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.

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.

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