Last weekend was PAX Prime in Seattle and, despite the fact that I was working the convention, I managed to sneak away to a couple of the diversity panels (as is my wont). The first was “Women in Geek Media”, another was “We're Not NPCs: It's a (Straight White Cis) Man's World”, and the final one I made it to was “Damsels and Distress: Exploring Tropes in Gaming”. It was in this panel that the woman to which I’m referring stood up to comment. The panel of 4 white women was moderated by a latino (or hispanic?) man, and it was pretty solid. They touched on lots of interesting topics such as “where’s the line between sexy and sexist” and “what kinds of female characters would YOU like to see in games”.
After about 30-40 minutes, they opened the floor to comments and while I really do love discussing this topic, I stayed in my seat because I have a kinda rule about this sort of thing (which I’ll touch on in a minute). The second comment was an African-American woman, likely somewhere in her 20s if I had to guess, and she stole the show and garnered a huge, well-deserved round of applause. Her underlying point, to my ears was basically this:
“It’s great that we’re talking about female representation in games, but why are there only white women up there? Where are the women of color?”
The panelists took it in stride, and admitted that we all need to do better when putting these sorts of panels together but I wanted to amplify not so much what she said, but the fact that she stood up and said it. I would have said it right then and there but as I mentioned, I have this rule.
You see, as the quintessential “cis white male”, I have decided that my role at any panel like this is simple - show up, sit down, shut up, and listen. I really enjoy grappling with these discussions because I think it’s important. 1-on-1, I’ll talk for days about sexual politics, gender diversity, gay marriage or whatever. But at public sessions like this I’ve realized one simple truth - every second that I, or someone like me is speaking is a second that someone like this woman isn’t. And we need need more people like her standing up and speaking (and dare I say, less people like me).
My rule keeps me from speaking in these panels but, but that’s not till step 3. Step 1 is show up. I show up not only because I want to learn, and in doing so become better at life/games/etc, but also because I want the attendance of these panels to reflect that there are white dudes who care about this issue. I want to help build a games industry where EVERY voice has a seat at the table, not one where there’s a “white dude table” and an “everybody else” table. I want to do this, because it will make our industry better. It will make our art better.
She made several other great points about representation (for instance, the difficulty of “owning your sexuality” when black women are already represented as overtly sexual in very different ways than white women). Then at one point she asked “what do we need to do to have this conversation?” (meaning, to have more diverse representation on these sorts of panels.) I unfortunately didn’t get her name, but I hope in some way this finds it’s way back to her because the answer is simple -
Keep Standing Up!
And next year, make a panel of your own! I promise I will be there, and I promise to shut up and listen.