While the video game industry is becoming more diverse every year, marginalized game developers are still often dismissed in professional settings based on their appearance. One developer started the hashtag #WhatAGameDevLooksLike after security guards at a games conference apparently stopped her no fewer than three times, and now, that hashtag has become a wonderful demonstration of the fact that people of all genders, races, and sexualities are involved in every facet of game development.
On March 18 2019, JC Lau—an industry veteran now at Harebrained Schemes–was scheduled to participate in a panel called “Building An Inclusive Game Studio Culture” at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. While she was waiting in line to pick up her badge, she claims that no fewer than three security guards told her that the line was only for speakers. She noticed that the white men around her were not being questioned by security. After the experience, she learned that other women, non-Americans, and people of color were subject to similar treatment. As a response, she posted her selfie with #WhatAGameDevLooksLike and encouraged others to do the same.
The hashtag was so successful that Lau has continued #WhatAGameDevLooksLike during this year’s GDC (the in-person event was canceled the past two years due to covid-19). The hashtag is filled with selfies from female, queer, and non-white developers. Several of them talk about having worked in game development for a decade or more.
Lau is optimistic about the positive effects the hashtag has had on the industry. While it raises people’s awareness about how much diversity already exists in game development and disrupts the image of the “typical” game developer as a cis white man, it has also been a source of camaraderie for marginalized developers in an industry that’s still very homogenous. Lau told Kotaku:
#WhatAGameDevLooksLike has been an opportunity for people to connect, empower, and celebrate each other and the diversity in our industry. I’ve received messages from people who have said that they thought they were the “only one” from a particular background, and have found others like themselves. It’s also been a way for people to have conversations about navigating this industry as a person from a marginalized background, and to be inspired about the future of the industry.
Lau added that she had not experienced any problems with over-eager security guards this year, but that she’d heard stories of demoralizing treatment from some fellow GDC attendees. It’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the public perception of game developers matches the diverse reality.
Correction: 3/25/2022 8:55 A.M. E.T.: The story previously misstated Lau’s place of employment in 2019. She worked at Harebrained Schemes.