Over the past couple days, a certain hashtag’s been dominating the gaming industry’s sector of Twitter, and with good reason. #1ReasonWhy has given people a place to voice – often using their personal experiences as a megaphone – reasons why there aren’t more women in the gaming industry. Naturally, it’s sparked all kinds of debate, but as always, the point is clear: sexism in the gaming industry is a serious problem, and we need to clean up our act. Perhaps just as damaging as detractors, though, are those who’ve resigned themselves to inaction. For whatever reason, they’ve simply opted to not do anything – even though they know there’s a problem. And so that brings us to a couple days ago, when I encountered a real life example of this little number: “Seriously, though, I’m a guy. It’s not like I can do anything about it.”
Recently, I was put in a situation – as I so often am in this line of work – where I was playing videogames with other, highly gaming-literate people. And by recently, I mean after the #1ReasonWhy hashtag spent an evening dominating the game-o-sphere region of the tweet-o-dodecahedron. So naturally, idle chit-chat quickly shifted in that direction. Or rather, it swerved and wobbled, clumsily ambling into the topic with all the grace and tact of a drunken rhinoceros. One of the (and yes, I believe this designation is very relevant) white males mentioned it, and another chuckled nervously. The two then exchanged dismissive jokes about yet another brouhaha over women in gaming, but the part that really stood out to me came after the laughter stopped: “Seriously, though, I’m a guy. It’s not like I can do anything about it.”
I wanted to leap over the table and scream at them.
But I didn’t do that, because I felt like it might have been a bit counter-productive to the argument I was trying to make – or, indeed, any sort of argument ever in the history of human civilization. So instead, I thought about it. Because that response to gaming’s rampant – and even if it’s maybe improving on some level, it is still absolutely rampant – sexism problem is incredibly erroneous, but it’s an easy mindset to get into even when your heart’s in the right place.
I mean, I know I’ve been there. I’m a straight white male who obsesses over and works in an industry that’s been tailor-made to cater to my every taste, fantasy, and preference. I try to at least understand what my female friends – whether they create games, market them, or enjoy them as a hobby – have had to put up with, but it’s simply not possible for someone in my position to get the full picture. Women deal with being treated like outsiders or objects or even The Enemy on a daily basis – in ways both large and small. Meanwhile, this industry grew up with me. It’s my best friend, and it acts like it. But we’re not little kids pretending to be woefully slow, childhood-obesity-ridden Sonic The Hedgehogs fleeing from girls anymore. It’s time to learn some goddamn manners and get up to speed with adult society.
But as I said, crossing that barrier of understanding is hard. Here, though, is the first reason “But I’m a guy” doesn’t pass muster with specific regard to #1ReasonWhy: because the entire point of that hashtag was to say, “Hey, look, here’s exactly what we’re dealing with. Here are the day-to-day specifics. Here’s the shadow sexism casts over our lives and careers. Here’s a gigantic, days-long list of specific reasons it’s terrible for everyone involved and needs to stop.” Frankly, if you can’t identify or understand after that, you’re probably a conscience-lacking neanderthal.
But here’s the second – and arguably more important – reason folks of my particular station need to stop using sex/gender/genitalia as a Get Out Of Responsibility Free card: because we can do something about it. Actually, we can do a whole, whole, whole lot. An incredible amount, even. Because guys, guess what? You’re gaming’s target audience. When men bark and whimper and wail and whine, this industry sees dollars fleeing and bank accounts deflating. Disgusting though it might be, money talks.
And I’m not trying to propose some damsel-in-distress “let’s handsomely save the day” argument, either. With or without men, women are kicking ass in this industry and will continue to do so. But it’s time for men to stop acting like self-centered slobs. It’s time for men to stop turning every step of progress into an agonizing uphill battle. There’s plenty of room in gaming for everyone – male, female, gay, straight, bi, trans, or what have you – so why not use this position of leverage to roll out the red carpet? Demand better from developers and publishers. If you work in the industry, demand better from your bosses and co-workers. If you simply play games as a hobby, demand better of your friends.
I don’t care what you do: just speak up. I’m sorry, but no problem ever went away because the people at the heart of it plugged their ears and ignored it. Doesn’t work with marital disputes, doesn’t work with an 18-wheeler about to run you over, doesn’t work with a live hand grenade about to go off in your face, doesn’t work with bees suddenly deciding your eye sockets would make a fine nest, doesn’t work with sexism. Never has, never will.
Hell, there’s even a recent precedent for this idea – slight though it might be. You’ll remember that BioWare included FemShep in marketing materials because fans – guys and girls – liked her so much. And they were vocal about it. They got even more vocal, meanwhile, when BioWare decided to give her a highly unwanted makeover, so BioWare relented and let their fans vote.
And that’s just an example specific to this topic. Developers and publishers listen to their “core” audiences all the time – especially when they get rowdy. By simply piping up or typing a few lines on a keyboard, we’ve changed endings, feature sets, mod support, gotten source code released, and even haggled our way into entire sequels and franchise revivals. So honestly, let’s just use this incredible power for real good already. Let’s loudly complain about things that actually matter.
Going beyond concerns of an economic nature (and yes, shockingly, including more people would be tremendously profitable for all involved), we’re talking about fellow human beings here. It’s not like “men’s” games are going to go away, but even if they were, what matters more in the grand scheme of things: your brief, momentary amusement, or the sustained happiness and comfort of other people with brains and goals and lives and all that wonderful shit? This isn’t some out-of-nowhere politically correct crackdown on The Boy’s Club. It’s common fucking human decency. More than that, it’s common fucking sense.
You want #1ReasonWhy? Because I felt the need to write this in the first place. Because for some reason, people still don’t get it.