>Ridiculous? (Or: I agree with you, right up until where I don’t)

>So I want to take a moment to say hello to those of you who found their way here from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess blog. (Holy traffic spike batman!) I also want to take a moment to respond to some comments made in the post that linked to the blog.

REQUISITE DISCLAIMER: But before I begin, let me make clear that I don’t secretly hate LotFP, or think that Jim is a horrible awful person who hates women, or anything like that. Honestly, LotFP isn’t really my cup of tea, but that’s cool. Some people do like it, and that’s cool too. Honest.

/DISCLAIMING

Okay, so in this post, Jim talks about how in the last edition of LotFP he wound up with a contextless naked chick that he wasn’t thrilled about:

But there is a naked lady in there, suddenly with no context. At the time of layout I was aware that this was not necessarily a good thing. I hate cheesecake art that comes across as being out of context. And the way the layout was going, Ollam Onga’s swingin’ doodaddle wasn’t making it in the final product. To solve this imbalance, I was actually putting together an art montage, punk rock album style, to include in all the little art bits that got chopped by layout. And then I realized I was spending several hours on this for the sole purpose of having a cock in the game as a balance against showing a snatch.

I stopped immediately as it was quite obviously stupid and ridiculous, and just had to suffer that there was an out of context nude woman in there.

And I was like, hey – it happens. I’m lucky enough that in the one small game I published I was able to illustrate it myself – but it was a tiny project. For something as big as LotFP, that probably wouldn’t be feasible. It’s not terribly reasonable for me to sit on a high horse and decry contextless naked chick in this circumstance, and really it’s just nice to know that there was some thought about the situation. Cool. So far, no complains sir.

But then he goes on to say:

So here I am counting instances of “female in power, female not in power, female scantily clad, female not scantily clad…” in the art that I’m commissioning because I feel I have to be aware of such things because people are watching and there’s always talk of such things. And then I realize it’s ridiculous. So I stop. And I think about a few things.

And I’m like… wait. Go back. Ridiculous? Really? And here’s the part where I say to myself, wow. I was totally in agreement with you, right up until now when I stop agreeing. And from there he goes on to say some other things which I partially agree with and partially don’t, but mostly can be summarized as a defense of traditional fantasy cheesecake tropes as RPG art and really you should go read the post if you haven’t yet. Please, go read.

Okay. Now don’t mistake me, not all of the things that he says are things that I disagree with. His explanation of why he’s not going to shy away from violence against women in his art because of how the art fits into the setting makes sense to me. Ditto for his comments on the ridiculousness of bloodless violence in fantasy art. Once again, I’m not accusing Jim of being an eeeeeevil anti-feminist publisher. That’s honestly not my intent.

But I just keep coming back to the word “ridiculous”. Is it ridiculous to ask that publishers think about these things when commissioning and laying out art in their books? I don’t think so. Yes there are women who like that sort of thing – I’m not going to claim that I speak for all women here. But there are women for whom the boobtacular cheesecake that dominates fantasy art is troublesome.

So, okay, Jim mentions a personal story of how the model for his topless snake demon was disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to cos-play the character because of said toplessness. And I know she’s not alone – at any geekery convention you see women cos-played in skimpy costumes. Jim’s argument is that beauty is power, and again I agree except for where I don’t.

Let me counter with a personal story of my own. So the first time I went to GenCon back in 2005? (maybe 2006?), I have a vivid memory of walking into the Dealer’s Room for the first time and experiencing it as almost a tangible wall of chainmail bikini porn. And my very first thought was – wow, if I had known that this is what roleplaying was like, I’m not sure that I would have been okay with picking this up as a hobby. My first exposure to roleplaying was through LARP and D&D with friends. Perhaps it was naive, but I honestly was not expecting the vast quantities of fantasy porn.

My second thought, hot on the heels of the first, was IS THIS HOW THEY SEE ME? It was a very demoralizing and saddening realization, the idea that – outside of my insulated bubble of people that I was good friends with that I also happened to game with – that my worth as a gamer was probably judged (by some) more by my larger-than-average breasts than anything else.

And all of this was before I had done any real reading about feminism or gotten involved with trying to get more women into gaming. Looking back, I can see that part of the shock was realizing that roleplaying, which I had previously assumed to be a gender-neutral space, was actually an intensely gendered space that was actively unwelcoming to women. I didn’t have the words to articulate it then, though, and I remember being frustrated when I tried to talk about it later. But I have the words now, so let me say this.

Wanting to consider how women are depicted in game art is not ridiculous. There are women who enjoy cheesecake representations of women, true. But there are women for whom the overwhelming prevalence of cheesecake is a source of personal pain and doubt. I’ve come to love this hobby too much to give it up now, and I realize that my preferences are not universal. But I am a female gamer who often feels marginalized by the legions of cheesecake women adorning fantasy products and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in my views either.

All of this is not to say that Jim is wrong and that LotFP is a bad product and you shouldn’t buy it. Honestly, I’m thrilled that Jim is aware enough of these issues to take these things into consideration when working with his artists. I’m just trying to assert that standing up for more balanced portrayals of women is an equally valid viewpoint. So, you know, please don’t flame me.

13 thoughts on “>Ridiculous? (Or: I agree with you, right up until where I don’t)

  1. >Interesting. I am right there with him and then I'm not with him at exactly the same point.I really do spend time looking at my art and making sure I'm not being unintentionally sexist (or racist), and I spend the same amount of time looking at things like gendered pronouns and how characters are portrayed in example texts. It's because this is important to me and important to how I want people to view my game. I want to ensure that nothing that goes into a game or layout is unintentional.I also will not use certain games or rpg-related services because of how their marketing in presented.All that said, I love the cover of LotFP. It is not sexist. It's rather awesome, bare breasts and all.

  2. >Oh I just wanna say that I totally agree with you. and for some reason I can't really understand how Jim seems to have analyzed all of this and then, instead of doing something about it, just said "well, fuck it, I won't change just because of how this buissiness works. I'll do what I want to do even if it contributes to male cheesecake fantasy porn and whatever".I just don't get him.Well actually, upon re-reading his post I realized something… He's kind of a fuck-tard (I am too sometimes, I know). But really Jim, wake up and listen to yourself. This time, you're the one on a slippery slope.

  3. >From the Edwards article linked to above: "It had a body-savvy, art-school quality: characters weren’t illustrated solely to display their body parts so much as they simply had them while doing whatever it was they were doing." That sort of describes the art of LotFP. I don't think it's worth reading too much into that "ridiculous." While he is distancing himself from it in the post you link to, it's clear that he has been seriously considering these issues all along. Indeed, in earlier posts on his blog in the lead up to publishing his game, he discusses how he wished to avoid the anatomical insanity displayed in the images you've been posting lately.

  4. >>>he discusses how he wished to avoid the anatomical insanity displayed in the images you've been posting lately. Just today I told an artist (a woman, if we're keeping score) to shrink the boobs on one illustration, and telling another (a man) to cover up cleavage a bit because the clothing was illogical for the situation.As far as "ridiculous" goes, I think it's unfortunate that creative work can be compromised by outside discussions. Some of those discussions bring up valid points, some are absurd in their arguments, but ideally a creator's own tastes and intentions for a project should override all other considerations.But here's the big thing that inspired my original blog post:The Vince Locke piece is going to be a great big polarizing thing and I can easily imagine it becoming an all-time favored example of misogyny in gaming art if the game is even a modest success.And that's balanced in my head with the fact that several models I know are willing to be the reference model for the piece, waiving their usual pay just for the opportunity to be involved with Locke's work. "He's a master" is something I've heard from more than one of them. People I know are telling me how awesome this all is, and it's people on the internet who I get the impression are going to get out the torches and pitchforks when they see (or just hear about) the final piece.But I know why it needs to be so for it to fit with the project. As it is now, there's an implied story that at least to me makes it more than a splatterfest… if I changed it to where a man is swapped in as the focus instead of a woman, that story would disappear and it would simply be a grossout without further implication… the same if it's a man AND a woman in that situation… if I leave the gore factor out altogether for something more tasteful then I'm ignoring what I consider a vital part of my "horror heritage" and I lose out having an artist the stature of Locke on the project. The whole point of hiring him was that he expanded my views of what art was allowed to be when I was a teenager (look up "Vincent Locke Cannibal Corpse" to see what I saw then) and now I'm in a position where I can hire him to do some of it for me as a 'thank you' for the influence.It's a little bit of pressure, wondering if this idea is going to tank a rather large financial investment and have people crowing about what a horrible human being I am. But without the ability to follow such impulses and take these risks, this all becomes just another job and I might as well go work at McDonald's instead. So I carry on, but with a lot of anxiety, and I let people know that it's not going to be for all tastes.

  5. >Andreas: I actually sat down and had a talk with Ron at this past GenCon about my issues with this article and with his new game S/lay w/Me and I've come to peace with him on the issue. It's not something that I agree with him about, and I won't ever be able to play S/lay w/Me because of my own personal baggage. But Ron is coming from a place that is fundamentally anti-sexist, and our conversation was pretty positive, even if we did talk past each other a little bit. I don't think he understood that I was coming from a place of emotion and that he was coming from a place of logic, but that's okay too.Oskar: I think it's disappointing that he came to the conclusion that taking time to consider balanced gender depictions is a wasted effort, but again I'm not calling Jim out as being a horrible person. There was stuff in that post that was sensible. The problem was that it was mixed up with the stuff I didn't so much agree with. But again, that doesn't make him a bad person or LotFP a bad game. (Actually, I do like the cover art)

  6. >Jim: Hey – thanks for reading my response. Just to clarify a bit to what was said… It's really not the violence you're describing that I have a problem with. The stuff that you said about fantasy violence being ridiculously sanitized really resonated with me. (I remember thinking it was totally ridiculous that Boromir wasn't covered in blood after being shot with arrows the size of javelins.) Having gone through the rigors of art school, I also totally understand having to make a decision between making a work of art honest but controversial or "acceptable" but ultimately meaningless. I'm sure that some people will object to the image you're describing on the grounds that it depicts violence against women. From what you're saying, it sounds like anything but contextless or meaningless, and that's honestly enough for me.I guess where I start having problems is saying that it's not worth the effort of devoting time to how the work will be perceived. As an artist, I would agree that the creator should have creative control. But my education in Fine Arts has also taught me that outside feedback is critical to making sure that the message you convey is the message you intend to convey. People WILL bring their personal baggage to your work, whether it's "fantasy" or not, and they will probably interpret in ways that you may not have intended.It leaves me in a conflicted place. I have sympathy for the points you're making as a creator. But I'm also tired of feeling marginalized by game book art and want there at least to be some examination of context and problematic interpretations, even if ultimately what winds up being best for the game is something that can easily be misinterpreted.

  7. >Hey!I just wanted to say thanks for writing this blog! I enjoy it a lot. I'd love to talk about the process I went through trying to get a picture of a strong female character for the cover of my game, but I'm not sure the artist would be cool with that. Suffice it to say we had a long back-and-forth and many iterations before we had something I was happy with.

  8. >Daisy: I make no bones about attacking people for whom I have no respect (see: Wayne Reynolds, Jim Sterling). But the fact that Jim even thought about balanced gender depictions and put some effort into keeping contextless naked women out of LotFP, even if it was a failed effort, puts Jim ahead of so many other publishers. So, I mean, it's damned by faint praise. I think his stance is disagreeable, but I have to counter that with the fact that I actually quite like what I have seen of LoTFP. And really there are so many WORSE art directors out there that I'm not going to call Jim out as the worst person evar. It's all about perspective.

  9. >Jim rambles and gets a little incoherent and places, and obscures his own points sometimes. And sometimes he does say something dumb worth disagreeing with. That being said…The thing he labeled as "ridiculous" was his own paranoia and brief indulgence in the the exercise of going through his art obsessively and bean-counting representations. He already DOES consider realistic anatomy, clothing and armor that makes sense, and women and men both being adventurers, taking equal risks and earning equal shares both of glory and of horrible death.Jim's already substantially ahead of most creators this blog criticizes. What he's strongly against is self-censorship and bowdlerization, and he's saying that he wants to draw inspiration from horror, not from the watered-down fantasy we frequently got in the 80s in response to a stupid moral panic.

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