This is the fourth and final part of our discussion when three of the members of TFG, Catherine Harlow, Kathryn Cooperman, and Hayley Garden, as well as Julia Makivic, sat down near the end of August to discuss the current situation with the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. We also talked more generally about how women are represented in video games.
The articles either referenced or sent to the team in advance that go more in depth about the lawsuit can be found here: Time’s summary of the lawsuit, IGN’s timeline, and Kotaku’s report of the Blizzcon panel
The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Hayley Garden 0:01
This, though, is shifting the conversation very, very radically but, just in terms of comments, it’s very interesting to think about that, especially like Western superhero comics, and then think about how sexless the MCU is, comparatively. How about, like, like how none of like there’s just none of that in the MCU, like, it’s interesting how Disney just went in the complete opposite direction with that whereas if you read X-Men comics, some of the things that those characters are wearing just for the sake of fanservice is crazy but that’s a discussion for another session, I feel, but –
Catherine Harlow 0:40
Hayley Garden 0:42
It’s just interesting to think about the two different approaches and how Disney chose to completely desexualize these characters.
Catherine Harlow 0:52
Yeah, get that PG-13 rating to sell more tickets.
Julia Makivic 0:58
So yeah, that’s definitely, I guess a theme with Disney, but that’s a whole other conversation.
Catherine Harlow 1:04
Hayley Garden 1:05
Yeah, we could have a whole other meeting about this easily and everything that they do.
Catherine Harlow 1:12
Yeah, maybe we should pencil that in and maybe like, because I knowTiffany was a Disney fan so maybe she would be available for that too.
Julia Makivic 1:21
Now I feel like I want to bring it up but I don’t know if I should but if anyone – was anyone else on here looking forward to that, like, Hillary Duff remake with um, oh Lizzie McGuire. I like they were going to take place – I think Hillary Duff was supposed to play in it and she would – and it would be like Lizzie McGuire, but she’s a woman in her 30s now, and obviously you know woman in her 30s, you know, she’s gonna have a sex life, most likely. And Disney was all like, “No, shut that shit down.” I think that led to the movie being derailed and yeah Disney was being really ridiculous about that, in my opinion.
Hayley Garden 2:05
I haven’t actually seen it but I think – but apparently the iCarly revival is doing really well. Like I have no idea if Carly from iCarly has a sex life now, but apparently the revival is really successful, and so it’s interesting that Nickelodeon, which has its own host of issues, obviously, is willing to let like iCarly be a grown up, but, like, “Oh, Lizzie McGuire might sleep with guys” or something and that is absolutely not family friendly, but I haven’t seen the iCarly revival so I can’t actually speak to it but it’s weird that they canceled it, ’cause I feel like that would have done really well with millennials.
Kathryn Cooperman 2:54
They could release it on Freeform. I learned that Freeform is owned by Disney and they have a couple of shows that deal with more young adult themes as opposed to sitcoms meant for children and tweens. So, I could see that happening. I think the generation that watched her would appreciate having that.
Hayley Garden 3:16
I have a friend who is obsessed with a show on Freeform that’s about gay witches. So you can literally have anything on there, like, I know so much about this show purely through osmosis and they have like, gay characters just kissing on screen and, like, they have fully realized character arcs, and it’s pretty violent. I watched the first season because I wanted to support her because she’s really into it and like it got pretty, pretty intense and it’s on Freeform.
Kathryn Cooperman 3:47
Yeah, and it’s owned by Disney, which is interesting.
Catherine Harlow 3:51
I’ve never heard of Freeform before but this does remind me of –
Hayley Garden 3:54
It used to be ABC family.
Catherine Harlow 4:00
This does remind me of – Have you guys seen She-Ra, like the new remake?
Julia Makivic 4:03
Yes! Loved it!
Hayley Garden 4:07
Have you guys seen Owl House?
Julia Makivic 4:10
Hayley Garden 4:11
Oh, if you like She-Ra you have to watch The Owl House.
Julia Makivic 4:13
The Owl House, okay.
Catherine Harlow 4:15
Is that on Netflix?
Hayley Garden 4:17
But like, it’s very much – like so, Steven Universe built the house, She-Ra decorated the house, The Owl House turned it into a penthouse. They’re all building on each other. If you like Steven Universe, and if you like She-Ra, you will love Owl House. They are all sister shows. Because I loved She-Ra, I thought it was excellent, like I watched it all. I remember when it first came out and I watched all of it. So good.
Catherine Harlow 4:45
Yeah, but I think She-Ra is a really great example of, you know, portraying women, or non-straight relationships but it’s like not really about the relationship but it’s about how the characters grow.
Julia Makivic 5:01
Oh, maybe we should just let Kathryn in on this one. So yeah, basically She-Ra is a remake of the show She-Ra, where She-Ra I think is He-Man’s sister or something.
Catherine Harlow 5:13
Like from the 80s I think.
Kathryn Cooperman 5:15
The 80s, okay. I was just reading about it on Wikipedia. That’s why I wasn’t – I was still listening to you guys.
Julia Makivic 5:22
Yeah, yeah. But yeah they did a remake and yeah it’s like a very, in a lot of ways, a very progressive show, and has amazing characters like visible LGBT relationships, and overall good positive messages – and it’s it’s geared towards children even though like, even as adults like, obviously we all enjoyed it, but it is geared towards children.
Hayley Garden 5:46
You all have to watch The Owl House. I think you will adore it. It’s all, like, it’s about – It has like a canon LGBT relationship, the two main characters are officially dating as of, like, two episodes ago. It has really interesting female characters, there’s also a non-binary character in Owl House. And I just feel like you would love it. You guys would all love it, especially if you like She-Ra and, Kathryn, I highly recommend all of them, they’re all great shows. Steven Universe as well. Steven Universe, without Steven Universe, none of these shows would even exist. Steven Universe was that building, was a blueprint
Catherine Harlow 6:33
Yeah, but changing gears just a little bit ’cause Julia you make games.
Julia Makivic 6:40
Catherine Harlow 6:41
You know, I wonder how do you decide what kind of stories you want to tell or like I know like, you know as visual artists a lot of times women are expected or feel like they should represent like a female experience like get that out there and when it otherwise isn’t so maybe you can talk a little bit about, you know your process with making games or what you, are thinking about.
Julia Makivic 7:14
Yeah, so I guess when it comes – So, I make alternative controller games where basically, I just make non-standard interfaces for games. So I’ll use sensors and microcontrollers and make something like on its own and I, yeah, they’re all in the attic now except for the one that I’m working on but – and yeah this was all programmed that and sometimes it will have a visual output like a screen, sometimes it will not, but I generally try and go for things that I guess feel personal to me and might not necessarily be relatable to 100% everyone. So I like combining themes of, I guess ubiquitous technology and embedded devices and what that could potentially mean in a given future. I like integrating that with deeply personal things like, you know, ennui, a desire to connect with something and whether a machine interface can potentially provide that, and, sometimes even linking it to Slavic mythology and my Eastern European background. So, that’s kind of what I go and like I kind of know what you’re saying with that whole like okay, as a woman creator do you want to make something about the female experience in this industry or like the female experience in general and I kind of purposely try not to go for that. Like I know a lot of other individual indie female creators who sort of, who do go for that like all the power to them but it’s just the choice that I try not to – I kind of chose not to do because I just want to make something that’s related to my voice, and my experience and my interests and share to anyone who’s willing, to share that with anyone who’s willing to listen. And that’s not expected of men, like that are just kind of expected as, okay you know you’re going to make something and it’s default, like no one wants to hear about the male experience, and I don’t think I should have that same expectation for me, so I just make what I want and don’t try to introduce like “oh yeah this is my experience as a woman” angle. Although that’s like, that’s completely valid too but it’s just a personal choice for me. But I, yeah. I just would rather not do.
Catherine Harlow 9:29
Yeah, I think that’s important, like I think it’s, I think it’s kind of crummy that women or even people of color, when they’re, you know, making art do have to think very carefully about, you know, what they actually want to say and like, you know, realizing that there is an under representation of female and person of color experiences in in media, in art. So it’s, I, It’s – It must be hard to balance between, you know, I am my own person, I have my own things that I want to say that I’m interested in exploring and I want to talk about. But then also, you know what is the social responsibility to, you know, adding to the discourse. So, and like, I find it very frustrating when, when new artists or authors like, you know, they do want to take your approach. But then, critics will come in and be like, “well, they’re a woman so they were clearly making some commentary about the female experience” even if that wasn’t part of it at all.
Julia Makivic 10:37
Yeah, I think so, kind of like – it’s sort of anything within the alt controller scene where there’s, maybe it’s not adopted by all creators, but there’s this whole notion of queer-ing the controller or subverting what we expect out of a controller or our experience with games and oftentimes, opting for a more exploratory approach where we try and understand the system in front of us, rather than trying to figure out how to beat the system, if that makes sense or how to overcome it. And that was a – that whole concept was sort of brought together by a theorist called Jess Marcotte, and they kind of set the foundation for that. But yeah, kind of what I like about the whole alt control space is that you can kind of introduce this weird thing, and just sort of have it be accepted as is and not necessarily tied to like, oh you’re of this and this identity that’s probably why you’re making it, you know. Or, I feel like sometimes that kind of evades being analyzed from that lens if that makes sense.
Catherine Harlow 11:42
That’s great. So like when you have like – showing your pieces at galleries and shows you have – your experience has been people have a more open mind to it?
Julia Makivic 11:55
Yeah, like maybe I’m really fortunate, but at least as far as I’ve kind of hung out within my like this, like, specific alt control community I’ve never really felt singled out because I’m a woman because there are tons of women makers out there and I guess other like less represented identities coming in there to make stuff too and they’re oftentimes quite well accepted. So it’s not, I feel like I haven’t, I feel like I haven’t been exposed to that same kind of boys club. Um, but yeah like mostly what the worst issues that I’ve had in shows is for like some kid will like try and take my controller just like punch it, because it’s not working well and then I have to introduce some discipline. Mostly, yeah so these people are sort of obnoxious like I’ve gotten some – I remember getting some weird looks from a group of high school boys who were just like, “What is this,” but I wasn’t like that was literally the worst of it. So I never really felt like oh yeah this is being ascribed to my identity in a weird way or like it’s sort of being viewed in this way. People just kind of see something strange that sort of sticks out from the other things and they just kind of want to try and understand and see what’s going on, so I feel like because it is a sort of such an out- like a genre that introduces a lot of outliers and non-standard things, it often evades the same constraints that other creators might face.
Catherine Harlow 13:35
Yeah. And I wonder if perhaps that speaks to, you know, since so much of the world experience is default male and default white male, like, you know, I think, I think maybe that speaks to, like, you know, it’s easier to not have that be the default when you get out of the mainstream.
Julia Makivic 14:02
Yeah, I think so to some extent, like it’s still, I don’t want to say male-dominated because, I mean like yeah there are a lot of men who participate in it, obviously, but, yeah, there are a lot of, like, very prominent women too, so I don’t think. Yeah, I guess because it’s just a very niche community, it’s not – and overall like very, very supportive community. I feel like it just attracts cool people in that regard, I don’t Yeah, it’s like, I don’t – it’s been interesting study to see, but I don’t think there’s anything – I don’t know it doesn’t, it seems to not have the same issues as a lot of other spaces in games do which I, yeah that’s a space that I spent most of my time in so I don’t really know. I sometimes I feel like I can’t really speak to what it’s like to be in a standard game environment even though I know kind of what it is through osmosis. Yeah.
Catherine Harlow 14:59
Yeah, so I don’t know that’s definitely evidence for my baby theory that, you know, it’s, easier to have different experiences or to be you know, having – be a different voice in, you know, when you’re away from the mainstream and like you know away from the Blizzards that are not dominated by the frat bro culture.
Julia Makivic 15:26
Yeah I think so, for sure.
Catherine Harlow 15:34
Yeah. Do we have it – like circling back to the Blizzard lawsuit since that’s where we started from like do we have any thoughts on is this lawsuit going to make tangible differences in the gaming space or is it kind of be like, they’re just gonna get a slap on the wrist and things are gonna keep going the way they have been?
Hayley Garden 15:56
Probably the latter, hopefully the former.
Kathryn Cooperman 16:00
I really hope it creates, you know, more of a difference in the gaming space. I think so often you know it’s taken a lot to bring the male oppressors down. But yeah, I mean we’ll see, it’s a good – There’s a lot more work to be done. Hopefully, it goes through, these people are actually implicated.
Catherine Harlow 16:26
Yeah, I mean I think it is encouraging that the Ubisoft employees also you know, wrote in support of the harassed female employees of Blizzard so you know –
Julia Makivic 16:39
Ubisoft is a mess on its own, like –
Catherine Harlow 16:42
Ubisoft is a mess on its own, so I don’t know I mean it didn’t seem like – I didn’t read too much into it but it didn’t seem like a PR move from Ubisoft, it seemed like the employees on their own just genuinely wanted to support the victims of the situation. So I think that does, hopefully does speak to, you know, a broader – broader society in general, wants positive change and wants equality. But yeah, I think, unfortunately, Hayley, I think you’re right that it’s more likely in the immediate term to just be the slap on the wrist. But you know I do hope that it is an indicator that you know, if not Blizzard specifically maybe other places will work harder to get better.
Hayley Garden 17:39
We can only hope for positive change and progressive reform, wherever we go. We can only hope. That’s it, it just goes to show that we gotta start putting non-straight white men in charge. The not straight white men will be the ones to bring – to usher in the progress because they’re the ones who’ve been on the other side of oppression, so they know. They’ve experienced it and they don’t have to bring down the workplace, their workplaces ideal. More, more women, more non binary people, more LGBT representation, more people of color. We need those. Gaming and all the media in general need those voices and experiences in the forefront to have stronger titles going forward.
Catherine Harlow 18:41
Yeah, I agree and I think, I think you know obviously most of media, like you know, video games or movies most of media is, you know designed as entertainment to make money. But it is a very powerful medium to expose people to other cultures and perspectives and experiences. And you know, nobody is going to learn what it’s like to be, to be somebody else if they’re not exposed to it, so you know, I really do appreciate the media that does take that responsibility seriously to help educate, to bring awareness. And you know obviously the more diversity we have behind the scenes, the more diversity we’ll have in front of audiences.
Hayley Garden 19:32
Kathryn Cooperman 19:37
Well, I have to go call my mom. So yeah, that’s right, but
Catherine Harlow 19:47
I can cut that out. But if – do we have any other final thoughts before we wrap up?
Kathryn Cooperman 19:57
Sorry, go ahead, Julia.
Julia Makivic 19:59
Oh, I just gonna quickly say that even though many of these issues are still rampant and like, I think that, you know, I guess holding one company accountable might not necessarily prevent like – will not necessarily change the culture in that company or in other studios that perpetuate it. But I do think that, at least awareness is being brought to it, and I think that many indie – like I feel like now more than ever there’s enough support for individual creators and creators who didn’t have the same amount, who didn’t necessarily have the same amount of starting resources as these big entities to actually get, to make stuff and get it out there and I think that’s, introducing overall like some unique perspectives and unique things being done in games so I think, overall, I think I think it’s looking good. Yeah, it kind of reminds me of what finance was like in the 80s like just what a cesspool it was. Okay maybe Wolf of Wall Street is not something to base my opinion on, but I think that it was definitely way scummier, way more of a boys club, than it is now and like maybe there’s still bits of that still happening but I feel like it’s way more equitable in some ways, I think it’s just drawing attention to these issues and making it. Yeah, like, addressing them.
Catherine Harlow 21:20
Kathryn Cooperman 21:21
Yeah, I think this has definitely brought awareness and hopefully you know good change to come but this is the starting point, at least.
Catherine Harlow 21:28
Hayley Garden 1:32
Good talk, everyone.
If you missed the entire series, you can listen to the full conversation below.