The Insider slate this year is a testament that change doesn’t have to be slow. If people with influence want to make it happen, they can.
— Jessica Price (@Delafina777) May 11, 2016
Jessica Price’s first rape threat appeared 10 years ago, when she posted on social media that she was playing Halo — and she liked it.
Her benign observation was met with vitriol, not because she was wrong, but because she was a woman.
“It has actually gotten worse since then,” said Price, 35, a writer, editor, designer and producer of video and tabletop games and a current Paizo Pathfinder RPG Project Manager (RPG stands for role-playing game.)
It’s no secret that women in the gaming industry — and women in some other male-dominated fields — face an onslaught of hateful rhetoric, violent threats and insulting, sexist critiques on social media sites like Twitter, Reddit and 4chan for simply doing their jobs. The Gamergate controversy brought international attention to the issue in 2014, when an Internet mob of organized commenters attacked several high profile women in the gaming world, posting their home addresses and personal information online and threatening them with sexual assault, physical violence and even death.
When those women tried to defend themselves, it only got worse.
Since then, various industry pockets have spoken out against online harassment and highlighted the rampant sexism women face. Gamergate victims have established initiatives and networks. In March, during a speech recognizing Women’s History Month, President Barack Obama touched on the harassment female gamers face, pushing for gender equity across all fields.
And just last week, Gen Con, one of the oldest and largest gaming conventions, announced that it’s lineup of 2016 Industry Insider featured speakers is majority women — for the first time in its nearly 50 year history.
Thirteen of the 25 speakers are women — a sizable jump in female representation from years past. In 2011, there was only one female featured speaker; in 2014, four of the 25 speakers were women, and last year, women made up about 30 percent of the slate, according to several gaming blogs.
It’s an especially favorable move after a panel at last year’s convention, titled, “Writing Women Friendly Comics,” caused an outcry when the panel lineup initially contained no women. Gen Con quickly added some female voices to the discussion, but a controversial moderator caused some women to walk out and even leave crying, Price said.
When the list of 2016 panelists was posted on the Gen Con website, and Price discovered her speaker application was accepted, she was ecstatic.
“Wow, holy crap, we really can do this,” she said she thought. “We can change things. It doesn’t have to be glacial change. It can be immediate.”
Gen Con, which draws more than 60,000 gamers, will be held in Indianapolis in early August.
To be joining a majority female panel takes away what Price called the “tokenism” of her invitation. “When it’s half women, the pressure to be a woman in games is off,” Price said. “You can just be a person who works in games.” But with progress comes pushback.
On Twitter and in blog comments, critics of this year’s lineup have claimed the orchestrated diversity was “reverse discrimination.” The women were tagged as interlopers. Others wrote on social media that they recognized only one or two names in the slate, evidence, they claimed, that those with more merit must not have applied. On man tweeted #MakeGenConGreatAgain and called the panelists “talentless hacks” and “worthless morons.”
Just saw the GENCON “industry insiders” list of expert panelists. By “insider” they must mean “douchebags with delusions of significance”.
— Urbanski (@KasimirUrbanski) May 12, 2016
Monica Valentinelli, one of the selected speakers, wrote on her blog that she had seen critics, people she dubbed “Trolls Who Shall Remain Nameless TM,” falsely say the list is comprised of “indie gaming” folks. She added: “Subtext, here, is that ‘indie’ is meant as a slight as it is inconsequential to the opiners. Much like small press or self-published to some, in fiction.”
Another selected speaker, Anna Kreider, wrote on her popular feminist blog “Go Make Me a Sandwich” that based on an informal survey of some of the top gaming conventions in the country, Gen Con is one of the first to achieve gender parity across its honored guests. She echoed the observation others online had made that the lineup varied in age, experience and expertise, which will likely lead to more diverse conversation and debate. Some commenters disagreed. She later tweeted:
Some dude on my blog said that I should have to “pay my dues” before deserving to be an IIFP at GenCon. — Princess Grumpypants (@wundergeek) May 14, 2016
Elsewhere online, one blogger predicted attendance at Gen Con would plummet because of the speaker lineup, signaling the beginning of the end of the decades old convention.
But others in the industry offered their full support, even male applicants who weren’t selected to be featured speakers this year.
I got turned down for industry insider, I have a decade in the industry and even I thought they should be selected over me.
— Steve Russell (@RitePublishing) May 13, 2016
Price said she, and her female colleagues, have just had to learn how to tune out the gender-based critiques.
“You expect it, and you kind of have to brush it off,” she said.
Online, Price is quick to block those who threaten her, and she said women of the industry look out for each other, too.
“It’s easier to read stuff about other people than it is to read about yourself,” she said.
Price, along with other female gamers, have praised Gen Con for diversifying its lineup, including having LGBT representation and Michael Pondsmith, a black man, as the Guest of Honor. They all offered the same critique: the lineup is still overwhelmingly white.
“It’s definitely improving,” Price said. “But it’s still kind of an uphill battle.”