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IGDA: Sexism is hurting the industry and spurs harassment

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Sexism in video games and in the game industry itself is one of the chief factors that impact the negative perception society as a whole might have about video games, according to this year's game developer satisfaction survey.

And that sexism leads to industry harassment, said Kate Edwards, president of the International Game Developers Association. Both the criminal harassment making international news this fall and a constant, day-to-day workplace sort that is rotting the industry out from the inside.

"I think it's important that we recognize that fact," she said in a recent interview with Polygon.

The International Game Developers Association, the largest non-profit membership organization of game makers in the world, released the findings of its Developer Satisfaction Survey in June, but the data it contains has become increasingly relevant with the recent rise of high-profile incidents of criminal harassment occurring within the game industry and video game culture. The survey included responses from 2,202 people who work in the game industry. About 75 percent of the respondents were male.

In late August, following a spike in death threats and posting of personal information made against those connected in someway to the game industry, the association's board released a statement condemning the harassment and calling for the entire game community to "stand together against this abhorrent behavior."

Concerns about social media harassment, which has been making news for more than a year, wasn't on the latest survey, Edwards said, but the association "will certainly add questions around the topic next year, certainly with what we're hearing from our community now."

She said the 2014 survey didn't address harassment because at the time it wasn't the hot-button issue it is now.

"Organizationally, we rely on the membership to bubble up the issues to us," she said, when asked why the survey didn't address harassment. "We focus on very broad issues globally, this is certainly one of those, but we hear a lot more about working conditions issues then we do about harassment.

"We as an organization have to set our priorities."

She said while the survey didn't touch on criminal harassment through social media, it did deal with another form of harassment.

"Harassment as a term has a lot of definitions," she said. "There is a lot of perception about what harassment is in terms of each individual. With GamerGate we have been talking about harassment as a criminal act, or specific event, but the reality is harassment on a day-to-day basis is something much broader than that.

"If you are a woman in a workplace and hearing comments from men, very sexist comments, that could be perceived as harassment. Someone overlooked for promotion because they happen to be female, that could be perceived as harassment."

Indeed, according to the survey — which was conducted in partnership with Western University and TELUQ, M2 Research and the Georgia Institute of Technology — 47 percent of respondents said that they don't believe there is equal treatment and opportunity for all in the game industry. When asked what factors influence society's negative perception of the industry, 67 percent said sexism in the games themselves (just behind working conditions and above a perceived link to violence), and 51 percent said sexism in the workforce.

The study also allowed respondents to tell their stories about discrimination they had witnessed or experienced first-hand. A bulk of the answers were about gender discrimination, most of which was against women, according to the survey summary. It is a violation of the laws created by the federal equal employment opportunity commission to harass a person because of, among other things, their gender.

The examples included preferential treatment of men in hiring and promotion, women experiencing insubordination from men, lack of respect especially about inclusion or representation of female characters in games and an overwhelming preference for white men in management positions.

Your experiences

Gender inequality both in video games and in the video game industry is becoming an increasingly impactful topic.

As Polygon continues to explore these issues, we'd like to hear from people who work in the game industry about the experiences they've had. That could mean things you've had happen to you, regarding gender in your job and the games you make, or things you've witnessed first-hand.

Please contact News Editor Brian Crecente with the subject "sexism" for details about how to participate in our continuing coverage. Names will not be shared with anyone without your explicit permission.

Much more troubling, though, was the identified "subtle social discrimination"

"Many women complained of the ‘frat boy,' ‘locker room,'or ‘boys club' ethos, which included inappropriate sexual or discriminatory jokes, belittlement of skills and ‘gamer cred', T&A imagery throughout the office setting, assumptions that women are in administrative roles, comments about women's appearance (including specific reference to their breasts), and explicit sexual harassment including being hit on and being invited to ‘meetings' that were actually dates.

"Several women told stories of complaints that led to reprimands of the complainant, reprisals or firing, although there were a few incidents of severance and compensation to victims of such behavior."

Edwards added that she thinks concerns and allegations of sexism in the game industry are connected to the harassment of women in the game industry.

"Absolutely, I do think they are connected," she said. "I think when you are in a minority position in the workforce you will have a position where harassment is more present."

And, concerns about harassment are absolutely on the rise, though Edwards said she believes that what we're seeing now is a spike.

"Because," she said, "battle lines have been drawn between developers and gamers, and those pro-GamerGate and anti-GamerGate."

The GamerGate movement and Twitter hashtag is a social campaign defined by most supporters as a call to effect change in video game journalism and to defend the "gamer" identity. The movement is difficult to define because what it has come to represent has no central leadership or agreed-upon manifesto. The hashtag was first used by actor Adam Baldwin in August after intimate details of a personal relationship between a video game developer and a video game journalist were made public and led some to allege cronyism between press and developers. The campaign is now also linked to ongoing and well-established harassment of women in video games, including Depression Quest creator Zoe Quinn, Sarkeesian and Giant Spacekat head Brianna Wu, though many of GamerGate's supporters deny the campaign should be blamed for harassment.

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For now, Edwards and the association are continuing their work to roll-out changes to the website that will help educate game developers about how to deal with harassment. The association is also planning on conducting a web-based seminar on the topic. And she continues speaking with the FBI, which is conducting multiple investigations into individual cases of criminal harassment.

"A couple of weeks ago we had another discussion [with the FBI]," Edwards said. "Certainly things have changes since July when I first talked to them.

"They are extremely aware of what's going on."

The association is also very aware of the issues they have to tackle to try and improve the industry and that those issues include sexism. In fact, it is listed as one of three significant challenges that the industry faces moving forward. The other two are the excessively long hours that occur during the final stages of a game's creation and the high rate of job hopping in the industry.

Edwards says that the association speaks with the top leadership of the industry's major publishers quite a bit about these sorts of issues, but she knows that employees would like their studios to be more vocal about these sorts of concerns.

"A lot of the companies have been pretty quiet," she said. "I know that we as developers always want to hear more, more specifics. A lot of developers want to hear from individual companies; what are they going to do? How are they going to stand with their developers?"