Women's representation in video games has been a hot button topic for the industry for the last few years, (and really since the beginnings of the industry). There are remarkably few female characters in major games, and it seems like even fewer hold positions of significance within the companies making these games.
That being said, some of these video game companies are t least attempting to remedy some of these issues with women's representation in the industry. Though as it goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Microsoft has been running a Women in Gaming Luncheon at GDC for the past 16 years. Every year, around 200 or so women gather for this luncheon, to discuss the challenges faced by women in the industry and to network together, building better relations and hopefully opening new doors for these women.
So you can imagine the controversy that cropped up last Friday, when Microsoft seriously dropped the ball.
Just hours after their 16th annual WIG Luncheon, Twitter was lit up with images of a Microsoft Dev Party, where part of the 'entertainment' was scantily-clad women dancing in schoolgirl outfits.
The images first came to light after being tweeted by Kamina Vincent, an editor at Tin Man Games. They depict these women in their scandalizing outfits dancing on podiums. Vincent spoke with the Huffington Post about the party, and said that she spoke to one of these women:
“She introduced herself and asked if we were having fun,” Vincent continued. “I asked what her role was at the party. She told me that they had been hired to speak with attendees and encourage them to the dance floor.”
In her twitter frenzy, Vincent talks about how it is a low, low move to have Microsoft trying to engage the young men at the party by sexualizing women. I have to agree here. Even had this happened on a day that wasn't ALSO the Women in Gaming Luncheon, it would be a gross, if accurate, representation of the Boys' Club that is the video game industry.
Of course, in the wake of this information and criticism, Microsoft has been trying to put out fires, releasing a couple of statements about the whole affair. Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft's Xbox division, quickly released a couple statements of apology for the incident.
Here's the longer one:
How we show up as an organization is incredibly important to me. We want to build and reflect the culture of team Xbox - internally and externally - a culture that each one of us can represent with pride. An inclusive culture has a direct impact on the products and services we deliver and the perception consumers have of the Xbox brand and our company, as a whole.
It has come to my attention that at Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was absolutely not consistent or aligned to our values. That was unequivocally wrong and will not be tolerated. This matter is being handled internally, but let me be very clear - how we represent ourselves as individuals, who we hire and partner with and how we engage with others is a direct reflection of our brand and what we stand for. When we do the opposite, and create an environment that alienates or offends any group, we justly deserve the criticism.
It's unfortunate that such events could take place in a week where we worked so hard to engage the many different gaming communities in the exact opposite way. I am personally committed to ensuring that diversity and inclusion is central to our everyday business and our core values as a team – inside and outside the company. We need to hold ourselves to higher standards and we will do better in the future.
In my opinion, I think this apology is a lot better than the kinds of press releases we're used to seeing from gaming bigwigs. Spencer doesn't try to separate himself or the brand from this incident, and it appears as though he is recognizing the shittiness of the whole thing.
I think specifically the line about going against what their values are, about deserving the criticism, is an important stance to take. Acknowledge that you messed up and work to make sure it doesn't happen again.
That being said, talk is cheap. It feels cheapened, because though Microsoft hosts events like the Women in Gaming Luncheon, they clearly have misaligned values, if you can go from that to this in the same day. You're either in favor of empowering women to get into the industry, or you want to use them as props, decoration. There is no middle in this circumstance. Less than 30% of Microsoft's employee base are women.
Hopefully this will force some people to wake the hell up and start fixing what's broke.