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Brenda Romero blasts game industry culture of blaming sexual harassment victims

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At the annual GDC "rant session" today, veteran game developer Brenda Romero talked about her anger towards inane responses to the sexual harassment many women experience in the game business.

She said that comments from men who offer robust suggestions on how to handle harassment are almost always unhelpful. Romero referenced an ugly incident earlier this year, in which a male reporter made vulgar comments to a woman in the game industry during an online conversation.

In the aftermath of the event, many commentators felt able to offer suggestions on how the victim ought to have handled the situation, even though few of them had been through a similar experience.

The GDC rant sessions allow a panel of speakers to address issues that make them angry, sometimes in a humorous way, and sometimes not.

Romero recalled a personal incident from around 2005, when she was sitting in a fancy hotel bar at GDC, chatting with a well known male game developer. She said she was happy to be talking shop with this man, who she did not name.

"He moved his coat from his lap and there it was," she said. "Even though I had been excited to talk with his guy I didn't know what to do or what to say." He was showing her the outline of an erection, under his trousers.

"I awkwardly ignored it and I tried to back away," she said. "I knew I wasn't going to get attacked so I walked back into the conference with this piece of shit and I felt shame and I felt like a piece of garbage because I didn't say anything. I felt like a deer in the headlights. The was a profound power differential, and it was not OK."

"Stop blaming the victim"

Romero noted that she is not regarded as a reticent or timid person, but that she simply did not know how else to react to such an unexpected and unwelcome act of sexual aggression from a person she had previously admired. She said the responses to sexual harassment are, all too often, to focus on the victim, rather than the transgressor.

"You don't have the foggiest idea what you would have said [in that situation]. Stop blaming the victim," she said.

At last year's GDC, Romero quit trade body the IGDA following a party in which skimpily dressed women were hired as dancers. In the aftermath of E3 last year, various reports emerged of women working in the game industry, facing unwelcome attention and upsetting remarks from some male attendees.

In another speech during the rant session, Mitu Khandaker from developer The Tiniest Shark talked about negative reactions to her decision to include a trigger warning in her game Red Shirts. The game featured satirical examples of sexual harassment which had triggered physical reactions among some players who had suffered real life abuse. She said she was "pissed off on multiple levels" by people criticizing and questioning her decision, without much in the way of experience of trigger responses.

Other speeches at this year's tenth anniversary GDC rant focused on issues like distribution portals and monetization in free-to-play games.