Over the last month Jennifer Hepler, one of the writers for Dragon Age and my beloved Dragon Age 2 has been enduring threats, insults and massive invasions of privacy because some asshats found an old interview she did and decided to poke the hornet’s nest that is the internet with it.

In the interview with a website geared towards women Hepler was quite candid and gave her thoughts on game design, gaming and the struggles of being a working mom in an industry that’s very demanding of one’s time. After talking about her work experience and what she does (she writes dialogue for games and helps crafts the story) this happened:

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

Playing the games. This is probably a terrible thing to admit, but it has definitely been the single most difficult thing for me. I came into the job out of a love of writing, not a love of playing games. While I enjoy the interactive aspects of gaming, if a game doesn’t have a good story, it’s very hard for me to get interested in playing it. Similarly, I’m really terrible at so many things which most games use incessantly — I have awful hand-eye coordination, I don’t like tactics, I don’t like fighting, I don’t like keeping track of inventory, and I can’t read a game map to save my life. This makes it very difficult for me to play to the myriad games I really should be keeping up on as our competition.

And with a baby on the way in a few months, my minimal free time (which makes it impossible for me to finish a big RPG in less than six months already), will disappear entirely. If there was a fast-forward feature on games which would let me easily review the writing and stories and skip the features that I find more frustrating than fun, I’d find it much easier to keep abreast of what’s happening in the field.

This is where a LOT of the vitriol from the dirty dredges of the internet comes. She’s working for one of the most well-regarded game companies in the world and working on some of the biggest games that company makes. She spends every days writings thousands of words of dialogue to give those games color and she says that she’s not that crazy about games.

Clearly she must perish. Let’s ignore the fact that countless well-regarded science fiction and fantasy writers have been brought in to write games in the past despite having no experience or inclination for gaming. Or that she talks about how free time evaporates and she finds herself incapable of playing games. Never mind the fact that we ALL wish we could have skipped some of those fights in Uncharted 3 to get to the next cut scene story. She says that physically playing games isn’t her favorite part of the job so she must be skewered and burned while everyone dances around her chanting “fatty fatty two by four.”

What makes this all noteworthy for us here at FemPop is that the attacks aren’t just related to her opinions on video games or her ability to craft dialogue. Even though she’s one of multiple writers on each project and it is impossible to for the public to actually quantify her individual contribution she’s still, apparently, the reason Dragon Age 2 was terrible. Reading the comments people have made and noting the significant number of personal attacks I can’t help but scroll back in time a little.

Have you ever been to the Dragon Age forums? Hepler used to be a pretty regular presence there–especially during the launch of Dragon Age 2 a year ago. She’d post comments on the story, talk about characters she was “responsible” for (like Anders, who has received a bulk of critics’ praise). It was a great way to get some neat access to the developers.

Then the Dragon Age 2 backlash began and she was singled out as the cause by irate fans. Was it something she wrote? Nope. The other writers–even those behind less popular characters, weren’t singled out. No, it was pretty plain to see that she was being singled out for the gamers’ fury because she was the only female writer on staff.

And this new round of Hepler bashing has little to do with her feelings on video games and everything to do with her being a woman writing video games for one of the biggest video game companies in the world. As she aptly put it:

“I just figure they’re jealous that I get to have both a vagina AND a games industry job, and they can’t get either.”

It is misogyny in one of its purist forms. If the sexism wafting off the comments about her was any more palpable you’d have to wear some sort of gas mask just to read Reddit (I’m loathe to check out 4Chan’s comments on this because I’m pretty sure the sexism would shrivel my lady parts and then murder me in my sleep).

You can call her unprofessional for her awesome burn above, you can disagree with what she said in an interview six years ago on a defunct website that some dude had to go hunt down in the Wayback Machine just to get people to hate her on Reddit. That’s perfectly fine. You’re entitled your opinion, but you also gotta admit that what’s going down and this wierd vendetta some internet creeps have against her is straight up misogyny. They hate women and they hate this one in particular.

And what’s scary is they’ve been hating her for at least a year. Figuring out new ways to be nasty to her. What’s happening now isn’t the first assault on her, and as long as she keeps working in this industry it won’t be the last.

Just, for everyone’s sake, don’t assume this is because she responded to the trolls or she once said she doesn’t like sitting down to play games. This is because a very small group of misogynists have an uncanny ability to direct the internet’s hatred like a laser.

On the bright side, now when someone tries to tell you sexism isn’t a problem in society or that misogyny no longer exists you can point to tweets like this!

Note: For an excellent defense of Hepler check out Destructoid’s coverage of the issue.

  • Morgan Perkins

    I just want to note that Mary Kirby and Sheryl Chee were also writers on Dragon Age 2. They don’t have any controversial interviews or pictures on the internet so they’re harder to target.

  • Kman None

    I cannot believe she said ““I just figure they’re jealous that I get to have both a vagina AND a games industry job, and they can’t get either.”

    Imagine if some man said ““I just figure they’re jealous that I get to have both a penis AND a higher salary, and they can’t get either.”

    You can bet he would be fired. Jennifer Hepler seems very sexist.

    • That only works if we live in a completely gender neutral society where one gender doesn’t have the majority of the wealth and power. We don’t. So don’t be an asshat.

    •  Alex such unprofessional behavior.. Calm down a bit. Kman’s comment though inappropriate points out a certain double standard in the men and women dymanic at the work place and in general. I don’t care much for the comment but calling him an asshat doesn’t really help.

      • Christopher, my condescending chum, he deliberately came here to say something mind bogglingly stupid and use a REALLY bad false equivalency statement.

        Equality is a goal. It has not been achieved. The reactions to Hepler are PROOF of that. Things are unequal so the statements are NOT equal. One is a woman fighting for equality, the other is a man keeping women from being equal. I was so blown away by Kman’s passive aggressive attempt at trolling and misunderstanding the status quo I felt compelled to call him an asshat. And I will continue to call ANYONE who perpetuates sexism and misogyny and uses stupid false equivalency statements to do it asshats.

        • TDMag

          Equality goes both ways.  If you expect the same liberties, expect the
          same restrictions: if it’s wrong for a man to brag about his genitalia and job, it is wrong for a woman to brag about her vagina and her job.  If I’ve learned anything from this, though, it’s the fact you believe “I don’t agree
          with your argument, so I can call you an asshat and that’s fine.” is a valid argument.

          You want to teach equality of the sexes?  If you have to use “except” and “but” to explain why women are allowed to act in ways men are not, you do not yet understand what equality truly means.

          • I thought about explaining feminist theory to you but then I realize I’ve gotten kind of tired of having to explain this stuff to people and that I actually made an FAQ for JUST such an occasion! So please refer to “But Feminists Want Equality! Now You’re Saying They Don’t?” as to why you can’t behave like true equality exists in a world in which it doesn’t.

            http://www.fempop.com/2011/11/08/a-faq-for-sexism-in-gaming-forums/

    • Nope.

  •  I myself did not like the game all that much yes it is a tired cliche by now but I think it should clarify where I am coming from.

    1. Terrible execution stains this game all over the place. Hardly any part of the game is finely polished except for the second Act.

    2. The portrayal of Anders and merging him with Justice was totally against the character’s BASIC scheme and behavior. He was against blood magic but I do not believe he would stoop to letting any spirit good or bad to share his body.

    3. The choices from the previous game had no real Impact on the second game just a few cosmetic differences and a few meaningless quests and cameos.

    4. The overall story line of Hawke just isn’t that interesting and nor is it perfect as there are some giant plot holes that they did not cover or even show in the game aside from codexes (vague clues)

    5. EA’s close lining the release date into a 18 month cycle, for any proper game that isn’t a FPS or a basic casual game with no real difficulty takes up to 3 years minimum. The thing that these devs and story writers did not do is beg for more time to complete something.

    But overall, this article is a waste and doesn’t help anyone. Calling people names is just so childish and so is sexual stereotyping. What is even more utterly pointless is that you want to continue to antagonize people. I say drop it. Be the better individual and turn the other cheek. That is the true power of people and in communication. I can bet however the quote in question is probably taken out of context as that might be what it seems. If not I could care less what she thinks of men, that is her personal business.

    • Those are all perfectly valid criticisms against BIOWARE. Not against this one woman in particular. Video game writing for such a large project is collaborative and unless she had final say on every element of the story and the dialogue she in no way deserves to be singled out.

      And you know what, I turn the other cheek daily. I turn the other cheek every time I play a game and someone tells me to go back in the kitchen. I turn the other cheek every time some guy asks me if I’m menstruating. I turn the other cheek when Game Stop employees ask if I’m buying games for my husband or son. And I turn the other cheek when I get multiple comments on this thread calling me a c*nt (that word automatically gets comments sent to the Pending folder by the way).

      Sometimes I see such a gross example of misogyny I cannot hold it in. Sometimes the nastiness I see is so repugnant to me I have to resort to calling it out for the vile sexism it is. So no, today I will not turn the other cheek. Instead I’ll call them asshats because really, that’s what they are.

  • JSG1982

    Interesting read. I have not played Dragon Age 2, and I got bored with the original (I’m more of a Final Fantasy guy, though I have enjoyed other BioWare RPGs like KOTOR and Mass Effect, and my expectations for high fantasy CRPGs are extraordinarily high because the best CRPG ever–Betrayal at Krondor–was also in a high fantasy setting). I know several people who have played it, and the reaction was almost universally negative. More that it was a bad sequel than a bad game. There’s a reason why it sold only about half as many copies as the original did.

    All that aside, I’ll take your word for it on the sexism. I have better things to do than read the idiots on gaming forums (I saw that there was a “discussion” of the genophage from Mass Effect over on Gamefaqs, and I just couldn’t look at it because I knew that the average idiot on a forum like that wouldn’t have a worthwhile opinion on such a serious topic. Frankly, the genophage is what sets Mass Effect apart from other games and what makes the series so great from a dramatic standpoint–it’s also why Wrex and Mordin are the two best characters in the series, though I also have a lot of love for Samara).

    Also, Hepler’s quote that you mentioned is a sure-fire why to piss people off. Stupid mistake on her part. It’s obvious that the criticism bothers her, so instead of ignoring it, she goes out and insults many of the people who play her games. Not smart. And that’s not a gender thing. It’s no different than LeBron telling all the people who don’t like him that they “have to go back to their regular lives” after he choked in the NBA Finals. People don’t like that kind of condescension.

    Also, I agree with the commenter Christopher that you’d be better off not calling people “asshats” for pointing out a double standard. After all, that’s essentially what you do, right? You’re not exactly winning hearts and minds by calling people names and dismissing their points out hand. Your argument for why her comment is somehow ok (or at least more ok) than it would be if a man had made an identical argument is just not persuasive.

  • It isn’t about misogyny. It’s about how she claims to be a writer for the games industry however she doesn’t even know the demographic she is writing for. There are other female writers in the video game industry, they don’t get flamed because they are doing their job, and doing it well. Miss Hepler is a symbol of the ever growing problem that Bioware has, which is the decline of their once excellent writing.

    • How is telling her to “get back in the kitchen” and calling her a whale NOT about misogyny. How is labelling the most high profile woman in the writing department the emblem of everything you feel is wrong with the company NOT about misogyny?

      • One person being a dick on Twitter isn’t representative of the reasons for people being so hard on her. Likewise, it’s merely circumstantial that she’s a woman. If it was a male writer who got into the company on no basis of actual talent and turned beloved franchises into Twilight-grade fap-fiction people would be equally as angry. The basis for her opinions are not only anti-feminist but also show a complete lack of knowledge of the entire video game industry and how to actually write stories for video games; an especially bad trait when you’re put in charge of writing stories based around player choice. 

        • She is not the only person working on the franchise. Blaming everything on her because of an old interview she did for a women’s website is beyond idiotic. Calling her an antifeminist is just trollish behavior that indicates you know little of feminism beyond a definition you found in an online dictionary.

          • She’s an employee at Bioware who shouldn’t be there, her previous work has consisted of schlocky and painful smut, and that has obviously leaked into the games she worked on. When one game in the series is great, and the next lets you romance anyone on your team (nay, borderline forces you to) within 3 lines of dialogue and has about twice as many men to suddenly turn gay than women to romance, two and two are gonna be put together. She was the lead writer on TOR, which has been an absolute disaster, and some of her “suggestions” have clearly been brought on board to Mass Effect 3, where their absolute idiocy are made apparent in practice. When you completely remove any sort of challenge or threat from a narrative, it loses all appeal. This is exactly what ME3’s story mode is like, and its arguably attributed to her and shows her complete lack of knowledge in writing both a compelling narrative, and writing for the medium your studio is supposed to be famous for crafting incredibly narratives in.

            I’d say thinking individual women are incapable of playing a game due to their skill and lifestyles is pretty antifeminist. Men with busy lifestyles who aren’t hardcore gamers are already going to face the same problem, and her ideas run completely contrary to the genre she’s supposed to be an expert on. This is beside the fact that there’s almost always an “easy” mode which is designed for such people, and claiming that you want to remove the elements of RPGs to make them more accessible shows that you don’t understand the industry at all, and that not liking the things that make a genre what it is doesn’t mean that robbing it off its character is going to make it better; just play something else.  I’m not sure what you would define feminism as, but if someone seems to think that women are somehow less able than men or somehow have more responsibility simply by being women I wouldn’t consider them feminist. 

  • I had no idea all this craziness was going on in this fandom. I’m glad there are so many people standing up for her including Dr. Muzyka and Bioware. Such a classy company. Those inbred neanderthals don’t even deserve great games and stories. >:(

  • Dragon Age 2 was awful, and Helper’s writing is awful. This is apparent in her work previous to Bioware and the fact that she appears to be an employee there through pure nepotism rather than any sort of descernable talent. People haven’t been stalking her for months….people have been incredibly vocal around the internet of her following Dragon Age 2 (apart from the Bioware forums, where any annunciation of criticism will get you a perma ban), and the wave of abuse she recieved was mainly due to the fact that she claimed that her critics were “jealous of her job and her vagina”. Her critics aren’t sexist for giving her such a hard time; they’re treating her like anyone else would if they were a terrible writer, horribly unprofessional, arguably anti-feminist (because apparently woman aren’t capable of playing games with any challenge because they’re too busy being housewives by her school of thought) and a big part of the utter destruction of a company people used to love. Likewise, there’s been a massive torrent of support for her from gaming websites, but most of it is straw feminist garbage and no doubt more concerned with press kits and ad support than the state of the industry that people like Helper epitomise.

    There are a ton of female writers, programmers, artists, etc, in the industry and aren’t treated any differently to anyone else. Helper just happens to be an awful writer, and you can’t call upon the wrath of the internet by acting like a self entitled deviant-art fap-fiction writer (of which ironically she is) and then claim to be a victim when people give you the ire you deserve.

    •  You’re flipping adorable. Keep arguing into a mirror and trying to justify things dude. Pretty sure my response to you is contained in the article above.

      • lol wut. I consider myself a feminist and strongly believe in equality. By that definition if a woman is a bad writer I’ll consider her a bad writer. She’s not deserving of any sort of treatment because of that. Any comments made about her gender are entirely immature, but as others have already pointed out people who lack any sort of ability to criticise anyone beyond their gender is too idiotic to even take notice of. Feel free to tear apart any of my arguments based on their own merits (seeing how you only cited your article, which i thought missed the point entirely), but coming to the aid of Helper because she summoned the wrath of the internet by being a massive tool and is coincidentally a woman isn’t feminist at all. It’s just giving less able and less deserving people exception from competition based on their gender, which as I’m sure you’d agree, is wrong.

        • People decided at some point after they played Dragon Age 2 that they intensely disliked her. They then RESEARCHED her to find anything she might have said that could be used against her. They rooted up an interview from a defunct website that can only be viewed via the Wayback Machine and posted it on Reddit with the specific purpose of attacking her.

          That’s pretty dang creepy man. 

          Specifically singling her out of all the writers despite the creation of Dragon Age 2 being a collaborative effort is also very weird. I totally get wanting to dislike someone for their work, but with the exception of Anders (who I actually kind of liked in that irritating emo dude way) her contribution to the game isn’t specific and to blame ALL of the game’s perceived faults on her is misguided.

          As for her comment on “they’re jealous of my vagina and my job.” Yeah that’s unprofessional and problematic, but it wasn’t a statement that occurred in a vacuum. 

  • If you want to test your theory of misogynism, try finding a single ill word spoken about Jennifer Hale. She’s a voice actor and has done several prominent characters in numerous Bioware games, including Female Shepard. I’ll tell you right now, you won’t find one. She’s revered among Bioware fans for her exceptional voice acting talent. No chiding remarks about her kitchen having excellent voice recording harmonics or the like, purely respect for her work.

    People mock writers like Hepler because their work is laughable, and it doesn’t help when she defends herself by saying those who mock her are just jealous of her vagina.

    • That comparison is so mind-boggling WRONG I can’t even.

      They’re not the same at all. And again just because dudes are nice to one lady doesn’t absolve them of misogyny when dealing with another woman. The harassment lobbed at Hepler is fueled by misogyny and the tone of the insults are misogynistic. Please stop trying to defend the refuse of the internet. It just makes YOU look bad.

      • TDMag

        Let me see if I understand your argument:

        Community praises a single woman = not evidence against misogyny
        Community insults a single woman = 100% proof of misogyny

        Isn’t it possible bad people are just insulting a person because they are mean and disagree with her, not because she’s a woman?  You can’t even talk about Valve without a “Gabe’s fat! Stop being fat, Gabe!” joke being shouted by some huckster.  In fact, the comments Hepler has recieved are very similar to the typical “Gabe jokes”..  Using your argument, the amount of negative feedback the internet gives Gabe Newell gives us 100% proof the internet is also misandrous.

        I think the treatment of Hepler as an individual is unarguably wrong; I just don’t think it has to do with her being a woman.

        • I don’t know where this 100% misogyny thing came from but it is a very interesting interpretation of words.

          • TDMag

            I didn’t say “100% misogyny”, I said “100% proof of misogyny”.  If I may quote you:

            “They’re not the same at all. And again just because dudes are nice to
            one lady doesn’t absolve them of misogyny when dealing with another
            woman.”

            How is it negative reaction to one woman can mean an entire community is misogynistic, but nothing but glowing praise for another woman’s talent says nothing about the community?

      •  If their insults were purely fueled by misogyny, any woman involved in the industry would be taking an equal amount of flak as Hepler. The fact that they’re railing against her specifically and not ALL women in the video game industry says that they take issue with the work she does, not her gender. The fact that they choose to use kitchen jokes says that they are either unimaginative, or find it hilarious when women like you do exactly what you’re doing with this article and get completely bent out of shape over a few cheap insults.

        Guys get knuckle-dragging neanderthal jokes lobbed at us just as frequently, but we shrug it off because we know better and it’s not worth the effort getting offended. Why can’t you do the same?

        • Misogyny isn’t all or nothing. You can hate a woman and not be a misogynist. The attacks against her and the choice by the community at large to specifically label this one woman as the problem for an ENTIRE COMPANY kind of smacks of some deep seated sexism though.

          •  If they were attacking her specifically for being a woman, then it would be misogynistic. For example, “What does a woman know about video game writing? Video games are for guys.” That’s not what they’re saying though. They’re saying she’s a terrible writer who also happens to be a woman, and proceed to taunt and insult her for bringing her terrible writing to a game they were looking forward to for the better part of a year and spent $60 on.

            As an indicator of equality, she’d be getting the exact same treatment (only with different fat jokes) if she were a man. In the end, she’s judged and praised (or ridiculed) by her actions and efforts, not the vagina we’re supposedly all jealous she has.

          • TDMag

            “The attacks against her and the choice by the community at large to
            specifically label this one woman as the problem for an ENTIRE COMPANY
            kind of smacks of some deep seated sexism though.”

            I haven’t seen an argument that WOMEN ruined the industry.  I’ve seen the argument that a SINGULAR WOMAN ruined the industry.  There is a big difference.

            If one faults ALL women involved for ruining a company; that is sexism; that is judging a person for being a woman.

            If one faults A woman for ruining ruining a company, based on her talent or lack-thereof is not.

            Flippant cries of sexism for insulted woman only hurt the cause of feminism.  We’re all people, women are not exempt from judgment because they are women.  Perhaps you should be focusing on the issues of entitlement and personal attack rather than the fact she is female.  As has been stated, the shallow insults Hepler has received are not that different from the insults given to male members of the industry.

  • Maybe if Hepler wasn’t the video game equivalent of teenage girls writing Twilight fanfiction, people would ease up on her.

    • Say what you will, but Stephanie Meyer was not a girl when she wrote Twilight, she was a grown-ass woman – and those books you’re deriding have grossed well over 175 million dollars.

      Dislike Hepler, please, feel free! I dislike Stephanie Meyer’s work – but I’d never attack her personally, I’d just mention that her prose style is weak and that I am concerned about her romanticizing abusive relationships.
      Criticize the work.