Mare Sheppard: Why I Hate Women in Games Initiatives

One of the first talks I attended at GDC 2012 was Mare Sheppard’s “Why I Hate Women in Games Initiatives.” The title alone is obviously pretty eye catching and the talk itself hit some interesting points.  I will go ahead and say that I felt she didn’t offer much by way of solving the problems she discussed and so I ultimately left the talk feeling disgruntled rather than empowered to create change. But maybe that’s just me.  

Sheppard opened with an disclaimer–although the talk was focused on gender issues, it truly applied to any form of discrimination within the game industry–race, sexual orientation, etc. I think that’s something we can all agree with. Sexual discrimination within the industry is one of those problems I’m vaguely aware of, but have yet to encounter in the form of anything beyond mild annoyance. Here are a couple of slides Sheppard provided that made me start considering the gender issue more seriously:

Sheppard was speaking for the creation of a meritocracy within the game industry, ie an industry wherein individuals are promoted and valued solely by merit rather than by race, gender, etc.  An ideal, to be sure–unfortunately she never really talked about how she hoped to achieve such a state. She talked about how she made games–not games for women or games for men, but simply games. Creating games for specific groups of people might be ideal for some situations, but at the same time creating games solely for women help to emphasize the gender gap. This is something I strongly agree with. There is a purpose for games created for specific audiences (for example, educational games) but I’ve often felt that games like “women games” have this condescending edge towards them. As someone who was repeatedly forced through STEM activities (science, technology, engineering, and math) in hopes that I would eventually love and embrace all of the above, I feel that a specifically personalized attempt to get people interested in something is not the way to go. Creating games specifically for women sticks us in another box, an often terrifyingly pink box that discourages me, personally, at least from touching it (for example, Sheppard brought up Legos for girls in her talk–seriously, what was wrong with normal Legos?)

Women’s initiatives, Sheppard mentions, do have the ability to empower women. At the same time, they often lead the people in the initiative to adopt an “us versus them” sort of feeling. She mentioned how some initiatives she has personally attended created a feeling of mild hostility towards men, rather than simply a feeling of empowerment for the women participating. On the flip side, women initiatives can also lead to further derision from the “opposing” group. Her example being that if a game that was produced by such an initiative was given positive credit, it might be viewed as “a great game by women” rather than simply, “a great game.”

Although my main disappoint with this talk was that Sheppard gives very little by way of solution, solutions for this problem are hard to come by. Gender differences have been engrained in our culture and I believe that, to an extent, they exist for good reason. Stereotypes are important and often useful, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. I guess the main thing to remember is that they are stereotypes–broad, general guidelines regarding gender, ethnicity, etc rather than absolute truth.

Sheppard has a more in-depth article along the same lines of her GDC talk located here.

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