No Girls Allowed: Keep Out!

There has been quite a lot of talk about the unusual making of Duke Nukem Forever. Years of production and numerous delays made the game almost a phantom: like some mystical beast that was oft spoken of but never seen. Once the game was released, even more fuel was added to the fire of commotion surrounding the game.

Die-hard enthusiasts raised their banners and took to Twitter and comments to argue against the generally negative reviews and impressions of the game.

Journalists and gamers alike seemed to agree that for all the drawn-out production timeline, hype, and resources poured into the game, it wasn't up to snuff or at least the hilariously high expectations a game with cult status can expect. And I'm quite sure many people are enjoying it nevertheless right now.

I'm not here to argue whether or not the game is good or bad. That is subjective. This much we can agree on. I'm not even here to talk about the game's PR blacklisting threats over the last few days. The controversy of 2K Game's outside PR handlers at The Redner Group was summed up and analyzed quite well in Ben Kuchera's piece on Ars Technica. What I'm here to question is an underlying string I've seen thread through the release of Duke Nukem Forever, filtering down through the gaming world at large.

What I'm talking about is sexism. Oh, now, 90% of the audience will want to turn away and scoff and instantly switch off their brains. "Great, another of these types!" But I'm not talking about in-game sexism. I'm talking about this strange alienation and Neanderthal-esque attitude of the PR behind Duke Nukem Forever's unleashing which has me stretching to find anything redeemable in the entire situation from its inception and indicative of a larger problem at hand in the real world video game space.

I work in PR. I love video games. I always have, and I don't see that changing. I've struggled with coming to grips with being a girl in this industry. Like most fields right now, the scales are tipped in the favour of men and cater to them. Whether that is biological, social, a myth, a construct we can fight against or tackle, that's not what this piece is about. It's about the representation and the implementation of it all in the video game press world and the manner that 2K Games chose for a potentially rad title and how they truly made a train wreck.

I have dealt with video game PR people and journalists for the last five years, and can say from my own experience that the stigma of being a female in the industry has not diminished. I've not only done PR, but I consult with international companies about the US market, I advise and even have worked in the creative process as a producer. I'm not a "PR girl" in that demeaning sense that some people use: making a buck off my genetic attributes in a historically chauvinistic space. I truly love games and have dreamed of their potential since I was a child. I was growing less enthused with the industry as time went by, even as I built up a list of contacts and confidence and had the résumé to back up my talk.

But this last debacle with 2K Games and how they chose to represent themselves got me upset. It excluded me from participation in this cult game on a variety of levels, professionally and personally. It also made me realise the unchecked double-standard in the world of gaming PR. It shut me out from experiencing something years in the making, and present in my cultural vernacular. I have contacts in the industry I would had loved to discuss the game with, had I been able to see it in advance at one of the early events, as I will explain below.

For me, a great part of gaming is the camaraderie which I was excluded from, conceptually and in reality, during this title's promotion. For all I know, I could have been a champion for the game, had I enjoyed it. Even if I was less than thrilled, I would have had a chance to see for myself what I liked or brought a critical eye to the proverbial Duke roundtable. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to decide. The old guard in charge chose for me. It barred its doors, figuratively, to me, a person who would have been open and excited to be a part of something raunchy and cultish and fun. This didn't happen because I don't do PR for them, or because I am not a journalist who fits the type their machine pandered to. It was because I'm a female.

I, myself, am no stranger to raucousness and no one can say I don't enjoy a good time. I am not uptight or threatened at the idea of what GamesRadar reviewer David Houghton deemed "a bout of good-natured debauchery": an earlier press preview of the game held at a converted strip club in Las Vegas. I can assume that they wouldn't want to give a preview of this game in a more apt setting, say, gritty urban corridors that mark the bulk of the gameplay. No, 2K Games and their PR company aptly realised that they should probably skip the aliens and go straight for the tits—none of them bare at the event, at least—to fondle some good graces out of the press before the game was released. And that was probably better than shutting or shooting the press in a dingy old warehouse. That is their prerogative.

But can't they see how they are blocking out and negatively impacting most of the people who drive their games by who and how they chose to promote this game? Duke Nukem Forever is over-the-top and ridiculous, I understand. Good fun for a laugh at home, sure. And I guess when 2K Games looked at the perpetually near-finished product, which could have been tongue-in-cheek loathsome, they thought they needed a method of public relations which embodied and catered to heterosexual young males only. Looking through The Redner Group's Twitter feed after being funneled there after the blacklisting threats, I noticed other snippets from this PR firms' personal-life broadcast to the ether. Lounging poolside with his "lady" wearing a "small bikini" at the "Ritz!". Not personal enough for you? The Redner Group will also tell you "Don't hate!" It's hard working games PR with "too much food and drink and bikini." I'll assume he means worn by others.

As a working female in a male-dominated field, I have had to learn to change my ways of thinking. I've adapted to functioning in a delicate relationship with the creatives and the business developers, the press and the PR people; it is all a give and take. The hardcore gamers can be catered to, but the newly, more vocal minorities must be catered to as well. A growing number of female gamers, non-heterosexual gamers, aging gamers and gamers with different, more sophisticated palates are emerging. The global reach of games, thanks in part to the booming mobile game industry is exciting, too, and as of now unfettered. Gamers are being made of grandmas and teens alike, even if they are a different type of gamer. Possibilities are endless. Yes, we are all excited, and it's up to us to make the changes to this antiquated system. If we understand that the industry is morphing, albeit slowly, away from the old norms, we must also move away from general sexism and sexism in the PR realm.

I have to tiptoe in certain ways that males in the PR field don't have to. Must I do it to get ahead? Maybe not. But I feel I must, and that's what counts. At a recent convention party, I overheard a group of guys begging their games journalist friend to get them into a "wild party" for the game in question. I'm never one to pass up a good time, especially a wild one. His friend had said he could get everyone at the table in! I was excited. But the group of males around me grew silent. I realised they were hesitating. I realised I was the only girl in the entire room. "Well, it's really only for men…" The guy said, rather unapologetically. "You shouldn't go." What if I had said that to any of my peers? What if I carried on tweeting from my work account about all the hot guys and alluded to large bulges in Speedos at a professional event? I'm sure I'd make my male colleagues uncomfortable and they'd wonder if I was glancing at their packages in meetings and events. I'm not calling for the elimination of objectification (impossible in a way), tongues to be tied on personal Twitter feeds, boobs to be less appealing or numerous in games or the world at large, and certainly not for video games to be anything less than fantasy. That's what is so amazing about them. Create your own worlds, experience them.

What I am asking for is the realisation that we are now bringing this industry into a bigger spotlight and thus, a more professional lens. 2K Games realised what they had in their product, but they didn't seem to realise how far the campy trick played itself out into reality. Had I, as a girl, been anything less than professional when I was excluded outright from a press event or had I had a history of over-sharing anything of my personal desires on a professional company-branded Twitter feed, I would be ostracized and potentially unemployed. Had I refused to include someone based on their gender to any press event I had catered, I would swiftly be kicked to the curb. Fun and fantasy is terrific, and catering to your audience and gameplay is essential. But we're entering a new era of the video game industry, and blatant real-life sexism and unprofessional conduct should be treated as what they are: serious issues. No matter what industry you're in.

Lydia Heitman is a USC SCA graduate who played video games since she could press the buttons and who has worked in the industry as soon as she could work, with a concentration on the mobile games space. She has worked as a consultant and as a PR manager for five years with great mobile and platform games companies.


    very well written and eloquent. It's a shame to see, though with this game in particular I suppose it's not that surprising. Still, I hate that the videogame industry is less gentle and geeky and becoming more like mainstream sports industries, full of bluster and testosterone for boys who like to think of themselves as men, yet can't find the maturity to look at a woman without blushing and getting awkward. There are almost as many women gamers as men these days, we need to give up this attitude that the medium is somehow our property, and that it ever was.

    Very good article.

    I think one point, above all, stands out - that expectations of gaming audiences are changing along with the demographics, and it's becoming increasingly absurd for companies (particularly PR companies) to defend blatant sexism in the industry under the thinly-veiled guise of "it's what the consumer wants".

    As Heitman says:

    "But we’re entering a new era of the video game industry, and blatant real-life sexism and unprofessional conduct should be treated as what they are: serious issues."

    The PR people and developers who are surprised at the criticism are either woefully anachronistic or simply don't understand the expectations of their audience.

      Ummm, some consumers clearly DO want it. See:

      That said, female gamers are an untapped market and I think over time we'll see more developers begin to factor in the female audience when developing games.

    A very interesting read, but I think its worth mentioning that perceptions of groups of people (gamers in this case) rarely keep up with the reality, so I think, sadly, we have many years of this sort of thing (and the games such thinking produces) to go before real change occurs.

    DNF had the potential to be a real guilty pleasure, an anachronistic piece like The Expendables but instead blew it. I don't even find the humour particularly offensive, instead it committed an even worse crime: being unfunny.

    It's like they contracted the Family Guy writers to pen this thing. The same guys who think spamming cutaway gags with no punchline is 'comedy', because the audience is dumb enough to just point and laugh "duhhh! ma, I get it."

    Interesting read but I'm confused with all the use of metaphors "The old guard at the gate barred my access" but it's not said what from, instead using examples from other occurances. Was she not allowed in to the strip-club event that they held? Just seems a tad confusing.

    I do agree though that she's got just as much right as others to go to the parties and other evets regardless of gender.

      Yeah I admit I didn't read this that closely and skimmed a couple of paragraphs but I couldn't find the actual example of the sexism related to this game or the PR campaign around it.

      I am certainly disappointed that the industry I follow and am passionate about is still so much of a 'boys club' but I'm not sure why Duke Nukem and 2K Games are mentioned without any actual examples.

    As much as your concerns may be real I think that using duke nukem as an example was a very stupid idea as the gam is all about a guy who is a "mans man" all about drinking and girls so it was obvious that would be a main focus of their campaign. Did you want them to just ignore the fact that there protagonist is a womanizer?

      She's not using Duke Nukem as an example of sexism in the industry, she's using the whole company and their marketing and PR strategies as an example. Sure, the game may be targeted at straight male gamers, but that doesn't mean its okay actively EXCLUDE women from your promotion, particularly at the journalist level.

        And how exactly do you propose they market this toward women?
        Not everything is meant for everyone,everyone can enjoy a product, it just not aimed at them because not alot of people in that particular market will like it

        You certainly don't aim barbie dolls at boys, even if some may like them for example

          Yes, but you probably wouldn't actively bar male PR agents from press events relating to them.

    The industry as a whole needs a shake up, I mean we're still running the Cis, White, Male in almost every single game, and a massive amount of programmers, designers and artists are male, meaning we're pushing away a huge, HUGE! amount of talent.


      It's pathetic that the major audience keeps buying this CRAP & propels it. Compounding the problems would be the producers and executives that are so tightfisted that they butcher even respectable ideas. Makes me want to scream!

    I'm glad you can appreciate the sometimes tounge-in-cheek nature of games, ie. DNF, and am sorry to hear that you feel like that, especially considering that us gamers are supposed to pride ourselves on our forward thinking, and not only our willingness, but insistence on new, open minded approaches to gaming. Hopefully we get to see your name alot more =)

    As much as I'd like to agree with the author, it all sounds a bit more like butthurt and less like the genderfication of the PR aspect of an industry.

    The Duke Nukem strip club events were held at strip clubs because, well, as she already pointed out, Duke loves him some tig ol' bitties. It's not unlike holding a launch party for skateboard game at some form of club with punk music. Sure the club isn't a halfpipe or whatever, but the music thematic to what is in the game regardless of the player's preference for house music over punk. Just like how some some ladies prefer, oh I don't know, going to a sushi restaurant as opposed to a titty bar.

    The second thing is those dudes talking about a "wild party" that they didn't want a girl tagging along to. Yup. Makes sense. I wasn't allowed to go to my friend's hen's night recently. Also, it had little to do with the industry and a lot to do with male group mentality in general.

    I'm more than happy to defend DNF as a sexist male chauvinistic game in itself (in fact why don't we go and make a female oriented sexist game just for kicks!)

    But the sexist attitudes being perpetuated in the industry have to go. Sure, men will always be men and say silly and do silly things that may offend or exclude women, and I expect the same freedom and liberties for women towards men, but any part of business that can't be done professionally and without bias or carries a 'No girls allowed' message is just no good and backwards.

    Sexism in the work place is totally unreasonable.

    Sexism in fiction is fiction, whether it matches your humor or taste can be personal and not reflect on your attitudes about sexist behavior in the workplace and true life situations.

    It seems an awful lot like the title and imagery of this piece would go out of its way to actually lump particular fiction and quasi-related PR firm together. 2K Games screwed up, and they did so because of their presumptions about the product and the product's audience.

    My wife and I have found DNF so unrealistically over the top, we can't help but laugh when we play the game.

    Jokes about sexism, or using sexism as a comedic device can be funny. DNF was vile and pathetic and embarrassingly un-self-aware. It is not terribly surprising the marketing followed a similar path. Disappointing, though.

    rofl... let me guess, you QQ about not being able to review brothels and strip clubs too? Poor baby.

    These cries of sexism come from someone stuck in a magical bubble, one who has never stepped out into the real world.

    The real world is not some amazing utopia, in which you can walk everywhere you please equally! Regardless if it's your gender, appearance, fame, reputation, or whatever else it might be that gives you a disadvantage from joining in with certain crowds. That's life. Men get shafted too(don't hear us complaining)...

    Obviously you would have ripped the game a new one claiming it is sexist and laughing your way to the bank, but because they preemptively protected themselves against this you crawl up into a little ball, sobbing in the corner and preach your fan'ism for it like some baby who didn't get candy.

    This is really why I dislike the current woman in the games industry. You're good for some titties and that is about it. Men invented kitchens for a reason.

    Maybe the next generation of woman will bring something good to this world. The death of your values will be a blessing to humanity.

    Oh and let me remind you, men invented nearly everything up until now(even the tampon[design] you are using!), except for the paper bad of course, you females clinging to ancient values made that to put over your head - obviously.


    A good piece that makes an important point.

    That said, there is nothing inherently wrong with targeting any specific demographic, even if that demographic is "fourteen year old boys with no taste."

    That said, though, the assumption that "there's no way you'd possibly enjoy this game on account of your lacking a Y-chromosome" is clearly quite silly. Sure, its fair to say one's sex may make enjoying something more or less LIKELY but it isn't deterministic.

    Cry baby.

    Good lord, more of this rubbish. Bring on a more enlightened and accepting generation of female journalists. Lydia like this game, is a relic. Forever resigned to the past and one sided female tunnel vision. The way you want the world isn’t necessarily the way the world wants to be (shocking I know).


      ROFL, my thoughts exactly... an article about sexism regarding Duke... written by a chick... lulz

    Here's an idea. How about you form a team of virtuoso female game devs AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

    Yes there's sexism still prevelant in gaming - all aspects of it. However as long as there's still a large male market for the type of filth that Duke delivers then I don't see it changing.

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