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The Boys' Treehouse

If women really are choosing to leave the core games industry, who could blame them?

With a strongly female audience, the developers of such games recognise the importance of having a strong female presence in their companies. One of the factors which has always militated against women in core games companies was the perception that these firms were making games solely for boys, and thus the input of women was unimportant - a daft perception which ignored both the significant female audience for core games, and the fact that the talent for making good entertainment is frequently a gender-neutral one.

The shoe is on the other foot somewhat in the social and mobile games spaces, and while the arguments are no more convincing on this side of the fence, the understanding that the audience for many such games is majority female has certainly boosted the value of women in this industry, and undoubtedly drained female development talent out of traditional studios.

With careers in other sectors of gaming - or, indeed, outside the industry entirely - looking attractive, it's hard to disagree with the decision of many women, even those who started out in the business through their love of core games, to jump ship. After all, even if the industry's HR departments and management teams have made strides in their approach to recruiting and retaining female staff, gamers themselves often do a pretty good line in making them feel unwelcome.

One particularly unsavoury episode always springs to mind when I consider women who have risen to prominence in core game development. Cast your mind back a couple of years to the launch of Assassin's Creed - a hugely hyped core title which, like so many others, turned out to be somewhat underwhelming in many people's eyes (but was fully redeemed by the utterly wonderful sequel, I might add).

The public face of the game's development was Jade Raymond - a woman whose intelligence and development talent is unquestionable, but whose attractiveness and gender made her into the topic of leering commentary from gamers throughout the development process (shamefully encouraged by the tone of coverage in some "professional" media outlets), and then into the butt of deeply unpleasant, sexualised slurs when the game failed to live up to expectations in some quarters.

Would a male game developer have received such comments? They're used to having to develop a thick skin, for sure, but I've never seen the kind of hateful, violent and sexual language to which Jade Raymond was subjected being applied to any male developer. For that matter, would a handsome male game developer (yes, they most certainly do exist) find his looks being the topic of so much interest in supposedly professional media coverage of his game? The games media made Jade Raymond into a sexual object, giving tacit approval to gamers to knock her down as such when they decided, with the usual mob mentality, that she was out of favour.

No man would be treated that way - it's hard to imagine even a high profile, openly homosexual game developer (an even rarer beast than the high profile female game developer) being subjected to this level of maltreatment. It may well be that Jade Raymond was fully aware of how gamers may react to her, and had both a thick skin and the good sense not to read comments or forums - I certainly hope so. That doesn't make her treatment, or that meted out to a variety of less high-profile female developers over the years, even remotely justifiable.

Nor does it change the fact that other women, seeing this kind of episode unfold, are likely to conclude that this is not an industry they wish to be involved with. Next time the games media finds itself reporting upon a survey like this one, sucking its teeth and wringing its hands over what can be done to encourage women to join the games industry, it might want to consider its own treatment of women - from Jade Raymond or other female designers through to galleries of booth babes with lengthy comment threads discussing which of them would "get it" - and start trying to be part of the solution, rather than one of the root causes of the problem.

If you work in the games industry and want more views, and up-to-date news relevant to your business, read our sister website GamesIndustry.biz, where you can find this weekly editorial column as soon as it is posted.

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About the Author

Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.

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