Kotaku Exposes a Story of Sexual Harassment in the Gaming Industry

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Note: For this article, we will continue to use the pseudonym the interview subject has requested in order to protect her professional identity.

I think that most women who are involved in the comics/gaming/general nerd worlds have at least one story similar to this, but I’ll go ahead and give you an example from my own repertoire of awfulness:

I post a photo of myself on my personal Tumblr wearing a Spider-Man ring. A few moments later, I receive a message: “Nice ring! What other superheroes do you like? What are your favorite Spider-Man stories?”

I respond: “I’m actually not a huge Spider-Man fan, but I love a lot of other Marvel characters. Nightcrawler, Hawkeye, and Kitty Pryde are some of my favorites.”

I receive another message: “So do you have any comic book panties?” I ignore it. A few minutes later, another message. “I said, do you have any panties with superheroes on them? Can I see them?”

This kind of unsolicited sexual harassment, apparently prompted by nothing but being female in an industry primarily dominated by men, is what happened to Alice Mercier. In a recent interaction with games reporter Josh Mattingly, Mercier was forced to participate in a dance that many women are familiar with: first a polite response, then another, then being forced to ignore. Like the Tess Fowler/Brian Wood scenario that played out earlier this year, Mercier had the bravery to put her story online and was immediately called to task.

A screenshot of Mercier  & Mattingly's conversation, from Kotaku.com

A screenshot of Mercier & Mattingly’s conversation, from Kotaku.com

“I know there were people saying that I was leading him on, or that I should have shut it down,” Mercier says in her recent interview with gaming website Kotaku.com. Mercier is facing the risk of becoming what she refers to as “that girl,” a dangerous prospect.

“Try not to make a scene, because you don’t want to be ‘that girl,’ and you don’t want to ruin the overall mood.”

Another anonymous gaming industry veteran interviewed by Kotaku agrees, saying “As a woman in game development, I have only so much political capital to spend before I get dismissed as a chick, [as]crazy, hysterical, shrill, stupid, not a real woman, not a real gamer.”

The Kotaku interview raises some very real and disheartening facts: the gaming industry is extremely competitive, with jobs difficult to come by even if you aren’t coming at it from the perspective of a group that is routinely shut out. Standing your ground or calling out sexual harassment puts your job and professional credibility in jeopardy, and many women choose to leave the field rather than directly deal with the sexual misconduct they are suffering. Even Mercier, after nearly ten years in the industry, is ready to call it quits.

“I’ve even been thinking about getting out of the industry as a whole, which would just be absolutely crushing for me, because it’s something I’ve wanted to be a part of my entire life, but I just—it’s worn me down a little thin.”

Mattingly’s apology (written as an open letter on his blog, not addressed to Mercier herself, whom he has apparently not contacted directly since the incident), seems sincere enough. But one open apology is not enough to wash away years of traumatizing harassment that women in the gaming industry have had to deal with. Throughout the interview, writer Rachel Edidin repeatedly mentions the steps Mercier has taken to protect her identity, which is no surprise with women in Mercier’s position extremely likely to be threatened with sexual violence online.

As hard as it is to read, this kind of information is extremely topical and necessary to acknowledge and share in order to effect change in these industries. I highly recommend reading the entire thing on Kotaku.com, however, I strongly recommend against reading the comments.

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About Author

Ivy Noelle Weir is a Librarian, Writer, Photographer, and feminist geek out to ruin everything you love. She tweets excessively at @ivynoelle.

4 Comments

  1. Kotaku posting actually decent articles only once in a blue moon, and apparently the moon is blue today.

    Kotaku commentors keep being shrill, know-nothing-know-it-all douchebags though.

  2. Interesting article. I think what adds to this problem and makes it worse are that while many women are fighting and working passionately in these “male-dominated” fields there are even more women flaunting themselves as though this is all a joke, our bodies, our sexuality, our lives as women, and what it means to be a woman. Then you have all these men who didn’t respect women from the door and find it that much more amusing to be able to watch and poke fun at the very idea of women and sexuality.

    So many people – men and women – treat sex like it’s a joke and therefore don’t see any “harm” in poking fun about it whenever. In every industry it’s being thrust at us; movies, television, music, fashion, even in writing as in with “50 Shades of Grey”, a book that countless people have put down, literally, because the writing was terrible but the book sold because of its sexual content. I’ve heard of gamers even complaining about the over-the-top sex acted out in shows like “Game of Thrones” & “True Blood”.

    Just as we can disrespect and flaunt sexuality in inappropriate and unnecessary ways, we can also encourage each other to be above the rest and to push on with our passions. I hope she doesn’t quit, no doubt such women are encouraging and inspirational to all the girls who are trying to find their way in and don’t know what to do, let alone what to do about this blatant disrespect. Perhaps reading about stories like this will inspire us to put our feet down!!

    Found the link here through La Virino Kiu Skribas.

    Cheers!
    eLPy

  3. Amendment to my previous comment:
    It’s a shame these women and more like them can’t just do what they love without this getting in the way. Most of us know that sexual harassment is everywhere but until you come in with a real life example I think it’s easy to overlook what that must “look” and “feel” and “sound” like in specific settings and industries. Sadly this does not surprise me, but I wasn’t exactly aware of what life in the gaming/comics world must be like for women although in the overall “Land of Nerdiness” I do know.

    Props to the women in the “Land of Nerdiness”!!! Keep on keeping on!