Gaming culture—especially over these past few years—has been wrestling with its own problems involving sexism. We have seen this issue in many different forms, ranging from character designs and how they are portrayed to the inception of GamerGate and how many female developers are poorly treated. In the latest of “controversies” regarding sexist attitudes in the gaming industry, Riot Games has found itself at the center over the past few weeks due to its “bro culture” that disparages women developers. As an effort to combat the sexist perception Riot Games has garnered after the piece on Kotaku regarding their toxic culture, Riot scheduled a series of panels at the (then) upcoming PAX West that, according to Riot, was specifically for women and non-binary individuals to attend (up until 2:30 pm).
Right next door in Room 613 we’re hosting a variety of sessions to support women and non-binary folks who are interested in getting into games professionally. Stop by to learn from and get to know some of the badass women of Riot! Tentative schedule below, but all subject to change—stop by the room Friday-Monday for a daily schedule.
10 AM-12 PM:
1-on-1 resume review & feedback
12-3 PM: Presentations including:
Art + Champions/Skins Design
How to be a Producer
Meditation / quiet space hour (except Sunday)
“Ask a Rito” (Stop by and chat with a Rioter)
Once fans learned that a specific part of this particular panel was restricted, well, it’s safe to say that the reception was anything but positive. Numerous Reddit threads and YouTube videos sprung up, criticizing Riot Games for the decision, claiming that Riot Games has “Violated Men’s Civil Rights” and that it was “discriminating towards men” by restricting them from this panel. It has reached to such an extent, that as I am currently writing this, even more, has transpired from this event and the outcry over this decision has continued to only amplify as the days have passed. But for all the outrage surrounding such a decision regarding men’s rights, one small, but an extremely important point that those that have espoused such things have managed to overlook— it’s not a zero-sum game.
Promoting one Group Doesn’t Harm the Other
There is a fundamental flaw in the idea that promoting one group harms another in all cases. In a zero-sum scenario, this would be true. By taking away something from one group when there is a limited amount of resources, and giving it to another in a zero-sum scenario, one group would lose and the other would gain. If a group who had two apples had an apple stolen, and the other group who had no apples now has one, this would be a perfect example of a zero-sum scenario. There are only so many apples and no other way to gain more besides taking what is already there.
But what that analogy lacks, and where the issue lies with those upset with Riot’s decision to have this event, is that there isn’t a limited amount of apples in the world, just in that one particular setting. There will be more events, more opportunities, and more chances for those who were not invited to this particular event to take part in similar events throughout the year and PAX itself, just like how there are plenty of apples being grown throughout the world. But let’s take this analogy a step further to fully understand the actual situation at hand because if this simple analogy was all that there is, this conversation would be over.
One of the more important aspects of this situation to understand is the current standing of the gaming culture. It is fair to say that currently, gaming culture both as gamers and developers, is largely dominated by straight white males. This isn’t something that happened by accident, rather, it was culture founded on this identity as the founders themselves largely were exactly that, straight white males. This is where gaming culture was founded, and thus, was largely dominated by for many years. Fast forward to now, and gaming has turned into something much bigger than it once was in the 80’s. It doesn’t just include straight white males, it contains a whole spectrum of people, all of whom enjoy multiple aspects of gaming as a whole. But even now, a large portion of the culture is still straight white males. This isn’t inherently an issue, but it does properly paint the situation of those who are not part of the majority encounter. Gaming, unlike more mature mediums, still faces many of the growing pains of becoming less of a niche and more of a widely accepted medium. Because of this, for those who do not identify with that dominant group, it can be an uphill battle for them to make an entrance into the industry.
This uphill battle is precisely why events that promote minority groups in gaming is a positive for gaming as a whole. These groups (women and non-binary individuals in this case) are starting behind the majority. They are not afforded the same positive assumptions or luxuries that the majority currently enjoy because they are simply not the majority and part of that majority aims to keep it that way. The only way this mentality can change, is in part, by offering events and services that allow those who do not fit in with the majority, a chance to dip their feet in and get the extra boost they need to be on the same playing field. It offers an opportunity to promote these minority groups to grow gaming as a whole into a more inclusive medium because frankly, some people need it.
To return to the apple analogy once more, it would be more akin to the majority having an apple tree, and the minority just having a few apples. Yes, both groups have apples, but one is clearly at a disadvantage as one is actively growing apples and the other is not. The majority in this case already has a tree that is producing more apples, but for the minority group to catch up, they need to sacrifice an apple to plant a tree and nurture it for the time it needs until it reaches maturity. The group was already starting behind and needed to forth extra effort than the other so they could be on the same playing field. Even using this analogy is flawed, as it assumes one group is doing nothing the entire time. In reality, as the one group continues to catch up, the majority continues to widen the gap, meaning the minority group has to work even harder to be at the same starting line.
Not everyone in that minority group is going to be able to catch up at the same rate and be able to jump right into being on the same playing field as the majority. Some will need an extra hand, and this was what Riot was providing for women and non-binary individuals. This isn’t taking an opportunity away from men, it’s adding an opportunity for women and non-binary individuals, a group that is in need of extra help. This is much in the same way that those who saw the black-lives movement and countered with “what about all lives?” completely missed the point of the movement. It wasn’t to ignore other groups, but rather to bring attention to a problem that one group is facing disproportionately to the rest.
This is and was no different. Men’s rights were not “violated”, women and non-binary individuals were simply afforded a helping hand that as a group, need it.
Mob Mentality Can’t Rule
The reaction from Riot fans is one of the larger issues being faced by game developers and gaming communities— mob rule. We have seen it in part with Jessica Price and her firing from ArenaNet, and we are seeing it again now with Riot and its fans regarding this event. This mentality that everyone must have everything, and if they don’t, someone must pay for it. It has taken the idea of the “customer is always right” (which anyone who has worked retail knows is not true) to a level of pure absurdity in gaming culture. We are seeing “fans” demand that employees be fired, actions are taken, and things changed all in the name of the mob rule if every interaction with the company doesn’t go perfectly.
Simply put, this idea is an extremely warped sense of expectation that game developers and publishers have fostered by not being able to say no to its customers. It creates a toxic environment for its workers by requiring unrealistic expectations and empowers their fans to demand any and everything. This echoes of the same problem that localizers face in regards to censorship, in that changing anything from the original is seen as a form of censorship.
In the end, mob mentality will rule if companies are unwilling to combat it. People will see no need for the current state of affairs to change because nothing is pushing against it. In the case of Riot Games, which has a lot of problems regarding sexism, this was one case where they were doing something positive to help women and non-binary individuals in the industry and culture. But for it to truly have an impact, Riot can’t allow the toxic culture they have fostered to win in the end if they hope to have any impact.