Why Some People Are Upset Over Who’s Judging The Video Game Awards

Why Some People Are Upset Over Who’s Judging The Video Game Awards

Tomorrow is the second annual The Game Awards, an online-only evolution of the Spike Video Game Awards, which ended in 2014. They’re one of the premiere awards shows for games (and big reveals!), along with the Game Developers Choice Awards and D.I.C.E. Awards. In the run-up to this year’s awards, part of the debate has focused on the people — mostly men — who will be casting votes.

The Game Awards, like the Spike TV Video Game Awards, are produced by game critic Geoff Keighley. Some Kotaku staff members, including editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo, are friends with Keighley and have appeared on his shows — myself included. Kotaku has voted in the past, as well, but turned down this year’s opportunity for reasons unrelated to this piece. (We were too busy.)

Most of the winners for The Game Awards are not determined by the ballots of thousands on the Internet, but a small, hand-picked group of game critics, many of whom — Jeff Gerstmann, Chris Kohler, Andy McNamara, Victor Lucas, — would be familiar to those who regularly read about games on the Internet.

Here’s how the website for The Game Awards describes them:

Nominees for The Game Awards 2014 are selected by a jury of 28 international media. In some cases the jury is provided advanced review code of upcoming games in order to meet the Game Awards 2014 judging deadlines. Games must have been commercially released by Tuesday, November 25 to be eligible for awards.

There’s also an advisory board of game designers and executives — such as Hideo Kojima, Peter Moore, Reggie Files-Aime — who shape The Game Awards.

What both groups have in common is they’re largely made up of men. With the advisory board, it’s nine men and an ambiguous credit to Rockstar and Valve. With the game critics, there was only one women — Mashable’s Chelsea Stark — among the 30 judges announced for the awards. Last year, there were two.

(There’s also an “eSports Advisory Board” made up of 10 men.)

I say “was” because the judges lineup has changed in the months since — but hold on, as we’ll get there in a little bit.

It’s not like there aren’t women who come to mind in positions of power or media influence. The Halo franchise is currently lead by 343 Industries corporate VP Bonnie Ross. There are numerous fantastic female gaming critics.

Why aren’t more of these people — or people like them — a bigger part of The Game Awards? Keighley declined to comment for this story, but a few publications chose to shift things around when confronted with the disparity.

The whole thing kicked off in mid-November, when a Huffington Post reporter emailed Polygon editor-in-chief Christopher Grant about how “an outlet that often championed diversity, find itself in a list — namely, the jury list for the upcoming Game Awards — of mostly, almost entirely, men.” His response:

I didn’t notice or think to ask.

Lots of men in positions of power, including yours truly, are guilty of this, only remembering how skewed things really are when someone finally points it out.

Grant swapped his voting slot with Polygon deputy managing editor Megan Farokhmanesh. Though Polygon‘s staff will collaborate on deciding votes, Farokhmanesh will apparently “ultimately decide how we cast our final vote.”

“Diversity is important to us at Polygon,” said Grant, “and while it’s a goal we’re actively working towards, we have room to improve. “Similarly, when we work with organisations like The Game Awards, we have to hold them to that same challenge. I look forward to working with Geoff and his team on how we can do better.”

Polygon wasn’t alone. Kill Screen, prompted by the same reporter, pulled out from the awards entirely. Kill Screen founder Jamin Warren was to cast the vote.

The Huffington Post, citing an anonymous source who participated in nominating, had an explanation for judges being ignorant on gender makeup:

However, a source on the panel, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the story, told HuffPost that judges acted independently of one another. They communicated with the Game Awards and made their selection for game nominations via email — there wasn’t communication between the judges, so the gender imbalance wasn’t immediately clear to them.

That lines up with Kotaku‘s experience with previous awards shows.

Only a few days later, The Guardian‘s Keith Stuart took the same path as Kill Screen, deciding to remove his publication from the voting process altogether.

When asked why Stuart didn’t swap his spot with a woman from The Guardian, he explained “it’s just me on staff. I’ll think of something for next year but, for now, I’d rather pull out entirely.”

There are 30 judges listed right now — 28 men, 2 women.

Lots of different kinds of people play video games, so it makes sense that the writers, reporters, and critics who cover games should be (trying to) make strides to reflect that. It’s not just about equality — it’s about fairly representing an audience. In that respect, everyone can do better. Kotaku, for example, is mostly staffed by a bunch of guys. We’re certainly aware that’s not ideal.

There are numerous insightful women critiquing games now. Off the top of my head: The Mary Sue‘s Maddy Myers; Offworld‘s Leigh Alexander and Laura Hudson; Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian; GameSpot‘s Alexa Ray Corriea; Not Your Mamma‘s Gamer‘s Biana Batti; the list goes on and on. Having more women help crown the game of the year would seem, to me at least, a worthwhile goal. Others may feel this is a non-issue and question whether being a man or woman should have any impact on who’s picking the year’s best games. I don’t agree with that, but if you do, I suppose that’s your prerogative.

There aren’t easy solutions to the big questions about gender and racial inequality in games — press, development, or otherwise — but it’s a conversation worth having. Games are enjoyed and played by men and women. Gaming culture can only benefit from more women talking about games.

The Game Awards will broadcast online tomorrow night from Los Angeles.



  • Yeah, 31 guys, 1 woman doesn’t sound particularly representative of game players.

    I also want old farts (like me) with kids reviewing games, as my taste in gaming has certainly changed since my lifestyle changed. (Not being sarcastic, I actually mean it. I read Mark’s articles a lot as he has to juggle family life and gaming, and a lot of what he writes resonates more with me because of it.)

    • That’s precisely it though, I’m neither here nor there for the whole idea of equality, but where does one stop? Does the panel need to have one of each minority/majority to allow it to act appropriately? I work in a field which is heavily dominated by men and due to this the company has been making a large effort to employ more women. But due to this you have a bit of discrimination going the other way, where some candidates aren’t fairly being considered due to being male and them prioritising females. While it’s great to get more women in the industry, I don’t believe this is the way to do it.

      I have no problem with and encourage more women being involved in these positions but I only see a problem if women are not included due to them being a woman. Surely there’s no problem with a majority male panel if there’s a limited pool of women to pick from? By the sounds of it the ratio of women to men working in this industry is much like the one I work in. That’s always going to make it difficult to get a 50/50 split of man/woman.

      • I’d have to search for it but there was at least one instance of a woman being asked to judge and declining for whatever reason.

  • I don’t like the sex argument of making it even and having a quota because yes women play games but it’s still a male driven industry but at the same time that ratio is insane.

  • So, instead of being logical, and thinking about the qualifications that these people have as to whether or not they would be good at judging games, you want it to be based on what genitals they have… That seams pretty dam sexist to me…

    • You didn’t actually read the article did you.
      When you have plenty of qualified people from both genders it shouldn’t even be an issue.

      • The question there becomes, should a position be taken away from a capable man just to give it to a woman? It shouldn’t matter what sex organ you have, only your qualifications and experience. Although I agree that 31-1 is a hilariously bad ratio, 50-50 doesn’t seem ideal either, as (let’s be honest) games are still a male-driven industry.

        • Why does it sounds like your implying the woman wouldn’t be capable?

          The point of the article is that there is more than enough qualified people from both genders to create a diverse panel reflective of consumers, reviewers and developers. Why everyone keeps strawmanning the issue is beyond me.

          • Why does it sounds like your implying the woman wouldn’t be capable?

            Because you’re reading what you want to (or rather, don’t want to) see, rather than what is written.

            Almost nobody is saying this ratio is anything less than laughable, but now that the judges have been selected, it comes down to a zero-sum game, doesn’t it? Someone has to have their position taken away from them, someone already deemed qualified, specifically because they are the “wrong” gender. You could argue that women never had the very same position in the first place because of the same reason, but actual discrimination is very difficult to prove.

            It’s like the wage gap argument all over again. The (far smaller than advertised) gap may exist, but to say “it’s because of gender discrimination” is making a claim without solid evidence.

          • Should the position be taken away from a capable man just to give it to a woman
            No, the implication is fairly clear. One is deemed capable, the other simply a gender.

            I never commented on the discrimination aspect at all, just that there is qualified people from both genders that can make up a diverse panel.

            Seriously, how can people have an issue with that?

          • Should the position be taken away from a capable man just to give it to a woman

            The implication is a man, who has proven capable, has a position taken away from him purely because he isn’t a woman. Whether or not the woman is capable or not is not even discussed.

            I can understand how you would read it the other way, but it’s inferring tone of voice and the personality and values of the person writing it. You’re filling way too many blanks. You’re reading it like:

            “Should the position be taken away from a capable man just to give it to a woman

            People don’t have an issue with diversity. People have an issue with forced “diversity” and the outrage machine that has consumed the internet. I knew what this article was going to be about the second I saw the article title, and I have no prior knowledge of this situation. It’s always the same, being a man is a problem on the internet in 2015.

        • Supposedly male-dominated industry or not the ratio of female to male representatives in this vote compared to the ratio of game-playing men to women is way out of alignment. Ideally a panel such as this should as closely as possible represent the actual population regarding all issues of diversity.

          All this said though this whole kerfuffle kinda puts too much weight on these awards; they’re pretty silly whichever way you look at them.

          • That’s a good point lol

            All this debate while some PR rep is just waiting to add the accolade to a GOTY edition trailer.

      • I’d have to agree.

        I’ll admit I absolutely though this was about some arbitrary “Must have X amount of each gender, just because!” bullshit… But then when I saw the male/female split I was pretty bloody surprised.

        A split like that almost seems like they were actively trying to ignore the numerous women they could have judging.

    • There are plenty of qualified female game judges. Why would you think there aren’t? We shouldn’t be judging based on genitals, but when you have 30 men and 1 woman in a group of judges, you sure as hell have to ask why. And the answer isn’t because there’s a lack of qualified woman

    • WOW…. So… I see that NONE of you understand AT ALL what sexism is. Holy shit.

      A person gender should not matter. The people complain about the lack of women in the panel are the ones being sexist here. There pointing it out, and are calming sexism because there are to many men. There for, there being sexist. Thats how sexism works.

      The fact of the matter is, that it dose not matter who the hell is judging. Its like saying there should be more people who like BBQ source over Tomato source. Its a STUPID argument. Someones gender should have nothing to do with them getting a job. Anyone who thinks that is a sexist them self, but most people don’t even understand that saying crap like this is, in it self, sexism. They just believe all the social justices warriors and druids who keep propelling nonsense like that.

      If I was picking the panel, this is how I would do it:

      1. Experiences in the industry .

      2. Who they have worked for in the past. This could create conflicts and so on. Especially if it was a bad exiting from the company.

      3. There knowledge of what there judging.

      There gender would never come in to it.If this means that there are more men on my panel than women or the other way around, so be it. If the panel had more women on it, no one would be talking about it though. So there is also that.

      This is just another case of nitpicking by people who have nothing better to do. Equality dose not mean 50-50 men and women. It never has. What is means is that people should be treated the same when GOING for a job, and that it is based on if there good for the job or not.

      If we start making quotes based on gender, then your going to have to include trans in there too. Then you will have to do the same for race, sexual orientation, age, how tall people are, and so on. If you start doing it for one thing, then you have to do it for everything else.

      On a side note, I would advise everyone to look up Milo Yiannopoulos. He knows his stuff, and has something to say on everything from Feminism to racism. The one thing I like about him, is that he backs everything up with facts. And if he is wrong, he says so. I would start with his interview with Dave Rubin.

  • How come no questions are being asked to the Awards organisers on how they didnt pick this up, given they’d know exactly who’s being picked to judge?

    • Why aren’t more of these people — or people like them — a bigger part of The Game Awards? Keighley declined to comment for this story, but a few publications chose to shift things around when confronted with the disparity.

      Questions were asked. They were not answered.

      • Thought I had seen it mention they contacted their ‘friend’, but obviously didnt check. Chalked it up to another case of the media not pressing further on things they should be

  • This is just more shit-stirring for the sake of it, stop trying to create problems where there are none ffs…
    You even answer half of your own problems.
    a small, hand-picked group of game critics->The Halo franchise is currently lead by 343 Industries corporate VP Bonnie Ross.She would be a game developer, not a critic.
    Why aren’t more of these people — or people like them — a bigger part of The Game Awards?When asked why Stuart didn’t swap his spot with a woman from The Guardian, he explained “it’s just me on staff.
    Yeah, we should ignore places like the Guardian, Gamespot and Kotaku because forced diversity is more important than known/trusted people.

    There are numerous insightful women critiquing games now. Off the top of my head: The Mary Sue‘s Maddy Myers; Offworld‘s Leigh Alexander and Laura Hudson; Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian; GameSpot‘s Alexa Ray Corriea; Not Your Mamma‘s Gamer‘s Biana Batti; Ignoring the obvious fact that maybe they tried some/any of these (you said you never got a response for Keighley and also noted Kotaku declined to join), I’ll play devils advocate here and say where draw the line?

    It’s hard to put this without an actual list of final judges (which doesn’t seem to be listed here anywhere) but it seems they’re only going to the top/most well known/’respected’ games media sources around. If we’re going to extend it out to places like Offworld, the Mary Sue or Not You Mamma’s Gamer (I have never even heard of this), why not just invite Pewdiepie too, I’m sure Hex and Bajo would be great oh and I watched some hilarious youtuber last night, he had 10 whole subscribers!
    Anita Sarkeesian maybe but she’s said flat out she doesn’t even play games, she’d be horrible at judging the best of the year

    As for Alexa Ray Corriea, they already have Jeff Gerstmann and I imagine as with Polygon, Polygon‘s staff will collaborate on deciding votes, Farokhmanesh will apparently “ultimately decide how we cast our final vote.” she’ll probably have a say in it anyway but sure, let’s start a flame war anyway.

    • This!

      Its like Kotaku and games journalists have a quota of “diversity” articles they have to put out each month to satisfy someone. Dont get me wrong, I am all for gender/race/whatever equality and hope to see women/blacks/disabled/whatever succeed, but forcing equality never works. It needs to be a natural thing.

      If I ran a business and I had to employ some staff, and there were majority men who were all fantastic at what I needed from them, and some women who were rubbish, Im not going to just ignore some of the guys so that I can have an equal workforce, and potentially lose efficiency and money. Some people really need to wake up and realise that there are times when you cant have gender equality and its not necessarily to do with discrimination.

      • I’m in the software industry and have been privy to more than a few hiring rounds in places that I’ve worked and it’s been that exact problem. Although they promoted diversity and want to employ more females, the unfortunate problem is that the few females that applied just didn’t have the technical abilities the company required.

        • It has everything to do with the issue.

          People get all up date about women being in the workplace and so on, but the reason there are few women in the workplace is because there are not many women qualified for the jobs. But feminists think its to do with all work places being a boys club, and instead of thinking logically about it, they jump to conclusions and then start saying things that are totally untrue.

    • If you haven’t heard of Offworld, Mary Sue or NYMG, perhaps you shouldn’t be writing angry comments about who does or doesn’t understand the games industry.

      And Sarkeesian said she hadn’t played games before she started the Tropes vs Women series. I’m pretty sure that she’s also said that since then, she’s started playing quite a lot.

      • It was just NYMG I haven’t heard of, though I’ll admit I was probably a bit harsh on The Mary Sue as personally I’m really not a fan. Realistically at this point they’re big enough that if they weren’t asked, they probably should’ve been.

      • http://feministfrequency.com/2013/06/06/full-ign-interview-with-anita-sarkeesian/

        “This new series is especially exciting for me because games have been an influential part of my life since I was about 8 years old. My dad was a computer networking engineer, so while I was growing up our house was full of computers and he would always have a few machines loaded with games for me. When I was about 10, I remember I campaigned for months to convince my parents that the “Game Boy” was not in fact just for boys. Eventually I won the debate and got my first portable gaming device the following Christmas. So even though I’ve always been enthusiastic about games, I’ve also always been bothered and disappointed with the way women were represented much of the time.”

        I don’t know that she said she hadn’t played games, she did I think say that she didn’t identify as a gamer which isn’t the same thing.

        • There is a video of her talking at a university not long after starting the series.
          She tells the crowd that she hadn’t even played computer games before starting FF.

  • I don’t see this as an issue at all. The industry, especially the games journalist industry, has a vast majority male workforce. Of course there is going to be way more men than women representing journalists.
    If you tried to get an equal number of women purely to try and be diverse you would be left with many people who aren’t as well known and respected as the people currently on this list.
    Yes women should be given equal exposure and diversity is a great thing.
    But they have chosen the 30 best representatives of the games journalist industry they could get and that shouldn’t be changed just because their genders skew one way.

    • It shouldn’t be that hard to find more than one woman to put on a panel that ideally should be representative of an entire community. Not saying they should be choosing exactly 15 women for the sake of choosing 15 women but come on, there’s definitely more than one woman of note in this industry.

      • In the industry yeah, there’s a bunch but it sounds like they were being a bit more selective than just ‘people of note in the game industry’. Instead only focusing on ‘heads of major gaming media’ – of which there are almost no women.
        Perhaps they should broaden the selection criteria for next time but that also creates the possible issue (I assume they were trying to avoid) of dev/publisher bias on the panel.

  • Ok, so your idea then is to force a quota? And when you have an even split then you realise it’s not an even distribution of race or sexuality are you then going to rebalance around that as well? Will you then inform those who were chosen based on their attributes and not their minds that they were picked for that reason?
    Yes, the split as it currently stands is disproportionate of the sexes. But is it possible there are reasons? You quote Keith Stuart explaining why he pulled The Guardian from the vote instead of handing the position over to a woman as, “It’s just me on staff.”. Is it possible this correlates to a fair amount of big-name media?

  • Whole lotta people around here struggling to tell the difference between “hey, maybe 32-1 is a bit problematic” and “we should enforce strict 50/50 quotas in everything.”

    • Pretty sure the 50/50 quota being discussed is due to the article itself in which it states Jamin Warren saying to either diversify the panel to a 50/50 split, or Kill Screen would pull its name from the event.

  • Ever notice how Kotaku’s US Staff has a similar problem with diversity?
    To my knowledge they have one black guy (Owen) one hispanic woman (Hernandez) and everyone else is a white male. Certainly, there might be more (if you’ll excuse the term) “people of colour” and women working behind the scenes, but why is it that the people in front of the scenes are almost entirely white and male?

    I don’t know how things are with Kotaku AU but it doesn’t look too much better. We have maybe 4 regular journalists here (Mark, Alex, uh…???? and Hayley) and well the ratio is better than Kotaku US at least.

    But it could be better! And this isn’t uncommon. White males seem to dominate the journalism scene. Check out any major gaming site for yourself.

  • Kotaku US declines to judge, but will judge the selection of judges. I wonder if they know the term “hypocrite” over there?

  • All else aside. Award ceremonies for anything are f**king stupid.

    (Won’t someone think of the children)

  • A it’s Sartre’s Ian and “insightful” don’t belong in the same sentence in my personal opinion. She always approaches anything gaming that she touches like men are the enemy.

    I would rather see IGN throw in a gaming awards show of their own than Anita deciding on a game of the year

  • need full time gamer
    part time gamer
    gay gamer
    child gamer
    women gamer
    disabled gamer
    old gamer who votes for chess only
    blind gamer
    troll gamer
    sheep gamer

    see it gets silly

  • There’s this episode of Yes Minister where they’re trying to promote this very capable female MP into the Cabernet because there’s too many men in it. Once she discovers this reasoning she declines the offer and berates the male MP for treating her like a number for filling quotas rather than as a standard MP who would deserve the promotion on merit alone.

    *Edit* It’s important to note that an important part of the dilemma in this episode is the relative rarity of women in Parliament and how that affects their trials and tribulations.

  • Look, why don’t they just boot the two women, judges and re-brand the event as “The Game Awards FOR BOYS.”

    Have another event in a few month with 32 exclusively female judges. Problem solved.

    Oh, not solved? Because that’s a stupid idea? No, going ahead with this farce is stupid.

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