Band-Aid fixes won’t make game development a safe place – THE MERCURY
The ongoing Activision Blizzard lawsuits highlight long-standing issues within the game developer community and remind gamers and game developers that we need to do more than just condemn the studio’s actions; we need to create safer and more welcoming spaces for female developers at all levels of game development and culture.
The AAA studio faces allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment that are troubling in detail but sadly not unheard of in game development culture. In fact, other studios have faced similar lawsuits, including the 2018 Riot Games class action lawsuit over the sexist “bro” culture that dominated studio life. Notice how the language parallels Blizzard’s trial of “frat boy” culture in the workspace. The trend for a laid-back but also male-dominated culture in video game studios is rooted in development practices and perpetuated by video game stereotypes.
Many game developers choose their career path because they are gamers and love video games. Despite the fact that nearly half of gamers in the United States identify as female, according to the Entertainment Software Association, many are not considered gamers by their peers. A study by Thekla Morgenroth, Michelle Stratemeyer and Benjamin Paaßen found that stereotypes about gamers are gendered: stereotypes of women are not compatible with stereotypes of gamers. Competence and agency, for example, were seen as “linked to facets of masculinity”. The skills and identity of women within the gaming community are often called into question in this sphere before they even consider turning their hobby into a developer job. The consequences of this type of mindset are often reflected in the makeup of the game development teams examined up to 2019: women are under-represented in game positions and in leadership positions in game development. The highest ratio of women to men on development teams in the reviewed dataset was 23%. Most development teams have fallen behind on this ratio, although the newer games have done better than the older ones.
Without women present in the game management, the retention of women in the games space is low and any change that could be made to studio cultures is slow. Indeed, gender imbalances in the workplace become more difficult to deal with when addressed only from the perspective of the male gaze. We are seeing more class actions regarding sexual harassment that we can all agree is terrible, and yet nothing is changing. Who wants to work in a creative industry where their creativity and opinions are silenced? Game design is losing unique talents, stories and opportunities without the perspectives of women.
Women have been raising their voices on game studio culture for almost a decade now. In 2012, a wave of concern from female developers was raised during the # 1reasonwhy Twitter campaign. They shared stories about oppressive studio cultures or development practices and found solidarity within the community. But the gaming community has a habit of silencing women’s voices when it comes to raising concerns about harassment in gaming development and culture. A few years later, in 2014, the #gamergate movement on Twitter turned out to be an inflammatory and hurtful harassment campaign aimed at silencing women in game development or player culture that raised concerns on topics ranging from negative stereotypes in games to development practices damaging. .
Many UTD students enjoy video games and are gamers or even game developers. Some of our ATEC and Computer Science students spend hours in technical practices and classes on how to make games or participate in game jams with their friends. ATEC introduces the idea of ”intentional manufacturing of the future”, which encourages not only to imagine a future, but also to think critically about how that future will happen and the consequences of technology. As game designers and media creators, changes within the industry can begin here, on campus, in our game jams and in our labs. We can raise unique voices by including women and amplifying what they have to say when it comes to game creation and game design culture. Our actions cannot be simply performative or short-sighted. We have a responsibility not only to create media intentionally, but also to create sound design practices with intentionality. Our commitment to making the culture of game development welcoming and safe for people of all kinds begins with the recognition that it will be an ongoing process, but that it will be worth it.