Is #1reasonwhy A Turning Point?
Those examples are but a tiny fraction of an avalanche of commentary painting a picture of an industry still stuck somewhat in the past. These women make it clear again and again that despite their accomplishments, they’re made to feel like add-ons at best, a curious state of affairs for a business with a customer base consisting of 47% women. The interesting thing here is that this latest accounting of the problem is being met with perhaps the most consistently supportive reaction ever.
The #1reasonwhy feed is full of almost universal support from men working in the industry, in journalism, and even the fandom. This tweet from game writer David A Hill is a good example of that:
I’ve had prominent designers compliment my games, while complimenting my wife’s appearance, when we develop together. #1reasonwhy
— David A Hill Jr (@davidahilljr) November 26, 2012
And he isn’t alone. It’s been almost shocking to see thousands upon thousands of new updates expression support for these women. But does this mean we’ve reached a turning point in the discussion? That depends on where you look. Few people have expressed their disgust directly at the feed, this enlightened jackass being the most amusing:
— James (@hellslinger) November 28, 2012
Or this guy who completely misses the point:
When I don’t like something I just whine and claim that is unfair so it’ll be change to please me. Feminism #1ReasonWhy
— David (@davis_001) November 29, 2012
But the rarity of these these hilariously public self-cockblocks doesn’t mean it isn’t happening elsewhere. Game Front contributor Jim Sterling has said on his Facebook page that he’s received outright abuse from people for having tweeted in support of #1reasonwhy, and a search for people on Twitter flinging bile at the very notion that women should be allowed to go to work and be treated like adults yields many results. But by and large, the majority of these people are unconnected gamers who aren’t actually in the industry itself. None of the women revealing their experiences are being rebutted by their actual coworkers and peers, and notably, no one with a respected voice or position within the industry is willing to speak out against it either.
That’s why the response to #1reasonwhy has me feeling cautiously optimistic. For the first time, really ever, the issue of sexism in gaming is being discussed in the open, on a sustained basis, and the majority viewpoint is that it’s real, and it’s really bad. Think about it like the gains made by gay people in the last few years. Decades of work went into these successes, but until quite recently, politicians could still win elections playing lip service to anti gay rhetoric. While we’re still a ways off from real equality, our recent election proved that the days when opposing gay rights could propel someone to the highest offices in the land are over. Now it’s just a matter of outlasting the people who refuse to come along. The same finally appears to be true when it comes to discussing sexism in the industry.
Granted, the problem has roots that run far too deep for a quick fix. Ben Kuchera’s excellent analysis of video game marketing is a great starting point for learning how the industry seems determined to make the financial failure of women-created or women-centered gaming IP a fait accompli. And that doesn’t even begin to address systemic problems, like the gender gap in STEM subjects, largely due to the fact that until Title IX, women were actively discouraged from entering those fields, and that our culture has still not caught up with the law.
We will have to accept that there will always be anonymous trolls who spew copious amounts of bile at women for any number of perceived slights, but these sad people don’t tend to become the leading lights of any creative community, much less gaming. The problem is whether or not the gaming industry wants to chase after the bitter woman-haters, or after everyone else. We’re willing to bet that the majority of male developers, despite any tendency to make horribly unfunny jokes, would rather choose everyone else. If only because moments like this prove that there’s no future in chasing after a tiny fraction of customers at the expense of 47%. Yes, fixing the industry’s problems with women will ultimately require a war of demographic attrition waged by women until their numbers in the industry match their numbers as customers. But it’s hard not to see a shift in the tone of the conversation as anything other than a big deal. Change is coming, like it or not. The industry only needs to ask itself just how much it is willing to help speed things along.