Last night I agreed with someone on an internet forum that the community I posted in was often misogynistic and within 20 minutes was likened to an African slave trader.
Okay, you’re probably pretty confused right now so here’s the explanation: the guy said it because I worked on Duke Nukem Forever (DNF.)
I’m writing today’s post with a bit of a heavy heart because very few people have said something rude like this to me because of my work on that game: I can count them all on one hand. That being said, these people reside almost exclusively within the internet community that I’ve called home for over a decade and they have made my work on that game a rallying cry in an attempt to discredit me when I talk about misogyny, sexism, or inequality in gaming. I’m not going to lie: it’s unpleasant to be threatened, to know that when you want to post about your experiences as a woman you are going to be insulted, so I’ve decided to take that negativity and turn it into a productive discussion.
Spoilers: this post isn’t really going to be about DNF.
So let’s start off with the part that some of you might be interested in: what the hell I did on DNF and why I don’t talk about it.
Okay, first off, let’s get to my role in the company when that game was made. I was Senior Manager, Interactive Marketing at the company that published the game. In terms of role, I ran the community and customer service teams. That means, among other things, I crafted and deployed the rollout of community and fan-focused information: blogs, podcasts, forums, events, swag, contests, Facebook, FAQs, online game sessions – you get the gist. My favorite projects on the game included unveiling the game on a livestream at PAX West (complete a heart attack when the feed went dead within the first minute of the broadcast) and, my crown jewel, editing the artbook (that was quite the labor of love. Finding art for a game that long in the making and trying to get it up to print quality, coupled with all the interviews to get the words for the book, took a really long time.)
Now, to the second part: why I won’t answer any more detailed questions about my work on that game. I’ll summarize it as such: the video games industry is notoriously secretive and while I really think things are far too cloak-and-dagger, I am not about to fuck up my reputation and career by going into more detail. Someday someone will probably write a book about that game and lots and lots of people are going to buy it. Godspeed to them.
All right, now that we’ve gotten that out of our system, let’s talk about what I think the real problem is here: I’m a woman and I’m working towards equality between men and women, particularly in tech and gaming. However, when I talk about my experiences and desire to help end sexism and misogyny, I’m often met with statements like this one: “your unerring support of the product/project/marketing (which all involve misogyny and sexism) appears to be rife with hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.” (That’s a quote from someone after I wrote my first blog, An Opening Gambit, a couple weeks back.)
For almost a decade, I’ve worked as a public figure on AAA games. I have worked on over two dozen games. I can count on one hand the number of them that don’t suffer from sexist or misogynistic problems. I’ll take that statement one step further back: if you survey the landscape of games today, the vast majority of them have serious issues concerning sexism and misogyny. In fact, if you put the names of all games released this year on a board and threw a dart, you’d be damned lucky to hit one and say “hey, that game isn’t sexist.”
I don’t want a world of games that are completely politically correct. I will say that the state of affairs with women in games is pretty goddamned sad right now and I’m tired of female fantasy characters and their crazy cleavage-n-thong armor, I’m tired of Samus’ new stripper heels, and I’m tired of women being demeaned or treated as objects in game. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Back to the week-long conversation I had with someone after posting my Opening Gambit blog. After I explained to him that I wasn’t going to break an NDA to answer some of his questions, he replied with “Really, I want to understand the cognitive dissonance that allows you to support a sexist/misogynistic marketing campaign. I'm not asking for *personal details,* I'm asking for an acknowledgment that you've used sexism/misogyny and that it made you think about things, or made you realize how wrong it was. I can't read that you thought: "Oh, yeah. I'm proud of this," when I look at it and think: "This is totally fucked up." How do you expect people to learn from your mistakes when you double down on the message that it was great?”
I’ve just established that if you work in the gaming industry right now, you are probably going to work on a game that is sexist. I do not believe that opting out of the entire industry is the right way to help solve this problem. And by continuing to work within companies and on games that have these issues without eliminating them or publicly speaking up against them (and somehow keeping one’s job) does not mean that everyone working on the games have “unerring support.” Indeed, one can be proud of the work they do without being proud of every aspect of the product – and, at the same time, continue to work (often in a non-public way) to make things better in the future. So let me be clear: I’m proud of the work I’ve done in gaming – but I’m not proud of the state of the gaming industry. There’s a lot of good there, and things have gotten better, but holy shit, guys. A lot of it is totally fucked up.
So last night there was a thread on the gaming community I often post. It was by a man whose girlfriend is cheating on him. I saw the conversation said to myself “hell no, I ain’t touching that with a ten foot pole.” Because, while I got my start in gaming on this website and met both my best friends and my husband there, the past couple years I’ve realized that the site has become much more hostile towards women and I have stopped posting there as frequently because I like to avoid misogynistic communities as much as possible. Then, later in the thread, someone stated, “This place has a mean misogyny streak. It seems like the women here just come to hang out and shoot the shit, but society has a way of implicitly notifying them "HEY, YOU'RE A WOMAN" at all times. It's tiring for me, I can't imagine how tiring it is for a female.” I replied to that post: “yes.”
That’s when another poster (who certainly does not like DNF) chimed in to tell me “says the person who promoted and still defends the most misogynistic game in recent history, maybe ever.” I replied with “I’m just here to shoot the shit. I’m not sure what you’re going off about, but you might want to stop attacking me. No one’s fighting this fight except you.”
And that’s when this private message ended up in my inbox:
Keep hiding behind your gender on the promotion of that game. Just because you're a woman doesn't make what you did alright. Having no regrets about your promotion of that game and acting like a person defending women in games is deplorable.
It may be a bit of an extreme comparison, but do you also defend African slave traders because they were being paid to do a job?
So let’s put this topic to rest, once and for all, with a straightforward explanation about how I feel about being a woman working in the gaming industry. Yes, I’ve worked on a lot of games that have issues with sexism and misogyny. Yes, I’m proud of the work I’ve done and the games I’ve helped bring to market. No, I do not support every single aspect of every single game I have worked on. No, I do not believe that continuing to work within the system means I’m complicit – in fact, I’ve tried very hard over the course of my career to help bring about change to make the industry more open, fair, and equal. I may only be one person and I might not be able to make huge or obvious changes, but I’m going to keep trying and I’m never going to give up. You don’t have to agree with my opinions, but I sure as hell am going to reject anyone who tries to discredit me because of what I’ve worked on. Following that logic, the vast majority of the industry can’t speak on this topic and that’s just downright stupid. Instead, I am offering a different solution: let’s start looking critically at what’s going on in the gaming industry today and understand that we can be critical about sexism in games while also enjoying specific aspects of those same games. And, probably most importantly, let’s start putting our money and praise behind titles that are deciding to do things differently and don’t pander in misogyny. Because that’s how we’re going to change the system – and it doesn’t mean we have to opt out.