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Women use Twitter to expose video game industry sexism

If you want a look at what it's like to be a woman working in the video game industry, then take a look at the #1ReasonWhy hashtag that's been trending on Twitter this week.

Hundreds of female game developers, designers, publicists, journalists and other professionals are in the midst of detailing the sexism they've experienced in the workplace, encountered while playing video games and found in the gaming community at large.

After Luke Crane, Games Project Specialist at Kickstarter, tweeted the question "Why are there so few lady game creators?" the #1ReasonWhy hashtag became the launching point for not only answering that question, but for outlining exactly why women don't feel comfortable or welcome in the video game industry in the year 2012.

And this is the ugly truth as laid out by those who do work in the industry:

"#1reasonwhy because when I tell people I'm a designer, I without fail get 'Really? You don't look like you play games. Guys must love you,' " tweeted game designer Alexis De Girolami.

"#1reasonwhy b/c when my desk was nr the door, most clients thought I was the receptionist. This didn't happen to male dev after desk swap," writes developer Helen Smailes.

"Because I got blank stares when I asked why a female soldier in a game I worked on looked like a porn star," tweeted designer Caryn Vainio.

Stephanie Harvey, a game designer at Ubisoft and professional "Counter Strike" player, tweeted "Here is what I get everyday," as she shared a link to a collection of screenshots she's captured revealing the insults (most of them unprintable) leveled at her when she's gaming.

Meanwhile, Tara J. Brannigan, community marketing manager for PopCap Games, tweeted that she has "been groped by strangers at least once at nearly every major (game) conference." And she's not alone. Wrote Filamena Young, "Because conventions, where designers are celebrated, are unsafe places for me. Really. I've been groped."

And that's just the beginning. The hashtag has spawned an outpouring of tweets about unequal pay (which Lindsay Morgan Lockhart, "Halo 4's" narrative designer, calls "staggering") uncomfortable working environments and an industry where women gamers are little more than an afterthought.

As a lifelong gamer and a game journalist for more than a decade, I can say that I have learned to expect that vicious, sexist comments will be hurled my way should I dare write about the preposterous outfits female game characters are put in. I've learned that using a female avatar or female-sounding gamertag in an online game means dealing with unwelcome and unwanted advances. And I've grown used to trolls who question whether I really play hardcore games or who deride me for writing about casual "women's" games. (Apparently I'm not capable of the former and am not a "real gamer" if I enjoy the latter).

Clearly, this is not about one reason why ... this is about hundreds, even thousands of reasons why.

Of course, the Twitter uprising hasn't been without its detractors and trolls — these are the men who basically prove the point that the #1reasonwhy hashtag is so elegantly making.

"I look at #1ReasonWhy and I laugh at all the feminists who think they matter. If you were good in your field, you wouldn't be misrepresented," tweeted Dillon Paradis.

But as upsetting and maddening as it is combing through these experiences and the backlash, one thing is clear: This outpouring is just the latest sign that women (and men) are fed up with the game business as usual and have no intention of quietly putting up with the sexism any longer.

Not only has the website Fat, Ugly or Slutty been outing the online gaming ugliness with humorous flair, but at the Penny Arcade Expo this summer, the video game convention saw a half dozen panel discussions addressing and looking for solutions to the harassment and sexism that not only women gamers, but gay and transgender gamers, face.

Check out this video from the "Harassment and Bullying in Online Games: Technical Solutions" panel for a fascinating look at the problem and some of the proposed solutions.

Meanwhile, women game industry pros are seizing this moment, harnessing the #1reasonwhy fervor and turning the ugliness they've revealed into a catalyst for change.

"Tomb Raider" and "Mirror's Edge" writer Rhianna Pratchett, started the hashtag #1reasontobe, highlighting reasons women should work in the game industry. "#1reasontobe Because I get to explore my creativity in a rapidly evolving medium, full of unique, exciting challenges," she tweeted.

And even more importantly, women game professionals are using the movement to start a mentoring program. "Speak up if you're willing to be a mentor to women looking to get into the industry!" tweeted Ann Lemay, a writer for BioWare, promoting the new #1reasonmentors hashtag.

And many women and men in the industry — from game companies big and small — have responded to the call for mentors, offering their time and advice to women who dare and dream to join this troubled industry. (You can find a list of the mentoring resources compiled here.)

Artist and animator Emily Compton, perhaps summed it up best, "If #1reasonwhy made us mad about our industry today, #1reasonmentors makes us hopeful and glad. Onward and upward."

Winda Benedetti writesabout video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you canfollow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.