Women in the Games Industry

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It’s been a good while since a post has appeared on this site, and to be fair notplayed.com in its original form could be considered a failure. It seemed like a great idea at the time, over a few beers in the office. But then few people contributed and at some point those that did spread across the globe working for different companies.

But that’s how this industry is sometimes. Fun and entertaining certainly, full of great people with often very similar interests; but also hard work, often under-paid, very unforgiving at times and unpredictable and volatile. At one moment a company can do extremely well, working on the next big thing, hiring many talented people, only to be shut down the next moment with people on the street, no thought given to the families and financial obligations of those that often slaved away to try and get the best possible game out the door.

So with this in mind I am re-purposing this blog. I am invoking my right as master of this here page to talk about the industry, games, people – anything really. And anything goes. This is also a call to those that want to talk about their experiences to step forward. Get in touch, or heck even post a blog here yourself (I will give you access once I verify you are who you say you are). Over the next weeks and hopefully months I will write about the games industry. I will write about issues that are not commonly talked about as much as those issues which have been a burning topic of late. Everyone is welcome to comment. I do not censor (unless you advertise for some crappy porn site or about some long lost fortune from a distant relative – i.e. spam). I totally believe in freedom of speech and openness. Even if I don’t agree with your stance, you can still be heard here.

So here goes. The first topic I want to write about today is:

Women in the Games Industry

Oh not that again, some of you might groan. Ah he is a chauvinist some others no doubt think right now. But no seriously, hear me out.

I have been working in this industry for around 13 years now, for a handful of companies and in a lot of different roles. Every company I have worked for has had a few women, but of course the majority of colleagues I had were men.  In that time I have never personally witnessed any form of sexual harassment or otherwise bad behaviour towards a female member of staff, simply because she was a woman. There have been arguments, fights, backstabbing and politicking – but that really is the case quite frequently in the games industry, so nothing special there.

I have heard a few stories here and there about men treating women differently and unfairly because they were women though, and in 9 out of 10 cases I totally believe these stories (because I believe the women that tell them and I trust them). I have also personally witnessed how some “leading” men in the industry think of women while at last year’s Nordic Games (there is a post about this somewhere WAYYYYYY down the site). It was shocking, embarrassing and quite frankly vulgar.

So my stance is this: everyone is equal. I personally don’t give a fuck about your gender, race, religion or sexual preference. That’s how i was raised. That’s what i learned from my parents (who are pretty liberal for their age) and my brother. When it comes to the work place all I care about is your skill, dedication, passion, drive and attitude. Outside of work, in my personal life, personality comes into play – but that is purely to help me decide if I want to spend time with someone socially or not. At work even personality goes into the background – it’s all about being professional.

So if all the above is true, why write a blog post about this? Well… There are 2 issues I have seen raised again and again over the last few weeks and months in industry press and on various blogs and those 2 issues I would like to comment on.

Harassment

Firstly there is the issue of harassment. This goes from outright sexual harassment to the more subtle but no less cruel belittlement because of gender. I.e. the “you are not good at this because you are a woman” thing. Both are horrible, and while the first (in some weird way) could potentially be seen as flattery, the second is outright cruel and can crush an ego and any ambition and drive and long term do a lot more damage.

Should this sort of thing be exposed? Absolutely. 100%. No bloody argument. However I am not sure what we have seen recently is the right way to go about it. Writing angry articles, blog posts or news reports about the issue is, in my opinion, not helping. Quite the contrary. Firstly I feel that many of us gentlemen, those that actually are alright, those that don’t look at female colleagues any differently, actually can get put off by the constant tarring with one brush. Because many of those articles are written in such a way that describes the scenario as being Omni-present, making it sound as if every man was treating every woman in the industry like shit, some of us actually feel hard done by. I would go as far as to say attacked. Why? Well because most of these articles and blog posts don’t name names. And no I am not out for blood (though more to that in a bit: see “Solution”), I feel that by not naming the culprits an air of “who done it” is created and everyone looks at everyone else with suspicion. This goes as far as companies having the use equality counselling by outside groups. It also creates an atmosphere were many of us decent men have to often walk on egg shells, double checking every email, thinking about every statement we make, just to be sure it could not potentially be interpreted as an insult or belittlement.

So here is my “Solution” for this problem: ladies in the games industry! If you have some asshole treating you badly because you are a woman, or if some dick thinks he can sexually harass you, go to HR, go to a lawyer, go to your union rep. Make sure that Muppet gets fired.  If the company does not do anything and protects the guy: take the company to court. That shit must not stand. The culprit has to be called out, his behaviour has to be acknowledged as being wrong and consequences have to follow. Otherwise others like that person won’t ever learn.  Do not rest until that person responsible is held to account.

But then, and this is also important, MOVE ON! Dwelling on an injustice helps nobody. Being constantly reminded about it creates a very uncomfortable work environment, even for those that were never at fault and have not been part of the issue. All dwelling on the issue does is cast you in a victim role, and if you managed to get justice you are no longer the victim. You are the victor.

Working in the industry

And the above really leads me to the second issue which has been in the industry news as well as many games sites and blogs recently. The issue of how many women work in the games industry. Usually the same people complaining about harassment and in-equality the loudest are also the ones who complain about the fact that not enough women work in the industry. Am I the only one here who sees a possible connection?

I mean if I would read nothing but negative stuff about how women are treated in the industry and about how much of a boys club it is, I probably would not want to join that industry either. This is sort of why I would advocate women who are treated badly to deal with the culprit directly and not necessarily take to the ether to vent their anger and frustration. Yes, it might feel like the right thing to do and getting some issues exposed is probably a good thing, but I feel a generalisation (which many of these articles end up being) helps nobody and just puts the industry in a much worse light (at least in this regard – in other regards the industry can’t be painted black enough but more to that in future posts).

Any young woman who reads these things might well think twice about joining such an environment. And while there might be an interest in games and any discipline found in the industry, they might well choose a different profession based on the fear they might be harassed or not be taken seriously.

And ladies reading this: nothing could be further from the truth! The majority of men in the industry are decent, honest and fun people to work with and to know. Yep, some of us might be socially less adapt then others, yes many of us play games and could be considered geeky to a degree or other, but we are good people. We don’t generally grab asses, make rude comments towards you or tell you that you can’t do your job because you are a woman. There are those guys who do these things, but I’d argue they exist in any industry, any profession. These people are not unique to the industry. They need to be called out, they need to be shamed in public and they need to be fired. Over time, weeding them out like that will make sure cases of harassment will get fewer and fewer. I doubt they will ever disappear completely, but they WILL get fewer and fewer.

Hiring

Lastly I would just quickly like to give my view on the notion of “hiring more women” purely for the sake of ensuring a mixed workspace. This I feel is utter bollocks. Like ANY business you need to hire the best people you can get for any given position. Competition in the industry is fierce, with competitors often stealing employees with better contracts and luring them away with big franchises. Hiring anyone but the best you can get is commercial suicide. It does not matter if the candidate is a man or a woman. Black or white. Straight or gay. If that person can help you deliver the best possible product – get that person, put that person to work.

I am in a position where I am responsible for hiring and that is the philosophy I live by and hire by. Out of the last 5 people I hired personally, 2 have been women.  In the last 8 years or so I have gone over hundreds of CVs and the fact is that 90% of the candidates are male. So the chances are higher that the best candidate is a man. But I will not, for “equality” sake, hire a woman that is less qualified. That is not in the best interest of the game I work on or the company I work for. Fortunately more women do seem to want to get in the industry, at least compared to 10 years ago, so hopefully in the future the split will be more even, but forcing the issue, again, is not helping. Hiring someone based purely on their gender, race, religion or sexual preference will never help create a good work atmosphere. It will, just like constant blanket lecturing about abuse and harassment, lead to a work environment that is negative and full of fear. Far from the fun and cooperation that is needed to create amazing games.

The Positive

I have worked with some truly amazing people in my career, and many of them have been women. One is a Lead Designer for an independent studio working with a major hardware manufacturer – she will always be the better designer than me. One is a project manager who stood up in the middle of a room full of egoistic Muppets and told everyone their project was in shit order (and promptly got fired for it – though not because she was a woman, but because she had the guts to say what nobody else dared to say). One runs an entire department for a global publisher. Another works in a high position for Sony.  The list goes on: Head of Localization, Creative Writer, Lead Animator, and Lead Programmer – I wonder why we never hear their stories. The positive stories. I wish we would hear their stories, so that women across the globe could see that not only is it ok for women to work in games, but there is also a good career in it, with advancement possibilities and were women can and do lead multi-million dollar projects. I am sure they all had bad days at work, I am sure they all had, from time to time, had to deal with idiots. Some of them might even have had to deal with harassment. The difference is – they seemed to have gotten on with their lives and I am sure they are the ones laughing now.

But I guess since they are not angry, since they don’t have anything to complain about, there is no need for blog posts and their success stories are not news worthy, because they don’t generate comments, links and click-throughs. (What does that say about my blog now….)

Comments

  1. Your blog was spot on. Hope others listen and pass this on.

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