It's Not About Censorship, It's About Professional Standards

Last week, I attended PAX Dev and gave a well-received talk on flat organizational structure. It was a blast. But one of the best moments happened outside the conference, a dinner with other women that work in gamedev, where we shared some of our most recent horror stories of working in this male dominated field.

If there was any consistent theme, it was this - men that work in gamedev are dreamily oblivious to what the women here experience. And that manifests in ways that kill women’s careers, including:

- Management’s inability to understand its hiring biases

- HR’s unwillingness to protect women who speak out

- Organizational unwillingness to respond to blatant sexual harassment

- Women being assigned to roles based on unconscious gender stereotyping

- Failure to intervene with gendered team conflict that could have ended in violence

Yesterday, my friend Jessica Price wrote this blog about trying to communicate with DriveThru RPG about their choice to sell a game called “Tournament of Rapists,” where the players rape and murder whoever is weaker. 

The most disturbing part was their response, which basically amounted to a shrug, some false equivalencies to censoring the f-word and invocation of a slippery slope that all games could end up censored.

These two events might not seem related, but they are. They’re both part of the core problem with the game industry - which is a disturbing exclusion of perspectives that are not straight, white and male. The industry has been built to work for a very specific kind of person. It’s very comfortable for them, but frequently harrowing for the rest of us. 

From the beginning, I have had a single goal as a public figure in the game industry. It’s something that I think many people don’t understand when I read articles about how I want to censor all games, or ban all white men from being developers, or usher in a feminist totalitarian state. None of that is true. They have to misrepresent my position, because what I actually want is so eminently reasonable. So, here it is - my actual mission in bold:

My mission objective is to raise professional standards about diversity in the game industry.

I thought about making that text blink, but decided it would be over the top.

In any case, that’s it. I want the game industry to be a safer, fairer place for the rest of us to work, and I want our industry output to be less actively hostile to women, people of color, and LGBT people. Because I have to say, the culture in this field is poisonous in ways a lot of gamers don't seem to realize.

To DriveThru RPG, this is a fun, hypothetical problem about theoretical censorship. What they don't understand is that the rest of us are dealing with an industry that does actual harm to women and other minorities. To be clear, my problem isn’t that there is a game about rape - it’s that DriveThru RPG doesn't hold themselves to reasonable professional standards in the content that they sell.

In an age of digital distribution, censorship is impossible. Anyone can release and sell a game. The question is, what kind of work do the adults that work here choose to support? What are the standards we hold ourselves to?

A videogame version of "Tournament of Rapists" would NEVER get sold on PSN, XBLA or the Nintendo eShop. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t worried about my games being censored for violent or sexual content for about two decades. There are professional institutions that say, “There is the adults table and the children’s table. If you want to sit with the adults, there are some rules of decorum you have to follow.”

I tweeted about DriveThru RPG yesterday and their disturbing response. And I’m happy to say, last night they did talk to the author and get Tournament of Rapists removed. But, in reading the response from the company, I’m unconvinced they understand what’s really going on, or the issue at play. It does no good to get someone to change their policy if they don’t understand the underlying reasoning behind it.

As the CEO of GSX, my values are reflected every single day with the choices I make. It’s reflected in who I hire, in what my policies are, the press that I agree to do and the people I work with. What the public doesn’t see is all the things I say no to behind the scenes. For example: 

- I regularly veto stories on Isometric and Rocket because they don’t meet my professional standards.

- I regularly choose not to do media appearances with some people because they don’t meet my professional standards.

- I regularly have delayed ship dates of our games because they haven’t yet met our professional standards.

- I regularly have fired people because they don’t meet our professional standards.

- I regularly say no to advice to be silent about industry institutions that hurt women, because they need to be held to professional standards.

Your company does reflect who you are as a person and the standards you hold yourself to. Until last night, DriveThru RPGs standards were so low that they didn’t think twice about selling a game glorifying rape. In fact, their initial response was to defend it. I hope that’s something they'll think seriously about.