no. Just bro no. As for the dumb one, I’m pretty sure it isn’t Meagan Marie but rather, it’s you.

    • THIS IS WHY SHE WROTE THIS. She wrote this because she contributed to her sexist environment by giving in and staying silent. Read the article.

  5. When my old boss invited me to Greece four years ago, I said I was really uncomfortable. It had one of the highest rape rates in the world and it was undergoing riots at the time.

    He told me just to not ask for it by dressing like a slut.

    I was called a domineering bitch when I expressed feelings about our game. When I would update my Skype with new photos, I would be told I “didn’t look hot enough” and had to “change it” so I didn’t represent the company on Skype where I often did business dev calls poorly by being “ugly.”

    Sexism in this industry sucks. Thanks for saying something.

  6. Rick Roubos on said:

    What are the options if you wanted to take on this sexual harassment? HR is the obvious route but do you have a state human rights commission that can help handle this? (we have them in Ontario)

    Lawsuits (against the offender and the business not providing a safe work environment) would be a quick way to get the industry to fix this behavior.

    Getting let go for whistle-blowing would be a major, and costly, mistake by the company too.

  7. Thanks for speaking out and sharing your experiences despite the risks.

    I have to hope that the more people who do so, the harder it gets for the industry and the wider gaming culture to sweep the problems with sexism and misogyny under the rug.

    I’d also like to encourage more men in the industry to be aware that their small moments of mild sexism and gender based exclusion help create the atmosphere that enables the truly awful individuals. Be the change you want to see in the world and spend some time thinking how you can be a better ally to your fellow female developers.

  8. Thanks for writing this because I don’t think game players know that this happens in the industry they love. I think it must be hard for people who don’t see overt sexism or overt abuse at their own ‘place of work’ to understand that this does happen or can happen. And, that the mild wash of sexism that rolls in like waves is so pervasive that it is only the most egregious events are noticed.

    And, you are right, speaking up needs to happen for things to change. But, you’re right that it is an everyday choice of what battles you want or can fight. I have not dealt with having to complain about sexism directed at myself at any place of works, thank god. Yet, I have had to report other inappropriate behavior to an HR department and then watch in utter astonishment as NOTHING WAS DONE. Again to ‘some people’, it seems impossible than an HR department would do nothing, but in my experience many HR department’s sole reason for being is to hide problems. So, it is an everyday choice of do I complain knowing nothing will happen unless push to the point where my job becomes on the line…or do I just ignore it so I can just get some work done.

    I work as a librarian. As a man, in the twelve years at my current job I have had three patrons ask me out for drinks and eight patrons tell me I looked ‘sexy’. Three or four women where I work are told ‘you look sexy’ or ‘nice skirt/nice shirt’ every hour of every day. Saying I have no idea how I would deal with that happening would be a lie. I watch what my female colleagues do, they ignore it by closing off that part of their mind that should get annoyed. They have to shut down because otherwise they would go insane. Because what are they going to do, tell eight people a day that saying that is inappropriate or makes them feel bad? I assure you if they did that they get eight “Uh, it was just a compliment…relax.” And, if my female colleagues didn’t accept that they have half the men walking away from the desk whispering “bitch!”

    Being hit on constantly at a job, is more than just annoying because it is not a constant stream of compliments, but a constant reminder their job is secondary to their looks. They are not professionals getting/supplying information, they are things that are there to be looked at. And, keep in mind the other interactions a librarian gets are “I did return that book”, “This library sucks because you don’t have _______” and “Oh…I found this book…I really thought I had returned it”. So, the job is fielding complaints and then getting hit on by people who don’t have any reason to be doing so because it the wrong place and the wrong time. I just have to deal with the complains, so I have it good.

    To the good people out there, I know the risks, but you have to speak up. It is not going to go well and sometimes it will be a catastrophe, but know things can change only when we push back. To the people out there who still ‘just don’t get it’, get some back-bone by just treating people and yourself with respect. Why not shift that compliment about how someone looks to a compliment on how well they did their job. You still get to say something, but the compliment on ‘a job well done always makes someone’s day; the other one might just be the thousandth judgement on someone’s looks that person has to endure that day.

    I hope I made some sense in this ramble before I go to work.

  9. Rick Saada on said:

    So Linc’s comment makes me wonder, when (if ever) is it appropriate to complement a woman on an outfit? Clearly saying “you look sexy” is over the line into hitting on someone and it pretty globally inappropriate if you’re not already dataing. But I was in line at the DMV the other day and one of the people working there had on a cool looking skirt, so I mentioned it. I wasn’t hitting on her, and it wasn’t like I could comment on what she was working on because she wasn’t serving me. I’ve complimented baristas on their earrings on occasion, usually with a “my daughter would love those,” and then conversation moves on to other things. It would seem to me that intent has a lot to do with it, as for that matter I’ll compliment a guy on a cool t-shirt with a slogan I like, and being hetro I’m certainly not hitting on them, either. But now I wonder, has saying something nice about an outfit been removed from the conversation because some poeple use it as a “Hey Baby” pickup line? It’s sad if that’s true, but I can understand the problem if women in a public-interaction job get it as a hit on line a dozen times a day.

    • What you did was fine, rick. Or as you described it you were following a proper protocol of saying one things getting a positive (or level response) and moving forward with more talk. I think what modern life doesn’t teach well is the “proper steps” of a social interaction.

      Start innocuous, with something appropriate like, “Thank you for helping me”, “Great meal”, or “I got what I came for, so thanks again.” If the other person responds with than “You’re Welcome” or “Come again”, that is to say if they add more you can say the next thing that might be mildly flirty. But if they stop, than you SHOULD STOP TOO.

      The social contract of interaction be it male/female, male/male, or female/female is based on respect and trust. If people are at work tread lightly. Also, understand that in the service industry what humans might call “inviting facial expressions” or “open demeanor” is all about SERVICE. Don’t misinterpret a what people do at ‘service jobs’ as open invitation because they act nicely, friendly or happy to see you…its a job we want you service experience to be pleasant. Remember where you are and why certain social cues are being used.

      I’m no expert, but I have worked with mostly professional women in stores, laboratories, schools, and now libraries since I was 16 and now I’m 43. I guess seeing the other side so much has opened my eyes wider. And, again there are no written in stone rules in our complex modern world , but common sense is often not too commonly used. Humans use what amounts to 1 million year old primate software in our heads, using it wisely in a modern world is possible…society is great at reprogramming our very flexible minds we just have to stop and think before our inner apes make us look like fools.

    • vortex on said:

      Remember that if you actually are trying to pick someone up, and this goes for both genders and all sexual orientations, you have to start out subtly. So yes, and innocent compliment is the first stage in flirting, as are mentioning common interests and so on.

      However, that’s the thing, asking someone the time of day, about the weather, or even “How about those Red Sox?” can be an opening line under the right circumstances. This is why in repressive, anti-women cultures a man talking to a woman about anything can lead to death and mayhem. Or why a white women asking a black man to light her cigarette in the Jim Crow South could lead to a lynching. Literally everything is a pick up line.

      The truth is, there’s a lot more to communication than simple verbal questions. Body language and the manner the question is asked all play a role.

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  11. bizarroderek on said:

    I’ve been in the industry since 06. I know this stuff happens, it’s shitty. I’ve never seen it first hand and hope I never do. Making a great game is no easy task, it takes hard work and dedication. My mother in law is director of HR for a huge (not games) company and sees this sort of thing fairly often unfortunately. It’s our world we live in, men are aggressive and inappropriate at times.

    I am glad you wrote this, I hope that our society reads posts like these and thinks before they speak or act, not too hard right?

  12. Brandon on said:

    I’m not part of the video-game industry, but I am a software developer hoping to one day be a part of the industry, and it really makes me sad how many women have to deal with this. Thank you for speaking out. Nothing will change unless both men and women speak out against this kind of behavior. For what it is worth, if I ever encounter it I will be certain to call the person out. Blogs like this provide inspiration to do so.

  13. I think it is ridiculous to imply that because a girl dresses sexy or walks sexy or poses sexy (because it makes her feel good and the attention is fun) gives men a right to make inappropriate comments. I once had a tongue ring because it made me happy. I liked it and did it solely for my benefit. But I removed it when I got tired of the many comments I would get from men (at work, non-videogaming company) implying (or directly saying) I got it because I wanted to suck their cock. I don’t give a fuck if they think those thoughts in their head or mention it to their buddies in a male bonding moment but it needs to be kept out of any workplace or work event.

    Well said Christa. It does suck that you never spoke up, but it also sucks that your livelihood was at stake if you would have. You always have a wonderful way with words and I am glad you are able to speak out about this subject now.

  14. Hell I worked at an adult entertainment company for a year and something like this happened once a year before I got there. The offender wouldn’t leave a woman alone and got busted. It turned out that he was gay and was trying to cover. Truth is strange. It’s screwy that seemingly intelligent people act like this. I guess intelligence can’t be equated with professionalism and maturity.

    • You are not the arbiter of anyone’s professionalism but your own. Good thing, too, because your conception of it is almost completely screwed, and any sweeping statements you may have to make on the matter have exactly zero relevancy. Stop trying to use it as a way of worming your way into blaming victims.

      A woman’s professionalism ought to have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not she is objectified.

      • Warrior on said:

        @Stuff on Demand: Pretty sure R was referring to the professionalism of the closeted gay man who wouldn’t leave the woman alone.

        Also, everyone is the arbiter of everyone’s professionalism in the workplace; that’s what makes professionalism work. You can’t eliminate sexism or intolerance, but members of a community of practice can agree to treat other people with the utmost respect and accord to a code of conduct. Being professional means finding that middle ground for the good of the whole (i.e., the corporation.)

  15. Rick Saada on said:

    @Stuff: And these days there’s a lot of cause for people *to* be the arbiter of their coworker’s professionalism. *Particularly* for guys to make it clear to other guys when they’ve crossed the line. This is important both because guys who don’t get it may be more likely to take correction from other guys than from women, and because if we make it clear that such behavior isn’t getting them any points with guys either they may be more likely to stop it. So I have to disagree. While we are clearly most responsible for our own behavior, we’re all part of the collective industry that has gotten into this mess, and we all need to work on getting out of it.

  16. Just catching up on GDC. Brenda Romero walked with the reason as sexism in gaming. Yet she was a lead designer for Playboy Mansion, with such gamplay gems as this: http://goo.gl/ml22F
    Why has her connection to this game not been mentioned in any story? Just wondering how a women who greenlights Playboy can justify sexism as a reason.

  17. vortex on said:

    Hi you should read this:

    http://trueslant.com/matttaibbi/2010/05/01/bob-rubin-cuddles/

    It’s about high finance and politics.

    Also, I have a cousin and a girlfriend in the music industry, and they both have similar horror stories to tell. (One guy got really mad at my girlfriend when she told him she had a boyfriend. He must have thought she was applying for a girlfriend job and not a singing job.) Remember the music industry is both an old industry and where all the “cool people” are.

    The thing is, a lot of what you are talking about is genuinely criminal behavior, and completely unambiguously at that. I mean assault and indecent exposure are crimes on the books. It goes beyond HR matters

  18. BillG on said:

    Trixie posting this took guts too as did your transition out of the games industry.

  19. Having just seen this post and seen the crap that goes on at cons for a decade now I have to say. That what you are doing now takes guts. Leaving took guts. Being an example takes guts. This post takes guts! YOU ARE AWESOME!

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