Hearing that women make a difference in game development is one thing, seeing what it means in practice is another. Recently, David Gaider — lead writer on the Dragon Age franchise — posted a blog about how having women on his writing team affected something in Dragon Age 3.
The team was having a peer review about the game, and it seemed as if everything about a certain plot point was fine. Then, someone spoke up. A woman. The plot point, she argued, could easily be seen as a form of rape. Everyone became stunned — not because she was off-base, but because she was right. She was right, even though the writer didn't intend the scene to come off way, even though the team considers itself to be progressive.
In this case, it was not a long trip for the person playing through the plot to see what was happening at a slightly different angle, and it was no longer good-creepy. It was bad-creepy. It was discomforting and not cool at all. And this female writer was not alone. All the other women at the table nodded their heads, and had noted the same thing in their critiques.
What's curious about the team of writers on Dragon Age 3 is that it is primarily composed of women. Which leads Gaider to ask: what would have happened if that wasn't the case? Had the team been mostly guys — which isn't uncommon — would the scene have gone in? Gaider thinks so.
And this thought occurred as well: if this had been a team with no female perspective present, it would have gone into the game that way. Had that female writer been the lone woman, would her view have been disregarded as an over-reaction? A lone outlier? How often does that happen on game development teams, ones made up of otherwise intelligent and liberal guys who are then shocked to find out that they inadvertently offended a group that is quickly approaching half of the gaming audience?
Crisis averted, as Gaider says. Still, this example seems important in light of recent controversy surrounding the devastating things women in game development have to suffer just to be a part of this hobby we all love so much. They have to go through these things, even though they can often make our games better.
It makes me wonder too — how many creepy sex things in games have occurred because there wasn't a woman on the team that dared to speak up? Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about, but there are quite a few creepy sex scenes or things with awful sexual undertones that sneak their way into games. Things that I doubt were intended to be uncomfortable, or if they are purposefully that way, the intention is not worthwhile/good enough to warrant potentially triggering someone.
I think, for instance, of the Madison Paige's nightmare in Heavy Rain, where she is running away from an assailant in her own home. I think of how a different Bioware game, Mass Effect 2, has you "fixing" Jack — a character with PTSD — by having sex with her while she cries. I think of Quantic Dream's recent Kara video, where a female android begs a man to stop dissembling her.
Maybe these situations seem thrilling, seem beautiful, seem awe-inspiring. Or, they might seem disgusting. It depends, but it's not a stretch for either to be true. Would you realise it without someone telling you that was the case, without having, for one second, some empathy for the sensitivities of another human being?
Regardless of how absurd it might seem, sometimes it does take a woman to notice something is off. Hopefully development studios take this fact to heart.