Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Sex discrimination and who works on games

My eye was drawn to this story, because it refers to where I used to work. Short summary is that a game developer is claiming compensation for discrimination at work for being gay. I won’t go into the actual case, because I don’t know the guy and haven’t worked there for ages, so it’s not fair to comment. However,I would like to extend the issue it covers to a wider call for action:

The games industry needs to grow up and stop acting like kids.

We act all high and mighty and start huffing and puffing the minute anyone suggests that ‘video games are for kids’, whilst at the same time doing very very little to change that perception. With a few very notable examples (the nintendo wii, games like Civ and some of the more complex sims) games ARE aimed at children, either deliberately, or aimed at the ‘inner child’.

It may be true that most people playing GTA and Call of Duty and World Of Warcraft are NOT 13 year old boys, but if so, that’s a triumph against the odds. Everything about mainstream gaming seems to aim at that demographic. Think about how to make a product attractive to a 13 year old boy, and how many games incorporate this stuff:

  • Guns (enough said…)
  • Big Tits (“phwoarr! etc”)
  • Scoring points (“I’m better than you!”
  • Achievements (“like gold stars on a school report”)
  • Bragging rights and taunts (“You suck!)

Outside of video gaming, most of us grow out of obsessions with these. (well most of them..ahem). Of course, you can make adult-aimed (non-sexual) games that contain guns too, but a hell of a lot of games just use guns as pure gun porn. Show me a game that contains a female elf that looks like anything but a supermodel. Show me a soldier in a game that doesn’t have biceps like zeppelins. They are few and far between. Alyx in HL2 is a wonderful exception to all this, but she is the exception, not the rule.

Anyway, my reasoning here is that these sort of games are what we make, because that’s the kind of people we are. Game developers are overwhelming male, overwhelming white (scarily so), overwhelmingly middle class, and overwhelmingly under 40. I have no idea what proportion are straight, but given the amount of artists that spend all day modelling buxom elves, I assume 99%. (Given the amount of time artists spend modelling men’s biceps and chests, I assume 99% of the 99% are just in denial :D)

I’m 40 this year. I’ll still be making games, but I’ll be unusually old for a developer then.  Normally by this age you ahve left and got a real job, or you run a big studio and employ the same young white rich kids to do the work.

What the games industry needs, in order to grow up, and to grow in size, is more women, more black and asian people, more gay and lesbian developers, and people from different backgrounds. And that absolutely means that it needs to crush with huge force, ANY discrimination in the workplace.

Maxis apparently have more women that usual for a game dev, no surprise they are doing well.

Now before you slag me in the comments for doing a game called ‘gratuitous space battles‘, take note that I entirely include myself in this. I am white, under 40, came from a borderline working/middle class home, straight and male. (plus surely I get points for doing intellectual games?) I like buxom elves and spaceships exploding too. This is why people who are not like me should get into the industry. Save us from ourselves.

6 thoughts on Sex discrimination and who works on games

  1. I don’t think we need anymore companies like Maxis. The shelves would be full of casual games and Sims clones. And, before anybody has a dig, i do play casual games and i have played The Sims more than once. If i had a choice between GTA and The Sims, it would definitely be GTA. No more politically correct games, please.

  2. If someone talks about minorities in the US, they always mean blacks and asians. Why? What about redskins, indians, south americans etc? I’d like to see an eskimo game developer. Or are they considered asian?

  3. I’ve been researching articles on sexual discrimination in video games and I’ve been noticing a lot of the same thing. Your article, however, was a breath of fresh air. It made me smile. Unfortunatley, although I am a hispanic female, I also like guns, scoring points, and bragging rights.. so in a way you could say video games brings out the 13 year old in me, too.
    Maybe we, as people, should realize that video games are a form of entertainment. Just like books, magazines, and sports; video games are not created for every type of person.
    Hopefully one day, more of those people complaining about discrimination WILL get up and get the education they need to make the video games they want.

  4. I couldn’t agree more, the industry needs to change to be able to hit a wider audience. With casual gaming being the buzz word in the industry these days I guess we are going to see more games aimed at other groups than pre-pubescent boys, but I guess it’ll talke a while.
    I’m actually black, and a hobbyist game programmer, hopefully my first title will be released this fall and if all goes well I’ll start my own company :)

  5. Heh, im Black, 17, like Buxom Space Elves, enjoy stuff blowing to bits, and am making a space ship game.

    I think that once the game industry starts to diversify, you will start seeing games that push the limit of what a “game” really is.

    You can already see that happening to a certain extent in some movies. Take a look at District 9, and read some of its back story.

    If that isn’t a blatantly obvious movie about Racism, then i don’t know what is.

    What is really sad is that every time i think of a Programmer or Designer, i think of a young white male, instead of a human being.

    Oh yeah, i don’t have anything against white people per se.

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