Same Story, Different GDC

Why doesn’t the need for growing accessibility in Tech translate to common human decency?

Once an industry or hobby perceived as totally male dominated, the growth of females playing video games has phenomenally increased. Statistics from Statista show that almost half of gaming audiences in the United States are female. Although under-represented in games media and the industry, women make up a sizable chunk of gamers and spending power. And yet, coupled with this positive growth trend, are reports of increasingly jarring instances of harassment, misogyny, sexism, and other abuse.

We ask, how can a demographic which makes up nearly half of an industry’s user base be subjected to such discrimination? Many companies have made efforts to change the face of gaming as more women join the trend. However, efforts to tackle the abuse itself must improve.

Where the harassment starts – online gaming

A study from Reach3 Insights and Lenovo revealed that 59% of women who play online, mask their gender to protect themselves. A vast amount of global gamers have said that they hide their gender while playing online in order to avoid harassment. Women now make up almost half of all gamers, diversifying what was previously predominantly a male only space. Unfortunately with the increased visibility of female players comes an increase in discrimination. 

These patterns of harassment however aren’t unique only to online gaming. We see time and time again reports of endangerment and exclusion at all levels in the industry.

Harassment at GDC 2023

As GDC 2023 came to a close last week, fresh reports of harassment at the event have been shared online. Once again, women’s safety in the gaming industry is at the center of debate. 

Allegations of drugging, assault, and overall misogyny continue to circulate on social media, leaving many frustrated to see little to no progress from previous years in which the event has faced similar allegations, particularly concerning drink spiking.

“Women at GDC this year have been belittled and undermined in their roles, been hit on relentlessly, and had their drinks spiked by predatory men,” said game dev and GDC attendee Leena van Deventer.

Stride PR VP, Guy ‘Yug” Blomberg corroborated the reports, stating on Twitter, “We’ve been informed of multiple folks that were roofied last Thursday night in San Francisco, most probably at the karaoke event we hosted…I’m furious this not only happened, but that it tends to happen so frequently that it’s become almost commonplace. It’s NOT f**king okay or acceptable,” 

Getting ahead of the allegations, a representative for GDC told video game website and blog,  Kotaku, “We are very upset to hear that some people, especially women, reported concerning experiences during the GDC week at off-site events, including assault and drink spiking. This is outrageous and unacceptable; everyone has a right to feel safe. We severely condemn any such behavior and support the victims; we encourage reporting to the police and hope the perpetrators will be found.”

It’s important to note that this is not the first time women and women-presenting attendees have felt targeted at a games industry event, nor will it likely be the last. In an industry that still bears the weight of sexism and misogyny within its culture, widespread systemic change is the only thing that will help women feel safe in this industry and beyond.

Valuing Safe Spaces 

Bringing women into tech and gaming will result in more creative solutions to promote gender equality and innovation. Their lack of inclusion and repeated instances of endangerment, by contrast, comes with massive costs.

When a social space becomes hostile to one group, everyone suffers. Places where women are intimidated are often also unwelcoming to other minority groups. If one group is forcibly driven away, others will likely follow. Left unchecked, this toxic behavior will ultimately harm a game or platform’s potential revenue in the long run. 

Gaming has come a long way, but the industry still has a lot of work to do if it is to be a truly safe and welcoming space for all. 

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