Dear Mitu

It has been awhile and I didn’t really know where to re-begin this letter correspondence, especially now knowing that people are looking (I hope they are looking). I have decided to make this something of an update on the inbetween time, highlighting some of the writings and events during the down-time and collating because during our 5 month hiatus gender issues in games have really been brought to the fore. A LOT has gone down, some good some bad and some worse, but mostly there has been a promising burst of attention to pervasive misogyny and inequity that can only contribute to a growing awareness. Awareness is crucial because a recurring theme seems to be unawareness, whether that be a burial of the issues and inequity that epistemic cultures seem to be capable of that creates a strong denial in its proponents or a simple inability to see or relate until some epiphany brought about by experience. We both spoke of a sudden and surprising becoming aware, so this seems like a good place to start – awareness. Both maintaining awareness of things that we might feel done, dealt with and past, but also the event of becoming aware that Luke Dicken shares in the inaugural Dear Ada letter.

The coming-of-awareness and other tales: This summer Jenn Frank shared the honest narrative ‘I Was A Teenage Sexist’. It is a coming-of-awareness tale, in which Frank details the denial of her gender and the issues associated with it by what should be the easiest of logics – that female is equal, normal – and the realisation that there was something inaccurate and inadequate, not so much in her thinking but culture that she was trying to think herself equal into. What I think is so interesting (and relatable) about this confession retrospective is that it talks openly about the muting of gender in an attempt to make oneself and others comfortable with the inequitable lot they’ve got. For sure, the strength of character and conviction seems that it should be more than enough to quietly resolve the gender tensions and yet experience so often reminds us that it ain’t.

The awareness of Anita Sarkeesian: Sarkeesian runs the super smart blog Feminist Frequency in which she analyses the blatant gendering of popular culture artefacts. In May she launched the Kickstarter campaign Tropes Vs. Women in Games, a project looking at the representation of females in videogames. The response was overwhelming and seriously polarised – half unwavering support, half misogynistic abuse. The objections became deeply personal and Sarkeesian was subject to numerous calculated attacks online. The aggression really only served to fuel support for the project as the behaviour really only served to demonstrate the problems in gaming culture that warrant the work Sarkeesian is proposing.

Be aware at gaming events: The booth babes of E3 were still around this year and while this tired, objectifying convention remains unchanged the critical response is really pushing against it. Strong objections have yielded results and Eurogamer Expo has banned any future representation of booth babes from its events. I can’t help but think this will be a much friendlier space for women to be in when not being stood against demeaning gender representations and unfortunate emblems of the fake geek girl trope. Perhaps female journalists can be afforded credit without suspicion in the way that Katie Williams of Kotaku was not when that trope is not part of our culture or an immediate comparison to be made in the local space of the LA Convention Centre.

Calls for awareness: Ernest Adams has long been a champion of inclusive gaming culture. He has written on the subject for his regular Gamasutra blog but this particular piece – A Call to Arms For Decent Men – never made it through the editorial. Here he describes the immaturity of gaming culture citing incidents of prejudice and aggression and illustrating how there is a pervasive attitude in gaming culture that fosters a stayed immaturity which shapes particular attitudes towards minority and difference and so he calls for the culture to ‘grow up’ and for boys to become men, men with the sense and decency to not discriminate.  Brandon Sheffield also addresses this self-sustaining cycle delivering privilege to males in games culture through the address of the eye, and the concept of the male gaze. Here Sheffield discusses connection between those making the games (largely white heterosexual males), the subsequent representations and views that are constructed in games and the attitude of that core demographic whose eyes and appetites are fed by the mainstream. This is framed as the route problem and the article elegantly navigates the multiple problematic paths that branch out from here, including booth babes and misogynistic attitudes. This piece points to the salient issues preventing progression in the industry and culture as well as some essential reading on the subject. Its bloody good journalism and fine feminism.

That is but a brief recap of the last few months in gender and videogames.

Anyway, this maybe seems like dredging up the past and pointing again to things we have seen (that is a bit of an apologetic tone that I have to get over when speaking on the subject of gender), but a steady attention to the issues is important. High profile incidents seems to have a galvanising effect but sustained awareness is the only way to attend to the subtleties, nuance and ever-changing issues that are evolving with some promising changes within games culture 

High profile incidents seems to have a galvanising effect but sustained awareness is the only way to attend to the subtleties, nuance and ever-changing issues that are evolving with some promising changes within games culture

.  I think awareness key. Maybe we can admit to knowing that there are inequitable conditions in gaming culture, acknowledgement isn’t a demand that you should know what to do about it – a strange association that scarred me off of exploring the issues for a long time. I think inviting people to the discussion is super important to building awareness because you and I can only speak from our experiences and while that is totally valid it is not wholly representative. In that respect I guess I have one major hope for this site (no pressure guys) and that is awareness building. Writing on any ‘issue’ can come with this anxiety to contribute resolves and deliver profound observations but that is the long game, let’s here play it by awareness building. It is not unproductive to return to specific texts of subjects, personal narratives are completely legitimate and relevant to more than the one from whom they come. I hope this can be a space to build on what we know and get to know what we don’t: a place for being and becoming aware.

I want to close by asking you, dear Mitu what are your ambitions for this site?

Emily

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