I have, in my gaming life, been very lucky.
I have yet to be told “Tits or GTFO.” I haven’t been harrassed on Ventrilo, or told my lack of a Y chromosome accounts for my lack of skill. I am surrounded by talented, confident, strong women, and can happily say that the men I run with don’t balk at getting directions from the lay-deez.
What make me sad is, my experience seems to be a rarity.
When male gamers ask why there aren’t more female gamers, and when game companies express amazement that more women don’t apply for jobs, it’s because shit like this is still happening in 2012.
Jennifer Hepler writes for Bioware. She expressed the idea that maybe games could let you skip combat and go straight to the dialogue, since a lot of titles let you do the opposite — plow through the dialogue to get right to the fightin’.
Also, in the games she’s worked on, some characters are gay! Or bisexual! Scandalous!
So the internet fell on her head.
It would be one thing if gamers took her statements on skipping combat and had a spirited debate about it. But because I didn’t just fire up my modem yesterday, I know there’s an unfortunate amount of trollery that’s also going to happen. And you know, fine. People will pick apart an idea, be asshats about it, and utterly ignore the rules of civil discourse.
I expect that. I don’t like it, but I expect it.
If that were the whole of the issue: “Gaming industry person floats unpopular idea, gamers shit all over it,” I wouldn’t be writing this post.
Except that’s not what happened.
Instead, when she joined Twitter, people decided it was a-ok to start throwing the insults. The kind that are specific to women, that is, and… well, from the Destructoid article:
A staggering number focus on her physical appearance, choosing to call her such delightful names as “fat bitch” and “obese cunt.”
This kind of thing? Right here? When you wonder why you don’t hear from many women in the industry, that’s why. We’re made to feel unwelcome. Our bodies and appearances are constantly scrutinized, because god knows only booth babes and Hooters girls are worthy of picking up a controller. (But only as long as they don’t do as well as the guys and accept all amorous advances. Beat a dude or reject the come-ons he leaves on your XBox Live account, and you’re back to being one of the unwanted.)
Poor Hepler did not exactly help her case, publicly stating: “I just figure they’re jealous that I get to have both a vagina AND a games industry job, and they can’t get either.” Unfortunately, that opened the doors for even more spiteful commentary, because everybody knows you can’t defend yourself on the Internet — especially if you mention that you have a vagina.
Let me take (slight) issue with the first clause in that first sentence: it implies that the further abuse lumped on Ms. Hepler was her own fault for calling attention to her girl bits and taunting the trolls. From the rest of the paragraph, I don’t believe that’s how the writer (Jim Sterling) intended it, but all the same, I’d like to point this out: no one is asking for it. No victim of misogyny ever deserves the vitriol they get.
Ms. Hepler tried laughing it off. The tweet read to me like an act of defiance, showing the sort of thick skin women in the industry unfortunately are expected to grow. Because, of course, if she asked to be left alone, she’d be told to “man up” or that she shouldn’t have an online presence if she can’t take the bullshit. (And, of course, if she doesn’t like having heaps of abuse filling up her @mentions, she should GTFO of the industry.)
Sadly, as of this writing, her last tweet is directed at Twitter support asking how she can delete her account.
She’s a victim of silencing, cats ‘n’ kittens, and it fucking sucks. I don’t blame her; I hope that the flood of @messages I see supporting her help sway her decision the other way, and that she sticks around. But if she washes her hands of twitter, I won’t blame her, either.
I would like to say, however, good on her colleagues at BioWare, who are standing behind her. Normally, I cringe when I see people in a professional capacity telling those who disagree with them to fuck off. This time, I’m applauding it. I don’t want to give too much attention to the kids who — after throwing insults at Ms. Hepler — are threatening to take their money away from BioWare titles unless they get an apology, but suffice to to say I don’t think BioWare’s losing quality customers, there.
Last thing, from the Destructoid article:
Some want to know why she’s “obsessed with shoehorning homosexual relationships down gamer’s throats.”
Didn’t David Gaider already do a stellar job of addressing this when Dragon Age II came out?
It’s 20-goddamned-12, people. Gaming isn’t just for straight white guys anymore, if it ever truly was. Deal with it.