Twitter Hashtag Challenges the Internet Over Who Makes Video Games

JC Lau smiling at the camera at Game Developers Conference 2019

Photo: J. C. Lau

While the video game industry is diversifies every year, marginalized game developers are still often fired in professional circles because of their looks. A developer started the #WhatAGameDevLooksLike hashtag after security guards at a gaming conference apparently shut it down no less than three times, and now that hashtag has become a wonderful demonstration that people of all genders, races and sexualities are involved in every facet of game development.

March 18, 2019, JC Lau – then at Bungie, now at Harebrained Schemes – was scheduled to take part in a panel titled “Building An Inclusive Game Studio Culture” at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. As she waited in line to collect her badge, she claims no less than three security guards told her the line was for loudspeakers only. She noticed that the white men around her were not being questioned by security. After the experience, she learned that other women, non-Americans and people of color were subjected to similar treatment. In response, she posted her selfie with #WhatAGameDevLooksLike and encouraged others to do the same.

The hashtag was so successful that Lau continued #WhatAGameDevLooksLike at this year’s GDC (the in-person event has been canceled for the past two years due to covid-19). the hashtag is filled with selfies of female, gay, and non-white developers. Several of them talk about having worked in game development for a decade or more.

Lau is optimistic about the hashtag’s positive effects on the industry. While this raises awareness of the diversity that already exists in game development and disrupts the image of the “typical” game developer as a cis white male, it has also been a source of camaraderie for marginalized developers in an industry that is still very homogeneous. lau said Kotaku:

#WhatAGameDevLooksLike has been an opportunity for people to connect, empower and celebrate each other and the diversity of our industry. I received messages from people who said they thought they were “the only ones” in a particular background and found others like them. It has also been a way for people to have conversations about navigating this industry as someone from a marginalized background and to be inspired by the future of the industry.

Lau added that she hadn’t encountered any problems with over-eager security guards this year, but had heard stories of demoralizing treatment from some other GDC attendees. It’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the public perception of game developers matches the diversity of reality.

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