Because It Really IS A Problem: Turning A Blind Eye To Inequality In Games

Just yesterday, I watched the second part of Anita Sarkeesian’s brilliant analysis of ‘Women As Background Decoration’ in her series Tropes vs Women. It depicts the various, often graphic, ways in which women are included in games as background characters to be brutalized, demeaned and murdered in the course of video games. Her video (which I will link to below) shows examples of these female characters, faceless and often nameless, being used as props to depict scenes of extreme violence in an effort to make a game seem more ‘gritty’ and ‘dark.’ It’s not an easy video to watch, as the violence is pretty awful, so viewer discretion advised. 

This video viewing came on the heels of multiple conversations I’ve had in the last few weeks about inclusivity in the gaming world. It seems that, more than ever, the divide exists between those who believe there is an issue with the status quo in the gaming world right now and those who are striving to sustain it. The more advocates stand and speak up for inclusivity within game narratives and within game design and development, the more they are rebuffed by vocal voices in the gamer population. Worse, these advocates are often belittled, attacked, harassed and even threatened for speaking out. Even those who do not advocate but instead offer support have come under attack on social media for being public allies. One needs only to look at the response to Anita Sarkeesian’s work, and the people still raging against her work, to know that the haters are still out there. And they can get LOUD.

One example: a hateful Patreon called “The Sarkeesian Effect” in which two YouTubers, Jordan Owen and Aurini, plan a slanderous documentary telling everyone about a mythical conspiracy perpetuated by the ‘social justice warriors’ to push their advocacy agenda upon the unsuspecting population. Tune in next week as they create videos about mind-controlling high fructose corn syrup and the secret of the Lindbergh Baby. Seriously, you can’t make this shit up.

We’re still having the fight about whether or not being inclusive is important in the gaming world.

And I don’t get it. 

How is it by now that people STILL think that the status quo is okay? How, after all these conversations being had and stories told about people silenced and pushed aside, can people still believe that ignoring the inequality in our world is all right? I’ve heard all kinds of excuses and statements, so here’s a breakdown of a few of them.

  • “We don’t have an inequality problem, this is the modern day!” Yes, and there has been civil rights and women’s movements forever trying to gain reform for groups that have been pushed down and created as the minority. And in all that time, we still have women making less money and being told they don’t belong in industries like technology and game design. Anyone who looks around and doesn’t see inequality is probably not listening, as there are countless stories out there about racism, sexism, queer and trans phobia, anti-semitism, fat shaming, ect. If you don’t hear those stories, it means you aren’t trying hard enough to open your ears to another’s experience. 
  • “Well I don’t see race (or other differences).” That’s nice for you. And that’s a way of saying “I don’t discriminate,” an homage to the melting pot that is the United States and our modern world. However, not seeing race doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean that others are colorblind and that they don’t discriminate. Also, it doesn’t mean that the identities of others should  just be considered blanket ‘human’ and that’s it. Identities are made up of the things we take on as markers that define who we are. Part of that is our culture, our religion, our race, our sexuality, and so on. Those things help define us and impact the way people treat us. Some folks can’t escape those contexts, don’t want to just be seen without their differences, because that shouldn’t have to be the case. What makes a person different doesn’t make them lesser automatically, or wrong, or bad. And by denying a part of their identity by saying ‘you don’t see it,’ that means you’re ignoring it as though it doesn’t mean anything, isn’t important enough for you to acknowledge and respect, or that you are simply looking past it because you still consider it a stumbling block to interacting with the person. Please stop all of these, please. People are complex. What makes them up is potentially important to them. Step outside yourself and wonder how you’d feel if someone said to you: “Oh it’s okay, I just don’t see you as a man.”
  • “Well, I’m of a minority group, and I haven’t been discriminated against! So this isn’t a problem.” I’m really glad that you haven’t experienced these issues, be you a woman, a person of color, or what have you. That’s awesome and I’m happy for you! However, listen to the stories of others around you. There are others who HAVE experienced these issues. And by saying it’s not a problem, you’re ignoring their life experiences and minimizing the issue. 
  • “People keep saying I’m privileged because I’m white or cisgendered or straight or whatever! I’ve had it hard too! I resent being called privileged!” I get that. It’s hard out there for a lot of people, for many reasons. But one has to step outside of themselves for a second to look at the system in place that we’ve existed in for so long. It puts certain people in default positions of acceptance as ‘normal.’ Consider then, in that context, whether you’re part of those groups and what that means. Then look at the story of other people of different groups, see how they’re treated differently. Compare. Contrast.
  • “Well how do we address this? It’s not fair to just reach out to minorities and bring them up! That’s just reverse prejudice.” Okay. Let’s get one thing straight here. There is no such thing as reverse prejudice, not as an institution. Some people of minorities can be angry and resent and even hate majority groups and their members. But the kind of prejudice and bigotry we’re talking about here is based on the long-standing institutions of racism, sexism and all the other -isms that have made minorities just that – minorities, not the majority. This othering of groups has been around for ages as part of the way society works while those who are not among the minority inherently profit from their place in society. Let me say that again: because you’re part of a majority group, you have privilege. You might not have asked for it, but you’ve got it. I as a white woman have privilege of my own because of my race. I have other parts of me that put me in minority positions however, such as being a woman in a male-dominated society, or being disabled. But overall, I have privileges I must be aware when I navigate in the world. Ignoring them do not make them less so.

Those are the major things I keep hearing about when we talk about advocacy. When we talk about the plurality of voices out there in the nerd and gamer community. We talk about how to advocate and then hit a hard wall with people who just won’t hear it. Who are dedicated to ignoring problems.

And worse, there’s people out there who are dedicating their time and effort to battling those who are trying to bring about social justice work. They label them ‘social justice warriors’ and ignore the work they’re doing. Or even worse, they attack them. They harass. They send rape, death and bomb threats. They use anything they can to discredit, shame and silence.

No, we don’t have a gender problem. That’s why we have so many women designers harassed. So many women designers who get death threats. I get them. I’m a tiny fish in my side of the gaming pond, and I get death threats. I got three when I spoke out against sex being used against someone in their professional life recently on Twitter. I stood up for Zoe Quinn having the right as a female dev to not be harassed, to not be trolled, to not receive death threats and such. And I got three emails that I buried in a folder with the other ones and try not to remember they’re there.

Harassment has no place in gaming.

It will only continue for as long as we say ‘this is just the way things are’ and ignore it.

We say it’s just 4chan. It’s just reddit. It’s just those guys over there. It’s an Over There Problem.

But there are plenty of people who aren’t Over There folks, who are the folks every day who look around and say the things I listed above and do not recognize the problem for what it is and do not engage and keep silent.

If you knew someone getting death threats for doing their job, what would you do?

If you knew someone who got emails with pictures of beheaded women in it threatening rape, what would you do?

If you knew someone who was told they have no business doing their job because of their gender, what would you do?

Well guess what?

Now you know one. And I’m not alone. And it’s time for this bullshit to end.


UPDATE: The day I post this, the horseshit gets real. Anita Sarkeesian was threatened so badly she had to flee her home to protect herself. Here’s the link to the article talking about it and before the video is a link of just a few of the tweets she received. Naysayers that complain ‘there is no problem with harassment’ or ‘where’s the proof?’ – well here it is. And this is absolutely the most disgusting thing ever. 

WARNING: The image below is VERY Graphic in its description of violence. But it bears being held as an example of the horrible sickness going on in the gaming community. 



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