Friday, November 16, 2012

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Acclaimed Game Dev Scott Jennings Explains Why Fellow Devs Should Take Female Gamers' Complaints Seriously

Sexism in Games

Iris Ophelia's excellent rant about sexist characters in an otherwise good game provoked a lot of nasty sexist comments (which only proved the importance of her point). It was a reaction that eminently sucks ass, but one that's sadly to be expected. The good news, however, is her post also provoked a supportive response there from game developer Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings, one of the most respected voices in the industry. If you're a female gamer like Iris, you should read it and take heart; if you're a fellow developer like Scott, you should read it and take inspiration. And if you're someone who shares the nasty opinions expressed in the Comments of Iris' post, you should read it, and feel ashamed:

"Kudos to Iris to bringing up issues she had with the game. The lack of female perspective in game development is why these issues exist.

"Sheri Graner Ray, a long-time MMO/video game developer (she was one of the lead developers on Star Wars Galaxies), had as her signature on various message board postings, '...but what if the player is female?'"

"Much of her work addresses the issues raised from this simple fact - if the developers are in the main male (which, in most studios, is still the case), they will post from their own experiences. The vast majority of men, of course, have not been women. They can be sympathetic to women's issues (as I like to believe I am) but it's impossible to write from a perspective you simply don't have.

"Thus; inclusivity is important. It's important for women to point out when they feel marginalized by casual decisions, and it's important for developers to take that into account and not be dismissive of such feedback. Otherwise gaming will continue to be a boy's club. And as a professional game developer, from my perspective, turning down the money of 50% of the world's population off the bat seems like a bad idea.

"I think many people instinctively understand this, which is why topics such as this (and the abuse Anita Sarkeesian took for similar writing) attract such crude 'shut up and get back in the kitchen and make me a sammich' responses. It elicits a primal response because gender relationships are primal things, and when it is pointed out that there are issues involving them, it is easy for many to lash out rather than reflect.

"At any rate, consider this a public note of support. And to the developers reading this thread - I picked up the game based on this review - while flawed from a gender balance perspective, it seems fun! Take the feedback offered and iterate, and make the next one more inclusive.. and thus even better." - Scott

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Sage Grey

I think a big part of the reason people react negatively to these kinds of articles is because they're clearly *moralizing* in nature and the arguments don't ring true with people. Therefore people just feel attacked. For example the idea that games should be developed to be more inclusive towards women is often sold on the premise that doing so will cause more female gamers to buy the game (the article up above even explicitly uses the 50% number). That argument gets thrown down every time these things come up, but I don't think anybody really believes it works that simply. A lot of games now take some care to be inclusive, but women still don't necessarily particularly play them. For example, Halo:Reach is a game where the player can choose to be female, the female avatar has just as many customization options as the male one, the game doesn't sexualize women, the story has an example of a strong female character (Kat), but only few women play the game. If we cut the crap, I think we all suspect war games are going to sell more to males no matter how "inclusive" one makes the content. (War games shouldn't be made because they're sexist then right?) One example absolutely doesn't disprove anything of course, but do people pushing for inclusivity actually *know* that we're going to reach anything approaching 50% on anything?

The real point is that it's pretty clear to everyone that they're just using those arguments out of convenience to morally browbeat people, and of course people resent that. If they adopted a factual tone and used *hard data*, that might be different.

And that's just the thing. If you're trying to change the world, like it or not you have to convince the establishement and not the other way around. Making morally charged arguments at people which ring hollow just makes people feel harangued and convinces nobody. Is it good to make games more inclusive towards women? Of course. Do game developers want to be more inclusive to women? I bet many are actually quite open to it. Are same developers going to react well when people morally browbeat them, particularly with dubious arguments? Probably not. (One of the developers of the game under review certainly seemed to feel attacked.) That means those developers are sexist right?

I'm going to skip the whole discussion about whether EVERY game owes it to women to be inclusive.

Iris Ophelia

Not to nitpick, because I do understand what you're trying to say, but Halo's not a great example in this case. I personally know and know of more women who play Halo than most other "war games" (though I know plenty of women who play those as well). Kiki Wolfkill (the executive producer of Halo 4) and Bonnie Ross (the head of 343 Industries) have both been pretty outspoken on the issue of women playing their game, and it's had nothing but a positive effect on the franchise so far as I can tell.

The real problem is that people still insist on saying women probably don't want to play these kinds of games anyway, so it doesn't really matter if they're inclusive or not. The division between Games and Games for Girls is one that needs to be dissolved, because all it's done is produce a slew of bad games with pink labels that no one would ever want to play. Then, people can say that girls don't like games as much as boys because girls don't happen to like the crappy games they're told are for them.

Look, my post was about why I personally was disappointed by this game (which I had been looking forward to and otherwise enjoyed), and why I thought the choice they made regarding female characters was a poor one. Yes, I did also say that the majority of mobile gamers (as this is a mobile game) are women, and I cited my source for this because it's a fact, but it doesn't have much to do with 'morality' in my eyes. I like playing as or with female characters. Lots of other female gamers do too, though not all... And that's really all there is to it. If the developer wants to be hurt by that, even when I mention how clever and enjoyable the game is otherwise in nearly the same breath, that's not really my problem.

Narrow Arrow

So, basically, on one hand there are some "cooking barbie" games, you refuse to play due to their lousiness, and games which lack "look just like you" character? Sounds like DIY time.
The actual problem with you and with pretty much of modern gamers is a lack of imagination. Back in the days we were just given bunch of pixels for our character(if developers were such generous), and we were just fine with that, anrd had buckets of pure clean fun. Nowadays you people just can't live without SL or Skyrim level of character customization. Sure, you can start with expected "But it's 2012!". Well, yeah, but it's not me, who are making all these pseudo-retro games, which in just one year are produced as much as they were made in 10 years back in the days. And when we are looking at such "retro" game, we should accept the rules it been made on.

Iggy

Why do female gamers complain? Look no further than the banner ad running at the side of NWN as I read this post:

Wartune presents a scantily clad brunette with the caption "She has all the excitement you need!"

Well, yabba dabba doo! Get me an army-sized bag of Cheetos and some two-liter sodas, cause I'm a-headin' over there.

Sage Grey

Thank you for the reply Iris. I'm well aware of the female dev leads at 343 Industries. Corrinne Yu, the lead engine developer there, is a graphics programmer I've long admired since before her Microsoft days who just also happens to be a woman. I think it's safe to say Kiki Wolfkill (love her name) is also well regarded in the fan community. Her recent no tolerance policy against sexist behavior online was pretty well received by the mostly male player base, which I think should be taken as a measure of how male gamers are NOT somehow unilaterally against female gamers or anything (not that you're saying they are). I certainly don't think a lot of people are arguing against more women in game development, and I'm most definitely not.

In fact, I don't think a lot of people are against making games more friendly to women in general. Maybe some people are, but it certainly wasn't what I was trying to say. I was basically reacting against using false premises (not specifically by you) as a rhetorical weapon to browbeat the opposition in the Great Debate. Specifically the idea that developers taking time to be more inclusive to women is good for them too and therefore they should do it since it will let them sell more copies. It's just not how it works and I think everybody knows it. Maybe more women play Halo than other "war games", but it's still a comparatively low number and all the Kiki Wolfkills and Bonnie Ross's in the world aren't going to change that at least for a while.

(BTW, I hate to be nitpicking too, but I'm afraid I must quibble with the idea that if 60% of mobile gamers are women, 60% (or any other number) of the players of that particular game would necessarily be women. Using a general average for a subcase accounts for, like, half of the mudslinging in women's issues alone. "Women get paid 85% of what men do, therefore the economy is sexist." "Grad schools accept female applicant at 85% the rate of male applicants, so universities are systematically sexist." All fallacies. The economy MIGHT in fact be sexist, but not because of the 85% number. Anyways...)

I believe, at the end of the day, you and others are arguing for inclusivity on essentially *moral* grounds, which I think you basically said yourself. "Game developers should spend effort to be more inclusive of female gamers because it's the right thing." I don't disagree and I think extra effort by devs for culture's sake is good at least up to a point. However it's also a hard sell to say that developers are obligated to be more inclusive towards women even if women aren't necessarily going to buy a whole lot more copies of their game, so people pitch it as being good for developers instead. "Make the game more inclusive and you can sell to another half of the population." (I'm mostly reacting to Scott Jennings words in the article.) I don't see a lot of reason to believe that will *actually* necessarily happen though, particularly in quintessentially male targeted games. Basically my little diatribe was a reaction to that.

I sympathize a lot with what you're saying about Games for Girls (tm). The history is pretty abysmal there so I can understand not wanting to risk repeating all that. But in the end that's the fundamental tension isn't it? If one gets right down to it, if one refuses to target women directly (which is the classic way of dealing with things in retail I believe), for at least a while to come there's likely to be some tension between what some argue is more "morally correct" versus developers spending effort to be more inclusive without necessarily selling a lot more games. If there's good research to the otherwise, I'll be happy to shutup. Either way, I just think people should be honest about it.

Anyways, I sincerely wish you the best. Of course it would be nice if more women could enjoy games.

Pussycat Catnap

Sage:
Don't presume the audience is not lined up waiting to buy, just because historically they've been excluded.

If you start looking around the internet, and if you start hanging out in say... Oakland or Watts or Brooklyn...

You will quickly learn that the customers are there, or were there and got fed up.

The issues for women in gaming parallel those regarding race and gaming. And to an extent other forms of media as well, such as television.

- It not hard at all to find blogs, articles, and communities of folks who have a fan level interest in a subject (genre), but feel left out, and will rant up about it given a soap box to stand on.

There is a lot of this in the African American community vis-a-vis the fantasy and science fiction genres. Go on 'minority' gaming forums and blogs and ask why people don't or stopped playing D&D... And that's no exception: its something you can parallel to a lot of other places.

Growing up in the 70s, C.H.I.P.S. gave us a Latino police officer, and was wildly popular among a community that now mostly watches Univision, and is the fastest growing demographic in a US whose media still refuses to take their money...

Gays were headed off like that as well, but; lets be blunt, having a lot of white males in their numbers - got attention when their dollars started speaking. So you get a lot of mainstream media now with characters they can identify to - albeit still often stereotyped.

Get inside communities, and you will find people who have all the right interests, who may even already be genre-fans, and who are just looking for something to throw support behind.

When your options include only negative stereotypes, or nothing, or 'color sliders' (for games with graphics good enough to have features, not talking 8-bit on this one) on the wrong faces... when the women characters are all domestic or femme fatal, when "the black character" looks like a 70s comedy sketch with a giant fro and gang-speak, when the "magical black man" trope comes out for the NPCs... people leave.

But look at who took note of games like Guild Wars: Nightfall. Look at changing viewership with Battlestar Gallactica. Look at the attention of Will and Grace.

They aren't leaving because they wouldn't bother anyway... they're waiting to not feel like they're being driven off.

Arcadia Codesmith

I'm a dedicated gamer. I'll try just about any game. The ones I stick with, though, are the ones where I feel like I'm a valued member of the community who can make a contribution to the game world.

Maybe that's not what everybody wants to get out of a game, but I'd like to think it's a motivation that transcends gender or ethnicity or orientation or any of that other trivia.

Sage Grey

@Pussycat: You give examples with a track record of success rather than just moralizing the situation so I can respect what you're saying.

To be clear, I'm not saying the problem can not be solved, and I hope it can be. However it's also clear that the situation is not easy either. If it were a simple matter of making a game inclusive and then "waiting for them to come" the problem would have been solved long ago. (In saying this, I'm not saying there isn't pent up demand of the sort you suggest either, but tapping it has proven difficult.) As mentioned previously, there are games which are more-or-less inclusive already and yet still have overall low female participation, e.g. the above mentioned Halo:Reach. Women themselves have started studios explicitly to attempt to address this problem (which is a VERY good idea in principle), but so far with lousy results, e.g. Purple Moon games. (Keep trying though. Change through building instead of words is always the best.) Catering to the female demographic in games is not a well solved issue so far, and figuring out how to make games which strike a chord with female gamers is clearly a non-trivial problem.

There have been some major successes as well, such as the Sims series, but the phenomenon doesn't seem to be easy to replicate except by making more Sims games. This is not surprising and is typical of games in general. Making games which will succeed in the market with good reliability is *hard* and usually involves finding something which resonates with the audience through educated guessing, trying different things over time, and then iterating on the success once something has been found (thus lots of sequels). It's not something that can be done just by thinking about it and involves testing.

Solving this issue will clearly involve much iteration and back-and-forth with the female gamer base. Game companies make some overtures to the female demographic and hopefully women respond by buying more games, giving a clear market signal. This will clearly be hit or miss for a while. However, I'm all for making changes to games which *get results*.

On the other hand, demanding inclusivity in games without regard for sales numbers for the sake of vague "morality" alone, as hinted in Iris previous comment, is something I absolutely cannot agree with. The changes in games need to be made each cycle *proportionate* with expected outcome, taking reasonable risk each time. The game industry is extremely difficult to survive in as it is. It's not reasonable to expect game companies to make large changes to their games at high risk if they cannot expect at least a somewhat proportionate return of investment for that release. The changes will have to come in steps and women will have to buy more games before sweeping changes can be expected.

Thank you for the comment. What you say resonates with me, but I think it's a hard problem too. If courting alternative demographics can get good outcome, even as a long term endeavor, I'm all for it. I wish the community good luck.

Pussycat Catnap

To be clear, I'm not saying the problem can not be solved, and I hope it can be. However it's also clear that the situation is not easy either. If it were a simple matter of making a game inclusive and then "waiting for them to come" the problem would have been solved long ago.
*****************

Yeah.

Historic mistrust is at work.

That's only going to be overcome with a long enduring sort of journey.

The content has to become more representative of the general population that makes up 'interested demographics' as well as a bit beyond that - people today tend to be turned off by 'exclusive demographics.' Folks often want to believe their lives are more diverse than they might actually be.

You've got to get in developers who have strong ties in multiple cultures, and good gender perspective (hire women & POC on your creative team). Really, your creative team should look like a cross section if your ideal market.

And then you just have to overcome bad blood, with time.

If you're lucky you can land on a stellar hit that busts it all open - like the revised Battlestar Gallactica. Something that had wide cross appeal without looking like a 70s 'happy utopia PR film', and got noticed. But otherwise, its all just going to take time.

But the worst thing to do is to try and ride the wave old the 'old ways' as long as you can - because that demographic is shrinking. Its not that white males are going away. But white males that embrace 'old boyism' are.

No one wants to blaze the trail and risk paying for the development while their competitor comes in after to reap the profits...

- But that's not the story here.

Mainstream culture already seeks diversity in most places around the world.

Even if you end up selling to mono-ethnic market like say... South Korea... those people, like most folks, want to feel a part of the larger world.

You can't -lose- sales from being inclusive. But you can lose them from being exclusive.

elizabeth (16)

dunno why Shopper is somehow wrong to be portray as a female character

shopping is either No. 1 or 2 or 3 maybe leisure pursuit of pretty much all in any world. mostly No. 1 (:

+

in this other game (pkr.com) the poker 3D game you can buy clothes and accessories for your character

No. 1 complaint from female players is that cant buy the clothes direct for real money. you have to play at the tables and earn credits and then can only buy with the credits

is pain in the bum that. bc most female players like to play on the Sit N Gos and in the tournies and chat while they play

cant earn much credits that way tho. so have to park your character at a ring table game to earn enough credits (dont even play. just park and sleep and call/fold your blinds). nobody ever chat on the ring games bc they mostly pokerbots on the lower levels (same every other poker room tho so is not special to pkr this)

is dumb that you have to earn credits just to buy/get some cool stuff for your character

can understand about if they were level prizes like chip tricks. but they not level prizes either really. if get enough credits then can buy chip tricks even if you a useless player. so dunno why is that either

+

pkr did listen on another thing tho. when they first made in the beta was all gamer boy emote gestures. like lol, loser, chicken and emotes like that. i was on that beta and say is not good to do all like that. same some quite a few other people. pkr change and made some emotes like: nice hand, thankyou, well played, etc

they also listen and made heaps more makeups and face masks, specially for older women, like age lines, than what they had on the beta

+

wish they would let us buy stuff direct tho. dunno why they dont. it not make much sense to me as pkr being 3D is an immersive experience

if just wants to crank it and play poker and try make some bucks then is better/faster to go on a normal 2D room and multi-table and go hard against the pokerbots and smash them

Sage Grey

@Pussycat: Basically agree with you. :)

@Arcadia: What you say seems crucial. Historically, it seems to not be a necessarily sufficient condition either, unfortunately.

Cheers all.

Adromaw

Scott and/or Hamlet, How many gaming studios are lead or owned by women at the time? And how many are starting up?

If women start getting in there at the top in the first place instead of just placing themselves or being handed a place in the middle, make a success and get marketed, it should make some kind of progress on the whole "boys club" topic.

Just make it less of one by having studios beginning with the female perspective making games that include females more.

Some women out there are pretty competitive, I'm sure they can do it.

It's one thing to say that there's a lack of female perspective in the industry and another to put it in there.

Pussycat Catnap

Niece currently in her second year of University in a physics program - coming back on break over summer she noted that she began as one of a small handful in her major. By end of year she was one of three. She's thinking of changing majors.

Not from grades.

But hostility. Not overt - more the 'OMG its a GIRL!!!' factor going on all around her...

And the inability to have people to socialize with and network with.

She's feeling very isolated, and watching a friend from high school who went to the same school have a blast in sociology program.

It does not surprise me that women have a tough time getting into the gaming industry. And starting up a company... try getting funding when you're 'THE GIRL'... they get turned away more often than male competitors.

The poster above me writes as if women asking for jobs in the industry is the problem. As if they feel "entitled" to start ahead.

You've got that backwards.

What a fool. Its a form of trying to blame the victim: blame the people trying to increase diversity... so you can feel better about the lack of it.

Companies need to get on point and hire them, or they will lose more and more market share. Companies better start getting to the universities, and looking at all the women and minorities who are dropping out of tech majors as lower undergrads... and get them back.

- Those people are the only ones who can make product that will widen your market... exclude them at your own risk.

Adromaw

Fools go around pointing fingers and calling others fools. I don't have time for it, Pussycat. What I said had nothing to do with blaming the victim, of course, you're entitled to see it that way if that's how you want your petty world to be.

I'm not surprised that some women find it difficult to get into the gaming industry. I studied an advanced diploma in the field where there was a distinct lack of women, for all I could count roughly three to five that I can remember out of the whole class.

But guess what, one got a scholarship and they other got a job with a studio - for the term that the studio lasted.

Still, they had better support than your niece, tough break for her, hope she finds what she's comfortable with.

Women taking over companies and changing things up will be a harder slog than starting new companies, surely.

If two guys in a garage can get it done, surely a peer group of several dozen women can pool together enough power that can't be turned down.

It's not really about feeling entitled about anything. It's the definition of a fool to keep trying the same thing and expecting different results.

So try something different and show the rest how it's done.

There has to be a group of women out there with a grand vision for the entertainment industry that beats vanilla FPS slightly better than the previous FPS, surely.

Not to mention I've watched some broadcasts of Sony related titles being marketed by women and we catch a glimpse of women efforts in the industry from here and there as basic consumers.

Calling something a battle means fighting the battle. Otherwise, just stop throwing opinions around and calling for an "intelligent" debate because you're really taking your aggression out on the wrong person.

Having more women in the industry with *the right* attitudes would be a good thing, in my opinion.

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