When I write these lines at the beginning of 2023, I have already left my position as We in Games Finland’s president. My leave is very intentional – I held my position for four years, and every volunteer organisation needs new perspectives, new ideas, and new paths to go forward, which is easiest to do by new people taking the lead. The new WIGFI president for 2023-2025 is game programmer and long-term WIGFI board member Essi Jukkala (essi[at]weingames.fi), and I am truly happy to have her taking the role.
I became the first president of a newly constituted organisation in 2019. For this retrospective, I could talk about how the organisation was shaped during the first four years (significantly), or the support we got from the games industry (huge), or all the awesome projects and initiatives we concluded (many), but instead, I want to talk about one issue I have not spoken much: the public image of the games industry and how it affects our work.
What astonished me most during the first years as the president was the amount of pity we got – not from inside the industry, but from journalists, researchers, and other organisations outside the games industry. On a personal level, I was seeing myself as someone actively changing the industry of ours to become even better; they were seeing me as a victim of a sexist, misogynist and toxic work culture.
Their intentions were good – at least I want to believe so. But the outcome on a personal level was that I felt bad, unheard, underestimated, and I felt that the work we did for diversity, inclusion and equity was not respected.
Labelling someone as a victim is harmful in many ways. Victimisation includes the idea that the victim is in an oppressed position, unable to speak or act for themselves, therefore raising the labeller on the position to use the voice, maybe even seeing oneself as a saviour. Victimisation nullifies the action the “victim” is doing to make their own living better, and rips their power away. It is even more harmful when an entire group gets labelled, or as in our case, entire groups of people in the games industry who do not represent the stereotypical public image of a game maker. Not everyone has similar experiences, and not always those experiences are based on one factor. For example, when every woman is seen just as a woman in the games industry, all other factors like background, education, religion, disability, ethnicity, or socio-economic status are forgotten.
We in Games exists since we want to change things. We know what has been happening in our industry abroad, and also in Finland. We are actively working for the change. And we are a bit tired of the public image of us as the victim. The constant focus on bad, often gender-related experiences is consuming for us, and it is not helping us to make the industry more diverse, equal and inclusive. Instead, it drives away diversity from our industry.
But victimisation has an even uglier face, and that is the publicity made out of it.
During my four presidential years, we had journalists, researchers, and documentarists contacting us and asking us to tell about harassment in our work. None of them, apart from one, were interested in the work we do. When we tried to tell them about the actions we were doing to make our industry more diverse, equal, and inclusive, or when we told them that not all of us had experienced harassment, they usually ghosted us. Our personal horror stories of harassment and unfair treatment at work were all they wanted to hear.
Let me be very clear: it is harassment, too, to approach every marginalised person assuming they have experienced something horrible. It is even more disturbing if they have experienced, and someone wants to make publicity out of that.
The harassment and unfair treatment happening in the games industry is something we need to discuss openly, but in my opinion, it is not worth sacrificing anyone. If someone wants to share their personal experiences willingly, it is a personal choice, and I give my full support to that. But stop pressuring people, asking innocent questions and then luring in the question of harassment. Not in a single case have I seen journalists or researchers offering support if memories are bringing the trauma again up, nor have I seen any journalist prepare people they have interviewed to face the negative public comments one most likely encounters nowadays.
Next time, If you are a journalist wanting to hear how it is in the games industry: ask yourself, are you just after clicks using someone’s personal traumatic experiences, or will your story support the cause of making the industry more equal? And please, do not sneak in by asking common questions and then push the discussion towards personal harassment experiences.
For everyone not working in the games industry but willing to comment our business: throw away your assumptions and stereotypes, and listen what we say. You rarely are meeting an entire group of people, you most likely are meeting a person with their individual experiences. Even more importantly: being a gamer and being a game developer working in the games industry is a totally different thing. Surely, people working in the games industry play a lot in their free time, but at work, they are in an employment relationship and therefore, under the employment and equality laws set in Finland. Apart from professional esports, gaming is a hobby. Working in the games industry is a job. WIGFI represents people working in the game industry.
I am not abandoning DEI in the games industry entirely. I will continue my career for diversity, equity and inclusion in the games industry in research, writing my doctoral thesis about the diversity in the Finnish games industry at Tampere University Game Research Lab.
I wish to end my presidency by sending my warmest thank you to many dear colleagues in WIGFI, who have sacrificed their free time to work on the issues they believe are important for diversity, equality and inclusion in our workplaces; to other game industry ecosystem peers supporting our cause, and collaborators outside the industry. During these four years, I have met unbelievably good people and took part in many inspiring and important discussions giving more understanding about diversity, equity and inclusion – I hope to be involved in many more in the future!
Taina Myöhänen, ex-president of WIGFI