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The #1ReasonToBe Panel At GDC Moved A Room Of Gamers To Tears

And several well-deserved standing ovations.

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On March 5th, a panel of some of the game industry’s most vocal, outspoken women shared their own reasons why they continue to fight to remain in the games industry; their one reason to be. Just one year ago, the #1ReasonToBe panel at GDC closed with a standing ovation and no small amount of tears. Given the positively horrific last few months in gaming, everyone hoped that this year’s iteration would be even more meaningful. This year certainly delivered.

Leigh Alexander kicked off the panel, speaking about her vision about moving out of the eternal August of GamerGate. As Editor-at-large for Gamasutra, GamerGate brutally harassed her for her article declaring that “gamers” are over. Her voice cracked as she thanked her friends, her family, all of her loved ones for their support.

Then, she revealed what she has been working on, her real vision for the future: Offworld.com, a brand new website that will feature critiques, reviews, and editorials exclusively from women and minorities. It’s no secret that these two groups are the most stifled by the awful noxiousness of gamer culture. With the launch of this website on Monday, March 9th, Alexander and her co-founder, Laura Hudson, hope to give voice and story to those who would otherwise have none.

Elizabeth LaPensee shared her experiences as a board game and video game designer, and as an artist. She expressed her hopes for a future in which games can tackle cultural identities without fear. While games are being made about death and eradication, LaPensee strives to create games that highlight life and growth, like in her board game The Gift of Food. “I hope to do more than just live, I hope to thrive,” she said.

For a lot of women in the games industry, these past months have been solely focused on surviving. We currently live in a world where the unspeakable harassment that has always plagued gamer culture now has a name to rally under: GamerGate.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this is it, that there would be no place for anybody to thrive, let alone women. That’s the tough thing about GamerGate: its raucous, incredibly toxic rhetoric alone is enough to silence those who would try to speak out against it.

For those cannot speak for whatever reason, Brenda Romero introduced the incredibly emotional Empty Chair segment, where anonymous peoples’ worries and fears are displayed to the audience. “If you wonder why they’re not speaking, if you wonder why they haven’t spoken out, it’s probably because they can’t,” she said. “It’s probably because they’re afraid. It’s probably because their employer told them not to.” A few examples:

  • “I can’t talk. My company won’t let me.”
  •  “I got criticized for my ‘radical feminist’ views because I asked if we could have a playable female character in our game.”
  • “I don’t draw attention to my femininity in order to survive as a developer. I disguise it with tomboyish behavior and silliness. I am neither.”
  • “When does this stop? Will it?”

The only sounds punctuating the silence were the soft sniffles of people crying in the audience and on stage.

As a Senior Policy Analyst for the White House, Professor Constance Steinkuehler helped lead efforts to utilize video games as a means to combat issues facing American youth. She spoke about advising Vice President Biden following the events of Sandy Hook, providing insight into the age-old video games and violence debate.

At the end of her talk, she spoke about the Supreme Court ruling that declared video games as a medium are a protected form of free speech. “You can play the games you want to play, I can play the games I want to play, and that’s called free speech. I can make the games I want to make, and you can’t stop me,” she said. With the government and the Supreme Court at her back, it’s hard to argue.

Amy Hennig, EA’s Creative Director, shared her storied history about how she moved from film school to video games. Anybody can tell you that Hollywood can be as much a boys club as the games industry, but Hennig can say that she’s experienced both firsthand.

She presented a different viewpoint that created delineation between the games industry and the gamer culture that surrounds it. “The games industry is like a shining castle, where my dreams and my imagination have no limit,” she said. The images on the screen showed a screenshot of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

But as for the misogyny and harassment? “These things are not the game industry,” she explains. The slide changes to Prince Philip fighting thorn vines outside the castle. To Amy, those thorns–that noxious GamerGate culture–are what keep women from entering the industry. To her, that’s what we should be fighting against.

For Sela Davis, a software engineer at Microsoft, one of the hurdles for getting into the industry was impostor syndrome. It’s something that runs rampant among many women in the games industry. It’s this insidious feeling that you don’t deserve to be where you are. She explained that as someone who has jumped from career to career, the reason she’s still in games is because she realizes how important it is to have people in this industry who also understand this feeling of not belonging.

To her, she stays because she knows how much it means to have people who support you no matter what you think your own skill level might be.

Adriel Wallick, who spent all of 2014 making one brand new indie game every week as MsMinotaur, spoke about how she found her niche as a game jam host and indie developer. To her, the sudden, impromptu communities that develop and form as a part of game jams are what keep her coming back.

“It’s allowed me to be a part of all these communities who have made me feel like family,” she says. The support she’s received from the developer community, along with the support she’s gotten from friends and loved ones have given her memories and hope.

To wrap up the panel, Katherine Cross, a Ph.D candidate at CUNY and columnist at Feministing, delivered an incredibly stirring speech that was punctuated with standing ovations. She made the point that there is still a disconnect in understanding why online harassment matters so much to those targeted with it. . “The Internet is just as much a part of real life as the physical space,” she explained.

We often forget that the Internet is where many of us ply our trade, where we all gather, learn, and find each other. The toxicity of GamerGate and its online presence are what scare women away from enjoying the things that really matter to them. As one of GamerGate’s first targets, Cross said that she had a choice to make: she could have either stopped writing about gaming and go silent, or she could do what she does best: write about gaming even more.

“I am here to stay, and there is nowhere else I would rather be,” says Cross.

As the crowd stood up to deliver its sixth and final standing ovation, it’s clear to everyone that gaming as we know it is changing. It’s becoming something far more beautiful and far more important than we could ever imagine.

GamerGate rails against the idea of change. They stand horrified at what a better future for equality might look like. While it may be hard to see an end to the increasingly awful and heartbreaking harassment, it’s getting easier to hope for something more every day.

That’s because these women, along with anyone else who dares to hope for more, stand at the vanguard of a brighter future for all of us.

Jessica Lachenal doesn’t like talking in the third person, so she hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her. But, if you happen to like the words that she writes, check out her website at www.hipsterchick.net, or any of her writing on The Bold ItalicAutostraddleFrontiers LAModel View Culture, and here at The Mary Sue.

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