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

    I've had similar things happen to me, too. Not at E3, as I have never been there, but when playing demo games in shops or anything like that. I guess the difference with me is I don't let them take over for me. If they take the controller/keyboard off me, I take it right back, smirk a little bit and continue to play. They won't take it twice.

    You can allow yourself to be judged this way in the gaming world or you can make a stand. I realise it should be unnecessary to make a stand but in a world where the rights of men and women are not yet equal it is an unfortunate necessity. Men are never going to learn that women can be gamers too if we continue to allow them to take the controllers off us while we sit there and gawk.

    Sorry if someone else posted this.
    I see you like a sister.
    Big brother advice: "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission." - Eleanor Roosevelt.
    Walk away.

    Interesting article but I feel like much of this could have been solved by just speaking up. You can't judge someone else for making a judgement about you if you arent prepared to correct them. "Thankyou, however I am more than familiar with FPS games. If you don't mind I would like to play your demo myself. Shoo!" Lets be honest as well. It is not rediculous for an individual to jump to the conclusion that a woman may not play certain games. Its not that women don't play them its that not many in the global scope of things neccesarily do. It is kind of like going to France. Sure many French people speak english and well, but we attempt our half ass high school french to communicate because it is very possible they don't speak english. If they do understand my english I will revert to my normal tongue. That said if I read an article talking about how ignorant I was because I attempted to cater to the most probable solution to communicate I would be offended. Not because the guy doesnt like my people but because all he had to say was "I understand your english, your french sucks". This is Merry Christmas all over again... I mean happy holiday! Dont shoot!

    I am literally astonished by this - it just seems so ridiculous in these times

    I'm sorry you experienced what you did/do. As a man, a gamer, and a father of a 10 year old girl, I feel bad. I feel bad for us all when I think of the future of this industry if this behavior, this treatment of women professionally and in the games themselves, doesn't change. Ignorance is so easy but being non-judgmental is, for some reason, so difficult for people to demonstrate.

    Katie Williams, keep your head up. Keep encouraging change.

    Just take the keyboard from the guy, smile, and say:

    "My K/D is top 100 on battlenet"

    They just need to be educated, they don't do it to be hurtful. Turn it to your advantage, make it fun, enjoy their surprised faces as you inform them, then watch their dumbfounded and slightly expressions as you game on.

    Lets remove all booth babes from e3 altogether.
    Then the healing can begin.

      Somebody make a petition and give it to the organisers.
      I'd sign it.

    As a woman who has worked as an Electrical Engineer for more than 25 years and been a gamer a much longer than that, I have to echo some of the other comments and say you should have spoken up. The vast majority of misogyny I've encountered (and given my profession, my hobby, and my age I've seen much worse than what you've described) hasn't been malicious, it's been ignorant. Guys, in general, like to help gals and like to impress us, and sometimes that comes across as condescending. I've found the best approach is to just tell them directly and promptly that they've made a bad assumption. It doesn't have to be confrontational, although what most women consider confrontational is just normal communication to most guys.

    You let the PR agents or whomever take control away from you. You didn't get the story you came to get. That is your failing, not theirs. As a professional, I've had to put up with a lot of crap, especially when I was a 22 year old, really smart girl working on engineering projects with some 60 year old, very experienced gentlemen. You have to earn their respect. You don't do that by sitting quietly with your hands in your lap while they walk all over you. You will be treated differently as a woman -not worse, just differently. You will have to overcome obstacles to be successful, just like a man would have to - they're just different obstacles.

    For most women, the highest hurdle to being successful in a male dominated industry is communication. We aren't raised (in general) to be direct. We worry too much about offending people. We assume that men are just as sensitive to body language and tone and word choice as we are when they actually have no clue that we're reading meaning into it.

    The reality is that most women gamers don't play shooters, and when you were asked directly if you did, you didn't respond. The question was for information so he could change up his sales pitch, not to offend you. Your reaction was the problem, not his question.

      You bring up a very interesting point. As a fellow male engineer, I am glad you enjoy Engineering and people respect you in your profession. I have a questions, I think its awesome that you are a girl gamer, its pretty impressive. What made you want to play games? When all the other girls avoid games, what made you play games? When I was young, I was amazed by tanks, planes, and guns, so I was naturally attracted to FPS Counter strike.

        So in other words - you have to act like a man to survive in a man's world? I'm sorry Colleen, I disagree with you.

        I work in archaeology with mining and construction companies where rape jokes and sex competitions are still institutionalized. It doesn't matter how vocal or forceful you are, as a woman, you will always be questioned and infantilised, and you have to work twice as hard for half the respect of men. And you will be hated for it.

        The problem is the industries attitudes toward women - not the individual.

    The proper response:
    "Are you sure you're a PR person?"

    That guy would have gotten a very rude awakening had he tried that shit with me... Valeria-style.

    You should not have to speak up for yourself, men should recognize you as their equal...but they won't so you need to. If you want equality you have to demand it, you have to show them that you aren't who they think you are, if you don't want to write a fluff piece on a game, if you want to play for yourself, you have to insist, demand, and condescend.

    None of those fools are going to give you respect that you don't ask for. As far as they are concerned it's their world, not yours, and they aren't going to give up a single piece of it willingly. If you want a part of it, you have to take it.

      "You should not have to speak up for yourself, men should recognize you as their equal…but they won’t so you need to.", I will not accept anyone as my equal, be it man or woman before I know that person at least a little bit. And this seems to be the default attitude of most men. Equal rights in this context means no special treatment for woman, so you are absolutely right, no one will give respect until convinced it is deserved.

    I'm a software developer. Went to university for it back in 93. Still coding today (when I'm not team leading).

    There was a girl back in my class who dropped out because "computer science is too men-dominated".

    Yeeah. It was. BUT SHE EFFING DROPPED OUT. I didn't.

    Just verbally slap those jerks, and keep doing what you do best. I don't mean - complain. Instead, it would be nice to hear about how you put them in their place instead.

    Pretty interesting read, although I skipped the title and author line and just started reading and wasn't aware the author was female until halfway through the article where "besides perhaps that I was a woman in a pink skirt." appeared! (A female gamer appears!)

    Maybe next time actually start playing the game sooner rather than marvelling at blades of grass. Despite how marvellous they are, it's still just a shooter and you're supposed to shoot things.

    Best response to PR guy would be "Can't talk, shooting."

    Katie, I just wanted to say that you are awesome. Great article.

    I don't understand why you just couldn't take the keyboard back into your hands and say "I'm pretty sure I know my way around a keyboard, thanks". Guy was obviously an idiot and it wouldn't have taken much to make it apparent to him and embarrass the hell out of him by being assertive in the process.

    Ideally you shouldn't have to say something but unfortunately there's still a lot of ignorance in the world, and regardless of industry you'll always find men that underestimate the capabilities of women and that's when we have to speak up for ourselves.

    This has opened my mind to my ignorance of woman playing games. I often play call of duty games online and when I notice a girl playing I'm confused. I think to myself, "why would a girl be playing this?" I never thought of it but that's sexist.
    I enjoyed reading this, the words flowed so well, I had to read the whole thing and I wasn't disappointed when I was finished. You could write a book or something, if you haven't already. By the way every time I put my hands on the keyboard they go straight to the WASD and I never really think anything about it. lol

    To be honest this doesn't exactly surprise me, for whatever reason girls REALLY generally don't get the gamer thing, or maybe they're just not very vocal about their feelings if they feel to support it. I have been a gamer all of my life and have always been scorned by women for it. They simply didn't care to understand and didn't care to empathise. I don't know where this narrow-mindedness comes from, but it could explain the PR guy's distasteful, you might even say repulsive, behaviour.

    Otherwise I'm sorry you had to go through that. I've been treated with condescension innumerable times myself and I know how awful it is. Chin up, soldier on.

    Hello Katie. I really like this article because it brings a very interesting question to mine. Why arent there more gamers like you?? Because I think it would be pretty awesome for me to sign onto BF3 and shoot with girls. Imagine how much guys and girls can get to know each other while ending a virtual terrorist attack? screaming and yelling and laughing over the microphone. sooo awesome.

    This is horrible. One thing to keep in mind is, a lot of PR people are idiots. They are very clueless people. I have had PR people treat me similarly because I have mainstream credentials rather than gamer credentials, and that's pretty annoying, but I understand why it happens. But to assume someone from Kotaku can't play games is not simply sexist, it is incompetent. I will say flat out; no really good PR person would do this, and that fact that it happened repeatedly tells you how rare really good PR people are (although there are some wonderful ones out there).

    The other thing I want to mention is, it's kind of hard to snatch the controller away from the PR person who is treating you like an idiot. It is very easy to say, you should have just told him off and taken back the controller, and that's the first thing I thought myself. And then I realized that I have never done that. It's just really hard to say, "give me the controller you jerk." There's a power dynamic in which you're essentially in their spot using their equipment, and you've got to be pretty pushy to get past that.

    In this article, Williams raises the question of why she hasn't simply gotten used to the prejudice and resigned herself to accepting that prejudice as the status quo despite so many years of experience with that prejudice. I think the answer is applicable to all types of prejudice we encounter in life. In our younger days, we do try to find ways to tolerate a little soft prejudice in the interest of trying to get along. But, as we get older, all those years of being the target of such prejudice begin to weigh you down and you finally come to the realized that, as Williams says, we should be beyond this already. And you rightly get angry about it. More and more, I'm seeing people getting sick of this, getting angry, and making it clear that they are not going to just quietly accept it anymore. That is how we will change things.

    Its troubling to me that there are still people in the game industry that think women don't play shooters. 7 or 8 years ago when I was into HALO PC, there was a trio of sisters in their 30's/40's with families, that were absolute terrors. You did NOT want to be in their gun sights. All thru the last decade I've run into women gamers online who know there stuff and are way better at it than I am. Even now playing Team Fortress 2, there's one woman that when she's on the opposing team, I know I'm going to be set on fire at some point and there's nothing I can do about it.

    Just based on my own experience (and I really only play a few different games), I'd have to say anyone who hasn't run across quite a few ladies who play games very well, cant have played a whole lot or really wasn't paying attention.

    Perhaps a list of the games these guys were pushing might be in order. That way I'll know not to buy them. Money talks, after all.

    As a gamer and developer myself, I find this sort of thing appalling, and I say that as a heterosexual male. So many people joke around about how rare girls are in multi player games and never seem to grasp why. It's a shame, and something I hope changes.
    My team is doing our small part, having made the decision that female characters will have protective, realistic, looking armor, not some skimpy 2 piece metal bathing suit. That doesn't mean we're making their armor ugly, we're taking care to make sure it'll still be clear that its a female - you know... have curves and stuff - but it'll be done tastefully.

    I hope when the time comes you'll give Embers of Caerus a chance - I promise you, no one will swat your hands away at our E3 booth. :)

    The only two reasons to have a floor show is to
    1) Have people EXPERIENCE your product and
    2) To observe how people EXPERIENCE your product.
    The gentleman at the booth sounds like a terrible PR person.

    I have been a gamer since I can remember. One of my favorite companions/opponents has been my female friend Erica who I've shared this hobby with for 16 years. And I have never taken a control from her hand to help her unless she asked for it, and believe me that's not often. I got sick reading this article at just how stupid those PR people are.

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