A conversation with Ron Edwards about Circle of Hands and rape [LONG]

[Trigger warnings: talk of rape and sexual abuse]

Circle of Hands is a game by Ron Edwards that is currently being crowdfunded on KickStarter. Ron describes it as a “stark, mud-and-dung Iron Age fantasy role-playing game”. On it’s face, when I first read about it it looked like another OSR-style (Old School Revival) game, which isn’t my thing. But then other people in my gaming circles on Google+ started talking quietly about their concerns regarding Circle of Hands and the matter-of-fact way that the setting document (linked from the Kickstarter) presented brutality towards women.

I knew this was something that I wanted to blog about, because the lazy reliance of game writers and developers on rape as a device in games is something that I really, really, really hate. (The link is a VERY LONG piece that I wrote providing a non-exhaustive catalog of gross examples of rape in games and other geek media. Be warned, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.)

But instead of firing off a quick angry post, I wanted to at least try to have a conversation with Ron first. I’ve had occasion to talk with Ron in meatspace a fair bit at GenCon the past <mumble> years – we’ve shared dinner and played games together. And after the recent awfulness here, I really didn’t want to have another conversation about something important devolve into internet poo-flinging.

Thankfully, Ron was game and we had what felt like (to me) a pretty good conversation. He consented to me posting it publicly, so here it is, lightly trimmed and formatted for ease of reading.


 

My first email to Ron

1) The lack of warning about rape on the KickStarter page itself

It really, REALLY bothers me that rape is a serious thing that seriously happens in this world and that there is NO mention of it on the KickStarter page. Like, when I first saw the KSer page I was like, oh, an OSR-style game. Okay. And you know, OSR isn’t my bag but I can see why people like it, so I moved on with my life. So I’m really concerned that there are going to be people who back this expecting some good old-fashioned OSR-style murder-hoboing and wind up getting completely blind-sided by the rape.

Whatever your stance on rape as setting, I think it’s our responsibility as artists to make art that doesn’t harm our audience. And the way that rape is discussed in your setting, very unapologetic, very matter-of-fact, is potentially incredibly triggering. I know that it was minorly triggering for me – I didn’t have a panic attack the way I used to, but it did get my heart racing and make me very twitchy in that “fight or flight” way for a few minutes. So I really hope that you would revise your KSer to say that this is a part of the setting, and that you’d tell your backers as well.

Honestly, the types of people who are attracted to this sort of game? I really don’t think it would hurt you in the least. But again, I come back to my firm belief that artists should not harm their audience. That DOESN’T mean you can’t create difficult work! I am totally not saying no artist should write about rape ever! It DOES means that you have to give people who would be harmed by our work the ability to know that and to self-select themselves OUT of your audience.

2) The meta-optics of the reactions to your game

The people I know who have backed it have all been white or white-passing cismen. The people I know who have (quietly) been talking about having a visceral aversion-reaction have been almost entirely women (with one guy), covering a range of gender identities, expressions, and sexualities. And that’s where I really start to have problems, because the people who have a problem with it are too afraid to speak up because they don’t to waste energy on a conversation where white cis dudes are defending rape as setting, because it’s just too close to our lived reality where white cis dudes defend and excuse rape in real life.

But I can’t help asking myself. WHY is it primarily white cis dudes who are attracted to this material? And why has it ONLY been white (or white-passing) cis dudes in my circles, which are pretty diverse!, who have been willing to publicly say “hey you should support this KickStarter”?

And to complicate the issue even further, Circle of Hands is not an isolated phenomenon. It is part of a larger phenomenon of geek media properties that are nostalgic for a time when men were men and women were raped. It started, arguably, with things like Game of Thrones, and has only grown from there. And of course, the problem with a meta-pattern like this is that there’s no ONE person you can point out as being misogynist. But the pattern still exists and we shouldn’t ignore that. We can’t just pat ourselves on the back and say “well sexism is over”, because as the last three days have proved, it’s really, REALLY not.

3) The defense of rape

The other thing that is deeply emotional for me is this – why are so many game writers who are white cismen SO COMMITTED to defending rape? Take, for example, James “Grim” Desborough who is so committed to rape as setting that he wrote an article called “In Defense of Rape” and actually advocates against convention harassment policies. Or the writer of Cthulutech, who when he was asked why Cthulutech had so much rape said that it “only” had 6 pages about rape. SIX PAGES?? That is a WEIRD and CREEPY level of thought to put into rape, for reals.

This isn’t to say that you are a weird and creepy misogynist like James Desborough!! But again, it’s hard to ignore the meta-pattern. Why is it that the creators who want to write this into their games and who are defensive about rape as setting all happen to be people with the most privilege in our society? And if it were just one or two media properties, it would be like, okay whatever. But when you see it again, and again, and again. It’s like – why are there so many white male creators who want to tell stories where women get raped? Why do so many creators want THAT to be the story that gets told?

This isn’t just true of games, either. This is true of pretty much every medium ever, but ESPECIALLY geek media. (Seriously. I wrote a seriously long post about it here on GaW.

3a) Women need stories in which they don’t get raped

To paraphrase Jessica Hammer, our society believes that the only stories that we can tell about women revolve around their vaginas. And thus, any tragedies that happen to women are vagina tragedies. We need to change the cultural narrative surrounding women, that female characters exist to serve as sexual rewards for proper (read: male) heroes and to get raped.

Again, it’s a matter of meta-patterns. Can I point to Circle of Hands and say that THIS. THIS GAME. THIS GAME IS WHY RAPE CULTURE EXISTS. No, of course not. That would be ludicrous. But can I say that it fits into a pattern of media properties in which many stories about women can feature rape, or the threat of rape? Yes.

4) A false version of history

So much of the defense of these types of fantasy settings revolve around history, but that is a false version of history. The history that we have learned is a history that has actively erased the stories, accomplishments, and contributions of women and people of color. (That’s what Thou Art But A Warrior is about! The tragedy of a great society that will not only be destroyed but ERASED because they are not white.) This idea that women in history existed only to have babies, make textiles, and get raped and that they only started doing important things in the last century or so is completely false. And yet when people try to highlight this fact, they get told that they are ignorant and uneducated.

5) This other section on gender and sexuality

It doesn’t do anything to alleviate my discomfort, I’m afraid. The fact that women can be Circle knights only serves to reinforce the inferiority of all those other women, because the Circle knights are exceptional. Their ability to transcend gender oppression only serves to reinforce that all those other women get raped and stuff because they’re just not awesome enough, which is discomforting and problematic for me.

Especially given that there seems to be a lot of hedging. Well women can think they’re in control of their sexuality, but it’s really controlled by the men in their lives. And some women can be powerful, but only by exerting power through men. Even though women nominally have freedoms, their freedom depends entirely on men and isn’t something intrinsic that they own.

And as for the expectation of revenge for rape? Do I feel better knowing that rape is a thing that happens to women, but then the menfolk will get really mad and go shiv the guy? Well, no. Because now you’ve got a woman who got raped and a guy who got stabbed, which just makes things worse for everybody. The answer to sexual violence is not MORE VIOLENCE, and despite all of the negative feelings I have about my personal experience with sexual assault, I wouldn’t want someone to go stab or otherwise beat up the guy who assaulted me.

This has gotten kind of rambly, so here’s where I’ll stop.


 

Ron’s initial response

*1)* *The lack of warning about rape on the KickStarter page itself*

In line with my above comment about the artist guy, my response is “YES.” You are right and I will get on this, today or ASAP.

Minor idea:

… It DOES means that you have to give people who would be harmed by our work the ability to know that and to self-select themselves OUT of your audience.

True! And as well, I hope, to see it as a reaching-out with/for trust and to go there with me on that basis, on a self-selected basis just as you say. The rest of my responses are pretty much all about this.

*2) The meta-optics of the reactions to your game*

I see what you are saying. I’d like for the work eventually to be understood as NOT defending and excusing rape in real life, and I think that an initial fear that it is, is unavoidable. I neither laud nor lament my situation as a white cis-male – that doesn’t mean I am sneakily pro-rape like  the guys you describe. But I do understand that genuine suspicion would fall on me about that, and that trust will not be automatic.

On the plus side, you’ve reached out to me with some hope for it, and so have a couple of other people. With any luck, and with an eye on the manuscript as it develops from anyone who wants to, the game might earn a place as “that thing by the white cisguy which goes there, which is scary, but it actually goes where it should.”

Having just published Shahida without being Arab or Jewish, and having received surprised joy about it from Lebanese readers and radical rabbis, among others, I think I’ve managed some pretty tough stuff to date, in terms of triggers and emotional risk.

But I can’t help asking myself. WHY is it primarily white cis dudes who are attracted to this material? And why has it ONLY been white (or white-passing) cis dudes in my circles, which are pretty diverse!, who have been willing to publicly say “hey you should support this KickStarter”?

I think you’ve answered this, and I agree with you: the reasons for suspicion and fear are real, and no one is going to put themselves out there as a target for hordes of abuse from privileged fuckheads. I accept that. If the game is to overcome this barrier, then I think an initial period of such suspicion is unavoidable. I am willing for whatever success it achieves (the above-mentioned “it goes where it should”) to be a long-term goal. After all, the available manuscript is the rawest possible, completely initial rough draft. It’s freely available, not just to backers, for a reason beyond mere system playtesting – because I want exactly these issues to be dealt with transparently. Or transparently on my part, it’s OK for people to stay private.

And to complicate the issue even further, Circle of Hands is not an isolated phenomenon. It is part of a larger phenomenon of geek media properties that are nostalgic for a time when men were men and women were raped. It started, arguably, with things like Game of Thrones, and has only grown from there. …

Ooooh, OK, deep breath. No, Circle of Hands is not part of that phenomenon. It is the anti-Game of Thrones RPG, just like Sorcerer was the anti-White Wolf RPG. Sorcerer went through two minutes of initial reactions of “Oh, a Mage knock-off,” and then such talk instantly evaporated as soon as anyone read past the first page. I expect that to
happen here, because it will be utterly, frighteningly apparent. I think it already is in the playtest draft, and will become even more so.

I fucking hate Game of Thrones, for several reasons, not least of which corresponds exactly what you said about that guy’s lame-ass picture. And the rape stuff, just as you say.

All that said, I accept that fear of Circle of Hands being part of that phenomenon is a legitimate fear. I intend to accept that fear as a part of a process of contact, to whomever is willing, with sensitivity to their histories, and without resentment of those who are not.

We can’t just pat ourselves on the back and say “well sexism is over”, because as the last three days have proved, it’s really, REALLY not.

Not in that camp even a little bit.

*3) The defense of rape*

I’m in complete agreement with everything you’ve written in this part.

This isn’t to say that you are a weird and creepy misogynist like James Desborough!! But again, it’s hard to ignore the meta-pattern.

Agreed. And which I intend to break, most harshly, in my small corner of publishing and in my small corner of the library of gaming. Can I? I don’t know. With help, perhaps.

You don’t have to convince me it’s a problem. I’m there.

*3a) Women need stories in which they don’t get raped*
*4) A false version of history*

My response to these isn’t called for without some feedback about my statements made above. I will only say that Circle of Hands is not the “game where player-characters get raped because realism.” Fear that it might be? Sure. Verdict that it is? I ask for a look at it past the fear, and help with its final form. That’s exactly what you’re providing
already, which I appreciate and am not asking for anything more.

*5) This other section on gender and sexuality*

Your comments here let me know the writing needs to be sterner and more explicit. Just as you asked me not to read your post defensively, I ask the same here. I’m not arguing against your feelings.

… The fact that women can be Circle knights only serves to reinforce the inferiority of all those other women, because the Circle knights are *exceptional*. Their ability to transcend gender oppression only serves to reinforce that all those other women get raped and stuff because they’re just not awesome enough, which is discomforting and problematic for me.

It says the opposite: that exceptionalism is the mistaken perception of the society around them, and not the reality at all. I understand that you didn’t see this there, and I will make sure it REALLY REALLY says this.

Especially given that there seems to be a lot of hedging. Well women can *think* they’re in control of their sexuality, but it’s really controlled by the men in their lives. And some women can be powerful, but only by exerting power through men. Even though women nominally have freedoms, their freedom depends entirely on men and isn’t something intrinsic that they own.

Again, it says the opposite: that men *think* they’re in control of women’s sexuality, but they’re not. I understand that you didn’t see this there either, and I will make sure it REALLY REALLY says this too.

And as for the expectation of revenge for rape? Do I feel better knowing that rape is a thing that happens to women, but then the menfolk will get really mad and go shiv the guy? Well, no. Because now you’ve got a woman who got raped *and* a guy who got stabbed, which just makes things worse for everybody. The answer to sexual violence is not MORE VIOLENCE, and despite all of the negative feelings I have about my personal experience with sexual assault, I wouldn’t want someone to go stab or otherwise beat up the guy who assaulted me.

I think this one might wait for further dialogue. Briefly, the setting is not offering the “way I think it ought to be.” This is an illustration of the problem: that social justice does not exist and that the setting doesn’t feature solutions. Frankly, I think modern life isn’t much better, and my fantasy setting calls that shit out. Or it should, in its final
form.

Thanks again!


 

Back to me! I say more stuff

*2) The meta-optics of the reactions to your game*

I see what you are saying. I’d like for the work eventually to be understood as NOT defending and excusing rape in real life, and I think that an initial fear that it is, is unavoidable. I neither laud nor lament my situation as a white cis-male – that doesn’t mean I am sneakily pro-rape like  the guys you describe. But I do understand that genuine suspicion would fall on me about that, and that trust will not be automatic.

It’s always tricky pointing out this sort of thing, so I appreciate that you follow the distinction I’m trying to make. Shit like this was why I stopped posting on Story-Games, because every time I tried to say something like “notice how the only people who are talking in this thread about sexism in games are white dudes? Again?”, I got shouted down by a hoard of dudes – each of whom was offended that I was calling THEM PERSONALLY sexist. Which. Augh. No.
Meta-patterns are useful things that shouldn’t be ignored, especially when they mirror the dominant power structure of our society. Sure it’s almost always hard to zoom in and get an accurate picture of things, but that doesn’t obviate their usefulness.
Anyway. I’ll say to you what I always say. Get pre-readers who aren’t white cishet dudes, as many of them as you can. Especially with the nature of the material your game is supposed to handle. Get people who belong to groups who live with the daily reality of sexual and physical violence to read this over so that you can make sure what people here is what you actually want to say and not something else entirely. Because if you want to do a thing that handles this kind of material, you have to try REALLY REALLY HARD to make sure your work differentiates itself from the toxic background radiation of rape culture that pervades geek culture.
But I can’t help asking myself. WHY is it primarily white cis dudes who are attracted to this material? And why has it ONLY been white (or white-passing) cis dudes in my circles, which are pretty diverse!, who have been willing to publicly say “hey you should support this KickStarter”?

I think you’ve answered this, and I agree with you: the reasons for suspicion and fear are real, and no one is going to put themselves out there as a target for hordes of abuse from privileged fuckheads. I accept that. If the game is to overcome this barrier, then I think an initial period of such suspicion is unavoidable. I am willing for whatever success it achieves (the above-mentioned “it goes where it should”) to be a long-term goal. After all, the available manuscript is the rawest possible, completely initial rough draft. It’s freely available, not just to backers, for a reason beyond mere system playtesting – because I want exactly these issues to be dealt with transparently. Or transparently on my part, it’s OK for people to stay private.

Another thing that’s come to my attention (please don’t ask me to name names) is that there are fans of yours who are aggressively attacking people who express trepidation over Circle of Hands with all the usual attacks. STFU, rape because history, ignorant bitch, blah blah blah. And you know what, I recognize that you personally are not saying this stuff. But I hope you’d consider saying something specially pointed at your fans/supporters?
Because this is a thing that I see kind of often with popular white male creators (or at least this is the group I have observed it most prominently with) – they attract a certain sort of overly zealous (usually male) fan as part of their overall audience that personally identifies with their work, and who interprets any criticism of this thing that they love as an attack against them. There are different ways you can respond to that as a creator.
The worst are people like James Desborough and J Scott Campbell who link their fanbase to the criticism and get them all riled up so that their fanbase will go harass the person that is criticizing them and they get to keep their hands clean, so to speak. That’s pretty fucking awful. Then you’ve got a middle ground of creators like Joss Whedon who are mostly oblivious to this effect and don’t do anything to perpetuate this kind of fan-perpetuated-awful, but don’t do anything to prevent it either. The last are creators like Scalzi, who are aware of this sort of bullshit and tell people to cut it out.
As, arguably, one of the founders of the indie-design movement and a very large name in indie design, I hope that you would say something publicly about people using your name to attack people who feel threatened by this earliest draft of your work.
And to complicate the issue even further, Circle of Hands is not an isolated phenomenon. It is part of a larger phenomenon of geek media properties that are nostalgic for a time when men were men and women were raped. It started, arguably, with things like Game of Thrones, and has only grown from there. …
Ooooh, OK, deep breath. No, Circle of Hands is not part of that phenomenon. It is the anti-Game of Thrones RPG, just like Sorcerer was the anti-White Wolf RPG. Sorcerer went through two minutes of initial reactions of “Oh, a Mage knock-off,” and then such talk instantly evaporated as soon as anyone read past the first page. I expect that to happen here, because it will be utterly, frighteningly apparent. I think it already is in the playtest draft, and will become even more so.
I fucking hate Game of Thrones, for several reasons, not least of which corresponds exactly what you said about that guy’s lame-ass picture. And the rape stuff, just as you say. All that said, I accept that fear of Circle of Hands being part of that phenomenon is a legitimate fear. I intend to accept that fear as a part of a process of contact, to whomever is willing, with sensitivity to their histories, and without resentment of those who are not.
Okay. Cool! I like to hear you say that, because Game of Thrones is seriously just the worst. But here’s the thing – I didn’t get that vibe at all. And neither did anyone else that I’ve talked to who shared my discomfort.
So this comes back to my “differentiating your work from toxic background radiation” point. It might be worth identifying what about the current draft makes it read that way and actively undermining that? Hell, even adding a section about “this isn’t a love letter to GoT and here’s why it’s the worst ugh seriously” or something to that effect would be helpful. (Although I’m sure you could word that more intelligently that I can while uncaffeinated on a busy Monday morning.)
GoT is kind of The Hotness when it comes to Fantasy right now, and anything that is a “harsher” and “realistic” take on Fantasy is automatically going to get compared to GoT, whether you like it or not.
…The fact that women can be Circle knights only serves to reinforce the inferiority of all those other women, because the Circle knights are *exceptional*. Their ability to transcend gender oppression only serves to reinforce that all those other women get raped and stuff because they’re just not awesome enough, which is discomforting and  problematic for me.
It says the opposite: that exceptionalism is the mistaken perception of the society around them, and not the reality at all. I understand that you didn’t see this there, and I will make sure it REALLY REALLY says this.
Great.
Again (coming back to a common theme), part of the baggage that can’t be escaped is the number of games I’ve played/read that SAY women are equals, but then proceed to treat them in ways where they are exclusively sexualized, deprotagonized, and fridged. So when I read that section, what read to me as equivocating came off as the usual equality lipservice that happens in most fantasy games. (IE, the original Baldur’s Gate where the gender selection screen at character creation proclaims that women are equal to men, only the programmers didn’t include a single romance option for women in the first game.)
Especially given that there seems to be a lot of hedging. Well women can *think* they’re in control of their sexuality, but it’s really  controlled by the men in their lives. And some women can be powerful, but only by exerting power through men. Even though women nominally have freedoms, their freedom depends entirely on men and isn’t something intrinsic that they own.

Again, it says the opposite: that men *think* they’re in control of women’s sexuality, but they’re not. I understand that you didn’t see this there either, and I will make sure it REALLY REALLY says this too.

And as for the expectation of revenge for rape? Do I feel better knowing that rape is a thing that happens to women, but then the menfolk will get really mad and go shiv the guy? Well, no. Because now you’ve got a woman who got raped *and* a guy who got stabbed, which just makes things worse for everybody. The answer to sexual violence is not MORE VIOLENCE, and despite all of the negative feelings I have about my personal experience with sexual assault, I wouldn’t want someone to go stab or otherwise beat up the guy who assaulted me.

I think this one might wait for further dialogue. Briefly, the setting is not offering the “way I think it ought to be.” This is an illustration of the problem: that social justice does not exist and that the setting doesn’t feature solutions. Frankly, I think modern life isn’t much better, and my fantasy setting calls that shit out. Or it should, in its final form.

This is the part that gives me the biggest heebie jeebies, I think. The “there is no social justice”. You’ve done a good job of explaining your intentions, which is great. But there’s a long, long, long history of white-dude creators who have come before you and profoundly fucked up the “social justice is dead” thing in Fantasy. Execution will be everything here.

Ron’s final (brief) response

Get pre-readers who aren’t white cishet dudes, as many of them as you can. … Because if you want to do a thing that handles this kind of material, you have to try REALLY REALLY HARD to make sure your work differentiates itself from the toxic background radiation of rape culture that pervades geek culture.

Agreed and already in progress.

… is that there are fans of yours who are aggressively attacking people who express trepidation over Circle of Hands with all the usual attacks. STFU, rape because history, ignorant bitch, blah blah blah. And you know what, I recognize that you personally are not saying this stuff. But I hope you’d consider saying something specially pointed at your
fans/supporters?

Gaahhhhh … argh, even if someone did want to stand up and fight about any aspect of this discussion, can’t people see that doing this is toxic to the game’s promotion? I’m not impaired or feeble or whatever, I can converse about this without cheerleaders, and the whole thing can stand or fall on the merits I and the decently-concerned people bring to it. Right? (that’s rhetorical) Can’t they see that there is NO BENEFIT to this behavior? Gah!

So yeah. I think I should post about this, although obviously I can’t make people do this-or-that thing, or not do it. But I can be pissed that they’re dumb enough!!

white male comics creators

I’ve been reading comics, close to comics pros, and been smirched in comics fandom for long enough to know exactly what you mean.

As, arguably, one of the founders of the indie-design movement and a very large name in indie design, I hope that you would say something publicly about people using your name to attack people who feel threatened by this earliest draft of your work.

Without doubt. Don’t even need the advice. Gah!

Okay. Cool! I like to hear you say that, because Game of Thrones is seriously just the worst.

Plus being as stupid as a mineral of low worth. Oh, look, NO plot whatsoever! Also unacceptable.

As I seem unable to avoid in my game texts, I’m already drafting a literature & cinema review that’s relevant to the game, and Game of Thrones will figure in it as the negative example – so, yes, already planned, and has been from the start.

I appreciate your kind words about how I’m trying to position the game relative to it (well, to all sorts of things).

This is the part that gives me the biggest heebie jeebies, I think. The “there is no social justice”. You’ve done a good job of explaining your intentions, which is great. But there’s a long, long, long history of white-dude creators who have come before you and profoundly fucked up the “social justice is dead” thing in Fantasy. Execution will be everything here.

It’s an interesting dynamic in play, because the characters don’t have much concept of social justice, but they’ve just seen some, and fought for it, and wouldn’t be in the Circle without it, so it’s as if the players’ more sophisticated sense of this can breathe the rougher, tougher air of fighting for it with raw conviction but no rhetoric. I’d appreciate a critical reading on a later draft, if you’re willing.

… Is it alright if I blog some or all of this conversation (including your response to my response, if you care to make one) publicly? I think there’s some good stuff here.

Absolutely. I’m good with any of the conversation or the whole thing being posted publicly. I’ll link to your discussion of it as well.


Concluding thoughts

I was trepidatious about how this would turn out. There have been times in the past when I’ve tried to reach out to male creators in the indie tabletop scene about something that bothers me and been rudely slapped down by defensive dudes with no intention to really consider that they might be doing or saying something problematic. And given Ron Edward’s status in the community, the idea of trying to start a conversation about “hey, this thing you’re making really bothers me” was definitely daunting. So the fact that a civil conversation was had is a relief.

Do I agree with everything that Ron is saying? No. And I’m still not likely to ever play Circle of Hands. But it’s nice to know that my concerns were heard and taken seriously, and I can be hopeful that the final version will be something that is ultimately not harmful. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Getting back to business (a little bit of everything)

Okay, folks. So the last two days have been a diversion into unpleasantness that I would have rather avoided, but now it’s time to stop marinating in bile and get back to blogging about the things I want to be blogging about. I’ve got a few different things that need addressing, first, so here goes.

Patrons: Here’s how this thing is going to work

So I’m still new to the Patreon thing and have been figuring out how I want to do this. After flailing around for a little bit, here’s how it’s going to work. Patron rewards for new patrons and patrons who have changed their pledge levels will get processed the first week of the month, once the funds have cleared[1]. For existing patrons with outstanding rewards, I might send a reminder every few months or so? We’ll see. I don’t want to harass you folks, so please speak up in the comments if you have any suggestions or preferences.

As far as people who reduce their pledges (which I understand and support, really, any amount of support is valuable and warms my heart), if you were previously at $3+ and go below that, I’m inclined to leave your requested link in the sidebar. There’s not a whole lot of stuff there yet, so it’s not a huge deal. Down the line if things get crazy that might change? But I don’t anticipate needing to revisit that in the near future.

As for paid posts versus freebies, you’ll see freebies pop up from time-to-time when I want to make a quick-and-dirty post (like my previous post), or like when I post a link roundup – since those require a minimum of effort. I value your support and want to keep paid posts to things that take non-trivial amounts of time and/or energy and/or research to prepare.

What’s in the pipeline?

In the somewhat distant future, you’ll be seeing some patron-requested posts (or possibly series of posts? I’m really not sure yet) pop up. The two I’m working on currently are about the portrayal of sex work in games and the portrayal of disability in games. Neither of these are areas that I’m terribly knowledgeable at, but I’m looking forward to learning. I’m currently plugging away at research, but even once I’ve done that I imagine I’ll flail around a bit before figuring out how I want to come at these topics.

In the more near term, I’m having a conversation behind the scenes with a popular game designer that I hope I’ll be able to blog about once it’s done. And of course, things will pop up that I desperately want to blog about. They always do.

So that you don’t leave empty-handed, here are some links

First up – if I was more on the ball I would have linked to this sooner: Medusa’s Guide for Gamer Girls on IndieGoGo. The crowdfunding ends today - it ends at midnight. Here’s a very brief excerpt of the description of the project:

…But I do want to discuss the problems we face as women gamers and how to overcome them, and some of those problems involve dealing with guys who are not very open minded or who simply see women as objects. I also want to introduce readers to some positive women role models who are industry professionals, and I want to talk about how women can break into this industry–if that is their goal…

If that sounds interesting, or even if you just want to support women’s voices in gaming, consider throwing a few bucks her way.

Next, have you seen Bikini Armor Battle Damage? I keep forgetting to add this fantastic blog by OzzieScribbler to my sidebar when I’m on a computer that will properly run the WordPress.com interface (long story), but it’s really a fantastic blog.

Anyway, thanks to OzzieScribbler I got to see this post about how glorious Final Fantasy XIV is for being the first MMO where the men really are just as sexualized as the men. (No really!)

Lastly, I found this piece over on NPR’s Code Switch blog a really great look at the racist tropes that abound in Street Fighter II. (Don’t read the comments.)

That’s all for now

Expect posting to return to a more normal (ie a lot slower) pace.

[1] Assuming Patreon doesn’t get dicked over by PayPal, as was the case for February’s disbursement. Yet more reason for me to loathe PayPal.

Even more followup: in which the awful is doubled down

So here’s the story so far, for those of you who haven’t been playing along at home thus far. I did an anatomy correction of a piece of art by Jonboy Meyers. Apparently that made a lot of comics fans really, really mad. So since they found this link, I’ve been enjoying a nice little hate-a-palooza from my least favorite segment of the internet.

Because it’s the way I roll, I then posted a response to all the haterade highlighting the good, the bad, and the stupid. This has had mixed results. I got several new patrons from all this extra traffic (hello, you beautiful, wonderful people, you!) – which is pretty cool. So thanks for all the extra traffic, haters. You actually did me a favor there. But responding to haterade is like kicking a hornet’s nest. The results are eminently predictable and never pleasant.

Now, in my previous post I called out J Scott Campbell and Mark Brooks, who are themselves well-known professional comics artists, as being the instigators of a very large portion of the internet bile that has been rolling downhill in my direction. (I can’t know what portion because the trackback doesn’t break it down any further than “facebook.com”. Thanks for nothing, trackback.) Here, apparently, is what they have to say for themselves.

I’m including transcripts below each image since the screen grabs are hard to read. My comments are inserted bolded in brackets.

—-followup-1

Mark Brooks: Hey, look at us! We got picked out in her nonsensical rebuttal! [Because any time you don't like something a woman says, you can just call her crazy and problem solved! True story.] And now we’re apparently bullies too! I guess when you get any modicum of notoriety you’re not allowed to have an opinion anymore. Go figure. [Come on. You draw comics for a living. "With great power comes great responsibility" ring a bell at all?]

J Scott Campbell: Wait a second… So Mark and I get shrapnel kickback, and [anonymized] get’s [sic] away untarnished…?! No fair!!

[anonymized]: I’m apparently not a big deal like you two, and that hurts.

Mark Brooks: It’s official, [anonymized], you’re a victim.

[Okay, so I know they're joking here. I do get that. But it's a little troublesome that they're willing to brush aside their role in stirring up this flood of bile in the first place as, you know, no big deal. Hey! We'll just call her crazy! No need to actually reflect on the implications of my actions. Nope! Not at all.]

followup2

J Scott Campbell: Again, I made my original post having absolutely no idea of her gender, only that her artistic working knowledge seemed extremely flawed, uninformed and incorrect to offer any legitimate lectures or critiques to working published artists. So if she’s blustering on about this being part of some anti-female bla-bla-bla, I think her argument in [sic] unsound.

[OH MY GOD. "Anti-female bla-bla-bla"?? I'm not making this stuff up for shits and giggles. Sexism in the comics industry is very well documented. READ A BOOK. Or, you know, talk to any woman who's worked for DC for more than five minutes. Or just tell yourself that I'm just craaaaaazy. Whichever. That works too]

J Scott Campbell: I mostly feel sad for her. She appears to go through life seeing only the bad in other people and their work. Seems like it’d be a tortured existence. And immediately going after mine and Mark’s artwork the very next day only adds to the appearance of her biased and emotional filled knee-jerk thinking that has little to do with legitimate art critiquing, and more to do with attempting to save face. I hope for her sake that she can pull herself out of this self-destructive mindset and work on bettering her own artwork rather than grabbing at fleeting internet fame by tearing down others more successful than her. [Italicized emphasis mine]

Okay. We’re going to take a break from screen caps for a second to respond to that last one in particular.

So, first of all, claiming that I “went after [your] and Mark’s artwork” just proves how incredibly little effort you put into ACTUALLY READING WHAT I WROTE. Here’s what I actually said:

Which. You know what? In what universe is it okay to use your very large platform to encourage your followers to harass someone? Adria Richards and Anita Sarkeesian are only two of the most recent and prominent examples of the effects that online harassment can have. There is a long and sad history online of women being harassed for DARING to commit the CRIME of HAVING OPINIONS WHILE FEMALE.

And for people who’d say “well they didn’t actually tell their fans to harass you”? BULLSHIT. They made posts in which they called me things like “laughable”, “embarrassing”, and “smug”, then continued to encourage the anger in the thread that resulted. Nor did they make any attempts to dissuade potential harassers, or tell people who made threatening comments to back off. These are grown-ass-men who pointed their very large audiences at me and told them what a terrible person I was on the internet because they want me to shut the fuck up.

 Going through these threads is, of course, about as pleasant as drinking a tuna and brussel sprouts milkshake, so I’m not going to go through all of the comments that have been made so far. I have better things to do with my time than marinate in internet bile. But here are some highlights taken from J. Scott Campbell’s hate-fest before I got too tired of humanity to continue.

(SEVERAL of whom I should note are professional comics artists. I’m not going to name all the names here, because I don’t actually hate myself. But it is worth asking that HOW is any of this anything resembling professional behavior? But then, given that the mainstream comics industry is happy to regularly re-affirm how much it hates women, I guess none of this should come as a surprise.)

Got it? Okay, so let’s review. Did I say that they were knowingly using their audience to harass me? Yup! I sure did. Did I say that their behavior is unprofessional and imply strongly that it was also irresponsible? You betcha! Did I say ANYTHING ANYWHERE about artwork created by J Scott or Mark Brooks? NOPE. Go ahead. Re-read that. I’ll wait.

And of course, the “I feel so sorry for this poor bitter tortured sadsack” tactic is just a fancy variant of the “bitches be crazy” defense. Except, I’m sorry, how is it that I’m the nonsensical crazy one when I’m not the person who is saying straight-up NOT TRUE STUFF? Oh right. I’m a woman, and women who say things that people don’t work are crazy. Right. The ancient Greeks even invented a term for it – hysteria. Somehow that slipped my mind.

Also, you know who hasn’t (to my knowledge) participated in these threads? JB Meyers. You’d think the way J Scott Campbell is reacting that I went and personally kicked his puppy. But nowhere did I ever say anything about his art, or about Mark’s art. So I’m really not sure why J Scott and Mark are getting so wound up about this when JB himself seems to be restraining from participating in this disgusting vortex of internet hate.

Okay. Sidebar over.

followup4

J Scott Campbell: I also welcome counterpoints and as long as they’re civil and respectful (more or less) and I wouldn’t delete them just because the opinions differ from my own. That’s where we are different as well.

[Pretty classic form on the tone argument there, although the equivocating means he doesn't stick the dismount. B+ effort.]

followup3

Okay, I’m not going to transcribe this, but this is basically Mark Brooks plugging all of his portfolio sites. Because when I get traffic from a storm of internet negativity, that’s bad. But when Mark uses a storm of internet negativity to advertise his professional services, thats’… um… good?

Anyway. That’s all I have for now. Since I don’t have anything more clever to end on, please enjoy these links to my favoritemale tears” GIFs. May they brighten your day. (I do apologize to my regular readers for the lack of actually important contact. But hey, you know how it is.)

Regarding entirely predictable backlash [LONG, LOTS OF IMAGES]

First order of business:

First of all, hello new readers! Welcome to my blog. I’ve gotten a huge spike of traffic in the last day, so let me just take the opportunity to say that if you actually appreciate what I’m doing here, consider checking out my Patreon and throwing $1 or 2 my way per month? It helps me prioritize the time and energy to blog about games and to also deal with the grade-A bullshit like the following.

You hate me! You really hate me! *blush*

I’m pretty used to getting gamer hate, but it seems like Jonboy Meyers is a Pretty Big Deal in comics after all because I wound up closing comments after a sudden torrent of abuse started appearing on my recent anatomy correction. I’m not just getting gamer hate now, I’m getting comics hate! It’s an entirely new demographic of geek hate! Progress!

male tears

Unsure of original source, taken from fuckyeahreactions.tumblr.com. (Sorry, guys. Tumblr is awful at attribution. It sucks.)

Creature of the blog lagoon. Or: It came from the comments![1]

A well-meaning reader who was really trying to be nice kindly informed me that there was a lot of facebook hate going on (which I’ll get to in a minute), which I appreciated. However, he then said that I should go to these facebook threads and defend myself, otherwise my opinion “is worth nothing”.

WELL, gentle reader. If this were a reasoned and nuanced discussion of the merits of artistic style, sure! I’d be happy to have a spirited conversation. However, in the 40ish comments that I got before I closed the thread (MISANDRY! FASCISM!), there was an awful lot of abuse and name-calling. The most comment sentiments break down as follows: (There is overlap, obviously, as most comments managed to hit 2 or more of these in the same comment, and several hit 3+. Overachievers.)

  • Your art is bad – 10
  • You are not a professional artist – 7
  • Your anatomy was wrong – 6
  • It’s “stylized/exaggerated” because comics! – 6
  • Your degree is worthless – 5
  • You’re just jealous – 4
  • Your pose is static and dull – 4
  • You are a terrible person – 3
  • You are stupid/uneducated – 3
  • U DELETED MY COMMENT – 3
  • FORESHORTENING! – 3
  • You are nit-picking – 2
  • You are just over-reacting – 2
  • Nonsensical slurs 2
  • You should be embarrassed 2
  • You just need to get laid 1

So please, I beg of you, explain to my why I should be required to engage with people who are so eager to tell me that I am stupid, terrible, over-reacting, jealous, and crazy? No one is entitled to my time and attention, especially people who clearly have no intention of ever attempting to see me as an actual person.

Now, before I respond to the above point-by-point (mostly), there were some highlights worth noting. Like my favorite of the nonsensical slurs:

You [sic] review and correction is full of ASS like your FACE

As a friend said on my G+: “That is some C- trolling right there.” (Incidentally, this had me giggling all evening. I might actually make this my comment policy – that instead of just deleting troll comments that I might grade them as well. Or not. We’ll see.)

This was like watching an unpublished amateur telling Vonnegutt or Hemmingway or O’Neil that they don’t know what they’re doing.

Right. Because comics art is like HEMMINGWAY. Hell, why not go further? (Not to mention picking something vaguely in the same medium.) Picking on Jonboy Meyers is like picking on REMBRANDT! MICHAELANGELO! OR MONET!

I won’t justify any more of these comments with additional words, so Let’s get on with analyzing the hate behind these comments. (Hatenalysis?)

Your art is bad/you are not a professional artist: 

I find the contention that I’m not a professional artist a little baffling. How exactly does one define “professional”? I am an illustrator who has worked in the tabletop RPG industry. And while I don’t pay all of the bills with my art, I pay a good number of them. Sure I have a day job, but honestly – I know artists who have been in the business 10 years and still have day jobs. However, since this is most likely a case where “professional artist” is defined as artists receiving money for their work who aren’t me (moving the goal posts! yay!), I’m not going to bother going into the details of my freelancing life.

As for the attempt to dismiss my work by saying that my art is bad, I find it pretty hilarious that so many haters are tying themselves in mental knots in an attempt to not listen to what I have to say. MY art is bad because it’s anatomically incorrect, but JONBOY’s art is good because it’s “stylized” and “exaggerated”. Or, there’s no such thing as bad art, except for my art which is bad.

And on and on and on in that vein. Instead of actually engaging with any of the points being made, apparently it’s easier to just say NO U SUK. NO U. NO UUUUUUU. And since I’m not six years old, I have no intent to actually have this particular argument.

Lastly, the idea that my artistic skill has any bearing on my cred as a critic of art is, frankly, laughable. Do people demand that film critics make an Oscar-winning film before they are taken seriously? No, they don’t, because that would be ludicrous.

Your anatomy was wrong

Uh. Yeah. I kind of admitted that. But my anatomy mistakes were along the lines of “couldn’t find the right angle of the shoulder” and “might not have the correct angle on the ribcage”. The mistakes in the original were HOLY SHIT WHERE DID HER SHOULDER GO WHY IS HER ARM FLOATING IN SPACE. At least in my art, everyone’s limbs were properly attached.

It’s “stylized/exaggerated” because comics! / FOOOOORESHORTENING!

So, okay. There were a lot of people who jumped all over me to claim that I was wrong because FORESHORTENING and because comics are dynamic because of FORESHORTENING! And, guys. Come on. This is a classic case of “I do not think that word means what you think it means”.

I challenge you to do this pose in front of a mirror. (Not the spine-arch. Just the arms.) Her left arm won’t look like that, because the foreshortening is wrong – as drawn her upper arm is 2-3 times the length of her forearm. And dude, foreshortening is hard. I get it! Your brain lies to you, because it is an asshole. But don’t come to my blog and tell me that I’m wrong because FORESHORTENING when it is the foreshortening itself that is not correct.

As for “it’s stylized/exaggerated because comics!”, that’s taking a pretty restrictive view of what constitutes comics. Sure, the big comics publishers mostly publish art that objectifies and sexualizes women. But that’s ignoring the whole world of comics that is happening on the web by artists who are connecting directly with their audience. And a lot of those artists manage to find an audience without exaggerating anatomy in ways that objectify women.

Your degree is worthless

See, this is where I can never win. I mentioned my education because as a woman dares to criticize something online, people jump down her throat and DEMAND to know her credentials before taking her seriously. And here’s the lose-lose situation that follows. If she lists her credentials, they will be dismissed and she will probably be criticized for being arrogant and superior. But if she doesn’t, they’ll say that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. So in this instance, I erred on the side of uppity bitch. Hell, if I drop five figures on an art education, I’m sure as shit not going to hide the fact that I have it.

Your pose is static and dull

Thank you for ENTIRELY MISSING THE POINT. As blogs like Escher Girls and Comic Art Corrections have been blogging about for years, the problem with art like this is that it relies entirely on heavily distorted and sexualized anatomy to create the illusion of dynamism. When you remove the gratuitous sexualization, the pose itself is not actually dynamic or interesting. The fact that you think my drawover was dull only proves the point that I was trying to make – that objectifying women often becomes a crutch.

You’re just jealous/You are a terrible person/You are stupid/uneducated

What baffles me is that I didn’t do anything that hadn’t already been done elsewhere on some very popular blogs. Escher Girls and Comic Art Corrections are just two of my favorites – there are plenty more out there. And it’s not like I was any snarkier, because nope. There’s been a lot of snark from other bloggers (that I have enjoyed, to be honest) about the prevalence of snake women and centaur women and broken spines, etc, in comic art. So why is it that I come back to blogging after a hiatus of more than two years, do something that is, frankly, pretty common in the blogosphere, and yet I’m the one who gets the ridiculous outpouring of hate?

Also, if you think it’s okay to call someone fat, ugly, jealous, crazy, retarded, or a waste of space simply because they criticized an artist you like? I’d take a long hard look at yourself and the level of bile that you’re prepared to vent over something like that. And the people who made threatening comments or said things like I could “shampoo [their] crotch”? Seriously? You’re just fucking gross.

U DELETED MY COMMENT

Comments policy is clearly spelled out in the sidebar. I am not obligated to give you my platform so that you my abuse me however you like. That’s what the rest of the internet is for.

You just need to get laid

Thank you for being so eminently predictable. There’s always one, so I’m glad that you didn’t let me down.

Facebook haters

Alrighty. I said I would get back to facebook, so here goes. As of the instant of me writing this, I’ve gotten almost 29,000 views in just about 24 hours. The vast majority of this traffic is coming from facebook, where comic artists like J. Scott Campbell and Mark Brooks (and others, I’m sure) are riling up their THOUSANDS OF FANS about what a terrible human being I am.

link

From J. Scott Campbell’s facebook.

YOU try taking screen caps of a facebook hatefest while simultaneously attempting to get a toddler to eat breakfast. Go ahead.

Which. You know what? In what universe is it okay to use your very large platform to encourage your followers to harass someone? Adria Richards and Anita Sarkeesian are only two of the most recent and prominent examples of the effects that online harassment can have. There is a long and sad history online of women being harassed for DARING to commit the CRIME of HAVING OPINIONS WHILE FEMALE.

And for people who’d say “well they didn’t actually tell their fans to harass you”? BULLSHIT. They made posts in which they called me things like “laughable”, “embarrassing”, and “smug”, then continued to encourage the anger in the thread that resulted. Nor did they make any attempts to dissuade potential harassers, or tell people who made threatening comments to back off. These are grown-ass-men who pointed their very large audiences at me and told them what a terrible person I was on the internet because they want me to shut the fuck up.

 Going through these threads is, of course, about as pleasant as drinking a tuna and brussel sprouts milkshake, so I’m not going to go through all of the comments that have been made so far. I have better things to do with my time than marinate in internet bile. But here are some highlights taken from J. Scott Campbell’s hate-fest before I got too tired of humanity to continue.

(SEVERAL of whom I should note are professional comics artists. I’m not going to name all the names here, because I don’t actually hate myself. But it is worth asking that HOW is any of this anything resembling professional behavior? But then, given that the mainstream comics industry is happy to regularly re-affirm how much it hates women, I guess none of this should come as a surprise.)

First up, I loved the number of people who misgendered me.

misgender

Thanks for reminding me why I don’t actually have my gender in my profile on this blog. Also, WTF is up with dude who wants to come to my house and beat me up? Seriously? Thanks for being a terrible human being.

There were also several women who were very eager to let people know that THEY weren’t offended, not like those AWFUL HYSTERICAL FEMINISTS. They’re not out to kill anyone’s sexy fun! Which. Ugh. But I grew up with more than my share of internalized misogyny, so whatever. I know where they’re coming from. I did, however, particularly like these comments from someone who is a female professional comics artist.

fat-red-sonja

Seriously. Someone get on that. I will give you cash moneys to read about a fat, middle-aged, sword-wielding badass woman warrior. No lie.

The one thing that made me laugh, however, was this – in which the poster tries to claim that I don’t have a right to criticize Jonboy and cites my illustrations for SexyTime Adventures.

missing-the-point-satire

I guess this just reinforces the impossibility of satirizing this shit. But seriously, way to cherry-pick images without actually reading any of the actual words about how those drawings are fucking satire.

Now thankfully, there were at least a few people who were willing to stand up to this insanity, in varying degrees, for which I was grateful. Like this fellow.

lets-not-harass

I can’t say I liked the qualifier at the end, but you know what – I can’t blame the dude. Given the level of vitriol I imagine it took some courage to be the voice of reason and say “hey, maybe we shouldn’t harass this person”. So thanks not-crazy internet person.

And then there was this GLORIOUS schooling which I will never, ever get tired of:

SCHOOLED-SON

And then someone who not only agreed with me, but actually called out the hypocrisy of these commenters:

THANK-YOU---MY-HERO

YOU ARE MY HERO!

Speaking of which, Rob Liefeld agrees that I am terrible and my art is bad, which is the other thing that made me laugh.

But, you know, given that I don’t draw my women with broken spines, sameface, or LOTS OF AWESOME POUCHES!!!1!!11!eleventy!, I can see how Rob Liefeld would think that my work is bad and terrible.

Here is where I would normally write a clever conclusion. But I am tired of the universe, so instead here is a picture of a baby sloth.

[ETA: I've just added a followup to this followup here.]

—-

[1] I’m on a roll!

Male Protagonist Bingo: A study in cliches [MANY IMAGES]

Over in the comments on my post about Joel from The Last of Us, I had occasion to write the following:

Secondly, I’m not saying that TLoU was badly written, or that Joel is a bad character. Far from it. But you know what? I’m so, so, so endlessly tired of the “gritty” white male action (anti)hero. With his angst! And his violence! And his moral ambiguity! And his managing-to-be-sympathetic-while-doing-terrible-things-because-he’s-doing-them-for-LOVE.

I’m just SO. FUCKING. TIRED.

and this:

I want to see stories with characters WHO LOOK LIKE ME. I’m tired of stories, even good ones, about white men being the only options I get. And sure, I can enjoy them in the moment. But ME. ME PERSONALLY. I am TIRED of not being represented. I’m not being “superficial”. I’m being FUCKING TIRED of not seeing myself in the games I play EVER EVER EVER.

and this:

We live in a patriarchal society where the dominant narrative is that men are protagonists and women are scenery. When an entire society has been constructed to tell your story, it’s easy to say “oh well I don’t mind other stories so why are you so hung up on gender/sexuality/race/whatever” – because you have the luxury of knowing that the overwhelming majority of stories that you want to consume will still be about you.

As a woman, I don’t have that luxury. Despite that I have been playing video games for well over 2 decades, there are exactly 4 female characters in games that I have played that I would say are universally awesome and positive protagonists whom I don’t feel critical of on some level. FOUR. (Yuna, Lightning, FemShep, and Ellie, if you’re counting.) And Jesus, I’m white, cis, and straight – so I’m sure there’s shit I’m missing.

So you know what? Fuck realism. I don’t care if a female character “feels” “truthful”. If we can believe in worlds with dragons and zombies and magic and future tech, WHAT IS SO HARD about believing in a world where women can be protagonists?

This is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. Just last night I was bitching to my husband about how unbelievably DONE I am with stories about MANLY MEN PUNCHING THINGS AND BEING MANLY BECAUSE THEY’RE MEN.[1] So I decided to write a post about how unbelievably unoriginal most games protagonists are, but I didn’t know the best way to do it. I hacked away at it for a while and wound up with an outline that would have been 3000 words.

No one wants to read 3000 words. Hell, I don’t want to WRITE 3000 words.

And then I thought – bingo card! Let’s make an amusing feminist meme work for me! A picture is worth a thousand words and all that. …well, okay. Ten pictures is worth 3000 words. It’s the exchange rate.

So here is the bingo card itself. Please feel free to use it how you see fit – just please don’t crop out the credits. (Wheaton’s Law, guys. Removing attribution is a dick move.)

CLICK THROUGH FOR LARGER VERSION

CLICK THROUGH FOR LARGER VERSION

Then I ran ten male protagonists from major video game series against the bingo card, because why not? Including Joel, since I’d spent so much time arguing about him recently.

Bingo-SolidSnake

Bingo-Shepard

Bingo-Riddick

Bingo-MaxPayne

Bingo-MarcusFenix

Bingo-Kratos

Bingo-Joel

Bingo-Batman

Bingo-Altair

Bingo-Agent47

Yup. NO UNORIGINALITY HERE. Nope. No siree! Because this is proof that game devs are SO, SO ORIGINAL.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be crying over here in this corner.

[1] And he was like “Yup. Yup. Yes. I agree. Uh-huh.” Not to be patronizing, just because he’s heard the same rant approximately five million times. I guess I repeat myself when I get mad.

Deep Down followup: clueless, whiny women not needed in games. SO THERE.

Responding to the flap over the omission of female characters from Deep Down, Vox Day – author, noted misogynist, and professional troll – wrote a post on his blog about “why we don’t put girls in games”. (I’m not going to link to his blog here, but it should be easy to find. Just be warned that it won’t make for pleasant reading.) In it, he leads off by saying:

Yet another clueless wonder is yapping about the absence of the unnecessary from video games

Oh yeah. I can tell this is going to be good. Please, do go on, good sir! Educate me on just why it is that women are so very unneeded in games! I’M ALL EARS.

girls

Because logic.

Right. HISTORICAL VERISIMILITUDE. Okay. So apparently Vox Day finds it easier to believe in trolls and goblins than he does to believe in, you know, women.

historical versimilitude

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Orc by elhero, found here; Conan by Frank Frazetta; Dwarf Hunter, World of Warcraft; Goblin from d20 SRD; Troll from LotR: Return of the King

unbelievable

Then again, as was pointed out on my Google+, Vox Day is a notable misogynist and racist. His blog’s FAQ contains the following gem, which shows what a paragon of reason and intellect he is.

racism

And now I need a shower.

Whoops, I’m sorry. Did I say paragon of reason and intellect? I meant terrible human being. (It’s so easy to confuse the two.)

Capcom can’t include female characters in Deep Down because reasons. (Many images)

Well, I had made a good start on writing my first post since the re-launch as a Patreon-supported blog – a 2-parter about The Last of Us because OH MY GOD SO MANY FEEEEEELS. But then it came to my attention, thanks to the wonderful Brenna Hiller, that Capcom will not be including any female playable characters in Deep Down, their free-to-play dungeon delving game, “because of the story”, which is some Grade A bullshit.

because_of_reasons_by_flatbush-d4cz25b

Image taken from deviantart user sherlockshivernshake, found here.

Kazunori Sigiura, one of the game’s producers who gave the interview prompting this story, has not offered any explanation for this other than the lack of female characters is “for reasons tied to the core narrative”. However, I did some digging and managed to find this description of the game’s plot:

The stage of the story is New York in 2094. A member of the Ravens with the ability to read the residual thoughts that dwell on items earns his livings by clarifying the story from archaeological sites of ancient cultures. At one point in an excavation in the Czech Republic some ruins from the late 15th century are found. The presence of a mysterious city and the memories of an ancient civilization can be found in the site. The hero receives the request to investigate the ruins and to read its memories.

So let me get this straight. You’ve written a story set in 2094, where psychometry is a thing that exists and is well-enough-known that it is put to commercial use. And that story features people who, despite all of the future tech, wear plate mail and hit things with medieval weapons, because psychics. But that story can’t have any women because… because……..because………….

560f6e99bc517bf1eb62fb8153bd69f2cba8e1057f5231bcba9452564148925f

Oh right. The story. It’s not Capcom’s fault. They wanted to include female characters, only that nasty story wouldn’t let them! Honest! It’s the truth! Would Capcom lie about something like that?

Chun_Li

Chun Li’s broken spine sphere-boob panty shots are so, so feminist.

All sarcasm aside, this is an incredibly asinine and disingenuous reason to completely omit half of the world’s population from possible player representation. Stories are things written by people – they don’t spring out of some magical thought vacuum. Neither are they things that are received from on high, perfect and immutable, that must be transmitted without any change from its original form. If you’re incapable of telling the story you want to tell while also including female characters, that says a lot about how you look at the world as a creator, none of it good.

But much as I’d love to write a gloriously sarcastic screed about the fact that Kazunori Sigiura and the rest of the Deep Down team do some soul searching about how deeply, deeply fucked up they are for being “unable” to write a story that features any female characters at all, Brenna Hiller has already covered that territory better than I could. (Yes I linked it twice. That’s because her piece is amazing and you should go read it.)

I could also play the numbers game and cite why completely ignoring female gamers as a huge potential market is stupid and short-sighted. Forty-four percent of gamers are women, women control 80% of household spending, women make the majority of consumer purchases, etc etc etc… But you know what? The types of people who try to claim that there “aren’t enough” female gamers to justify making games less shitty toward women are operating entirely on confirmation bias. I’ve written enough about the business reasons for not wanting to piss women off. I don’t need to go there again.

fcf7ff4eb6dd2a95d90aa140d80111dde55744a3113f0e0aa8077ad628cf8dd6

I’m sorry. It’s so hard for me to restrain my sarcastic use of memes sometimes.

Nope. Instead, I’m going to provide a(n incredibly non-exhaustive) list of dungeon-y games that have still managed to include playable female characters, either as avatars or party members, as a way of illustrating how incredibly not hard it is. (I mean, come one. One. One character. Even that is better than none, guys.)

Games that somehow(!) manage to combine dungeons and wimmenz*

female-chars

female_main_characters_of_final_fantasy_by_davienvalentine-d4gcdd2

Not my art! This amazing image made by deviantart user davienvalentine, found here.

baldur

Oh, and…

Says+every+Mmo+ever+made+_9ecc52bfcb2b5ac8e5b9e77b0f66ffa3

EVERY MMO EVER

Phew. That was SO HARD.

* Many thanks to my Google+ peeps who helped with suggestions for titles when all I could come up with was “UH FINAL FANTASY. ALSO BIOWARE”.

Double-header: Destructoid’s New Editor & Harassment of Feminist Bloggers

[Edited to add: Some folks kindly pointed out that my discussion of rape culture in the third section is problematic wrt trans people. Mea culpa if you saw the earlier version of this post. I've gone back and edited my comments.]

[Hi, folks. At the time I'm writing this, it looks like Destructoid may have been hacked. I'm going to provide links to pertinent stories for when the site does come back, but don't freak out if those links don't work right now.]

So there are two things that I want to write about today. They’re going to seem unconnected up front, but they really are. But I’ll talk about each thing separately and then come back to elucidate how these things are connected.

Thing the first: Destructoid’s new Editor-in-chief

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Destructoid. I’ll admit that I’ve started actively avoiding content on Destructoid, since I know that all that’s going to happen is that it will inevitably make me mad. I don’t visit periodically to see what bullshit Jim Sterling has gotten up to recently. Nor do I read my Google Alerts for Jim Sterling because, you know, what’s the point?

But something happened to catch my attention. It seems that Destructoid has a new Editor in Chief. I guess Niero has gone and gotten himself a job at Harmonix, which is great for him I guess. So who did they replace Niero with? Dale North. …great.

For those of you who’ve started reading this blog recently, or who don’t remember this from previous posts, a bit of a recap. See, I wrote my first post about how Jim Sterling is a repugnant human being and blatant misogynist after a Twitter-dustup in which he called a woman a “feminazi slut”. This actually caused enough of a flap that a non-apology was issued by Sterling, that mostly went ‘okay that was bad but she deserved it and the nasty feminists are being meeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaannnnn to meeeeeeeeee’. It was around this time that a reader forwarded an email from Niero responding to his complaint about Sterling that pretty much read as “he crossed a line, but he’s totes a nice guy! honest!”.

Of course, less than 24 hours later, Jim published a story that he ended by saying:

Now if you’ll excuse me, there are some vaginas that have not been raped yet, and Kirby told me I need to “get on dat sh*t!”

Which, you know, didn’t sound like he’d really learned a whole lot from the experience of being raked over the coals for calling someone a “feminazi slut”. It was at that point that I sent an email in complaint to Niero (a copy of which I posted here on this blog). Predictably, I never received a response. So you might think that I would be pleased by the fact that Destructoid is going to have new leadership. And that might be the case, if it weren’t for the fact that that new leadership is Dale North.

See, Dale North has professed to have great personal affection for Jim Sterling. And like Jim Sterling, Dale really likes to make rape jokes in his official work both on Destructoid and Japanator. Let’s not forget that it was Dale North who titled an article about the banning of RapeLay from Japanese shelves: “RapeLay raped off Japanese shelves for good”. To make it worse, he used this as the headline image:

For fuck's sake. I'm just as mad now as when I saw this the first time.

Of course, Dale would like to have his cake and eat it too. Despite being a fan of rape humor, he actually made a faux-introspective post in which he asked his fans if he was a sexist pig. Predictably, they leaped to his defense and assured him that – no, the evil feminists were just being mean and that he was just fine. Of course, the fact that some of those fans were female is, in some people’s books, enough to completely obviate any charges of sexism against Dale. Because as we all know, if you can find one woman who doesn’t think that you’re sexist that means YOU’RE NOT SEXIST. It’s fucking magic.

Anyway, I wish I could say that I had hopes that this will mean a new era of non-rape humor from the editorial staff at Destructoid, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Thing the second: Harassment and death threats of feminist bloggers

Something I am thankful for on a daily basis is the fact that, despite the fact that this blog receives an unholy amount of traffic for a blog devoted to such a specific (and controversial) subject matter, I have not experienced the harassment, stalking, and death threats that many female bloggers face – especially feminist bloggers. Mostly the trolls that I get confine themselves to ‘lol, feminist bitches be crazy’ or ‘you must be fat and ugly’ or ‘you need to get laid you fugly lesbian’. (Hell, sometimes I get all three at once!) Off the top of my head, I can only think of one person ever saying anything that could be construed as a death threat, and even that was pretty passive in that I was told I should go lie in front of a train. And I’ve never, ever had anyone threaten me with rape.

So why bring it up? Because I suspect that my experience might put me in the minority of feminist bloggers. The reality is that far too many feminist bloggers face harassment from trolls that goes far beyond looking for lulz. S.E. Smith recently posted on Tiger Beatdown about the harassment that they and other bloggers have experienced, and the stuff that is quoted seriously curls my toes:

It took a few years to reach this point, but I finally have, the point where I do have concerns about my physical safety, and have had to reevaluate certain aspects of my life and work. I’ve gotten those emails that send a long chill down my spine and create a surging feeling of rage, mixed with helplessness. People have sent me my social security number, information about my family members, identifying details that make it very clear they know exactly how to find me. They  have politely provided details of exactly what they’d like to do to me and my family, they send me creepy things in the mail.

‘I’m glad your stupid cat died,’ someone wrote me last October. ‘You’re next, bitch,’ and followed up with my street address.

…seriously. SERIOUSLY???

It’s a good week, these days, if I only get 15-20 emails from people telling me how much they think I should die, or how much they hope I get raped, or how much they hope my cat dies or I lose my job or fall in a hole or get shot by police or any number of things people seem to think it’s urgently important to tell me in their quest to get me to shut up. We are not talking about disagreements, about calls for intersectionality, about differing approaches, about political variance, about lively debate and discussion that sometimes turns acrimonious and damaging. We are talking about sustained campaigns of hate from people who believe that we are inhuman and should be silenced; the misogynists, the ‘men’s rights activists,’ the anti-reproductive rights movement, the extreme conservatives, the fundamentalists. The haters.

This is beyond just fucked up. I am so beyond thankful that I have not had to deal with hate of this magnitude, because the backlash that I do receive is already enough to make me second-guess myself sometimes. We need to speak out against this sort of thing, all of us. It isn’t right that female bloggers should have to worry about the safety of themselves, their families, and their pets simply for daring to have an opinion online. As the kids say these days, shit is toxic, yo.

I hope to god if anybody reading this right now has friends who say anything like these comments – be it on a blog, facebook, forum, WHATEVER. CALL YOUR FRIEND OUT AND LET THEM KNOW THIS IS NOT OKAY. Whatever you think of someone’s personal politics, it is a basic human right not to fear for your safety.

One of these things IS like the other

So how are these things related? Sure Jim Sterling and Dale North make some vile comments. Sure they tell jokes about rape and domestic violence and those stupid feminist whores. But those are just jokes, right?

Wrong.

We live in a culture that trivializes sexual harassment and sexual assault, violence against women, and rape. (And not just against women! Rape against men too! And people who identify as something outside of a gender binary!) When prominent community leaders like Jim Sterling and Dale North make rape jokes, they are propping up the rape culture that leads to less than 6% of rapists ever getting convicted of a crime. They’re propping up a culture in which (around) 1 in 6 women and (around) 1 in 33 men are the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime. They’re propping up a culture in which cops blame victims of rape because they were “asking for it”. And they’re propping up a culture of online harassment, of graphic threats of rape and sexual violence.

“But, wundergeek!” you may be saying. “There’s a difference between joking about rape and threatening to rape someone!” But that’s not the problem. The problem is that jokes about rape contribute to the notion that rape is something trivial, something unimportant, something permissible. Jokes by community leaders contribute to this notion even more! Dale North and Jim Sterling can joke about how they’re just “garme jurnalists”, but the fact is that they are major voices in the gaming community and their audience is HUGE. Much larger than mine. Their words have weight.

It’s time for prominent figures in the game industry to acknowledge that they’re responsible for the environment that their words create. Because as long as our community leaders are allowed to make misogynist “jokes” about rape and violence against women, how can we expect the sorts of criminal harassment that feminist bloggers face to go away? If rape is something normal, acceptable, and permissible, can we be surprised when the women who dare to speak up for women’s rights are threatened into silence?

Dead Island shitstorm: even if it was a “private joke”, it’s still not okay

So there’s been a bit of a controversy surrounding the accidental release of a debug build of Dead Island on Steam and the discovery of a skill called “Feminist Whore” buried in the code of said test build. I’m not going to waste too much space summarizing the incident, so if you have managed to avoid the internet shitstorm thus far, the Escapist has a pretty good summary of what exactly happened. Go read it. I’ll wait.

… okay. Amusingly, I’m feeling a bit vindicated about some stuff I said about Dead Island after watching the E3 pre-release trailer. It seems that  my belief that the game was a cynical attempt to package a healthy dose of T&A along with good old fashioned zombie killing might have some grounds after all. But this isn’t about saying I told you so.

Now, a lot of people have said a lot of things in response to this. Some people have professed horror that this could have ever happened. Many others have tried to dismiss the incident with a wide variety of justifications – from ‘it was a joke’ to ‘I wasn’t offended’ to ‘you feminists have no sense of humor’ to ‘it’s not sexist it’s just code’. And Jim Sterling, that bastion of civil behavior and tireless supporter of feminism, responded (somewhat predictably) with:

That’s definitely the kind of thing you want to make sure you take out, because I can tell you from firsthand experience that pissing off the more radical of feminists is way more trouble than it’s worth.

(emphasis mine)

Now I could take on Jim Sterling’s response. It seems to me that there are a lot of reasons for being upset about this incident, not the least of which is the base level of misogyny and sexism still present in the gaming industry. But you know what? I’ve devoted more space here to Jim Sterling than I really care to, and I don’t have anything to say about him that I haven’t said previously. So if this isn’t about saying ‘I told you so’, neither is it about Jim Sterling’s problematic understanding of why this should be a Big Fucking Deal.

It’s not even about the responses of those who have tried to handwave or otherwise justify this incident as not being a big deal. I could have written about that, but Tracey John already beat me to the punch with a well-written post about why misogyny in code is still misogyny. I don’t really have anything to say that she hasn’t said already. And over on VG24/7 Brenna Hiller did a wonderful post on how this incident plays into the sexism in the hobby as a whole.

So what am I adding here?

“Feminist Whore” is not a joke

This about the idea that “Feminist Whore” was a “private joke”, a joke shared in the office that is only offensive in the context of being shared with the world. I’ve seen that in more than a few places. Heck, the Escapist’s summary ended by saying that they hoped this was nothing more than an in-joke. And Techland’s official response, too, plays on this idea (again, emphasis mine):

It has come to our attention that one of Dead Island’s leftover debug files contains a highly inappropriate internal script name of one of the character skills. This has been inexcusably overlooked and released with the game. The line in question was something a programmer considered a private joke. The skill naturaly [sic] has a completely different in-game name and the script reference was also changed…

Here’s the thing I can’t get past. I can’t conceive of a situation that is not rampantly inappropriate in which an office in-joke that would cause a coder to implement “Feminist Whore” as a skill name in a debug build. Now that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an office in-joke anyway, but the thing that concerns me is this: we can’t know the environment in which this “joke” was conceived, but we know that misogyny is very prevalent in the game industry and that harassment is a very real and ever-present phenomenon.

Seriously, go read that last link. Go read it now. If the sorts of “jokes” that happen in game studios can include employees wearing shirts that say ‘dead girls can’t say no’ and women being interrupted during meetings by male employees telling them to make them a sandwich, I don’t see why we should assume that this joke is benign. In an environment where jokes that trivialize sexual harassment, assault, and rape are considered funny, why should we assume that this anonymous coder is an anomaly?

Furthermore, the studios are responsible for creating the work environment in which this coder was working, an environment in which he had the idea that “Feminist Whore” was appropriate to implement in a debug build. So I don’t think we should be so quick to absolve the studio of responsibility, even if they claim ignorance of this “joke” up to this point.

I don’t know the makeup of Techland or Deep Silver. I don’t know if there are female employees who worked on this game. But if there are, I hope to god that this wasn’t something that they had to deal with as an office “joke”, because that would really break my heart.

From the mail bag: Mostly fail, with a little win on the side

Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve been lazy this week. After my fast-and-furious post-GenCon posting spree, I needed a bit of a rest. And sure, posts like this are a bit of a cop-out, but I promise I’ll make it up to you next week with a new gender swap.

Anyhow, during the last week people have been sending me a lot of stuff to look at, and much of it was stuff I thought deserved attention and/or ridicule. So let the mocking commence!

In which entitled gamers put their privilege on display

Now it may have escaped your notice – as it did mine – that there is a video game in development called Lollipop Chainsaw that features a scantily-clad chainsaw-wielding cheerleader named Juliet who kills zombies:

Oh, hey look. It’s a scantily clad nubile young woman who will kill lots of stuff while wearing next to nothing. A thinly veiled platform for a combination of fanservice and violence – how original! Unsurprisingly, some people have taken exception to such a ridiculous character and pointed out that this game concept just might be a little sexist. Which is where gamer entitlement comes in.

Sure, Juliet isn’t exactly the most tasteful portrayal of a woman, but who cares? She’s a character in a video game that boasts an absolutely ridiculous premise. Are the actions of a fictitious girl truly detrimental to the image of females everywhere?

Ah, right. The “it’s just fantasy” argument. Yes, because really – everyone knows that humans are completely independent creatures and are never influenced by any of the media they consume ever. EVAR. End of story.

Perhaps we should focus our attention not on a video game character, but on real men and women that are sending the wrong messages, or even parents that let their children leave the house dressed like Paris Hilton. Turn on the MTV, or just about any channel these days, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Video games are the least of our worries.

Yes, because sexism in video games is such a trivial concern and don’t we have more important things to worry about? There are starving children in Africa, people. Since it is inherently true that people are incapable of caring about more than one kind of injustice simultaneously, being bothered by sexism in gaming reveals what a petty and shallow person I am for taking time away from being sad about starving children, war refugees, and sad puppies. Clearly, I am a terrible person.

Moving on…

Exhibit B begins with this article over on IGN by Emma Boyes asking whether LA Noire is sexist. It’s a pretty thoughtful and objective piece, definitely free of the vitriol and hyperbole that I like to fling around over here. She makes some pretty good points, and if anything understates how sexist the game industry itself is. Overall, it’s a pretty solid piece that is only minimally controversial, in that a woman dared to accuse teh awesome menz at RockStar of being sexist.

But you’d never guess that from the comments, which are a veritable tidal wave of scorn and entitlement:

They should have had a main, woman character in LA Noire. Her duty: to better LA from HQ, the kitchen, one sandwich at a time. LOL

its supposed to be a 50s cop show procedural as a videogame. they were sexist back then so YES… is ign writing articles sheerly for the sake of asking stupid questions?

IGN gets more and more retarded every day

who wrote this article? – a women . . .

…and so on and so forth.

But then, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised since this is IGN, the website that has a dedicated “Babeology” section of their site:

Charming.

Stupid visuals

I’ve raged plenty of times here about the stupidity of “play now” advertisements for free MMOs. Well, this one takes that stupidity to an impressive level.

Nothing too unusual here. We’ve got gravity-defying sphere-boobs the size of her head. Her “corset” must also be made of some very hard metal to contain those titanic breasts of hers, because there’s no way that a construction of mere cloth and leather could contain breasts that large and that gravity-defying. Now I will admit that her anatomy (aside from the ridiculous breasts) looks like it might be physically attainable… by a vanishingly small percentage of the human population. However, the ridiculous bikini is… well… ridiculous. And let’s not overlook that the key phrase of the ad describing the game is RIGHT OVER HER CROTCH.

And now for the win

So first up, a bit of visual win to counter the visual fail:

These are character class designs from the upcoming Namco/Bandai title – Dark Souls. And I feel like I literally cannot express how much I love these designs and want this game to be a good game. I mean, holy shit, people! The women are wearing exactly the same outfits as the men. THE SAME. When does that happen? Never. Or almost never. I’m over the moon.

For that matter, I’m delighted that the one class that does run around naked has the male iteration just as naked as the female. Equal opportunity nudity. I love it! So please, Namco/Bandai, for the love of god – I’m begging you! Don’t fuck this up!

Lastly, I’m going to link to my new favorite thing on the internet since Boobs Don’t Work That Way – a new tumblr devoted entirely to pictures of women fighters in reasonable armor. It’s a delightful collection of images of female fighters in totally badass and not sexualized armor. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

[And that's enough of that. Next time - gender swap!]

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