Female Indie Dev’s Perspective on the Culture of Intimidation in the Indie Game Dev-Journalism Scene

Why I’m Posting This Anonymously

For someone making claims whose truth is somewhat dependent on my identity, you’re likely wondering why I am keeping that identity hidden. You’ll often hear folks complaining about the harassment of game devs. And while they’re correct that it happens a lot, most of that harassment is just insults and name-calling. Actual threats (direct or implied) make up a tiny fraction of it. With that in mind, consider the response from Zoe Quinn’s friends and supporters to people who spoke up about their personal, lived experiences from interacting with Zoe:

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TFYC

And this and other actions have been enough to create a chilling effect amongst others who would speak out:

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SA

To me, the way Zoe’s supporters are trying to suppress (and subtly threaten) those who speak out against her is far more terrifying than any harassment I’ve seen sent Zoe’s way. I’d much prefer random strangers calling me a cunt and wishing I was raped than the sort of creepy reaction those people received. And that sort of culture of intimidation is why I’m remaining anonymous, and also why I’m strongly considering leaving the indie game dev scene.

Who Am I

I’m a female indie dev. I’ve done art on about half a dozen games, one of which was moderately successful. I’ve had varying degrees of interaction with the journalists and developers involved in the latest controversy du jour, as well as many others who are part of this culture in ways that have not been publicized but are far more insidious than Zoe Quinn sleeping with people for publicity. I was raised religious and hold fairly conservative views politically (I feel I should declare my biases ahead of time). This is as much personal detail as I am willing to share. I wish I had the kind of courage to speak openly about this as a few others have dared to, but I simply don’t.

What’s Your Agenda

To get people to boycott this bullshit, pure and simple. That means both devs and journalists (and the companies that hire them). I have no interest in silly ideas like “solidarity” and “signal boosting,” the goal is to say here’s what’s wrong, so that good people don’t buy games from/read articles by people they don’t absolutely trust to not do this shit.

I also want to show that the actions of these people are directly harmful to women in the industry. One of my favorite series growing up was Gabriel Knight. Jane Jensen was (and is) a big inspiration in my life, and what made me want to get into game development. Seeing a woman as the lead on multiple games (and high quality ones at that) made it obvious to me at a young age that sexism doesn’t keep women from succeeding in this industry. Unfortunately the death of adventure games was (for a while) the death of Jane’s career. My pseudonym in writing this article is in honor of her.

That’s all. I’ll try to keep it brief.

Let’s Cut To The Chase

Despite (or rather because of) all of the pontificating by left-leaning social justice types in the game industry about oppression, the easiest way for talentless hacks to break into the indie gaming industry is to associate with the sort of hipster liberal types that are getting all the publicity for their oppression. And worse yet, they get in over people with actual skills. I had a friend in college who was an amazing 3d modeler trying to break into the industry. She was turned down repeatedly and had to settle at a shitty mobile game company making cow clickers that no one cared about. Meanwhile Zoe Quinn is able to get hired by Loveshack solely because of who she knows (and sleeps with). But this isn’t about Zoe, her scandal is just a microcosm of the widespread corruption and nepotism in this industry. Another example is when the IGF allowed Fez to re-enter the competition (even though it had been there before) just because of Phil Fish’s connections to the festival organizers. These are not isolated incidents, and one need only look at the unprofessional interactions between journalists and devs on social media, at cons, and elsewhere to see that any semblance of professional barriers between these people don’t exist. It’s already apparent from their interactions that they form a very strong clique.

To be part of this scene while holding the religious and political views that I do is very difficult. I generally keep it close to my chest because the few times I’ve said even simple things like “I can’t make it to the thing on Sunday because I’m going to church” had led to all sorts of derision and mockery by other people in the industry. I shudder to imagine the blowback from their clique if I told them about how I voted yes on Prop 8. Just look at the way Doug TenNapel’s Kickstarter was lambasted by people in the industry (led by Ben Kuchera) because he dared to have a (non-liberal) political opinion. The creator of Earthworm Jim was only barely able to reach his Kickstarter goal, which was relatively modest compared to most of the others I’ve seen. This is just one example of how only those who toe the social justice line are allowed by the press and the devs’ clique. Even those who just try to keep quiet and uninvolved are often called out for not doing enough, or being a poor “ally.” To succeed in this industry you have to meet the standards of this clique, when it should be about meeting the standards of gamers. But when it’s impossible to get any publicity or work without meeting the standards of these self-fellating sycophants, that’s near impossible.

Women And Gaming

Let’s be completely honest: most women don’t play Quake III. Most of those few women like me who actually like first person shooters, grand strategy, space sims, and all those other genres that make up “core” gaming don’t care if they can play as a female protagonist, or if the girls are wearing skimpy outfits, or if you have to rescue the princess. They like the exact same things as men who like those games, and they just want good games, nothing more nothing less. And most of them feel that all this rambling on about representation is distracting from the real issue: big developers and publishers are making shitty games for mass appeal instead of the kind of awesome games we played growing up. When you distract from that to rant about what is literally imaginary misogyny you’re hurting women like me who just want good games. There’s a reason the only new game I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year was the new Strider, even though I’d rate it an 8 out of 10 at best: it’s a simple premise with solid execution. No attempts to speak about how the social justice topic du jour, just solid gameplay and enough of a story to string it together. Not that I’m opposed to games telling a story, but for the vast majority of genres stories aren’t all that important, and speaking out on social issues is irrelevant to what I want: gameplay. Most other women, if they play games at all, play Candy Crush and Farmville and Solitaire and whatever else is popular on phones. By conflating us with them you’re hurting us and keeping the games we like from getting made.

Beyond that, I have a problem with the entire agenda that these people are pushing, and believe it to be extremely harmful to women. Here’s a quote a Mormon friend of mine sent to me, one of the leaders of his church said it:

There has long been a cultural double standard that expected women to be sexually circumspect while excusing male immorality. The unfairness of such a double standard is obvious, and it has been justifiably criticized and rejected. In that rejection, one would have hoped that men would rise to the higher, single standard, but just the opposite has occurred—women and girls are now encouraged to be as promiscuous as the double standard expected men to be. Where once women’s higher standards demanded commitment and responsibility from men, we now have sexual relations without conscience, fatherless families, and growing poverty. Equal-opportunity promiscuity simply robs women of their moral influence and degrades all of society. In this hollow bargain, it is men who are “liberated” and women and children who suffer most.

In the wake of this Zoe scandal I saw dozens of self-proclaimed feminists arguing that women being able to sleep their way to influence was actually a good thing. That kind of culture enables the kind of sexual harassment earlier feminists fought so hard to outlaw, and undermines the legitimacy of women who actually have the talent and do the work. We shouldn’t be encouraging women to sleep around, we should be holding men and women equally up to standards of fidelity and ethical behavior.

The entire premise of equality (as pushed by the clique that runs the industry, at least) is silly to begin with. How do you make a cat equal to a dog, or an apple equal to an orange? Men and women have fundamental differences (biological, psychological, and spiritual). Trying to make them the same is not equality. Men and women have complementary traits, and trying to make them the same destroys their strengths and amplifies their weaknesses. Women have a lot of unique things they can offer to the game industry, but trying to treat them like men will only destroy those contributions.

I’ve said about all I that I think needs to be said, though I could rant on for hours about my feelings on these issues. Remember that you are the consumers, journalism and the gaming industry are supposed to serve you, not the other way around. Take back your power by refusing to support any group or individual that can’t maintain even the most basic semblance of ethics and professional conduct. Don’t go to Kotaku and Polygon and IGN for your reviews anymore. Support guerrilla journalism, and if those guerrilla journalists start to do the same crap the old guard did them drop them before they can get entrenched. And don’t support people who are hired for who they know (or sleep with), support people who prove they have the chops. And even though I don’t quite agree with their goals or ideology, consider lending a helping hand to The Fine Young Capitalists, they deserve some help after the way this industry treated them. I’ll consider doing a follow-up to some of the responses I receive in the comments, but this might be the last you hear from me. Thank you for listening to my rant 🙂

P.S. A special thanks to my friend JC who helped me verify some information for this article and provided several of the images at the top. I owe you a GEP gun.

 

EDIT: I finally checked on the response to this in the first time since I wrote it and realized I hadn’t set comments to auto-approve 😦 You should be able to comment freely now. Sorry! I’m still debating if I want to write any sort of follow-up.

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77 thoughts on “Female Indie Dev’s Perspective on the Culture of Intimidation in the Indie Game Dev-Journalism Scene

  1. As gamer, who loves LOTRO, World of Warcraft, EverQuest (original and 2), BioShock, Left for Dead, Portal, Quake III, Diablo, Half Life, X-com, Assassin’s Creed, Thief, Mirror’s Edge, Call of Duty and numerous other games, I would just like to point out that I disagree with you.

    You write “women like me who actually like first person shooters, grand strategy, space sims, and all those other genres that make up “core” gaming don’t care if they can play as a female protagonist, or if the girls are wearing skimpy outfits, or if you have to rescue the princess. They like the exact same things as men who like those games, and they just want good games, nothing more nothing less.”

    I like first person shooters, grand strategy, space sims and many other genres. And I *do* care that most of the protagonists are male. I do care that women in these games are eye candy or damsels in distress. I don’t like the exact things as men who like these games, because I don’t like the way women are portrayed in these games. Women in skimpy outfits bother me, not because I’m a prude, but because they’re created expressly for the male gaze, and I find that jarring. Especially when the male characters get to wear real/practical clothes. I also don’t like that in so many of these stories only men can be heroes. I don’t see why the heroes must have a set gender and that typically that gender must be male (Portal, Mirror’s Edge, and Noone Lives Forever being of a few notable exceptions). As a result I generally agree with the more “liberal” side of this debate. I think a better gender representation in games would be better for everyone.

    Please don’t believe you speak for women like me. We exist. That’s a large part of why this discussion is happening.

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    • I’m with you Jacinta. I’ve been playing games since 1985 and the overall lack of people like me in games is jarring. Or if they are like me, then they’re wearing unrealistic clothes and/or are lesser characters.

      And to the writer:
      Don’t divide games into “core” and “non-core” games. Games are games. They’re for escapism, thinking, skill development, learning, time passing, and fun. To divide games into “things I like and consider worthy” and “things that other people play that are unworthy” suggests that you are setting up a strawman of feminism so you can say, “Look you’re taking away my toys… mean feminists… WAH”.

      And thanks for voting against the rights of same-sex attracted people, I do admire your honesty here, but don’t appreciate it even slightly.

      The games you played that were so awesome when you were younger were awesome because younger people are often less discerning than adults. Have you ever rewatched childhood favourite cartoons or replayed some of those favourite games? They’re pretty awful on the whole, with the occasional gem that really should be remade (like Paradroid).

      You are entitled to your opinions, you’re entitled to write about them here, and we’re entitled to respond and say what we do (just in case anyone has decided that my comment is some attempt at stifling free speech).

      Like

    • And that’s the problem, people like you. People who want to enforce their biases in artists’ creative freedom. Self-righteous idiots who believe they have the right to tell other people how works of fiction should be, because they’re in some sort of quest nobody ask to be made. Games are made for fun, not to be an exhausting chore.

      If you care so much, why you don’t support people who are struggling making games appealing to your bizarre tastes, later than lecturing the rest of ones who only want to have fun by playing a video game?

      You (and the patronizing people who think like you) are not different from Tipper Gore who find evil in every single corner of youth hobbies and want to ruin it for everybody. Just because you think “would be better for everyone” doesn’t mean it be in fact “better for everyone”.

      Please don’t believe you speak for people who play videogames like me. We don’t need you. You’re are literally a malignant tumor that is killing Freedom of Speech and Creativity. I feel sorry for you.

      Like

      • Clearly I don’t speak for gamers like you. But this issue exists because there are gamers like me pointing out the problems.

        Games aren’t made for fun. Or technically, they are made so that WE have fun, but the big houses make them because they make money. Millions of game ideas are discarded because it is decided that they won’t make enough money. Are you saying it would be arduous chore for the big games houses to make more great games with female leads or are you saying that it would be am arduous chore for you to play them? Did you avoid Portal because Chally is a non white woman?

        Do you really feel lesser when a game is made where to can choose the protagonist? Is having most of the heroes represent a tiny proportion of the world’s population actually important to you? Would a game be automatically less good if the protagonist was Asian? Or black? Or a woman? Do you really think Half Life would have suffered if the sprite was a woman instead? Why?

        I’m not demanding that every game be made with female sprites, for some games that wouldn’t make sense, but some variety in the protagonists in your standard shoot ’em up games shouldn’t hurt game play, for starters.

        As for my tastes being “bizarre”, really? I’m not the one making a fuss about the idea that games companies might be encouraged to create couturier computer sprites that are better representative of the gaming population.

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      • @Jacinta

        That is ridiculous though, If you do not like the games being made then invest your time into encouraging people who make the type of game you want into becoming developers. You have no right what so ever to criticize or curb anyones creative thought. that is insane and un allowable if you do not like a game do not play it. If I do not like a book I do not read it if I do not like a movie I do not watch it I do not try to change it do you know why? Because it is THERE creative thought and you nor I have any right to try to change someones creative thought.

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  2. Quite a thoughtful read, thank you for posting it.

    Some of the parts I found especially noteworthy:
    – The part on how mediocre people can associate with the “hip” crowd and get in to the industry through them, over hard-working people with actual talent.
    – Your points on how we should have been going from the sexual double standard to raising the expected standard of men, but instead found ourselves with lowering the expected standard of women to that of men, and how these lowered standards are harmful in various ways, especially to women who try to get legitimate recognition for their skill, talent and hard work.
    – How gamers are looking for games to be about gameplay, not political agendas or preachy stories.
    – The part on how trying to force men and women to be the same is unreasonable, given that we are not exactly the same. Obviously, one is not inherently better than the other, we’re just different.

    I would hope you feel like posting more about this or similar issues, assuming you feel you have anything more to say on it.

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  3. Pingback: GamerGate and Chivalry | The Patriot Perspective

  4. Don’t leave the game industry! I love your honest views and it sucks that you can’t speak out but thats the shitty world we live in. If I had voted I would have voted for same sex to get married but you want the opposite tland thats cool too. It’s total bullshit that we live in a world where you have to be “tolerant” or you get sandbagged by those same intolerant assholes who preach it.

    P.S. if you leave I will find you and drag you back to the industry by your hair. (J/k) (not really….)

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  5. Look I have no problem with women in games or in general but I do not appreciate a stereotype directed at me. With the sarkeesian and Quin shit flying around plenty of SJW’s have been calling us out over being “white misogynist(spelling?)Pigs on the left side, and angry fanboys on the other side sending dumb as fuck rape/death threats (the fact you have to hide your Identity is proof) on the right, but what about me? The neutral one in the middle of this shit fight? My opinions are being drowned out from the noise leftist and right wing idiots making retarded comments and then I get stereotyped FFS I’m not even white! I swear people in my brother’s school are smarter (he has Down Syndrome and he goes to school with others like him and they have autism but they are better behaved then either side!)

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  6. This reminds me of a piece I read a long time ago (well before any of this controversy started boiling over) about how Portal was a better game than Tomb Raider, because it used its medium to greater effect, telling its story through gameplay features, rather than through cutscenes, which are only a peripheral feature of games, and are in effect an emulation of cinema. Portal can tell you what’s going on based on how you move through the space of the game and utilize its mechanics, whereas Tomb Raider relies on what are essentially mini-movies to move its story forward (I didn’t wholeheartedly agree with the article, as I love Tomb Raider, but I took the point).

    This seems to me to hit somewhat at what the author is getting at, that games are succeeding because of “irrelevant” factors unrelated to their gameplay, like inclusion of social justice content, which I agree can oftentimes be a bit of a distraction. But we can note here, of course, that Portal is one game that the SJ crowd quite like, because it ticks their boxes as well! Admittedly, Chell is not the most well-rounded character, but I don’t think she is a token character that is just there to make a weak SJ point. She’s the sort of protagonist that is most at home in the gaming medium: a blank slate upon whom the player imposes their own personality through their style of play. And I think we can agree that the game wouldn’t have been improved by having a “white man, little bit of stubble” skin for said protagonist instead; in fact, the game would have been slightly worse off, I think, just for being less visually distinctive. Likewise, I think the game would have been worse if it had incorporated a grand oppression narrative that overshadowed the gameplay.

    So I hope the lesson that can be learned is that the representation concerns of the social justice folks don’t always have to be the enemy of gameplay. I would be wary of running too far with that, however, as I do think sex appeal has a place in gaming, and I don’t agree with those who seem to think we should take all the sex out. I would point to the newest Devil May Cry game as a good recent example of how male characters can be sexualised without sacrificing gameplay. I think if we could see more DmCs for every Bayonetta, then many of the concerns about imbalanced representation woud be effectively addressed.

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  7. Pingback: Why I support #GamerGate | Evan Hartshorn Entertainment

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