Creating an Inclusive Video Game Industry:
A proactive response to #1reasonwhy
The aim of this document is to raise awareness about common patterns of exclusion in the video game industry and provide simple, practical actions towards a more inclusive developer community. Exclusion is often the result not of deliberate intent but of habituated patterns and social norms which frequently go unnoticed. This document provides a straightforward guide for people who wish to be more conscious about and to actively contribute to mitigating exclusion on the basis of gender, sexual persuasion or ethnicity. This document came out of the inclusiveness panel at IndieCade 2012, entitled, What’s Next: Games for and By Everyone Else. The urgency for its deployment was punctuated a month later by the #1reasonwhy discussion that emerged on Twitter.
Why diversity in games is important. Games as both a form of entertainment and as a form of art are being created overwhelmingly by a single type of individual. While we are by no means discouraging anyone from making games, we do feel that there is room for a more expansive approach that welcomes people of varying backgrounds and perspectives to produce games alongside those currently creating them—not as a separate “class,” but as a vital part of an increasingly diverse community. In building an inclusive game community, we only serve to help Games as a medium to grow and mature. With diversity will come new ideas, new ways of thinking, new types of stories, and new types of gameplay, and new audiences. This does not mean that all old forms of games will cease to exist but rather that the whole field will be enriched. Ensuring that individuals with a range of backgrounds and beliefs feel welcome and safe in the community will only work to broaden the types of experiences that all of us can share, thus enriching us all, and spreading understanding not only within the game development community but the game player community as well. However, to realize this vision, the development community as a whole must first lead by example. We believe that many of our peers and colleagues understand the benefits of including diverse viewpoints and wish to be part of the solution. This list is provided to help provide simple, concrete actions that individuals can take at every level to help advance the cause of inclusiveness and diversity in our community.
1. Do not take your position of privilege—whatever it is—for granted.
One of the greatest benefits of privilege is that you can ignore it. “Gender doesn’t matter…if you’re a man.” and “Race doesn’t matter…if you’re white.” Being part of the “normative” group—whether respecting gender, color, sexual orientation, ability, or whatever “normative” means in any particular context—entitles one to take one’s position of privilege for granted. It is easy to assume that one’s position is everyone’s position. An example of this is the difference in financial compensation between men and women within the industry. This leads to such problems as the belief that men do not have a gender. We coin the term “people of gender” as a way of highlighting this type of bias. As a member of a normative group, a simple first step is to be aware that our position is not the same as everyone else’s, that not all people are like us, and that people NOT like us may tend to feel like outsiders, marginalized or excluded as their viewpoint is not taken into account. With privilege comes responsibility, as well as opportunity. We can use our privilege for good. A teacher, for instance, can support female students and include female designers and authors in reading/play lists. A manager or design lead can insist on more diverse and less stereotypical characters in games. Recruiters can, give female applicants serious consideration. Awareness of privilege is the first step to inclusiveness. Saying there is not a problem doesn’t make the problem go away.
2. Inclusiveness requires care, attention, and sustained effort.
Ignoring forms of difference does not automatically create equity. In fact, ignoring difference actually makes things worse because it reinforces the normative position referred to in item 1. Ignoring gender/race/sexual orientation is essentially accepting, indeed reinforcing the status quo, since by this logic men have no gender, white people have no color, and heterosexuals have no sexual orientation. This means paying attention to and possibly changing policies that may inadvertently discriminate. For instance, the hiring requirement of working on a AAA game may rule out people with relevant experience in other areas, such as serious games or academic research. It also means being more attentive to who we represent in our games and how we represent them, as well as our perceptions of market preferences.
3. Avoid inadvertently or indirectly dismissing, demeaning or belittling individuals from excluded groups.
Comments such as “you’re intelligent for a woman” or “you speak well for an African American” are typical dismissive remarks that serve to demean or belittle persons from excluded groups. Asking a woman “who are you here with” at a professional event implies she is a partner, not an active member of the community. Diversity experts refer to this as “microagression,” the “death of a thousand papercuts” that erode self-efficacy and reinforce discrimination.
4. Credit and acknowledge all members of a mixed team.
This is especially important for members of the press, as well as authors and event organizers. We regularly see members of the press chose only to interview the male member of a mixed-gender team, or conference organizers asking only male team members to speak. Even at IndieCade a recent award was inadvertently published with the female contributor’s name missing. These sorts of oversights are easy to avoid. Acknowledging all contributions makes people feel included, and also increases visibility for those who may otherwise feel, and in fact be, invisible.
5. Include the excluded in lists, histories, exhibitions, panels, and games.
A few years ago, Game Developer magazine published the list of the 100 Most Influential People in the Video Game Industry. This list included not a single female game designer, executive or CEO. Regularly game developers exclude women from lectures, presentations and exhibitions of “game artists,” even though women are among the earliest pioneers of video game art. It is not unusual to see an entire industry conference or program that includes no people of gender or color. This does not mean that separate categories should be created similar or that women should be “given” their own list. As well-intentioned as this may be it still builds a culture of exclusion. People of gender, color, or ability should be included throughout a program, rather than singled out as an “issue.” This includes creating non-stereotyped characters in games that diverse players can relate to, and that change the way that group is perceived.
6. Don’t stand for harassment, even if it’s not toward yourself.
Harassment and hate speech, especially against people of gender and sexual orientation, but also racially-infused hate speech, is tolerated in game culture in a way that is unparalleled in almost any other industry. An argument is often made that it’s okay to harass women or gays, for instance, because it’s “part of the culture.” People who care about this issue have an ethical obligation to step up to the plate and object when others like them say hurtful or demeaning things. Even if you’re straight, don’t stand for homophobia. If you’re a man, speak out against misogynistic hate speech. If you’re white, intervene when racist stereotypes or slurs are invoked. Don’t just stand there. Do something. And don’t be afraid of the possible backlash. The more we speak out, the more unpopular it will become to be disrespectful to anyone. Cultures are shaped by the people that are a part of them. It’s within our power to change this culture.
7. Create a safe environment for everyone.
“Any environment where an individual member does not feel safe is not a safe environment.” More often than not many forms exclusion can be very subtle, unspoken, and even be invisible to those not experiencing it—the microaggression referred to in item 3. We must be sensitive to the needs of others through understanding of our differences. Many of the behaviors that have recently been exposed took place in a professional environment. No person should have to hide who they are or endure mistreatment in order to put food on their table while doing a job that they actually love. A work environment is created not only by the company leadership but also the individuals that inhabit it. Thus we all must take responsibility for crafting a safe environment for those that are different from ourselves. We must recognize that while we all have slight differences there is one key thing we have in common—aside from being human. Our love for games. Keeping this fact in mind we should all be eager to enable each other to collaborate and explore this field together. This means from the top down and the bottom up creating an environment that can support individuals from varied backgrounds and ideals so that in the end both Players and Developers benefit. A diverse ecosystem is a healthy ecosystem.
We’ve launched this site to engage a productive discussion on how to work together on building a solution. We invite others to add their success stories on how they have experienced or effectively contributed to inclusiveness. All are welcome to contribute, and requests for help and guidance are also welcomed. We ask that in the spirit of inclusiveness participants avoid trolling. The organizers of this site reserve the right to remove any contributions that are offensive, abusive or deliberately antagonistic.