Open Letter Implores Games Industry: “Don’t Forget Women”

During one of my internet meanderings, I came across this Open Letter to the Gaming Industry. The letter, signed by a group of games industry women, points out the neglect that many women feel as gamers by the industry and by gaming communities.

We are the women who play, write, design, create art for, and love your games. We play video games from first person shooters online to Wii Fit. We have top of the line gaming machines and old play stations we keep running with gum and shoe polish. We know every game coming out next month and we have been playing the same copy of Doctor Mario since we bought it years ago, used. We are also table top players and LARPers. We have invested thousands of dollars in collectible card games and miniatures for war simulation games. In some cases we are 40% of the market, and we are 50% of the population.
Despite all that, there are times when many of us feel neglected or forgotten. We have been harassed in your stores, rejected in your communities online, and treated with disrespect on your online services and your advertising. We have seen commercials and art that some of us find offensive. We often feel that our stories are not well represented in the stories the games we play. Sometimes we speak up and are met with a remarkable lack of decorum. Sometimes we are too afraid to speak up at all for fear of alienation, abuse, or difficulty finding work in the industry because we might be seen as ‘hard to work with,’ when all we were doing was trying to have a discussion and change things for the better.

We are the women who play, write, design, create art for, and love your games. We play video games from first person shooters online to Wii Fit. We have top of the line gaming machines and old play stations we keep running with gum and shoe polish. We know every game coming out next month and we have been playing the same copy of Doctor Mario since we bought it years ago, used. We are also table top players and LARPers. We have invested thousands of dollars in collectible card games and miniatures for war simulation games. In some cases we are 40% of the market, and we are 50% of the population.

Despite all that, there are times when many of us feel neglected or forgotten. We have been harassed in your stores, rejected in your communities online, and treated with disrespect on your online services and your advertising. We have seen commercials and art that some of us find offensive. We often feel that our stories are not well represented in the stories the games we play. Sometimes we speak up and are met with a remarkable lack of decorum. Sometimes we are too afraid to speak up at all for fear of alienation, abuse, or difficulty finding work in the industry because we might be seen as ‘hard to work with,’ when all we were doing was trying to have a discussion and change things for the better.

The letter then goes into a series of points that discuss sexist advertising, the lack of stories about and for women in games, under-representation in the industry, and the effect of sexist advertising on games culture. The letter ends with a note that it is a living document and will evolve over time.

What do you think of the open letter? Do you agree with its points? Is there anything it didn’t cover?

Side note: The comments section in the open letter is a text book case example of a dude defending the status quo while still trying to say he is against sexism, and women trying to point out where he is wrong. Some highlights include: the “You’re just asking for special treatment” argument, the “tone” argument, the “Sex sells” and “It’s a business decision” defense for sexism in games, the “I have a woman gamer friend and she doesn’t have a problem with sexism in games, therefore it must not be a problem” argument, the “There are a lot of strong women and games, so why can’t you be happy?” argument,  the “What you want will come at the expense of the enjoyment of games by men” argument, and the assertion that a man’s male-privileged opinion and purely theoretical knowledge of  sexism carries more weight than a woman, who has the lived, daily experience of discrimination against women, while being a woman. If you read the comments, get out your bingo cards.

15 thoughts on “Open Letter Implores Games Industry: “Don’t Forget Women””

  1. I wish it had countered the “sex sells” BS a bit more, but that is a minor nitpick. I think it’s great.

    I find it telling that that first commenter recanted his disagreement only after a male friend told him that yes, con harassment is in fact a problem. He didn’t think to believe the actual women saying con harassment is an issue.

    I’m also angry to find out that we were right about the “Sin to Win” contest.

    ETA: Oh, the other thing I wanted to say was that comparing games to romance novels is a shitty comparison. Games are a medium, not a genre. If ALL BOOKS were romance novels, then it might be an apt comparison, but romance novels are only a tiny fraction of all books, whereas the hypermasculine power fantasies with oversexualized female dolls to rescue or collect (when they exist at all) are the vast majority of games. Not that anyone here doesn’t already know that! XD

  2. I think it’s on the mark and well written. I think the replies this will get on Kotaku and Joystiq and Destructoid etc etc will be vomit inducing, as usual.

  3. As Thefremen said, I find the letter is well written, but a little “light”, but sometime, the less is the best… I also agree with Alex about the difference between game as a medium and romance novel as a genre. It can definitely not be compared in the same way.

    I was thinking about this part “We often feel that our stories are not well represented in the stories the games we play.” I would like to have your opinion, as girls/women on this point. What would be a game that depicts and emphasizes your interests, your “stories”? I have seen game “specially” designed (or let’s say “oriented”) for “female audience”, but is it really a solution to divide game genre by gender? I don’t think it is…
    What should game designers, graphists or scenarists include/add in their games (you can name some specific game if you have some example) that properly missed your interest or failed to involve you into the story or the narrative? No “trap” in my question, really ! (I hope I was clear)

    1. I dont think this is extrapolating out to “lady story games”, i think it is more saying that the stories of women in games arent told to the degree that the stories of men are. For example, you know Drake’s story in Uncharted, but you dont know the whole story behind Elena, Chloe – just tidbits as they pertain to Drake.
      On discussing with Brinstar:
      Brinstar: Yeah. Basically, we have a metric fuck ton of game stories that are told from male perspectives, to male audiences, with the male gaze in mind.
      Twyst: yeah.
      Brinstar: “Women’s stories” doesn’t necessarily mean “gendered” stories.
      Brinstar: As in, there is absolutely no reason that any generic FPS could not be a woman in the lead role. No reason.
      Twyst: Even in Mirror’s Edge, which is a story about 2 sisters, whenever there are story elements, you are taken out of Faith’s POV and you watch her
      Twyst: so it kind of removes you from being her, except in the action.
      Brinstar: Yes.
      Brinstar: A “woman’s story” or “woman’s game” doesn’t mean that the game is only about “women’s issues” or things that only apply to women. That’s how I see it.
      Twyst: Totally agreed.
      Brinstar: I think the problem is the universality of the male perspective and male POV. And then for some reason, a woman’s POV is not “universal”.
      Brinstar: I think the dude forgets that all those games? They are already gendered — from the male perspective.
      Twyst: I imagine that would be easy to do, when games are essentially made for you
      Twyst: it becomes a non issue.

    2. Hmm, for me the main thing is more games with female protagonists. Like, Uncharted 2 was a great game with a great story and great female characters, but ultimately it was a story about Drake. Which was fine, but let’s have more games like Uncharted but centered on female characters telling stories about them (and non-sexualized at that, because I don’t think games like Bayonetta are the solution). Games like Beyond Good and Evil, Parasite Eve, Jeanne D’Arc, etc.. I know it’s kind of cheesy and probably not the best example of a women-centered game (give it’s problematic elements) but I always liked how Final Fantasy X-2 was specifically supposed to be Yuna’s story (as opposed to how Final Fantasy X was Tidus’ story).

      I think the solution should be less about making games that cater specifically to a female audience and more about making games that don’t cater specifically to a heterosexual male audience.

    3. It’s easy to think of the stories in games not being gendered, when almost every single game on the market is made by people like you (men) and for people like you (men)–and I don’t mean this in an insulting way–this is just reality. The fact is that games are already divided by gender. 90% of games have male lead protagonists, we see the story from a man’s point of view, the women in games are portrayed for the male gaze, and games are already made specifically for a male audience. The solution isn’t necessarily to make games about experiences that are unique to women (though that would be cool, too), but more about making games that aren’t only serving a male hetero audience, about male hetero heroes. Understand that including women (i.e. being inclusive) does not entail excluding men.

    4. Thank for your interesting reply.

      @Twyst: Thank for sharing your talk with Brinstar. As far as I understood, the main problem is not about “woman’s story” or “woman’s game” but game build from a woman’s point of view (POV)?

      @oliemoon: We should forget to target the basic hetero male gamer and try to focus on a larger audience, regardless of gender or sexual orientation? It’s not always an easy part according to the game designer you will have behind the curtain. You mentioned FFX2 as a good example of women-POV oriented compared with FFX. Do you experienced the same with another game (it can be even an old game such as Parasite Eve 2 as you said)?

      @Brinstar: You are right about the “reality” of games production field. The market is still mainly made by men and for men. I totally agree with you about the fact that that including women does not entail excluding men, and I would really like that things evolve in this direction…

      One more time, thanks for your comments.

  4. The game industry will change its marketing and game designing practices when there are more female gamers. It’s economics 101:

    If the majority of the consumers are male, they will make games for the consumer because it satisfies the demand. When there are more females in the market, the demand for games will change and the gaming industry will change its practices to meet that new demand.

    With that said, it’s kind of a “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” situation because females are less likely to be interested in something that is male-dominated. But as current numbers seem to show, the number of female gamers is going up. So I have confidence that there will be change.

    1. According to the ESA, women make up 40% of gamers. So the excuse that “there aren’t enough women gamers” actually isn’t very true and doesn’t really explain the over representation of men in marketing/games. Something else is going on and given that the whole world is basically a patriarchy, I’d say that it is at the very least equal parts economics and sexism, though frankly I think the problem is rooted thoroughly in sexism first and foremost (since, economics 101, alienating 51% of your potential customers…doesn’t make a lot of financial sense).

      Also, I don’t know if you realize this or not, but your comment is fairly mansplainy (see also: this), so you might want to be a little more careful about that in the future.

    2. Your explanation does not hold water. There is already existing demand for games from female consumers, but it is not being met. You may want to read the post that Gunthera1 wrote about this already existing market of women gamers, a market that has continually asked the games industry for games that are more inclusive of women. As oliemoon said, pure economics doesn’t explain the disproportionately low representation of women in games, the disproportionately low number of games in which women there are women characters or where women don’t exist as tokens, nor does it explain the disproportionately unequal levels of marketing of games to women.

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