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Be Better Stewards
by Corvus Elrod on 08/14/12 10:32:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Crossposted from my blog at


If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you saw a new hashtag on most of my posts yesterday and I'm probably going to be using it a lot from here on out. So I thought I'd take a moment to talk about why I came up with it and what it means.

My morning began with a series of tweets by Courtney (@q0rt), a videogame industry professional that I respect and admire. The tweets weren't happy ones and I read quite a bit of distress, anger, and betrayal in them. This led to an attitude of empathy and concern as I continued to parse my feeds.

Next I saw a news article about Borderlands 2's lead developer referring to a skill tree as, "for lack of a better term, girlfriend mode." I knew then what Courtney's tweets had been referring to.


Shortly thereafter, I saw that EA is partnering with gun trafficers by not only including realistic weapondary in their games, but providing links to the manufacturers' storefronts on the game's website.


Then I saw Randy Pitchford being dismissive of "sensationalists" who were "misinterpreting" the 'girfriend mode' comments. And I hit my limit.


But because I was in 'concerned friend' mode, I didn't get angry - not really. I wasn't "done with the internet" or "done with the industry," - although I am done with EA - I was just done with the attitudes, done with the posturing, done with the head-in-the-sand mindset, done with the victim blaming, done with the insensitivity, done with the comments of "it's just a game," done with people who claim videogames have the capacity to be good for you but lack the capacity to be bad for our communities.


And because I believe in the power of symbols, I wanted something to symbolize a new approach to engaging over the issues that exist within our geek communities. It needed to be a call to action, a reminder to myself, and focused on a positive outcome. It needed to celebrate what people get right and provide non-judgemetal guidance when we err. It needed to recognize that what we say - what we all say - has power.


When people ask me why I won't attend PAX anymore, I tell them it's because Mike and Jerry have proven themselves to be poor stewards of their community. What I mean by that is they have done things that show they place greater value on their position within the community than in the overall health and well being of the community itself. They may not have personally launched harassing attack on the women in their community, but their actions have inspired hundreds of their more vocal followers to threaten friends of mine with rape and murder.


By shrugging off the "girlfriend mode" comment and blaming the upset on "sensationalists," Pitchford is refuting that words have power, that developers are seen as leaders of the community, and that as highly visible members of the community, we have a responsibility to recognize that our actions and comments are the seed of the more extreme actions and comments around issues of race, gender, sex, class, etc. We may not be directly responsible for those actions and comments, but we are responsible for not behaving in a way that makes it clear we do not condone them on any level.

In other words, we need to be better stewards.

I have very specifically not linked to the articles I reference concerning EA and Gearbox. They're easy enough to find with a little Google-fu, or you can follow the hashtag links and find them in my tweets from yesterday. I haven't provided links because I want to highlight two positive news items concerning excellent stewardship that I read yesterday as well. After all, better stewardship means celebrating the community's successes as well as calling out its failures.

The first news item concerns Firaxis and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Greg Foertsch, the game's art director, paid specific attention to diversity when designing the human squaddies. I'll pull this quote here:

"They still look badass! But we didn't have to put them in a thong and high heels. That was something that we really... I have two daughters now. Jake has a daughter. And I don't think either one of us really wanted to go down that road. That's just not who we are. We just didn't want to play with that lowest common denominator. I'm very proud of the fact that we actually got women into the game that look like women."

...and leave you to read the rest of the article here. Thank you Greg, Jake, and Firaxis for being better stewards.

The second item deals with Gaslamp Games and their handling of an issue when someone made a "sammich" joke to greet a woman who had just joined their community forums. Here's a quote from David Baumgart, art director.

"I won't stand for this bloody stupid sandwich 'joke' that marginalizes female players' involvement in this community (and, like, life in general). It's precisely the opposite of the kind of environment we hear at Gaslamp Games want to create."

Be sure to read about the entire sequence of events and their resolution here. Thank you David and Gaslamp Games for being better stewards.


Please join me in being better stewards of our communities. Take a stand when someone makes a sexist comment, calling out the comment as problematic without falling into the trap of discussing whether the person themself is sexist. Celebrate and reward people like Greg Foertsch and David Baumgart who make concerted efforts to be inclusive, rather than exclusive in their attitudes and design.


And if you say something that the community takes offense to, well I'm going to leave you with a quote by sociologist Allan G. Johnson that Feminist Frequency shared yesterday.

Learn to listen. This is especially difficult for members of dominant groups. If someone confronts you with your own behavior that supports privilege, step off the path of least resistance that encourages you to defend and deny. Don’t tell them they’re too sensitive or need a better sense of humor, and don’t try to explain away what you did as something else than what they’re telling you it was. Don’t say you didn’t mean it or that you were only kidding. Don’t tell them what a champion of justice you are or how hurt you feel because of what they’re telling you. Don’t make jokes or try to be cute or charming, since only privilege can lead someone to believe these are acceptable responses to something as serious as privilege and oppression. Listen to what’s being said. Take it seriously. Assume for the time being that it’s true, because given the power of paths of least resistance, it probably is. And then take responsibility to do something about it.


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Christer Kaitila
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You, sir, are awesome.

We could amend this article to include the booth babe fiasco from the huge embarassment that was E3 this year, or the vitriol people got a month ago after a similar controvercy. I think the vocal minority of gamers (who hate) is currently drowning out the quiet minority of gamers (who love). To me, the problem is less with gamedevs (who are generally not sexist, racist or violently hateful) than it is with gamers (who often are), but as leaders we can ralley the troops. Devs have the power to positively influence player opinions.

Time for a shout out to love in our industry.

Ali Afshari
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This is something I can stand for! Thank you for taking the to write it up. That Allan G. Johnson quote sums up perfectly how I feel when I see a bunch of back-and-forth comments where the topic has been derailed.

I've refrained from posting on some of those more heated threads, but I see that I'm also responsible when I don't say anything.

Matej Jan
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I agree wholeheartedly. And I think those devs and publishers that put thongs as the only armor of female warriors (and similar that-sells moves) have full responsibility in driving the mainstream into overly sexualized waters. They are the ones that plan/design their games and have full choice how to do it.

Andrew Israelson
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Please be careful of you language? You've falsely accused EA of a terrible crime to make your point.

Corvus Elrod
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It may be hyperbole, but it's not false. They have partnered with weapons manufacturers in order to promote their wares in their IP.

Andreas Ojerfors
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Thank you for this.

Ernest Adams
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I'll be using that hashtag too, Corvus. Bravo.