My name is
and I am a
Video Game Artist
Over the course of the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to serve as producer on the Tropes vs Women in Video Games web series. During that time, I have been taken aback by the intense and often abusive reaction to the project.
This backlash, along with a number of other recent high-profile harassment incidents targeting women, has highlighted sexism in the gaming community and brought the issue to wider public and media attention.
One particularly astounding theme I’ve noticed running through online discussions surrounding these incidents has been a consistent denial that there is any real problem with the way women are treated in gaming. Despite the abundance of evidence, I’ve seen many of my fellow male gamers, in comment thread after comment thread, dismiss the issue as “no big deal” and insist that everyone is essentially treated the same.
The fact that a great number of women have been speaking out about how they experience prejudice, alienation or worse on a fairly regular basis seems to hold little weight.
It’s not all bad news though; as a result of the expanding discussion in and about gaming spaces, it’s been encouraging to see a small but growing number of male gamers who seem to genuinely want to understand the problem and be part of the solution.
Working towards solutions requires that, as male gamers, we become aware of the ways in which we unconsciously benefit from sexism. We can’t work to fix something unless we first see and understand its effects. When women as a group are systematically targeted by discrimination, it means that men are elevated by default.
This phenomenon is often referred to as Male Privilege. The term may sound a little bit like academic jargon, but it’s useful in helping describe the set of unearned advantages men automatically receive, and which women do not given the same social circumstances. As in the rest of society, male privilege can manifest in both overt and subtle ways inside gaming culture.
One of the luxuries of being a member of the dominant group is that the benefits afforded us often remain invisible to us. This blindness allows many men to remain blissfully unaware of what roughly half of all gamers experience on a daily basis. We have been taught and socialized not to see it and to think of our own experiences as universal. So when men, even well meaning men, hear the term male privilege it can sometimes be difficult to understand exactly how it relates to our everyday lives.
With that in mind this checklist is my attempt to identify some of the concrete benefits and bonuses my fellow male gamers and I are afforded simply by virtue of being male. I say “some of the privileges” because I’m certain that I have missed a whole host of others that remain invisible to me.
I’ve decided to chronicle only those benefits granted to men regardless of our individual actions. However, impunity for the overt sexist behavior some men engage in is also a core part of how male privilege operates.
For the purposes of this list I’m referring primarily to straight men who are not transgender. Similar lists could be created for white, straight, cis, or able-bodied privilege and there would certainly be some overlap with the conditions identified below.
DAILY EFFECTS OF MALE GAMER PRIVILEGE
- I can choose to remain completely oblivious, or indifferent to the harassment that many women face in gaming spaces.
- I am never told that video games or the surrounding culture is not intended for me because I am male.
- I can publicly post my username, gamertag or contact information online without having to fear being stalked or sexually harassed because of my gender.
- I will never be asked to “prove my gaming cred” simply because of my gender.
- If I enthusiastically express my fondness for video games no one will automatically assume I’m faking my interest just to “get attention” from other gamers.
- I can look at practically any gaming review site, show, blog or magazine and see the voices of people of my own gender widely represented.
- When I go to a gaming event or convention, I can be relatively certain that I won’t be harassed, groped, propositioned or catcalled by total strangers.
- I will never be asked or expected to speak for all other gamers who share my gender.
- I can be sure that my gaming performance (good or bad) won’t be attributed to or reflect on my gender as a whole.
- My gaming ability, attitude, feelings or capability will never be called into question based on unrelated natural biological functions.
- I can be relatively sure my thoughts about video games won’t be dismissed or attacked based solely on my tone of voice, even if I speak in an aggressive, obnoxious, crude or flippant manner.
- I can openly say that my favorite games are casual, odd, non-violent, artistic, or cute without fear that my opinions will reinforce a stereotype that “men are not real gamers.”
- When purchasing most major video games in a store, chances are I will not be asked if (or assumed to be) buying it for a wife, daughter or girlfriend.
- The vast majority of game studios, past and present, have been led and populated primarily by people of my own gender and as such most of their products have been specifically designed to cater to my demographic.
- I can walk into any gaming store and see images of my gender widely represented as powerful heroes, villains and non-playable characters alike.
- I will almost always have the option to play a character of my gender, as most protagonists or heroes will be male by default.
- I do not have to carefully navigate my engagement with online communities or gaming spaces in order to avoid or mitigate the possibility of being harassed because of my gender.
- I probably never think about hiding my real-life gender online through my gamer-name, my avatar choice, or by muting voice-chat, out of fear of harassment resulting from my being male.
- When I enter an online game, I can be relatively sure I won’t be attacked or harassed when and if my real-life gender is made public
- If I am trash-talked or verbally berated while playing online, it will not be because I am male nor will my gender be invoked as an insult.
- While playing online with people I don’t know I won’t be interrogated about the size and shape of my real-life body parts, nor will I be pressured to share intimate details about my sex life for the pleasure of other players.
- Complete strangers generally do not send me unsolicited images of their genitalia or demand to see me naked on the basis of being a male gamer.
- In multiplayer games I can be pretty sure that conversations between other players will not focus on speculation about my “attractiveness” or “sexual availability” in real-life.
- If I choose to point out sexism in gaming, my observations will not be seen as self-serving, and will therefore be perceived as more credible and worthy of respect than those of my female counterparts, even if they are saying the exact same thing.
- Because it was created by a straight white male, this checklist will likely be taken more seriously than if it had been written by virtually any female gamer.
This list was inspired by the original Daily Effects of White Privilege list created by Peggy McIntosh and by The Male Privilege Checklist adaptation by Barry Deutsch. As well as by science fiction author John Scalzi’s post Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.
I think we can all agree it is unjust that these and other benefits are currently enjoyed almost exclusively by men. All people, regardless of gender, should be treated with the same respect and dignity.
I want to emphasize that this list is not meant to suggest that everything is always a cakewalk for male gamers. Male critics, developers, and gamers are also at times bullied or subjected to online nastiness, but it is not based on or because of our gender. This is a critical distinction. The pattern of unearned advantage also does not mean that all men are powerful as individuals or that all women are powerless as individuals. It simply means that men in gamer culture can, on average, count on these advantages, whereas women can not.
If this list does make you feel uncomfortable, that can be a positive step towards recognizing sexism as a real problem. In order to make change we need to first acknowledge it, and then take responsibility for it so we can actively work to dismantle the parts of gaming culture that perpetuate these imbalances.
Such an excellent article. Hit me right in the feels.
People regularly have the attitude that my passion for this subject is out of some desperate need to complain about something or invent a problem out of thin air. The reality is, most of the people who object are incredibly privileged and have been spoonfed and catered to their entire lives. They don’t know what it’s like to struggle to get basic respect or even just to see a character of their gender that’s allowed to be a full character and not just a tool.
They’ve never had to challenge their own perspective/reality enough to realize that their experiences do not define everyone else’s and that their advantages are built on the pain/exclusion/discrimination of other people. It’s more convenient to think that experiences are generally the same for everyone, but the truth resists simplicity. The world is far more complicated than that.
"You should not ever undervalue yourself," Wallick said. "I think indie developers especially tend to do this, because they think that they don’t have the experience, or that their time isn’t worth something …."
"If you want to get into the game industry and you’re like, ‘Maybe I don’t know enough,’ then you’re ready to join us.""
I can’t emphasize how true this is. No one really knows 100% what’s going on. If you want to be part of creating art/games, throw yourself in, especially if you don’t feel ready. Because no one ever really is.
The PepsiCo-sponsored GAME_JAM started as a four-day, $400,000 event where game developers would collaborate and compete for prizes. It took just one day for the entire thing to go up in flames.
Filmed for YouTube and structured more like reality TV than a typical game jam gathering, the whole thing tanked within the first 24 hours, allegedly thanks to the behavior of PepsiCo media consultant Matti Leshem.
[Game developer] Adriel Wallick described the oppressive atmosphere during the first day of GAME_JAM, where contestants had to compete in a Mountain Dew sponsored film set, for Mountain Dew themed prizes, while drinking nothing but Mountain Dew. “Guys with secret service earpieces and disheveled clipboards barked instructions on how to properly represent branded products,” wrote Jared Rosen.
“You can literally trace back the entire crumbling of this show to one individual,” wrote Wallick. “Matti Leshem, CEO of Protagonist.” Protagonist has been Pepsi’s primary branding and media consultancy for the past decade, and Leshem was a constant presence on the GAME_JAM set.
According to accounts from several people present at GAME_JAM, Leshem’s behavior was brash and inappropriate throughout, culminating in a bizarre line of questioning where he attempted to get GAME_JAM contestants to admit that having a woman on their team put them at a disadvantage.
This whole thing is so fucked up, and I’m so proud of the developers who stuck together and stood up for what’s right.
“Adriel Wallick snapped. “He got me to, with an embarrassed and flushed red face launch into a statement about how his question is indicative of everything that is wrong in our industry in terms of sexism,” she wrote afterwards. “That no, we weren’t at an advantage because we had a woman on our team—we were at an advantage because I’m a damn fine programmer and game developer. We were at an advantage because my skills allowed us to be at an advantage—not my ‘pretty face.’”
Boy club mentality. I’m so glad this event got shut down, I have a lot of respect for indie devs not putting up with this shit.
Hey everyone! In some previous blog posts, I mentioned that I’m struggling with an injury to my drawing arm. Although I hoped that the problem would have totally gone away after more than a month of rest, it actually hasn’t, and I’m still struggling with it at this very moment. It’s actually been harder emotionally than it has physically. I’ve decided to go ahead and write a blog entry about it, not only to keep my followers in the loop but also as a cautionary tale to any artists out there who have not yet sustained an injury. If I had been more aware of the risks, maybe this would never have happened to me, so the very least I can do is try to help those who aren’t aware of the risks.
The most important advice I can give to artists who do not yet have an injury is to be aware that your body has limits, something I knew was true but somehow didn’t incorporate into my daily life. I figured it wouldn’t happen to me. Try to become aware of your body’s limits before it is too late, and teach yourself to become conscious of how you draw. Do not reward yourself for taking your body and mind to its absolute limits, and do not create unrealistic expectations for your productivity as an artist. Believe me, I know how tempting it is to do that, but thinking that way only forced me to take a huge step backwards. I guess, given my story, something was going to happen sooner or later, and I should be happy that it wasn’t a burnout or a more painful injury. One thing is for sure: I’ve been forced to totally re-assess my daily life, which, given my mentality, is a very good and necessary thing.
Very important post that holds a lot of truth for me personally. For me, my problem is lower back pain and I’ve had to do very similar things to try and get it under control. It’s a major reason I didn’t go to grad school and haven’t seriously hunted for full time work. Thanks for posting, Loish, I hope you find a method of recovery that works for you!
Some pros: “You should think of nothing but drawing, you should do nothing but draw; from the moment you wake to the moment you fall asleep (at your desk!) you should be DRAWING, taking time off for anything else is a WASTE of DRAWING TIME”
HOW IS THAT A LIFE
Personal note: From 2007-2009 I couldn’t draw consistently. I was in a situation where my work prevented me from watching any tv/movies, listening to any music, and I could only read a few select books. I had about 1 hour a week to be online, then only for email. I had only about 6 hours a week of free time, and that often was me blowing off steam, working out, or allowing my mind to drift. I had a rigid lifestyle. Up every morning at the same time, to bed every evening at the same time. No vacation time. No time to visit family. No real variation in daily routine. Most of my ‘normal’ resources were stripped and I had almost no time to pursue my own passions.
I thought that doing what I did for almost 2 years would completely stop my artistic progress. I thought I’d return to the land of digital art and discover that my skills had evaporated. I hadn’t been constantly drawing! What surprised me was when the opposite occurred. I sat there, mind blank as I failed to recall how to paint in photoshop. Then my arms started moving, and it just happened. I didn’t think, I just did it. It was the strangest feeling. Beyond picking up the program with ease again, I came back and was surprised at the quality of my work. Despite everything, my art had improved significantly.
This is 100% my own experience, and I’m not trying to tell people by not practicing you’ll get better magically. I owe my artistic improvements over this time to observation and a lot of pressure. I didn’t have time to draw, but the limitations that defined my life gave me a certain clarity and a lot of energy. What I saw meant more to me than before. I would take photos of leaves/clouds on the road between appointments. I’d make observations as much as I could (much to the annoyance of my peers) about trees, clouds, and colors. I was incessant. I craved this like it was food. I would paint things in my mind since I didn’t have the luxury of painting them IRL.
My point: You don’t have to draw like a mindless machine to improve. In fact, when I have tried to do so long term, it’s stifled my process. Work often takes longer and ends up worse. There is great power in looking and living. Not all improvement is made at the drawing table. You have to let yourself be inspired in a variety of ways and hold onto that, because your time with those things will be challenged. I make time for hiking, caving, biking, and such. My love of engaging natural environments is directly tied to the art I create. Time away from my desk isn’t wasted time. Though my 2007-2009 experience isn’t one I’d repeat, I am glad to have learned that so powerfully.