LadyCADE: A New Social Event Debuting at GameCity 8

Tomorrow sees the launch of a brand new social event, designed specifically to be inclusive to women. We’ve called it LadyCADE, and I’m very excited given that our debut event takes place during GameCity 8 in Nottingham – itself already a fantastically inclusive festival.

LadyCADE placeholder logo

Background

LadyCADE was first thought up by myself, Hazel McKendrick and Holly Pickering. We wanted to create an event which would be inclusive towards women like ourselves who are passionate about playing and making games, while gently distancing ourselves from the idea that all such events should push an agenda. Not that we don’t believe in such things – we worked together to win the world’s first all-female game jam, and are regular attendees at Women in Games Jobs events, which promote the recruitment of more women into the industry. Unfortunately these tend to be the only such events targeted at women, so to put it simply: we wanted a space in which to socialise, share experiences and maybe play each other’s games – just so that every now and then, we can take a moment to really enjoy what it is we do.

There is an argument, of course, that we could do this at any games event – and this is true, but women are always a minority. This isn’t a problem for some of us, but for those women who’d feel more comfortable amongst a more feminine crowd: we hope LadyCADE can provide a welcome change.

LadyCADE at GameCity 8

This first outing is the work of myself and Elsa Bartley. It’s intentionally being kept to quite an open plan, so that we might test the water and see what may or may not work for a regular meetup. We hope that LadyCADE could become a regular feature at a variety of games events, offering female attendees time to relax and get to know each other away from some of the more male-dominated socials. Only time and future interest will tell!

As for the actual event details, they’re included on our Eventbrite page and the GameCity festival schedule, but they bear repeating here. We’re meeting at 4pm on Saturday, the 26th of October 2013, at the Pit & Pendulum pub just off Old Market Square. The address is 17 Victoria Street, Nottingham NG1 2EW.

Tickets aren’t necessary to attend, but we appreciate being able to get an idea of numbers!

As I write this on the train, travelling to GameCity, I am brimming with excitement about how the event might go. Interest has already been reassuringly high, and it’s my hope that the women there who make and play games will have a great night of it. All this, and Holly is already mulling over the idea of a LadyCADE gathering at GDC in San Francisco next year..!

Stay tuned:

Join Me at Nine Worlds Geekfest!

Nine Worlds GeekfestI’m honoured and excited to say I shall soon be speaking in public for the first time, at the Nine Worlds Geekfest in August! I have no idea how one is supposed to do a good job of announcing this sort of thing, so I’ll cut straight to the details.

Nine Worlds Geekfest is a new style of geek convention – I think of it as a combination of Redemption/Eastercon and MCM Expo types of events. It seems Nine Worlds will have a fairly large attendance compared to the sci-fi cons some may be used to, and its subject matter is much broader too. There are programmed events covering video games, but also Game of ThronesDoctor Who and Torchwood, knitting and geek academia, to name but a few. Nine Worlds also has a keen focus upon diversity and inclusion, so many tracks (including the video games one) will feature discussion about feminism, LGBT content and the representation of disabilities, both in the media we enjoy and the studios making it all.

I’ll be involved in two panels, both running on the Saturday as part of the video games and ‘queer’ fandom tracks. I have the information as it stands, and will try to keep this up to date, but it should go without saying that you’re better off checking Nine Worlds’ own programme for details.

Continue reading “Join Me at Nine Worlds Geekfest!”

Women in Games Development

As my Goodreads friends will already know, I am currently reading Introducing Feminism: A Graphic Guide. I’m reading up on the subject after a long-running and heated debate about women in games development erupted on my Facebook wall. I’ve always been interested in the topic, but it feminism fascinates me now more than ever, and I’m dead pleased that the debate itself will soon be mentioned in Develop.

We were discussing the “merits” of women in games development, in pretty broad fashion: why they need promoting; if it even merits discussion; and why and how women are discouraged from this and other, supposedly masculine fields. It is in this particular frame that I find myself drawn to Virginia Woolf’s work. To quote Jenainati and Groves’ book:

In A Room of One’s Own, [Woolf] explored the cultural and economic constraints on female creativity, and pondered the historical and political obstacles which have hampered the establishing of a female literary tradition.

Of course, her work also went on to decry the ridiculous social pressures which were put upon those women who dared to have minds of their own. Interestingly, her work also covered a very real and present double standard which is applied to the assertion of feminine sexuality – but I digress. The important point I found was that in the late 1920s, Virginia Woolf was pushing for greater female representation in the literary genre. Books were being written by men, for men and women, with only a masculine viewpoint on who and what women are. Not only does this have an impact upon employment, barring all but a few women writers, but it also has gross a social impact. Women were left to the mercy of an overwhelmingly masculine media view, dictating the value of their own identities worth in society. This does arguably spur the more pioneering women to challenge the medium and write their own stories, but that sort of motion is till fraught with obstacles.

Now look at the present day. I even cited literature in one of these discussions, as an example of a medium with good gender representation: for every J.K. Rowling there’s a Philip Pullman, and for every Stieg Larsson there’s a Patricia Cornwell. But sacrifices had to be made and campaigning had to be done to get to this point. Would anyone argue that diversity amongst authors makes for anything but a better medium?

This is why we need to encourage women into games, with an eye to achieving something more balanced and sensible. Theoretically no woman is actually blocked from this industry (though reports of sexism in the workplace and at interview still crop up), but they are subtly discouraged, certainly in comparison to men. The fact that video games themselves remain a somewhat masculine medium does not help, and it’s likely borne of the cycle in which women are discouraged from designing them, and so a woman’s perspective is not felt in future games’ design process.

It’s hard to argue that games have as much of an impact upon our society as books have done and continue to do, but many academics and developers are making powerful arguments that they can and should. The day may come when, as Jane McGonigal suggests, games will have a social responsibility ingrained in their structure, and that they will achieve good. The pressing question is: will that game be made purely by men?

 

Women in Game Worlds

‘Left 4 Dead’ is an agile and adaptive game with an impressive cast, but where are the female equivalent to Bill and Francis in this and other games?

When a friend and colleague of mine showed me a clip of some brilliant dialogue from PS3 title Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, he then asked if I recognised the female character in it at all, since the animators made use of motion capture during their performance. I didn’t, as it goes – I heaven’t seen Farscape or Starget SG-1 – but I realised I couldn’t see past Chloe Frazer’s slim physique, attractive hairstyle and general air of an action girl in her late twenties. She looks like every female character I think I’ve seen in games, at least outside the mould of the pneumatic dominatrix.

I don’t mean to single these games out in particular, nor rant unnecessarily about a topic which has already been covered with greater authority on quite a few occasions (but which sadly has yet to yield results). In fact, although I haven’t played Uncharted 3 myself, I was told to look out for its antagonist, as her placement on billboards marks some new ground for games. Katherine Marlowe is her name, though the Uncharted wiki link there is probably awash with spoilers. In her we have an older woman of rich and interesting character, who one hopes is unlikely to confront the game’s protagonist in an underbust corset with a whip in hand as so many villains seemed to at the turn of the century.

The points I want to get across are twofold:

  • matters of equality,
  • and downright interest.

The former is a tricky one, as while I can point to casts like that of Left 4 Dead and ask for the biker chick, successful businesswoman and female army veteran, men too can be quite limited when it comes to a choice of protagonist. Marcus Fenix (Gears of War), Axel Stone and Adam Hunter (Streets of Rage), and the admittedly shadowy Master Chief (Halo) represent one type, of the gruff-voiced and muscle-bound hero. More realistic characters come in the form of Tommy Vercetti (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City), Louis and Nick (Left 4 Dead), and Nathan Drake (Uncharted). It’s understandable, as men and women alike probably derive greater pleasure from inhabiting the skin of a good-looking, cool and capable hero. But where is the female Gordon Freeman? It’s still far more common to find variety in the body types and ages of male characters than female ones, and most women really are reduced to eye candy, be it as a result of impractical armour or somehow inhabiting a world in which men are allowed to be ugly, but less glamourous women appear to have been nudged out of the gene pool. I recently saw this in Overlord, though it’s common to many such adventure games:

Two scenes captured in close sequence, of wives typical to the Overlord’s realm, and the male NPCs with which he interacts.

The latter point is the more positive one to make, and is really the crux of my wish. Not only do I want there to be a character I can relate to somewhere in these games, but I want the more realistic ones to do a better job of portraying reality. The world is filled with interesting characters, from the real ale enthusiast to the camp confidante and, of course, the science fiction geek. There’s a broad spectrum of men in games (though you’d be hard pressed to find a feminine man portrayed at all, let alone done well), but women are relegated to narrow types, and it just makes game worlds that little more dull.

I don’t much care for the token blonde thrown into a military unit of socially- and racially-diverse males – her figure is stunning and her presence such a transparent box-ticking. Show me the single mother trying to raise four kids in your gang’s neighbourhood; the misandrist W.I. leader who’s realising the futility of her attitude in face of the Outbreak; or the non-conformist teenager who embodies the real and genuine population of masculine women. There are men this interesting throughout the games I play, but the closest I think I’ve come are Midna and Tetra from the Legend of Zelda series, both of whom surrendered their individuality upon becoming the token princess.

As ever with issues I try to cover in this blog: I just think it would be more fun.