Valve Dev: “Calling Games Industry Sexist Is A Major Disservice To Developers”

In recent years the video games industry has been dogged by accusations that it is too male-dominated and even sexist – but top Valve animator Christine Phelan has little time for such talk.

“There are a ton of dudes in the games industry, yes – it’s a bit of a pickle jar,” she said, in an interview with FMV yesterday. “I have never, however, been treated as anything but a team member and an equal by my coworkers, and it’s a major disservice to them that folks automatically assume they will treat me differently because I am a woman. ”

Having previously worked on games including Brutal Legend at Double Fine and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed at LucasArts, Phelan is now based at Valve where she has been hard at work on action-RTS Dota 2.

Speaking to FMV following her recent appearance at Bradford Animation Festival, she was responding to a question concerning accusations of sexism aimed at the industry.

“At the end of the day I am the work I produce, not a pair of boobs,” she said. “It’s individuals who may or may not be sexist, and those are folks who reside in the broader ‘asshole’ category that applies to all things, not just games.

“I think the only challenge, if it can be called one, is that people assume I am challenged because I am a woman in this industry.  I am a game developer first, and my gender has nothing to do with it.”

Our full interview with Christine Phelan – discussing life at Valve, the development of Dota 2 and the art of video game animation – is now available to read here.


17 Responses to “Valve Dev: “Calling Games Industry Sexist Is A Major Disservice To Developers””
  1. Temptesta says:

    I congratulate Ms. Phelan on avoiding sexism as a game developer. She has been very lucky to have worked at a studio that is supportive of women developers. But I also think it’s important to point out that her experience is only one in a sea of women speaking out about how they have been treated. I’m sure that sexism isn’t rampant in every studio but that doesn’t negate the fact that it DOES exist is so many studios and it needs to stop.

    • Mark Butler says:

      I don’t think she’s claiming for a minute that sexism isn’t an issue anywhere in the gaming industry. Rather, she’s suggesting that it’s unfair and frustrating to label the industry as a whole ‘sexist’ – and imply that every single woman who works within it will face certain challenges and issues that men will not.

      The interesting thing is, asking her about sexism within the industry could in itself be construed as sexist – as this is not the kind of question you would expect a developer to be asked just because they’re a man!

      • Lake says:

        The issue is that it *is* everywhere. It’s ridiculous to think otherwise. As I mentioned below, I’m really frustrated that women are instantly attributed unbiased and informed opinions about sexism in the industry based merely on their gender. There are plenty of women who endorse sexist culture. I’ve worked with them.

        And you’re right, asking women constantly ‘what life is like in the pickle jar’ is sexist, and telling of the problem. Her dismissing the issue as ‘other studio’s problems, not mine’ is just hurting the overwhelming majority of women who *are* having problems.

        • Mark Butler says:

          I don’t believe that she’s dismissing it as “other studio’s problems” at all. In fact, I think that’s a rather harsh thing to suggest

          Also, your claim that “sexism is everywhere” in the industry, and that arguing to the contrary is “ridiculous”, seems problematic to me.

          Are you saying that sexism is an endemic issue within every development studio? And are you suggesting that every female developer who feels they haven’t encountered sexism themselves must automatically be lying, in denial, or somehow “endorsing sexist culture”?

          Isn’t it more likely that some women within the industry will encounter sexist attitudes or discrimination, and some won’t?

          I’m not trying to argue that sexism isn’t a real issue within certain quarters of the industry. I believe it is. But I don’t see a problem with Phelan’s disapproval of branding the entirety of game development ‘sexist’.

          Some people may choose to interpret her comments as ‘Hey, there’s no problem with sexism in the games industry guys! A female developer said so!’ But that’s simply not what she’s saying.

      • Kristi says:

        Well, it wouldn’t make sense to ask a male developer about sexism, because he would be much less likely to have experienced it. It does make sense to ask a successful female developer about it, judging from the number of female developers who are speaking up right now on Twitter and in blog posts (see #1reasonwhy) about their struggles with it. It’s not sexist to ask about this common experience; it’s relevant.

        Phelan may be merely tired of the question or she may be rejecting the claim that sexism is a problem, in general. It’s not apparent in this brief post. Not enough context is given. But that’s not stopping people who DO reject sexism as a legitimate issue in the gaming industry from holding it up as an example. So, I also think the above comment is relevant and appropriate.

        • P says:

          I’d hesistate with putting too much emphasis behind the “Well, it wouldn’t make sense to ask a male developer about sexism, because he would be much less likely to have experienced it.” angle, though – because while they may not have experienced it directed at them, often people can make comments that they think they can get away with saying because there’s no women/minorities/whatever around to hear them.

          I think there’s a real value in getting people who may be the ones sitting there feeling uncomfortable when they hear those comments to actually go “look, stop being an asshole”.

  2. Lake says:

    Women do not have an innate unbiased and informed opinion of sexism by mere virtue of their gender. I’m always left frustrated and underwhelmed when women who have little understanding of the wider problem are quoted on the issue. Especially when they attribute their personal experiences to a social issue.

    I think it’s of worth to note that Christine is working on a pretty damn sexist title in Dota2. I love playing the game personally, but I’m extremely dissatisfied with how women are portrayed in it — in comparison to the wide-ranging male hero models and their characters, the female heroes are little more than porcelain-skinned, 20-something cuties with insipid personalities.

    The really wonderful thing about Valve is the polish and care they give their titles — as a gamer I just love that level of quality in their work and trust them implicitly with it. What leaves me worried is the slippery slope they seem to be sliding down with their representation of women; Dota2 is an overt example of this.

  3. Zach says:

    I don’t think anyone from Valve can comment about the games industry; they don’t represent the games industry(in a GOOD way).

    I wonder what animations she’s done in particular. Dota2 has so many amazing animations.

  4. Alexander says:

    I think that the games industry being labeled as ‘sexist’ is a two fold situation.

    You have that the people who are working in the industry are largely male, yes, but you also have that there is a lot of sexism that is inherent in the gaming industry in general. It’s hard to argue that despite gaming having some great female role models, the majority of gaming’s images of females are at worst, helpless, brainless, skinny, and oversexualized; and at best strong, intelligent, skinny, and sexualized.

    Oh, and dota 2 is a MOBA (massively online battle arena). But I like the term action-rts because it sounds cool.

  5. Xavi'er says:

    I am grateful this woman has spoken out on the opposite spectrum. I am very grateful you are doing this article, which will of course be buried because it is positive, but it needs to be done.

    It must be frustrating as a male developer, artist, programmer to sit back and be told the entire industry, and you personally where you work is evil, misogynistic and sexist. Due to the way the industry works, this being a delicate subject and the loop holes of PR that won’t let individuals speak out, men can never come out and defend themself. So the vast majority sit in silence as places like Mother Jones, Time and the usual gaming sites run rampant and stoke the fires.

    Accord to the recent brouhaha on Twitter, these individuals would have you believe there is a yearly, monthly, daily, hourly, minutely pandemic with torrential abuse; but that simply isn’t true. This however is a reaccuring theme, where ever large numbers men operate; you demonise them. Modus Operandi.

    Of course there are a few bad apples who do so out of genuine ignorance, insensitivity and in minor cases hatred; but to the unintelligent, uninformed looking in from the outside, it would appear as all males, in all studios in the industry are engaging in rampant uncouth behavior. Not true.

    Even worse those with already bigoted, hateful and misandric mindsets in the public they conflate where ever men are in large numbers to oppression and sexism. Some people actually believe men are naturally this way, and God knows how an individual that believes in “Rape Culture” would feel justified in pointing fingers at the gaming industry in vindication without looking at the full scope.

    Should these women be silenced? Of course not, they should speak about their negative experiences; but be careful with mass media scenarios like these, it is more than just the gaming sphere looking at this, and sweeping the masses to get their pitchforks on mostly innocent people out of sheer association is always dangerous.

  6. mandrill says:

    Women are lumped together as one homogeneous mass by ‘the industry’ and its associated media, with a fixed idea of what that homogeneous mass likes and wants from games. So why shouldn’t the men in that industry receive the same treatment?

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