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A Game That's Brutally Honest About Sexism in Tech

Elizabeth Sampat's '8 Vignettes from the Tech Industry' is a very real meditation from a woman working in games and tech.

Kate Gray

Image courtesy Elizabeth Sampat

This piece carries a content warning for sexual harassment.

I have a box at home that is filled with trash. It’s not trash to me—every scrap of paper, old VHS tape, every coin and badge and ribbon in that box is a memory trigger. I run the ribbon through my fingers and remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, when a friend plaited red, white, and blue into my hair. The coin, I found on the field at the neighboring boys’ school, the first time I was actually allowed to go there. The VHS tapes I accidentally stole from the BBC, and I feel terrible about it. Mostly terrible, anyway. Also kinda cool.

Twitter has become a box of memories, but a twisted, painful version. Every allegation, every tearful story of sexual assault, every #metoo, triggers a memory of mine that I didn’t choose to keep. Every woman I know is going through this right now. We all have our own box of trauma.

8 Vignettes from the Tech Industry is a short Twine game in which game designer Elizabeth Sampat chooses to open up her box while reading ex-Google employee James Damore’s email manifesto regarding women in tech. I have not read the manifesto that got him fired. I want to keep the box closed, when I can.

Twitter has become a box of memories, but a twisted, painful version.

Short snippets of Damore’s screed appear in bold, parts of it highlighted, linking to Sampat’s Vignettes. Just as vignettes in film and literature can be linked by theme, so too are these: when Damore says that women can’t handle long, stressful hours as well as men, Sampat presents a time when she was expected to work for 12 hours despite having a stomach bug, then asked to go home and continue, working in the breaks between restless sleep and vomiting.

For every unverified claim about women that Damore makes, Sampat has a counterpoint—but she is not doing this to prove him wrong. Vignettes makes one thing clear: that women are told, over and over again, what we are incapable of, while we are doing exactly that. This is not a tale of revenge, nor is it a reply to Damore; this is the exhaustion of one person who is stereotyped, pigeonholed, and belittled, by men who assume our trauma is the same as theirs.

At the end of Vignettes, Sampat gets a job in Denmark—a country with generally progressive attitudes towards women. Her friends, at GDC, ask what it’s like.

“I search my mind for the tiny microaggressions I know I faced every day of my career until November 1st, 2016, and can't think of one off the top of my head,” she says.

“I feel like I'm explaining the color yellow to someone who's been totally blind their whole life.”

women are told, over and over again, what we are incapable of, while we are doing exactly that

I once had a therapist who told me to put all the things that upset me in a mental box, and to imagine holding the box closed with a big elastic band. I could choose to look in the box, but it took mental effort to open it, during which time I could stop myself.

One day, I hope to hold my box of trauma closed with a yellow ribbon.