Rhianna Pratchett’s #1ReasonToBe

Recently, we had the wonderful fortune to post GDC’s magnificent #1ReasonToBe panel in full. It’s a powerfully eye-opening thing – regardless of which “side” of the equality “debate” you fall on – and you should absolutely, definitely give it a watch if you haven’t already. One person, however, was missing from its lineup: industry writing vet Rhianna Pratchett, who – in addition to whipping up words for the likes of Tomb Raider, Overlord, Mirror’s Edge, and heaps more – sorta, you know, created the #1ReasonToBe hashtag in the first place. She wasn’t able to make it out due to scheduling conflicts, but this is why they invented the Internet: so we could do anything from anywhere at any time. Thus, we bring you Pratchett’s #1Reason – not to mention her viewpoints on why equality’s very different from ‘pinking’ games, why the industry’s failing to attract female talent, what controversies surrounding Tomb Raider taught her, and how we can ultimately make games better for everyone.      

RPS: First up, you sadly weren’t able to attend the #1ReasonToBe panel at GDC. So, in that style, what is your one reason? What have been your defining moments working in games – both in terms of negativity – ala Brenda Romero’s experiences at E3 – and the event(s) that made you say, “You know what? I’m willing to fight this uphill battle because I love what I do”?

Pratchett: Although I’ve not personally experienced some of the more extreme examples of industry sexism which the first hashtag highlighted, #1reasonwhy and #1reasontobe have lit a fire in me – and Pratchetts are inherently a bit fighty by nature. As I mentioned above, I’ve really realized in the last year how much being a visible industry female matters to people. Not necessarily as much to myself, or to other female developers already in the industry, but those who are um-ing and err-ing at the side-lines. Hesitant to make the jump, or even try to.

Over the last couple of months I’ve done several talks in girls’ schools about working in games and have helped introduce them to game design and narrative, through initiatives like Little Miss Geek. They light up. Like they’ve just stepped through the wardrobe and discovered Narnia. It heart-warming, even for someone who’s not yet managed to graduate beyond cat ownership. I’ve gained so much from this industry and this feels, at least in part, like a way of giving back.

RPS: You started #1ReasonToBe as a more positive complement to #1ReasonWhy. Are we sometimes in danger, do you think, of losing sight of the fact that the gaming industry’s a really special, interesting thing? In doing so, do we risk frightening away talented people who might be interested in making games?

Pratchett: If we’re ever going to change the gender balance of this industry – which I think is the main thing that’s really going to help the situation – then we need to emphasize the positives, as well as being honest about the negatives. The problems highlighted by #1reasonwhy were shocking, saddening and predictable in equal measure. It doesn’t matter how ‘special’ your industry is, there’s no excuse for some of the sheer asshattery which that hashtag revealed. However, maintaining a sense of perspective is vital. Yes, it’s important to talk about the fight, but it’s just as important to remember what we’re fighting for.

The main reason why I started #1reasontobe is because I believe that raising awareness of what a great industry this can be, and what opportunities there are for men and women alike, is fundamental in tackling these problems. When I first started out as a games writer, I knew so little about the role (because people just weren’t talking about it in the same way they do now) that it took a while to realize what the career I’d side-stepped into actually was.

RPS: The fight against sexism is mired in negativity – in many cases with good reason, seeing as sexism is a horrible thing – but is that in some ways detrimental? For instance, it often creates an oppositional relationship against those who don’t think sexism and equality aren’t viable issues. We get angry and – in some cases – even hate them instead of trying to calmly educate them into considering other people’s feelings. So is the problem of attitude here bigger than most people think?

Pratchett: #1reasonwhy evolved into something that was about more than just sexism, but the problems and issues women encounter in this industry linked to their gender. Some of the tweets certainly constituted experience of abuse and harassment, whilst other issues were more along the lines of ignorance and stubborn behaviour – traits that both genders share. There was a lot to get angry about.

It’s often difficult to separate signal from noise online. We all know that anonymous abuse is rife, and rarely are people ever held accountable for their actions. Most trolls (male or female) are not interested in being educated, they just want to rage. It’s hard to know what the solution is for that, beyond tougher anonymity restrictions and penalties for online abuse.

As I mentioned earlier, the best weapon against sexism in the games is to get more skilled women into the industry, keep them there and generally level the playing field.

RPS: Your work on Tomb Raider’s been well-publicized, as has – fairly recently – the fact that the majority of Dragon Age III’s writing team is female. In both cases, the benefits have gotten the spotlight: Lara’s evolution into a real character instead of a caricature, DA III’s removal of problematic story arcs, etc. Do you think we need more of that? More people saying, “Yes, being inclusive and understanding has made our game measurably better/more interesting”?

Pratchett: For many years I steered clear of ‘women in games’ issues. In fact, I’ll admit to being downright uncomfortable with being asked about that side of things. Mainly because I felt that the best thing I could do for women in games was just be one and do my job to the best of my ability. I didn’t have a choice about my gender. I do have a choice about my career – therefore it’s always felt more meaningful to me.

However, now I’ve got many more titles under my belt I’ve felt more at ease with talking about that side of things – hence my contribution to both hashtags. Mainly because I’ve realised that for young girls getting into the industry, it does matter to see women out there talking about these issues – although I’d still always prefer to talk about the work.

After all, no one ever asks a male writer about writing a male character, or how his maleness gave him special insights, which shows that we still have a long way to go in both the fields of narrative and gender balance.

The controversy surrounding Tomb Raider shone a light on my gender in a way that was never intended. Ultimately, no one should be pushed into the spotlight in this industry simply because of their gender, but because they’ve done meaningful, interesting work that’s worth talking about. It’s the work that counts, not what the person has between their legs.

RPS: In working on Tomb Raider – a series that’s gone from gaming industry sex symbol to symbol of the industry’s gradual maturation – what sorts of challenges have you come up against on this front?

Pratchett: The whole controversy surrounding Lara’s first kill scene, and the reasons why it was included in the game, was tough to deal with. And obviously, Lara’s gender played a big part in that. The whole thing was also unexpected, as it wouldn’t have been a controversy in any other entertainment field. Partly that was due to the fact that I’d not been announced back then, so I couldn’t just say: “Actually it’s not like that, it’s like this.” Alongside that, many assumptions were based on limited information because so few people had actually played that scene in context at the time.

I can talk all I want about the fact that, although we thought about that scene carefully and treated it with honesty and integrity, it was not meant to be a single transformative event. That it’s actually about Lara’s reactions – and her reactions to her reactions. Or that the narrative team didn’t put it in to make players want to ‘protect’ Lara. But the unfortunate reality is that some people’s perception will always be coloured by the first thing they heard.

During the uproar there seemed to be one particular undercurrent of assuming that the scene was put together by men who clearly didn’t understand how to deal with the evolution of a female character – especially a videogame character. I felt that it did male creators a disservice. When I was announced some of those rumours quietened. In all honesty I felt that my gender shouldn’t have been a big deal in this matter – the fact that I helped create it and therefore could speak about it from that standpoint, should have been the only thing that counted.

However, the whole issue has brought up some really interesting and important debates about what’s acceptable for videogames to depict, where the boundaries are and how we speak about female characters and their relationship to players.

RPS: One of the biggest #1ReasonWhy tweets is your own – specifically, the one about having to ask teams to consider that the player could be female. Why is that such an easy oversight for so many people, though? I mean, we’re talking about half of the entire human population here. Even from a “pragmatic” standpoint, that means they’re leaving half the world’s money on the table. Why do people remain ignorant of that?

Pratchett: The industry is used to targeting the male demographic, at least when it comes to triple-A, non-casual titles. And it is still, in many ways, stuck in that rut, either uncertain of how to change, not interested in changing or simply averse to straying from the established path.

In the movie industry they talk about the desire for ‘four-quadrant movies’ – namely those that appeal to men and women, both over 25 and under 25. Those kinds of movies – such as Avatar, Titanic, The Hunger Games, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, etc – really clean-up at the box office. They do it through strong story, characters, exciting action and thrilling set-pieces. That’s the kind of thing we need to look at more closely and find a way to emulate, not through whole-sale copying, but in a way that really works for our industry and players.

It’s not about the ‘pinking’ of games. It’s about making them better for everyone.

RPS: Sexism is everywhere in society – Western or otherwise – which has led to an odd response to movements like #1ReasonWhy: “Well, this is hardly confined to the gaming industry.” It’s a pretty defeatist way of viewing things, though. Do you think the key here is to focus efforts (in this case, on gaming) instead of taking a divide-and-conquer approach and being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of, well, changing the world all at once?

Pratchett: As you say, sexism exists in the industry, because sexism exists in the world. When you have any industry that’s skewed in one gender direction or another, then sexism is an unfortunate by-product. Men don’t always get an easy ride in the field of nursing, for example.

Changing the world is a tall order, changing our world, or at least reshaping it a little, seems doable. By and large most male developers I’ve met and worked with would actively welcome more women into the industry, providing they had the necessary skills to do the job they’re hired for.

It’s tough – although not impossible – to change an asshole, but my gut feeling is that, by and large, it isn’t necessarily male attitudes which keeping women out of games development or cause them to burnout. Instead, it’s a combination of a poor work-life balancing conditions, a lack of awareness of the opportunities out there and dwindling creative diversity. And these are problems that have a huge impact on the industry as a whole.

Yes, this industry’s in need of a shake-up, but one that should be designed to benefit all developers, males and females alike. We need to place stronger emphasis on improving working conditions, burnout rate and industry awareness. Ultimately, that’s what will improve the quality of the games and the lives of those who create them. And that’s what really matters.

RPS: It’s been quite some time since the #1Reason hashtags took Twitter by storm. Are you happy with how they’ve evolved, how they’ve become almost a rallying cry when sexist or otherwise alienating issues wriggle out from the woodwork?

They’ve given women – and some guys – a place where they can voice their woes and embrace their joys, and they know they’re not just shouting into the darkness. It’s also produced interesting (and disturbing) articles like Alanah Pearce’s 30 days of Sexism. But I also think it’s been valuable for encouraging more real-world initiatives which revolve around actually trying to change things, rather than just talking about them. Words are great, but it’s action that really matters.

RPS: Do you think progress has been steady and more visible since #1Reason caught on? I mean, on one hand, there was the IGDA GDC party and the recent Dragon’s Crown controversy, among others, but pushback was immediate and severe. Do you think, if nothing else, people are starting to understand that we can’t just ignore the issue of equality and hope it’ll go away?

Pratchett: Certainly people seem quicker to call out the most ridiculous examples of sexism, objectifications for the male gaze, or even just poor party planning. Obviously everyone’s rage mileage will vary on those, but it is important that we highlight and talk about them. Companies need to witness the sales and customers they’re losing out on before they’ll actually start changing anything.

From this site

414 Comments

  1. Blackcompany says:

    One other smallish issue bothering me about women being “under represented” in gaming:

    When Notch wanted to enter into the video game industry, he got himself the tools and made a game. Ditto for a good many other independents.

    When an author wants to see their story enjoyed by others, they write it. They publish it – either through an agent/publisher or on their own, in electronic form. If its popular it will sell. If its extremely popular, people will knock down your door to put into movies, video games, coloring books, etc.

    So why are all of these under-represented women not out making games? The tools exist. The distribution has never been easier. Exposure has never been easier and thus, neither has marketing. And the same holds true to a video game narratives: Want to create a narrative, fine. Go ahead. Write one. And then market it. If its good, someone will grab it up. Or you can publish it yourself, retaining all rights, and sell it, and let the audience decide its quality and level of exposure from there. Or do both!

    Now, I don’t mean to be hateful. Or sarcastic. Or mocking. On my honor I do not. What I would like to know is this: Why sit about lamenting your lack of a place in the industry, when you could take that time, and presumably the skills you MUST already possess, and go make a game? Why not try and break into the industry in the best, most gender blind manner possible: Selling. A quality. Video game.

    Write the next Witcher or Bastion, or develop the next WoW or CoD – metaphorically speaking – and I guarantee you NO ONE will care one whit about your gender.

    #1reasontogettowork?

    • Seth says:

      Women already make a load of games, both in the indie scene (as you’re proposing) and in the context of AAA developers. Jade Raymond worked on Assassin’s Creed and got excoriated for being just a pretty face. Women made games like Analogue: A Hate Story and nobody played them (I’d bet you haven’t!) – they certainly didn’t explode like Minecraft. There are structural reasons that even when women try the same strategies as men they aren’t rewarded for them.

      e: Put differently, the problem is not that women are underrepresented because they’re not trying hard enough, it’s that they can put in equivalent (or greater) effort and meet with a very different and much less success-promoting response.

      e2: Really I think your comment doesn’t make much sense as a reply to an article about a group of active, working women game developers. #1reasontogettowork? Why? Surely you realize they’re already working, and speaking about what they’ve found?

      • Berzee says:

        Except in the point and click adventure genre.

      • Blackcompany says:

        It would have been a wise bet. About analogue, I mean, and my having played it. Which I have not. Because simply put, it did not interest me in the slightest. That it was made by women was not, however, a thing of which I was aware. The game itself just didn’t interest me, on its own merits, but if you played it I hope you enjoyed your time with it, as with any other game.

        As for the Jade/AC story, I missed that one. And its a ridiculous accusation, of course. Just because a woman is part of a team that also consists of men, it does not mean she is the “token female/pretty face” there for looks. Unless, of course, we are talking about coverage teams for American football, wherein the practice of “token females” “reporting” from the sidelines of games has become a rather unfortunate practice in recent years. Many – not all, but many – of these poor women know almost nothing about football and have a penchant for stating things like “coach, its obvious your team made some adjustments at halftime” as if its suddenly news that teams do this in, you know, every single game ever. These women probably think they are helping their gender break into new working roles but I think that, if anything, its just souring men ever more on their presence in our lives.

        Not that that perspective is fair to women. Not by a long shot. But anything sufficiently tedious can drive a person crazy. Hall monitor behavior; know nothing token females – or males – in any industry. Enough of these sorts of things, and it actually makes them look worse, if anything, whether that’s fair or intended or not. But assuming a woman is “just another pretty face (not a contributor) just because she is there, is simply wrong – period, and that’s not even disputable using logic.

    • darkChozo says:

      I would note that Notch worked professionally as a game developer for at least four years prior to Minecraft (may have been longer, Wikipedia is rather brief on the matter). Minecraft was obviously a big thing for him, but it wasn’t how he broke into the industry.

      Aside from that, I think that this argument somewhat misses the point. If the only way women can get into the industry is to start their own company and develop their own games, then that in itself is a problem. Not to mention, suggesting that women in the industry are lamenting their lack of a place in the industry is a bit… odd (I would doubt that many of these outcries are from people out of the industry, unless we’re talking about women that feel that they have been driven out due to sexism).

  2. Phantoon says:

    I didn’t read the article, didn’t read the comments, and will not do so. I’m posting to inform you that I don’t care because this is just harping on about the same thing, with no possible solution. Much like my own post.

  3. andytt66 says:

    I’m not suggesting that the debate is stifled, merely that actual solutions are offered. I can quite accept that the gaming industry is a sexist one, the ratio of men to women in the IT world as a whole is still woefully unbalanced. I also wholly acknowledge that such prejudice has no place in the modern world.

    But what do I, personally, do about it?

    I read the comments each time, hoping to actually see someone putting forward some suggestions, but all I see are a crystallisation of attitudes.

    “inaction is acceptance of the status quo”, and we can agree the status quo is unacceptable. So by doing nothing, I am now part of the problem. So what should I be doing?

    I don’t buy from Primark because I don’t agree with their manufactoring priorities. Should I not play particular games because I don’t agree with their staffing criteria? Their art direction? I’ve boycotted Ubisoft for years due to their DRM, but that’s heavily reported. Is there a list somewhere of “sexist” companies? (That sounded flippant, but something of that ilk would be truly appreciated).

    I just don’t agree that getting the forum worked up *again* about sexism without any kind of clear suggestions about how to improve things is useful.

    EDIT: Oh dammit, reply-fail. But if anyone has any idea about what to do here, it would be much appreciated. Ideally something that will take effect in a timescale measured in years, not decades.

    • Tagiri says:

      Because so much of the problem with sexism in the industry is invisible (ie. HR departments aren’t actively saying “mwahaha, let’s not hire any women!!!” but might perceive a male applicant for a programming job as more capable than a female applicant with the same skills due to preconceived notions about what men and women are good at) I think the best way to combat sexism in the industry is to reward companies who are doing it right. Vote with your wallet and show companies that their desired demographic can be interested in games with a female lead (and not too scared of gay cooties to play a heterosexual woman in a romantic relationship). It goes the opposite way, too. If a game is trying to sell itself using sexist imagery/scenarios, don’t buy it. For good or ill, presuming that you’re a man between 18 and 30, your opinion/purchase matters much more to companies right now than mine does.

      If women say that a game scenario or trailer makes them feel uncomfortable, listen to them. David Gaider made a post on his blog a while ago about a group of male writers who didn’t realize that they’d written a rape situation until female staff pointed it out. Maybe you’ll look the game over and decide that what they saw wasn’t there, but listen to them.

    • deadrody says:

      Nobody has any solution for anything, frankly. All we have is a nation of complainers that want their grievance fixed, regardless of how it affects anyone else or what negative consequences will result when THEIR grievance is addressed. That is the very problem with a victim-based system of governance. Once you make it your stated policy to go around providing redress for one group’s grievances, now everybody wants their grievance addressed.

      That’s not how government or anything else works properly.

      • Tagiri says:

        That is totally correct, terrible things will happen when minorities get increased media representation. It’s like they think they’re people.

  4. deadrody says:

    Most trolls (male or female) are not interested in being educated, they just want to rage. It’s hard to know what the solution is for that, beyond tougher anonymity restrictions and penalties for online abuse.

    Frankly, that ought to scare the SHIT out of people. anonymity restrictions and online abuse penalties in what context, exactly ? Good lord PLEASE don’t tell me ANYONE on this forum thinks any government should be regulating anonymity and speech online. please.

    • Prime says:

      Woah, calm down there, Mr Fear! Where did the word “government” come from??? I seriously doubt she’s advocating 1984: the sequel.

  5. napoleon_in_rags says:

    *walks into the article’s comment section*
    *sees a stack of nested comments the size of which he has never seen before*
    *slowly backs out*

  6. tnankie says:

    Those who can, do.
    Sorry I come from a family of strong women who just get out there and do it. If they have a problem with something someone said they tell them. And thus on a micro scale everyone becomes a little more educated and a little better.

    And yes I do find pictures of women showing clevage in game advertising or media to be distasteful.
    link to kotaku.com.au
    I really don’t care if you think you are wearing what makes you feel comfortable, I feel like you are trying to manipulate me through my biology.
    Sex F#@$ing sells, so forgive me if I seem paranoid about things that shouldn’t be sexy having sexy overtones.

  7. Otherwise says:

    Short version: There is a debate. It should be about how to make things better.

    Long version: Changes in society undermine traditional roles in society. Those most supported by those traditional roles will be most undermined, and at a loss to find security in their role in society.

    Gaming offers a tailored route to empowerment and escapism from insecurity. As the industry becomes more financially successful, two things will happen. First is that the industry will tailor itself to its dominant demographic to become more financially successful. Second is that its success as a viable route to empowerment and escapism from societal insecurity becomes known to, and engaged by, the wider population – allowing the industry to be even more financially successful.

    The gaming industry is a commercial venture, not a public service. Hand-wringing from the middle ground, wishing that the medium of our time would only tailor to our whims and our minor insecurities is simply sidestepping far larger issues (and human nature). We see it in gaming because we love gaming, and we like looking at it.

    Criticism helps no one but the critic. Constructive criticism helps a bit. Critical thinking helps the most. In this we need to be inclusive and open to rehabilitation – in others and in ourselves. While we still need empowerment and escapism, games need to engage us in a manner that is much more than sugar-coated onanism. Gaming is so much more than jiggle physics – but it is part of gaming nonetheless.

    The Gutenberg press was built to print the bible. Its descendants printed the Brothers Karamazov, Where’s Wally and RyanAir’s inflight magazine. Karamazov changed my life, Wally was fun, I never want to fly RyanAir again (but probably will, when I forget how bad it was). I would like RPS to share with me the equivalent of all three – and it does so admirably. Should that task become too great though, I’d prefer that Karamazov was the last to go.

    • The Random One says:

      There is a debate of how to make things better, and a “debate” about whether things are that bad really.

      • Prime says:

        I think the reason Nathan put “debate” in quotes is because most of the time the discussion boils down to one side saying “We have a problem because you have a problem” and the other saying “No you don’t, bitches. Quit making shit up and get your tits out.”

        • Machinations says:

          I think part of the problem is the deliberate and willful mischaracterization of what people have said.

          I didn’t see a single comment where anyone said “No you don’t, bitches. Quit making shit up and get your tits out.”

          This kind of putting words into peoples mouths is completely anathema to civilized debate, and doesn’t do you any favours.

  8. Incision says:

    She’s a chick. The RPS guys are gaming nerds who rarely get laid. You do the math.

    • Prime says:

      Thank you for pointing out the exact reason these articles are necessary. By successfully deploying throughout these comments every ridiculous sexist cliché there is you’ve ensured these articles will continue for a long time to come.

      • Incision says:

        Oh, I’m ensuring that if they’re going to try this kind of Uncle Tom style of feminist apologia, they’re going to get well and truly nailed to the wall for their true motivations.

        Nerds don’t understand women. They think trying to please women is somehow going to get them laid. They are, of course, mistaken.

        Unfortunately, utter bilge like the anti-male crap they’ve been spewing lately is an inevitable byproduct of that pathetic desire to please at all costs.

  9. mostley says:

    I made one too!
    “Break all The Pots!”
    -> link to ludumdare.com

  10. BarbaraRedding27 says:

    Victoria. you think Vincent`s story is surprising… on friday I got a great Lancia when I got my cheque for $9028 this past 4 weeks and just a little over $10 thousand last-month. with-out any question its the most rewarding I’ve ever done. I began this 3 months ago and straight away got minimum $77 per/hr. I use details from here,, Jump44.com

  11. FunkyDarkKnight says:

    Wait, people still care that women play video games?