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

    That sounds very frustrating. :( I hope on the day, you did tell those people to get f**ked.

    I mean, in a better world, you shouldn't have to, but this isn't a better world yet. Some people still need to be informed.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      How is what she's wearing relevant?

      Even if this is meant to be tongue in cheek, it's not particularly funny. Her clothing is not relevant to her skill as a gamer.

        Easy. If I walk into an NRA meeting in assless chaps. Expect to be treated differently from the gun-loving crowd. Attend E3 dressed as eye-candy , expect to be treated like you have no idea.
        What you are wearing and where is EXTREMELY relevant to how you're perceived and treared in societies all over the world.

        Yes, its relevant.

          Are you KIDDING me with this? You are literally using the 'she was wearing a skirt, she was asking for it' argument.

            Wrong. Thats not the argumentnim using at all. And im not trying to defend the persons behaviour.
            What im trying to is establish is that what she waa wearing may have had a great affect on how this person perceived her. But it hasnt been clearly established yet.
            The article just glances over at what she was wearing, being vague-ish.
            A pink skirt? How pink/how short/ did you look like the hired bimbos at
            hose car-racing-game kiosks?

            Context has not been established thoroughly here. Apart from what best supports the agendas of article.

            My argument supposes also that the issue has not been looked at from all angles, just the ones that support her conclusion. May have been an isolated incident too, as many women claim to have not been treated as such.

            In response to the blog post by Katie about this article:
            Extrapolating your own experience to claim industry-wide problem...
            What percentage of the industry would you say treat women as such?

            Also: your a woman whos probably attractive, you're gonna get hit on, get over it.
            Getting checked out and hit on are the least of your worries.
            What if you were ugly and couldnt find a date to save your life?
            Rest my case.

          You're right it is extremely relevant, because clothing and attire has been a huge part of human culture and customs since the dawn of man.

          "A pink skirt is one of the first steps into perceived bimbo territory…"
          So what, you're a fashion guru now?

          "If I walk into an NRA meeting in assless chaps."
          Fallacious comparison.

      This comment is disgusting. Women aren't allowed to wear skirts now for fear of being perceived as a bimbo?

      Get a clue.

        Katie was on the job, you wouldn't see anyone wearing a pink skirt in an office, she'd obviously get weird looks. That's not being sexist, any man would get funny looks too if he wore something strange. E3 obviously is alot more casual, but IF her attire wasn't really professional you can't really blame the guy. Again, we don't really know what she wore or how she looked that day so it's somewhat pointless to guess if the PR guy's reaction to her was based on what she was wearing.

          Check out pictures of E3 attendees - what you'd define as "professional" wouldn't be the dress of the day. If people wearing baggy shorts, combat trousers, sweatpants, XXL game shirts and sneakers could play demos without being hastled by PR reps, I doubt the skirt has anything to do with it.

    For what it's worth: please don't give up.

    Oh, God. So many good comments here, not enough time to comment on them all. Page one, especially.

    Don't let yourself be walked on, stand up for yourself and tell the "demoer" that you're perfectly capable of playing for yourself!

    im going to take a guess and say it was that Beyond game.
    shouldn't take it. take the controller off them and tell them what to do.

    Where the f**k do they find dolts that keep making dim-witted conjectures like this? How do they even get hired as PR people in the first place? Is it an easy field of entry? Companies should be responsible for lecturing the people who are going to be writing about their games some respect. Lest more s**t like this occurs and emphasises the cold burn of humanity even further.

    As a woman and being into games, we've all been there and it's so damn hard to break out of it as you're often ridden completely speechless of their actions and not really ready for their behaviour. Like getting that "extra help with finding the right category of games" you didn't ask for when picking up or browsing for games, getting that sympathetic or even condescending look when entering a store that you obviously should have no interest in (says who? perhaps I'm in need of a power drill, how should you know?) or hear that sugar coated baby-talk as if you weren't just slightly lost but also completely helpless and in obvious need of guidance. But writing this article is just the right thing to do I believe, to raise the awareness that even if we've gotten far, we're not really "there" yet either. How else are we going to rid ourselves from these shallow, superficial minds? Keep up the good work Katie and keep reporting on those games.
    /Fellow gamer, Sweden

    I'm a girl and I really wish you had written about they games that you were trying to try out so we'd know what they were. You can't expect a fan base to lash back at sexist PR if they don't know WHICH Developer or WHICH game we're even looking at. Plus, if your publisher allows you could use sarcasm in the describing of said game so at the least we could laugh at how stupid it was that you had to go through it, and be shocked at how little you learned about the game when we go and play this part of the game you were shown when the game comes out.

    And man, if the PR guy was showing me cute bunny rabbits instead of gameplay I would have at least said something like "yes, but can you KILL them?" or "can we get to killing people already?"

    It's terrible that a woman would have to show any aggressiveness to get them to get the point but PR needs to know that even if you are a 'sweet little girlie' that it is wholly inappropriate to treat you like that. I would talk to your employer to tell them that it is a huge issue and to ask what defences would fall in the realm of professionalism that you can use to actually get your job done. I'm sure if you take inspiration from the polite ways of letting someone down if they're hitting on you, you can find some ways to get these morons to back the Hell off. Good luck in the future

    I'm astonished this still happens.

    At least he didn't hand you a gamepad.

    Wow, you have no idea how much this makes me want to go to E3 next year! What these PR reps needs are more women gamers at these events to show them games are not just for men. Perhaps the PR guy in this story isn't a real gamer and felt intimidated by gamers and thought he could teach a "non-gamer" a thing or two.... Great article though, and thanks for representing women gamers everywhere. As for all the comments about what Katie should or should not have done... this is NOT a blog article about confrontation, this is an article about gender issues in the gaming industry, so let's stay on topic shall we?

    Congrats on finding a sexist - It's like one of those achievements you get for figuring out how to walk your character forward or push a button. These folks are everywhere, including the games industry.
    A female friend recently approached me about helping her with the mowing... without knowing anything about my actual gardening skills, my penis ownership was all she needed to assume that I was deeply skilled in such things. She's a nice person, I like her.. but she still stumbled right into employing a gender stereotype without even thinking about it.

    And every time I go through Spotlight scrounging for project supplies, I feel the eyes upon me.

      Boom. Score one for female sexism at men.
      It exists on both sides but is a wholly different kind on both sides.

        It's too bad there aren't enough blogs about it. Time to speak out lads!

    It says so much about the the lack of public awareness let along lack of public relations skills of so called PR people. Really they need ot open their eyes and look at the real world where about 50% of the population is actually female. The heads of these companies should purge these ignorant people as they are costing the company money. Just goes to show that the old axiom about assume making an ass out of you and me still rings true. Sadly its not isolated to the gaming community/industry but is still widespread in PR and advertising in general.

    I still remember the time a friend was buying a new car and the male salesmen always assumed she knew nothing because she was an attractive very feminine looking woman. She just happened to be a successful stock car racing driver and self taught mechanic that would have made any of them look like the idiots they were.

    reading comments obviously some people have emotional issues and taking it far too seriously, violence, verbal abuse is not the answer you should never care what others think and let if affect you cause you will become bitter and scare everyone off, people have a right to their opinions even though some are wrong and some are right but you keep it to yourself.as long as your happy with yourself thats all that matters and dont give the satisfaction of letting them upset you or reacting to them just ignore them. she should of just ignored him and taken keyboard back or just said im fine thanks how he took it from you you take it back he would of said ok and walked away

    Katie, your articles and interviews over the past several months have been some of my favorite games journalism. You seem to cover a lot of the great developers and issues that I personally find most interesting, as an indie developer, and as a bit of an older player (now 34). Not sure how you do it, but whatever you're doing, you're doing it right!

    And it's really disappointing to hear that it is sometimes a struggle. That people are not responding to your appropriately at places like E3. I think this article addresses the issue in a unique way, and I hope the gaming world at large responds to it in positive ways.

    Viva!

    Theres no excuse for what happened here, it makes me very dissapointed in the gaming community to hear that shit like this is STILL happening.

    The thing that made this extra frustrating for me though, is that you stood there, and let this guy tell you these things and take over the game for you. So as others have said, if you feel so pasionatly about this (as you and everyone else should), then stand up for yourself and say something. Otherwise these retards are just going to keep doing the same thing over and over again.

    Its one thing to write a blog post about it, its another to take action during the 'moment'.

    I love this article. I have the same issue when i talk online most male gamers are incredibly immature about 'female' gamers.

    It quickly turns from advanced combat tactics to...simplistic talking and a feeling of being treated like a complete and utter idiot.

    Example: "This is the bomb, we need to defus eit when it beeps. Now, this bomb site is called A and this one is called B. When we call out A we need you to run towards A and-"

    Wow, this was a really great article. Well, up until the end, when the PR guy's thought that the author of the article might be a delicate little flower easily offended by gameplay was actually more or less proved correct.

    Remember, the PR guys job is not to be a good person.

    His job is to protect his brand.

    Imagine how you would have written about his game when you got to the scantily clad women in it on your own. (Sure there might not have been any scantily clad ladies in this game, but some people are also very, very offended by violence in First Person Shooters. Oh, and I think they have just as much right to be offended by violence as "fan service," as long as they don't take it to court. That includes trashing games for being "sexist fratboy fantasies" or "violent misanthropic bloodfests" in their reviews. Even if I believe those reviews are wrong. The PR guys job, though, is to make sure those reviews don't get written... even if they are right.)

    So, not a good person, but apparently he accidentally did the right thing for his job by making a "profiling" sexist assumption about the author. I was outraged through most of the article and then by the end I said, "Ok, other PR guys (and ladies) read this. Trust your instincts, even when they seem sexist."

    Which is unfortunate, because otherwise this would have been a comment outraged at your unfair treatment.

    I feel a bit like when the proved that the witch weighed as much as a duck in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "It was a fair cop."

    If it's any consolation you are probably better at First Person Shooters than me, as I've never master WASD and prefer to remap to the arrow keys when I'm given the option.

    Ok, having read all of the comments on this article, on top of my own opinion as a 23 year old male, I wholeheartedly agree that the PR guy was incredibly rude and unprofessional towards Katie. Also I agree that sexism towards women in video games (both the fictional characters and players) is still a problem and should change.

    But as an individual, who tries to see things on a person to person basis (I'm an introvert and always try to read people when I meet them to figure out what is going to annoy them or piss them off so I don't make a fool of myself), I find it hard to believe that there wasn't ANY way to defuse the situation with this one PR guy and the other similar situations without falling into the gender trap of looking like "that bitch."

    Something simple like "no thank you, I'm fine" and then just continuing to play, making sure what you are doing on screen is very evident of someone who is very familiar with video games. Most non-gamers (male and female) I know have trouble even moving around in an FPS with mouse and keyboard.

    If you were slowly walking forward through the grass in the game, and he thought you were having trouble with the controls, asked you if you were familiar with first person shooters, you said yes, and then continued to walk slowly through the grass at the beginning of the demo (for what I assume was a fast paced game, considering you say it was a military FPS). I can easily see how he would have continued thinking that you didn't play video games.

    I agree you shouldn't have to do that to make it clear you know what you are doing, but I think there is a middle ground for making it clear that you know how to play video games without it turning into an argument or having to make sure you humiliate the other person to show them that they are wrong. That doesn't mean that women should accept the way things are and be prepared to always have to defend themselves in these situations, but it helps the issue to be more of an ongoing discussion rather than a battle.

      Well written. Could not agree with you more, as a 21 year old female gamer.

    I couldn't finish reading this article. There was way to much talk about her fingers "falling across WASD". Her writing's too fluffy for me.

    "“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.""

    And your response after being "horrified" was to just sit there with your hands in your lap? How could anyone respect you really? Playing a victim for good journalism is pathetic.

    Wanna play some Unreal Tournament?

    Stupid and disgusting PR people.

    If I had the chance (which I wouldn't being male and not going to gaming cons anyway), I would after a bit of this ask if I could try the game for myself with the PR guy as an in-game guide, then turn around and pwn him as soon as possible. Repeatedly.

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