So, as we all know, Halo 5: Guardians is coming out early next week, and there’s been plenty of press about that. The head of the studio, Bonnie Ross, is a woman. She’s a woman in a very unique position in the game industry–statistically, when women work in games, they’re usually more junior than their male counterparts. And, she’s also Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Studios, so that’s a LOT of high-leveled work going on there.
So when Bloomberg published this piece about Ross, I was super excited to read it. It’s not like you get a lot of news about women in the game industry. All in all, it’s not a bad piece. It talks about the Halo franchise, and about what her job is like. It talks about the scope of her work, when she’s in meetings and playtesting and meeting people at conventions, and how she has turned the studio around to make Halo continue to be a smash hit after so many years. These are massive achievements, and not anything to dismiss lightly.
So then, I was saddened to read this section, tucked in near the beginning of the piece:
Five-foot-6, with long brown hair and an easy smile, Ross is athletic and direct, and betrays no trace of the awkward intensity common among engineers. Nor does she wear the kooky fan-themed T-shirts that are the standard outfit of most game developers. At E3 she has on a leather jacket, jeans, and black leather boots.
I mean, really? There’s all her achievements and how she runs a 700-person game studio that ships millions of units of a game (and is the basis for the continued existence of the Xbox) and this is what we get? Why is her height, what her hair looks like, and what she wore to E3 at all relevant to her achievements?
To be fair, there were two other comments about appearances in the article:
- “O’Connor is a cue-ball-headed 45-year-old whose voice still has a hint of a lilt from his native Scotland. ”
- “Archbell, who’s tallish and has an ambitious beard.”
Now, I don’t know what an “ambitious beard” is, but at least the presence of physical descriptions aren’t gender-specific. Still, it’s not like there’s an entire paragraph devoted to what Frank O’Connor or William Archbell looked like, and there is absolutely no comment about what they were wearing. BECAUSE THAT SHIT IS NOT RELEVANT.
I mean, come on. This is one of the very, very common instances of differences in reporting based on gender. We, as a society, seem to care a lot more about what women wear, and how they look, than how their male counterparts appear. And, sometimes, doing so comes as an expense of seeing their value in their appearance, not their other qualifications. (An example of this in the music industry is here.) If you wanted to know what Bonnie Ross looked like, or what she wears, you could just look at the photos that came with the article. Or Google her. It’s not like it has to be put there and discussed at length.
Also, discussing appearance also comes at a cost not just to women, but also men in the game industry. Ross is being compared to game developers and engineers, who the author describes as possessing “awkward intensity” and “kooky fan-themed T-shirts”. Is Ross more serious and socially savvy than her male counterparts because she wears a leather jacket and, basically, is a lady? Does her choice in clothes make her good at her job? Is it even still a thing that engineers are awkward and that fan-themed shirts are the “standard” attire in the game industry? From what I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure this is not the case.
All this sort of pigeonholing is is a rehashing of the awkward-nerd-who-can’t-dress-himself trope, and it reinforces the fact that engineers and game developers are just socially awkward men. Because, of course, women can dress themselves. So it’s not like it does men OR women in the game industry any favors really.