In 2012, there have been what seems like a never-ending stream of stories making the rounds about issues of sexism, racism, homophobia, and general dickish behavior in the games industry. Remember these gems?
Female participant in a fighting game tournament is sexually harassed by a male counterpart. She later backs off saying it was no big deal when the fighting game community rallies around him.
Media Critic Anita Sarkeesian uses Kickstarter for a media project about representation of women in video games, is subjected to death/rape threats thus proving her point.
Borderlands 2 developer makes offhand comment referring to the game’s easy mode as ‘girlfriend mode’.
Destructoid writer is fired for a series of sexist tweets directed at Felicia Day,
Employee of game developer Kixeye exposes culture of casual racism/sexism/homophobia in the office.
Trailer for new Tomb Raider game features disturbing imagery of her being sexually threatened. Developer makes comments about how ‘she needs to be protected’.
Female writer for BioWare subjected to a vicious campaign centred around her gender for ‘ruining’ Dragon Age II.
At PAX, a woman is sexually harassed at a developer’s party and the security staff does nothing to support her.
Gamespot reviewer Kevin Vanord is subjected to homophobic messages resulting from his negative review of Resident Evil 6.
That list is literally right off the top of my head and it’s from this calendar year. Now, I don’t particularly think that 2012 has necessarily been any worse than any other year for women in the games industry. The difference this year seems to be that when it happens it’s being reported on by outlets big and small, and that is actually good news. It means that the industry is at least partially beginning to acknowledge that these kinds of attitudes are a problem and that they need to be dealt with.
As a preface to my rant, I will concede that it’s not all doom and gloom; there’s a lot to be proud of in this industry. As a general rule the majority of people in development, blogging, and fandom are welcoming, kind, and fun folks. Women are making inroads and increasingly getting into prominent positions at studios, publishers, and sites (like this one, for example). Two of Gamespot’s finest reviewers are openly LGBT and, aside from the occasional idiotic comment (which usually gets quickly smacked down by the GS community), they are widely respected across the board.
That being said, the biggest mistake that is made about a discussion of progress is to act as though these problems have been ‘solved’. No, let’s be clear – this industry is messed up and we’ve got a loooong way to go before we can realistically start celebrating. The list of incidents above demonstrates that there still exists a lot of ugliness in our industry…and yes, it is OUR industry. Whether you are a developer, a writer for a site, or a fan who posts on message boards. This industry belongs to all people who love video games. We all have a stake in it and we all have a responsibility to make it a better place.
You know what doesn’t make it a better place? Treating other people badly or acting as though that kind of behavior is okay; rationalizing it as ‘part of the culture’, or saying ‘it’s just a joke’. It makes us all look bad, and frankly it serves to perpetuate mainstream society’s stereotype of gamers as fat, socially inept, basement-dwellers. I’m tired of that stereotype and I want no part in providing non-gamers with reasons to believe it’s true. I have a daughter who is beginning to take an interest in games. I want to be able to share with her the joy and excitement that the best of this culture has to offer, but not if it means she has to endure the awfulness of its underbelly.
Look, none of this information is new. We all know, if we’re being completely honest here, that this kind of crap has always been part of the industry and likely will remain so for the foreseeable future. Something about the combination of video games and Internet anonymity has created this toxic environment where simply stating an opinion entitles someone to viciously insult or threaten you on a personal level. It’s disgusting and it makes me ashamed to be part of this community sometimes.
However, as someone who personally and professionally believes in intellectual freedom and a person’s right to express him/herself, I will defend your right to be a racist, sexist, homophobic asshole. In exchange, this is what I want you to do:
Put your name on it.
Blizzard tried to do this with Battle.net accounts a couple of years ago and backed off when fans freaked out, but I think it’s an excellent idea; no more xxHaloKilla420xx, no more pwnthan00b69, and of course no more librarianmike. Too many people hide behind their username or their Sephiroth avatar and don’t take any of the responsibility that being a member of online society requires.
So, you think Anita Sarkeesian deserves to get raped because she has a different opinion than you? Fine. Just make sure to use your real name when you write that so the rest of us can share/tweet/post it and let the world know exactly how you feel. If you’re not willing to attach your name to something like that, then you shouldn’t be saying it. Full stop. From this point forward, I’m going to stop using an avatar name. I’m using my real name on the Internet and I think everyone else should too. If you are posting, or commenting, or tweeting; put your name on it. Have some courage and own what you are saying.
I love video games and I love being part of this community. The hard truth however is that until we are willing to take as much personal responsibility for our behavior online as we do in the real world, we might as well remain those sad little boys in our mom’s basement because clearly we as a community are not ready for the real, grown-up world.