You Were Obviously Never a Geek: Sexism in the Game Industry

That expression just about covers it.

Can I tell you how furious that phrase makes me?

The last day or more, #1reasonwhy has been trending on twitter. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a discussion of why there aren’t more women in the game industry. It’s fascinating, revealing, disturbing, infuriating, motivating–all of these things–to see what other women have gone through.

This was my contribution: sharing how some few male co-workers & supervisors had told me I obviously wasn’t a geek. At the time, I got defensive. I tried to prove that no, I am a geek! See? I have the social scars from high school to prove it. I know the Konami code. I have Star Trek earrings… I’ve played video games since I was a kid, I’ve read adult science fiction since 4th grade (almost exclusively, to my parents’ dismay), and, for fuck’s sake, I’ve published science fiction. Professionally.

But here’s the thing–I never should have been put in that position. Because it’s an ad hominem attack as well as a red herring. It’s a fucking logical fallacy, but it worked on me and that’s what makes me angry.

The only reason you say this to someone in the gaming industry is to discredit them and put them off balance. It isn’t useful information. It isn’t helpful feedback. It isn’t affectionate ribbing. This is what someone says to a woman, in front of others, to discredit her ideas and put her on the defensive. When it happened to me, I shifted from arguing my point to defending my honor as a geek. Say it often enough, and loudly enough, and other people start believing it. It’s a great way to undermine someone without them even realizing it.

I’ve had it said to me in private to justify treating me like crap. Passing me over for promotion. I’ve even had one dude tell me I was right about a particular story design problem, but I obviously had never been a geek. Unspoken, the other dude–the one who was wrong–had been a geek. Geek solidarity. No icky girls allowed in this clubhouse.

I wish I could go back and have that conversation again. Except this time, I wouldn’t go on the defensive. I wouldn’t back down. I wouldn’t be polite and try to make nice. And I wouldn’t let the fear of it costing me my job keep me silent, because a job working with people like that isn’t worth having.

Right now, I’m lucky. I’m working with a team of guys who believe in the rather shocking concept that women are people, too. And yeah, I am the only woman on the narrative team, which says something about our industry. But I am on the team and I am treated with respect. It’s the right direction.

2 Responses

  1. Someone thinks that the woman who came up with the exercise and knowledge-acquisition plan to prepare for the zombie apocalypse isn’t a geek? Clearly, he knows nothing.

  2. It’s sad that even folks in the sci-fi fandom and gaming communities (the sorts of people one would’ve thought to be too enlightened/tolerant) can cling to harmful stereotypes. I wonder if such attitudes extend beyond gender to include race and other distinctions.
    I personally know that girls can be “geeks” too. I had a friend named Crystal who was more of a gamer than I’ll ever be. I’ve also met and worked with female colleagues whose technical savvy made me look like a caveman in comparison.

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