So this year at GDC, friend and fellow SF resident Anita Sarkeesian was honored with the GDC Ambassador Award for her amazing work on the representation of women in games. Anita has worked hard over the last couple of years to raise awareness about how women are portrayed in games and how it impacts culture, as well as the future of our medium. I was so glad to see her on stage, having her work celebrated by fellow developers.
Anita and I were also each nominated for the Microsoft Women in Games Ambassador Award this year. Because I am such a fan of her work, and feel it is so valuable… I just assumed the award would go to Anita. I had no speech prepared, and was not sure how to express my thanks and gratitude when I actually won. So I walked up onto the podium and told a story instead.
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I was recently at a commercial conference in Sweden, where I spoke to a room full of developers about the idea of feeling-focused game development. I worked hard on this talk, which combined some of my experiences working on Journey with philosophies that have developed all throughout my career as a designer, producer and now CEO. I talked about how I believe that starting with the feeling you want to create in a player requires a special kind of development… how working on a game that tries to create new feelings in a player requires trust, open communication and a shared belief in that mission. I was really proud of how it turned out, and at the end, we opened the floor to Q&A.
The first question I got was about being a “women in games”. Specifically: what did I think the industry could do to improve the ratio of female developers? This was not the question I expected. Nor was it the one I wanted to answer. Why? Because I was talking about my philosophy and my company – not my gender. I do not like to think of myself as a “women in games” as such. And I certainly do not like the idea that when people see me on stage, they see a unicorn: a woman who is ALSO, SURPRISINGLY an artist, designer, computer scientist, CEO. I do not like being seen an example of what is not normal, what is unexpected, what is novel. I do not like to feel responsible for speaking for all women in the industry, or coming up with magical solutions to the problem of our under-representation.
So I answered truthfully. I said that I was tired of people always asking questions about my vagina. By way of explanation, I asked all the women at the event to raise their hands – roughly 10% of the room. I thanked them for their participation, and then I said that instead of asking *me* how to solve the problem, or even asking *them*… perhaps it would be better to turn around and ask the other 90% of the room. Sweden is one of the most gender-neutral places in the entire world. If 10% is our best, in that context… we have a long way to go. And we clearly need more than 10% of the room thinking about how to get to 50/50.
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After telling this story, I dedicated the award to all the women in our industry. Because we have all have worked tirelessly to participate, to show up and make a difference. We have all been on the front lines, being the example, being the “women in gaming”. And because of this, we are practiced and prepared to answer THE QUESTIONS:
- What is it like being a women in games?
- Why aren’t there more of us?
- What should we do to include more women?
- Why are women paid less than men in games?
- Why haven’t we figured out how to end sexism in our workplaces, at our conferences and industry events?
If you have answered these questions, then you know they are difficult. Especially to answer on camera, or while speaking into a tape recorder. They are hard to answer with poise, tact, clarity and purpose. It can be challenging to answer them and be positive, forward-looking, and filled with hope. To believe in change and promote it, instead of feeling angry, frustrated, or discouraged by the status quo.
I also dreamed aloud of the day when the Ambassador Award is actually given to a man. One who works *harder* than all of us “women in games”. One who is a vocal champion of diversity, works tirelessly to make our community a welcoming environment, and promotes everyday practices of radical inclusion. Because if we expect the “women in games” to solve the problem of “women in games” on their own, and on top of everything else… we are simply asking too much.
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What does this mean for you? I’m not sure. When I am asked a question about “women in gaming”, I’ve decided I will answer ONLY if the person asking agrees to pose that very same question to every other developer they speak with, regardless of gender. If you identify as a “women in games” or find yourself being asked THE QUESTIONS on a regular basis because of minority status… perhaps you could do the same.
If you haven’t been part of the dialog… why not start by really absorbing what we have been saying so far, by testing your assumptions, and by working to help create the change we have been asking for… one conversation at a time. Because it is time to open the floor, and get the whole industry to buy into a shared vision of equality, diversity and creativity. We are all “in gaming” together, and so we must *all* be part of the solution.