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.

Even more followup: in which the awful is doubled down

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

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

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

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

—-followup-1

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

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

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

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

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

followup2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay. Sidebar over.

followup4

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

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

followup3

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

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

Regarding entirely predictable backlash [LONG, LOTS OF IMAGES]

First order of business:

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

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

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

male tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your anatomy was wrong

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

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

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

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

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

Your degree is worthless

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

Your pose is static and dull

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

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

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

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

U DELETED MY COMMENT

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

You just need to get laid

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

Facebook haters

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

link

From J. Scott Campbell’s facebook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

misgender

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

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

fat-red-sonja

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

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

missing-the-point-satire

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

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

lets-not-harass

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

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

SCHOOLED-SON

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

THANK-YOU---MY-HERO

YOU ARE MY HERO!

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

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

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

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

—-

[1] I’m on a roll!

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

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

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

I’m just SO. FUCKING. TIRED.

and this:

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

and this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK THROUGH FOR LARGER VERSION

CLICK THROUGH FOR LARGER VERSION

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

Bingo-SolidSnake

Bingo-Shepard

Bingo-Riddick

Bingo-MaxPayne

Bingo-MarcusFenix

Bingo-Kratos

Bingo-Joel

Bingo-Batman

Bingo-Altair

Bingo-Agent47

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

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

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

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