Opinion piece: Australian games industry social media culture
I'm a programmer. Through and through. I might pretend to be good at organising a community every now and then, or at speaking on panels, but in my heart I'm a programmer. I deal much better with pieces of code than I do with words or people. So please bear in mind that writing is not my forte as you read this. It is a struggle to communicate exactly what is on my mind - just ask the people who know me well. And sometimes I screw up: what I say doesn't quite capture what I meant, and occasionally people can take other meanings from my words. Also, the following is all my opinion, and mine alone. It does not represent that of the IGDA, AIE, Convict Interactive, the GDAA, PAX or AltDevBlog. And if you would like to comment about this article, please do so here - as I mention below, discussion over Twitter is difficult.
Which brings me to the discussions on social media over the last few days. It started with Tony Reed's interview on MCV Pacific. I read it and thought it was quite sensible - I agreed with almost everything Tony had to say. But perhaps because I know what the GDAA are busy with, and I know Tony, perhaps it was easier for me to grasp his meaning. Since others online took huge offense to the article, which puzzled me to no end. So I asked them about it and suddenly it seemed like I'd started a war on Twitter.
Now, Twitter is great - so many opportunities can be found through it, and I'd be a different person today if it didn't exist - but it's not a great medium for a heated discussion, especially if you're not great at crafting your rebuttal to fit into 140 characters or less.
This sentence from Tony's interview seems to have generated the most controversy:
Creativity comes from everywhere, so raising gender, race or sexuality should play no part in the hiring process.
I read this to mean that we shouldn't take gender, race or sexuality into account while hiring. By hiring I believed that meant the point where you say: "yes, you have a job, come work for us!". So I thought he meant that you shouldn't choose a woman for a job just because you want to improve the male/female ratio. I always believe you should choose the person most suitable for the job - the person with the appropriate talent level who fits the culture of the company, can communicate well enough with others and is significantly motivated, etc. The idea that someone might hire me instead of a male - who actually suited the position more - just because I'm a female is absolutely terrifying. It completely undermines and insults my intelligence, hard work and motivation. One of my main insecurities is that thought that perhaps I'm getting further in life because I'm receiving special treatment for my gender, and not as a result of my skills and hard work.
But others on Twitter took "hiring process" to mean the entire process. So, going out and looking for applicants as well. I hadn't considered this part of it and I'm glad they pointed it out. But I don't actually know enough about how that works at the moment to be able to find fault with it, or to know why that might be broken. From my experience and limited knowledge, companies will first look to people they already know for the job. Now this would be people already in the industry or individuals around the fringes who've made themselves known in some way. So yeah, if you're looking to hire from that group of people, the numbers are going to be skewed towards men. Because the industry, and even student balance, is male dominated.
So where else should we look for applicants? I honestly don't know how we could do this differently. Is it posting the job ad in female only, or gay only/friendly, or indigenous only societies? Is it attempting to find equal numbers of male and female applicants before reviewing applications? This makes no sense to me. What is the "affirmative action" that Christian talked about in his blog? I honestly don't know what he was referring to and it was never expressly stated. What is it that we aren't doing that we should be? I genuinely want to know.
I mentioned students briefly above, and I'd like to expand on that topic. I don't know enough about Christian's class, but a 50/50 split of males to females in any game development related class is exceedingly rare. I've worked at two educational institutions and have watched the ratio decline over the past few years. When I was a student we probably had about 8 or 9% females in our classes. Now as a teacher I have 0%. My involvement with IGDA Sydney means I get to see into other schools, and the numbers are not too much better there. The numbers are usually better in game art, or game design degrees than they are with programming, but not by much. Which is why I believe what Tony said is true - something is happening at the primary and secondary school level that is not making game development seem attractive.
Is it because of our culture? What is our culture?
I have pretty thick skin - I worked for seven years at cinemas on the south coast of NSW. Verbal abuse from customers was at least a weekly occurrence. I also feared for my physical safety on a number of occasions from violent patrons. My fellow staff members were no better: we had low morale and bullying was common. I also experienced what I guess is called sexual harassment from a number of male employees. I just thought of it as them copping a feel - nothing more.
The games industry, in comparison, is amazing! Everyone is so polite, even when they are angry with me, or disagree with me. My fellow game developers are respectful, courteous, and treat me no differently to male developers. My only complaint would be that some assume I'm an artist and act surprised when I explain that I'm a programmer.
Any abuse or inappropriateness that I have experienced since entering the industry has come from gamers or members from other industries who we occasionally interact with.
I'm not saying that there isn't a problem - the thousands of articles I see and have read are clear indicators that there is a problem in some areas. But, because of my experiences, I believe that these problem cases are the exception in our industry, not the norm. Which, with the volume of posts and articles that appear surrounding this issue, can be hard to believe.
I believe it is because bad news gets more attention than good news - thus media sites and the internet culture in general are more likely to jump on a bad news story. I get it. But it makes me so mad! Yesterday, the PAX Australia panels were announced and everyone jumped all over the "controversial" one. And that's all anyone talked about. Did anyone talk about any of the awesome panels that are on? There's one called Child's Play that is all about how the games community can help sick kids in hospitals. WHY DID I HAVE TO SEARCH THE PAX SITE TO FIND THIS?? Why aren't we screaming this message from the rooftops?
Yesterday I just got so down about the fact that the internet drowns out the good news by focusing on the bad. I DON'T believe that it is because there is more bad news than good. I'll get in trouble for this - but I believe lot of those bad headlines are just click-bait so people will get traffic to their websites.
Add to this the general negativity and cynicism of the internet, and especially the noisy people I follow on Twitter. For example - when the Xbox One was announced, everyone complained about the DRM among other features. Fast forward a week -Microsoft have removed those features due to complaints and THE SAME PEOPLE ARE COMPLAINING THAT IT CHANGED. What the fuck?
This penchant to find the negative in everything drives me up the wall. Sometimes I feel that people go looking for the bad news. They actively seek it out. And if you go looking for bad news, you're going to find it. There can be a certain feeling of power in being the person who presents the bad news for discussion - I get it. Suddenly you're the centre of attention. But, you know, if you go looking for good news then you're going to find it too - do people not do this because they don't get as much attention from sharing it?
I feel like our industry social media culture is a far more unwelcoming place than the actual industry culture. If I'm not cynical and negative and agreeing with the horde then I'm shunned. I wanted to unfollow everyone yesterday because I just didn't feel welcome.
Another thing that bugs me is people complaining about a thing without offering any solutions. If it shits you, then what are you doing about it? In regards to the PAX panel - did anyone send a quiet word to Yug, instead of publically raging about it on the internet not even in his general direction? Did anyone suggest a rewording of that panel description? All I could see were self-righteous pitchforks. And even when it had been fixed, people were still obsessing over it. What does that accomplish? How is that helping the industry? Why are you wasting time on it?
I'm not saying to not talk about it at all. Of course, we need to hear both bad news and good. But don't get hung up on these things and continue talking unless you're offering solutions and actually doing something to turn the problem around (which, I know, is hypocritical, given I'm writing this).
I'm finally in a position where I can go to high schools and speak with girls about entering the games industry. I've been talking with my boss about planning an event just for girls to learn what it is like to work ingames. Up to this point, my only contribution was trying to be a role model for any girls that I met at expos, Girl Guides or online. I also run IGDA Sydney and try to make it as inclusive as I know how. I've not had one person tell me to my face about any gender/homophobic/racist problems they've had with IGDA Sydney. I hope that's because we have no problems, but I doubt it.
Tony said that we're waiting until the industry stabilises to appropriately address this issue. He wasn't saying he was going to ignore it completely, just that his full attention is not going to be focused on it. He's busy working with the government and other bodies to get the industry back on its feet again. I appreciate that - I'm sick of our talent being made redundant and going off overseas and our students working in bars and pubs, unable to enter the indusyty. I believe THAT is a greater deterrent to working in games than the apparent unwelcoming male culture.
I believe it is true that a shift in the ratio of women in the industry would create more diverse games and generate more income, hence increasing jobs and boosting the industry. But that's a long term fix and the Australian industry, sadly, needs a short term fix to keep us from going belly up right now. The money is the short term fix to enable us to work towards some long term fixes.
Anyway, I've spent more time on this topic than it possibly warrants - thank you to those who read the whole rant. In short, I feel that too many people are blowing up issues way out of proportion when they don't need to be, and that there is too much saying rather than doing.
I'm going to continue with my passions - coding, helping out Aussie game developers with IGDA Sydney and doing my best to be a role model to younger girls. What are you going to do?