I Can Be Just As Capable. Let Me.

When I sit down at a computer, my left hand falls automatically into the inverted-V shape known well by all of you; middle three fingers arched across W, A, S and D. Pinky hovering over left-shift, my thumb resting lightly on the space bar. There's a poetic comfort in this for me. I do it without thinking. These letters are the ones I always come home to.

I'm protective about my natural gravitation to those four letters. They've opened up huge new worlds for me: I've been to Rapture, Azeroth, the cutting cliff-faces of Dear Esther. I spent three and a half years working towards a games degree. I write about games now. This year, I flew to Los Angeles for my first E3.

Those four letters on my keyboard define me: I am a gamer, they say. This is what I do, what I know and what I love.

So last week at E3, it wasn't disappointing press conferences, my ruthless appointment schedule, not having time to eat, or even the nightly drinking that broke me. It was my forced separation from those four buttons.

***

It happened during one of my first appointments of the show, a half hour I'd booked to check out the sequel to a well-known military shooter franchise. I'd checked into the publisher's booth as media and had been told to wait at a computer for the next available PR person to assist me.

So I sat down, fingers falling perfectly across the keyboard. Before me, yellow grass swayed in the wind, and leaning on the W, I began to move slowly through its blades, watching the brush give way to glimpses of crumbling buildings and battered vehicles. It was a meticulously detailed scene and I wanted to absorb all of it.

This was how the PR representative found me a few minutes later, though it seemed he mistook my marvel for a slow-witted lack of comprehension.

“Do you play PC games?” he asked, frowning.

One of the publications on my media badge was listed as PC PowerPlay. It shouldn't have been necessary for him to ask such a question, but I answered. “Yes.”

“Well, OK.” I sensed a disbelief in the guy's voice. “But do you play shooters?”

I remember the silence that filled this space beyond this question. I was horrified that anyone could even ask such a thing. Here I was, sitting with my fingers spread across WASD, admiring a game world — and somehow, for some obtuse reason, being assumed to be someone who didn't know anything about the world or how to interact with it.

“I think I better play it for you,” he said finally, prying my hands away and turning the keyboard towards himself.

And so there I was, hands twisted awkwardly and uselessly in my lap as a guy walked me through his game. In laboured detail, he explained to me simple mechanics that any shooter player would be well-acquainted with. He avoided the gameplay due to some apparent strange belief that I was not there to learn about shooting things in a shooter game, that perhaps my delicate girl senses might be offended by killing with guns and missiles. He pointed out rabbits in the grass with all the condescension of an adult trying to distract a noisy toddler, as if my interest in this simulation-grade shooter lay in some wildly misguided assumption that it would be full of adorable, fluffy animals.

I looked down the booth and saw gamers at the other computers playing their own games, their own hands controlling the avatars. No PR representatives were hovering at their shoulders, pre-empting that a lack of knowledge would lead to them playing the game “wrong”. I felt ridiculous and unwanted. I felt it ridiculous that I should feel unwanted.

I left that booth having learnt very little about the game, beyond that it apparently wasn't a game that should have interested me. I was evidently a nuisance to these people because... because what? I had made the appointment because of my own curiosity. I had rocked up of my own accord, eager to play what I believed to be a game interesting enough to write about. Instead my presence was underestimated, and I was brushed off as not wanting to truly be there. I couldn't figure out why — besides perhaps that I was a woman in a pink skirt.

It continued to happen through the next few days of E3. Upon checking into a booth, I would often be asked by the PR rep whether I wanted someone to play my “hands-on” demo for me. During booth tours, I would more often than not be guided towards the Facebook games. Following demonstrations, I was often offered fact sheets just in case I didn't “understand”. People would regularly take note of the publications listed on my badge and say, “But you don't really play, right?” I was assumed to be eye candy, the pretty face of a publication whose content was provided by people with actual talent. Every time I protested, the offender would say — as if it were a proven fact — “Well, girls aren't usually into this stuff, you know.”

And you might say that it's silly that I might still find this so hurtful. After so many years of getting underestimated for being a woman in online games, in a games degree, in games journalism, why would it seem that I'm still not used to this? Why am I not tired of it already? Why have I not yet learned to shut up and realise that things will never change? If I'm so offended, why am I not determined to just keep my head down and prove the unbelieving wrong by producing good work?

And honestly? It's because we're f**king beyond this already.

So to be undervalued by the people promoting the games that I wanted to cover — games that I personally chose to cover — was a hurtful underestimation of my capabilities, both as a journalist and as a gamer. I wanted to accurately write about the games that I saw; instead, it was too often assumed from the outset that I would not be able to do this as a woman, and PR representatives took it to task to feed me condescension-laced spoonfuls of their games, lest my apparent black hole of knowledge sucked their product into the empty deadness of inaccurate, female-penned games journalism. And such behaviour on their part only confirms what they assume based on my long hair and my mascara — of course my hands-on recount is not going to be accurate, not when my own hands are batted away from the thing so that someone more “capable” could take point.

It's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy that being prevented from playing a game myself leads to only shallow coverage of it, and to have it bylined with a woman's name only reinforces the idea that a woman might be no good at covering games anyway. Why this, when we've made such progress? It's not just an insult to me — it's an insult to my editors, to the publications I write for, to games journalism, and to gaming.

It's unbelievable that this is still happening. If this is how PR people feel about women's capabilities, no wonder the promotional side of games is so sexist. No wonder marketing people still think it's, on some level, OK to have a trailer feature a man ripping into a band of sexy nuns. No wonder we're seeing it filter down into the developers, who implement in-game achievements for looking up the skirts of 19-year-old women dressed like schoolgirls. No wonder we're watching it filter down into the gamers, who tell the ladies amongst us that they can't possibly know anything about the online games that they play. After all, what proof is there of that when women are not allowed to speak on an authoritative level?

When we've come so far, to have a woman be underestimated at such an internal, integral point of the games industry tragically diminishes what the medium can achieve, and undoes so much of what we've worked to overcome.

***

When I sit down at a computer, fingers automatically fanning out over WASD, I shouldn't have to be made to feel as though it's not my place. As if I'm a fraud, or wasting the time of the people who develop, promote, or publish games. I can be just as capable as any other writer or gamer. Let me.


Comments

    wow, no kitchen jokes?

    Great article. The first half carries her usual beautiful tone but the second half is much more gritty and less eloquent (not like Katie at all), which I'm sure is deliberate to highlight her continuous frustration with this unfortunate dynamic.

    I'm shocked at the number of comments expecting Katie to have revolted. First off, how is this even relevant? I wonder how many of them would have been able to react in the way that they have dictated that Katie should have. Katie is a human being, not some robot or character, with programming or a script ready to respond appropriately to every subtle action of discrimination. It's just victim shaming and completely misses the point. Second, the publication of this article is much more purposeful and influential than opposing a couple of PR agents.

    Kotaku has quite a few of these types of articles which usually lack much substance or a point but this is a refreshing change of pace when I was getting tired of 'real life' articles on this website.

    Thank you Katie for sharing.

    OK, now try being a PC gamer that doesn't use WASD.

    It's bordering on ridiculous the amount of games, modern games, that do not allow people to rebind mouse and key functions away from WASD.

    Sucks about the way you were treated. You could've pulled an Aisha Tyler on them instead? =)

    Regardless of what happened, you had to correct the guy.

    Next time I suggest the following:

    "I came to E3 to play games. You clearly came over here to look at my ass. I'm going to play me some games, feel free to keep looking at my ass."

    As a female in a male dominated field I've found humour and letting a sexist male make a fool of himself by reasonably questioning why he feels you clearly need help (and yes if you keep asking 'why' they will eventually say something stupid) are by far the best ways to deal with the situation.

    And yes for those never having experienced anything similar you do get incredibly tired of having to defend your gender, your hobbies, and your position. Maybe one day new (male) workers won't wander into my office demanding I fetch the site engineer like I were my own secretary. But I don't think I'll be seeing that day for some years to come.

    Holy crap. I mean, it was one thing when he did the whole "are you sure you know what you're doing?" thing, but then to physically take over from her?

    That truly deserved a swift kick to the balls imo. Great article, I feel completely awful now.

    Great article Katie!
    I hate that this type of thing is still happening in 2012. C'mon nerds, can't we be more inclusive of everyone? :/
    Reading about this makes me even more determined to help change this in our culture. Games are for everyone. Not just the nerdbros.

    Wow... on behalf of my gender, I sincerely apologise. Seriously, what happened to you is just wrong... you have a right to be so much more angry than you are. I kind of want to slap that PR representative, and I hope that people like that will actually read this article and will stop being bigoted pricks.

      Get over yourself, why should you apologise for what someone else has done? And on behalf of your gender? Because all men are sexist morons right? So I guess that includes you.

      What happened was one (or more, not sure) individual acted in a sexist way, it's not the fault of an entire gender. Don't lump me, and all the other men who are against any kind of ignorance, in with this douche bag.

    So how's Lollipop Chainsaw working out for everyone?

      It just arrived today, my wife and I look forward to palying it when I get home from work tonight.

      Why do you ask? Did you think it was relevant?

    Having been playing, following and teaching in games for many years this saddens, but doesn't surprise me. Unfortunately I've seen many articles like this over the years, so many in fact that I sometimes feel that while gaming technology is moving forward at a rapid rate, games culture is either stagnate or in retrograde. We all know how bad it is; what we need now is a strategy for shifting the culture not just of the industry, but of the players as well.

    just because you're wearing mascara and a pink skirt doesn't mean you can't shove the guy aside and say "get your own machine and watch me kick your ass in slow motion!"
    The fact that this kind of sexism exists sucks indeed,but I can't help but think maybe things would be different if all the gamer girls in pink skirts stood up to this bullshit instead of moving on to the next booth ...

    Holy crap, it's like you can see me.. I start reading this and it's talking about where your fingers/thumb are resting and my hand is in exactly the same position.

    Why didn't Kate just politely tell them to fuck off, and continue to play it herself? "No thank you, I can do it myself" isn't that hard to say. I'm pretty sure a firm rebuttal and a chastising comment would make them think twice about their misconstrued perspective on 'female gamers'. No?

      I agree completely. But maybe we're just the hot-headed type?
      Or maybe she was too dumbfounded to react?

        What ever it was, letting them take over and just doing nothing wasn't the right choice.

    I've opened this post more than a few times to read it and respond. Every single time, reading your first paragraph, I've gravitated towards MY favoured position.

    Pinky on the A, Ring Finger over W, and D is covered by Middle Finger. I too feel strongly about something like this and stranger still, I've been called out on it before too.

    To be settling into ANY game for the first time, no matter the number in its title or its genre, and to have somebody make a comment about your interaction with it (a priceless feeling, always) breaks everything. I remember not being able to shake the 'oh, so you're going to do it like that?' comment for a very long time. Yes, it was a LAN night, to which I was a newcomer.

    I cannot nor do I want to say anything about Ms. Williams' gender, I'm not equipped to do so. The modern videogame industry was built upon flights of fancy; fleeting and cyclical pieces of escapism that for years were celebrated as 'our thing'. This was our refuge, our down-time, our own personal little big worlds for us and nobody else.

    This industry has a technical beginning, but like Leena once said on a podcast I listen to, there has been a shift away from this.

    Car shows and the Motor Industry are the obvious template on which the publishers, the ESA, and everybody else behind E3 et al have based their greedy hopes on. Come for the product, stay for the glitz and glamour.

    I personally see "videogames" as a young and vulnerable child growing up too fast, being taken advantage of too soon.

    Cinema was allowed to develop itself as a craft and a science while being decried as the poor cousin of theatre and books. Games were not allowed this period of introspection and self-discovery when they needed it.

    Now, it's easy to say it's too late. That's a cop out though. You're too late.

    I don't have any point to this, it's been a bad bad year for videogames on all fronts after the past few so-called "glory years" and back-slapping we've been doing. We've gotten high on our own supply and think we're different from people. We are not.

    You feel strongly about something, you do something about it - maybe you want change, maybe you don't want things to change. I don't want to resort to binaries or sides but however you feel, stick to your convictions and Make Yourself Heard.

    For what it's worth as a lifelong console gamer, WASD is what is holding me back from enjoying PC games (well that and the performance of my PC!)

    Thats your fault for being a scrub and not challenging him to a 1 v 1 money match, it sounds like you were just passive about it and went along with whatever, you should have poped off.

    That was pretty rude and some shoddy PR work there. Feel bad not only for Katie but also for the games she tried to partake in. Now the image of those games have been semi tarnished because some idiots let their preconceptions get in the way. I wonder if they were like that to anyone else?

    Bloody hell. I can't believe I just read that. First thought is immediately, "It's wrist-slapping time."
    Second thought is: Now might be a time to start reading up on the names of female game developers, particularly in lead roles, and the famous titles they've worked on. Spout a few of those indignantly, asking if the PR guy knows who they are and/or what they made... Bonus points if it happens to be the game they're showing.

    I know there are a few, because I read some interviews on PA report and Medium Difficulty. I just can't remember their names. Of course, this is how things SHOULD be. Game developers do not always do so well in the 'rockstar' persona. For every Warren Spector there's a John Romero (she's so pretty, though), or Richard Garriott ("Stop crying about Tabula Rasa, I went to SPACE, bitches! Hey. You should totally invest in my new mobile social gaming ideas." Nah, I'm not bitter.)

    Kate, that was a fascinating read about what must have been a most frustrating and insulting series of experiences at E3. Thank you for sharing this eye-opener with us.

    I sincerely hope that your article has also been shared with those in a postition to institute a change in attitude at all the relevent publishers etc. Senior management, heads of PR, and even HR need to know about the behaviour of their PR teams on the ground at events like E3.

    I hope this article makes a difference, and I hope Kate, that you have a better experience at future events.

    How can you argue that women should be treated equally, and then complain about Agent 47 defending himself against a band of female assassins because they're female in the same breath?

    I'm all for sexual equality, anyone who isn't is a stone-age neanderthal, but you totally contradicted yourself there and that ruins your credibility as a journalist.

      They WERE NOT complaining about him defending himself against female assassins; if you'd bothered to read any of the articles concerning the subject instead of just reverting to your default butthurt paranoid teenager defense position, then you would've seen people were talking about the sexualized violence. That and it was just shit.

    Razer Lycosa, Saitek Eclipse II, MacBook Pro (non-unibody). Long live WASD!

    I'd like to say I'm amazed that people are still this stuck in their stereotypes, but unfortunately, I think it's a trait of its generation, by and large.

    It's my understanding that Katie was at e3 on behalf of PCP to collect information about the games. As far as I see it, if a PR guy was stopping Katie from getting better information then she wasn't doing her job well, regardless of whether any sexism was involved. Surely she should've also been asking questions about the game, which would have also demonstrated she knew what she was doing. Additionally, it was the PR guys job to facilitate the demos. He made a call that his involvement would make your demo easier. Whether this judgement was based on sexism or not, if that call had been helpful in most cases then it was a logical thing to do.
    I think the more valuable learning experience here is the need to be more assertive. It's incredibly important in the Journalism industry.

    Actually, she may have provided one of the best responses she could have. Can anyone tell me from this article which game's PR reps treated her this way? Nope? Epic PR fail. Even though it happened more than once, and I'm sure you went to be able to write reviews of the games you experienced, the lack of information about those games means the PR guys and their employers wasted their time and money.

    Sorry to tell you, but I am really mad at you! You missed lots of opportunities!

    When somebody, especially a male person treats a woman in a way she doesn't want to be treated, she has to speak up. A few well-chosen words, a few decisive keystrokes on your beloved WASD -- and you would have been in the game, quite literally speaking.

    And you might even have set some male brain cells in motion.

    I assume that you are still quite young. So I can only ask you: get into the habit to speak up, to speak, act and play for yourself. You'll not only be doing yourself a favour, but also all of the female gamers out there!

      Hear, hear! I echo your opinion wholeheartedly!

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