There were more severed heads than women presenters at E3 2014

Opinion

Last evening, Vlambeer developer Rami Ismail pointed out something rather disturbing. In a tweet, he noted, "PlayStation continues the 'more severed heads' than female speakers trend. #E3"

I actually kept a running tally, throughout the press events, and he's correct.

There were five women presenters — speaking presenters — at the major press events this year. I'm counting Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sony, all of whom had their major dog and pony shows yesterday. Six, if you count Respawn Entertainment's Abbie Heppe laughing and making a comment about her colleague's desire to meet Duke Nukem.

As for severed heads — there were at least 8, several of them in the Assassin's Creed Unity demo — on spikes, no less. There were more in the Witcher Wild Hunt and Mortal Kombat trailers. If you count severed limbs, that number skyrockets. Instances of mutilation in general? We could be talking thousands.

But women presenting onstage? Five. People of color presenting onstage? Three. Overwhelmingly, the presenters at this year's pressers were white, male and able-bodied.

This isn't a new development. Press events at E3 aren't typically known for their diversity — this is generally where the publishers and platform holders show off their safest bets with the biggest budgets. It's not an excuse, but it's important to understand why publishers do what they do.

The decision to put someone onstage is a strategic one. In a very real sense, the company is putting a face on a product or brand, and showing — whether explicitly or not — what kind of person they think projects the most confidence and competence. When that kind of person is overwhelmingly white and male, that sends a message.

The choice to actively seek out employees and/or celebrity MCs who don't fit the mold sends a subtle — but equally powerful message: "the people that make games, play games, and are passionate about games are cut from every kind of cloth." E3 is already a show that's dominated by white men, and keeping the focus on those men during the most public events reinforces the feedback loop that the show is for, should represent, and sell to, white men.

As she has for the last two years, Aisha Tyler — a woman of color and celebrity geek, best known as the voice of Lana from the Archer TV series, hosted Ubisoft's presser. Sometimes, her lines were awful — especially when she made fun of her own appearance — but the fact that a tall, gregarious black woman was onstage introducing all of the games for a major publisher still feels like a step in the right direction.

And I don't think Ubisoft's sales are hurting for it. Coincidentally, she also appeared in-game in Ubisoft's own recent mega hit Watch Dogs. Ubisoft had one of the most interesting and evocative shows of the year, and hiring a talented woman who happened to not look liked damned near everyone else at the show certainly helped.

It wouldn't hurt the publishers to pay more mind to diversity when choosing people to speak at press events. And it would certainly help make E3 a slightly more welcoming place for the rest of the 75 percent or so of people that make up the population. White men are a minority in the world, and video games have an international audience.

It's time to stop pandering to our own stereotypes, and stop placing more importance on severed heads than women and people of color in the industry.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Polygon as an organization.

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