I usually feel pretty good about being a woman working in games. Sure, other feminists protest, and write books, and pass legislation. Women around the world risk injury or prosecution. But my huge move for women’s equality is doing a job I really like, and working in an industry I really like, and being good at it — all without having a penis!
Sometimes, being a woman in the games industry is a bit like my years as a foreigner in China, when every so often characteristics I’m barely even aware of become huge and noteworthy. In Yantai, it was more, That’s a foreigner! Buying apples! Whoa! In games, I’ll be doing something I do all the time, and encounter shock that I am a woman doing that. That’s a girl! Doing game-related math! Whoa!
And, whenever someone visiting our offices mentions the startling fact that we have women working in computer games, I am ready with stats on how 18- to 35-year-old women are the fastest growing market share in games, or how casual games are growing in number and profitability, especially amount women.
This is a difficult codeswitching for me. I want propose game content in terms of how it will be fun for players, but that makes folks in my office laugh at me, and not in the good way. It is a constant effort for me to reframe “my players will love this activity!” as “players engaging this activity will monetize as this rate”.
So, the other day, when I was told again how surprising it is to see women in a game studio, and especially a woman in game design, I was quick to respond with my prepared stats.
“Women from 18 to 35 are a fast-growing market share.” I said “They monetize highly in casual games.”
“They got all that money from the eighteen- to thirty-five-year old men they divorced.” I was told.
I couldn’t force a laugh at this witticism, but that’s okay because it wasn’t intended as a joke. When the speaker registered my reaction to this, he told me it was ok to say because he knows so many wealthy ex-wives.
Of course I’m furious at being confronted with that mentality. I’m annoyed that this person will have a marked effect on the profitability and longevity of my project. I’m also annoyed at how vague I’ve got to be on the identity of the speaker, instead of calling out this person on the extreme level of sexism, because there could be very direct career consequences. (And, in a less direct way, because women who express this sort of indignation are quickly characterized as strident harpies, as tough to work with, and so forth.)
I’d thought I was changing gender expectations by working in games. Turns out, I wasn’t really expected to be working at all.