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Half-Naked Women at a Tech Conference Sends Some IGDA Leaders Packing

04/01/2013 05:31 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2013

Wait, I thought scantily clad women parading around a tech conference was only for the Consumer Electronics Show? Well, I guess I was wrong.

The Game Developer Conference was held last week for programmers, developers and gamers, offering workshops, speakers and events surrounding everything gaming. One particular party that was co-held by the International Game Developer's Association and social and mobile funding company YetiZen on Tuesday night had many people upset, particularly a few supporters of the IGDA, who by the end of the week had quit their positions.

The party consisted of scantily clad dancers, one wearing a "skimpy T-shirt" and another in "weird furry get-up." As a result, noted game designer Brenda Romero (also known professionally as Brenda Brathwaite) tweeted that she resigned her co-chair position of IGDA's Women in Games special interest group:

Romero said in a statement to Polygon:

"I went home last night to work on my Friday GDC talk feeling super-uplifted by the turnout and support for the #1ReasonToBe panel. I woke up to direct messages [on Twitter], texts, and links to news of the IGDA party. It really saddens me. I have been a long-time supporter of the IGDA. However, my silence would have been complicity. I had no choice. And just hours after our panel, too."

What was ironic about the party was that it took place shortly after a panel that was inspired by #1reasonwhy hashtag that was born on Twitter in November 2012 and inspired an industry-wide discussion about women's challenges in gaming. Some women shared stories of discrimination or prejudice, while others cited problems with game design itself. The speakers included Romero among other noted gaming industry leaders.

But Romero wasn't the only one to pull their support from the IGDA. Web developer Darius Kazemi also resigned from his IGDA post.

And Jay Margalus, chair of the local IGDA Chicago branch, also stepped down from his role with the organization.

This isn't the first time that the gaming industry has felt the rumble of sexism and sexual harassment. In fact, many would argue it is rampant both inside the video game industry and inside the video games themselves.

If you take a look at any number of video games, women are rarely the protagonist. They tend to only show up as the gum-snapping, large-breasted side plots with little to offer (I know, you want to point to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, but that is the exception, not the rule). And with only 12 percent of females representing the video gaming workforce, the substance of video games and how they portray women is not likely to change overnight.

But one thing that has changed is how people are reacting. If you look at this conference compared with conferences in the past (like the launch party held last year by IO Interactive in a faux nightclub warehouse with pole dancers); this time, people are doing something about it. They are quitting their positions, pulling their support, and standing their ground. They are not being silent and looking wistfully away.

In fact, Kazemi said in a tweet that he had "massive reservations using YetiZen as our sponsor the second year in a row after they burned us last year by using scantily clad women," and apologized for not speaking up about the partnership before the party. He also tweeted that though it was IGDA's decision to partner with YetiZen for the party, it "was not an IGDA call to have specific entertainment."

It's interesting that scantily clad women were present at the party last year but no one made a fuss. This year, however, women and men have had it. The shift is the interesting part, it's the non-constant; the ripple.

Maybe it's social media that is changing the way people are viewing these events and deciding for themselves what's ok and what's not. Maybe the tide has changed. A simple tweet about an event can change people's lives forever. Just look at what happened with Adria Richards a week ago when she tweeted out a picture of two men that made a joke about a dongle behind her at a tech conference. The tweet went viral, two people were fired (including her), and the world has changed. What used to be acceptable is no longer tolerable.

I give the ISDA credit in attempting to shed light on the prejudice women face in the gaming industry, but by allowing scantily clad women to parade around a party at their conference, the IGDA is guilty of perpetuating the very problem they are trying to address. Hopefully, the attention and reaction that this conference receives will alter the actions of organizers in the future, and they'll soon realize that sexist actions, words or events that make people feel uncomfortable are no longer going to be tolerated.