Trigger warning: Slut-shaming of a minor, harassment.
A hashtag is going around Twitter in which women and their allies are using #1ReasonWhy to explain why there aren’t more women in the game industry. It’s a sobering and very personal look at the experiences that women in games have suffered through and continue to deal with on a daily basis in exchange for working in a field they feel passionate about. I contributed a few tweets to it, mostly lighter topics such as a lack of swag in women’s cuts & sizes. There is just so much more to say about this topic that I couldn’t possibly get across in 140 characters. Luckily, I have my own personal sounding board here so I’m going to take advantage of it.
I had someone that I know tell me that women actually have it easier than men in terms of actually getting jobs in the game industry. I’d like to see some numbers to back up his statement. If in my experience in games, that has certainly not been the case for most applicants. I’ve seen female engineers judged with more scrutiny than male engineers because they’re so out-of-the-ordinary and therefore must be under the microscope. I’ve seen women judged more harshly for being nervous when in an interview setting with 5+ men interviewing them. I’ve actually heard someone say “if we hire her and she dresses like that every day, she will be distracting” when the candidate wore a blazer and knee length pencil skirt to the interview. And just a month or so ago, some guy at the bar told me that his studio has zero women, that they’ve “tried to hire female artists but all they can draw is unicorns”. But I’m not actually here to talk about that.
My own personal experience is a big fat #1reasonwhy. Granted, my actual entrance into the industry wasn’t that interesting of a story. I applied, received a good recommendation from a friend, interviewed for the job, and was offered it along with relocation to California. The whole process took maybe 5-6 weeks in total. The interview process was terrifying — it consisted of a sit down interview with like 6-8 guys and then a luncheon with the whole team with only one other woman (who was an intern). In my first phone screen, I was asked if I would be comfortable working in an office full of men. At the time I thought it was a silly question and slightly offensive. But I know now that the person who asked (who is now someone I consider my greatest mentor in the industry) was aware of the inequalities and atmosphere and was looking out for me. This isn’t something you have to ask a male potential candidate.
On paper, my career probably looks pretty good. 5 acquisitions in 4 years, I’ve quickly moved up from Community Manager to Product Manager, to Producer, to Studio Director. Professionally I’ve done well for myself, but it hasn’t been a breeze. I put a game face on because it’s actually damaging to your career to talk about how things aren’t as perfect for you as they seem. But I’ve progressed despite the issues I’ve experienced, not because the game industry is a great place for women to flourish.
When I got my first job in the game industry, a popular online MMO gaming forum that I used to participate in rallied against me. They started a flame war, claiming that I obviously slept my way into the industry. They Googled me, said awful things about my then-significant other. One of them I thought was my friend took some of my MySpace pictures and distributed them, where they were Photoshopped into awful depictions and hurtful messages. They started up a website and started mocking everything I said online, translating each of my blog posts into their own trolling insults thrown at me. They even obtained my phone number and started calling me and leaving voicemails, so I had to change my phone number. They started threads insulting the products that I was working on, threatening to call my managers and expose the things I said as a teenager on the forum. They boycotted any game that I worked on. As an insecure teenager, I had sent someone a picture of myself in my bra — so, they exposed that too in a desperate attempt to shame me for my decision. I was so goddamn nervous that this risque picture of a 16 year old me would get back to my employers. Every day I was fearful of checking my email, of seeing what these people said. When I asked for my account on that forum to be removed and deleted, it was left intact yet I was banned from accessing it. To this day, if I try to log in (out of curiosity, certainly not to post there) it says something to the effect of “maybe you shouldn’t have been such an attention-seeking slut who lies about her age, then your tits wouldn’t be all over our website.”
I’d like to say I was strong and completely ignored it, but it was hard. I ended up shutting down my gaming blog that helped secure my job in the first place, because the comments I received from them were so hurtful that I’d cry when I checked my pending comments. Getting my job in the industry was actually the easiest part of the past 5 years for me. It’s everything that happens afterward that tests your emotional capability and makes you question everything every single day. It’s even worse when your own parents made you feel stupid for taking the job in the first place, for wasting time on a career that will get you nowhere. There were points where it didn’t feel like working in games was worth the disappointment that I felt from my own family. And it’s bad when you start to believe the trolls; that maybe you really aren’t good at your job. Maybe the only reason you got in was in fact because of your boobs. It’s hard to go to work every day and do good work when you’re concerned that you don’t deserve to be there.
I tend to be good at forging alliances and saying the right thing, and I think it’s part of the reason I’ve been promoted in the industry. Sometimes the person saying some incredibly inappropriate and sexist shit has been my boss. And saying something would have meant I was no longer in favor, no longer on their good side. It’s easy to say that women need to speak up when being harassed at work, but it’s far more difficult when your career is on the line. When it might mean that you’re first to be laid off, or that you’ll be passed up for that promotion you’ve been hoping for.
I’d be doing the industry a disservice though if I didn’t talk at least briefly about the good stuff. My god is it freaking amazing to create games. To have a hand in something that so many people will experience, to know that you’re creating a meaningful experience that will bring someone joy and emotion. To work in a field that you feel so passionate about that you go home and continue to immerse yourself in. There are some truly amazing mentors who can seriously change your outlook and your trajectory. One particularly awesome boss of mine sat me down and told me that he felt like I was someone who could go in a number of different ways, that I was doing great, and that I had such potential. As someone brand new to the industry who looked up to this person, it felt like such a relief to hear that I wasn’t as lost as I felt. He asked me where I wanted to go in my career, and wanted to help me get there. If the game industry had mentors and allies like this available to every woman who entered it, we’d all be in much better shape. I’m not sure where I’d be now if it weren’t for him. I was lucky — most women don’t have people like that in their studio, and that’s just downright sad.
The #1reasonwhy hashtag is important, because it’s showing that our experiences aren’t just our own. Scrolling through and nodding in agreement with these other women: that is a powerful moment that no one can take away. Knowing you’re not alone, that you’re not overreacting. Solidarities can move mountains. First we band together, then we scheme, then we do something. I’m focusing on changing things every day from the inside, but I can’t do it alone. It’s exhausting, it’s emotional, and gut-wrenching. To this day, I’m still concerned that the mistake of my past will come back to haunt me, and that picture will resurface and end up humiliating me even further. I was ashamed, and I’m still ashamed. But at least now I know that I didn’t deserve the treatment that I received for it. I’m finally at a point in my career where I’m not worried that my income will be sabotaged by internet trolls. And I have a great support group of fellow women in the industry who understand what it feels like to be treated differently.
My #1reasonwhy is because every single day you’re one conversation away from being unsure. Unsure if you really belong. That you deserve to be there. Unsure that you achieved what you got because of hard work. Unsure if you should remain quiet or speak out, and unsure if you can handle another bit of contradicting advice telling you what to do. Unsure if you have a real future in games. Unsure if people aren’t talking about you behind your back, about what you’re wearing, about your decisions because of your gender. But I’m also willing to be a #1reasonmentor because I know how transformative it is to have a strong ally to stand with you and tell you that they’re sure you’re heading the right direction.