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.