Gaming industry, theorists: no common ground

by | Mar 25, 2015 | Opinion

Kate Richards

Managing Editor / Opinion Editor


There’s been a bit of a war in the video games industry in the past year. The #GamerGate controversy saw many women in the industry, including game developers and media critics, suffer online harassment from the so-called cyber-mob, who threatened massacres at venues these women were scheduled to speak at, hacked their personal information and issued online death and rape threats. The harassment became so prevalent in the lives of these women that many of them were forced into hiding out of fear.

Although some #GamerGaters claim their anger stems from a lack of ethics in gaming journalism, gender-based threats and harassment still continue. Earlier this month Brianna Wu, a game developer, pulled her company, Giant Spacekat, out of PAX East, one of the biggest gaming conventions in North America, due to safety concerns revolving around local death threats from #GamerGate supporters.

Anita Sarkeesian, an American-Canadian media critic, has faced similar threats. What these women have in common is they’ve critiqued and sometimes only plainly stated that there is a very real issue in games: the fact that many blockbuster game manufacturers target a white, heterosexual, male audience. Because of this there are many issues surrounding a lack of female playable protagonists in games and very minimal strong female side characters. They are usually a kind of background prop that only serve a purpose when the often overly masculine male protagonist decides to interact with them. Essentially, representations of women in video games are sexist.

Sarkeesian’s video blog series, Tropes vs. Women delves into this issue and a major reason for the uprising against her and other women involved in the gaming industry by the #GamerGate cyber-mob is the mob’s belief that games are made for them, represent their interests and shouldn’t change in order to be more inclusive and aware of their impact on society. They’re just games after all.

Viewing games as “just a hobby” or simply a toy is not productive. This medium embraces literature, film, history, art, design, technology, and social and political issues. Games are a form of art.

The gaming industry has failed to adopt a more inclusive audience through more realistic and diverse characters and stories because of how the people who make games are educated. There is a strong divide between people who study game development and design and people who study games theory.

Those who study games theory have little to no impact on the industry itself and for the most part do view them as an art form. Games theorists critique every aspect of a game, from the sound mechanics, to animation, to narratives and representations of characters, similar to how a film theory student analyzes films. But, unlike film, the majority of their research remains trapped within the realm of academia.

Most game development programs teach simply that: the mechanics involved in making and developing games.

While it’s difficult to believe that after statistics have surfaced that show nearly 50 per cent of gamers today are women, these major game development companies haven’t taken on that audience.  But it could definitely be this lack of communication between game developers and games theorists that has caused many blockbuster games to remain so stagnant when it comes to representation and diversity in their products.

Although there are a few post-secondary institutions that have begun collaboration between game development programs and games theory programs, game development and design programs themselves should have embraced the humanities as part of the process of making games long ago. If they had, perhaps many of the unbelievable controversies and backlash could have been avoided.