A Follow-up to Badass Girls Need Not Apply

Brianna Wu shares feedback from games publications and forums, and clarifies a few points.

This is a followup to Brianna’s article discussing a lack of female representation in video-game journalism, including podcasts, reviews, and game-of-the-year voting.

A problem in discussing the systemic absence of women in an institution is that you have to offer examples to make your case. Those examples can quickly make an argument seem immensely personal. You may or may not like Tomb Raider’s 2013 edition, and that’s a matter of one’s objective criteria for good gaming and subjective appreciation of the material.

But my examples later in the article of intense harassment against two female journalists who expressed concerns in reviews about the depiction of women shouldn’t be a matter for discussion as to whether they have the right to air their views without intimidation.

Just today, Pacific Standard published “Why Women aren’t Welcome on the Internet” by Amanda Hess, in which she explains the rape and death threats female journalists and bloggers get when they speak up. These kinds of threats found their way to my inbox as well. It’s a reminder that even raising these issues means you will be a target for intimidation and harassment. (Hess notes it’s not limited to high-profile reporters or writers: “A woman doesn’t even need to occupy a professional writing perch at a prominent platform to become a target.”)

As the original article was on its way to being widely read, many of the journalists and publications I mentioned got in touch. Universally, they agreed that more diversity was a worthwhile goal. And not in a phony press statement kind of way, but as individuals who genuinely want the industry to do better. It was extremely heartening. I don’t think they know exactly how they’re going to get there, but they do recognize the problem.

Several sites, editors, and writers asked for clarifications.

While agreeing overall with my points, Patrick Klepek of Giant Bomb felt I misunderstood the category of biggest surprise under discussion in the example of a GOTY podcast I used at the outset of my essay.

Unfortunately, you have a great misunderstanding of what the ‘biggest surprise of 2013’ award is even about. That award is specifically about games we had expectations would not be any good, but turned out the other way around. It’s why Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag won—Assassin’s Creed III was terrible! Crystal Dynamics is solid team with a known track record. It’s possible Tomb Raider might have turned out bad, but it’s not a game we were expecting to dislike, which is why it didn’t hang with that award.
[I]f the award was something like, say, “most important game of 2013” it might make more sense to have a longer conversation about Tomb Raider’s merits; it’s absolutely an important game released in 2013.

In fact, many people offering feedback felt Tomb Raider was a poor jumping-off point. While I think you can quibble with this individual instance, the overall pattern is still valid and I stand by it. And I maintain that if Giant Bomb had more women in the editorial pool, its top 10 list would be entirely different.

On the subject of Giant Bomb, its forums did not take kindly to the article. “Giantbomb is sexist for not putting Tomb Raider in GOTY!” exclaimed the topic’s tagline, completely misrepresenting my original argument.

Some examples:

Disgusting article. I think tomb raider was one of the best games this year, but not because the main char was a female. Incredibly stupid people still have access to the internet I guess.
It’s even more condescending when she implies that she likes them. As if she’s rooting for them to just be less horrible people, because, you know, guys can’t help but just being narrow minded by default. It’s in their nature.
That article was perhaps the dumbest article I have read. Glad I kicked in 2014 by reading another idiotic feminism article that really missed the point entirely. Also, [s]he may want to ensure her own house is clean of shit before pointing out other people’s alleged shitty houses.

However, there were bright lights throughout the thread, and it was encouraging that so many of Giant Bomb readers understood the distinction between criticizing a system of which Giant Bomb is a part and criticizing the journalists.

Many Giant Bomb readers also took issue with my own studio’s game, Revolution 60, which does indeed feature stylized, gorgeous women. I’ve never found feminism to be at odds with portraying the beauty of the female form.

Sexualized, intended for the male gaze, and impractical at left (Soul Calibur V). Sleek, looking at you, an agent, and kickass at right.

The issue is in the intent of the developer. Are the characters meant to tailor to the male gaze in a way that’s exploitive? Or are they characters that are merely pretty? Lara Croft in 2013 is by far the most beautiful incarnation of the character, but the camera doesn’t linger over her breasts or butt. We take great pains at Giant Spacekat to avoid writing, composition, or animations that exploit the characters. (I talk about this in some depth in an article at The Loop.)

Longtime IGN editor Keza MacDonald of IGN says she enjoyed the piece, but was frustrated that her many years of work at the company were not recognized: MacDonald has starred for many years on the IGN UK Podcast. Several people at IGN noted that host Naomi Kyle does indeed get to vote for game of the year. We’re sorry for presuming otherwise. (The original article has been corrected and the correction noted.)

On the subject of IGN, it’s also worth noting IGN editor Steve Butts recently launched a successful effort to improve the comments section of the site, a major step forward in making the site more inclusive for women. Butts writes:

There’s this problem with IGN. A lot of the comments lately have been terrible. Horrifying is probably more like it.
While most IGN comments are respectful and productive, we’ve let the abusive comments get to a point where they dominate our discussions. When even just one hostile comment is enough to ruin an entire thread, we’ve got to take our job as curators of our site more seriously.

As a longtime reader of IGN, it’s my opinion that Butts’ actions have been some of the most important in the site’s history. The changes have made a marked improvement, though it’s still underway. Thanks, Steve, for fighting an important battle.

While not mentioned in the original article, Joystiq editor Susan Arendt contacted me to point out two of the site’s editors voting in its GOTY discussions were women. It’s also worth highlighting that Joystiq’s number one pick was The Last of Us, a game with an extremely strong female character. Tomb Raider and Gone Home came in at numbers five and six. Susan may be proving my point.

Fifty years from now, we’ll look back on 2013 as the Mad Men era of video games. We might not be exclaiming, “Tell the girl to do the dishes,” but we’ve relegated an entire gender to a stereotype in GTA, and then threatened female journalists for daring to broach the subject. There’s a rising awareness that something is very wrong and something needs to change, but there’s a cultural resistance we still have to push through.

Ultimately, it’s not up to me to make those changes, it’s up to these publications that reach gamers and solicit their feedback through reviews, podcasts, video, and forums. As we’re heading into 2014, myself and the 45 percent of the video-game players who are female will be watching.

Brianna Wu is the founder of Giant Spacekat, a game development company specializing in cinematic experiences. She’s worked as a politico, an illustrator, and an investigative journalist. She likes running, dance music, and racing motorcycles. Find her on Twitter and App.net. For The Magazine, she wrote “Choose Your Character.”

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