Jade Raymond makes video games. And she’s a beautiful woman. That’s a recap of most of the problem, right there. That’s basically all she did to deserve the pornographic comics about her that surfaced on the net last week. I work in video games as well, and although my company is less testosterone-fueled than most, I can still tell you that it’s far from the most welcoming industry for women. It’s not just the usual double binds that plague successful women; this is the industry where major games still feature collectible porn cards for bedding as many women as possible. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
(Hi, by the way. I’m Holly, and I’m back for a bit more guest blogging.)
This weekend I ran into some more of the iceberg. I’ve known of Raymond for a while–there aren’t that many other Eurasian women game producers around–and now she’s become one of the most well-known women in video games. That may not be the most difficult task, since it always feels to me like there are only a few dozen women involved directly in the production of major video games; a lot more of us work on the outskirts in educational games, online community stuff, or casual games. (If you’re me, all three.) But Raymond’s latest work is right in the thick of things. She’s been producing Assassin’s Creed for Ubisoft, one of the most hotly anticipated titles of the year. I’ve been playing it for the last few days, and it’s good, a hardcore medieval stealth-and-killing game that’s aimed directly at the traditional heart of the videogame market: adolescent and continuously-post-adolescent guys.
So of course, that’s where the real trouble began. At first it seemed annoying but harmless; prominent game bloggers like Kotaku’s Mike Fahey writing creepy posts like this one, entitled “Jade Smells Pretty At London Games Fest”:
Visitors to the London Games Festival this weekend will get a rare opportunity to get close enough to Ubisoft’s Jade Raymond to bathe in the warm, flowery scent she leaves in her wake everywhere she goes. She’ll be making an appearance at the flagship HMV store on Oxford Street on Saturday afternoon to promote some game about assassins doing some sort of thing, possibly killing that band that sang the “Can You Take Me Higher” song. The press release says something about showcasing new levels from the latest version of the game, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m personally hoping she announces a new game where you just move the camera around a 3D model of her person for hours at a time. I’d pay a hundred dollars. Or pounds. A hundred pounds of dollars.
Fahey knows this is creepy, and the tone is tongue-in-cheek, but guess what? He’s only half joking. And still creepy, especially when you add it to the fact that even the print media has persisted in calling her “the beautiful female game producer” and focusing on her looks, far more than they ever would for a gorgeous male game developer. Blog posts about her game feature her comparing the texture rendering capabilities of seventh-generation consoles and then slap a giant picture of her on the top, instead of say… the textures of the game she’s talking about? Every post and every message board thread about her has been studded with darling, mouth-breathing comments about how various dudes would do her, or are masturbating to her, or wish they had a hot gamer girlfriend like Jade. But that’s the internet, right?
Well, it gets worse. A couple weeks ago, a rumor started circulating that Raymond was posing for the December issue of Maxim. The fake message board post went something like this:
“so my friend is working as an intern editor at maxim and he says that jade will grace the cover of december’s issue which will feature “girls of gaming”! she will also have her own spread showing her in a green an white striped bikini in an exotic local (montreal). it will also feature other hot women in the gaming industry as well as competitive gaming. man i can’t fricken wait! i haven’t jacked to still images since 1999!”
Raymond and Ubisoft PR quickly quashed the rumor, but apparently she was offended by the whole thing. Wow, maybe she’d rather people focus on her work and her games, instead of making her out to be a swimsuit model? Shocking, I know. Apparently, a lot of people believed the Maxim rumor and started complaining about how Ubisoft was using her as a pretty face to promote the game. I’ve complained about Ubisoft before–the horrifically packaged line of “Imagine” games for girls, the Frag Dolls. It wouldn’t be a surprising move for videogame PR in general, but you know what? As a producer, it’s part of her job to talk about her game in the press, representing the whole team that’s making it. She speaks perfectly well about technical and gameplay issues; it’s just that half of the male audience seems to be too busy staring at her chest to notice. (I’m being charitable here by saying half… not all male gamers are mouth-breathing lunks, that’s another stereotype I’d like to see go away.) Or if they do hear what she said, it registers as “pretty girl said something smart… whoa, even hotter!”
Then a pornographic comic surfaced on the web.
I’m not going to link to the comic, because Ubisoft has been doing its best to scour it from the web–a futile task, since in the immortal words of Joe Garelli, “you can’t take something off the internet, it’s like trying to take pee out of a pool.” Unfortunately, it’s not hard to find the comic online, despite a number of site administrators who have been vigorously deleting links. I’ll describe it, because it’s important. Raymond is shown in a green-and-white striped bikini, just like in the Maxim rumor, saying this:
Hi boys! I’m Jade, producer and crate… uh… crate… erm… cray-ate… tiv… influence behind Assassin’s Creed! Please buy my game!
The comic then shows a bunch of mouth-breathing fanboys masturbating to her, (as described above). Then, for the rest of the comic, she performs oral sex on them so that they’ll buy her game. It ends with a bukkake shot. All I could think when I saw this was “way to go, assholes.” Sadly, it wasn’t a poorly drawn doodle by a talentless teenager: it was a pro-quality web comic done by someone experienced. (Update: it was in fact a published comic author who made it, see below.)
Actually, you know what pissed me off the most? Not the gratuitous sex-and-PR crap, but the portrayal of her as a ditzy idiot who can’t even pronounce “creative.” Raymond is a programmer as well as a producer; she helped start the first research & development group at Sony Online, was part of the team that built Jeopardy Online, and went on to be one of the producers for the Sims Online. Anyone following Assassin’s Creed has been able to listen to her blog about the development of the game and she obviously knows what she’s talking about. But apparently none of that matters next to the fact that she’s got a pretty face, that the media focuses on her looks, and that there are thousands of creepy dudes on the Internet drooling over her.
Gaming websites and blogs are still full of arguments about the comic. The predictable defenses have shown up. People can say whatever they want because of free speech! (Wow, congratulations on being lucky enough to have rights. Now stop using them to be an asshole, why don’t you.) It’s all Ubisoft’s fault for exploiting her as a poster girl! (Which is why it’s OK to treat her, personally, that way? Also, it’s part of her job.) Who does she think she is, wearing a cute top like that and standing in front of the other Assassin’s Creed developers? (Serious shades of Sweatergate right there.) It’s not her game and I bet she didn’t even do any of the real development!
It’s that last one that really gets to the heart of the matter: in some people’s minds, Jade Raymond is getting her comeuppance for daring to be a prominent woman in game development. For being in a leadership role. For being the public face of her game. For wearing cute shirts. And for being good-looking. They don’t believe that she could actually have the chops to play a creative role in a huge, mainstream game like Assassin’s Creed; if she’s in the spotlight, it’s either because she’s hogging credit or using her looks or both. That’s a double standard you’ll never, ever hear applied to male video game producers or designers who give interviews about their games. Of course, bloggers and journalists don’t bother to attach beauty shots of male developers either.
I think Raymond has every right to want pornographic comics about her off the Internet, even if it’s futile. But I don’t think Ubisoft sending cease-and-desist letters to Something Awful is going to help at all; it’s nothing Lowtax and other sewer-of-the-Internet site administrators haven’t seen before. The only thing you can do is point out what a hostile environment this creates for women in the game industry. The treatment of Jade Raymond sends a message to female developers everywhere that is what will happen if you’re “too pretty” and “too well-known” and “talk too much,” even if you conduct yourself with utter professionalism. Game industry execs often bemoan the dearth of female game developers and players, the gender-lopsidedness of their teams. This story ought to show them a very concrete reason why there’s a lack of women in some parts of gaming. A change in culture is way overdue.
UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that the comic was drawn by Dave Cheung, the creator of Chugworth Academy. I’m mentioning this in part because some might assume the comic was a hasty stick-figure scribble by a middle school brat. But Cheung is a published author who’s well known in some circles; you can buy his latest book on Amazon, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you crave glossy schoolgirl wank material. Plus, the comic is still up on his Deviant Art page. Since he seems to enjoy degrading other creative professionals–enough to have created and posted a congratulatory “Made Jade Cry” achievement on his site–I figured his name might as well be out there too. Of course, he’ll probably just enjoy the negative attention, so please don’t feed the trolls.
ALSO: The awesome Miyuki Jane Pinckard of Game Girl Advance also takes on this issue and is right on the money.