Brenda Romero

Wow, Brenda must be a bit embarrassed right about now.

Brenda Romero (formerly Brathwaite) is something of a women’s game developer icon. Unfortunately, the majority of her draw appears to be the fact that she is a woman, and to me this is the beginning of her unraveling reputation. It is one thing to be a great developer who is also a woman, another to be considered specifically in the female subset. Ironically, she may not agree that women like herself appearing on ‘lists of women’ isn’t much of an achievement. What would be a fucking achievement is if a man managed to appear on that list! Rather, I would push for the merits of a developer to be tied to their professional work and not their gender.

A few years ago she was elected to the board of directors of the International Game Developers Association, of which my distaste shall be saved for another post. Suffice it to say that she is, in my mind, a bit of a figurehead, and she has even been criticized by women in her organization as not doing much of anything. Despite being involved in the making of a Playboy video game, Romero has since been a known opponent of booth babes at industry events and uses her position to raise awareness for female inclusion. While this is certainly a good cause, she seems to have misstepped at GDC 2013.

Apparently she woke up Thursday morning to a torrent of messages expressing outrage over a party the night before. The event featured "scantily clad women" and other "outrageous" offenses. Her initial reaction, while extreme, wasn’t entirely her fault- a popular Forbes article (read: Forbes-contributed blog post) improperly cited the IGDA’s (and Yetizen’s) involvement. This seemed to be the perfect reason for her to resign from the powerless organization (although personally I am guessing she was on the way out already and picked this moment as a PR opportunity).

"I woke up to DMs, 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."

The outrage stems from the fact that a party at a nightclub, which was purportedly co-sponsored by the IGDA, had dancing girls in skimpy outfits. The media stoked the fire and treated these girls as if they were strippers and "OMG what was the IGDA thinking?". Of course, not only was the IGDA not involved with the party in question, but the actual party they co-sponsored was held the night before. Here’s the timeline.

Tuesday Night – IGDA/Yetizen Party (at Ruby Skye nightclub)

Wednesday Afternoon – Brenda’s GDC Panel (no outrage)

Wednesday Night – Wargaming Party (at Ruby Skye nightclub)

Thursday Morning – Outrage! (against wrong party)

This gets a little more ridiculous. Yetizen, who had been accused by Romero for being sexist in the previous year, had been careful this go around not to draw the wrath of the IGDA. They got explicit approval before the party from the IGDA’s female executive director for the costumes the models were wearing. The performance troupe of stilt walkers and others were likely dressed a bit sexy but they were not strippers and most attendees thought the affair quite modest, including the IGDA pre-approval. So models, not hired dancers, got on stage for a few minutes and danced to the DJ’s music at a nightclub.

Now Brenda Romero is left looking like she perhaps jumped the gun a bit. The up-in-arms cries and wave of support seem a bit silly, in the aftermath. Now, I freely admit that I wasn’t at the party so I don’t know if there were any extenuating incidents. But the thing is, Romero wasn’t at the party either. She is responding to public backlash and media rumor-mongering just like anyone else. The difference is, the media outlets have corrected their facts and admitted their mistake after Yetizen’s official response. Brenda Romero? Not so much.