It started out with one question. Luke Crane, creator of such tabletop RPGs as Mouse Guard and The Burning Wheel, asked his Twitter audience:
“Why are there so few lady game creators?”
What followed was an explosion of responses in the gamer community that sent Twitter buzzing and caught the eye of media outlets across the internet. Spurred by the seemingly straightforward question, women game designers began sharing stories about their personal struggles in the gaming industry. Under the hashtag #1reasonwhy, women from AAA video game companies to tabletop RPGs and LARPs came together to share the number one reasons they don’t want (or feel they aren’t able) to pursue game design as a career. The stories themselves are heartbreaking and speak for themselves.
As the discussion continued, women came together to speak up about their experiences, sharing tales of harassment, sexual misconduct and marginalization. Overnight, #1reasonwhy became a rallying cry on Twitter for game designers to speak their minds, racking up over 22,000 tweets. The comments didn’t just come from women, either. Male game designers came to speak out in support of their compatriots, in an effort to bring to light gender inequality in the gaming world.
But of course, along with those voices of support came the trolls.
Articles sprang up across the internet about the Twitter phenomenon, ranging from Time.com to Forbes.com and Gamespot, just to name a few. Yet it was two articles on Kotaku, highlighting the #1reasonwhy explosion and the later supportive threads of #1reasonmentor and #1reasonto, that became a forum for a tide of nasty backlash against the #1reasonwhy conversation. Here are some classic examples:
Are women actually expecting respect in an industry where they are NOT THE MAJORITY CONSUMER/PRODUCER. My goodness this is hilarious. Most women back then never cared for this industry and dismissed it in every way possible. Now that they see it’s a money maker, they want their piece, but can’t handle the fact that it’s a male driven industry. So they complain about it because that’s the only thing they know how to do properly and the know it will get them what they want while devaluing the product.
I hope you like feminism and PC groups forcing their ideas on the gaming industry even more now guys, because this is where it’s headed.
You know, I always wonder why women can’t do anything but bitch and moan. I mean, if you want video games for women and are as talented as your male developer colleagues, then just make one. Develop your own game.
Also, what is it with this massive entitlement? Video games are a male dominated culture so naturally there will be mostly games targeted at males. Is that really so hard to understand? You don’t see me walking into the feminine products aisle and demand that someone make man-pads. Again, if you want to have your own niche in the industry then carve it out, don’t expect other people to present it to you on a silver platter just because you have a vagina.
It should be mentioned that a recent statistic noted that 47% of gamers in today’s market are female. You wouldn’t know it, of course, from reading these comments. Instead you’d think that women were a recent addition to gaming, and that the gamer community was under siege by some horrid plague out to corrupt everything good and worthwhile about the industry. The trolling hasn’t stopped at harsh comments on articles, however. Many women who have commented on the #1reasonwhy post have received harsh criticism and harrassment through various media. But then, that same reaction is one of the problems several game designers mentioned when discussing their treatment in the industry, and really only serves to reinforce the very arguments that the women involved have been making. If you speak up, you risk being stigmatized for being “loud” or “whiny” or, heaven forbid, a feminist.
In an era where Anita Sarkesian has received rape and death threats for simply starting a Kickstarter campaign for a feminist video game critique project, and salaries in the gaming industry are horribly skewed in favor of male contributors, trolls represent only the seedy underbelly of real, widespread, institutionalized misogyny. Yet the designers who took part in this Twitter conversation summoned an activist-like courage to speak out that is both admirable and encouraging.
As I write this article, the #1reasonwhy conversation is still going on and has spawned debate all over the internet. Whether or not this newly heightened awareness of sexism in the gaming industry will eventually produce any noticeable long-term change would be difficult to predict, but for now at least, the message certainly seems to have been heard.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com.