Yes, It is a Gaming Industry Problem

This came across my Twitter feed earlier today, and, having worked in the gaming industry for five years now (if you count that time working on customer service systems FOR a major gaming company) I have my own horror stories about the culture of silence concerning sexism and sexual harassment in the gaming industry.

As a games tester, there’s tremendous pressure to conform and to operate as some idealized worker-robot. A worker-robot that’s straight, male, and white, because for some reason an industry that used to provide a shelter for alternative lifestyles, hell, used to be an alternative lifestyle in and of itself, apparently operates according to the same dudebro asshole code that high school locker rooms and cliched college frats operate on. It’s like all the geeks saw the assholes who bullied them and said, “Yeah, that. I want to be that.”

It’s a culture where the emotionally stunted get to call the shots. Where sexism has been institutionalized, hell, celebrated, and no one feels comfortable being the “squeaky wheel” as the article linked at the top calls it.

Well, I know that feeling. When I worked as a Senior Games Tester at an undisclosed company, I didn’t want to be the squeaky wheel either.

We had a Lead who would ask out female testers in the lab, and when they refused, he’d alter their metrics in order to get them fired.

We had another Lead who promoted a woman to Senior Tester because he had de facto control over that decision. There were rumors going around the office that to get the job, she’d sucked his dick after hours in the office that he shared with three other Leads. Rumors that I didn’t believe, because, seriously, ew, but the two didn’t help the rumors when less than a month later, they were openly dating.

One of my friends, still in the gaming industry as a Test Lead, was recently sabotaged at her job by another Lead. She’s a lesbian, and not a week passes where she doesn’t have to deal with overheard homophobic remarks.

My point being that since I transitioned out of game testing and into software, I’ve never heard racial slurs casually lobbed at someone brave enough to not be white after the door closed on the room. I’ve never heard a female colleague being referred to as a ‘dumb whore’ to her face. I’ve never heard the word ‘gay’ bandied about as if by a flock of brain-damaged parrots. I’ve never heard Management ever just shrug their shoulders as if to say “Oh Well,” and then actually, literally use the phrase, “Boys will be boys,” to describe Independent Contributor behavior.

There is a culture of silence around this, and the culture covers even people who would normally white knight this sort of situation, because the HR departments are there to cover up these sorts of incidents, and reporting issues will often get you fired. I’ve seen more legally ignorant (and too broke to afford counsel) testers be told that talking about this will be a violation of NDA. I couldn’t speak up, because my truck was breaking down, I was barely paying the bills as it was, and I needed this job to pay rent and keep from having to deal with a humiliating move back to my parent’s farm. I couldn’t afford to get the axe at that time.

I can’t imagine how this would wreck the self-esteem of a victim. Being forced to stand by and do nothing made me feel like worth less than shit, and I wasn’t even the targeted one.

And so I got out. I went to a closely-related industry, one where my skills were valued, one that actually pays a livable wage and doesn’t fire you if a scheduling conflict prevents you from working overtime whenever they demand it. Many of my friends don’t have the option that I did. And so I see articles like this, and it makes me ill, most of all because, as one commenter put it, “How much you want to bet the majority of commenters on this article will be white guys saying nothing’s wrong?”

And because I can’t say that they’re wrong; a specific type of white guy has the most to lose from a change in the status quo.

But on the other hand, I’m willing to bet that many of us “white guys” are just as indoctrinated into the culture of silence as the folks who’re getting the worst of it.

This is something that needs talked about. No matter how much the Knights of the Bro Code squeal about it. If it doesn’t change, the industry will keep only retaining talent that fits a certain narrow demographic profile. That can’t be good for business.

This is a Gaming Industry problem.

That is all.

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