The games industry is sexist: here's more than #1reasonwhy

Twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy has taken off, with men and women in the games industry explaining why it still has a long way to go.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
4 min read

Faith Connors, one of the few women in video games not designed for sex appeal.
(Credit: Electronic Arts)

Twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy has taken off, with men and women in the games industry explaining why it still has a long way to go.

A new Twitter hashtag exploded overnight, with women working in the games industry delivering anecdotes demonstrating the sexism that is still rife. #1reasonwhy is filled with examples across all levels of the games industry that show ways in which it is still hostile to women — why there are so few women in gaming development. (It's since expanded to include women in gaming generally — from players to creators.)

I'm a little late to the party on this one — partially because I got super interested in germs (seriously, go look at that, it's much cooler and less depressing than this), partially because there was a part of me that felt tired just thinking about having this conversation.

I started working as a games writer around 10 years ago. My first job was as a freelancer on Official PlayStation Magazine; I'd applied for a full-time role, and the editor at the time was surprised to be getting an application from a lady (I was the only woman to apply), so I was brought in for an interview. I'd be lying if I said that I thought my gender didn't play a role in getting the position; several years later, I looked at the writing samples I'd submitted and cringed at their lack of professional polish.

At the time, also, I was one of maybe three or four professional female games writers working in Australia.

It was an interesting time. To their credit, my editors held my work to high standard and I learned a lot. Generally, I was treated very well by my professional peers, there was no question about whether I belonged or not. I think that's more of a credit to the Aussie gaming journo crowd than anything, who have overwhelmingly rarely been anything but welcoming to me and other women in the ranks — but readers and PRs were, and are, a different matter.

Readers, because their opinions were never neutral, either hating me or wanting to romance me (I got fan letters asking if I could hang out and play games with them sometime; the quality of my work was never addressed either way, though). PRs, because everything was geared towards male journos, from press events featuring strippers (more than once), to game T-shirts that were never in girl sizes or cuts.

Given that, again, I was one of only about three or four ladies at the time, this kind of made sense, although some of my male peers often felt insulted by the boobs as well — felt treated like leering Neanderthals, they told me.

It's been a long time since I've seen a stripper, but dancing girls in hot pants still make a regular appearance at gaming press and public events. And I have never been sent a T-shirt in my size. In fact, in February this year, I got sent a Juliet Starling "love pillow". Yesterday, I received a T-shirt addressed to me — in a men's large size.

As a player, well, I've probably avoided most of the nonsense, thanks to a studious aversion to Xbox Live and Ventrilo. In World of Warcraft, most of the people I'd casually group with assumed I was a man. Depressingly, I took that as a compliment, because it meant that I was playing well enough that they had no reason to question my skills. It's depressing, because why should being who I actually am automatically be assumed to be inferior? But the instant you draw attention to it, to try and correct the perception — "Actually, it's 'she'." — you're being an "attention whore".

And many people refuse to take my opinions seriously when I talk about gaming alienating women. Take a look at the comments here, and this handy compilation here. I'm often asked why I'm not talking about men; yet, when I do, it gets ignored. And my colleague Laura Parker over at GameSpot gets it much worse — as evidenced by the comments on her piece about the hashtag.

And you know what? I'm one of the lucky ones.

The hashtag only started two days ago, and already thousands and thousands of tweets have rolled in, with women and men (mostly women) around the world sharing the ways in which gaming has left them feeling marginalised. And there are so many tweets (mostly from men) telling these women that they're overreacting, that they're wrong, that there's no sexism, that they should just shut up.

But the evidence, as far as we're concerned, is overwhelming. This isn't just one or two women feeling left out in the cold by the gaming industry and community, these are not outlier feelings. When you have that many people telling you that your industry has a problem, it's time to sit up and pay attention.