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The games industry is a sausage party. It's time to take women seriously...

Opinion: If gaming wants the mainstream to take it seriously, it's got to ditch the 'boy's club' mentality, argues Emma Boyes

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Censorship is always going to be a thorny issue and some people would argue that the Internet should be left to roam free and that makes it a better place despite the flame wars and the trolls. However, it's common practice for almost all comment boards attached to commercial sites to be censored on some level, particularly for vulgar language and talk about pirated software. No one seems to find that unacceptable - why then are sexist comments, including those that threaten violence or sexual assault against women, left largely untouched?

"The problem with the whole gaming industry is that it's a sausage party"

It's also a hostile environment for women who want to play online against other gamers on platforms like Xbox Live. It's no surprise many of them don't bother, and instead stick to more female-friendly multiplayer game spaces like Facebook and World of Warcraft. Women who work in gaming regularly have to attend industry events where near naked women are paraded in front of them - for example, the UK publishers of quirky Japanese game Catherine decided to hold the game's launch event in a 'gentleman's' club.

Booth babes - models who are paid to promote games by virtue of not wearing many clothes rather than actually knowing anything about them - are ubiquitous at all the major gaming trade shows, despite many of them promising to give them up. We need to do something to make gaming less toxic to women and we're not going to do that by pretending that it isn't an issue.

GTZ, one of four people who set up www.fatuglyorslutty.com, a site where women are invited to post screenshots of sexist comments they get while playing online, believes that laughter is a great weapon against bad behaviour. She says, "Women are telling their friends and followers, 'This website is exactly why I don't play online.' (...) We are pleased and proud that so many women have found catharsis and comfort in simply not feeling alone in their harassment. Many more have just enjoyed laughing at the mirror we hold up to jerks and idiots, and that's another method of dealing with it both personally and culturally." She also suggests that online games should use a system whereby if one player is muted by enough other players, they are automatically muted to everyone. She thinks this is an easy way of automatically silencing abusive players.

The problem with the whole gaming industry is that it's a sausage party. While the number of female gamers is rising steadily every year and currently rests at 42 percent (ESA), the number of women that are going into video games as a career is actually dropping, according to UK stats. In 2002 it was 16 percent, but in 2009 it had dropped to a measly 6 percent (Skillset, 2010). There is also evidence to suggest that of that figure, the majority of women work in roles like marketing and PR rather than games design and programming (Prescott and Bogg, 2011). Without a balanced workplace, the world of gaming seemingly acts like it's on a never-ending stag party.

What we need is to get more women making games. Sheri Graner Ray, a games designer for over 20 years, and author of 'Gender Inclusive Game Design' thinks there are a whole host of things that can be done to get more women into the industry. She says, "Firstly, we need to increase the number of female role models and make them visible to the community at large. Recruiters need to expand their search for candidates to include places where there is a higher chance of women seeing their ads and finally expanding the requirements for a job to include skill sets rather than hard industry experience."

If the gaming industry wants to be taken seriously and finally find its way to mainstream acceptance, we need to get our house in order and stop making half the planet feel like they're not welcome to come and play, too.

Image credit: Girl playing

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