Jenny Haniver Interview

Not in the kitchen
image courtesy of Not in the Kitchen Anymore

It’s no secret that the best way to rid the games industry of gender inequality and make it a fair and equal place for all is to expose just how serious and widespread the problem is, whether that’s calling out a developer for their portrayal of a female character, highlighting the negative experiences of female game developers or exposing the abuse female players experience online.

One such woman who’s keen to fight the good fight against sexism in games in a very public way is Jenny Haniver. A keen FPS player, Jenny decided to record the audio of her Call of Duty matches and publish them to her website ‘Not in the Kitchen Anymore’ in a bid to show people just how nasty and downright lewd some gamers can be towards players of the opposite gender. The website was founded in 2010 while Jenny was a college student.

”I studied art, with a 3D/sculptural focus. One of the projects was to create an installation piece about a social issue- I landed on focusing on sexism in online gaming, since it was something that affected me personally. That’s when I began recording audio clips of my weird/funny/scary interactions with other players. Once the project had wrapped up, I still had loads of audio clips and nothing to do with them… So I decided to launch the website as a way to share them with my friends. It just kind of grew from there.”

One of the main problems with this issue, and why it’s so hard to tackle, is that many women receive more abuse if they choose to speak about the negative experiences they have as female players. This has led to many women choosing to conceal their gender when playing online, avoiding games altogether or simply putting up with it as something you have to suffer through as a female gamer. It’s also affected professionals like Jade Raymond, who stepped out of the public sphere after the launch of the first Assassin’s Creed due to the sexist abuse she received while working to promote the game.

The prospect of being a target for more abuse and negative comments didn’t deter Jenny from raising awareness of the issue through her website, however, she acknowledges that it’s perhaps more difficult for women to stand up for themselves now given how serious the threats and abuse towards women became in 2014.

“I am much less active now than I used to be, and things have gotten a little scarier since GamerGate occurred. When I was actively gaming and updating regularly, I was never very concerned about being targeted more because of the website.”

Thankfully not all the reactions to people speaking out against abuse are negative and some people find it a welcome change to see someone standing up and being an advocate for change. “I get messages from people who have experienced the same sort of thing, sharing their stories and feelings about it.”

Unfortunately, of course, there is always hostility from people who see people that want change as a threat primed to ruin their hobby, or they really enjoy having a public platform to openly exhibit their sexist and misogynistic attitudes without reprimand.

“The negative reactions are a lot less frequent, and tend to be along the lines of “it happens to everyone”, “that’s just how gaming is”, “stop bitching and just play the game”. Which is funny to me, because why on earth should sexism/racism/bigotry be an accepted part of a hobby that is meant to be fun and relaxing?”

Given her love for the genre Jenny is exposed to harassment most when playing online FPS games, particularly Call of Duty, and without a doubt it’s one of the areas where female gamers receive the worst abuse. Call of Duty as a developer has taken steps towards the equal treatment of women with females having much more prominent roles in recent instalments, but as far as the attitudes of its player base go, judging by some of the audio clips Jenny has posted, there’s still a long way to go.

Gaming is a fast paced and constantly changing landscape and since started her website 7 years ago Jenny has seen positive changes for women.

“A lot more people have been talking about this issue, and I think the more education and exposure, through documentaries, articles, podcasts, etc., that takes place, the better it gets. The key is normalizing women in gaming… Gaming is such an incredibly expansive, accessible hobby at this point that it should shock absolutely no one that women enjoy gaming. Everyone can game these days. I’ve definitely noticed it becoming more normalized, attitudes improving, (albeit slowly!) and companies working to improve how they deal with players who harass other players.”

It’s an area that has already received a wide amount of coverage through spokespeople like Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian and Gamergate target Zoe Quinn. Prominent media outlets have also run features on the issue and revealing that despite outwards appearances it’s an industry that’s far from all fun and games. Last year the BBC ran a documentary entitled The Dark Side of Gaming: Women Fighting Back which spoke to females involved in the industry, such as Eurogamer’s Aoife Wilson, Yogscast streamer Hannah and Jenny herself, giving them a chance to tell their stories on a wider stage. Feature length documentary GTFO, directed by Shannon Sun-Higginson was released in 2015 discussing sexism and women in the world of video games with prominent female players and prominent professionals including Journey producer Robin Hunicke and Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett.

Every gamer has got to start somewhere and Jenny’s introduction to the virtual realms of video games was thanks to her Dad.

“We were lucky enough to have a home computer when I was a kid, and I remember playing DOS games ‘with’ my dad when I was 3-4 years old, and watching him and my older brother play through the Myst computer game. Some of my old favorites were Jill of the Jungle, Crystal Caves, Duke Nukem, and the Commander Keen series.”

Jenny’s taste in games is far from the stereotypical norm for a female player, with fast-paced FPS game being her forte. Lamenting the fact female are underrepresented and misrepresented she has a love of strong female characters. If stranded on a desert island with only one game to play interestingly she would forgo the iconic depths of Rapture and chose a Bioshock adventure in the clouds, her opinion no doubt partially swayed by its stellar female portrayal.

“I love Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite and Ellie from The Last of Us. I also have a soft spot for Lulu and Yuna from Final Fantasy X.”

A big thank you to Jenny for taking the time to talk to us and for her efforts to make gaming and the industry more welcoming and enjoyable for all.

Online Abuse is the Hardest Battle for Female Gamers

Being a woman interested in games and on the internet is a frighteningly hostile place to be. It’s a toxic environment where sexual harassment is widespread and threats of rape and murder are commonplace. This attitude doesn’t stem from women being vastly outnumbered on the playing field – according to the latest statistics from Entertainment Software Association 41 percent of gamers in the U.S. are female – rather it’s the attitude of some who wish gaming to be a space where being openly misogynistic is accepted, normal even, and women aren’t welcome. But what these misguided individuals fail to understand is that the world has moved on; women have left the kitchen, found the living room, turned on a games console and liked it.

This attitude reflects pre-pubescent behaviour where boys don’t want to associate with girls – they have ‘cooties’. It may have been more accepted when video games were a pastime mainly engaged in by immature boys who didn’t yet grasp the concept of gender equality, but gaming has grown up and so should the attitudes of the men that now play them.

With the vast availability and popularity of online gaming, the situation is worse than ever.  If you’re a female gamer, verbal abuse, threats and sexual harassment are an unavoidable part of the experience whatever way you interact with the medium. From the developers and journalists working in the industry to those that play online or broadcast via game streaming services like Twitch, all face scrutiny and abuse simply for being female.

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image courtesy of flicker.com

The internet, it seems, is a free-for-all where people can say whatever threatening or lewd thing they like. A man wouldn’t walk up to a woman in the street and threaten to rape her without consequence and nor should he be free to do so online. These are real women, not verbal punch bags for spineless men who feel the need to convey their obvious contempt for women through the anonymity of an online persona. The problem is that very little is done to discourage such behaviour because the sheer scale of offences committed is too high for law enforcement to effectively police.

Even if they don’t actively participate in the abuse there are many that see it as no big deal. Abuse and sexual harassment of female players doesn’t affect the average male’s gaming experience and while some simply choose to ignore the issue, others see woman objecting to their treatment as an overreaction. They theorise that if you can’t take the insults then you shouldn’t be playing, or be on the internet at all for that matter. Forgoing what is supposed to be an enjoyable activity simply because people can’t help but be nasty is frankly ludicrous and not an effective solution to the problem.

Fortunately, there are those that would stand up against the abuse directed at women, both in the games industry and the internet as a whole, often at the risk of being exposed to even more criticism. Ashley Judd is one such woman. A few days before making the headlines for standing up for women’s rights at the women’s march against Trump in Washington D.C, Ashley made a speech at a TED conference calling for an end to sexual harassment and threats against women on the internet. “Online misogyny is a global gender rights tragedy, and it is imperative that it ends,” said an impassioned Judd.

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image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With regard to the games industry, she went further than berating it for the harassment directed at women online and openly accused it of “profiteering off misogyny”.

“I’m so tired of hearing you talk to me about how deplorable #GamerGate was when you’re still making billions of dollars off games that maim and dump women for sport,” she said.

Judd’s comments are seemingly aimed at games like Grand Theft Auto, a series that allows players to utilise the services of prostitutes, kill them and reclaim their money, but has never had a female lead or any female character of particular note for that matter.

Judd is far from alone in her condemnation of the treatment of women. Prominent women like Brenda Romero, credited by the Game Developers Conference as “the longest continuously serving woman in the video game industry” has publicly spoken out on numerous occasions against the gender inequality that has infested the industry. Other women like Julia Hardy take on misogyny one vulgar message at a time. In her blog Misogyny Monday, Julia shares the obscene and abusive things said to her online, as well as her witty response to these trolls. It’s a fresh and entertaining approach to a very serious subject.

Prominent industry professionals can, of course, gain more attention for the issue, but it’s also up to each individual to help stamp out this horrible trend. Gaming is a fun, social and enjoyable activity and it should be so for everyone regardless of their gender. Women should not be afraid to speak out against the abuse they receive and should have the support of players who witness it. Those that get their kicks by hurling abuse at female gamers need to do some serious growing up and realise that this isn’t a game. They’re part of the real world – a world they’ll go a lot further in once they learn to have some respect for others

(featured image courtesy of scee-press.com)