>On the word slut: a rambling response long overdue

>Okay. A quick summary before I dive into what is sure to be a long and rambling post of where this is coming from. Maverynthia and tekanji left some comments taking issue with my use of the word slut in a recent post. I was on vacation at the time, but didn’t want to announce that to the interwebs; instead I wrote some super-quick (less than five minutes) and admittedly defensive comments. Tekanji responded with some comments… that Blogger’s spam filter promptly ate.

I didn’t catch this until much, much later (again, vacation) after she’d already written a post on Shrub.com. I restored the comments and made a clarifying post, apologies were made by all and sundry for the misunderstanding, and I promised to write the response that I wanted to write several days ago and was too braindead to do until today.

Okay. That about covers everything for our readers who weren’t following things across three different threads on two different blogs. So, to jump right into it…

The original context: two different usages of the word slut in two different contexts

Okay. So in my post about TERA Online, the word slut was used in the title: “TERA: competing with Bayonetta for the sluttiest women still wearing clothes?”

The second (chronologically) instance was in my post about gamer valentines:

… It seems like they might be using this as a chance to promote Chell’s new design in the upcoming release. Chell in the first game was female, yes, but definitely was not a traditionally slutty female heroine. I’m a bit worried by the decision to glam her up. Here’s hoping that we don’t start seeing disgusting Chell fanart pop up like we did with post-Zero Suit Samus…

I’m actually going to talk about the second instance first, since I think it needs to be addressed before I can come back to the first.

Slut the second: All female heroes are not sluts

Okay. When I started this blog, I started it in a fit of rage about all of this bullshit I’d collected about sexism in gaming while doing research about my original article over on See Page XX. I was all angry and used language that was a lot more extreme than what I use when writing posts now. I know in the past I have referred to women in images as I’ve examined as “cleavagey skanks” and “slut-bags”. And you know what, once I settled into a routine and started getting desensitized (at least to a certain extent) to this shit that I examine on a regular basis, I re-thought my stance somewhat. I backed off on language like “skank” and “slut-bag”, though I continued to use the word “slut”.

Still, here’s where I say mea culpa. The language “traditionally slutty female heroine” is problematic, because it implies that most or all female heroes are sluts. That’s certainly not what I meant to imply. What I was referring to, badly, was the fact that the outfits and designs of most female characters in video games are… well… slutty.

But wait! That’s hypocritical, isn’t it? Please allow me to explain…

Here’s the thing. I wish I had better language to describe these things, language that isn’t loaded. But the fact remains that English is not a perfect language, and sexism is pretty hard-coded. Gender neutral insults like “asshole” are almost always less “extreme” than gendered insults like “douchebag”, “cunt”, or “bitch”. (You could make arguments on either side for most variations on “fuck____”, but that’s a different argument.)

Similarly, saying that these women are “scantily clad” or calling their clothes “skimpy” doesn’t really do justice to how extreme the designs of these characters are. It goes beyond just the cut of their clothing – it extends to anatomy and posing as well. Often video game women have their secondary sex characteristics distorted in ways obviously meant to titillate the intended viewer (straight men). However, would I say that all of the women in the above image are sluts? No.

Here’s the thing. Slut is a loaded word with a lot of baggage, but I feel like it can be an accurate word to use when used to describe the outfits and armor worn by fictional women in gaming, because often that harmful baggage is exactly the stereotypes that the character designers want to convey to their intended male audience! The awful slut stereotype is exactly what the game companies are using to sell their product to male gamers!

Was I sloppy in my use of the word by saying “traditionally slutty female heroines”? Absolutely. But because of the fact that companies use the baggage of the slut stereotype to make money, I feel it’s important to understand that the word slut does have a place in the deconstruction of character design, as long as one is careful to use the word in reference to the design and not the character herself. At the end of the day, fictional gaming women do NOT have a choice about how they present themselves to the world, and I think that’s an important thing to consider. But that lack of choice still doesn’t make them sluts.

I can respect that slut can come with a lot of painful and terribly personal baggage, and absolutely not do I want to condone the real-world verbal abuse of women by men who call them sluts and other similar insults. But the slut stereotype is a very real part of what I’m trying to confront here, and I hope that what I’ve said makes sense as a case for the considered use of the word.

Should I have been more careful? Sure. And for that I apologize.

That said, moving on…

Slut the second: the messy dividing line

Okay. Coming back to the first instance of slut – my comparison of women from TERA Online and Bayonetta. So here’s the thing. Sometimes women aren’t just designed to look slutty, but they’re also designed in such a way as to act… um… slutty.

The women in TERA are noted for their problematic animations. The castanic (demon) women run around bent over at the waist so that you can see up their skirts (if you can actually find one). What’s worse, the idle combat animation looks like it wouldn’t be out of place on the floor of a club and the actual spell casting animations involve hip thrusting gyrations.

That’s not to say that real women who want to dress like castanic women and go dancing should be called sluts! But again, when you consider the animations in combination with the designs, the promo material, and the entire conversation surrounding TERA Online, again the word slut does seem to apply to some extent since the harmful baggage is again intended as promotion. The creators behind TERA Online are very purposefully aiming to make their designs more sexist than any other comparable game while still not crossing the line into “adult” like Kabod Online. (Though the fact that these characters are avatars makes me think that I should have said that the castanic women ACT slutty rather than saying they ARE sluts.)

Compare with Bayonetta… a character created by a noted misogynist as his “ideal woman”, again we have a character who is problematic not just for her design but for the totality of what she represents. Bayonetta’s attacks involve nudity and widespread legs combined with nudity, in Kamiya’s words she uses her sexuality “as a weapon”, and she kills angels for crying out loud. You couldn’t possibly have a stronger example of a character who represents the female sexuality = slutty = eeeeeeeeeeevil stereotype any stronger than Bayonetta.


These are all screenshots, sadly.

Now it’s super rare that you have an example as extreme as Bayonetta, sure. But that extreme exists. Bayonetta is the literal embodiment of almost every negative stereotype about women’s sexuality that exists in Western culture, with a healthy dose of Japanese stereotypes thrown in. I honestly don’t know how to talk about a figure like Bayonetta without saying that she has been explicitly created to perpetuate slut stereotypes.

But, to state the obvious, that doesn’t make all fictional game women Bayonetta – thank god. There exists a spectrum, and a lot of the time the lines aren’t as clear cut as they are with Bayonetta. The vast majority of fictional women aren’t sluts, and it was sloppy of me to use language that implied that I thought they were. But I stand by the title of my post about TERA, because there is a mentality among certain game designers that in order to attract attention you have to be MORE sexist than anyone else out there because vanilla misogyny isn’t cutting it anymore.

tl;dr: what’s the upshot?

The upshot? I was sloppy and shouldn’t have used the phrase “traditionally slutty female heroines”. But it’s my position that the word slut still has a place in discussions about harmful stereotypes in gaming and game design, as long as a distinction is made between the design of a character and what that character actually is.

I’ve done a lot of soul-searching in the last few days and I feel like this is a position I can stand by. It’s a messy position, sure, but sexism and misogyny are messy issues. I’m bound to screw up from time to time, but I don’t want to let that fear of screwing up silence me. That said, I understand it if you don’t agree with me and am happy to continue having a conversation about it. And if you decide that my views on the matter make my blog not worth your time, I’ll understand that too.

>On comments: a clarification

>Okay folks, I’m keeping this short and sweet. I lost most of my day to airports and being on the road (it’s good to be home), so the promised responses (esp. Maverynthia and tekanji) will happen tomorrow. I’m too tired to string complex thoughts together coherently right now. I just wanted to clarify quickly about my policy toward comments.

I noticed a traffic spike because of a post that tekanji wrote on the Shrub.com blog. Unfortunately Blogger ate tekanji’s comment and it appeared like I had deleted it. I hadn’t, but I didn’t catch that it had been eaten for almost an entire day since I was on vacation. I restored the comment as soon as I caught it and also left a comment over on the post on Shrub.com. And the misunderstanding has been acknowledged and no harm, no foul. But it led me to think that I might want to publicly state my comments policy, just for clarity. So here it is.

The only comments I delete are spam – and by spam I mean shit like “great blog, if you like this you should check out these great cosplay outfits”. If the comment is by a human being, no matter the content, I will never delete it.

I don’t want to get into the politics of who I will and will not allow to speak, so this blog is a place where everyone can speak. I can’t guarantee you’ll get listened to; if you post anonymously that I’m a fat slob who needs to get a life, it’s not too likely that you will. But this will always be a place where you can speak.

That being said, please be aware that Blogger’s spam filter is complete shit coded by crack-addled hamsters. It never catches ACTUAL SPAM and will often eat real comments. Frequently the post will show up and then vanish on refresh, which understandably does look like me deleting comments. I check comments once or twice a day, depending on how busy I am, so I’ll restore it as soon as I catch it, but it might not be right away. (Please do feel free to write emails to the Blogger staff asking them to allow us to implement 3rd party spam filters.)

Okay. I’m going to go wrap myself around a mug of tea. More coming tomorrow.

>Industy artist fail: Wayne Reynolds (at least he’s not as bad as HTK)

>

[Preamble and Disclaimer: All of these can be seen at much higher resolution if you click the images. I recommend doing this. And as always, none of this is mine. All of this is copyright Wayne Reynolds and/or whichever company hired him. I don't own a thing!]

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite a while now – it just kept getting put off every time I spotted more egregious stuff I wanted to post about. But Wayne Reynolds has long been a pet peeve of mine when it comes to fantasy tabletop art, and I thought it was important to highlight his artwork because he is a huge name within the fantasy art industry. I will certainly be the first to admit that skill-wise, his artistic chops far exceed my own; however, Mr. Reynolds is a perfect example of an artist using his powers for evil.

Now when I say “using his powers for evil”, let’s be clear. Wayne Reynolds is no HTK. Even if he has a propensity for stupidly cheesecakey women, his cheesecake women are definitely active and strong characters. Also, for the most part the only anatomy distortion that they suffer from is an over-inflation of the breasts, which is also a far cry from HTK’s barely-human-looking crotch-thrusting figures.

In a way, that is actually part of my frustration with Wayne. I know that he’s capable of producing totally epic, non-sexualized female characters that kick huge amounts of ass when an art director puts their foot down and insists on NO CLEAVAGE WAYNE I MEAN IT. I mean check these women out:

Totally epic, right? Any of these women would be completely badass characters for long-term play. Each of them is strong and has a real sense of character. I mean I’ve talked about how much I love Seelah (paladin, far right) before here. But sadly, I had to look pretty hard to find these examples. For the most part, Wayne prefers his women looking like this:

/sigh

Don’t get me wrong. Tiger lady is pretty badass, for sure. But, you know, does she have to have her tiger bits hanging out like that? Now, it wouldn’t be so bad if Wayne had a habit of doing equally sexualized illustrations of male characters. I’ve long said that I wouldn’t mind a line that just sexified everyone equally regardless of gender; it might not be to my personal tastes, but I could at least get behind it’s existence. And Wayne does occasionally do illustrations of sexy male characters like Seltyiel:

But sadly, Seltyiel is pretty well in the minority for male characters in Wayne’s art. Mostly Wayne’s men tend to look like this:

…covered head to toe in armor and in poses that don’t emphasize their sexy bits. (Okay, maybe not with quite that many weapons. I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a bit of visual hyperbole…)

Now this isn’t exactly new, and it certainly puts Wayne in good company with many other fantasy game artists. The male = fully armored & not sexualized / female = chainmail bikini and heaving bosoms paradigm has been pretty dominant in fantasy game art ever since the creation of D&D. And at least Wayne manages to draw women who look competent while thrusting their scantily clad bosoms out for the rest of the world to see, which is certainly a far cry from women in cages.

Still, it’s pretty discouraging when Paizo hires Wayne to design their iconic sorceress and he comes up with this:

Wow! How distinctive from every other female mage ever! A gorgeous woman with big fake boobs and not enough clothing. I mean, come on – she’s practically walking fanservice. Unless she’s using body glue to hold that top in place, there’s no way that top is going to confine those ta-tas once she starts dodging arrows. But then again, I suppose she could use sorcery to the same effect? Still, it seems like a waste of a spell slot…

And Seoni is far from the only example of Wayne’s stereotypically slutty mages:

Okay, can the female = mage = slutty stereotype please die now and forever please? The female = mage stereotype is bad enough! God knows I get so sick of seeing female characters get railroaded into being magic-users and not being allowed to swing an honest-to-god weapon at people. But it’s DOUBLY frustrating to see the mage = slutty stereotype in action, because it just reinforces the “tits or GTFO” that women in gaming get all the time.

The trap that fantasy women fall into is that if all women are mages and all mages show their tits, then clearly all women show their tits! And Wayne certainly isn’t doing much to dispel that notion either. But then I think that stuff like this:

…makes Wayne’s opinions on the importance of breasts in fantasy art pretty clear. Sure, none of these women are in cages, but it doesn’t exactly feel very progressive to say “sure women can be adventurers” when the clear parenthetical is “as long as they show us (male gamers) their tits”.

And most of these aren’t even NICE tits, which is kind of bizarre given the fact that these figures are otherwise pretty undistorted. (They’re all Barbie, sure, but not too distorted.) All of these women have bizarrely inflated sphere boobs that in some cases aren’t even that appealing. I mean, the gnome and the hook fighter especially have boobs that just kind of freak me out – it looks like someone taped melons to their chests. How is that in any way appealing?

The only one of these women that I in any way appreciate is the fire mage; her chest is actually quite small. Still, body paint =/ clothing and gee it would be great if she HAD SOME DAMN CLOTHES.

The ones that make me the most frustrated though are the ones where the art direction was pretty obviously for a strong, FULLY-COVERED female character and Wayne gave them cleavage anyway:

I mean, Christ, Wayne. Looking at these, I hate to think of what initial drafts of Seelah might have looked like. Did you honestly think that people wouldn’t notice the random cleavage? It’s especially frustrating on these characters because they come SO CLOSE to being every bit as awesome as the first set and then fall flat on her face. Is there ANY reason for us to see Imrijka’s (far left) hugely inflated sphere boobs? No. Does being able to see Merisiel’s (middle) tits somehow make her a better, more compelling avatar? No. Does being able to see the pirate’s tits AND panties make us more able to believe in her strength? Um… no.

The worst part is that I can so clearly see what these characters could have been had they not been gratuitously sexualized. Please – can’t we allow strong female characters to be strong AND female and not have to show their tits to the world? Why do we have to do this? Why do we have to continue to tell women that they can only expect to be strong and competent so long as they agree to dress for the titillation of their male counterparts?

Fuck that. I want women who are badass and not sexualized:

So how about it, Wayne? You’re clearly able. Now are you willing?

>A belated look at gamer Valentines: the good, the questionable, the pathetic

>Okay, so I know I’m about two weeks late with this. Since I’m including stuff from previous years’ Valentine’s Days, I’ll call this a retrospective and pretend that I meant to be late. (Actually, I didn’t start looking for most of this stuff until after I stumbled across a truly awful Valentine’s Day feature on the FilePlanet FileBlog. That got me looking for other examples of gamer Valentines and Valentine’s Day features on major gaming sites.)

What I found was a pretty mixed bag. There’s a lot of genuinely funny stuff out there to be found. Then again, there’s some pretty tasteless stuff too.

The good/funny

First up we have some Street Fighter valentines. These were done as a promo for last year’s release of Street IV and were posted along with a trailer of Cammy, Juri, and Chun Li. And while the trailer is exactly what you’d expect for a promo trailer featuring fighting game women (SO MANY PANTY SHOTS), the valentines are actually pretty good:

I appreciate that “I’m head over heels for you” shows Juri knocking out Kratos, and that the pose isn’t blatantly fanservice-y. (Considering that Juri wears a square of fabric strapped to her chest, it’s impossible to avoid completely…) I also enjoy the number of male/male pairings. I realize that given how vastly the women in Street Fighter are outnumbered by the men, it’s probably a function of not many women to choose from. But still, I’d like to think that they meant to have valentines with non-straight pairings. (I’d root for female/female pairings too, only that wouldn’t end well given the design of all of the Street Fighter women.)

Valve got in on the act as well with a few different Valentine’s themed promos for Portal 2. In particular, I loved the video that they produced as a message from Aperture Laboratories with Valetine’s day “tips” like “women love diamonds for their wide variety of industrial applications. It was humorous and did a pretty good job of turning a few stereotypes on their head, albeit in bizarre fashion.

They also released a few more traditional valentines like these:

Overall I’m a fan, but I have to say I have mixed feelings about the first one. It seems like they might be using this as a chance to promote Chell’s new design in the upcoming release. Chell in the first game was female, yes, but definitely was not a traditionally slutty female heroine. I’m a bit worried by the decision to glam her up. Here’s hoping that we don’t start seeing disgusting Chell fanart pop up like we did with post-Zero Suit Samus.

I also stumbled across this gem by the producers of The Misadventures of P. B. Winterbottom:

I love the retro styling, but what I love even more is the instruction at the bottom that starts with: “should feelings of love or desire overcome you, this clever card can be used to fan away such salacious vapors.” It’s always nice to see game studios treat gender stereotypes, even outdated ones, satirically. Lord knows it’s far oftener the case that game studios are PERPETUATING gender stereotypes, yes even the outdated ones, rather than mocking them.

Some other gems I found that aren’t gender/sexism related are:
* some Left4Dead valentines by the hugely talented Alexandria Neonakis (aka Beavotron).
* gamer valentines on IGN, including one by a horny Elcor (if you play Mass Effect it’s hilarious, trust me)
* these NES valentines

They’re worth checking out for a few chuckles at least.

The questionable

This is going back quite a while… Lion’s Head, the studio behind the Fable series put out this Valentine in 2007:

Now, I’ll admit that the one thing I have been arguing for here is a diversity of female body types in game art. That said, I think this is more of a negative than a positive. This woman is being presented as an object of ridicule, not as an object of beauty. She is clearly designed to disgust the intended male viewer, which is sad. It wouldn’t have taken much to present such a character as beautiful, but clearly Lion’s Head just wanted to get some cheap laughs.

Richard Mitchell, the author of the feature that ran this valentine on Joystiq, ended the piece by saying:

We’re sure she has a great personality. Hopefully, this has nothing to do with the secret Fable 2 feature that Peter Molyneux will reveal at GDC.

Even more depressing are the comments left on the Joystiq feature:

Ew. Just ew. I wouldn’t touch that chick with a 110 ft. pole.

Hard nipples…going to give me nightmares!

I’d hit it.
Yea, with a baseball bat :)

That’s about what I expected. Still… yuck.

Then there’s this valentine of questionable taste from Kotaku:

I dunno. I guess it’s kind of funny. But then, it’s yet another example of puerile sex humor coming out of Kotaku. What a shock! Not sure what to think of it, so in the end I’ll roll my eyes and move onto this valentine from Destructoid:

Okay. This is actually pretty cute, and doesn’t have some cleavagey piece of fanservice like I half expected from Destructoid. But they couldn’t leave it there, could they? I mean, then they wouldn’t be the Destructoid we know and… um… love.

Anyway, the feature ended with: “Now who’s going to make a Destructoid card for Steak and BJ Day?”

…charming, guys. Real charming. So nice of you to “throw us women a bone” every once in a while. Now do you think you could refrain from practically in the same breath demanding that us women give you blow jobs? Christ.

The pathetic: FilePlanet’s FileBlog

Surprisingly, Kotaku and Destructoid put in pretty half-hearted attempts to offend this year. But have no fear – FilePlanet has come to the rescue! Apparently this year is the third year that they have posted a selection of nude mods for Valentine’s Day in a charming feature they call Valentine’s Nudity.

Because really, what better way is there to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by hacking video games to remove the clothes of video game women? That’ll show those uppity bitches. How dare they have “empowerment” and “character arcs”. Fuck character arcs – tits or gtfo, bitches!

And then of course there’s the comments:

No males? All female. That’s refreshing.

Where did i stick my vaseline?

AVG Detected a virus in a file needed for the Mass Effect 2 nude skin to work. Oh well the miranda nude mod is better anyway

I liek wen day showda boobays

Wow… might consider making a lesbein sim just to take advantage of this…

So yet another example of how a subset of male gamers are determined to systematically dis-empower any female character who might have some degree of strength or agency. What kind of sick entitlement causes this sort of shit, anyway? Why can’t they just do what normal people do and go find porn on the internet? God knows there’s enough free porn out there that going to this much effort shouldn’t be appealing.

So I guess thanks go to FilePlanet for making even Kotaku and Destructoid seem appealing. Then again, I guess they’ll be needing the nude mods since some of those guys probably couldn’t NOT offend a woman if their lives depended on it.

>Gender swap! The Magna Carta edition

>It’s been too long since I’ve done any original art for this blog, and I’ve been itching to do more! I knew as soon as I started working on that post about Hyung Tae Kim that I wanted to do another gender swap using his artwork, but it took me a while to find the time to sit down and do one.

Choosing an image was difficult. A lot of HTK’s art is heavily distorted, and I wanted to experiment with actually not correcting anatomy this time around to see what the effect would be. However, I also really wanted to see what would happen if I took on a figure with an unnecessarily detailed crotch. For some reason, I wasn’t able to find an image that was both very, very distorted AND very crotchular, so I settled for something crotchular and still a little distorted:

So this is Celestin Roaa from the Magna Carta series. This presented a huge challenge with the crazy boob perspective, and also with the costume – but I think it turned out well:

The costume presented quite the challenge, in that there wasn’t any real male equivalent of the clothing that she was wearing. I compromised and gave my gender-swapped version a codpiece and chaps. Amusingly, I didn’t realize how phallic the design on the codpiece was until after I drew it. I did try to give him a bulge, since Ken-doll superheroes with no visible bulge have always irritated me, but I think it was a bit obscured by the crazy codpiece. Alas.

The figure is softer than I intended, but I think that’s more a result of me attempting to change as few lines as possible; I changed as little as I could to have the figure still be interpreted as male. (I’ll admit the beard was me hedging my bets.)

Anyhow, in all other regards I’m quite happy with how the ridiculousness comes through. The chaps + codpiece are a wonderfully ridiculous combination, and the codpiece especially draws attention to the “HEY EVERYBODY LOOK AT MY CROTCH”-ness of the original pose. I think the low cut of the codpiece also helps make the sexualization extreme enough that it actually reads as sexualization. Were he wearing pants, I don’t think that even the bare chest would really read as extreme sexualization the way the mostly bare chest with bikini top does with the original figure.

I think next time I’ll tackle something with more obvious figure distortion, just to see what happens. I suspect it won’t translate well, since the parts of the female body that get distorted don’t really have male equivalents. But that unknown is part of why I’m doing this. I enjoy highlighting the ridiculousness of the imagery, sure. But the experimentation of what works and what doesn’t is neat too.

I’d also like to do more re-designed characters, but I was having trouble deciding which character I should take on next. Anyone have any suggestions?

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