EA Employee barraged with Sexist comments over Andromeda’s buggy animations highlights the ongoing issue of representation of women in video game development.
Gender issues within the video gaming industry is not a new topic, with controversies involving GamerGate being one of the several issues that highlight how women are treated and perceived within the gaming industry, particularly by the gaming community itself. Following the release of BioWare’s problematic new installation to the Mass Effect Series, Mass Effect: Andromeda, internet trolls went to Twitter to publicly harass Allie Rose-Marie Leost, who worked fro EA’s motion capture labs in Vancouver for her supposed involvement in Andromeda’s animations. For those unaware of this, Mass Effect: Andromeda was heavily scrutinized for its shoddy animations, particularly the ridiculous looking facial animations that plagued the game. Following the criticisms for this, trolls decided to publicly harass Leost on Twitter, making very explicitly sexist and misogynistic comments. According to Kotaku, Leost was not in fact a part of the team that dealt with Andromeda’s animation and that this information originated from a blog post at Ralph Retort, a very conservative, GamerGate associated website, which also accused Leost of using sex to get her job at EA. BioWare immediately condemned the abuse with the statement:
Recently, a former EA employee was misidentified as a lead member of the Mass Effect: Andromeda development team. These reports are false.
We respect the opinions of our players and community, and welcome the feedback on our games. But attacking individuals, regardless of their involvement in the project, is never acceptable.
-Aaryn Flynn, BioWare GM
This is where we encounter the long standing problem with women in the video game industry, which is having to deal with criticisms and harassments based on their gender while also having to provide quality content for the community that is harassing these individuals. Failure of any form is a window for excessive harassment, evident with Leost as well as with what happened to Jennifer Hepler, a writer for BioWare, who was viciously harassed for her comments made in 2006 about the importance of story over gameplay. This only further highlights the problem with gender in both the community and industry, which supposedly is intended to be an inclusive community, yet problems not only for women in the industry and community, but with members of the LGBT community as well. Representation in video games at times fetishize the female body or only explicitly focus on “conventional” heterosexual relationships, so it is very hard for a supposedly inclusive community to actually be inclusive. Yet when presenting good story writing that involves female leads or LGBT characters, it becomes “another SJW” story and is perceived as bad in the eyes of the more toxic parts of the video gaming community. Worst of all, female dev team members who provide an otherwise excellent product are often scrutinized if there’s any semblance of progressive themes for pushing “SJW” or “Feminazi” agendas.
These particular harassers also fail to recognize that for any video game titles, especially AAA titles, an entire development team is utilized, not just one individual. This only further highlights the issue with how members of the more toxic side of the gaming community ostracize women purely by virtue of their gender rather than their artistic or technical skills in game development. There is some good that comes out of this extremely problematic trend in the gaming community however, as developers have begun to take an active approach to the bullying. Following another attack, this time on Naughty Dog artist Alex Neonakis for speaking out in defense of Leost, Neonakis responded by donating money to the Girls Make Games organization, which promotes a more active participation of young women in video game development. They provide workshops and summer camp programs to help engage women into taking important roles in developing games; you can check out their organization here. Other developers have followed suit in support of Girl Make Games, offering their own contributions. There is always need for open discussion when it comes to game development and constructive criticisms can always help improve future games, but targeting specific people over things they had no control over is not the right course of action. The issues faced with the Leost and Neonakis only further highlight not only the issues of harassment that game developers face, but how horribly misrepresented female developers are within the community. It is good to see that organizations such as Girls Make Games can help change this by encouraging an inclusive community of people who want to follow through with their passions and hobbies.