The Real Problem with This Sexist Video Game Hiring Strategy

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The Real Problem with This Sexist Video Game Hiring Strategy
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The Real Problem with This Sexist Video Game Hiring Strategy

This sexist hiring video floating around the Internet helps explain why gamer culture has itself a sexual harassment problem. The clip below is a plea from Kixeye -- a gaming company that makes notoriously bloody games -- looking for a certain kind of programmer, one that probably isn't a woman. If the swearing boy who mentions a woman peeing her pants over his video game idea doesn't turn off potential female hires, this Conan the Barbarian reference said by Kixeye CEO Will Harbin probably will: "What is best in life? Is it to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women? Well, that’s a pretty good start." But the company doesn't think its male-targeting is a problem. Brandon Barber, senior vice president of marketing for Kixeye*, told Slate's Will Oremus, "There are certain people that are going to respond negatively to that video, and frankly we wouldn’t want ’em around anyway." Plus: "Chicks who are hardcore gamers, they understand that kind of humor," he continued. But, it's just that kind of attitude that has created a culture where women have learned to endure constant assault, an unfortunate reality for female gamers, as The New York Times's Amy O'Leary reported earlier this week. 

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Silicon Valley's sexism problems have deeper effects than just alienating women from a certain profession. That's an issue, too, which we have discussed a bunch of times before via the Brogrammer culture and the sexual harassment law suit and the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. But, Harbin's comments represent something more vile. In the clip Harbin says he wants to hire people who will make "games for gamers by gamers" -- but only if those gamers tolerate his "humor" (ie. sexism). The same way Miranda Pakozdi "expects a certain amount of trash talk" because she is a woman, explains O'Leary. Pakozdi has been subjected to more than just trash talk, by the way. "Her team’s coach, Aris Bakhtanians, interrogated her on camera about her bra size, said 'take off your shirt' and focused the team’s webcam on her chest, feet and legs," writes O'Leary. 

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It's not that who Harbin hires has a direct impact on the way these women gamers are treated. But, those who make the product inform the way it is used, as we saw with Facebook, whose boyish creators led to a social network all about ranking each other. What kinds of games do we think people to whom this video appeals will make? But also, his attitude prevents the industry from evolving to a more inclusive place. "The gaming industry is actually in the process of changing," Anita Sarkeesian, a woman working on a documentary about the sexist ways woman are portrayed in video games, told O'Leary. "That’s a really positive thing, but I think there is a small group of male gamers who feel like gaming belongs to them, and are really terrified of that change happening." Harbin sure seems like one of those people terrified of change. And, he's not alone. His video has gotten praise on the gamer blog circuit, with GameZone's Lance Leibl calling it "the best thing I've ever watched." 

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Update: Kixeye sends along this response from their vice president of engineering, Danielle Deibler: "As one of the many women in senior leadership positions at Kixeye, I take issue with your interpretation of our recruiting video and how you've chosen to portray our company, Will and Brandon. First of all, I found the video hilarious, as did most of the women in this company.  It was a commentary on a certain type of gamer, not of women in general. Second, I would never work somewhere where people of all genders, races, sexual orientations and creeds were not fully supported. Everyone has a place at Kixeye if they kick ass and have a passion for making great games. You've totally misrepresented our company and taken our video so far out of context that it's laughable."

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* Correction: The original version of this story misattributed the comments given to Slate by Kixeye senior vice president of marketing Brandon Barber to the company's CEO, Will Harbin.

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