In the video game industry, a race for inclusivity that still encounters obstacles

On June 22, Xbox France hosted a roundtable entitled “All in the game” about the space given to women in the video game industry. On their high chairs, the three participants, Morgane Falaize (president of the Women in Games Association), Ina Gelbert (director of Xbox France) and Lucie Prunier (producer of video games for the Don’t Nod studio) tell their story to Internet users who can follow the exchanges live on the Twitch platform. By telling their personal stories, the three women quickly find a common point: they began working in video games almost inadvertently, convinced that they had no place in this very masculine environment.

Then it was necessary to fight to get a place in the studios where they were seen as UFOs. “I started in the video game industry in Japan, and everyone asked me if I played video games. It made me angry.”witnesses Lucie Prunier. “When I was appointed director of the Xbox, the headlines in the specialty media were: a woman in charge of the Xbox. It bothered me.“, Loose Ina Gelbert. If this trio has chained promotions and successes despite the obstacles, the women do not yet start on an equal footing with the men.

The lockers in the video game industry are filled with cases of harassment, testimony of toxic behavior and cases of discrimination. The management of the Activision Blizzard group, publisher of the Warcraft package, is e.g. have been accused of having allowed discrimination and having promoted a culture of sexual harassment in this group of nearly 10,000 employees, acquired in January 2022 by Microsoft. A lawsuit filed July 20, 2021 in a California court by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), a California government agency, marked the culmination of a two-year study of Activision Blizzard’s practices.

Faced with pressure from the public and the media, the major players in the sector are trying to change this image and internal practices by promoting inclusiveness. Both by recruiting more varied profiles into their teams, and by creating more feminist characters and virtual universes. “Companies that are not open enough to women will quickly be overwhelmed”analyzes the director of Xbox France Ina Gelbert.

In a survey commissioned by Xbox France from CSA and conducted among 1,007 young female gamers aged 16 to 30, several figures are actually eloquent: 72% of female gamers say they feel stigmatized, and eight out of ten respondents say that the women represented in video games do not look like women in real life.

Young Saudi girls in a gambling house in the resort town of Jeddah on the Red Sea on May 15, 2019. (AMER HILABI / AFP)

This is the biggest challenge for video game developers and publishers today: to offer a less sexist vision of female characters in new productions and to include characters that represent the ethnic diversity of the population.

At the giant Electronic Arts (EA), a of the world’s leading video game developers and producers, a task force has been set up to think specifically about ways to inject more inclusivity into studio creations. This is Tullay McNally, manager including design and product development at EA, which heads this cell. This 30-year-old, who spent her childhood in Germany before coming to the United States, explained to us in a video conference what her mission consists of.

“My job is to push to bring more inclusivity to EA’s teams, whether it’s marketing, developers, players … I have a team of four with me. We also work with Glad, a pro-LGBT organization in the United States. . I have already seen on social networks or in press articles very positive feedback on the changes made at EAshe says.

Together with its partners, Tullay McNally especially looked at the famous life simulation game The Sims, a perfect laboratory as the game tries to stick as much as possible to the everyday life of citizens in our modern society. On The Sims, we’ve done a lot of things to make the game more inclusive. A rather striking example that I have in mind: the representation of fountains in the game. We changed the way water can flow over the bodies of female characters because we had comments about it in certain countries. It’s a detail we never thought of “.

In France, the Afrogameuses Association is campaigning for studies to give black women more meaning in video games. “Among the female characters, there are some who are of Afro descent. But they often suffer from several clichés. We noticed that there was often a catalog of exotic clothes such as bone necklaces, while it has nothing to do with the story. about the game. It was important for us to deconstruct these imbalances for children who play “says Vanessa “Nessabe”, Vice President of Afrogameuses.

“The games that bring the most inclusivity are currently independent studio productions”

Fanny Lignon

researcher at Lyon 1 University

All these efforts to transform the image of women in video games are not in vain. Lara Croft, the heroine of the Tomb Raider franchise, has seen her character evolve for the better over the years. “It’s an interesting game to study, because there are lots of opuses”says Harmonie Freyburger, vice president of the Women in Games France association and manager at Ubisoft. “In the beginning, she was hypersexualized with a big coffin. Now she’s really dressed differently in a less sexual way. But she’s not lost any of her soul, and that’s what’s amazing.”.

Another blockbuster has adapted to the times: Assassin’s Creed. In this sequel to stealth games in open worlds developed by Ubisoft, major changes have been offered to players recently. In the penultimate opus, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey which takes place in ancient Greece, players were for the first time given the choice between a male and a female protagonist. IN Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the latest installment of this long sequel, Inclusivity goes a step further. In the beginning, the player takes control of a child without knowing if it is a girl or a boy. And when he then becomes an adult, it is possible to choose whether he becomes a man or a woman.

“This case is telling. The lines are moving. Ubisoft did this because they believe it is what is expected of the public.”believes Fanny Lignon, associate professor at Lyon 1 University and specialist inrepresentations of the masculine and the feminine in video games. However, the researcher qualifies this progress. “The games that bring the most inclusivity are currently independent studio productions”.

An advertising poster for the game

The studies’ second major project is to make a strategy change in the personnel departments to recruit more employees with more varied profiles: women, colored …

According to the association Women in Games, in 2021 22% of the women were in the studies. “We’ve got 10% of women in 5 years“, notes Harmonie Freyburger. This HR specialist welcomes this growing diversity, while pointing out a well-known fact: men still monopolize positions of responsibility and the most prestigious services. “There are many women in communication positions, but too few in technical professions such as developers or game designers. The proportion of women in positions of responsibility is also low, as we only reach 10% of women in these positions.”.

To accelerate the transformation of the studies, recruiters are changing their recruitment process. “We have a Discord area with 2,500 members, and we have more and more recruiters posting ads there to make it easier to reach women,” says Harmony Freyburger. There is another question: how do you keep these employees once in place in very masculine environments? “In technology, 30% of women leave the industry after their first year, that’s a real problem”adds Morgane Falaize, president of Women in Games.

Yet women in office play a crucial role in transforming video games. “I really think the composition of teams affects sexual and gender representation in video games. And the more women there are, the more they will succeed in expressing their ideas.”says Harmonie Freyburger.

“I’ve been in video games for 10 years and it’s evolved. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s not bad already.”

Lucie Prunier

Producer at Don’t Nod

If one tries the never-easy exercise of taking three steps back to get an overview of the bigger picture, the study effort to bring more inclusivity into the industry seems to pay off. “In fighting games, I had calculated a few years ago that there were almost zero female characters. Today we come to about a third. Afterwards, we have to see how these women are presented.”believes researcher Fanny Lignon.

An observation shared by Lucie Prunier, who sets foot in the Don’t Nod studio every day: “I really think it’s getting better. I’ve been in video games for ten years and it’s evolved. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s not bad.”.

The math can sometimes be quite simple. In its survey of players, CSA explains that 36% of players dream of working in the video game industry. And since every other player, according to the department, is a woman, there are many potential candidates for a position in gaming. It is up to the studios to open the door for them.

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