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Women in the gaming industry share their reason to be in the business

A group of game scholars, designers, media and developers joined together at GDC to talk about life as a woman in the gaming industry and the challenges that often accompany that title.

The panel was inspired by the #1reasonwhy hashtag that made the rounds on Twitter in November 2012 and inspired an industry-wide discussion about women's roles, influences and challenges in gaming. Some women shared stories of discrimination or prejudice, while others cited problems with game design itself.

During "#1ReasonToBe," six women gave their own reasons to be in the industry, as well as suggestions on how to fix gender imbalance and diversify.

Robin Hunicke, Funomena co-founder and Journey producer, offered advice on ways to diversify or expand in a positive way. People can reach out to after school programs and extend beyond their local community, or consider actually building something themselves.

"We all know diversity is good for business," Hunicke said. "But to get there, we have to evolve and promote a new kind of culture."

Gamasutra editor at large Leigh Alexander explained that sexists, who are often convinced they're not sexist, do not exist in a vacuum.

"Empathy is a surprisingly hard thing for people to learn," Alexander said.

Alexander said that the biggest challenge of sexism in the industry is that it's part of a system of prejudices and sub-prejudices that people never examine. Her inspection of female game characters usually explores if the subject in question is a positive female character, or a heroic one.

"When girls feel truly welcome as players, they'll naturally grow up to be part of the industry."

Micsoftsoft Studios game designer Kim McAuliffe, who has had much less "horrific" experiences than others, wanted to show a different side. Although the industry as a whole assumes that players are male, she said, it's not malicious. It's just the way things have always been.

"One of the reasons so few women are in the industry [is because the industry] makes females feel like they're on the outside," McAuliffe said. "We're not on the fringes. We're part of the core."

"Girls are interested in traditional male games," McAuliffe continued. "When girls feel truly welcome as players, they'll naturally grow up to be part of the industry."

According to Elizabeth Sampat, a Storm8 game designer, there will always be people incapable of taking her seriously. And though it's easy for others to tell her, or women in general, to be assertive and aggressive, she said, they won't be the ones taking the abuse.

"The people who tell you to fight back won't get your death threats for you," Sampat said. "They won't get your hate mail. The problem is that ... not everyone wants to get gored."

Speaking more heavily on the topic of diversity, San Francisco State University creative writing masters student Mattie Brice touched upon the industry's tendency to avoid exploring characters of different race, gender or sexuality.

"We are not a new demographic to be served. We have been here this entire time."

"We have been diverse," Brice said. "I've been alive for 25 years, and I am not a new demographic. We are not a new demographic to be served. We have been here this entire time."

Designer and developer Brenda Romero spoke about the appearance of booth babes at E3 and the controversy that often surrounds them. Although Romero has no problem with women in revealing apparel, it's not what she wants to see on her way to work. It creates a "sexually charged environment," Romero said.

"I felt like I was walking through a construction site," Romero said. "I could tell people were leering."

The designer continued to say that exhibitors who use the excuse of booth babes looking good have no excuse at all, and certainly not one she tolerates.

"In any other workplace — please, E3, fucking get this — in any other work place that would be sexual harassment," Romero said.

Romero continued to say that despite its faults, the gaming industry is one she loves dearly. It's her calling — a place, she said, where her family and friends are. Before the panel's end, Romero shared a story about a card her daughter gave her for Christmas.

"Inside it said something that's moved me more than anything she's ever said," Romero said. "She said she just wants to make video games with me. That's her dream."

Romero implored organizers of E3 and events like it to reconsider their booth babe strategy and to stick to it.

"Please change it so that I can work at a place where I can bring [my daughter] and she can say ‘I'm proud of where my mom works,' and feel that she will be safe there and not gazed upon," Romero said to a standing ovation. "That's all I'm asking."

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