A highlight of the ‘Digital Writer’s Masterclass’ was the afternoon session, ‘Binary Code? Gender, Words, and Digital Spaces’, featuring gaming journalist Katie Williams, and Leena van Deventer, game developer and writer. The session was hosted by Connor Tomas O’Brien, co-director of the Digital Writers’ Festival.
An experienced journalist, Katie experienced what she calls ‘well-meaning sexism’ from PR reps at a major gaming convention. The reps either assumed she was only there to talk about “female” mind games (she cites Facebook games like Animal farm as examples) or they assumed she was an assistant, before then offering to show her how to play a game. After the event, she wrote an article about the experience, which resulted in hate mail from male gamers. It also resulted in positive feedback from female gamers who had experienced similar prejudices.
Leena noted that only 8.7% of the gaming industry in Australia is made up of women. By comparison, women occupy 19% of mining positions. Connor asked Leena and Katie what opportunities there were for female game developers, and what was deterring women from entering the industry. Leena and Katie both agreed that the AAA games primarily consisted of hyper-masculine characters (citing the Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty series as a few examples). Leena mentioned that L.A. Noir is the most AAA rated game to be made in Australia, but it was still yet another game that relegated women to roles of murder victims or temptresses. She believes there is still hope for the gaming industry, as AAA narratives are starting to be held accountable, with the help of a vibrant social media community, so not all AAA games are ‘Shooty Bang, Son of Shooty Bang and Shooty Bang’s Revenge’. Katie and Leena agree that Australian indie game communities offer women the greatest opportunity to get involved and experiment with different games.