All The Times Sexism Happened at E3

So the Electronic Entertainment Expo occurred this week the enthusiasm of many a gamer. For myself as a woman, large video games shows are merely just opportunities for me to get an insider’s peak at a boys club, and hope upon hope that new properties with female characters will be developed. My hopes are rarely realized, and I often get into a depressed funk.

While I hope you enjoyed E3 more than I did, there were some startling examples of sexism throughout the event. Here’s a few articles I’ve rounded up thus far detailing these events, and a brief summary of why I think they’re important.

1.) What did they do to you?: Our women heroes problem
By: Leigh Alexander

This piece examines the Rise of the Tomb Raider trailer released at E3. In the trailer, Lara is presented in a therapy session while she attempts to come to terms with the events of the Tomb Raider reboot. While I enjoyed the Tomb Raider reboot, and I’m excited for the upcoming game, Alexander points out that the game demonstrates the problems we have with developing female characters. As Alexander writes, “It seems that when you want to make a woman into hero, you hurt her first. When you want to make a man into a hero, you hurt… also a woman first.”

While it is important that we see video game characters dealing with trauma, Alexander makes sure to point out that the current problem of hurting our female characters is problematic because it’s the only model we have right now. A thoroughly good take-down on current game tropes, and an important article for continuing the conversation about how we present these women to gamer audiences.

2.) There were more severed heads than women presenters at E3 2014
By: Danielle Riendeau

While the title of this article speaks for itslef, let me give you a quick rundown of the numbers that Riendeau presents. There were only 5 female presenters at E3 2014, and at least 8 severed heads. Let that sink in for a minute. There were literally more severed heads than women presenters. This is a serious thing. How does a thing like this happen?

Riendeau explains that it happens because presenters are strategically chosen.

In a very real sense, the company is putting a face on a product or brand, and showing — whether explicitly or not — what kind of person they think projects the most confidence and competence. When that kind of person is overwhelmingly white and male, that sends a message.

It (and the plethora of male-centric games) unfortunately continue to send a message that women are not welcome within the ranks at E3. Many women I’ve spoken to about the events have shared horror stories, and it’s no wonder when the E3 audience is repeatedly being told only men matter, and shown that women are present as objects.

3.) The Disturbing Representation of Women in the Rainbow Six: Siege E3 Demo
By: Tom McShea

Speaking of women as objects, Tom McShea via GameSpot has an excellent analysis of the Rainbow Six: Siege trailer that was presented at E3. The trailer, which demonstrates a team attempting to rescue a female hostage, speaks once again to Leigh Alexander’s point that hurting/saving women seems to be a primary point of focus within the video game community.

While he is careful to point out that there may be different hostages to save later on in the game, McShea’s overall takeaway from the trailer was this; “It was their [Ubisoft’s] decision to have a woman presented as an object, something to be fought over–to be won–so that’s the message that was hammered home. So I can only look at the reality of this demonstration and wonder why it’s once again a woman placed in such a sad position.”

I honestly don’t think it would hurt too many male egos to feature a male hostage every once and awhile, and hopefully that is something that Ubisoft includes in the game. However, similarly to Riendeua’s explanation of companies choosing strategic speakers, it’s clear that Ubisoft strategically chose this demonstration clip as a message to the audience. From the message we’re receiving, it’s clear that Ubisoft doesn’t consider their core-audience to be particularly diverse.

4.) Aisha Tyler on Race, Sexism and Video Games (Q&A)
By: Eric Johnson

While this interview did not directly take place at E3, it did happen in the days leading up to it. It also wins the spot as the more heartening article on this list. Aisha Tyler was one of the 5 women presenters at E3, presenting for Ubisoft, and as a longtime gamer and comedian, she has a few important things to say about diversity in gaming. In response to a question about what steps need to be taken to create more diversity, Tyler responded with this:

It’s hard because you can’t legislate creative diversity. I think it’s more that the gaming community’s more diverse, and they’re going to ask for more diverse experiences. They’re going to demand them. If you’re a game company, you want to create a singular gaming experience, and part of that is doing stuff that nobody else is doing. If you’re trying to create a game that feels different, you’re going to create a lead that feels different. It’s not going to be just another white guy.

While we are seeing some slow changes in diversity, it’s not happening because companies are becoming more philanthropic. Instead it’s happening because the market is growing diverse, and there is a need to distinguish your company within the market. Simulteanously, ther market demands this diversity as people want to play games that represent them directly. In my opinion, until game devs can see the money in making diverse games, we won’t see them. Until then, hopefully this gradual wave of change will come crashing on to a receptive shore.

5.) The Face of Gaming: 40 Male Protagonists Featured at E3 2013
By: Rebellious Pixels

Aisha Tyler may have hope that companies will begin to attempt to differentiate their protagonists, but the Rebellious Pixels present us with evidence that many companies are currently okay with offering vanilla white male protagonists still.

They all sort of blend together after awhile don’t they?

6.) Ubisoft Blames Lack of Female PCs in Assassin’s Creed on “Reality of Production”
By Susana Polo

So, while Ubisoft made the forward thinking decision to have Aisha Tyler present their games, the overall representation in the games presented by Ubisoft at E3 was absolutely abysmal. None of the games presented featured female protagonists, and the rest featured violent male characters. In an interview with Polygon, Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio explained that the dev team on Assassin’s Creed: Unity had really wanted to make a playable female multiplayer character, but they were feeling lazy so they made extra clothes for the dude character instead.

The “it’s too much work” excuse for cutting playable women from your game no longer flies…. But it is too clear, too blindingly obvious at this point that this is coded language for “we think male characters are more important than female ones, because decades of institutionalized sexism in our industry have created a self perpetuating loop of devaluing female characters even when we are one of the biggest money makers in gaming.”

Yes, obviously, creating a male and female character means double the assets. Honestly, so is making multiple character classes, multiple races, and vehicles. Yet other games seem willing to go the extra mile. Even Broforce managed to accomplish this. Once again I’m really happy that I’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed game in my life, and I’m really sad that Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (black female protag) was implemented so poorly.

P.S. A former Assassin’s Creed dev points out that it wouldn’t actually be that hard to make a co-op lady. 

7.) Ubisoft Abandoned Women Assassins in Co-Op because of the Additional Work
By: Meghan Farokhmanesh

This piece covers the same topic as the last, but there’s a video interview in it that is superb. Frokhmanesh has some pretty strong opinions about female representation in games, and it’s just a pleasure to listen to two women talk about this openly and honestly. It’s also a breath of fresh air to hear someone (besides myself) call the gender politics of gaming bullshit.


You don’t even have to read the piece, just go listen to the video. It’s great.

8.) E3 is loud, expensive, sexist and violent: It’s also the only place to be next week
By: Ben Kuchera

Let me be very clear. I do not support the sentiments of this piece, and I think the opinions expressed within are a symptom of the overall systemic sexism that is at work within the games community. Kuchera admits upfront that “Much money and time was spent trying to appeal to the male industry folks and press, making the show floor itself a less than welcoming atmosphere for many in the industry,” and “the show itself can be very off-putting to many people.” Yet he follows those statements up by listing a plethora of reasons he enjoys the show.

The reasons Kuchera enjoys the show should be very obvious from his opening paragraphs. E3 has spent time and money appealing to the male industry and press folks,meaning that due to Kuchera’s gender, E3 is most likely an incredibly pleasant event for him to exchange notes with his contemporaries, enjoy game demos, and go to parties without fearing harassment or feeling like he doesn’t belong. Despite his disclaimers that he realizes it’s not a pleasant place for everyone, the amount of words Kuchera spends lauding the vent feel at odds with the disclaimer.

Kuchera can enjoy the event, and feel like it’s the “only place to be” because of his gender. While he readily recognizes it’s not a safe place for everyone, he fails to critically analyze exactly why it’s such a fun place for him. Clearly, as he states multiple times in the piece, its designed to be a fun place for him. The lack of critical undersatnding of this message makes this piece a blatant example of both Kuchera’s lack of understanding, and E3’s sexism. It also feels like he’s saying “Yeh, it has problems. But since it’s designed for me (white male) to have fun, I HAVE SO MUCH FUN”.

Perhaps not the intended message of the piece, but still, a disheartening one nonetheless.

9.) Critics Renew Calls for More Diverse Video Game Characters by: Laura Sydell

Laura Sydell talks to Leigh Alexander and Aisha Tyler about the sexism at E3. It’s a Morning Edition piece from NPR – a good listen summing up many of the problems at E3. There’s a quote from Alexander about how technical folks view female bodies, and its perfect. Aisha Tyler also has some good things to say. It’s pretty enjoyable and straightforward all around.

Read another article critiquing the sexism of E3 that’s not on the list? Please let us know in the comments!

4 responses to “All The Times Sexism Happened at E3

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