International Women’s Day was last week and as you can imagine, social media was flourishing with posts praising women past, present and future. For one day, the world celebrated women for all they have accomplished. Even brands got in on the action, giving their own advertising-soaked toasts to women.
Women have come a long way from the days of prolific sexist advertising or not even being able to vote. Despite all this, there is still a long, long way to go. From the gender pay gap to a society that still retains so many harmful, patriarchal values, there are still so many battles to be fought. Battles that women really shouldn’t be fighting in 2017.
Women In Gaming
It has been as perilous a journey for women in the digital world as it has been in the real one. Gaming has been notorious for being unwelcoming to women and a boys’ club. It’s made evident with the constant objectification of female characters and the lack of female protagonists. You feel it in the language used and the jokes that are considered commonplace within many gaming communities.
The rise of Gamergate brought it all to a head, of sorts, with large swathes of gamers unleashing vitriol at many women in the gaming scene. It brought mainstream media to take a look at the hostility women faced in gaming on a daily basis, both in communities and in the gaming industry itself. In a way, it forced the gaming world to take an honest look at itself and the culture it perpetuated.
Much like how Zuma has often been a catalyst propelling citizens and opposition parties to demand change, Gamergate helped propel voices of various women and their allies as they sought to take on the gaming culture and create a more inclusive space for not just themselves, but everyone.
Through controversy, mistakes, perseverance, dedication and anger, there have been strong voices leading the charge to make gaming more inclusive and representative. All thse emotions helped to fuel the voices that continue to battle for women’s rights and respect in gaming.
So in 2017, where are women in the gaming world, compared to the past?
Women in 2017
For a long while, Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft was one of the few female protagonists the gaming world could hold up as an example of something to be proud of. Somewhat. Since then, the cast of female protagonists has grown and made for some compelling and inspiring characters.
From Dishonored 2 to Horizon to Mirror’s Edge, more and more women are holding the reins. Outdated and problematic female tropes are being left behind and instead we get thought out, fully developed characters with backstories and depth.
Overwatch has become a beacon of light in the narrative around diversity and representation and they continue this charge when discussing representation of women, women of all backgrounds. Overwatch has women of colour, women that represent the LGBTQ community and who knows what else they have in store. The makers of Overwatch have repeatedly stated that they never intended to create a vastly diverse game, they just wanted great characters, but even they should be able to appreciate the impact their design decisions have made for many underrepresented groups in gaming, especially women.
In the gaming scene as well, a lot of growth can be seen. During Gamergate, many male colleagues were accused of silently watching as their female counterparts were metaphorically dragged through the social media mud by angry mobs.
Since then, more and more people are calling out sexism in the scene. Colin Moriarty, co-founder of Kinda Funny Vids, wrote a tasteless joke on International Women’s Day and was rightfully called out for it. (Despite the backlash, he has yet to apologise or remove the tweet) Even the beacon that is Overwatch was called out for its suggestive pose it gave one of its characters, Tracer, and how quickly they retraced their steps and apologised.
You look at the opportunities women in the local scene are creating for others and showing what is possible. You look at Sam Wright, paving the way within eSports with Mettlestate. You look at the fact that a woman is the president of the MSSA – although we all have reservations about the organisation, there is some reason for cautious optimism.
A lot has changed for the better in the gaming scene for women, but it’s not enough. Celebrating and appreciating women once a year is not enough. Sprinkling female protagonists in some AAA games is not enough. Calling out the odd sexist joke isn’t enough.
There are still so many battles to be fought and problematic behaviour to tackle and solve. Whilst there have been a lot of improvements, there is still so much more to be done and we should all be actively fighting for that. There is a lot of opportunity in 2017 to make some real strides in this regard. Let’s not wait for a catalyst like Gamergate to happen again before we really push for equality and a culture we can all participate in and be proud of.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.
Last Updated: March 13, 2017
March 13, 2017 at 12:54
Glenn, I have to correct you on two things please.
1. “Gamergate helped propel voices of various women and their allies as they sought to take on the gaming culture and create a more inclusive space for not just themselves, but everyone.”
Let’s just clarify that GamerGate started out as a bunch of people calling for answers when a few gaming journalists were outed amidst allegations of trading sexual favours for coverage and preferential review scores. I have the videos and the dates to prove that this was the original intention. The media then bastardised the movement and it spiralled outwards from there, and ever since GamerGate has been painted with an unfair brush (it’s ironic because feminists or religious people will argue that radicals in their circles are outliers and must be ignored but the media took the outliers of GamerGate and put them front and centre).
Furthermore, the biggest winners of GamerGate (besides gamers for actually getting the ethical review policies they asked for in the first place) were the women who were front and centre. Anita Sarkeesian went on Colbert and she and Zoe Quinn both went and spoke at the United Nations regarding online harassment. Meanwhile the likes of Brianna Wu (whom you’ve previously mentioned in your columns) used the opportunity to springboard herself to infamy by faking (and getting caught) threats to herself, and using these to elevate her career (she continues to do this, most recently claiming she was hacked by Russia).
A lot of women stood on the side of GamerGate, and they were raked through the coals for it (I have the references if you’d like). Odd, given that those who opposed GamerGate explicitly did so because media claimed it was GamerGate that was attacking women. Now I don’t stand on the “pro-GamerGate” side nor do I stand against it, but in the interest of fair reporting this must be noted (and continues to fail to be, in most publications – not that I’m surprised).
2. “Even the beacon that is Overwatch was called out for its suggestive pose it gave one of its characters, Tracer, and how quickly they retraced their steps and apologised.”
I would argue that this is not necessarily a good thing. The Tracer backlash began because of a forum post query that then went viral and, as with many of these things, escalated wildly from there. Blizzard’s decision to adhere to the change, given that they usually ignore these, tells me they either felt it was a harmless change to make, or (and you may disagree but this is where I think their heads were) they wanted to avoid the backlash and outcry that would come from this small thing that they could easily change.
This is not okay. This is infringing upon creative freedom (where it is not harmful, of course). And this basically gives the message that if you claim to be self-righteous enough then you can bully creators into changing THEIR WORK for your ends. Now I love Overwatch, I’ve put in hundreds of hours and Pharah and Ana are my favourite characters (they are the Egyptian Goddesses of the game <3), but there are bigger problems in Overwatch than Tracer's butt being shown in a victory pose THAT YOU COULD SIMPLY OPT NOT TO USE (apologies for the caps, I don't know if I can use italics here).
I'm with you in wanting good representation for women (although I'm of the opinion that it has always been there, and is simply improving in quality, not quantity – the only difference is nowadays media is paying more careful attention to it, so it's showing a bit more and gives the illusion of being a higher quantity) and I think it would be really great if there was something for everyone (although I do draw the line at "why doesn't this game that appeases literally millions not appease to specifically me" because come on now) but I just want to ensure we're all on the same page here.
It's my opinion that, besides the outliers (the trolls and radicals who can't be reasoned with ANYWAY), everyone wants the same thing. We just don't all see eye-to-eye on the means and methods of achieving that, and then we end up radicalising and "other"ing those who don't share exactly our viewpoint. Anyway thanks for the article, and I hope this comment isn't too much. <3