For anyone who knows me, my entry into the world of game development probably seems pretty weird, and out of character. I’ll give you a run down.
My partner is a gamer and a student at Media Design School, studying game art. Of course, this is something I have always taken advantage of to tease him about. My past experiences of gaming were absolutely stereotypes, I’m not afraid to admit that. I always thought that gamers were 13yo dudebros who shouted sexist slurs while playing COD. While I obviously now know better, this opinion obviously affected the way I viewed gaming in general. I’d complain that games seemed to be inherently sexist, and that they perpetuate stereotypical, harmful, portrayals of women.
Knowing this, my partner suggested that I do a talk at the upcoming NZ Game Developers Conference on gender in games. My academic brain immediately kicked in. By this point, I’d been educated enough about games to know that they’re not all ‘bad’, but I still saw patterns of gendered difference that the social geographer in me latched onto.
In undergrad and postgrad at uni, I’ve focused a lot on gender as a topic of study. A particular theme that’s arisen from this is focusing attention on dominant groups in society (e.g. masculinity instead of femininity, whiteness instead of blackness), in order to make invisible factors apparent. Being the big ol’ nerd that I am, I wanted to do the same in this talk.
“Toxic masculinity in gaming” was the topic I came up with.
Now, I won’t lie. I definitely underestimated how much time it would take to write this speech. Although I’ve taught for longer, 20 minutes talking ended up being a lot more words (and work) than I anticipated. You live and you learn.
Despite that, I have no regrets. Actually attending the conference and having the opportunity to share my ideas was such an incredible experience. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some apprehension. Not because I was talking in front of a crowd (I’m weirdly into public speaking, which is upsetting I know), but because: A. what if no one comes? and B. what if my stereotypical ideas of gamers were actually true and I’d get abuse hurled at me?
Of course neither of these things happened.
What did happen, was that I had way too much to say in far too little time (unsurprising), people came (surprising), and I got the most positive and accepting reception I could have hoped for (shouldn’t have been surprising, but kinda was).
After the talk, people came up to talk to me about their experiences in the games industry, how they think it should change, the work they’re doing to increase diversity, and hoe awesome they thought it was to have masculinity discussed at the conference. And honestly, most of these people were men who were so excited to see change coming.
Hopefully, what will come out of this is some more education on gender for those making games, or at least a greater understanding of the topic. At best, I talked to a few people who were keen to involve me in workshops/talks in their industry to expand on the topics discussed in the talk (20 minutes is not a long time to discuss the vast issue of gender in our society). So fingers crossed the gaming industry hasn’t seen the back of me – I’m keen for more!
See here for the video!