Anita Sarkeesian has a video web series, Feminist Frequency, that picks apart the sexual stereotypes in video games and pop culture. Her most recent video, “Ms. Male Character – Tropes vs Women,” is a delightfully entertaining look at two predominant tropes in video games: the female character is always an extension of the male character, and most video games feature only one female character among the many male characters. Unfortunately, her work has drawn death and rape threats for pointing out the obvious sexism in video games. Having worked at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), it doesn’t surprise me that nothing has changed in the ten years since I left the video game industry.
The Q.A. department I worked in for six years always had at least one or two female testers. They were good enough to become lead testers, but they never stayed longer than a few years. Most got tired of the relentless 80-hours-per-week crunch time and left on their own initiative to find better work elsewhere.
Some female testers got fired because of their sex.
- A female lead tester got fired for calling a male tester an asshole for not doing the work that she assigned him. She shouldn’t have said that loud enough for everyone in the department to hear. One bruised male ego went scurrying to HR for comfort. What HR didn’t take into consideration was that everyone else regarded that particular male tester as an asshole as well.
- A female tester and a male tester got into trouble for making out during the company event to see “Star Wars: Attack of The Clones” at the AMC Mercado 20. That raised some eyebrows. What got them fired was jeopardizing the code release date for my project by falsifying the test data before and after the movie. Screwing around during a bad movie was one thing, jeopardizing the code release date was something else.
- A female tester got fired for being a “poor” tester. That’s the official reason. I was the only lead tester who offered to provide her with more training. My supervisor later admitted that some male testers didn’t want to work with her because she wasn’t that good-looking from the chicken pox scarring on her face.
If this environment seems familiar, it’s the classic high school locker room. The only women who excelled in this environment are tomboys who aren’t afraid of asserting themselves without being too feminine. The underlying culture of sexism won’t change until the gender ratio in the video game industry changes to influence the development process for new video games.