How to stop hurting -- and start helping -- women in games


One way games, even “traditionally male” games, can help is by offering reasonable female player model choices.


Not reasonable:


so which is it? Where are the sex positive wing of feminism they seem to stay quiet or not get very much press?

That’s a false binary. The tension isn’t sex positive feminism vs. prudes, it’s titillation vs humane depictions. There’s a big difference.


Like @dgstieber mentions, you’re comparing two polarities - both are unreasonable. The “reasonable” picture that @codinghorror used is still obviously feminine, but looks distinctly bad ass, and so she would more likely be a fun choice than the scantily clad “unreasonable” choice.

And FWIW I would most def play as Vasquez over Hudson or Hicks. The unreasonable character looks too fragile (which, I’d wager a guess, is what the designer was going for).


In that comic the woman in the bikini is presumably the one who made the decision to wear it—that’s what makes it OK. The same outfit would be demeaning if the selection was made by someone else—like the outfit Jabba the Hutt forces Leia to wear. The bikini-clad woman also represents the extreme end of a spectrum, not the typical woman walking in public.

In video games, most improbably-proportioned female characters who show a lot of skin were rendered that way because a male-dominated group of developers and their (presumed) male-dominated audience like looking at the sexy sexy ladyflesh.

In the video game world, a woman who looks and dresses like a normal human being (think Chell from Portal) is the exception rather than the rule.


By the same token, it would be nice to have female villains that weren’t caricatures of their weird femininity. I just played through Borderlands 2 (again) and there is not a single female villain of any sort. The females in the game (very few) are either overly sexualized (Mad Moxxi, Lilith), non-entities (numerous NPCs in Sanctuary), or only intended on making a specific man look like a loser (Daisy, who rapidly commits suicide). The one (barely) exception is Ellie, who only exists to sell vehicles in the middle of nowhere and provide a couple tiny quests.

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obviously feminine

not really she was made out to be a masculine butch “most likely a lesbian” type.
for example that image is used on this page -->

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Just to de-tangent and get back to the video for a second, did the whole thing feel really hostile to anyone else? I don’t know if it was the subject matter, the venue, the speaker, or what- but I was fucking dying for some suggested positive alternate behavior/structure/way forward. I guess that that wasn’t her objective, but… i dunno. Anyone else?

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Like the “showing basic sensitivity” slide and set of examples and suggestions?


No, I didn’t think so. She’s describing a problem that is hostile in its very nature, and I don’t think she should be required to sugarcoat it anyway.

But I thought she described a frustrating and terrifying situation very calmly.


did the whole thing feel really hostile to anyone else

Her exasperated sighs, etc. got annoying after a bit. And her “you can’t relate because you’re male, but I want you to relate” thing was tiring. That said, despite her somewhat weak public speaking skills, I understand her hostility and frustration especially when I look at the many emotionally stunted men that are statistically within the tech industry.

While I do agree that she could have conveyed her points in a stronger form, I also agree with @MarkDow that she also showed very clear suggestions of what you were asking for.


Yeah, I guess it’s just depressing that empathy is the much needed antidote
to the diseases she’s describing. I don’t work in tech, so that seems like
more of a “thing you just do” than “game changing solution”. I was
neglecting the simple (though apparently not easy) solution. Point taken.

To paraphrase Vonnegut: “goddammit babies, you’ve got to be kind.”

It’s interesting–and probably very relevant–that the previous two comments refer to the games industry as part of “tech” rather than e.g. a parallel to the film industry.

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Certainly, her delivery was not polished.

Yet, though I make very similar observations about her inability to contain the passion she felt for her points, I attribute that to the strength of her conviction, not her inability to polish those points for general consumption.

Fer chrissakes, at the top she felt that she had to ask the audience if they wanted easy-mode or hard-mode. She was already talking to a hostile audience, when she asked if she could be hostile-er.

Totally opposite. Felt like she was being chill and sitting on the couch and leveling with me about a bunch of shit she had pent-up but was heretofore afraid to say.


Let’s be totally honest here (and realistic), and note that the gaming INDUSTRY will change for the positive in regards to treatment of women when, and only when, it’s profitable for it to do so.

As a weird side tangent, how many positive portrayals of women are there in beer commercials? I honestly don’t know as I don’t really pay attention to beer commercials, but my admittedly superficial analysis recalls only images of women as sexual conquests (the multiple women hanging off “the most interesting man in the world” etc…). No “I love relaxing in my sweatpants with a nice cold beer after a long and shitty day of compiling code…” types. Again, I don’t pay much attention so I could be wrong, but sex sells beer to a largely male audience, so the beer industry uses superficial image that appeal to the baser instincts of men. Same thing with the vidya industry. Largely male, and often a fairly young and hormonal audience at that. What appeals to them? Positive female images, or their fantasy of sexy women? Hmm…

I imagine being a woman working in the advertising industry is probably similarly frustrating.

Change the economics of the situation, and you can get them pandering to whatever is going to make them the most $. Kinda sad, but true.

I would think a woman in the advertising industry is doing exactly what you pointed out. That is, finding out what the target audience wants and creating copy that brings in the most bucks. When it comes to beer commercials I suspect most women are also thinking how dumb the male population is.

That’s a total cop-out, when you consider that some of the most profitable games out there–The Sims, the various ___Ville games, subscription and free-to-play MMOs–feature a cast of playable female characters. Gaming already has a sizeable female population that is underserved by the current AAA games industry (which is what we’re mostly talking about here).

It’s not about making entirely new games for women (although that would be nice), it’s about having some consideration for a chunk of your audience by not excluding them. It does not hurt even the most man-shootiest game to include some realistic women, even if it’s just in the background. It will not sell less copies if you remove some of the most egregious sexualization. It will not be missed.

And some games will stay chauvinistic and full of cheesecake and shameless pandering and that’s fine. But most games would be better without that crap.


How were the following points hostile? I thought the talk was excellent and rings pretty true to me and the industry I work in.

Stop Treating Sexism like another Controversy to Discuss
Start Showing Basic Sensitivity

Stop Telling Women our experiences are Wrong
Start Respecting our Lived Experiences

Stop Making WIT issues all About Men
Start Listening

Start Doing Your Part to Help Women with Children Stay in Tech

Start Widening Your Network to Include Women

Stop Identifying yourself as a Nice Guy

Start Accepting that we all have a part to play in making this better

Stop Thinking that Sexism in tech is a Mad Men Moment

  • It’s a series of microaggressions (Death by 1000 papercuts)

Start Understanding that it’s much more subtle.

The absence of privilege is not oppression

Start realizing that tech will become more diverse

Stop Thinking that it’s up to women to solve these issues


Brianna Wu here. Wow, Gwwar. Thanks for typing that up. I would have just posted the slides here. ^^

You know, as the presenter - I wanted to speak off the cuff and with passion. I felt like there would be more truth in it if I didn’t read off a prompter. It was also in the middle of WWDC, and I was running on coffee and adrenaline.

But ultimately, I don’t really care what you think about my tone or my sighing. That’s just a distraction from the main topic, which is about the BS women deal with in this industry. It’s serious, and it bears addressing.