#1ReasonWhy highlights sexism in the games industry

Phil Savage at

Since the early hours of this morning, developers have been using the Twitter hashtag #1ReasonWhy to explain why there aren't more women working in the games industry; sharing examples of the continued discrimination they face. The stories makes for an uncomfortable, sobering reminder of just how pervasive sexism is in gaming.

What's quickly apparent is that the reasons can't be isolated to a single area or source - the hashtag highlights problems at every level of the industry. Lindsay Morgan Lockhart, the narrative designer for Halo 4, pointed out the disparity at an institutional level, calling the pay gap between men and women "staggering."

Elsewhere there were claims of outright harrassment. Filamena Young, a freelance games writer and character designer, said "conventions, where designers are celebrated, are unsafe places for me. Really. I've been groped." Veteran designer Brenda Romero also mentioned the atmosphere at shows and conventions, writing "I feel like I am not welcome at E3 even though I have been making games for 31 years."

Tara Brannigan, Popcap's Community Marketing Manager, stated that, "I busted my ass to get a promotion. First response to it happening was that I only got it because I 'have nice tits'." And Caryn Vainio recounts the abuse she's faced in pursuing her career. "Because I've been called a bitch, a whore, a cunt, fat, and a lesbian for playing and wanting to make games."

Filamena also revealed that, as a woman, she faces assumptions from clients as to what she can and can't do. "When I get freelancing work, I'm told 'don't do the mechanics, we'll handle that.' I'm lazy for not resisting that." The composer Laura Shigihara, whose music appears in Plants vs. Zombies and To The Moon, confirms that "no matter how much music I compose, arrange, and produce, people still consistently assume all I do is sing."

Jace Proctor, a social game developer, admitted to the problem of perception. "Because when we hired a female engineer at my company, I was skeptical. She's talented and awesome. I'm part of the problem."

But as disgusting as these first-hand accounts of belittling and abuse are, there's also an insidious assumption being made as to the nature of games development. Rhianna Pratchett is writing the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. Her reasons include: "Because creating appropriately dressed female characters is viewed as a rarity, rather than the norm," and that "I still have to keep saying: 'But what if the player is female?'"

The received opinion that the gaming audience is predominantly male (and hormonally childish) is clearly still a factor in the games that are being developed. According to Jane McGonigal, "there's not enough investment in AAA games about something other than war, cowboys, football, cars. Sorry, but it's true." Gas Powered Games' Sarah Grissom noted that "the metrics team was shocked to discover that girls liked our game at all. Weren't even trying for that 'demographic'"

It's an attitude that must be difficult to shift when the loudest voices on the internet can also be the most aggressive and disturbing. Ashly Burch, the creator of the web series Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'?, says "Because I am confronted with rape or violence in the comments section of Hey Ash videos." And only recently, Anita Sarkeesian received death threats in response to her Kickstarting a video series that explored gender tropes in games.

Not that the games industry is alone in its appalling treatment of women. The co-founder of Flickr, Catalina Fake, also had a #1ReasonWhy story to tell. "Being mistaken for male co-founder's assistant ...three times? four?"

In all, it's a depressing catalogue of how far there is to go before we catch up with the 21st century, but there has also been an outpouring of support in response. The #1ReasonMentor hashtag is offering advice and help to anyone struggling to overcome sexism in the industry, and #1ReasonToBe catalogues the passion and drive of those that have to deal with the hate on a day to day basis.