Dear Mr. Pitchford.
Today eurogamer.net published an article in which Borderlands 2 lead designer John Hemingway got quoted to refer to a game mode ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ specifically designed to accommodate people “who suck at first-person shooters”‚Äö√Ñ√¨ as “girlfriend mode”. In the quotes provided by eurogamer.net, he dubbed this mode “girlfriend mode” on two occasions and no additional qualifiers were given.
I’d like to address, what Hemingway’s statement does to the discourse, how eurogamer.net adds to the problem and how I think you failed to address the situation properly.
So in the way the article quotes Mr.Hemingway, the lead designer of Gearbox Software publicly labels people “who suck at first person shooters” as “girlfriends”, without any additional information to qualify his statement. This, on face value at least, is a crass and derogatory statement to make. Especially in an environment like the video game community, where women and girls have to struggle for recognition, it is also a very toxic statement to make.
Of course any assumption regarding if Mr.Hemingway actually wanted to make this toxic comparison or if he actually thinks that girlfriends suck at first person shooters is nothing more than an assumption. And any attack based on that assumption is of course unwarranted and unfair. Unfortunately Hemingway’s original intent ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ how inclusive and women-friendly it may have been ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ doesn’t offset the crass, derogatory and toxic properties of that published statement.
The statement as published on eurogamer.net feeds into a very strong and damaging narrative, in which female gamers are deemed second class gamers. This narrative comes in many forms, like the fake-geek-girl or the incompetent girlfriend. It also feeds into another even stronger and even more damaging narrative, in which women and girls are considered less competent in regards to technology than men. This narrative comes in many forms, like the meme that women can’t park cars or the incompetent gamer girlfriend.
Even worse, Hemingway’s statement did not only feed into those two narratives, it officially sanctioned them. Hemingway is a lead designer, he is someone who made it big in the game community, an authority. And he is your lead designer, working on the next big first person shooter from Gearbox Software…
Now this got a lot of people angry. Not unexpected for me. And definitely not unexpected for the writers at eurogamer.net, who realized how controversial Hemingway’s wording would be and then had the audacity to put it into the headline. They even phrased the headline in a particular way, suggesting that “girlfriend mode” is the official name of newly revealed game mode.
So it is completely understandable, that you called eurogamer.net out for being sensationalist and it is also very much understandable ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ admirable even ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ that you do not throw your employees under the bus, when a controversy comes up. So, it’s very much okay for you to jump to Hemingway’s defense.
But ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ and this is a big but ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ you failed to address the damage, that this statement did to the state of female gaming and therefore to the gaming community at large. All your damage control focussed on Gearbox, Borderlands 2 and John Hemingway and no consideration to the crass, derogatory and damaging attack females have suffered today was given. On the contrary! In your efforts to make Hemingway’s statement a non-issue, you declared the anger around the statement a non-issue, you declared the sexist connotations a non-issue… You threw concerned and affected people under the bus.
Whoever is responsible for the official Gearbox Software tweets treated the issue much smarter and not only corrected Hemingway’s stance by making a gender equality statement (“Gaming is divided by skill, not gender.”) but also managed to slip in two apologies to the female gaming community. Whoever that is, deserves a raise!
Anyway, I hope you understand how your narrow focussed defenses only perpetuated the problem. Though in the end you seem to be quite alright with how crass, derogatory and damaging the “girlfriend mode” remarks are since it obviously pays out for you:
Below are screenshots of all related tweets of Gearbox Software and Randy Pitchford as of the moment the article was written: