Dabe Alan

Women in games, our role in promoting violence, and diversity of creation: GDC goes on the offensive

Women in games, our role in promoting violence, and diversity of creation: GDC goes on the offensive

It all started when game designer Luke Crane asked about the lack of female game designers in the industry. The result was a flood of tweets from women in the games industry, including writers, designers, and fans, talking about the challenging path for women in all aspects of video gaming. There were too many anecdotes, real-world examples, and testimonies from women in all aspects of gaming to continue to pretend this isn’t an issue.

(A quick update: I’ve been contacted by many individuals who stated that game designer Filamena Young was the first person to begin using the hashtag, and I wanted to edit the story to include her contribution. It’s doesn’t seem right to name the person who asked the question and leave out the person who answered.)

Meggan Scavio, the general manager of the Game Developers Conference, was listening, and she reached out to women in the industry such as Leigh Alexander, Brenda Romero, and Mattie Brice to organize a talk on the hashtag and the challenges women face in gaming. That was only the beginning.

GDC has organized a collection of lectures, panels, and question and answer sessions, called the Advocacy Track, to deal with these issues and promote industry advocacy, an idea that began last year. This momentum caused the show to once again pair with the International Game Developers Association to flesh out the track with talks about diversity in game characters, women in gaming, and how to fight the tendency of gaming being used as a scapegoat in the wake of real-world tragedy.

The organic growth of discussion

I called Scavio to discuss how the track came together, and she said much of it was an organic process. She had reached out to some of the voices involved in the One Reason Why hashtag already, and the planning took off from there.

“You usually begin with the ideas, you want to hit the big topics and then figure out the right people to speak on them,” Scavio told the Report. “I was involved with the Scapegoats No More talk, as I was with the One Reason Why panel. I was having a conversation with Ian Bogost after he had written the article for the Atlantic, how we really needed to talk about this at GDC, but what was the right way to do it that just didn’t involve us going ‘look at the research.’ We wanted to make it as productive as we possibly could.”

This is an interesting challenge, especially during a time in the industry when it’s hard enough for companies to keep their collective heads above the water. When layoffs, not to mention studio closures, are common after each release, it’s a hard sell to get people worried about diversity in our heroes. “Yes, absolutely, but that doesn’t mean [these topics] shouldn’t be discussed,” Scavio argued.

“It’s hard to program these, even at GDC, I’ll be honest with you,” she continued. “When you have an opportunity to go to Diversity in Games panel versus the Art of Journey, which one are you going to go to as an attendee? But we’re hoping that just having that conversation available to people, and trying to get coverage on it as well, is only going to grow the movement. It’s tough.”

Going on the offensive

It’s not just a matter of getting more diverse voices in games, the challenge of changing how the public perceives games as a whole is both challenging and important. The game industry is often the first group talked about after the latest mass shooting, and even the NRA enjoys blaming games for gun violence. It doesn’t help that we tend to promote the most violent games.

“Last year at the E3 press conferences, most of the footage that was shown to the press was incredibly violent video game images,” Scavio said. “There were moments, obviously Nintendo wasn’t crazy violent, but there are moments where things end with gunshots to the end. Showing that there are other types of games out there is really important for us to do.This makes me crazy. You look at something like the Independent Games Festival… there are so many games out there that aren’t shooters, and we don’t really highlight those games.”

Scavio has talked to representatives from the Jimmy Fallon show and hopes to get them to highlight some titles from the Festival in fact, but the show typically covers games with segments like their recent showcase of the latest Killzone game running on the PlayStation 4. The result was yet another violent game on television, and there was little that differentiated the game from every other shooter on every other platform. The footage was painfully awkward as well.

This is why changing the perception of games is so important. It’s not just an industry of adolescent boys playing violent games, and titles like Journey and Minecraft are rarely shown as B-roll during stories criticizing games; we offer up the splashiest, most violent moments of games to the media in a manner that’s almost gleeful. It’s hard not to join in the voices criticizing the content of most games when we market violence so extensively, and often at the exclusion of games that don’t easily fit the narrative of games as “murder simulators.”

Even showing up to debate for games is problematic. Why do we have to prove that games don’t cause violence when no one has offered any evidence to the contrary? “Personally, I feel that you do take some blame and admit to being part of the problem when you participate in things like that,” Scavio said. “Which is why I think it’s time we learn to change public opinion instead of constantly defending ourselves. I think the game industry is always on the defensive and we need to start taking an offensive approach to how we’re perceived.”

The Advocacy Track will, hopefully, provide more insight into our industry and give those who attend more weapons to change how games are created, marketed, and seen by the mainstream. Scavio made the interesting point that simply by improving the diversity of those who make the games, we increase the chances of creating diverse games. If nothing else, talking about these issues and taking them seriously is a large step in the right direction.