I was aware of Brianna Wu's keynote speech at Inspirefest 2015 before the event, but it has taken me a little while thanks to my schedule to actually sit and take the just thirty-ish minutes needed to watch the entire thing. I have some time to myself tonight; which is probably a good thing, because it struck a cord with me. I'm reluctant to make comparisons with her message even though they're genuine — it feels like hijacking something that's already crucially important. It's something that stands on it's own validity as much as it is true for other groups: women need better representation in the technology industry. Full participation where currently they have to fight for recognition. What I can do is explain why she has my support, and why I have honestly grown to idolise her and other women in comparable positions. It's not her resilience, it's her vision. I have had the briefest of exchanges with Brianna on twitter tonight and it feels like being acknowledged by a rockstar to me. It prompted this post. I'm not taken to sycophancy but I am a little starstruck still. I hope I can explain a little about why a video and a tweet feels like such a big deal.
Her keynote speech embedded here has a distinct personal resonance for me. I had two dreams growing up, neither of which have been realised. One was to be an author, and publish (at least) a novel. Maybe I will. The other was to work in computer game development. Listen to what Brianna has to say about 'giving gamers a message'. I'll explain why this isn't just symbolic, and how it is affecting us all but especially our impressionable younger generation.
When I was a teenager games were then much as they are now, very masculine. With the notable exception of some Nintendo games protagonists were musclebound, agressive guys who saved and won the girl (even Nintendo heroes save the princess). The box art of so many games attests to this; from Double Dragon to Duke Nukem. Then there's me; the guy who isn't into winning girls and for whom 'princess' is a derisive slur. Things are improving for sure, but my generation grew up learning that homos arent real men and real men are the heroes. Indeed, it's hard to find a gay character in a game that isn't the butt of a joke or the subject of derision — if you can find them. Usually we don't exist at all, at least gay men; gay women are often included as a sexual fantasy for men to consume and I'm not actually sure which of those situations is worse.
In many ways its easier for me than many women. I am kind of a stealth homo; people don't assume that I'm gay because I don't closely embody their preconceptions (most of the angry young men that think 'gay' is a cutting insult probably aren't informed enought to have encountered the concept of 'bears'). When I get called 'faggot' online because I stepped on some other gamer's manhood it's an attempt to cast aspersions on my masculinity; my accuser doesn't know it's true. I can shrug that off as I have for my entire life. My sister, on the other hand, uses an alias on the internet because of abuse she's recieved and I've played World of Warcraft with women that use voice modulators in chat to avoid detection because of the puerile reaction that so many players have as soon as they realise that a woman, or often young teenage girl, is present.
I still to this day keep my personal life secret from the people I play online games with, because discovery can swiftly become exile from the social group I rely on. This is probably an unfair presumption on my part of the attitudes of my fellow gamers, but I play games for fun and it is not worth the risk.
When Brianna talks about how there is a message that the gaming space is for men, she is right. It's not just women that are excluded from manspace either. If you don't measure up you're out. If you're a guy that's too girly you're out. Too ethnic? Out. I can't even begin to imagine the fear of discovery that trans individuals must have with online interactions. Women are half of humanity (actually just slightly more than half). Women are half of all human imagination and creativity. Women are half of our ingenuity, half of our inspiration, half of our innovation and progress. We're only meeting half of our potential without them. The attitudes that are exclusionary to Brianna Wu, or Zoe Quinn, or Shanley Kane, or Anita Sarkeesian, or my own sister are not about keeping women out; they're about keeping this group of men in above everyone else.
If we support the women taking a stand and change the attitudes of the industry, we'll bring other excluded groups with them because the toxisity of the status quo will be exhorcised. Not all at once, but inch by inch. No more gay kids need to learn that they are not really a man, and only men get to play.
Just take a deep breath and hear what they have to say.