Gross Expectations: Dealing With the Inevitability of Sexual Harassment in the Games Industry

An explanation of why the constant news of sexual harassment while being a woman who wants to work in the gaming industry is a massive, unmitigated bummer.
Did you ever have a dream job?

Most of us have. Some hobby that we’re extra fond of, that makes us think, “if I could turn this into a job, life would be grand!” Those careers that we're convinced would be perfect - that would necessitate hard work, but with all the fun that came along with it, that would come naturally, right?

no job looks as good up close as it does from far away

At some point in pursuit of a dream job, you will be smacked in the face with reality. Because no job looks as good up close as it does from far away. Becoming a doctor, at least in the US, involves going deep into debt only to have to spend most of your time dealing with paperwork and other people’s poop. Detectives spend way more time at the desk than looking through crime scenes in cool hats. Even becoming a famous actor means sacrificing your privacy.

Of course, if you really love it, you do it anyway. But there’s nothing quite like the moment when you’re hit with the realization that your dream job isn’t going to be the ray of sunshine sprinkled with cupcakes that you thought it would be.

The External Threat

For most every gamer who wants into the industry, they have to come to terms with the fact that they’re not going to get paid all that much for what they do, and they’re likely going to have to deal with being brutally overworked when those deadlines start creeping up.

But hard work for relatively low pay doesn’t scare me off, no sir. You can’t put a price on job satisfaction, right?

No, that doesn’t get to me. What makes my heart sink, and my hands go limp on the keyboard, is the knowledge that all my efforts and all my dreams could be crushed flatter than Mr. Game and Watch, not because of something I did, but because of something someone else did to me.


 speaking out against what should be seen as universally and unquestionably wrong could cause my entire community to turn against me and cost me my job. My dream job. 

I read the piece on Kotaku about the harassment of Alice Mercier by Josh Mattingly. Now, sexual harassment doesn’t surprise me. At all. I’ve been sexually harassed throughout my life, more times than I could possibly count, for many different reasons and for seemingly no reason at all. Online and offline. I’ve also received threats and been told I should die, sometimes by my own hand, for saying things on the Internet that people don't like. And I’m not even close to Internet famous. I’m still pretty much an Internet nobody.

Women learn to expect all of these things, especially when entering traditionally male spaces. We’ve all heard the stories and we’ve all been given the warnings and we all know that we’re expected to expect it. What I can’t come to terms with is the lack of support I’m supposed to expect. The knowledge that speaking out against what should be seen as universally and unquestionably wrong could cause my entire community to turn against me and cost me my job. My dream job. 

A Culture of Silence

The very first thing that the Kotaku article mentions is that Alice Mercier is a pseudonym. This woman can’t give her real name for fear of the retribution she’ll receive for speaking up against harassment by the owner of a mid-range Indie gaming community website that I’d barely heard of before this controversy came to light. The website is not even a year and a half old. This guy isn’t the CEO of IGN or Game Informer. When I first heard his name, I thought he was a baseball player.

There is so much pressure to keep silent about sexual harassment in this industry that this woman cannot give her real name when condemning grossly unprofessional and harmful conduct by a guy who I've never heard of before.

In the interview with Kotaku’s Rachel Edidin, Mercier explains how impossible her situation is:

I don't want to potentially burn a bridge here, because what if there's a future where I need that press contact, or a professional relationship, and the industry is so small?"

When I point out the irony—that, of the two participants in the conversation, Mercier was the one worried that her behavior might burn a professional bridge—she laughs ruefully.

I know that laugh. I’ve laughed the same laugh. The same mirthless, despair-riddled laugh that comes out of me when I see comments like “why didn’t she just tell him to stop?” Or, better yet, “why aren’t there more women in the gaming industry?”


Don't Be That Girl

There are four simple words that explain exactly why she didn’t “just” tell him to stop right away.

“Don’t be that girl.”

In the Kotaku piece, Edidin goes on to describe other stories she's heard from women in the industry who have dealt with sexual harassment:

At a gaming convention, one professional acquaintance cornered her into an extended and increasingly sexual hug. "I'd be thinking, 'please let me go,' but then there were a bunch of people around me, and the people that were around were people I'd be interested in working with, who worked for companies I'd love to work for," she tells me. She remembers what she told herself: "Try not to make a scene, because you don't want to be 'that girl,' and you don't want to ruin the overall mood."

"That girl" is the bogeyman, a cautionary tale to keep the ladies in line. "That girl" is the woman who is iced out for speaking up and ruining everyone's fun. I hear about her from almost every woman I interview.

Why aren’t there more women in the gaming industry?

What is it that makes me myself hesitate, wonder why I should bother, and turn away from my work in despair?

Because the question of sexual harassment is not an if, but a when. And when it does happen, there are three possible outcomes.

Option 1: I can sacrifice my principles and my dignity by putting up with it out of fear of retribution.

Option 2: I can tell the harasser to stop immediately and be branded as “that girl,” as I already have been branded and seen others branded on numerous occasions (“lighten up” “it’s just a joke” “don’t be so uptight”) and risk being frozen out by contacts, depriving my career of the oxygen it needs to survive.

Option 3: I can expose the behavior of the harasser to the section of the gaming community that is more sympathetic, possibly gaining for myself the support I need to continue my career, though it would most likely be thrown completely off track. And, of course, with the last option comes the inevitability of a flood of harassment from vicious trolls who will attempt not just to end my career, but drive me off the map by compromising my safety.

What fun options those are!

One Big Bummer of a List

I’m only basing this on what I’ve observed, over and over. It makes a career in the gaming industry a tad difficult to look forward to when a woman has to hide her identity as though she testified against the mafia because she refused to put up with a guy graphically describing what he wants to do to her vagina during what was supposed to be a business conversation. And what if she had been harassed by a bigger name in the industry?

This is just one incident to be added to an ever-more-depressing list that includes women who have dared to criticize video games, women who have created video games, women who have had any role in creating video games at all, and women who simply exist in the industry as women of color, trans women, or women who don’t have a very specific body type.

Why didn’t Mercier do something different in this situation?

Because she can’t win.

No woman can win in this rigged game that really only has three losing outcomes. Stronger, smarter woman than I haven’t found a way to beat it, so what chance do I have?

“Why aren’t there more women in the gaming industry?”


Published Jan. 30th 2014
  • Max_3454
    If I remember right, in an interview with Amy Hennig where the topic of sexual harassment came up she said something along the lines of she has never experienced sexual harassment in her time with the industry, which is maybe a very, very singular experience, but it stands pointing out to women aspiring to be game designers as a beacon of hope that may allay some fears or push some women to take the risk where they wouldn't before if it seemed like it was "inevitable". I think this article sends the wrong message in several contexts.
  • Lindsey Weedston
    I hear what you're saying, but in my experience, reading articles similar to mine (like the one Amanda linked to) has actually made me feel better about working in the gaming industry rather than worse, because it made me feel as though I was not alone in feeling like I did. I also hope, though this may be a long shot, that this might inspire a few individuals to strive for change, which is what we really need to get more women in the industry.
  • Amanda Wallace
    Former Staff Editor
    Your article (the comments perhaps more so) reminded me of this:
  • Venisia Gonzalez
    Featured Columnist
    I think this is a great article by the way Lindsey!
  • Lindsey Weedston
    Thank you!
  • Venisia Gonzalez
    Featured Columnist
    I've been sexually harassed before but I don't "expect" it. It shouldn't happen on either side PERIOD. There needs to be some type of "platform". It also has to do with the way people interpret things. That's important to realize. What someone may say may not be offensive to one but offensive to another.
  • Venisia Gonzalez
    Featured Columnist
    I know a gentleman who is just the sweetest person, very respectable, who was fired for sexual harassment after giving a female co-worker a hug to thank them for their assistance through a personal issue at home. The female co-worker spoke vulgarly at work, gave sexually explicit details of her lover, told her co-workers she was cheating on her husband and had her lover come into the location. The gentleman I know worked for his previous employer for 15+ years without a smudge in his record. Now HE is scared to even speak to any female co-worker after his experience.
    Where is the balance?
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    That would be my question exactly. That man sounds very much like my friend.

    What a lot of woman don't realize is that this is happening a LOT. Most don't even want to admit that it's happening.
  • Sarah_6804
    Seriously, why the fuck do you call for "balance" on an article about women being harassed? This has everything to do with the root of the problem. "If you choose to ignore it entirely, you'll think it never happens." That is simply not at all true. At all. Ever.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    I don't respond to uncivil questions.
  • Sarah_6804
    This article is not about women harassing men? OH MY GOD!!! BURN IT!
  • Lindsey Weedston
    I know, right? God forbid anything should ever not be about men. Don't know what I was thinking, making an article about my experience as a woman about women.
  • Lindsey Weedston
    I should also mention that it's a function of male privilege to assume that the only type of sexual harassment in existence is the kind of thing that Mercier experienced. Most sexual harassment is more subtle and much of it comes from gamers who do not work in the industry but are still part of the community. Women who publish anything online, especially, will inevitably receive anonymous harassment from commenters and gross emails. But it can also take forms that many men will not even notice, such as jokes that make a woman uncomfortable, but the men in the office might never know because her speaking up about her discomfort would be socially unacceptable.

    These "small" instances of sexual harassment are often referred to as microaggressions and create stress buildup over time, especially since any women who complains will be dismissed with words like "irrational." They are nearly impossible to avoid for women.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Women are excellent "micro-aggressors," in my experience. But hey, a MAN'S experience is disallowed.

    Keep harping on "irrational." It defines hypocrisy. When you can explain your own hypocrisy ("inevitable" vs. "small percentage"), let me know.
  • M_6800
    Harassment isn't necessarily about men vs women. It's about a certain type of person vs a different type of person. In general of course, it's mostly men harassing women.

    Women though, can harass men too. There are vulgar women and men that aren't comfortable with vulgar language. A lot of women out there make penis jokes and joke about men's heights, masculinity, etc. And it hurts.

    Will a man ever talk about it? Will a man go to his boss and say "She made fun of my stature and to be frank it really devastated me. In fact, I cried about it every single night for a month after I got back home from work." I think there should be at least some acknowledgement of males being harassed by females.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Yes, exactly. This is the other side of the argument the author apparently doesn't want to acknowledge.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    As I said in the article citing the Mattingly issue, there's a flip side to this coin, one which many women don't acknolwedge:

    I really do have friends who go to work every day petrified they'll do or say the wrong thing. One, who works in an office, said three guys were fired in just the past two years for sexual harassment, one of whom was so devastated (and confused as to why it had happened) that he's afraid to work with any women anymore.

    Obviously, sexual harassment exists. I know it does, and I know it can't be condoned. What nobody is talking about is the role everyday, well-intentioned men (regardless of what some feminists think, this is the majority of men) have to play. They play the role of the fearful. And why? It's because if they're accused, THEY can't win, and they know it. So, they just try to blend into the wallpaper at work.

    Saying you will definitely be sexually harassed if you enter the game industry is false. Is it more likely than in other industries? I'd say definitely, because it's a double whammy: It's a big boy's club and many of those boys are unfortunately immature and socially awkward, which leads to big problems. But saying it's inevitable is hardly fair, or accurate.

    In such sensitive issues, one must remain as objective as possible. If you want to see sexual harassment everywhere, you're going to see it. If you choose to ignore it entirely, you'll think it never happens. There is a happy medium, and that includes seeing both sides. Some men are just pigs and need to be thrown out. Many others - MOST others - are not, and don't deserve to live in fear because of their piggy brethren.
  • Lindsey Weedston
    Actually, I see the issue of men who are afraid because they think they might accidentally harass a woman brought up pretty much any time the subject of sexual harassment is discussed.

    If men are worried about this, I think they should take it upon themselves to become better educated. We still don't talk about sexual harassment enough - I've never seen it discussed in a workplace beyond maybe a budget video during orientation. These men should talk to women, and group discussions should be held in the workplace where women are given a safe space to explain what kinds of behaviors makes them uncomfortable. I know so many great men who I've worked with or been friends with for years, and they've never harassed me or made me uncomfortable, socially awkward or not. It's really not hard.

    The thing is, women don't "go looking" for sexual harassment, but we do go in expecting it. And we can't help it. We've all experienced it far too often. It is absolutely accurate to say it's inevitable. I don't know a woman who hasn't been sexually harassed in some way.

    And we know well the other side, because we've all seen women speak up and been shouted down by people who want to protect the other side. But what are we supposed to do? Sacrifice our sense of safety and well being to protect the men who wronged us? That seems unfair to me.

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