Parties are a big part of the GDC networking culture, and every year there are a variety of public and private parties thrown by sponsoring orgnisations. This year was not different; yet one particular party attracted quite a number of people’s attention and heated discussion.
The YetiZen party was on people’s talk even before the GDC because of its unusually high price of entry ($600) unless you are privately invited. After the GDC, the Yetizen party became a center of attention for what the CCO Jaseph Dillman described as
“painted [topless] models, contortionists, Yetis on Stilts, pole dancers, acrobats, gogo dancers, various models in yeti costumes, free booze, belly dancers, live muralist painting on stage, a few vegas DJ’s flown in, Turkish band, belly dancers, and more that’s not coming to mind off the top of my head.”
Combined with several accounts of women developers being inappropriately treated by other presumably drunk male partygoers, and many other women expressing their feeling uncomfortable or out of place when they should be networking with their potential male coworkers and employers, it fueled a heated discussion amongst individuals in emails and on Facebook.
Later it was revealed that the CEO of YetiZen is woman entrepreneur Sana Choudary, and there was some hopeful expectation that she would make an apology and set things straight. Instead, Ms. Choudary sided with her CCO and posted an endorsement of the YetiZen party on her blog, and it eventually led to the resignation of one of the famous YetiZen mentors, Noah Falstein.
After his resignation, Mr. Falstein wrote on the Facebook:
“I really actively dislike being in the midst of controversy, so I say this with reluctance. But as I’ve been a Yetizen mentor and speaker, a supporter of what Sana and Japeth are doing, and also a man who has always pushed for the inclusion of more women in the game industry, an active contributor to various Women in Games movements/discussions, a father of a now 21-year-old daughter, and saw the Yetizen party first-hand, I find I am in the midst of a conflict and must speak up.
I am not a believer in black and white issues about body image and sexism. I think it’s all a continuum, you’ll always find people more extreme than you in any direction, and context is very important. That said, I think the women wearing only body paint from the waist up at a games industry party, literally on the arm of one of the founders of the company, sends a very destructive image. […] Yes, objectifying women for the entertainment of men has been around for a long time and exists at many levels of society, including some of high finance. You could say the same thing about racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, that’s not a reason to perpetuate them.
I ran into one woman at the party who headed up a startup I mentored, and the expression on her face as the topless models walked by was painful. I don’t think I’m being sexist here – if it had been Sana walking by with her arms around two men wearing jockstraps and blue paint I’d have been equally uncomfortable. I also ran into a friend, a respected speaker and president of a game company with 20 years industry experience, and she confirmed to me her active outrage. Tiny sample, yes – but they were in fact the only women at the party I knew. Clearly from the statements here (FB) and on other mailing lists, there were MANY others who felt the same way.”
Mr. Falstein’s move was applauded at least by the Women in Gaming community, and there have been the calls for further statement actions by industry figures to boycott parties with overly sexualized themes. Yet, at the same time, this type of discussion and criticism of such parties is also easily shut down by many others who argue that parties should be fun, and if some people feel uncomfortable, they should leave and find other parties.
My personal take is that it is a major obstacle the game developers community needs to settle with. What I see is the male dominant Silicon Valley culture sneaking into the GDC, and the not-so-subtle statement of “this is boys’ club” is not only ruining the progression we have made with the diversity issue, but also sending a wrong message to young developers (it certainly pained me to see an undergraduate game design major who put so much effort in rationalizing why ladies should leave if they don’t feel comfortable). It is frighteningly easy to downplay the women developers’ expressed frustration into something trivial and distract people from the core issue. There have been many cases where the female developers are blamed for their own misfortunes via a variety of tactics, including having other women to counter the complaints (from “maybe you dressed up in a wrong way” to the ever maddening “I am a woman and I endorse this”).
Would the next year be better? Maybe. Maybe not. One thing I know for certain is that we will still have the same discussion unless people try to understand the significance of the problem and step up to say “no, I don’t support this type of party. By the way, I am a game developer. I dig what is fun. Can your party provide a more creative and FUN entertainment…like GAMES?”