Nearly half of all the people who play video games are women, but you wouldn't know it by the video game industry's biggest conference.
Only five women presented on stage at the major press events at E3, the video game industry's huge conference, which took place in LA this week.
Sadly, that number won't be surprising to anyone familiar with sexism in the tech industry, and the particularly appalling way women are treated in the video game industry.
But here's the really shocking part. E3 actually featured more severed heads on stage than women: eight heads.
No kidding. Someone was actually counting. Danielle Riendeau over at Polygon kept a running tally of speaking women presenters after seeing a tweet by Vlambeer developer Rami Ismail:
Playstation continues the "more severed heads" than female speakers trend. #E3— Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) June 10, 2014
Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony all had speaking women presenters.
Meanwhile, severed heads were featured from games, including "Assassin's Creed: Unity" and "Mortal Kombat."
In 2013, 59% of Americans played video games, according to the Entertainment Software Association. And of those people, 48% were female. So it's not that women aren't playing; it's that they're not being represented equally at the major press events. And that's a shame.
Riendeau points out that companies don't just randomly select who's going to present for them. The decision is strategic, and not having many women presenters, sends a message.
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.
And it's not that there aren't any women executives for companies to choose from. Several high-ranking execs in the gaming industry are women. (Even though one of them, Julie Larson-Green, who heads the Xbox team, was harassed because she's a woman when she got the job.)
The message is loud and clear, not just at E3, but throughout the gaming world. For instance, Jenny Haniver, an avid "Call of Duty" player, chronicles her experiences being a female gamer on her website Not In The Kitchen Anymore. Since 2010, she has been posting recordings of how other gamers, usually men, act upon meeting a female gamer. As you can imagine, it's not good.
Nintendo has tried to address the problem by creating a YouTube channel, called the Nintendo Girls Club, that's aimed specifically toward young girls who like playing video games. Unfortunately, the channel is terribly sexist, and ends up perpetuating the stereotypes not ending them.
In an interview with Re/code, Aisha Tyler, a longtime gamer who was one of the five women presenting at E3, says she thinks that sexism in the industry is easing up.
The more people who come forward and talk about how much they love gaming, how much they talk about individuality and diversity, the more gamers of color that come out, and gay gamers that come out and everybody talking about what they love — that’s what the community has in common, a love of gaming.
Tyler not only presented for Ubisoft, but she's also a character in the game "Watch Dogs." She says that there is a shift in what kind of characters we see in video games. And that will lead to a shift in the mentality of the industry as a whole.
"I think we’re starting to see an evolution in characters, for sure. They’re starting to look more like the real world," she says.
Here's hoping that she's right and that next year at E3, women will be at least as welcome as dismembered body parts. As Riendeau points out:
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 [besides white men] that make up the population.
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