Tag Archives: sexism

WisCon Panel “Feminism in Gaming 2013”

Stealth elf - a dual blade wielding character from Skylanders

Stealth elf – a dual blade wielding character from Skylanders

At the end of last month, Madison, Wisconsin was home to the annual science fiction feminist convention known as WisCon. Gaming has made its way into some of the panels in recent years and the following will be a summary of some of the points made during the Feminism in Gaming 2013 panel.

Panel description - 2012 was a watershed year for discussion of misogyny in gaming, in many ways: Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter to examine misogyny in gaming, the backlash against it, and the counter-backlash; discussion of art direction in D&D Next; attacks on Felicia Day; the launch of the Gaming as Women blog; and other developments. What has happened so far in 2013? Is the amount of backlash more an indication that misogyny is getting worse, or that we’re finally getting around to the painful but necessary conversations? How much progress have we made, and what still needs to be done? #FeminismInGaming

There was a wonderful handout available at the panel and it is still online for those that would like to see it: Links to websites and interesting articles from 2012/2013


Some important moments from the last year

- the interviews during promotion for Tomb Raider that referenced wanting to protect Lara and threats of sexual violence against her character

- the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter but also the counter-backlash that quickly funded the project

- the closing of Glitch, the multiplayer game

- #1ReasonWhy, the Twitter hashtag used by women in the video game industry describing some of the misogyny that they have experienced in their careers

- Dungeons and Dragons Next art direction


Does buying problematic games mean that we end up supporting their further development and also continue to support the stereotypes that the games portray?

-Having limited funds for games also means you limit your choices – if you can only get one or two new games a year, it can become difficult to decide where to spent your money.

- One possible way to experience a game that you feel may have problematic elements without first purchasing it is to either rent it or borrow the game from a friend and then make the decision if you want to purchase the game itself.

- These decisions are further complicated when games have things that you love and want to support but still have problematic elements. One example mentioned was 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. It is a puzzle/adventure game that is text heavy which is an under represented type of game, but it had sexist representations of female characters. But the game as a whole contains both of these elements.

- One way to deal with problematic elements in games is to spread the word about those issues. Take screenshots, post blogs, talk about it on Twitter, write messages on the game forums,  tell your friends, spread the word however you feel comfortable that you are dissatisfied with different aspects of games and gaming culture. Discuss good aspects of games, but also discuss the things that upset you.

- Some people dislike financially supporting games in which violence and military action are the only solutions to a problem.  There is clearly a call for more creative games or simply more games that go outside the first person shooter genre.

- In the end, we all choose where we draw a personal line when it comes to financially supporting developers that make problematic games. There is no ONE WAY that will work for everyone.


Tabletop gaming

- One positive aspect of tabletop gaming is being able to create your own worlds and rules/alternate worlds and rules to circumvent problematic rules sets. While this is possible it also puts an additional burden on the players.

- One problem with tabletop gaming can also be the players themselves, and not just the game world. People bring their own assumptions to the table. One person mentioned a group that would always threaten any female player character with sexual violence at some point during a campaign. Those types of situations can occur even if those threats are not present in the game’s official campaign or storyline.

- Some groups attempt to make sure that everyone is comfortable by first discussing topics that should be kept out of campaigns. Someone mentioned the use of Safe Words and other tells so players could freely express when a campaign was making them feel uncomfortable.


Gaming Communities

- At times it can be the gaming community, rather than the game that is not inclusive.

- Audience members mentioned muting players when going online, never speaking up so that people don’t hear a woman’s voice, or only playing with friends when going online. The harassment drives people to cope in a variety of ways.

- Another person mentioned only playing single player games because they found online interactions to be too hostile.

- Yet another person mentioned not finishing Mass Effect 3 after having a traumatic experience with a multiplayer group.

- Communities have the potential be more harmful than games themselves in making players feel unwelcome and diminished.

- Alternately, it is wonderful to see when games attempt to bring community together. You can see that in some cooperative games or in things like Guild Wars 2 where the incentive is there to help other players rather than hamper their progress.


Clothing/Art Design

- There are a lot of examples of failure in this specific category! This occurs in terms of artbooks, game design, character design, and miniatures.

- In the family friendly game of Skylanders there is a character called Stealth Elf that is a dual blade user and she wears what is essentially a bra as a top. Even in games aimed at children there are female characters that wear revealing clothing as their default. This type of character design is pervasive in the industry.

- A comment was made about the character design changes of Samus Aran since the start of the Metroid series. The suit has become slimmer over time.

- In terms of art design, let’s not forget the failure of the headless torso figure from Dead Island.

- Another art design failure can be seen in the upcoming Dragon’s Crown game.

- To avoid some of the problematic female character design, some people mention only playing as male characters in games. We’d all rather see a change in character design rather than players feeling forced to do this to avoid problematic art direction.

- BioWare was praised specifically for their art direction with the female Commander Shepard when compared to the male Shepard.


Games/things we look forward to in the future (let’s be hopeful for a moment)

- Remember Me

- The next Dragon Age

- Roll 20 : a KickStarter project that focuses on bringing tabletop rollplaying online

- Minecraft mod ScriptCraft

- Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management – a tabletop game guide done by the Gnome Stew blog that has a cover showing a woman of color as a game master.


Other points made during the panel

- The solution cannot simply be “Then go make your own games!” when people point out issues in the current batch of games. Yes, it is wonderful that more toolsets are available for general use, but putting the burden solely on the players is unjust. Independent games are wonderful and are part of the solution, but they are not the whole solution to the problems facing the industry.

- As always, there was a call for more diversity in characters and character creation options. Why must the default always be straight, white, and male?

- There is needs to be more of a focus on the discussion of games and the industry. Let’s keep reading good stories, listening to good podcasts, checking out reviews that go beyond “was it fun?” and spread the word about these things.

- We WANT to give the industry our money. Give us something we WANT to support!


One final point!

- Don’t let jerks strip us of the gamer title! There have always been, and always will be a diverse group of people that play video games and tabletop games. Let us not let them fool us or others that we don’t exist because we have ALWAYS been here. Don’t surrender that title over to them because it is not, nor was it ever, only their property. Be gamers and be feminists. They are not mutually exclusive!

A Rundown of What’s Going on with Penny Arcade Now

It hasn’t been that long since the last time Penny Arcade did something that cast the company in a negative light, but here we are again with another fiasco that’s been making its way around Twitter today.  I thought it would be helpful to do a quick rundown of the events from today to make everyone aware of the situation and help answer some questions about why you might want to rethink supporting Penny Arcade, PAX, or anything affiliated with that organization.

It all started today when this panel was posted from PAX Australia, titled “Why So Serious? Has the Industry Forgotten That Games Are Supposed to Be Fun?”.  The original screencap of the description is below.

Read below for full transcript.


“Why does the game industry garner such scrutiny from outside sources and within?  Every point aberration gets called into question, reviewers are constantly criticised and developers and publishers professionally and personally attacked.  Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic and involve any antagonist race other than Anglo-Saxons and you’re a racist.

It’s gone too far and when will it all end?  How can we get off the soapbox and work together to bring a new constructive age into fruition?”

There is so much wrong with this panel description that I don’t even know where to begin. The idea that games as a medium are exempt from criticism because they’re “supposed to be fun” is ridiculous and immature.  This complete and utter display of privilege and a total dismissal of the concerns by women and people of color is awful, but then conflating ‘a new constructive age’ with a time where we disregard the concerns of marginalized gamers is flat out embarassing.  Naturally, the internet responded.  As a result, the description was altered and the line about sexism and misogyny was removed. Continue reading

Dragon’s Crown — Basically ‘Boobs & Butts: The Game’

Sometimes, you see an artistic interpretation of anatomy that just defies all expectations.  One that makes you wish that everyone else on the internet could experience it along with you.  Today that title is Dragon’s Crown, an upcoming 2D “multiplayer action beat ‘em up” game for Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita. I will try to find words while I write this post.

Let’s start out with the Sorceress character.  According to the game’s website, they are “bewitching women….weak of body” but have great knowledge.

The sorceress character is show.  She has a large witch hat, is wearing a black corset with basically her entire chest showing, has long red hair, and is wearing a long purple skirt with slits in it that show most of her legs.  The image to the right shows her chest and backside in the common Escher Girls pose.

Certainly not “weak of boob”.  A shot of the Sorceress in gameplay shows that she’s clothed just the same while actually being played in game, and watching the video on the website shows quite a bit of jiggle while she’s casting spells.  Umm…yeah.

A shot of the gameplay of Dragon's Crown.  Sorceress is wearing the same outfit from above.

And now, the Amazon.

The Amazon in Dragon's Crown.  She is shown with a large axe, henna tattooed legs, a tiny head, and an enormous body.  Her butt and boobs are giant compared to her waist (which sports chiseled abs).

Where do I even begin here? Those proportions!  I’m not sure how she manages to have such large boobs and a gigantic rear end without her waist being wide at all.  But even more  fascinating is how small her head is.  One of her boobs will quite literally cover her face and then some.  It’s amazing that Atlus attempted to make a strong muscular woman character who still remains completely sexualized with her Escher Girls pose, her complete lack of any armor, and her stereotypically feminine face and hair.

Dragon’s Crown will be out this summer, in case you actually want to give this company money.  I won’t hold it against you, but you better send me some ridiculous screenshots.

(h/t to Nush B on Twitter for the tip)

Edit: We need to add a link to this awesome set of revisions that turns the table around on the male characters of Dragon’s Crown.  Thanks to @gygaxis for the tip.

Sexism in Video Games Panel at ETSUcon

From left to right: Jenn, Samantha and Kat at the Sexism in Video Games panel.

From left to right: Jenn, Samantha and Kat at the Sexism in Video Games panel.

During the last weekend of April, I had the privilege of traveling to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN to be on the “Sexism in Video Games” panel at their inaugural ETSUcon. The panel consisted of Kat Haché, Jennifer Culp of Gamervescent, TBH contributor Samantha Allen (that’s me!) and Cameron Kunzelman. The topic of our panel was the continued and pervasive sexism of video gaming culture.

[You can listen to the entire panel on YouTube.]

A trigger warning: from 34:42 – 36:27, we discuss David Gaider’s blog post about a female Dragon Age writer who pointed out that a male writer on the team had written a rape scene without realizing it. The discussion is not explicit but I don’t want the introduction of the topic to surprise anyone.

Kat, Jenn, Cameron and I fielded questions on a variety of topics ranging from the infamous Dead Island: Riptide statue to the representation of women in video games to the inclusion of women in video game development studios. We were fortunate to have a lively, participatory audience that filled up the whole room.

The turnout for ETSUcon itself (around 900 attendees) also far exceeded the organizers’ expectations. Thanks to Kat for working so hard to put our panel together, to Justin Mitchell for moderating, to Haein Lee for the photos (the rest of which are posted here), to Chad Barrett for the audio recording and to Frederic Poag for chairing the Con itself.

Feel free to discuss the panel in our comments section. We had a limited amount of time for our panel and we’d love to hear how The Border House readers might have answered some of the questions we received.

Kickstart This: GTFO: A Film About Women in Gaming

GTFO is a documentary project by Shannon Sun-Higginson that seeks to cover the experiences of women in game development, game journalism, and pro-gaming. There are a few things I like about this project. While the phrase “women in games” has come to mean a lot of things, the documentary is focusing on interviewing women about the sexism and harassment they face in and around the industry. Also, the film is being made by a self-proclaimed “outsider” to the game industry, which could lend it a fresh perspective. The fact that it is a documentary means it has the potential to reach a wider and different audience than, say, a panel at a convention, which will bring more awareness to the issue.

Sun-Higginson is asking for $20,000 to finish the film. It is more than halfway funded with ten days left. You can read more about the project in an interview with Sun-Higginson at GamesIndustry International.

GTFO: A Film About Women in Gaming — Kickstarter

#1ReasonToBe GDC Panel Now Available on The GDC Vault

After this year’s GDC in March, Tami wrote about the panel that rocked the conference: #1ReasonToBe. That panel is now available to watch online for free on the GDC Vault. Check it out to see Brenda Romero, Robin Hunicke, Leigh Alexander, Elizabeth Sampat, Kim McAuliffe, and our own Mattie Brice talk about their experiences in the game industry and their visions for a more welcoming community.

#1ReasonToBe — GDC Vault (H/T Tami)

The 2013 Game Developer Gender Wage Gap

I’m reading through the latest digital edition of Game Developer Magazine which contains their annual survey.  The salary numbers overall weren’t concerning to me, until I scrolled down and saw the differences between the male and female survey respondents.  The next time someone tells me that men and women get paid equally for their talents in the game industry, I wanted something to link to them.  This is just plain disgusting.



This isn’t so bad right?  Female programmers are currently making 4.5% more annually than male programmers.  However, considering they only make up 4% of the entire field of programmers in the game industry, companies are probably paying them more to retain them.  I’m glad to see the few lady programmers we have in games aren’t underpaid.

However, expect things to get more grim.



Male artists make 29% more per year than female artists in the game industry.  Women represent 16% of the game industry’s artists, which is sadly a pretty decent number.



Male game designers make 23.6% more annually than female game designers, and men comprise 89% of the game industry’s designers.



The producer field doesn’t look so terrible.  It has the highest percentage of female representation at 23%.  Women still are underpaid compared to men though: 8.3% less.



Audio development is completely dominated by men.  96% of audio developers are male, and they make a whopping 65% more than women.



It’s starting to get a big redundant, but here you can see that men make 24.9% more than women per year in QA.


Finally, in business and legal we see that men make 31% more than women.  This is a broad field that includes Community Management, CEOs, HR, IT, and admin.  I suspect part of this discrepancy in wage is that HR, admin, and community management have a lot of female representation anecdotally while upper management is dominated by men at most game companies.

I’m sure there are more details that might make these numbers less damning.  For example, we all know that games have been long dominated by men and the industry is taking small steps to change that.  As a result, many of the women who answered the survey might be new to the game industry, might not be in as senior of roles as the men who responded.  However, I don’t think this changes the fact that we need to recruit and encourage more women at all levels of every organization — and we’re failing to do so.

Leadership: look at your organization.  Compare the salaries of the women to the men who work at your company, and align their salaries.  If all of your women are junior, evaluate them.  How long have they been junior?  Are they deserving of an increase in role, capabilities, and salary?  If you don’t have many women in various departments, recruit them.  Make an effort to keep your space positive and encouraging for women.  Consider that raising women up in your company means for more mentors in our industry for the young women who might be interested in working in games.  These numbers are disgusting and we see them year after year.  Who is out there working to change it?  Every studio should be proactive in solving this, because with numbers like these — why would women want to work in games?

These images are all from the April 2013 issue of Game Developer Magazine.


The Fantastic #1ReasonToBe session at GDC 2013

This week I was fortunate enough to attend the Game Developers Conference and sit in the crowd for the #1ReasonToBe session.  It was arranged as 6 smaller microtalks, filling up its hour long time slot to the brim with interesting, passionate, and emotional personal presentations from the panelists about women and diversity in gaming.

The speakers were Brenda Romero (Wizardry, Loot Drop), Robin Hunicke (thatgamecompany, Funomena), Kim McAuliffe (Microsoft Game Studios), Elizabeth Sampat (Storm8), Leigh Alexander (game journalist) and our own Mattie Brice (game critic, student).  Each one took the time to talk about their experiences in and around the game industry.  The best summary of the session that I’ve found was by VentureBeat, but if anyone has the liveblog or slides from the presentation please share them in the comments.

I just want to comment about the session from an experience perspective.  First off, anyone who has been to a diversity-related talk in previous GDCs is probably familiar with the small room in the corner that they normally occupy.  This session, on the contrary, was in a large room that was mostly full.  And instead of being two rows of people who all know each other, the session will packed with a variety of new people outside the feminist gaming criticism circle including many men.  The talk generated a standing ovation to the speakers, along with a healthy amount of tears from many in the crowd (including me).  It was phenomenal.  The electricity in the room, the excitement, the positive outlook that everyone had about where our precious industry could end up — it was all infectious in the best way possible.

I asked a question through tears at the end of the panel.  I wanted to know what we could do on The Border House to focus less on the negative and start motivating the kind of inspiration that I felt after attending the panel.  There were some great answers, such as Robin suggesting that we start doing more highlights of women in the game industry — interviews and articles about them so that others can see that there are people like them out there.  I’m interested in any other ideas that our readers have, so please leave them in the comments.

We talked.  After the panel, we ended up getting booted out of the room where conversations were popping up organically all over.  We moved to the hallway where the chitchatting continued until long after the session was done.  Information and business cards were exchanged, ideas were generated, hope was prominent.  It was a beautiful moment and the highlight of this year’s GDC for me.  I felt a solidarity, a moment where it felt like we could all accomplish great change if we work together.

From left to right: Me, Mattie Brice, Donna Prior

I was so incredibly happy with the support that The Border House received at the conference.  I can’t even count the number of people who came up and told me how important The Border House was to them, to their work, to their inspiration.  It really puts everything in perspective and makes me want to be able to commit even more to this site and its growth.  I am so fortunate that this little site has grown to something that real people actually read and subscribe to and appreciate, and I love that the extremely important voices that we host here have a place to be heard.  I want every single woman in games to have the same feeling that I had after the #1ReasonToBe panel.  We’d all be unstoppable.  I hope to create content for The Border House that captures at least a little bit of the passion and hope that this fantastic panel did.  Thank you to everyone who came up and talked to me and shared their stories and their enthusiasm for the site: it truly helps.

“That girl is kicking our asses!”: Tomb Raider’s (Lack of) Gendered Power Plays

The firefights in Tomb Raider are intense and brutal. There are many scenes where Lara is pinned down behind a splintered barrel or crate, shooting and ducking and shooting again at upwards of ten armed enemies, half of whom are charging with drawn swords, knives and axes. There wasn’t much time to think of anything other than lining up headshots. But even so, there was always a part of me that tensed up when the enemies started talking. “Here it comes,” I thought. “Here come the insults.”

But they didn’t come. When the bad guys talk about Lara, they say things like “That girl is kicking our asses!” Not “That girl is kicking our asses!” It’s a huge difference. These dudes are horrified that someone is killing their buddies and ruining their freaky plans. The fact that it’s a woman doing the killing and plan-ruining doesn’t seem to be their main concern, nor even any sort of blow to their masculinity or pride.

I never once heard Lara called a bitch, or a chick, or any other derogatory term related to sexuality or gender. Not once.

And you know what? I’m glad. Continue reading