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GDC 2015: Still Waiting For Change For Women In Games

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Check out all our GDC 2015 coverage! The Very Best Games; A Sign That Gaming Is Moving In The Right Direction; The #IReasonToBe Panel

Let’s just be honest with ourselves right here and now: the games industry sucks for women. Gender parity is in the pits. Harassment is at an all-time staggering high. It’s tragic to think about how many people have left the industry because of said harassment. For a lot of women, each victory feels like two steps forward and three steps back. It’s easy to think that maybe, just maybe, this industry just doesn’t have a place for me.

This year’s Game Developers Conference set out to try to change that narrative by filling its popular advocacy track with voices from some of the most marginalized groups in gaming: women, people of color, non-binary people, and all intersections thereof. Many of the attendees I spoke with in the halls of Moscone Center pointed out that this year’s GDC felt a lot more progressive, at least when compared to other years.

A large part of that is thanks to the fact that this year featured plenty of advocacy and diversity themed panels outside of the advocacy track. In a lot of ways, it felt like every part of GDC was pushing to be united in their focus to enact change in the way we think about the people who make the games we enjoy.

At a panel titled “Increasing Gender Diversity in Game Development Programs,” Elaine Gomez, Elyse Lemoine, Julia Wlochowski, and Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai shared why they got into game design, and the things that attracted them to their specific program. The tips they shared for growing diversity were varied, from creating an inclusive space to emphasizing scholarships and grants for diverse students. Some of the tips were simple, but incredibly important, like the suggestion to take your time to learn and respect someone’s pronoun choice.

But amongst all of them, the feeling was the same: they looked for programs that would offer a diverse education beyond just learning how to code.

To them, multi-disciplinary programs were a major priority. It makes a lot of sense because when you think about programming classes, you find out quickly that it doesn’t have the most diverse group of people. But when you have a major or a program that features disciplines beyond coding, diversity grows. Disciplines like visual arts, animation, and interactive media are all generally diverse programs, so including interests like those as part of a larger game development program may help grow diversity.

The next panel, “Animation Bootcamp: Women Are Not Too Hard to Animate,” featured Brianna Wu, Jonathan Cooper, Mariel Cartwright, and Tim Borrelli talking about the process they go through when they animate characters for video games. They all agreed that when it comes to animating women, it’s a decision that’s often left off until the very end of a project, when suddenly there’s no time and no resources to think about proper character development.

The solution they suggest is simple: plan ahead. Make diversity a priority, straight from the beginning. When we don’t, we fall into the problem where a single woman is inserted into the game or narrative and has to serve as the character type representative of women everywhere. It’s a limiting, claustrophobic problem that happens way too often.

If anyone questioned whether harassment was a legitimate problem for women game developers, they need only look at the room jam packed with people at the “Game Developer Harassment: How To Get Through” panel. Hosted by Elizabeth Sampat, Neha Nair, Donna Prior, and Zoe Quinn, it was easily one of the most attended panels of the Advocacy track.

Each woman shared their experiences in dealing with harassment, and each one of them cited relying on their friends for help. They all agreed that one of the most important resources you can have when you’re dealing with the incessant stream of abuse is a good network of friends who can be there for you and help you through. Sometimes all you need is someone to distract you with a bit of nonsensical fun, and that can make all the difference in easing the pressure.

Zoe Quinn also took the opportunity to announce Crash Override’s partnership with the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, a non-profit organization led by Randi Harper that seeks to reduce and mitigate online abuse. They do so by studying abuse patterns to better inform the actions one can take to prevent said harassment. The hope is that this knowledge can help provide better support while also creating a barrier against further harassment.

Finally, the #1ReasonToBe panel, which I’ve covered in detail before, saw perhaps one of the largest crowds of any of the Advocacy track talks. Each of the women featured on the panel shared their stories of fighting to remain within the gaming industry. They all hail from different aspects of the industry, from journalism to development to political, but they all fought the same fight to stay present in this world that, on its surface, seems so dead set on pushing them out.

There is a significant loss in the number of people who’ve left the industry, and those who were scared off from joining at all. I don’t know that anybody can blame them for choosing to take care of themselves. Their stories matter to the greater narrative, a reminder of just what GamerGate has cost us as an industry. The absence of their presence, the empty chair at the panel, they are all a profound loss that we may never be able to regain.

It’s now about two weeks out from GDC. Following the launch of Offworld, Leigh Alexander saw her account get suspended from Twitter for a few hours thanks to a flood of false reports. Toni Rocca, President of GaymerX, was the target of a harassment campaign from GamerGate. Matt Conn, MidBoss founder, found himself doxxed, his personal details shared online.

The story continues, and some fight back in hopes that we never have to revisit this darkest timeline ever again. The remarkable strength displayed by those who made the tough but courageous decision to leave (or were forced out) as well as the resilience shown by those who made the decision to stay are both important parts of a story that will hopefully one day find a good end.

For the future of the industry as a whole, things have to change. The industry must change. These amazing shifts we’ve seen in stories told, the innovation made possible by the democratization of tools, the sheer diversity in perspective, we stand to lose all of them if change does not happen.

GDC is one of the largest gatherings of industry professionals. These powerful, incredibly important panels are hopefully falling on the ears of those with the power to help institute the change we so desperately wish to see. The onus is now on them to do what needs to be done.

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 Italic, Model View Culture, Spinning Platters, and here at The Mary Sue!

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