A Quick Note About Privacy

Okay, folks. I’ve been getting A LOT of traffic because of certain controversies surrounding D&D Next or D&D 5E or whatever it’s being called now. So I’m going to say a thing very briefly.

If someone posts something on the internet in which they talk about a personal experience without naming names and they say that they have done this because they are scared of personal consequences and of the implications for their personal safety and mental well-being, and they ask explicitly in their post that people NOT NAME the people who are being discussed? Do you know what a really shitty response to that post is?

POSTING LINKS TO THAT PERSON’S POST AND SAYING “HEY, THIS POST IS ABOUT [THIS GUY]“.

I appreciate that the traffic I’ve gotten because of this specific issue has been receptive, if not outright friendly. I don’t care. That is a shitty fucking thing to do. I am not obligated to sacrifice my personal safety to satisfy a need for documentable proof, especially when there are other places to obtain said proof.

So if you’re considering linking to a post of mine that discusses a specific person in an anonymous capacity and you know who the person is and you want to broadcast the anonymized person’s perfidy by attaching their real name to my anonymized post? DON’T.

Policy Note: How I spend my crowdfunding money

[For transparency's sake, this is being put up as a freebie, because asking patrons to pay me to write a post devoted to telling a subset of non-patrons to fuck off seems a bit hinky. So there you go.]

For the most part, I would call the Patreon for this blog a successful experiment. Sure it would be great to have thousands of patrons showering me with money for every gem of wisdom I happen to let fall from my keyboard so that I could become a Real (read:full-time) Blogger, but I’m okay with where I’m at. The money I get from my patrons gives me the space to write about things that I’m passionate about and pay some bills. Because that’s the thing about having a kid – they’re expensive, and I really don’t have the luxury to write things that won’t turn into money anymore.

The only problem is that having a Patreon has opened me up to a new and extra-fun kind of dismissiveness that makes me very cranky: people who want to set conditions on how I use my Patreon funds before they claim they’ll take me seriously. You know, because if I was A Real Feminist[1], I would be putting my Patreon moneyz towards some worthy feminist cause instead of selfishly keeping it for myself, with the worthy feminist cause usually being saving poor brown women from their own culture[2].

Which is bullshit for two reasons.

First.

Let’s not pretend that if, for some reason, I decided to listen to your unsolicited opinions as to how I should spend my crowdfunding money, you would actually seriously engage with anything I’m saying here. Because “I can’t take you seriously because you’re not doing [X] with your crowdfunding money” is pretty much the same as “I can’t think of a good reason to dismiss what you’re saying so I’m going to come up with bullshit character arguments instead”.

These kinds of comments never come from people seriously engaged with feminism or feminist culture criticism, they come from random dudebros who are grasping at reasons for why I shouldn’t be listened to.

Second.

If you do not back my crowdfunding, I am obligated to give EXACTLY ZERO FUCKS about how you think I should spend that money.

The only people who get to have an opinion about how I spend my money are MY PATRONS AND/OR BACKERS. You can decide to back me or not based on whatever criteria you like – you aren’t interested in what I’m making, you don’t agree with the things I say, you don’t like my user icon, whatever. That’s your prerogative! Live your conscience, vote with your dollar, etc etc etc. But if you’re not giving me money, don’t be surprised if I completely fail to give any shits about what you think I should do with my money.

This Blog, Patreon funds, and how I spend them

I have been nothing but up front with my patrons about how I intend to spend their money.  Hell, it’s in paragraph #4 of my pitch on Patreon:

For the most part, the money that I have earned from my Patreon has gone to pay for incredibly unexciting stuff. Like getting new clothes for my kid every 5 minutes[3], or generally helping offset childcare costs and increased grocery bills.

But honestly, the fact that my crowdfunding dollaz are being used to pay child-related expenses shouldn’t even matter. If I wanted to spend it on strippers and blow (I’m not), that should be a valid goal, so long as the thing I’m crowdfunding still happens and my backers are happy with it.

Policy Going Forward

From now on, any comment that either tells me how I should be spending my Patreon funds or tells other people not to back my Patreon based on same is going to be deleted. Period. I have better things to do than engage with this sort of dismissive bullshit.

As soon as I get a chance (I can’t do it immediately at the time of posting), I will be revising the comment policy posted in the sidebar to reflect this.

[1] It would be impossible for me to overstate how much I love Mallory Ortberg

[2] Because if you’re going to be dismissively sexist, why not sprinkle a little helping of racism on top? You know, for the lulz.

[3] Seriously they grow so fast and even if you shop thrift stores, it adds up

Reasons Why It’s Too Hard to Include Playable Female Characters In Games

There have been some really great takes on just why Ubisoft’s proclamation that it was just a “reality of game development” that their newest title in the Assassin’s Creed series wouldn’t include playable female characters, many of which I covered in Friday’s link roundup.

However, some conversations on Google+ inspired me to do some silly drawings of some only-slightly-less-ludicrous reasons why it’s just too hard for studios to include playable female characters. A picture is worth 1000 words and all that:

It was nice to get a chance to return to my roots, as it were, by doing something silly for once (not to mention taking a bit of a break from Princess Charming); a lot of my posts recently have been rather serious, but sometimes it’s nice to just be silly.

Still, I think it’s worth using this post to make a serious point. Given that Ubisoft has already had female assassins in the series, including Aveline, a title character in her own AC game, it stretches my credulity beyond the breaking point for me to believe that it’s honestly that hard for Ubisoft to include a playable female assassin.

There are existing development assets already, including Aveline’s model and all of the motion-capture done for her animations. Would it really have been so hard to do some color-swapping of Aveline’s model and port her into the game? It certainly wouldn’t have been anything budget-breaking, given that this is a AAA title with a AAA budget. Frankly, female moon pixels and fire-breathing dragons are about as easy to believe.

Ubisoft would have done a lot better to own up to the truth: either they didn’t want to make a playable female character, or they just didn’t think of doing it. Instead, this gutless prevaricating has cost them a lot of goodwill. I’ve seen many long-time fans of the series who had appreciated the diversity of the series and its’ development team saying that they’re not going to put any more money into purchasing future AC games.

All in all, it would be hard to imagine a more bone-headed marketing ploy for a game that needs a large audience to recoup its astronomical development budget.


Self-Promotion Sidebar:

Do you link this post? Do you wish you could buy a print of these cartoons? Good news – you can! And honestly, who wouldn’t want to hang such beautiful satire on their walls? (Don’t answer that.)

 

Dangerous Hatred: Men who foment misogyny in geekdom [TW][LONG]

[Ground rules: As with the previous post, anything resembling "not all men" is going to get deleted. If this seems unfair, try reading #YesAllWomen or #YesAllWhiteWomen on twitter for a few minutes. People who troll after having their comment deleted will have subsequent troll comments replaced with links to my favorite "male tears" and "misandry" GIFs from Tumblr. (If you play nice after having a comment deleted, your comment can stay.) I am not feeling charitable about this.

Also, I normally don't do trigger warnings, but TW for misogynist language (not mine).]


 

The internet has been a pretty fraught place for me the last week. In the wake of the Isla Vista shootings, first there was the predictable backlash of “not all men”, not to mention the reports insisting that the attacks were caused by mental illness, not misogyny. (Never mind the fact that people with mental illness are disproportionately the victims of violence, not the perpetrators.) Then there was the amazing, necessary, but absolutely hard-to-read #YesAllWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen responses on twitter.

Suddenly women that I look up to and admire were sharing their experiences of harassment and sexual violence. It was a powerful and disturbing indictment of the pervasiveness of our rape culture, but it proved a bit too much for me to deal with. As such, I’ve been avoiding twitter the last few days.

Aside from one comment on facebook, my reflection until now has been mostly private. I have been devouring pieces about Elliot Rodger and his ties to PUAhate and the MRA movement from those media outlets and bloggers willing to actually call a spade a spade and the thing that disturbs me the most about Elliot Rodger isn’t how alien his rhetoric justifying the attack was. On the contrary – it’s familiar. Too familiar. I hear echoes of it all the time.

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CLICK FOR LARGER MORE READABLE VIEW

And these are just examples that I’ve gotten in the last few months – before the long hiatus, I never used to save comments that I deleted from my blog. And none of this includes the awful things that people have said about me on various fora in the past. Nor does it include comments made about me on Reddit that have long since vanished into the moderation ether, but which I still read when they were first posted.

I’ve been called an “irritating dumbass bitch” and a “ignorant judgemental cunt”. I’ve been told I just need to get laid and that no one would ever want to fuck me. I’ve had half an hour of a gaming podcast devoted to me, in which four men talked about my “radical agenda” and why I was arrogant, crazy, ugly, and not worth listening to. And even with all of that, I’ve been grateful that the trolling I get isn’t worse. Because as bad as it is to be called a fat ugly dyke, at least no one has ever threatened to rape me. (Yet.)

But the purpose of this post isn’t to highlight the garden-variety misogyny that gets leveled at me for writing this blog. A lot of people have written a lot of really smart things about the problem of deeply embedded misogyny in geekdom.

Instead, I’d like to focus on something more specific: nerd famous men (yes, men) who use their nerd fame to incite their audience to harass people (usually women) they don’t like.

Using their platform as a weapon

There are men in the gaming community who you don’t criticize publicly; you do that very privately with people you trust, because they are known for riling up their followers and pointing them at people they don’t like (usually women). That way they silence people who would speak out against them because they’re afraid of getting harassed and they get to claim total innocence (well I didn’t harass anyone).

There are some major problems with this:

Problem the first: Harassment is srs bsns

The internet is rife with stories about online harassment against women. Anita Sarkeesian, Adria Richards, Jennifer Hepler, Rebecca Watson, Sady Doyle, Zerlina Maxwell – those are just the first six names off the top of my head of women who are notable for having been the target of harassment campaigns. But there are darker examples too. Amanda Todd. Reteah Parsons. Both of whom were young women that committed suicide after sustained and dedicated online harassment campaigns.

How women respond to harassment varies widely – some grow more outspoken, some go silent, and some retreat from online life altogether. (None of these responses is “correct” – every victim of harassment has to deal with it in their own way.) But women who are harassed, especially young women, face lasting emotional and psychological harm up to and including suicide.

HARASSMENT CAN KILL. It isn’t a weapon that should be used against anyone, and it certainly shouldn’t be used casually.

Problem the second: Incredibly fragile egos

The reasons that nerd famous men incite harassment against people can often be quite trivial. Like you once criticized an artist that they like. Or you did a re-draw of a piece of art by an artist that’s not them. You don’t even have to criticize them directly to earn their ire. You just have to criticize a thing that they like.

Problem the third: They do nothing to curb misogyny in their followers

At no point during this process of inciting harassment do these nerd famous men ever do or say anything to curb the tide of misogynist sentiment in their followers. So when their followers go forth and bile-vomit, they call people things like feminist dyke cunt. Or feminazi. Or they tell someone they should probably kill themselves.

Having created an echo chamber to insulate themselves from whatever stimulus offended them, they do nothing to prevent misogynists from taking over that echo chamber. And as recent events demonstrate, Elliot Rodger is proof of the danger of misogynist echo chambers.

How It Works

Step 1: Hark! A woman has said something I don’t like! Quickly! To the interbutts!

Step 2: Link to the thing you don’t like. Be sure that you mention how you think the person who did the thing you don’t like is worthy of disdain. Are they stupid? Shrill? Embarassing? Smug? Arrogant? Ignorant? Ugly? Crazy? Choose a few adjectives that appeal to you in the moment and post without too much thought.

Step 3: Your followers all agree with you that the person is a terrible human being. Of course they do. You’re always right. Make sure to make additional assertions of the person’s disdain-worthy qualities. You know, to help build up a head of steam.

Step 4: Extreme voices inevitably chip in. Do nothing to dissuade them. “That person should suck my dick”? Fine. “We should go beat up that person”? Yup. “Bitches be crazy”? A-OK. Make sure to agree with a few of the more extreme comments not advocating actual violence. (Remember, the goal is to appear not culpable.)

Step 5: Your followers have now gone forth to flood the persons personal internets via whatever channels they were doing the thing you didn’t like in the first place. Make sure to never acknowledge this. Especially don’t acknowledge that a good portion of them are doing so using misogynist slurs.

Step 5a (optional): Has the person you don’t like had the nerve to actually continue doing that thing you don’t like? Even after you told your followers how much you didn’t like them and how awful they were? Time to up the ante. Resort to hyperbole or outright lies about the person you don’t like. They said something critical about sexual objectification in game art? They are now a sex-negative feminazi who wants to censor all sex in everything ever! Or maybe they posted an analysis of the objectification of women in another artist’s work? Lie and say that that person insulted your work. Congratulations! You are so in the right on this one.

Step 6: Use the controversy-generated pageviews to promote your projects to your followers and increase your audience. This is good because you are famous and talented. Unlike that woman who did that thing you don’t like who is just looking for attention. What a fucking bitch.

I wish the above was comic hyperbole. It’s not.

It happened to me

Presented here are three stories in which this has happened to me. In two I will not name names; one person actively generates publicity by doing this sort of thing and I don’t want to gratify his behavior, and one person says that he is experiencing mental distress because of the backlash against MRAs in the wake of Elliot Rodger’s killing spree. As much as it is hard for me to have much sympathy for someone who prioritizes their personal feelings about being judged over the lives of the women who died as a result of MRA ideology, I’m not willing to make light of mental health problems.

Some people may know the people to whom I will refer in these stories. I request that you not name names.

The Rebellious Artist

The Rebellious Artist (TRA) is an artist that is well known for his game art, game design, and game-culture-related projects. He is also convinced that I am a terrible blight upon the game community and periodically makes public attacks on me to that effect, all because I happened to blog critically about an artist that he and his girlfriend happened to like. (I was critical of the artist’s extreme anatomy distortions, and in the comments I said that there were trends in the artist’s work that implied problematic attitudes toward consent.)

Somehow he decided that my saying “this artist you like’s work displays problematic attitudes toward women” was the same as “I hate sex and sexy things and sex in any media ever the end”. Once he even described me as a fascist uber-conservative akin to Phyllis Schafly.

…yeah okay.

His general mode of attack, when he remembers that he doesn’t like me, is to make publicly visible attacks against me attached to my real name, in an attempt to convince people that I’m a shrill feminazi that shouldn’t ever be listened to. Once it happened on a forum that I used to post on but quit three or four years ago – he was banned for that one, but the attack was sufficiently personal that it left me very rattled.

More recently, he attempted to torpedo my reputation in the game design community just as I was getting into doing freelance for some more mainstream projects with Onyx Path:

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This is an excerpt of a post that he made in response to a manufactured controversy (that he helped to manufacture) that I commented on. His response was to make this post with many real names besides mine arguing that TRPG industry companies shouldn’t be hiring us to do freelance work for them. It’s worth noting I wasn’t the only one targeted by that one, although I was the only one singled out with a dismissive aside. (Go Make Me a Sandwich girl? Really? That’s super mature.)

And yet despite his bad behavior, and that he is known within the community for his bad behavior (it’s really kind of his trademark), he is still highly regarded by many as a top-level artist, game designer, and gaming personality, which is frankly depressing. Lots of people know about his bullshit and just don’t care.

The Edgy Game Designer

Last week I posted a link to this satirical Dungeon World playbook for the Edgy Game Designer. This playbook isn’t 100% based on the person I’m talking about here, but it’s close enough that that’s what I’ll call him.

TEGD has never (to my knowledge) declared being aligned with the Mens Rights movement, but his public social media posts adhere very closely to that ideology:

(For reference, Caroline Criado-Perez is a British MP who had a harassment campaign launched against her for the radical notion of wanting women to appear on at least some of Britain’s currency. (Not including the Queen.))

Hatred of social justice activists, decrying feminism, denial of rape culture. Check, check, and check. TEGD is also notable for his vocal defense of rape as a device in games and for his advocacy against convention harassment policies. Which. You know. Yay.

And yet despite all that, TEGD has a pretty large and devoted following:

So when a gaming organization with a reasonably large following (not huge, but certainly not small) announced that they were going effectively lend him their platform to talk about his offensive views, I was pretty upset.

So I spoke out. I was careful to keep my posts mostly about my feelings and personal experience and how TEGD’s stances were hurtful to me as someone who has been sexually victimized at a gaming convention. I wasn’t the only woman who spoke out either.

But rather than respond to the substance of the concerns that we were raising, TEGD started making public posts about how TERRIBLE we were and we were calling him a ravening rape monster and didn’t we know he is CALM and NICE DAMMIT.

And then men went nuts in the comments about what awful bitches we were, to which TEGD would respond by saying that he just couldn’t understand how people couldn’t see what a GOOD PERSON HE WAS and HIS WIFE SAID HE’S NOT A MISOGYNIST, etc etc etc. Which only got them more riled up, to the point that I got a few private messages from people who were concerned for me about the level of ire happening on his page.

There were other women who spoke out, as well as one man who was as vocal as we were. Yet despite the fact that the one man made harsher, more personal attack statements while the women focused mainly on our feelings and personal experiences, TEDG’s followers mainly got angry about us “dumbass irritating bitches”. Funny that.

J. Scott Campbell and Mark Brooks

There’s not much I’ll say other than to summarize briefly, since this was extensively documented in this post here, and in the followup post here.

But the nuts and bolts of the situation are this. I wrote a post in which I did a re-draw of the official GenCon art from 2013 by Jonboy Meyers. Whereupon J. Scott Campbell and Mark Brooks, popular artists in the mainstream comics industry, linked their followers to the post and told them what a terrible person I was.

The thing about comics is that it’s not like roleplaying. TRPG game designers can only hope to achieve a moderate level of nerd fame, unless you happen to be Monte Cook or Ken Hite. Comics artists? Their audience is larger. A LOT larger. So literally overnight, my traffic went THROUGH THE ROOF:

You might think that as a blogger that writes a Patreon-supported blog, that kind of traffic spike would be something I’d like to see. WELL IT’S NOT. I found myself obsessively refreshing my site stats, growing more and more worried as the views kept going up by the thousands. That level of attention from hostile, angry sources is just frightening. For the first 24 hours, I couldn’t help but worry that this was going to go viral and I was going to wind up as another Anita Sarkeesian.

Of course, it didn’t help that when I blogged about the negative attention that Campbell and Brooks had directed my way, J. Scott Campbell then lied about my response to his followers:

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Which, yeah. That’s not even close to what happened:

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.

Thankfully, the shitstorm died down and things went back to normal. But not before 48 extremely anxiety-inducing hours, during which managing comment threads was occupying a huge portion of my attention.

So what’s the point? Why speak out? Or do I just have an axe to grind?

The reason I’m writing this is because misogyny like that expressed by Elliot Rodger doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Echo chambers like PUAhate reinforce and normalize that misogyny. What also normalizes misogyny is when men in positions of respect and authority engage in the practice of encouraging misogyny and creating misogynist echo chambers so that they can protect their self-image.

The problem is that misogynist echo chambers are dangerous. Never forget that misogyny kills. Sometimes directly, as in the case of Elliot Rodger. Sometimes indirectly as in the cases of Amanda Todd and Reteah Parsons.

Am I saying that people like J. Scott Campbell, Mark Brooks, TRA, and TEGD are responsible for mass-murderers like Elliot Rodger? NO.

What I am saying is that inciting harassment of people they don’t like is dangerous, and turning a blind eye to the misogynist echo chambers that happen in their comment sections (if not actively encouraging said misogyny) is even more so.

We need to stop taking misogyny in the geek community for granted and start holding misogynists accountable for their actions, especially when they are creators who have a large audience that they are willing to weaponize. We need to STOP writing these guys blank checks just because they’re nerd famous. And we need to start calling out misogyny when we see it.

We have to. We must. The stakes are just too high.

 

The double-bind of credential dropping.

[BEFORE I START: I'm going to go ahead and post this, since I got it 80% written over the weekend before I heard news of the Isla Vista mass shooting. I have a lot of thoughts about that and will be touching on that in my next post. For now, as I sit here finishing the editing on this post, don't be surprised if some of that creeps into this post today.

Also, any comments that even smell faintly of "not all men" are going to get deleted as soon as I see them.]


One of the problems that I’ve encountered frequently while writing this blog, as well as elsewhere on the internet, is the problem of credentials. In any discussion in which a woman expresses something resembling an opinion, it is generally true that someone will challenge what the woman says on the basis that she has no standing to express said opinion.

She’s not properly educated! She doesn’t have relevant job experience! She doesn’t have enough relevant job experience! Her work doesn’t conform to this narrow standard! …Whatever. There are lots of ways that men can and do dismiss what women are saying, but for the purpose of this post I’m going to refer to the idea of credentials as a shorthand for the authority to speak knowledgeably on a subject.

And honestly, that alone is pretty goddamn sexist. Plenty of dudes can hold forth about their opinions about subjects that they know nothing about, but heaven forbid a woman get in on commenting on something that she is only familiar with in passing.

4591-4913-MediumThe problem is that the seemingly logical conclusion, saying “I am qualified to talk about this because [pertinent credentials]” is also the incorrect answer. That’s right. No matter what you do, you’re still wrong. Welcome to the internet!

Some Real Life Examples

Two months ago, I did a redraw of an old piece of GenCon art that I’d just discovered actually really bugged me, not thinking anything of it at the time. Redraws are something that the internet has been doing for a long time – it’s a very useful way of illustrating the problems of sexualized anatomy to the lay viewer, as it were.

WOW WAS THAT A MISTAKE.

For two days I got bombarded with nerd rage from dudes who were bound and determined to tell me that I am a bitch[1] who doesn’t know what she is talking about:

question

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(If you haven’t seen it, you should really go read the followup post that I did documenting the horrible things people were saying as a cautionary lesson in just how invested dudes can get in making sure that they don’t have to listen to things that women say that they don’t like.)

So in the face of tons of dudes coming to my blog and DEMANDING to know WHO THE HELL I THOUGHT I WAS, I made another mistake. Mistake #2 was that I actually told them about my relevant experience:

it’s worth pointing out that I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and while my major wasn’t drawing, I took 2+ years of drawing anatomy classes. Also, I have worked as an illustrator in the RPG industry. My education and experience are not irrelevant factors here. (you can see the whole comment here)

It was, all in all, a fairly brief summary of some of the things that give me specialized knowledge when it comes to criticizing game art and culture. I didn’t even mention my long experience with blogging, or my experience as a freelance game writer and designer, or my experience as a small press game publisher, or my long standing friendships with some fairly big names in the indie tabletop RPG industry. It was simple and matter of fact, or so I thought. Who am I to criticize this art? Well here are my credentials, gentle reader.

But nope! That was also the wrong move:

credentials

CLICK FOR LARGER, MORE READABLE VIEW. (Some comments anonymized. Blue blocks refer to me specifically.)

Having actually had the nerve to answer the implied question of “who the hell are you”, I found that dudes were actually more infuriated by that than by the presumption of my lack of credentials. Most of them started finding ways to discount my education and experience. (I say most because there was a creepy exception, which I’ll get to in just a second.)

Well I may have done game art, but I’m not a professional artist. Or, I have a degree in art, but not in Drawing. Or, I took drawing anatomy classes, but only two years and that’s not enough to know what I’m talking about[2]. Whatever reasons I came up with as to why I was knowledgeable enough to provide valuable commentary on the subject at hand, those reasons just weren’t good enough.

And then there’s that one creepy exception, who got weirdly obsessed with learning the exact details of my art education, as though he was trying to find some way to debunk my education altogether. He actually demanded that I tell him where I went to school so that he could verify that I had the education that I said that I had. As I said at the time, oh yes, why don’t I provide you with personal details of my life on the internet. That seems like such a great idea, I can’t imagine any way in which that could possibly go wrong. Here’s what I ended up telling him:

I have no idea why you are so FIXATED on my education. I took drawing classes BECAUSE I LIKED THEM. My parents were paying for my degree, and New Media was a bit more practical than a degree in Drawing. So I majored in New Media, minored in Photography, and took all the drawing classes that I could shove into my schedule. BFA is a five year program – I had LOTS of room for electives.

All in all, I think I preferred having dudes go “lol who is this bitch” to that level of totally creepy scrutiny.

So which answer is less wrong?

Honestly, I wish I could tell you. I honestly thought that me talking about my own credentials on MY OWN DAMN BLOG would be a non-confrontational thing, but apparently there are a lot of dudes who feel differently.

Still, why should I have to pretend to be LESS than what I am in order to make a bunch of dudes feel better about themselves? Achievement is not a zero-sum game, fellas. Me having actually done productive shit with my life doesn’t prevent you from doing things with yours. (Links to an animated GIF)

[1] What. Like that’s bad?

[2] Seriously, people. Study anything for two years and you will get pretty knowledgeable, if you’re doing it right.. Two years is a long damn time. Also, it was actually more than two years, but it’s hard to count because semesters are weird.

 

Why the term “casual gaming” needs to die in a fire

In the comments on my previous post, the following nugget of casual-gamer-hate popped up:

I think that 47% figure is factoring in women that play Angry Birds on their IPhones or something.

I hate it when people hate on casual games, and I ESPECIALLY hate it when people hate on casual gamers, especially given that pretty much everyone knows that casual gamers almost always = women. And yet among a certain set of gamers, the idea of casual gamers seems to elicit the same sort of disgust as would lepers or genuine fans of Rob Liefeld[1].

I could write an entirely separate post about my hatred for the Fake Nerd Girl meme, but I won’t.

And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the hate, and I’m sick of the not-really-veiled attempt to define “real” gaming as the parts that don’t contain girls.

So here are some reasons why I think the hate for casual games is bullshit and why I wish the phrase “casual game” would go away forever.

1. Casual games aren’t games? WRONG.

(Unless you’re talking about FarmVille, which totally isn’t a game, it’s a psychological manipulation marketing tool, and not even a well-disguised one at that[2].)

The problem with saying that casual games aren’t games is that it’s a classic case of moving the goal posts. What exactly is it about casual games that make them not games? The fact that they tend to be addictive? Okay, well by that reasoning you’ve just said that Civilization isn’t a game, because I defy you to come up with a game more addictive than Civilization. (JUST ONE. MORE. TURN.)

From Civ Anon. I can’t tell if this is real, or a very clever parody[2].

Is it the fact that casual games tend to be played on mobile devices as opposed to consoles or desktops? Well by that definition, Pokemon doesn’t count as a game, since it’s played on Nintendo’s mobile platforms, nor do any of the other major releases for handheld consoles that people have played over the years.

Is it the fact that they require no major time-investment to play? You can play a few minutes or a few hours and then stop? Well what about games like Tetris, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, etc? Hell, for that matter, what about any fighting game[3]?

Face it. The only real distinguishing factor of casual games is that they are games played predominantly by women. Saying that casual games aren’t games is nothing more than a declaration that the only “real” games are games meant for men, because only men are “real” gamers. Furthermore, to say that casual games aren’t games is factually innacccurate. ANGRY BIRDS IS A VIDEO GAME. It is a game that you play on a screen that has objectives that are reasonably attainable and is competitive and some people find it fun. Thus, it is a video game.

2. The false commitment binary

When casual games exploded in popularity, a firm hierarchy was established. There were the casual gamers and the “hardcore” gamers, and never the twain shall meet. There were the lowly “casuals” – bored moms and computer-challenged grandmothers playing endless games of Candy Crush and Words with Friends – and then there were the HARDCORE gamers. MEN! MANLY MEN! Manly men playing Call Of Duty and Battlefield on Xbox and gleefully trash-talking each other because they were REAL gamers who were HARDCORE.

The only problem is that this idea of the “commitment binary” – you are either a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer – is complete and utter bullshit. Sure there are some women gamers who only play casual games or who only play “hardcore” games. But there are also a lot of women who play both, or whose habits and inclinations change depending on mood and current circumstances.

To help illustrate the point, I did an (entirely unscientific) poll of a small circle of ladygamer friends on my Google+. Amusingly, while I got 11 responses (including myself), I only included 9 in the following graphs because one woman said that she only played one game at a time in periodic gaming binges, while the other said she wasn’t really sure which games she played would be casual and which games wouldn’t – which just goes to illustrate how incredibly arbitrary the division between casual and “hardcore” is.

Nope. Sure doesn’t look like there’s any real correlation between amount of time played per week and how much of that time was spent on casual versus non-casual games. But just to make things a little clearer, I sorted the results a bit and came up with:

And then you have the mitigating circumstances. Several women said they would play more non-casual games if their mobile devices were capable of running them. Two women also said that their high hours per week of games played was because of long commutes – although one typically played a non-casual game on her commute while the other played casual games on her hers.

What was even more interesting was that polling the women for their favorite games in each category yielded some interesting results. Casual games cited were: Temple Run, Angry Birds, Pocket Frogs, Mystery Manner, BubbleXplode, Word Welder, Scrabble, Tetris, Bejeweled, Kami, Word Monsters, Pet Rescue, Farm Heroes, Juice Cubes, and 2048. Angry Birds, sure, but not a single mention of Candy Crush! And most of these were games I hadn’t even heard of!

Non-Casual games cited were: Tomb Raider, Lightning Returns, Civilization 5, Final Fantasy (in general), Oblivion/Elder Scrolls, Fire Emblem, Assassin’s Creed, Catan, and The Bureau. So sure you’ve got some RPGs, but you’ve also got action, stealth, and civilization-building, to name a few.

So here’s where I break out the feminist theory. (Bear with me.) Gaming habits, like gender expressions, are a spectrum. The extremes, pure casual and pure non-casual, are comparatively rare, with most people falling somewhere in between. So remember, just say no to false binaries.

3. Casual games don’t discriminate against us

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a male gamer in possession of bro-itude must be in want of a woman to make him a sandwich.

Anyone who’s been paying a modicum of attention to the state of women in gaming knows that women routinely face harassment in most areas of gaming, especially when that gaming happens online. One only has to look at websites like the (now defunct) Fat, Ugly or Slutty to see an example of the ways in which women are disincentivized from venturing into “traditional” (read: male) gaming spaces.

And that’s not considering of the sexism of games themselves. Even if you can carve out a safe gaming space for yourself, all too often the very games you’re looking to play end up reminding you of your “inferior” status through objectified female characters, stories void of any women except sex workers, or stories without any women at all.

But “casual” games like Angry Birds or Words With Friends or 2048? They don’t constantly remind us our our second-class status. No one is there to call us an ugly slut or demand that we make them a sandwich. There aren’t any overly-inflated breasts or teeny-weeny costumes. So is it any wonder that women would flock to a genre of games that isn’t designed to make us feel bad about ourselves? HOW SHOCKING.

So with all of the above in mind, I’m going to issue a Commandment.

DON’T CRAP ON OTHER PEOPLE’S FUN.

While some games have broader appeal than others, I have yet to find a single game that has universal appeal. Just because a certain game makes you want to gouge your eyes out doesn’t automatically make it a terrible game, and it certainly doesn’t mean that people who do enjoy that game are objectively wrong and must be taught the error of their ways. All it means is that that game isn’t for you. That’s it. That’s all.

For instance, I have a lot of friends who enjoy Risk. I fucking loathe Risk, or, for that matter, any game where you can know you’re going to lose and still be forced to play for an hour and a half before you’re “out”, and where the game might drag on another 4 or 5 hours without you. But some people enjoy that sort of high-risk, high-reward play style, so you know what? Cool! All I have to do is just not play Risk.

So if someone is playing a game that you hate, ask yourself ARE THEY HAVING FUN? If yes, are they hurting anyone? Like it’s not called Throw Knives at Toddlers or Run Over Puppies with Monster Trucks, right? If not, then CHILL THE FUCK OUT. Even if you have the most amazing rant about how what they’re playing isn’t actually a game, keep it to yourself because no one wants to hear it, and by shoving it in people’s faces you’re making yourself into That Asshole. Yeah, you know the one. THAT GUY.

Nobody made you the Fun Lord. You don’t get to decide what is and is not objectively fun. You don’t get to tell people what they do or do not enjoy. So shut the fuck up.


An Addendum

So after I’d already outlined the post and fleshed out most of the arguments, the commenter who inspired this post decided to prove exactly the point that I making by trolling when I rebutted the notion that Angry Birds isn’t a video game.

What made the trolling more egregious was that his original comment was quite receptive to the idea of women in gaming, if a bit clueless:

… I would think males would be more welcoming to female geeks. I mean…where else can you find women with similar interests? Please continue to try and get more women into gaming in general. The scene really needs it right now.

(You can read the entire comment here)

Because the commenter seemed receptive, I focused most of my response on relating my personal experiences of how I have been made to feel unwelcome (with the added comment of yes Angry Birds is a video game). But apparently sharing my personal experiences and disputing that yes, Angry Birds is a video game, was, I don’t know. Too something. Because he then went off on a bizarre little rant that read like an anti-feminist bingo card and included one of my personal favorites: BUT SAUDIA ARABIA[4].

So thanks for helping prove my point, troll comment guy, that the argument about casual games really isn’t about the definition of games. Also? It takes a special kind of asshole to ask why women feel unwelcome, and then – after I shared the story of how I was sexually victimized at a convention – accuse me of taking creep shots of women at cons for the purposes of slut-shaming them on my blog. Congratulations! You may be a C+ troll but you are an A+ asshole.


[1] OH SNAP

[2] I wanted to make a “just one more turn” joke about 12 step programs, but that would make me a terrible person.

[3] Sure some of the newer ones (like Soul Calibur) have “story modes” where you can play a campaign to unlock weapons and costumes and stuff. But mostly it boils down to, go here, beat up this character, rinse, repeat.

[4] As in, why are you wasting your time writing about sexism in games when women are being oppressed in Saudia Arabia?

The double-standard against women in activism [swearing]

At this year’s Game Developers Conference, Manveer Heir, a senior gameplay designer for BioWare, gave a talk about the need for increasing diversity in games. It was a great talk! If you have an hour, I recommend watching it. (GDC has posted the talk in its entirety here.)

But here’s the thing. As a long-time BioWare fan, it’s refreshing to see someone at BioWare come out and say that they need to stop treating women and minorities like shit. (I’m still pissed about the atrocity that was that Liara statue. And don’t even get me started on bullshit fanservice character design like Samara the Space MILF.) And listening to the talk, I was totally cheering Manveer on.

BUT.

The coverage of the talks? The coverage made me furious. In talking about Heir and his delivery of the speech, here’s how Heir was described:

On Polygon, in this piece here:

In what can only be described as a call to arms, he challenged…

Heir’s argument went on to debunk…

Heir posited…

On OS News, in this piece here:

Heir backed up his ideas with research throughout the presentation…

Heir’s speech got a lot right…

It was an important and powerful moment…

It was a well-reasoned, well-researched and impactful…

Venture Beat titled their piece here as:

BioWare developer Manveer Heir challenges colleagues to combat prejudice

Notice a trend? The coverage of Heir’s speech was 100% positive. Every gaming outlet that covered the speech described Heir in only the most laudable terms. Because of course Heir is deserving of praise for making such a clear and cogent call for increased equality of representation in video games. The more pieces I read praising Heir’s speech, the more betrayed I felt.

Bitches, I’ve been saying the same damn things for two-and-a-half years, and it’s not like feminist games blogging was exactly a new endeavor when I started. But no matter how much research I do, no matter how many facts I cite, no matter how well-reasoned my posts are, the best response I can hope for is mixed. Mixed as in some people tell me they love my work and they totally agree, some people politely disagree with me, and some people periodically start hate campaigns calling me a fat, ugly, lesbian, whore, feminazi, cunt, dyke, etc etc etc. You get the idea.

Hell, it was just last month that J. Scott Campbell and Mark Brooks sent their legions of angry comic fans to tell me what a fucking ignorant bitch I was, resulting in nearly 30,000 views in 24 hours. (Something, I’ll note, that they appear not to have suffered any professional consequences over. Not that I ever expected them to.) All because I had THE GALL to criticize a comics artist for prioritizing sexual objectification over actual human anatomy.

I know. God. What a fucking cunt I am.

Well you know what? I wasn’t going to write about my sour grapes. It fucking sucks that once again a man has said something that a woman has been saying all along, but considering the importance of the message it felt really petty of me to say “well sure Heir gave a great speech but here’s why you should feel sorry for meSo I kept my mouth shut and resolved not write about it.

That is until this happened:

CLICK TO VIEW LARGER IMAGE

Jeff Atwood, who writes the blog Coding Horror, stole content from Shanley, a female tech blogger, tone policed her, and then sicced his followers on her to shut her up when she spoke out against the theft. (You can find Shanley’s original post here, Jeff Atwood’s post is here.) And ironically, the content that was stolen was about how men can be effective allies in the tech world. He even used the same title – “What Can Men Do?”.

So, uh, okay. Yeah that sucks, but what am I getting at? Am I crazily accusing Manveer Heir of stealing my feminism?

Uh, no. Heir’s talk was about basic human decency, and also objective facts about the industry, which you can’t really “steal”. No, the point that I’m trying to make is that I am PISSED. I am pissed about the fact that feminism only seems to be palatable when it comes from MEN.

I am pissed about the fact that what matters isn’t the message, but the messenger. I’m pissed that despite the fact that people are falling all over themselves to praise men like Heir and Atwood for being positive voices for change within their respective communities, while women like me have to expect abuse for saying THE SAME DAMN THING. And I’m pissed that there are strong, vibrant women who are silenced every day by the fear of becoming the next Anita Sarkeesian[1].

Here are just a few excerpts from the many comments I’ve deleted since starting my blog:

If you call yourself an artist then [sic] your a total moron.

Your critique smacks of jealousy and transference.

I think whoever wrote this has too much time on their hands and needs to go get laid.

You review and correction is full of ASS like your FACE[2]

If I was you, I’d take this post down before you become an embarrassing meme.

Blah blah blah blah sexism! Blah blah blah [sic] misogamy!!!

Awwww did the little cunt get her feelings hurt?

Now you can delete this post if you want cause that seems to be what you do but hopefully you’ll read it first and take note to turn down the snob factor a notch or two

You post inflammatory comments, then try to play the victim when you’re called out on it.

In the end, whatever you think of yourself, all you’ve done here is to show that you are one of those who “can dish it, but not take it.”

You’re just another “angry feminist with an axe to grind.”

If she does not want people to say negative things about her, then she is in the wrong line of work.

And it’s not like I had to look very hard to find these. All of these comments were deleted from just two posts on my blog. TWO.

So you know what? It’s great that men are starting to realize that gaming has a problem and are beginning to speak out about it. But let’s not go patting ourselves on the back, not when the women who have been saying THE SAME THINGS ALL ALONG are still here and still getting harassed. If Heir’s talk was “challenging” but my blogging is “whining”, then we still have a long fucking way to go.


[1] And let me just make clear here that I’m not comparing Heir and Atwood here. Heir is awesome and I support him 100% and am happy that he is where he is doing what he’s doing. Atwood is gross and used his audience to harass a woman in an attempt to silence her, which is never okay, especially when it’s supposedly in the name of “equality”. So basically Heir =/= Atwood is what I’m saying here. Got it? Good. Moving on.

[2] Okay, I’ll admit that this one actually made me laugh.

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