The genesis of this blog came from an article that I wrote for See Page XX examining prevalence of sexist depictions of women in different areas of gaming. Before you read anything else here, you should really go read the article. (Yes it’s important enough to link twice.) If you find yourself wanting to argue with the article, please read this post here elucidating common arguments against my findings and clarifying some points regarding my criteria and methods.

My goal is to make this a place you can point people to regarding specific issues pertaining to sexism in gaming.

If this is your first time visiting my blog, welcome! If you don’t want to read chronologically, consider checking out this guide on how to use this blog. If you’re a feminist or ally looking for a specific post to use as a reference, then visit this guide here.

Games I won’t let my daughter play

Here’s the thing about having a three year old daughter. I write a lot about feminism, but even I wasn’t prepared for how goddamn early the cultural indoctrination happens. My daughter’s birthday was only three months ago, and yet she has already been infected with pink and with princesses. Her favorite toys are now princesses, her favorite movies are princess movies, and she insists that she herself is a princess (when she’s not insisting that she’s a fish). And every day she asks to wear dresses.

It wouldn’t be so bad if that’s as far as it went. I could handle having a pink-obsessed, princess-loving, dress-wearing daughter if she hadn’t also accepted all of the garbage that goes along with that. But more than once I have heard her observe, unprompted!, that “girls can’t” do… you name it. Mundane activities. Like “drive”. Even worse was when she said “a proper woman should…”

She never finished the sentence, so I don’t know what would have come next. But honestly, I don’t need to, because I know how that script reads and I know what it leads to – the same issues that I am still struggling with myself in my thirties surrounding my own internalized guilt about being generally pretty crappy at adhering to standard expectations of feminine behavior. Which breaks my fucking heart, because my daughter is three. She makes up stories about her toys, loves climbing things, and is so intensely curious and innocent. So the fact that she, AT THE AGE OF THREE has already internalized the idea that being female makes her LESS…

Well. It makes me want to punch the goddamn universe in the face.

Now, to be sure, as terrible as I feel about it, my spouse and I can’t be held entirely accountable. Since she’s in daycare, she spends more time with other people than she does with us. And even if she didn’t, it’s impossible to control for every exposure to possibly harmful media, because we have to leave the damn house on a daily basis.

Still, it doesn’t prevent me from putting a lot of thought into the sorts of media, games included, that I will allow her to consume while at home. Because while it may be impossible to prevent her from internalizing the core beliefs of our sexist culture, I certainly can do my best to expose her to alternative points of view during her formative years. The problem is that, when I try to come up with titles that I would be okay introducing her to, I don’t come up with a whole lot that she actually can play.


Things that are most definitely Not Allowed

1) Games with Damsels in Distress

First, my daughter will not be allowed to play any games that revolve around saving a damsel in distress. Period. It’s bad enough that at the age of three she’s already learning to think of herself as less capable than boys. But given that she’s obsessed with princesses, and well, a lot of damsels in video games are… fucking princesses…


Yeah. So right off the hop, that rules out any game in the Super Mario series, except for Super Mario Brothers 2, since Peach is actually playable in that one. If asked, I’ll refuse to acknowledge any other game in the series. (Just like how I think it’s really sad that they never made a sequel to X-Men 2, or how Spider Man 3 never happened. Wink wink, nudge nudge) Mario Kart is all right, of course, since the characters are just color in those, but even Super Princess Peach (the one game that Peach starred in as her own title) will be verboten, since her superpowers in that game are basically having emotions and crying. So, you know, fuck that noise.

Likewise, any Zelda game. Zelda gets damseled in EVERY SINGLE ONE, even the ones where she turns into Shiek. And yes, Hyrule Warriors is a game, and yes you can play Zelda, and no she doesn’t get damseled. But Zelda’s costume design is a cleavagey boobplate nightmare, and she actually attacks people by pulling glowing energy OUT OF HER DAMN BITS to attack people. NO I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. Plus there’s also Shia, whose design is just a hot mess of pointless sexualization and that brings us back to nooooope. No Zelda.

Plus, you know, all those other games where women get damseled. You know, Donkey Kong, StarFox, Ico… (I could go on and on, but really it’s just easier to link to part 1 of the Feminist Frequency video on damsels, because really the list is just depressingly long.) That shit just isn’t going to exist in my house.

2) Any game with fridged female characters

Because Jesus Christ, do I really even need to explain why the trope of fridged women is a terrible idea to introduce as commonplace to a three year old girl?


So, you know, thankfully this spares me from having to prevent her from playing a lot of games that I’m personally attached to. Games like StarCraft (which fridges Kerrigan), Max Payne (fridges his wife and daughter), and God of War (fridges his wife and daughter) have never really been my cup of tea.

However, one of my all time favorite games, a game that I replay every few years because I absolutely adore the gameplay and will never get tired of it, is Final Fantasy Tactics. And FFTactics unfortunately manages to have not one, but two damsels in distress (Alma and Princess Ovelia – again with the princesses!). But you also have a fridged woman – Delita’s sister Teta. So as much as it breaks my heart to ban Tactics, because really it’s a flawless example of a tactical RPG, Tactics goes on the shit list too.

Along with, you know, every fucking game featured in part TWO of FemFreq’s Damsel series. So, just with our first two points, we’re already running out of games that can be considered.

3) Games with pointless fucking fanservice

I certainly don’t want my daughter to internalize the idea that being strong and competent requires being sexually pleasing to men. Nor do I want her to internalize unhealthy lessons about how she “should” look, because our culture is already saturated with toxic imagery that holds women to literally impossible standards of beauty. I don’t need to add to that bombardment by exposing her to that kind of bullshit in media that is meant to entertain.


Unfortunately, that means mostly no online roleplaying games. Certainly not League of Legends, or really any MOBA. Or… you know, really any MMO, except Dark Age of Camelot or Lord of the Rings Online. Except… wait. No, almost none of the major lore characters are women, and hell, almost none of the minor lore characters are women either. So… just Dark Age then. Yes I know that it’s unspeakably ancient and a second-gen MMO that hasn’t kept up with standard MMO UI innovations, but that’s just the price she’ll have to pay. Oh and she’ll have to play on a roleplaying server so doesn’t run into female toons with names like “Muffeater” or “Sweettits” – yes both actual honest to god names I have literally seen.

What else…

Well, as far as single player games go, no Mortal Kombat or Soul Calibur. Or, you know, really any fighting games at all, because fighting games are the goddamn reason why “jiggle physics” are even a thing in the first place. It does make me a bit sad, because I lost hundreds of hours to the original Soul Calibur and to Soul Calibur 2; also, Mortal Kombat 1 was one of the first games that my brother and I purchased for ourself and I have many fond memories of playing it. But … yeah. No.

Sadly, #3 means I’ll also have to outlaw a good portion of the Final Fantasy games. It will be hard, and sad, and I will struggle with temptation, but it has to be done. Frankly, anything past Final Fantasy X-2 just has to go. From the ridiculous, ass-exposing shorts Yuna wears in X-2, to Fran’s awful lingerie ninja outfit in XII, to Vanille’s outfit and porny battle noises in XIII… yeah. I did think about outlawing X, but really X is mostly equal opportunity with it’s objectification, so it can stay. Especially because Yuna is one of my favorite female protagonists in games. (Even if her outfit has a stupid amount of sideboob for someone who is traveling across the damn continent and fighting monsters.)

Most heartbreaking, however, is the fact that I will have to outlaw Mass Effect 2 and 3 because of the ridiculously sexualized female companions. Mass Effect 2 has Miranda of the Ass Cleavage, Samara the Space MILF, and Jack of the Ridiculous Nipple Straps, and given that they’re in your party they’re pretty inescapable. Mass Effect 3 is a bit better, but EDI still gets her fucking awful sex-droid body, not to mention that Jack and Miranda still make cameos, so… no Mass Effect 2 or 3, which kills Mass Effect altogether since ME1 is really not all that playable since the stupid Mako missions are required.

And can we just have a moment of silence, because honestly my N7 hoodie is one of my most treasured possessions, and I am still ridiculously excited about getting the reversible Paragon/Renegade hoodie for my birthday this year.

…shit. We’re down to a handful of games here, but there are more things I want to ban. Like…

4) Games with no female characters, or smurfettes, or female characters who are only important for their connection to male characters

Games with NO female characters? That should be fairly obvious, I’d think. Games with smurfettes, though, those have to go too. That particular brand of under-representation really contributes to the notion that women always have to compete with one another – because if half of the population are women, but only 20% or so are heroic, that means that other women who are competent must be the enemy. And while we’re at it we’ll also lump in games who feature female characters that are only important because of their connection to male characters, because that is deprotagonizing and heteronormative as fuck and seriously it’s almost 2016 and I want my daughter to learn that she has the power to make a difference in the world.


So, uh, let’s see. Well, much as I loved Sonic, none of the early Sonic games, because they only had Sonic, Tails, and Robotnik, all of whom are male. It also means pretty much nothing by Blizzard, especially anything based on WarCraft IP. (Except Blizzard already DQs themselves with their copious amounts of pointless sexualization of female characters, so I guess that’s really a non-issue.)

Sadly, this also catches up games that I’ve even been playing pretty recently. Bastion is totally guilty of this; Zia is “central”, but only in that the McGuffin is her father’s journal, and Zulf and the Kid wind up fighting over her. Sure she sorta has an opinion for what you should choose at the end, but you can totally ignore her if you want, because why would you listen to a girl?

Oh god, we’re really down to almost nothing here, but there’s just one more thing that I have to ban and that’s…

5) Games that are casually misogynist


There’s enough casual misogyny in the world without it being packaged as entertainment. Bad enough that she’s going to have to learn that casual misogyny is a thing without me having to introduce the concept of casual misogyny AS ENTERTAINMENT.

So, you know, Grand Theft Auto. The Arkham games. The entire Hitman series…

So. Uh. I guess that leaves… puzzle games? Which isn’t so bad because I love puzzle games! Like, Katamari is one of my favorite games ever! Except… wait. No. No Katamari, because it’s about The King and The Prince, and it takes a long time to unlock The Princess. And there is a Queen, but only in the intro, and she only seems to exist to be pretty and make pies and…

…you know what, maybe I’d better just stop there.

Administrativa: FAQ, and update to the comment policy [LONG]

So here’s the deal. My comments policy is not all that complex: 1) no insults 2) no derailing 3) my house, my rules. And yet, this is something that a lot of commenters seem to struggle with – especially #3.

Since re-opening my blog, I’ve taken a much more liberal approach to enforcing the comments policy. I pretty much have zero fucks left when it comes to people coming into my space and behaving like an asshat; I don’t feel bad in the slightest about summarily trashing comments that insult myself or others, and I’ve grown to quite enjoy replacing derailing comments with sarcastic memes. Because again, see #3 – this is MY house where I make the rules.

But of course, there are certain types of people (men) who think it is LITERALLY JUST THE WORST that I don’t run an open forum for them to insult, abuse, and generally dispute everything I’m saying here. And those people get really. Fucking. Tiresome.

mary poppins

Because I’m getting real tired of this shit recently, I figured that it’s probably time to clarify the comment policy, just for the sake of transparency, so that when people whine about me removing their comments, I have something to point to instead of having to repeat the same five responses over and over again. I will also be updating the comment policy in the sidebar accordingly.

So. FAQ first, and then updated comment policy.

Frequently Asked Questions and Complaints

While this is not a comprehensive list of the terrible comments I get here on this blog, these are definitely the worst offenders. You’ll note that there are a lot of links in my answers to these questions. That’s because Go Make Me a Sandwich is not and never has been a 101-level feminist blog. I do not have the time, interest, or obligation to educate you if you have not done the basics of self-education with regards to feminism as it applies to geekdom.


[sigh] No. Just… no.

First, attempting to dispute that game art is sexist by saying that men get objectified too completely misses the point. I have written extensively on how game art in every segment of gaming consistently under-represents and over-sexualizes women as compared to their male counterparts. This is not speculation – this is based on careful analysis and data collection of a wide variety of sources.

My original article written for Pelgrane covering video game art is here. Additionally, you can find many other posts using the same methodology if you search the “numbers” category here on my blog.

Second, saying that all men are idealized in games and game art is demonstrably factually incorrect. Male characters in games have always enjoyed a diversity of depiction of body size and shape that does not exist for female characters.

Third, male power fantasies are absolutely, categorically not the same as sexualized depictions of women. See my takedown of people who claimed that male characters in TERA were “as bad” as female characters. Or you can read either one of these great posts tackling why that’s just not the case.


For this, I am going to straight up quote myself from this post I wrote about the first Bayonetta game, since Bayonetta is a pretty classic example of a character that is frequently cited as “strong”, “liberated”, and “sexually empowered”:

If Bayonetta were an actual person, then it would make sense to proclaim that her sexuality is a choice and that she’s an empowering female figure. But she’s not a real woman. Everything about her was designed to be sexually appealing by a man who in his own words thinks that all women should strive to be as sexual as Bayonetta. …

It all comes back to the male gaze. (Seriously, please visit that link if the male gaze is a concept you’re not familiar with.) When looking at fictional characters like Bayonetta, you can’t disregard the creator. It’s not enough to say that she embraces her sexuality, because at no point did Bayonetta ever get to make a choice. Her creators made the choices for her. So I totally agree with Jonathan Holmes in his assessment of Bayonetta:

she’s an empty shell of a character; a shell made from here creators’ sexual fantasies, negative stereotypes, and misconceived notions of the female gender.

As for the people who claim you are somehow sexist or slut-shaming when you hate on Bayonetta, the same point applies. Bayonetta is not a person with agency, she’s a fictional creation devoid of any free will or choice. It is not slut-shaming to decry Bayonetta as a hollow stereotype whose sexuality is nothing more than a harmful perpetuation of the stereotypes surrounding female sexuality. It is a judgement on the designers and writers who created her to be what she is. Bayonetta is not for women, plain and simple. She is designed by men for men. As such, I feel no need to pretend that she’s a positive role model.


Nothing! Nowhere have I ever said that I think that there should be no games ever that include sexy women, for cishet-normative values of sexy. What I object to is the idea that every woman in every game must be designed to appeal to the cishet male gaze, because that makes no goddamn sense.

Women have represented juuuust under 50% of the video gamer market for quite a while now, not to mention that 85% of all consumer purchases (which includes video games) are made by women. And yet nearly the entire games industry is focused on designing characters that exist solely for the sexual pleasure and titillation of a presumed male player.

And that sucks! It would be like going to a restaurant that purports to serve people of any gender, but any cisman who walks through the door gets punched in the face. And if you try to complain, the restaurant staff deny punching you, and the other patrons form a lynch mob and run you out of the restaurant.

Further, this kind of thinking assumes that all men are a monolith, which they are not (of course). As shocking as this may be, not all men who play video games are straight. So the hyperfocus on the hetero-normative view of game development also does a disservice to men who don’t really care about sexy women, thanks.


See the above response.


Again, see #3. Also, stop being stupid.


Art direction is definitely a huge piece of the puzzle; I’ve written about the inconsistent art direction coming out of WotC, how internally inconsistent Magic: The Gathering’s art direction is within their own product line.

However, the ingrained sexist attitudes of the artists doing the work is also a huge problem. To quote Erik Mona of Paizo from a comment that he left on my old post about Pathfinder and racial diversity:

“The number of times over my 10-year career in this industry that I’ve had to send back an image with a note like “um, thanks, but can I get this without hard nipples showing through the leather armor, please?” would shock just about everyone.”

So does art direction need to get better? Absolutely. But the artists are just as culpable.


I don’t hate women with big boobs. I am a woman with big boobs. What I hate is that there is a complete lack of body diversity of women depicted in games, despite that male characters come in every shape and size imaginable. It’s the bullshit double-standard that pisses me off, not the boobs or the women they’re attached to.


Quoting myself again:

One of the charges that routinely gets hurled at me is that I’m a sex-hating prude that hates sex in games and thinks that people who put sex in games are just the worst. Which is pretty ludicrous, but it’s the lowest-hanging fruit of dismissive criticism aside from “she’s crazy”, which means it’s something I hear a lot. For a lot of people, it’s easier to attack the messenger than it is to engage with the message, especially when the message is openly critical of something that you like.

For more details on why I actually quite enjoy sex in games when it’s done well, go read the rest of the post that’s taken from.

Or if you’re too lazy, the TL;DR is: I’m not against all sex ever in games. I’m not against all sex ever in art. I’m not against all people ever who like sexy art, or who like sex, or who like sex and games. The end.


Where do I even start…?

First, asking this question somehow implies that I can’t care about more than one thing about the same time. Frex, if I care about Cause Y, then why would I devote time to writing about Cause X? Which is silly, because the vast majority of humans are capable of being passionate about more than one thing. Odds are, you don’t spend all of your free time pursuing ONE activity. So assuming that me taking time to write about something that I feel passionately about – feminism in games – completely precludes the possibility of me engaging in other sorts of activism is… odd. (For more on this, see Derailing for Dummies)

Second, in application this question is almost always racist. Every time I have seen it used, people are asking things like “why are you writing about feminism in video games when you should be writing about female genital mutilation”. Or the violence against Afghan women and girls attempting to access education? Or poverty of women in the Asian subcontinent?  Which becomes really awful when you think about the context.

I am a white, middle class, cishet, able-bodied Christian-ish woman living in Canada. I am privileged as fuck, and I acknowledge that. So for me to devote myself to some crusade to save “foreign” brown women from the evils of their own culture would be the height of White Feminism. And while I am a feminist who is white, I do my damndest not to be a White Feminist. (I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I really do try.) And not attempting to save brown women from their own culture is the low-hanging fruit of not being a goddamn White Feminist.

Third, asking this question is really just trivializing my passion. I write about feminism in games because I am passionate about games, and sexism in games is something that impacts me personally. So for you to say “well actually, this thing you’re passionate about isn’t really all that important” makes you the asshole.


Refer to point number three of the previous response.


Telling me to play something else if I don’t like a particular game is predicated on the assumption that there are a cornucopia of games out there that are perfectly enlightened and not at all sexist. Which, uh, yeah. Yeah that’s not even close to being true.

Usually, my game selection process involves finding the games that are the least sexist and still appeal to my play preferences. It’s a lot like the Monty Python spam sketch – “how about the spam eggs sausage and spam, that’s not got much spam in it” – in that one my primary criteria is always “is this game at least only minimally sexist?”.

Case in point, I play a lot of BioWare games, because they do get an awful lot of stuff right. Even if they really do fall on their faces when it comes to women. Like, a lot.

As for “why don’t I make my own games”? Uh. I do.

12) FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!1!1!eleventy! RAARGH!

Quoting myself again from this post in which I first implemented the comment policy:
most of all, I want this to be MY PLACE …

It’s not my place when I feel constantly challenged to assert my expertise on the matters I’m discussing, when I feel that I must always re-affirm my credentials.

It’s not my place when people come here to tell me that I’m crazy, ugly, irrational, stupid, ignorant, or a fascist.

It’s not my place when they tell me that harassment against women doesn’t matter.

It’s not my place when they tell me to lie down in front of a train rather than continue to speak out.

I can’t handle the volume of negative comments that I get anymore – it drains my energy, wastes my time, and sucks air out of the conversation. This was never intended to be a forum for other people to vent their hatred, and I’m tired letting toxic comments stifle real conversation in the name of welcoming free speech. Fuck free speech. This is not a democracy, and I am not obligated to give you a soapbox.

If you want a forum to tell me that I am wrong, or stupid, or even to just vent your hatred of women, that’s called THE REST OF THE GODDAMN INTERNET.


A lot of the time when I replace a comment with a meme, said commenter whines that I’m not “interested in real discussion”. Which, uh. Yeah. You’re right!

The reason I haven’t entirely closed down comments is that sometimes commenters are able to provide valuable and interesting perspective about a related topic or angle that I didn’t have knowledge of. Take, for example, my post on Lightning Returns and cultural appropriation. There were some really interesting things in the comments said about the history of oppressive violence in Japan against Christians. Similarly, in my post about MMOs and the lack of diversity of female body types, where a commenter provided personal perspective as a female employee who had worked on one of the MMOs I wrote about. That’s the sort of thing that I want to allow for!

The sort of thing that I have zero interest in, however? Shit like sea lioning, insults, cred-checking, or mansplaining. Especially since a lot of what people (men) attempt to mansplain is my own goddamn feelings.

So, you know. Not interested in real discussion? Yes! Way to hit the nail on the head! Where you go astray is thinking that I somehow actually give a shit or think that’s a bad thing.

Policy: Removing and Replacing Comments

If you violate rule #1 (no insults), your comment will be trashed. Period.

If you violate rule #2 (derailing), your comment will be replaced with an appropriate meme of my choosing.

If you complain about rule #3 (my house, my rules), your comment will be replaced with a meme on the first offense, with summary deletion thereafter. You don’t get to come into my house, trash my shit, and whine when I tell you to get the fuck out.


WRT #2, any comment that resembles one of the above questions will be removed and the commenter will be instructed to see the FAQ for reasons why their comment is a waste of everyone’s time. Further, comments on the FAQ itself will not be allowed. This is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship.

No fat women in games; a look at 10 of the most popular MMOs

Recently, I got back into playing Star Wars: The Old Republic when a friend of mine dragged me back into it. I’d played when it was first released as a subscription-only game, and again briefly when it went free-to-play, but I aside from occasional experiments with games like SW:TOR and Final Fantasy XIV, I haven’t seriously played an MMO for at least five years.

And it’s been fun! I’ve missed having a game to play with friends, and being the giant nerd that I am, I actually really enjoy MMO crafting and auctioneering. I’m also enjoying that SW:TOR gets story-based RPG all up in my MMO peanut butter – being able to group while playing story quests is quite a lot of fun, especially when grouping with people of different alignments.

One thing I have NOT enjoyed, however, is the bullshit gendered double-standards for body types. Because while ordinarily I would be happy that I can actually play a character who actually looks like me in terms of body shape, my character is actually at the top end of the body-size slider. Additionally, the bottom end of the female body size slider is anorexic-verging-on-impossible, and even the middle of that range is improbably skinny. Worst of all, however, is the fact that if you play a male character, you can be slim, average, muscular, or actually fat. (Which, you know, sucks. A lot. Because in effect, BioWare IS CALLING ME FAT. Bastards.)

It got me thinking, because honestly, my character in SW:TOR is actually the “fattest” female character I’ve ever played in an MMO, and I’ve played a fair number of MMOs. (Dark Age of Camelot, Warharmmer Online, World of Warcraft – several times, City of Heroes, Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars: The Old Republic, plus maybe one or two others that I’m missing.) And I’m not super familiar with the current MMO landscape, but I was fairly certain that my SW:TOR character would be at the top end of body sizes available for female characters in most MMOs.

So I decided to put it to the test, by taking 10 of the most popular MMOs and examining what the “fattest” female character in each one looked like.

Methodology: Determining Sources and Finding Screenshots

One of the difficulties in deciding which ten games to look at is that there are a good number of MMOs that don’t publish hard numbers on the numbers of subscribers. World of Warcraft publishes fairly comprehensive quarterly data regarding subscriber numbers, but others like RIFT and EVE Online do not. Additionally, figuring out a total number of players can get tricky when you look at the fact that a lot of MMOs have a mix of paying subscribers and free-to-play players; frex, Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, and World of Warcraft are all games that provide a mix of free and paid content.

So it’s important to note that these games might not be THE top ten in terms of player numbers. But the games presented here are actually taken from this list, compiled by Justin Olivetti at MassivelyOP, which examines a wide variety of sources like Reddit, Twitch, Steam, and others. (Although with one tweak, I substituted RIFT for RuneScape, because I’m not quite sure that RuneScape deserves a top ten spot.)

Once I had my list of games, I then dug up character creation videos on YouTube to scope out the character creation process before searching around for the best screenshots that would highlight the “fattest” female characters possible from each games. And the results were… well… predictably depressing.

The Results! (From thinnest to “fattest”)

[Note: these results are pretty subjective. The range of body types is pretty goddamn narrow, so it gets hard to compare.]

One of the things that disturbed me about EVE Online’s character creation is the fact that the body model is actually incredibly customizeable. You can shorten or lengthen the torso, or otherwise distort the figure in a number of ways. However, this is what the female model looks like with both the muscularity and weight sliders at maximum. On the thin end of healthy and not particularly muscular at all:

Eve online

I am reminded of Ford’s infamous slogan about the Model T: “any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it’s black”. You can customize your female character’s body in any way you like so long as she’s supermodel-thin.

However, the next few games’ “fattest” options were the same size as in EVE Online, only without any sort of body-size slider. Rather, all female characters are created exactly the same, as if some sort of eugenics program happened that left only women with impossibly thin physiques and large, incredibly firm breasts:


Truly, I’m really not sure which is worse – a complete lack of diversity of body shapes or a range of body types where the “fattest” bodies are the default shape in other games that are otherwise equally sexist. Because having a world where women are all stamped from the same horrifically sexist mold is obviously problematic, but having a world where body diversity exists only for the sake of the aesthetic of the cishet male gaze is also problematic. Deciding which is worse is like trying to decide which I hate more: brussel sprouts or Rush Limbaugh.

An interesting additional complicating factor here is the fact that both Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft have female character types that are definitely large and muscular. In both instances, however, they are also monstrous:


So, you know, the fact that the only way to see a female body type that actually looks powerful is for that body to be actually monstrous is pretty fucking awful. Having impossibly slender, not-at-all muscular characters as the default body type for women in MMOs is bad enough without ALSO defacto saying that women who actually have larger bodies are fucking monsters.

That said, I will at least give Guild Wars 2 credit for almost getting it right with regards to their nonhuman female model. It’s always bugged me that the cow people in World of Warcraft have breasts. If you’re going to have bipedal cow-people with actual cow legs, then the lady-cow-people (Tauren) should have udders, not breasts. GW2’s Charr don’t have humanoid mammaries, so I can at least pretend that there are, like, 6 nipples under all that fur. Although they screwed it up by giving her that stupid top, because that implies humanoid breasts all over again, which. Arg. If you’re going to have a monstrous race, then let the women be actually fucking monstrous. (I’m looking at you, WoW zombies!)

Then you had the interesting middle ground of RIFT, in which there are no body size sliders, and all of the female models are the same damn size, except for the female dwarf:


Bullshit armor design aside, I actually like the muscularity of the dwarf model, at least compared to any of these other models so far. Unfortunately, the fact that she only has something resembling “normal” proportions because she’s not “human” is problematic, especially when you consider that the dwarves have the proportions of some actual real human people with dwarfism.


Near the top end of the scale (and let’s pause for just a moment to think about how fucking depressing that these next two games classify as being “near the top”) are two games where the largest female body types are actually models that I quite like. Body Type 4 in Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually quite a good model, in that she is muscular without being unbelievably slender. Similarly, the Roegadyn in Final Fantasy XIV are pleasingly sturdy and muscular. Where things get problematic is their contrast to their male counterparts:


The Roegadyn are bad enough, because it’s yet another example of the male power fantasy/male sexual fantasy theory of sexual dimorphism as applied to games. It’s problematic, sure, but it also doesn’t represent anything at all new in games. SW:TOR, however, is more upsetting because of the fact that they do have something new and unique – the ability to play a character that is both FAT AND HEROIC. …but only for men. Because while men can be both fat and heroic, women can only be heroic so long as they are also fuckable.

…please excuse me for a moment while I set the whole goddamn world on fire.

Which brings us to the two last entrants, which are the only games that offer the ability to play characters even slightly larger than myself – Neverwinter and Elder Scrolls Online:


Oh man. So many mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I definitely appreciate that the Neverwinter model is presented as beautiful. And I also like the fact that the Elder Scrolls Online model is the only one that I’ve ever seen that looks like I could play a badass mama barbarian who wears her newborn baby in a sling around as she kills shit and smites evil. (Seriously, the first person that makes me a game where I can do that that isn’t terrible or sexist, I will throw money at you SO GODDAMN FAST.)

However, while both models are technically “fat”, it’s also true that their bodies fit a certain narrow range of socially acceptable fatness. Their breasts, hips, and butts are large, but the extra weight around their middle is not carried on the stomach and their stomachs are still quite toned, which still falls into the trap of idealizing the hourglass figure, which a lot of women just don’t have.

Not to mention that it’s a bit hard to miss the fact that the names that Neverwinter offers for it’s body types are “toned” (positive connotations), “slim” (positive connotations), and “heavy” (mild negative connotations). So even when it’s being presented as an option, it’s being presented as one that is inherently inferior. Which is something that Star Wars: The Old Republic at least did get right by choosing to label its body types with numbers and not descriptors.

In conclusion: I’ll stick with the devil I know

So for now, given that the Star Wars mythos is one that appeals to me, the gameplay suits my play style, and I can play with friends, I’ll be sticking with Star Wars. There are still things that piss me off, like the preponderance of too-thin female NPCs and the fact that there are fat dudes but no fat ladies. But all of the female NPCs I’ve encountered have been fully clothed, with one notable exception. And I have as yet only found one piece of chest armor that didn’t fully cover my torso, and have not yet encountered leg armor that wasn’t fully covering as well.

And as much as that sounds like damned by faint praise, that’s honestly about as good as I’m ever going to get.

What it’s like for me, as a woman, to play Magic: the Gathering [BIG IMAGES]

I’ve written previously about why I don’t attend official Magic: The Gathering events (tl;dr – stereotype threat is zero fun). Still, I really enjoy sealed booster events! They tend to level the playing field for people with less experience in deck-building (unless someone gets crazy lucky with their packs). It’s also a fun challenge, having a completely random subset of cards and a time limit within which to build a competitive deck – especially since it often forces you to build something that’s outside of your usual comfort zone in terms play style.

So what we’ve started doing is buying a box of boosters and splitting it with friends so we can have our own sealed booster night in the comfort of our own home that is free of randos and dudebros. It’s expensive – even when you split the cost between friends – so we only do it 2-3 times a year. But it’s something my husband and I both enjoy immensely, so we’re happy to splurge occasionally to make it happen.

This past weekend was one of those occasions, as a matter of fact. And as always, I had a tremendous time. But even so, I couldn’t help but be aware of the fact that even while playing with friends, away from the weird males-only atmosphere of a game store or other official tournament venue, the game itself was punching me in the feels, in a very particular “This Game Is Not For You” sort of way. And while I was opening packs and sorting through cards, I found myself repressing a lot of comments and complaints that I wanted to make, because while the friends we were playing with are receptive to feminism and the things that I do, they’re not terribly interested in it – and being That Boring Person Who Only Talks About Feminism has become a big fear of mine these last few years.

And it sucked. I hate that this game I like (and spend money on!) makes me feel crappy, and I doubly hate feeling like I have to censor myself. (And to be clear, I would feel the compulsion to censor myself to a certain degree no matter who I was with. It was just that in that situation, I felt I had to censor a bit more is all.) So I was going to write a description of my internal monologue as the night progressed, but then I thought – hell. A comic would be a lot more illustrative of what I’m talking about. (See what I did there?) It wasn’t my intention to do two comics posts in a row. It just sort of happened that way.

This isn’t a comprehensive post, in that it doesn’t look at art from an entire set as most of my other M:TG posts do. This is just focusing on my reactions to art from the packs my husband and I opened during our sealed booster night. Also, I know the preview shrinks these down pretty small, so if you want more detail, be sure to click through so you can see the art I’m talking about in more detail.

Feels: the Punching (deck-building edition)





Swell of Growth

Bonus: Epilogue

While preparing for this post, I went through our cards one more time to get proper card titles so that I could look up larger versions of the card art online. While doing so, I found one card that I had missed altogether, although I’m really not sure how:


Despite all that, I still had fun, and it’s still something that I plan to do again. But is Magic a hobby that I would encourage other women to try, or plan on introducing my daughter to? Unless they start sucking a whole lot less at women, the answer is a resounding hell no. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got into Magic because my husband played, and I wanted to be able to play with him. But games like Magic live and die by word-of-mouth recruitment, and they certainly won’t get any of that from me.

Self-promotion sidebar: The Starlit Kingdom

[For those of you who don’t follow me on other social media channels…]

The Golden Age

Many, many centuries ago, the people of Earth co-existed with the people of the Moon in peace and harmony. This might surprise you, as the Moon queendom was a place rich with beauty and full of wonders, not the least of which were its people, who were blessed with magic and long life. It might seem natural that the people of Earth would look upon their neighbors with jealousy, but the people of the Moon shared freely of their gifts and kept to themselves.

It was thought that this golden age would last forever. Such is the complacency that peace brings.

It Comes To This

It may be that the golden age of humanity will crumble. It may be that Elysium will fall into civil war or declare war on the Moon queendom. The future is not yours to read. All you know is that you have been called to fulfill a sacred duty and you will uphold that duty even at the cost of your life.


It’s been a long time in the making, but The Starlit Kingdom  is finally finished and available for purchase. The Starlit Kingdom is a game about magical girls struggling against tragic fate, and is inspired by Sailor Moon, but you don’t have to be a fan of anime or magical girls to appreciate this game. This game tells beautiful, sad stories about the fall of a magical kingdom full of beauty and wonder, and your doomed efforts to save it and the people you love. It is GM/MCless, and runs 2-4 sessions with 3-5 players.

You can purchase The Starlit Kingdom in print at Lulu, or in PDF through my PayHip storefront.

(Lastly, I will note that The Starlit Kingdom is a hack of Thou Art But A Warrior, which is powered by the Polaris system by Ben Lehman – who is awesome.)

SXSW, GamerGate, and bears

I don’t blog much about GamerGate anymore, and for the most part it’s faded from a lot of online discussion, now that anyone with any semblance of empathy or ability to think of women as people has left GamerGate behind. However, GamerGate is still very much active, and all the more frightening now that it has crystallized into an actual hate group. (No, really. I’m not even kidding.)

So it was a bit baffling that SXSW, a huge pop culture convention/festival centered around music, film, and interactive entertainment decided to allow a pro-GamerGate panel on their roster of upcoming events, especially given that there was also to have been a panel about online harassment featuring Randi Harper, Katherine Cross, and Brianna Wu – three of GamerGate’s favorite targets.

Predictably, there were threats made against the festival and its organizers, because of course there were – this is GamerGate we’re talking about. And rather than commit to providing extra security, SXSW canceled both the pro-GamerGate panel and the online harassment panel. Despite that SXSW is a huge festival that makes absurd amounts of money, and they have played host to some pretty damn big names in the past and have done just fine in providing them with extra security.

Even more ludicrous was the fact that the SXSW organizers then proceeded to pat themselves on the back, calling the decision “strong community management”. Which is when I conceived of this great idea for a comic, explaining how absolutely ludicrous that decision is by substituting “GamerGate” for “bears”, and then exaggerating for comedic effect.

Unfortunately, then my three year old decided to share her cold with me, and by the time I had it finished and got around to posting it, SXSW had already acknowledged that their previous decision was a mistake, which kills some of the humor. Still, I’m pretty proud of how it came out:


Oh well. Even if I didn’t act quickly enough to post for maximum internet hilarity, I still got to draw angry bears – which was pretty awesome.

Now something I will point out is that this comic is a bit reductive in painting this purely as GamerGate versus Randi Harper, Brianna Wu, and Katherine Cross – when the panel that they had wanted to host is actually about online harassment more broadly, not just as part of GamerGate. (Katherine Cross in particular has said that she has been trying to leave GamerGate behind and to move on with her work and her activism.) Still, the fact remains that GamerGate remains the genesis of their anti-harassment work, and still constitutes a large share of the abuse that they receive online.

It is encouraging to see SXSW not only acknowledge that their decision was wrong-headed, but also put together a day-long event that already has a pretty awesome roster of speakers. It would have been nicer if this summit had been something that could have happened without a giant debacle of this nature. But hopefully the extra publicity generated by the bungled handling of this matter will end up resulting in additional publicity for a much-needed event.

Gender swap: SMITE’s newest character – Sol

I’ve done a lot of writing about serious subjects recently, and in trying to find something more light-hearted to post about it occurred to me that it’s been quite a while since I’ve done a gender-swap. And really, I do love doing gender swaps, if only because I think that attempting to objectify men as much as women are objectified in games is both 1) an interesting intellectual exercise and 2) hilarious.

In which I pick on SMITE

Several months ago I wrote about SMITE, a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) that has been gaining in popularity. At launch, it had three million players, and as of July they have passed the ten million mark. Unfortunately, its character designs are impressively, almost comically sexist, not to mention racist and culturally appropriating.

(And let me be clear, when I say that SMITE has some of the most sexist character designs that I’ve seen in video games outside of kMMOs, that really means something given that the base level of sexism in video games is really fucking high. I mean, this is a character that actually happened in a major video game release by a major game studio in 2015: )


Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Anyway, when I was thinking of where I should look for material for a new gender swap, SMITE was the first game that came to mind. Since I’ve been criticized in the past for going after “older” skins in previous critiques of similar games, I wanted to make sure I got something current. So I loaded up the SMITE website, not with any particular character in mind, and this is what I got:


…okay then. At least they solved the problem of which character I was going to gender swap without me having to actually bother looking through their website. If they’re going to be objectively awful, I do at least appreciate them being upfront about it so as to save me tedious minutes of research.

So, meet Sol. Sol is a gender-swapped interpretation of the Roman sun god for whom our sun is named. Since driving the solar chariot across the sky is still a thing that has to happen, Sol-the-character is an elemental manifestation of fire, a projection of the sun god’s will, or some such nonsense. To be honest, I really didn’t bother reading her background that closely, since it was a blatantly transparent attempt to design a female character that is completely naked:


“She can’t wear clothes because she’s made of fire” “Those aren’t actual breasts, she’s just using her power to look human” “She’s an elemental being, she doesn’t care about human morality”, etc etc etc. I could come up with more such justifications if I cared enough to try, but I don’t.

Now to be fair, her anatomy at least isn’t all that terrible. She’s got a moderate case of sphere-boob, and given the width of her hips, her waist is improbably narrow. (It’s not impossible, but in many people it would require a certain degree of corseting to achieve.) In fact, her anatomy is actually less improbable than some of the goddesses who wear more clothing (I’m looking at you, Aphrodite!). Though now that I mention it, “goddesses who wear more clothing” is still setting the bar depressingly low.

Despite being generally okay in terms of non-distorted anatomy, it’s hard to deny that the rest of her design conveys nothing but “sexy fire girl”. The “tattoos” on her shoulders point RIGHT AT her creepy nippleless breasts, and the “tattoos” on her thighs draw attention to the fact that YUP she is TOTES NAKED. But really, it’s fine, because she has a Barbie-doll crotch, and, you know, fire. Right? Except for the fact that her quotes only emphasize that she is meant to be seen as a sexual character that you could totes have sex with, because she is WAY HOT:


“Let’s make it hot”? “Oh I look hot… If I do say so myself”? “If you play with fire it enjoys it”? Seriously, the last one is just kind of creepy, not to mention awkwardly worded. Can’t they hire an editor to vet their creepy innuendos? Ugh.

And now the Gender-swap

So my mission was clear. Gender-swap Sol. Which I knew, even with her complete lack of clothing, was going to be a challenge:


First, you’ll note that I gave male-Sol a g-string. That’s pretty much entirely because game studios are dominated by the sorts of dudes who have no trouble having a naked female character in their game, but a naked man? With full frontal nudity? Well they can’t have any of that, because that would make them gay. Because REASONS. Or cooties. Or something.

So right off the bat, male-Sol winds up losing a lot of the punch that female-Sol has. But even without the g-string, I think male-Sol still would have lost a lot in translation. The original portrait of female-Sol is intentionally in what I call “boob perspective”, to emphasize her, uh, feminine attributes. You still get a little of that, what with male-Sol’s junk being thrust toward the viewer, but a lot of the objectification inherent in the camera angle gets lost, since male-Sol doesn’t have breasts to be emphasized by that perspective.

There’s also the issue that, unfortunately, in our culture there are a lot of shitty gendered assumptions surrounding nudity. For female-Sol, being posed in this manner from this perspective combined with her nudity, the implication is that she is sexually available and is being presented for the enjoyment of a (presumed) straight male viewer. Because we don’t have the same assumptions surrounding men, male-Sol, ridiculous g-string and all, doesn’t convey the same level of sexual availability.

And yet, had male-Sol actually been put forward as a character design by the developers as a new character, doubtless there would be hoards of gamers decrying the design for being too gay, or for pandering to women, or any other number of homophobic and/or misogynist reasons. Character designs that cater to the straight male gaze in games are A-okay, but heaven forfend if someone actually attempts to cater to the the gaze of people who are attracted to men. Because at the heart of it, things that present men in ways that are objectifying threaten the sexist assumption that men are people and women are sexual objects, and not the other way around.

Gaming’s misogyny-induced brain drain

I know a lot of my readership is American, and given the American media’s complete lack of interest in, I dunno, your biggest trade partner and the country with whom you share the largest open border in the world (no big), you may not be aware that Canada just had a major federal election that resulted in a new Prime Minister (which is like a President, but fancier) after more than 10 years of having Stephen Harper as our national leader.

If you’re American and have heard about the election results, it’s probably because Justin Trudeau – our new Prime Minister – is young (43) and ludicrously good looking. (Seriously, Stephen Harper’s party actually campaigned against Justin Trudeau’s hair. That’s how good his hair is.) I, personally, have been greatly enjoying the media coverage that has been objectifying the shit out of him, because for once the shoe is on the other foot and it is glorious.

Now what does any of this have to do with games? After all, isn’t this a blog specifically about games and gaming? Well! One of the benefits of having a young PM who is “hip” and “with the times” (as the kids say these days) is that Justin Trudeau is actually up on cultural issues that affect people younger than 50. Case in point, in an interview, Trudeau owned the label of feminist and specifically called out GamerGate!


GamerGate, of course, being GamerGate, they wasted no time in declaring war on Justin Trudeau in retaliation. Because declaring war on a major head of state because he expressed an opinion about misogyny in gamer culture isn’t a bad idea at all:


And because I was feeling good and riding high on the election results, I thought that – hey, maybe I could write a silly post about Justin Trudeau waging war against GamerGate with CSIS (think CIA) and drones and shit, and I could make it dryly satirical and it’d be a funny little interlude after a string of way too fucking many serious posts that I’ve written. I could even put in a lot of jokes about Trudeau’s hair, and how GamerGate is terrified of him because they know their trilbys just can’t compete with the majesty of Trudeau’s glorious mane.

But all of that was yesterday, before a terrible thing happened that hurt some people that I really care about, and I was forcibly reminded that GamerGate is not a joke. Yes the furor may have died down, and most of those who were tweeting under the hashtag have moved on. But those who have remained committed are the extremists, and their commitment to doing whatever it takes to silence people they see as enemies is truly frightening. So suddenly all the jokes I’d been brainstorming about drones powered by hair product, and squirrels and moose dressed in CSIS uniforms storming basements, and blowing up bunkers full of Code Red and Doritos – they stopped being funny.

So because I do legit feel bad about being such a downer of late, before we move on please do enjoy some of my very favorite social media reactions to our new Prime Minister:



And now, moving on…

Gamers: we’re our own worst enemy

[Before I go any further, let me note as always that I am taking great care not to name names here. This is not just for my safety, it’s for the safety of others, so for fuck’s sake if you know who I’m talking about DO NOT link to this piece and name names. That is an asshole move.]

This morning I woke up to the news that someone I have great admiration and respect for was closing down his public social media presence because of harassment from gamers. And distressingly, instead of being shocked and amazed that this was happening, my very first thought was “oh Christ, not again”. Because this shit is like clockwork – it’s so regular you can practically set a clock by it.

This time it’s happening to some people that I feel very privileged to have been able to meet and spend time with. People who helped me get started with some of my first “legitimate” work in the games industry, and who helped me find confidence in my ability to write professionally. People who have done interesting and cutting-edge work, and from whom I have learned a lot about the business of being a publisher. And aside from sending some messages of support, I felt angry and powerless to do something, anything to help. Which is what prompted me to take to Twitter with the following rant:

Real talk: There are some terrifying people in our hobby. People I have legit lost sleep over, and people who I avoid talking about. Thing is: I know a lot of people who follow/circle/talk to these people, because they have good ideas, or they like the debate. Whatever.

The terrifying people are obviously problematic, because the shit that they do isn’t okay by any objective standard of behavior. But to the people who KNOW that someone is terrifying and problematic and continue engaging anyway? YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. YOU are the reason why our hobby is having such a brain drain. Why the best and the brightest with the most to offer are leaving. And our hobby is poorer for it. It is less smart, less innovative, less creative.

A lot of people talk big about wanting to make the hobby more diverse. About wanting more women and PoC and LGBT doing the work. But when it comes to being willing to call out terrifying people when they do ACTUAL TERRIFYING THINGS? The silence is deafening.

People will choose content over morality, because it’s comfortable. Because they don’t want to have to sacrifice things they like. Meanwhile there are people who have changed how they live IN REAL LIFE because these people are THAT TERRIFYING.

I am so tired, so very very tired of people that I look up to leaving gaming because of toxic entitled assholes who harass them out of loving a thing that they used to be passionate about. Gaming has lost so many voices, rich, vibrant, brilliant voices that contributed so much – people that moved the state of game design in new and fascinating directions. And our hobby is objectively poorer for it.

And yet this behavior is tolerated, even tacitly encouraged, by so many. People who say they want to separate the work from the creator, or that “sure [Person X] may be an asshole, but…”. Whatever the reason they espouse, the people who continue to engage are a huge part of the problem, because they are creating a space in which harassers and abusers are tolerated (and sometimes even celebrated) while those same harassers and abusers victimize people with impunity. So people leave. Brilliant, funny, talented, passionate people whose contributions can’t be replaced, and they will keep leaving as long as this is the case.

A lot of people try to stay away from these discussions, saying that they don’t want to “choose sides”, but that is the coward’s way out. A vote for neutrality is a vote for the status quo, and the status quo is a culture of misogynist and racist harassment that drives the brightest and best out of our hobby altogether. Not to mention the fact that there is no such thing as “sides” in a hate campaign, because the idea of “sides” implies that the parties involved are somehow equal, that there is somehow an equal amount of wrong being committed.

But the only wrong being committed is that people are daring to express opinions about games and gaming that someone else doesn’t like. And gamers, largely, are perfectly fine to sit back and watch other gamers harass and abuse them for the crime of saying things that someone didn’t like. (Or making a game that someone didn’t like. Or simply existing in a gaming space in a way that someone didn’t like.) And until our hobby steps up and starts taking this sort of behavior seriously, starts making gaming as unfriendly to harassers and abusers as the harassers and abusers have made gaming for smart and progressive voices, this will only continue. And many brilliant and innovative games will simply never get written.

So, gamers. If you can’t find it in you to act out of altruism, consider doing so out of enlightened self-interest. It’s a numbers game. The content being produced by harassers and abusers is greatly, greatly outweighed by the content that would have been produced by those who have left, or who are trying to leave. But please, for the love of god. Say something. ANYTHING. Because the silence of good people hurts even more than the abuse of people who are objectively terrible anyway.

White People: please stop crowdfunding super racist games. It’s embarrassing. [CW]

[Content warning: This post contains, among many other things discussion of anti-Native ethnic slurs.]

So there’s thing that happens semi-regularly to me in my G+ circles; someone links to a game that is being crowdfunded (usually on KickStarter) that is cringe-inducingly racist, and there’s a discussion thread where people say things like – shit, this is so bad. How is this this bad? But a lot of the time, these discussions happen in more private circles, since nobody wants to risk accidentally giving exposure to a terrible thing that shouldn’t exist. And I avoid writing about it here for the same reason, and then it sort of slips away and I forget to write about the issue again until yet another cringe-inducingly racist game KickStarter pops up in my feed, and the cycle starts all over again.

So. Enough is enough.

White game creators, it’s time to have a talk – white person to white person – because seriously. This has to stop. You’re killing me over here.

Before we start: Ground rules

Quite a while ago, I wrote a very basic set of rules that you should look to follow in order to create inclusive games.

Last year, I wrote about the basic rules you should follow when looking to write inclusive games. But for the purposes of this post, we’re just going to concentrate on the lowest-hanging of the low-hanging fruit – rules #1 and 2:

  1. Cultural appropriation is bad
  2. Don’t erase marginalized groups
  3. Don’t combine #1 and #2

Of course, there’s more to it than that. A LOT more. As in, 10,000 words more. If you want to read my entire series on writing inclusive games and how to avoid offensive stereotypes, you can find it here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part3. But for the purposes of this post, that’s what we’re going to focus on, with some examples of what this shit looks like in the wild, since I went to the trouble of digging up some examples of things that a) have already funded or b) won’t actually fund. That way I’ll be able to illustrate what I’m talking about instead of attempting to talk in generalities.

Depressingly, I will note that all of the examples that I dug up for this post center on anti-Native racism. The game that prompted me to write this post was racist against a different group of people entirely, but sadly it seems even easier to find games that are racist about Native and Aboriginal peoples on KickStarter than any other group. (At least anecdotally speaking.)

Also: yes this shit does actually fund sometimes

Thankfully, most of the examples that I have to talk about are things that people emphatically did not vote with their dollar to see produced. Unfortunately, games based on racist tropes and stereotypes do still find audiences, and they do still fund. Case in point:

Going NativeI’ve written about Going Native on this blog before, so I’ll just quote myself rather than attempt to rehash something I already stated well and succinctly:

Not too long ago there was a game that successfully funded on Kickstarter called “Going Native: Warpath”. (Really, even just the title should be a giant red flag.) Going Native: Warpath is a minis war game in which players have armies that are based on real-life native and aboriginal cultures which has been written and developed by (of course) a white dude.

Because nothing says “sorry for that one time we committed genocide against your people and then forced the survivors into institutionalized poverty” like casual cultural appropriation. Bonus points for managing to convey the added baggage of “well killing your people wasn’t as bad as it could have been since you were already doing it to yourselves”.

So let this be a cautionary tale. Just because I’m intentionally picking examples that will not be getting their target funding doesn’t mean that KickStarters for racist games aren’t still a huge damn problem.

Now: Down to the nitty gritty

I have three examples to discuss, which I will cover in order of least offensive to dear god what the actual shit how did you spend this much time creating a KickStarter without ever once critically examining what you wanted to KickStart?

The first is a game called Indigenous, whose tagline is: “In an uncharted jungle you have to hunt animals, build shelters, collect ingredients and fight other tribes to ensure your survival.”

Okay. A bit dodgy, but possibly not so bad right? However, here’s the very first sentence in their campaign description:

“With this game we try to achieve something realistic and entertaining enough, to let you immerse into the rough land of primitive indigenous people.”




Now I will at least give these developers credit: they did at least describe them as people – something the next two games certainly can’t lay claim to. But, given that this is a game being KickStarted by a team from Germany which is composed of (as much as I was able to discern) decidedly white-appearing folk… the execution is tone-deaf at best, and really gross even if you’re attempting to look at this charitably (which I don’t really think this game deserves). Thankfully, as they are currently sitting at 1.4% funded with about a week to go, there’s no real danger of this KickStarter succeeding.

Of course, clueless and tone deaf is at least still better than games that intentionally fail at not being offensive. Like Deadskins: a game that managed to actually gain $6000 in pledges, despite incorporating an actual goddamn ethnic slur in the name of their game[1]:


And again, unsurprisingly, the KickStarter was created by a decidedly white-appearing dude[2]. Because this shit is so predictable you can practically set a watch by it.

Unlike Indigenous, Deadskins also was Greenlit by the Steam community, proving once again that Steam is depressing and will Greenlight just about anything. (Hell, if it’s REALLY depressing, Valve founder Gabe Newell will apologize for people trying to censor your project if it gets too much blowback.)

And honestly, it’s hard to know where to even begin in explaining just why this game is so awful. I mean, look at this screenshot:


So… Let’s start with the fact that this whole damn game is a pastiche of offensive tropes and stereotypes. Deadskins combines Romero-type Hollywood zombie antics with awful stereotypes about natives in that awful way that a lot of game creators do when they want to cherry pick the most “awesome” elements of a real world (usually) non-white culture for their game. For instance, the zombies in Deadskins actually defeat their enemies by scalping them. Also, the above screen shot is an example of a zombie spirit animal. That you can ride. You know. Just because.

There’s also the fact that all of this undead Native crap is a super casual perpetuation of the Vanishing Native myth – the idea that that Native peoples are disappearing and that their total disappearance is a foregone conclusion. Which is fucking horrific, because. You know. We (ie white people) enacted genocide against them so that we could take their land and resouces. Not to mention that the Vanishing Native myth is still causing very real harm today.

And I don’t care HOW sheltered you are, after the continued, persistent, ongoing controversy over the Washington R*dskins’ team name, even the most dedicated of non-sportsball-fans should be aware of the fact that the term “redskin” is an offensive ethnic slur[3].

And yet, as awful as Deadskins is, it still doesn’t manage to beat out the campaign for a game called Tap N’ Trap, OF COURSE BY WHITE MEN, which manages to combine cluelessness, horrible racism, and casual dehumanization quite catastrophically:

Tap N Trap

Yeah, I knew it was going to be bad when it started with “help ABORIGINALS”. Not help aboriginal PEOPLE. Help ABORIGINALS[4]. Worse, they mix terms and portrayals pretty freely. (Because, you know, why bother with research or any of that when you can just combine a lot of primitive looking shit from different cultures, right? Who cares as long as it ends up looking cool?) In the description of their campaign, they refer to the non-white characters as “aboriginals”. But in the captions for their character designs, they’re referred to as “Natives”.

Which. You know. Okay. In Canada the terms are used somewhat interchangeably, so maybe I could give that a pass if it weren’t for the character designs:


The description makes it sound like they’re talking about Native or Aboriginal peoples, but the skin tones and character designs – especially the masks – visually reference a pastiche of African cultures. Which. Uh. At the risk of stating the obvious, Native people and African people aren’t even from the same continent. They’re entirely separate ethnic groups with completely different languages, cultures, and traditions.

The nail in the coffin? The magical power-up item for your “Natives” is a GODDAMN WATERMELON:


BRB SETTING EVERYTHING ON FIRE. (If you’re not familiar with the history of why watermelon imagery associated with black people is seriously not fucking okay, especially when it’s being created by white people, then just follow this link to this Google Image search. Just be warned, it’s so racist it’s probably NSFW.)

Honestly, this is the sort of “ironically” awful games that I could see being published by a certain Edgy Game Designer. But the game creators actually seem pretty earnest about using this game as a springboard for social change. Unfortunately, the cause that they are espousing isn’t anything like, say, (to name a few Canada-specific issues affecting Native populations) the epidemic of murdered and missing indigenous women, or the lack of access on reserves to adequate housing and education, or hell even the lack of access on reserves to clean drinking water. No. The cause that they want to espouse is environmentalism and disappearing endangered species.

So all of that horrible racist shit. The conflating nonwhite cultures that have nothing to do with one another, the casual dehumanization, the perpetuation of fucking horrible racist stereotypes… all of that shit is just the creators using PoC as PROPS to talk about what really matters. ANIMALS.

Which is why Tap N’ Trap wins the award for THE MOST RACIST SHIT I HAVE SEEN ON KICKSTARTER, yes even worse than Deadskins. Because congratulations, when you perpetuate harmful racist bullshit while simultaneously prioritizing animals over actual goddamn people, that makes you a shitty human being.

White people: It’s time to get our act together

Look, white people. I say this as a white person who writes games about non-white people[6]. I get it! It’s hard! Writing games about non-white people is hard! It takes a lot of time, effort, and research. It also requires talking to people who come from the group of people that you are writing about. And most importantly, it involves being willing to dismantle your own bullshit and a willingness to look for where you fucked up (because I promise you, you will always fuck up somewhere). All of which requires the willingness to be uncomfortable, and to sit with that discomfort. And all of that is HARD. And uncomfortable, and unfun. And isn’t making games supposed to be about having fun?

But we aren’t not even talking about making games that are truly inclusive and promote diversity here, because frankly we suck at that, white people. (Yes, including myself in that. There are things that I could do better.) So, babysteps. Let’s just work on not crowdfunding shit entirely based on horribly racist stereotypes, okay? Please?

[1] Although it’s worth noting that the actual percentage of funding is almost the same as Indigenous, given that goal was a ludicrous $365,000.

[2] That’s not to say people who aren’t white men don’t make racist games. But the ones that I’ve seen that get as far as KickStarter tend to have been created by white men.

[3] If you’re interested in reading more, the Wikipedia entry on the team name controversy actually provides a pretty good starting point as to why the term is problematic and its history, even if it is a bit too focused on remaining “balanced” for my liking.

[4] Given how fucking common it is for native populations to be portrayed in ways that dehumanize them, it’s important to always refer to native people in ways that emphasize their humanity. Native people, not Natives. Aboriginal people, not Aboriginals. It’s the same reason why we say “transgender people” instead of “transgenders”, frex[5].

[5] Although I have heard people say “transgenders” as a noun and seriously. Just. Don’t.

[6] Because seriously, if there’s one thing that gaming DOESN’T need, it’s more games about white people.

Wednesday Freebie: An interview with the creators of Lovecraftesque

Today’s post is an interview with Becky Annison and Joshua Fox, the creators of a game called Lovecraftesque that is currently KickStarting with (by the time you will probably read this) slightly less than seven days to go.
Lovecraftesque is, as the title might imply, a story game about telling stories in the Lovecraft style without adhering to the specific Cthulu mythos. What got me excited about the project is the fact that the creators were both committed to addressing the problematic aspects of Lovecraft’s work head-on in their game, with some very interesting stretch-goals that tackle the issues of race and mental health in Lovecraft’s stories in depth.
They’re currently at a bit more than 200% funding with some very exciting stretch goals in the works. So if what you read here interests, you, I’d definitely advise checking out the campaign, since it’s all gravy from here on out!
1. One of the things that jumped out at me right away is that you explicitly call out H.P. Lovecraft’s issues with race, and are getting Mo Holkar (who has done some really excellent writing about race in roleplaying games) to write about ways to tell stories that have the Lovecraft feel without the problematic racism. This is something that, honestly, I haven’t seen from many Cthulu mythos-inspired games. How much did these concerns affect the design of the game and planning for the KickStarter?
[B] We couldn’t have done a Lovecraftian game without addressing his racism and making a concerted effort to keep it out of our game.  We were really concerned (and we still are) to make sure our game isn’t extending his racism either explicitly or subtlely. But we are also really lucky – there is a huge community of people including Mo Holkar, Chris Chinn, yourself and many others who have been talking and writing about representations of race in RPGs for a long time.  There is a lot of help and resources in the RPG community in navigating this problem and I hope we’ve done the best job we can.

Part of the problem is that, while Lovecraft was bigoted in really obvious ways, he also weaved racist ideas into his stories in much more insidious ways – like, some of his stories look like they’re just about monsters from beneath the waves or ape-gods living in hidden jungles, but they’re actually not-particularly-subtle metaphors for his hatred. We read around the subject to understand it as much as possible.

[J] Design-wise, the game doesn’t copy Lovecraft, but instead attempts to help you to create a Lovecraft-like story, with your own terrors. Unless you use one of the pre-written scenarios available in the final version of the game, the players will be creating their own settings for Lovecraftesque at the table. So we focused on giving players the tools they need to deal with the racism in Lovecraft’s work.

We start with techniques for:

– Putting in place safety measures that allow players to effectively veto racist themes. There’s a step in the game setup where players can ban elements from the game, with explicit prompts in the text and on the play aids to consider banning in-character racism (and simplistic “going mad”-style depictions of mental illness), but also recommending the use of the X-Card technique by John Stavropoulos to catch the stuff that you couldn’t have anticipated at setup.

– Including a section discussing Lovecraft’s racism, how it might come up in the game, and how you can avoid it and diversify your game. We take the opportunity there to encourage groups to discuss these issues, because that’s our bottom line: if anyone in your group will be made uncomfortable by something, it’s best to avoid it, and you only find that out by talking about it. And of course, that’s now going to be supplemented by Mo’s essay which will go into this in more detail.

[B]  This is supported by art and flavour text that attempts to represent a diverse range of people, and which tries to avoid example text from Lovecraft which contains racist themes.

We mentioned all these themes in the Kickstarter, and of course, we wanted the sample art for the Kickstarter to exemplify our approach.

2. As someone who struggles with both anxiety and depression, I also really appreciated the fact that you plan on addressing how to respectfully portray mental illness. Was that something that was difficult to write about, and did it pose any challenges during playtesting?
[J] I guess just about everybody has either struggled with mental illness themselves or knows people who have. Lovecraftian stories are replete with simplistic, offensive depictions of mental illness, which much of the time boils down to portraying characters that have simply “gone mad”, an idea which doesn’t bear any relation to actual human psychology. But of course, the idea that the horrors of the mythos have a baleful effect on the human mind is a pretty core theme in Lovecraftian tales – you can’t completely abandon that and stay true to those stories.

We tried to analyse the ways that mental illness (or, more often, something that looks like mental illness but actually isn’t) might come up in a cosmic horror story. We found there’s actually a lot of ways to represent these themes without being offensive or perpetuating negative stereotypes. Writing about it was a huge challenge because there is far less discussion on mental health representation in RPGs than representations of race.  Shoshana Kessock’s original article is still the most comprehensive discussion piece on the themes – though there’s been a surge in discussion recently which we’ll be paying close attention to.

We both sometimes struggled to describe some of Lovecraft’s themes, such as the worldview-shattering effects of the mythos, or the presence of characters who have been deeply traumatised by an encounter with the horror. It was easy to unintentionally slip into casual ableist language in our game text and we have tried to correct that.

[B] You asked about playtesting. I don’t remember this being a particular problem in playtesting save that it was a new direction to ask people to directly think about using the word “mad” as a descriptor in a Lovecraft game.

There aren’t any sanity mechanics in the game which would push players in the direction of depicting mental illness. There were moments in playtesting when characters justifiably behaved with an element of temporary hysteria. I hope those didn’t come off as offensive and I certainly believe and hope they didn’t cross any lines. But my conclusion from all this is that, lacking an explicit mechanical push, most players will tend to default to playing their character as a person and not suddenly lurch into bizarre stereotypical behaviour.

 On the other hand we provide other routes for people to express their character’s mental discomfort. Because there’s just one central character – the Witness – we ask the players to provide their inner monologue; speaking out loud the Witness’s fears and rationalisations. Every time they do that, they’re effectively saying “fuck, that was scary/weird/what is happening here????”. So, instead of having their character giggle hysterically, you can just have them think appropriately terrified thoughts and/or vainly attempt to rationalise it all away. Again, this encouraging a style of play that portrays the character first, symptoms second.
3. I LOVE the preview pieces of art posted on the KickStarter. Do you have any strategies in place for your art direction to ensure that the art as a whole is diverse and inclusive?
[B] Thank you – we are so excited about the art for Lovecraftesque.

We knew going into this project we wanted to have a really diverse approach in the artwork.  Diversity in the text doesn’t mean much if it isn’t reflected in the art. A lesson we’ve learned from you and others!

When we looked for an artist we asked the RPG design community on G+ for recommendations, and especially encouraged people who were not white, cis, het, men to contact us.  Not that we didn’t want submissions from those men, but we figured we’d get plenty of responses from those guys anyway (and we did which was cool!) but we wanted to make sure we got plenty of other people being recommended as well.  We specifically put a note in saying we wanted to encourage submissions from people who might have imposter syndrome or otherwise assume they weren’t professional enough – because lack of confidence is often a problem for people and we wanted the widest possible pool of artists to choose from.

[J] We were really lucky to have Robin Scott as our artist. Robin was on exactly the same page as us when it came to making our art diverse – we were incredibly impressed with the diversity of models in her Urban Tarot work.

Right from the start, we said to her (and come to think of it, we said this to all the artists we shortlisted) that we wanted to portray diverse characters, from all genders, ethnic backgrounds, ages, sexualities, and levels of ability and disability, with a ceiling on the number of white dudes portrayed in the art. We also asked to avoid portraying all the white men as heroic action types with women and people of colour as passive victims or other stereotypes. Robin’s response was that she would have done that anyway, so it was great to know we were working together on this.

We didn’t stop there, of course. We created a list of concepts for images, and once we had whittled them down to the ones we wanted putting in the book, we went through character-by-character to identify what they ought to look like and make sure we were meeting those diversity objectives. So, while the art isn’t yet done (Robin has just started work on the art the Kickstarter is funding), we already know where we’re headed.

[B] I don’t think we can conclude this question without saying that we took a lot of inspiration and direction from your articles about game art. We have made our own (modest) contributions to promoting debate on this issue over the years, and we are committed to making sure that we practice what we preach to the best of our ability.

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