The gaming industry is facing pressure to change its sexist and homogenous content after a feminist blogger received death threats for her criticisms. Anita Sarkeesian is a successful media critic who created the series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” that highlights sexism and misrepresentations of women in gaming. After her Aug. 25 video about the objectification of female characters, Sarkeesian received violent backlash from male gamers that caused her to contact police.
Violence against women in video games is not far-fetched or exaggerated and cannot be shrugged off. It was real people in the gaming community who threatened and harassed Sarkeesian with an oppressive view of women. To end the violent objectification of women and the marginalization of half the gaming audience, we need to bring diversity to the game development field.
Sarkeesian is among the 36 percent of total gamers that are women over 18 years old, a demographic twice as large as the 17 percent of male gamers under 18, according to Entertainment Software Association. The overall percentage of female gamers is at 48 percent, close behind the 52 percent of male gamers.
If women have such a big presence in the audience and consumption of video games, why is the content so sexist? And why are 76 percent of all game developers male, yet only 22 percent are female?
Sarkeesian’s impressive research answers part of this question. Her series highlights specific instances of violence against women in over 24 beloved games, particularly the idea that sexualized female bodies—often mutilated and abused—are used as props and backdrops in the gaming world. Moreover, dialogue between male characters about women is crudely sexual and violent.
It is no secret that the preferred demographic of video games is young-to-middle-aged white men. The erasure of “girl gamers” goes hand-in-hand with sexist ideals that dictate that only boys can play video games and only boys are good at making video games. Even the Women in Games section on the International Game Developers Association website is left blank.
The introduction of more female, non-binary, non-white and non-straight game developers will not only diversify the field but it will also improve the finished product. A team of educated female developers may be more inclined to veto the sexist choices made in character appearance or dialogue than their current male colleagues who believe it is profitable.
It is staggering that men dominate the behind-the-scenes work on a misogynistic product, yet represent just over half of the audience. For the developers, women in the games are only good for their sex appeal while women who play the games are only good for their money.
The interest and funding for diversity in development is here. The Girls Who Code program based in New York City was established to educate the new generation of female computer technology professionals. The program aims to break through the gender and wage gap seen in careers such as game development.
Even though young women are encouraged now more than ever to break into male-dominated science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, the most difficult part of the diversifying process is facing backlash and criticism from men.
Men are creating sexist media for other men, while ignoring representation for the female audience and disrespecting their fellow gamers. Maybe it is time to let gamer girls show boys how it’s really done.