Jim Sterling: expanding his audience while still unabashedly sexist

Before you read any further

So the funny thing about people is that they change. Imagine that! At the time of writing these posts, I never could have imagined that Jim Sterling would have a change of heart, but he did indeed. He was actually gracious enough to let me interview him about how he’s reversed his stance and how that happened; you can read the interview here on Gaming as Women.

The internet being the internet – there’s no real point in taking this down. It’s out there forever. But I can at least put it in context.


 

Preamble

Okay folks. I know I promised a post about Shelly Mazzanoble, but that’s going to take a fair bit of work and I already had this mostly put together. So that will be something I come back to down the line.

If you’ve been reading for more than a few months, you’ll probably know that I already did one of these in the wake of the whole Jim Sterling/Daphny dust-up on twitter back before I moved to WordPress. Well, since then Jim has restarted Podtoid over on Destructoid and he’s also gotten a new forum for the Jimquisition over on the Escapist. In his most recent Jimquisition, he actually made some reasonable points about the problems inherent in Duke Nukem not being portrayed ironically… until he veered right back into calling anyone who doesn’t understand that he’s joking when he makes misogynist comments a complete moron. (I’m paraphrasing.)

So since I’d been collecting material for a follow-up post, I thought now would be a good time to highlight some of the things us complete morons are too humorless to appreciate as “ironic humor”. All of the material seen here is new since my previous post in February. Also, the post is long because – as before – I want to make sure people understand that these aren’t just isolated comments.

This is not for the faint of heart

As before, trigger warnings for slut-shaming, jokes about abuse, and rampant misogyny. Quotes below are provided with links to the original article to prove that I’m not taking things out of context. Any emphasis made has been added by me and is not part of the original comment. Comments in brackets are my comments, not Jim. Lastly, comments have been loosely categorized for your reading convenience.

Okay. Let’s do this.

As everyone knows, all gamers are dudes

Atlus has announced a special edition version of Catherine, set to launch in North America on July 26. It’s been perfectly designed for rigid-cocked gamers, aching to burst their bags over drawings of girls. So, you’re all looking forward to it! (Behold the wanktastic Catherine ‘Love Is Over’ edition)

Ladies and gentlemen, we are proud to introduce you to the iPhone game that will single-handedly push the female rights movement back sixty years. … It’s called Pillowfight Girls and, while we’ve not been told exactly how it plays, we can posit a fairly confident guess. Basically, women with big tits and very little clothing will hit each other for the perverse amusement of desperate young men. Basically, it’s the kind of game that Destructoid readers would absolutely love. (Pillowfight Girls bringing sexy misogyny to iPhone)

[Wait – there’s a video game with sexist content? Shit! Why didn’t anyone tell me? Feminism is so fucked! Screw this. I might as well just shut down this whole blog!]

Massive jugs and rampant chauvinism. That’s what the iPhone was made for, folks! (Pillowfight Girls bringing sexy misogyny to iPhone)

[That’s funny. I thought it was for watching movies, listening to music, playing games, surfing the web, and making phonecalls. I mean, it has “phone” in the name of the product, after all.]

Breasts make everything better

The game looks gorgeous, has a more involved combat system, and it doesn’t skimp on the breasts — what’s not to love? Oh, and in case you think I’m being sexist, I’m talking about Geralt’s breasts. I’ve waited over a year for that man’s fine Witcher titties, and I’ll be damned if I don’t get ’em! (The Witcher 2 has gone gold!)

What’s that, sir? You’d like to order a new trailer for Duke Nukem Forever? You want it to have guns in? Aliens, too? Would you like some violence to go with that? Excellent choice, sir. Oh, and a double helping of NSFW breasts, while we’re at it. I think that can be arranged. (Blood and boobies: Duke Nukem Forever gives)

[Because, really, who cares about coverage of things like gameplay in hotly anticipated titles? Everyone knows the important topics that need covering – how many breasts will there be?]

I’m sure it’s clever and satirical and all that, but none of it matters right now because there are drawings of girls doing implied lesbian things. (The girls of Neptune get frisky in new artwork)

[There is nothing in this world more important than lesbians. Global hunger? Nope. Poverty? Nope. Global warming? Nope. Lesbians trump them all. LESBIANS.]

Right now it’s not clear whether or not the boobs will jiggle with motion controls, a’la Ninja Gaiden 2 Sigma, but we do know that you’ll be copping an eyeful of physics-defying mammaries. This is obviously a very important story that needs following, so we’ll be sure to keep you updated on the state of Dimensions’ massive swollen busters as when fresh information becomes available. … We’re talking about BIG FRIGGING MILKERS, PEOPLE! (3D breast wobbling confirmed in Dead or Alive Dimensions)

According to Japanese sources, Dead or Alive 3DS is not only going to feature massive, swollen, jiggling mammary milk tumors in 3D, but it will also allow those massive, swollen, jiggling mammary milk tumors to be manipulated with motion control as well. Oh Tecmo, YOU SO BREASTS! (Motion-controlled breasts coming to Dead or Alive 3DS?)

[Clearly this is an important story. So important that he felt it warranted not one, but two different stories devoted to the importance of motion-controlled digital breasts?]

All feminists are ugly, hurr hurr

There’s been a lot of talk of sexism in the videogame industry, as is inevitable in a male-dominated arena. It has come to my attention that sexism is a bad thing, and as such, it falls to leaders of social progress such as myself to right the course of this little boat we call civilization.  (The Ultimate Female Role Models In Gaming)

[Oh, Jim! We poor wimminz are too stupid to solve this problem on our own! Save us, Jim! Save us!]

Recently, Gamer Limit wrote a disgustingly objectifying article on female videogame characters, implying with 100% seriousness that the only thing females have to offer the world are their firm, supple breasts and magnificent vaginal crevices. This is NOT true! (The Ultimate Female Role Models In Gaming)

[That bastard! I mean, come on. Couldn’t he have at least given a shout out to all the ass men out there?]

Metroid’s Mother Brain may look like a hideous, squirming mass of mutated grey matter, but she is a cold, calculating, inspiring role model for young women. She was created by the Chozo to act as their unwilling underling, but rebelled against their rule — an encouraging story to females who wish to break from the oppression of dominating male figures. (The Ultimate Female Role Models In Gaming)

Now, there is a touchy issue with the Berserker, in that the Locust tend to imprison them for mating purposes, and the human COG forces even speculate that they are sexually assaulted. However, the fact they’re a totally alien race notwithstanding, the very idea that Berserkers are so terrifyingly violent that the males can’t go near them without significant restraints and disproportionate force is pretty remarkable. Oh, and I’m sure a fair few male Locust end up with their heads battered into a gloopy, viscous paste before, during or after coitus. You go, girl! (The Ultimate Female Role Models In Gaming)

Vertigo is a blue snake with arms and legs, boasting hypnotic powers that she employs against fire-breathing, teleporting dinosaurs. Now if only we had a few more ladies like that in our so-called “modern” media, the world would be a fairer place. (The Ultimate Female Role Models In Gaming)

[Jim’s right! If I were really serious about my feminism, I’d try harder to be a shambling, drooling horror!]

So there you have it — a list of female role models in gaming that didn’t trot out Jade, Samus or Alyx Vance, nor rely on hot girls with big boobs. How about that? Of course, I don’t know what kind of point this made, if indeed it made any point at all, but isn’t that the eventual conclusion of any game-related discussion about sexism, racism, or other social issues? Nothing is learned, nothing changes, and we just regurgitate the same old rhetoric from emotionally charged positions with no interest in what anyone actually has to say. (The Ultimate Female Role Models In Gaming)

[Because everyone knows that there’s no point about talking about issues of social justice. If we all just ignore issues of inequality, everyone knows that they’ll go away. Come on, people.]

Slut-shaming

Not to sound like a date rapist or anything but let’s be honest here — she was asking for it. It’s not like Bayonetta has been presented as a morally upstanding game that promotes chastity and the Christian way of life. She’s a woman who frequently gets her clothes off and thrusts her bacon slice into the camera whenever she can. Hardly the classiest of games. (Bayonetta porn angers game creator)

Just strikes me as a little rich that Kamiya is trying to pull some high horse nonsense over this. Especially if he hasn’t seen the worst of the Bayonetta porn like I have… I mean, like I haven’t. Because I haven’t. (I have) (Bayonetta porn angers game creator)

[I’m pretty open about disliking Bayonetta, but no woman is ever “asking for it”, Jim.]

No matter what you say, rape, abuse, and murder are funny

How dare the ESRB expect parents to be parents? Don’t they know how many rapes and Ground Zero mosques will happen now!? (Predictable: FOX News attacks sexist Duke Nukem Forever)

Like always, the ESRB has gone through the violent and sexual content in clinical detail, revealing some hot details. There’s tons of violence, with blood spurts and “realistic” gunfights. Plenty of nudity as well, but perhaps not the best kind, considering it’s mostly mutilated murder victims with their clothes off. There is pubic hair on them, though … so I guess that’s it’s a trade-off. (ESRB: L.A. Noire has blood spurts, pubic hair, racism)

[A trade-off? Between what? Disturbed and even more disturbed?]

There’s no doubt that Duke Nukem Forever is going to upset some people. In a world where you can’t even make a joke that happens to have the word “rape” in it without someone throwing a hissy fit… (Feminist organizations welcome to use Duke)

If you say the word ‘rape’ within a joke, you’re basically a rapist too! (Jimquisition: Solving the sexism situation)

[I mean, honestly. So he told asomea lot of jokes about rape. Somebody call the waaaaambulance.]

And as for Duke Nukem Forever, keep Capture The Babe, but add in a new mode for the ladies – Diddle the Juke, a game in which you fiddle with Duke Nukem’s balls while he cries and begs you to stop. (Jimquisition: Solving the sexism situation)

[I fail to see how that is either comparable or at all appealing to any female demographic ever. Srsly, yuck.]

Anyone who thinks I’m sexist is a humorless moron and an idiot

Here’s the thing. Duke Nukem Forever’s premise is pretty sexist, and one can’t really deny that. You know what though? Does it really f*cking matter? When it comes to fictional people doing fictional things to each other in a fictional world, does it really affect you? No, it doesn’t, no matter how much you pretend a game like DNF could influence society with the “messages” you’ve projected onto it.

… Seriously, how does it send the message that violence against women is normal? What’s normal about spanking women while people shoot at you with a shrink ray? (Petition asks Walmart not to sell ‘sexist’ Duke Nukem)

[I think you already know each other but… Jim Sterling, this is Strawman. Strawman, Jim Sterling. I just thought a formal introduction was in order since you spend so much time together.]

I’m with Ken for sure. I think certain individuals within certain demographics want their fictional representatives to be 100% meritorious, possibly to salve their own insecurities and gain some sense of justification. Anything that deviates from this total pandering is blasted as bigotry, when it’s not that way at all. (BioWare writer accused of negatively portraying gay folk)

Personally, I think words like “misogynistic” are getting thrown around so much online that their true meanings are starting to get devalued. They get slapped on videogames, movies and individuals almost like a weapon, an insidious exploitation of emotionally-charged labels in an effort to bully people into keeping their mouths shut. It doesn’t matter if it’s a harmless joke or not, everything gets tarred with the same brush, and I think it makes a mockery of serious hate issues.

…That, to me, is more harmful than any fictional character doing imaginary things to a not-real woman. (Feminist organizations welcome to use Duke)

[Translation: everyone knows that feminists actually want to enslave men. All that nonsense about wanting equality is just pablum they spew to make men feel complacent enough to give them all the power. Only morons think that sexism is a serious situation that actually needs attention.]

In many cases, I think the issue of sexism is overblown and it’s very easy to get caught up in our inability to distinguish jokes from actual hatred. In fact, I don’t think we as a community even deserve to have these discussions if we’re still going to get up in arms about a simple little joke [unintelligible] … just to focus on the bit that we find particularly offensive. (Jimquisition: Solving the sexism situation)

[Translation: hate crimes don’t happen to women. True story.]

Here’s a simple truth. Men like to look at tits. I’m sorry if a few people find that offensive, but that’s simply the way we’re wired. I didn’t come up with the concept. It’s a little thing we call “fucking genetics”. And it’s the reason why the human species is here. Men like to, I guess, objectify women because that’s what they’ve evolved to do. (Jimquisition: Solving the sexism situation)

[What about ass men? Or leg men? For that matter, what about the ten percent (roughly) of the population that is gay? Are you willing to include lesbians who like looking at tits to offset the gay men who don’t care about them one way or the other?]

(some of) Jim Sterling’s twitter responses to criticism on the Escapist forums

Amusingly, it came to my attention that my previous post collecting Jim Sterling quotes was linked several times in the Escapist forums in response to Jim’s Solving the Sexism Situation episode of the Jimquisition. There were some people in the thread who stuck up for Sterling and said they liked the video, but the majority of people in the thread said that Jim was 1) not funny 2) stupid 3) and/or blatantly sexist.

Rather than attempt to converse with anyone about this on the forums, Jim posted a bunch of hyper-defensive tweets calling the Escapist forum users “elitist cunts”.

Are we taking about the same forum? I don’t need to generalize. Escapist forumers are angry people.

Ah, no. Dtoid forum guys are generally lovely folk.

[Right. These would be the ones who you said would love sexy misogyny and masturbating to virtual video game women?]

I see the Escapist forum folk are bagging on it before they’ve even watched it. Thus marks my stopping reading what they have to say.

Yep, pretty much. Their criticisms have become so insular and ridiculous that I’ve given up trying to appeal to them.

Haha, so the Escapist’s elite are saying I am a sexist for daring to suggest that men have evolved to find breasts attractive.

[Haha, so I’m mischaracterizing the response of the large number of people calling me sexist so that I don’t have to put serious thought into the fact that maybe they’re right.]

To be fair, a lot more of ’em are warming to me. Once the proper elitist cunts restrain themselves and stop watching, we can all be happy.

[Once the people who disagree with me go away, we can all enjoy ourselves in our nice sexist echo chamber. It’s such a drag that people persist in trying to point out our sexism. Don’t they know we don’t care?]

Yep, and I objectify men regularly. So really, how can that be sexist? Pretty equal opportunity!

Yep! With the irony being that they’re making themselves look like some proper ignorant cunts.

[I fail to see how anyone enlightened or rational can fail to agree with me. These people do not, therefore they are cunts. QED.]

My favorite tweet, however, was one that Jim re-tweeted in response to a tweet sent to him by @NintendoTweet:

@JimSterling nothing sexist about telling women to go back to the kitchen! Women belong there darn it (retweeted by JimSterling)

Nope! Nothing sexist to see here! No sirree!

Phew

So there you have it. Despite a twitter dust-up in which Jim Sterling actually managed to anger a few publishers with his misogynistic comments, Jim actually seems to have been working hard at continuing to make sure there is as much sexist commentary with his name on it out there as possible. All of these were collected in just four months. Impressive. Or, wait, did I mean disgusting? I get so confused, what with being a humorless moron and all.

WTF: The unavoidable life implosion edition

Hi, folks. This is the only post you’ll get this week. I’m pursuing a completely awesome opportunity that requires sacrificing pretty much every waking hour this week. Which means no time for blogging. I’ll be reading the comments irregularly to make sure you aren’t setting each other on fire in the comment sections, but don’t expect direct answers from me. It’s not because I don’t love you. I promise.

I’ll be back next week, honest. In the mean time, please enjoy this link about how Duke Nukem Forever inspired something even more sexist.

I realize that’s a pretty lackluster offering, so if any of you have come across anything particularly wtf, I invite you to post links in the comments.

See you all next week.

Dragon Magazine in 2010: Pictures

Yesterday I got the boring numbers bit out of the way. I won’t spend much time discussing the numbers, since there isn’t anything new or terribly surprising about them. Today I thought I’d go through the art and pick out some interesting points. (As always, none of this art is mine, I own nothing.)

Now I will briefly mention that with regards to numbers, the number of male figures counted as suggestive is probably higher than it should be. Because I was consistent in applying my standards of what constitutes suggestive attire, it led to the classification of figures that are clearly not meant to be sexualized. I realize we’ve had the debate here over whether monstrous races like minotaurs can still be considered sexy, and I won’t rehash that debate again. However, I feel pretty safe in declaring that none of the “suggestively attired” males in these images are sexy:

As none of the goblins are wearing pants, they’re automatically counted as suggestively attired. Am I supposed to think that they’re sexy? No, I don’t think so. The giant also seems pretty clear cut. He isn’t wearing pants, but the artist has definitely taken pains not to make him an appealing figure. It might be a little less safe to say this, but I still feel reasonably confident in declaring that rocks are not sexy, even when they are ambulatory and intelligent. And then there is the dwarf. I recognize that some dwarves can be sexy, but I’m pretty sure that this guy isn’t supposed to be.

So, as with any of my posts of this sort, take the numbers with a grain of salt.

The uneven

One of the most irksome trends I noticed when going through the art was the inequality in class depictions between men and women. All too often female characters were blatantly sexualized while male characters of the same archetype/class were not. For instance, look at these two clerics:

That chainmail practically requires an exotic armor proficiency.

The male cleric is presented as a capable adventurer, seen with the weapons, tools, and implements of his trade. The female cleric is presented as a sex object, posed and costumed for the presumed male viewer. The illustration is especially ridiculous in light of the caption. Twice the training, determination, and grit? Does that outfit and that pose say “grit” to you? Really? I’m having cognitive dissonance here.

One of these cows is not like the other…

The minotaur on the left is, for some reason, wearing only leather armor that leaves her midriff exposed and is about as slender as an athletic human. Why the lack of armor? You can argue that human women might not have the strength to fight in full plate mail, but minotaurs are supposed to be giant, super-strong cow people. With the shield and axe, she’s clearly a melee fighter; with a minotaur’s strength there’s no reason she shouldn’t be able to properly armor herself. Furthermore, the cow head on a waifish human body is just ridiculous – with that slender build she wouldn’t be capable of standing that straight, not with that giant head and neck to support. There’s a reason minotaurs are supposed to be heavily muscled. Cow heads are proportionately large and very heavy – you need a muscular frame to support that kind of a head on a biped.

Anyhow.

As with WoW, the biggest inequalities were mostly with depictions of mages. Male mages are almost universally depicted as wearing robes that completely cover them:

While female mages… not so much:

Cleavage – apparently an important somatic component for female spell-casters.

The only one of these that I would say approaches the amount of coverage of the male mages is the mage on the top right, even if she is wearing some sort of bizarre corset-robe that just barely comes up past her nipples. The amount of coverage that the mage in the lower left is ridiculous when you look at what’s not covered – the boob window exposes her cleavage and the undersides of her breasts, and that weirdo halter top shows her side, including a generous portion of sideboob. What makes that particular illustration even more ridiculous is that she’s an astral deva – a super-powerful angelic being from a higher plane of existence. Apparently cleavage as a somatic component is a law of physics that transcends all planes.

My favorite example of mage inequality, however, was this:

Illustrations within three pages of one another and by the same artist. It really doesn’t get any more blatant than that.

Except wait, it does:

So… tigers are badass animal companions when paired with male adventurers, and some kind of bizarre bedroom accessory when paired with females? This is just plain weird. And sure, some of you might be saying – dark skin, white hair, she’s a drow! Drow are supposed to be sexay! It’s, like, part of their culture and stuff. Or something. But what I don’t understand is if drow women are in charge, why don’t they make the men dress sexy too?

There’s clearly a double-standard going on here. If I was part of a matriarchal society in which being sexy was an important part of my culture, you can be damn sure that I would make the men in my life show just as much skin.

But wait, it gets even worse!

Worse that mages in club outfits? Worse than clerics in chain mail swimsuits with a slit down to their belly button? Worse than almost-naked sexy women with tigers? How can it be?

Every time I think I’ve found the basement, there’s always another level.

The one in the middle is bad. That’s a pretty big mace – clearly she’s going to smack something with it. While wearing armored panties, armored stripper sandals, one armored guantlet (because two just wouldn’t be fashion-forward) and a bustier. As ridiculous as the swimsuit cleric is, she’s wearing about twice the clothing than mace-wielding bikini warrior.

The one on the right is worse. She’s got to be doing several hundred crunches a day, because female abs are rarely that well defined. I’m also impressed that she’s managing to aim a shot while simultaneously thrusting out her tits and her ass. Seriously, with her spine arched like that, she isn’t drawing from a position of strength, so she must be doing lots of lifting to be able to draw that bow. Also, she’s not wearing pants. In the middle of a forest. I hope for her sake she doesn’t have the misfortune to fall into poison ivy – I doubt that there’s anti-histamine creams in the D&D universe.

The worst, however, is the one on the left. What the fuck is she supposed to be? Some kind of magic-sword-wielding bikini luchador? An S&M fantasy superhero? I don’t even know how to mock this, it’s just so bad. Talk about a good artist abusing their powers for evil…

This is not quite so bad as Bikini Luchador

Interestingly, there were some illustrations that were still revealing, but seemed to me to be trying to also present the women as having a real sense of agency or character:

The one on the left is the weakest to me, mostly because of the snow. I now live in Canada, and am going through what feels like the longest winter of my fucking life. When I see anyone in snow, I want to see them wearing clothes. Lots of clothes. Snow is evil and can only be defeated with clothes. The second one is another pet peeve of mine, the pantless warrior. But I do like the strength of her expression and the size of her hammer. (And that she’s holding it correctly and looks like she’s about to use it.)

The two on the right are the best – both of them convey such a strong sense of character. I love the cocky smirk on the rogue’s face, and I love how the dwarf is being shown as a strong defender. Both of them are such great characters and would make excellent avatars. I just wish the artist hadn’t felt the need to put a cleavage window in the dwarf’s armor, or that the rogue had something that covered her to the waist. Why can’t they be allowed to be awesome on their own terms without having to show some skin?

This is what I want. More of this. A lot more.

The assassin? Fucking epic. The bard? So awesome. The ranger is so fierce. And the fighter on the bottom right is exactly the sort of medium armor fighter I’m talking about. I just wish that women like this weren’t so rare. I’d take any of these women over a ridiculous bikini luchador anyday.

Dragon Magazine in 2010. Also, Caesary sinks to new depths.

Hey, folks. Things have been quiet the last several days because I’ve been working on another three-parter. (What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment.) I’ve been picking on video games a lot lately and was feeling an itch to go back to pen and paper RPGs. In the past, I’ve looked at the D&D 4E core books as well as the D&D press kit so I thought I’d take a look at a year’s worth of Dragon Magazines and see how they stack up against the sources I’ve already looked at. (Get it? Stack up? Magazines? …oh never mind.)

Numbers

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the art for Dragon Magazine Issues 383-394 displays clear sexist trends:

CLICK FOR LARGE (MORE READABLE) VIEW

Yep. Women are underrepresented, more likely to be found in neutral poses, comprise the minority of fully-clothed characters, and are far more likely to be suggestively attired. And of course, their chances of being depicted as a fighter are pretty slim when compared to their male counterparts. Again, nothing new or suprising here. I’ll grant, as always, that at least D&D does better in terms of numbers of female depictions when compared to other gaming sources. But women are still consistently under-represented.

What’s interesting is when you take a look at how these numbers compare to the numbers for the 4E core books:

CLICK FOR LARGE VIEW (Again, this one is large.)

The interesting thing is that while the numbers are pretty much the same, the numbers for Dragon Magazine are just slightly worse across most categories – suggestive depictions being a notable exception. There are slightly fewer active women, and slightly fewer women overall. They are a little less fully clothed, a little less likely to be fighters and a little more likely to be thieves.

The suggestive depictions pose an interesting wrinkle. About 70% of all suggestive figures are women, down from 80% of all suggestive figures in the core books. However, a little less than one half of women in the core books are depicted as suggestive while almost three quarters of women in Dragon Magazine are depicted as suggestively attired. So while the number of suggestive male figures has increased, it doesn’t seem to have kept pace with the increase in suggestive female figures.

I’m still working on the other stuff

As mentioned, this will be a three-parter. Next time I’ll do an images post picking out some points of interest. I’ll also be doing an entire post about Shelly Mazzanoble, who will take up too much space to cram into this post.

Since I realize that today’s post is a bit light on content, here for your amusement…

Caesary sinks to new depths

Caesary is a browser-based game owned by the same folks who publish Evony, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they use the same tactics in their advertising. Still, this is pretty ridiculous, even for them:

(You can go here to see the page it came from, complete with nifty animations.) I mean, wow. “Real Men”? They do know that the game has absolutely nothing to do with actual women, right?

Anatomy: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG (WoW)

I’m actually working on a post that’s not about video games, but unfortunately it’s going to take more time than I have today to do the research. So instead I’m doing a quickie anatomy lesson picking on World of Warcraft. I was tempted to pick on Crapping Frost Mage again, but considering that I used it for a gender swap already I decided that would probably be cheating. (Also, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel.) So I went with this wallpaper instead, which features one of the oldest pieces of promo art still in use from the first game:

Oh man. Where to begin…

So first of all, note how small her head is. Now because her feet are cut off, it’s a little hard to tell exactly how tall the figure is, but the average human is 7 heads tall and she is definitely way taller than that. There is some variance to be had, some people don’t conform to 7 heads exactly. But the difference is also never that large. Also, she’s got a serious case of gravity-defying sphere-boob as well as some missing organs:

If you stack the heads up and make an estimated guess of where the feet would be, it looks like she’d be around 8-8.5 heads tall, which is just kind of freakish. I know that those proportions are commonly used by comic artists in order to make the female figure more “statuesque”, but that sort of thing is ridiculous in my books. I want my women to look like actual women, not statues.

Also of note, her waist is actually narrower than her already too-small head, which kind of freaks me out. There’s no way she’s wearing a corset, because that would require her midriff to actually be covered. Unless she’s using magic to create a magical corset forcefield, which just seems like a waste of energy. I mean, aren’t adventurers in WoW supposed to be out to conquer evil? Corset spells seem like they’d just be too big a drain on mana.

Now, interestingly, even the artist seemed to be wrestling with the results of the too-small torso, because he attempted to make the shoulders wide enough to support the head and overcompensated. The result is that if you follow the curve of her back and ribcage, her shoulder isn’t actually connected to her ribs. Her arm is apparently just floating in space, which I’ll admit is a pretty neat trick. I imagine it comes in handy for getting things off of high shelves if you can pop off your arm and send it floating around.

And, of course, she has sphere-boobs that practically have their own anti-gravity fields, but that goes without saying at this point, I suppose.

So with all of these things in mind, I sketched my corrections on top of the image:

Now I’ll admit that I think I may have made her a bit on the unhealthy side if she’s anywhere past about 18. If she’s still got a teenage metabolism, then this is fine and healthy, but if she’s older then not so much. But we’ll presume that summoning arcane forces burns calories and call this close enough. Even with a potentially problematic waistline, you can see the vast difference between this figure and the original. Her waist is not quite double the size, and her boobs are actually affected by gravity now.

And just to make that a bit easier to see:

Yikes. That shoulder thing is just weirding me out. If you’re going to continue making ridiculous cheesecake art, Blizzard, can you at least make sure that their joints all connect correctly?

Mass Effect Win: Awesome things that aren’t FemShep

Okay, guys. I promise this will be my last post about Mass Effect for a while. I just wanted to round up with some non-FemShep related awesomeness, lest people think that the only reason I played the Mass Effect games was an unholy obsession with Jennifer Hale.

Now I’ll have to add here, since I do mention some of the ME2 DLC, that I was pretty selective in what DLC I was willing to pay for. I didn’t pay for extra costumes, even though it would have been a worthwhile investment for Samara, Jack, and Miranda. I also didn’t spring for the Kasumi DLC. So if there’s something that you like particularly about a DLC not mentioned, it’s probable that I never played it.

Lair of the Shadow Broker: SO MUCH WIN

Okay. So I’ll confess that Liara wasn’t exactly my favorite character in the first Mass Effect. She was pretty useful mechanically, since my first playthrough was as a soldier, and it wasn’t like she was actively offensive like Ashley. (I know, I know. Some people love Ashley. Her xenophobia completely turned me off.) But I couldn’t escape the feeling that she was a bit fetishized for male audiences since her innocence and youth were constantly played up and the dialogue between her and Shepard is decidedly awkward in many places.

So I was definitely pleasantly surprised at the transition Liara had apparently undergone between the first Mass Effect and ME2. Rather than being some awkward innocent pining after Shepard, Liara had come into her own as an independent character with her own goals – goals that didn’t necessarily align with Shepard’s. That was great in and of itself – it’s always refreshing to encounter female characters who have goals of their own rather than just being like I WANT WHATEVER THE HERO WANTS TEE HEE.

But the thing I especially loved about Liara’s motivations in Lair of the Shadow Broker is that the mission is essentially a “save the damsel” mission turned on its head. I love the fact that Liara is out to save Feron, her (male) friend that helped recover Shepard’s corpse and was captured by the Shadow Broker in the process. What’s even better is that Feron is just Liara’s friend, not anything more. It turned the “save the damsel” stereotype on its head in every way possible, which was thoroughly enjoyable.

Yes I realize how weird this makes me.

The premise of the mission completely rocked, and BioWare delivered on execution as well. I wouldn’t have believed that the Liara from the first Mass Effect could have been capable of becoming the new Shadow Broker, but I could certainly believe it of the Liara you encounter in ME2. The emphasis that they placed on Liara’s biotic powers was certainly cool, especially when she pulled stunts like jumping two stories out of a window. But I also really appreciated, again, the fact that Liara was being written as someone who had found an identity separate from Shepard, despite their interests coinciding for the sake of the mission.

There were also some really great character interactions between Shepard and Liara, one of my favorites being the car chase and the banter between the two of them. It was something straight out of a comedy action film, and I found it especially cool while playing FemShep since it’s the sort of banter you associate with either Male-Male or Male-Female action heroes. Certainly not the kind of dialogue you’d expect out of two women.

In addition to badass Liara, we also got to see a female rogue Specter-turned-terrorist – yet another example of an non-typical gender role. I realize this is dating me, but I was a bit reminded of Dennis Hopper’s villain from Speed – the cop-turned-terrorist. The Specter in Lair of the Shadow Broker might have had slightly more noble intentions (possibly), but the fact remains that “terrorist” is a role that still gets cast almost exclusively as male. Calling the Specter a “rogue agent” makes it a bit more normal for her to be female, but the fact that she isn’t sexualized at any point during the mission still makes her atypical in my books and pretty awesome as a female villain.

And of course, who could forget the completely fucking awesome moment at the end where Liara is standing in front of the bank of monitors as she takes up the mantle of the Shadow Broker?

It was so unbelievably epic and very well done. And the whole mission really gave Liara a new depth that you don’t see often with female characters. So from start to finish, Lair of the Shadow Broker gets two thumbs up from me.

Tali: simultaneously competent, endearing, and pretty badass

So I know that there has been the assertion on the part of some that Tali is an attempt to appeal to moe fanboys. And here’s the thing. If anyone said that about Liara in the first Mass Effect, I’d probably nod and say “yup”. But Tali? No friggin’ way.

Here’s the thing. In the first Mass Effect, Tali is definitely a bit naive, and certainly displays signs of having been sheltered. But when you think about Tali’s background, having been raised in an isolationist environment as part of the Quarian Migrant Fleet, her actions in the first game are very much consistent with the logic of her background. But even while I would call Tali from the first game sheltered, I would never call her “vulnerable” or “incapable” or “cute”. As a Quarian newly on pilgrimage, Tali decided she needed to take steps to take down Sarin, the biggest threat in known space besides Sovereign at the time of her pilgrimage. Just to put that in perspective, that would be like an Amish teenager deciding that they wanted to take down, I don’t know, Osama bin Ladin (if he weren’t dead) or Qadaffi or something.

Also, please remember that while anime and gaming are both subsets of nerddom, the overlap is NOT as high as you might think. Being an ex-anime geek and a gamer, I know that the vast majority of gamers in my sphere of friends are not at all conversant with anime tropes. And for the most part, anime tropes don’t translate well to Western culture. So the whole Tali = moe? I’m not buying it. Especially not when you consider the Tali you encounter in Mass Effect 2:

In Mass Effect 2, Tali has outgrown the uncertain, sheltered worldview that she had in the first game. She is a competent, confident leader in her own right. During her recruitment mission, almost her entire team dies helping her to accomplish the objectives set out by the Quarian Admiralty Board. But rather than beating herself up, the only moment of regret that Tali evinces is when she says that she hopes that the data she obtains was worth the loss of life. At no point does Tali beat herself up, at no point does Tali whine that she made mistakes, or that this is proof that she shouldn’t have lead the mission. She doesn’t question her skills, and she doesn’t second-guess herself. Tali’s team members willingly die for her, which establishes her as the kind of leader people trust enough to sacrifice themselves to preserve.

That sort of quality isn’t common. Miranda outright says that she doesn’t have it, and Samara often talks about how she’s used to working alone. So the fact that Tali is someone who can command that sort of loyalty from her own people gives her extra dimension and makes her a very excellent female character.

(I lied a little) The romance with Garrus

Okay, I lied a little when I said this was non-FemShep related win. So I’ll keep this part brief. In my Renegade playthrough, I had intended to romance Jacob, but he is apparently super-difficult to romance and something went wrong. So I wound up romancing Garrus, since I decided my FemShep would be more likely to trust someone she knew from before.

Anyhow, I found the romance with Garrus to be very cool because it was a nice reversal of typical romance gender roles. Shepard, being Shepard, was of course very smooth, very confident, very self-assured. And Garrus was, endearingly, unbelievably awkward in his responses.

It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen much in typical romance stories. Pretty much every romance comedy ever has arrogant or very self-assured male characters romancing nervous, insecure, or outright neurotic female characters. So seeing the tables turned was cool, and very, very funny. Yet another instance of good writing on BioWare’s part too, since I’ll admit that I was reluctant to romance a non-human, but in the end it wound up feeling very genuine.

And that’s enough of that.

I promise that now that I’m done rambling about Mass Effect that I’ll move on to other topics.

Mass Effect Fail: the stuff BioWare didn’t get right (Part 2)

So in my last post I looked at the visual gender fail that is all too common in Mass Effect. A lot of the commenters mentioned Tali, so I’ll just mention that Tali goes in my books as win and not fail, so you won’t see her here. But I’ll save my reasons why for my next post about non-Shep win, since she deserves more space than just a sentence or two.

Some people also mentioned that I was probably reading too much into some stuff, and sure. I’ll agree that’s probably the case. The problem I have is that having gotten an education in Fine Art, I can’t stop seeing this stuff. The bar for what pisses me off is just lower than everyone else’s, and that’s cool. I recognize that not everyone spent five years of their life having the rules of composition drilled into their brain.

Lastly, obligatory spoiler warning. This post deals with the writing of ME2, so there will be a lot more spoilers. And again, commenters if you could please refrain from DA2 spoilers in the comments that would be awesome. (I will play it, honest, as soon as I can not feel like having to choose between food and BioWare.)

(Tough choice, that.)

World-building fail: alien races

The gendering of alien races is the most obvious bit of writing fail. Only two races in Mass Effect have male and female models – the humans and Quarians. The rest of the alien races have only one model. Now that’s not terrible in and of itself – not every species on earth has sexual dimorphism; it stands to reason that not all alien races would be sexually dimorphic as well. The problem all non-Quarian and non-Asari aliens are voiced by men, which genders these alien races as male.

According to the codex, some species – the Salarians, Krogans, and Turians – have males and females – we just don’t ever see the females. For the Salarians, a complex “social code” revolving around reproduction means that very few females are produced and are all kept on the home world for breeding purposes. And for the Krogans, it’s even worse; because of the genophage, female Krogan are kept on the homeworld and any that have proven fertility are fought over as prizes of war. So two of the most prominent races essentially have their women being sexual/reproductive slaves. That’s just… great. Really progressive of you, BioWare.

As for the Turians, the codex mentions that female Turians don’t have the same crest of horns that males do, but otherwise do not differ visually from the males. The codex also mentions that all Turians go into public service at a young age. What it fails to mention is just why it is that we never see any female Turians at all? Similarly, we know from Thane’s discussions of his wife that female Drell exist, but the codex does not mention them, nor do we see any female Drell. Now in the case of the Drell, the fact that they rarely if ever leave the homeworld is a bit more acceptible. We only see 2 Drell in all of ME2. But both games are fairly drowning in Turians, and not a single one of them female. What gives? Is “public service” for female Turians glorified housekeeping back on the Turian homeworld? With the number of Turians you run into in the game, you’d think at least a handful would be female.

As for the others – Volus, Hanar, Elcor, and Batarians, only the Hanar’s codex entry specifically mentions gender, and only then to say that it is unknown whether the Hanar have gender. And of the four races, only the Batarians appear as if they might have sexual dimorphism. The Volus wear pressure suits, the Elcor are giant armored quadrupeds, and the Hanar are sentient jellyfish. So it seems puzzling to me that all of these races would be implicitly gendered as male. I realize that the difficulty in gendering aliens lies with making two different models, but that difficulty need not exist for the Volus, Hanar, or Elcor. Why not split their voice acting evenly between male and female? Or at least throw a note in the codex that ‘hey, some Elcor are female, despite the super-deep voices’?

It’s bothersome because they only race that is ever explicitly sexualized (as a race, mind, not as individuals) are the Asari, who are also the only alien race explicitly gendered as female:

You never see Salarian strippers, or Drell strippers, or (god forbid) Krogan strippers. You never even see human strippers, which is at least something we have a cultural tradition of. No, all strippers in Mass Effect are Asari – which is baffling considering that their background essentially makes them blue space-elves. If they live a thousand years and all have biotic powers, why do so damn many of them work as strippers? Answer me that, BioWare.

Even worse is the fact that Asari can breed with any other race and have some kind of super-sex appeal that makes them attractive to all races, even ones that don’t really have sex, like Salarians. The whole bit about them having one gender is pretty interesting, but why does that gender have to be female? Oh wait, I know. It’s so that you can have hot lesbian alien sex. Right. How could I forget? After all, if the Asari can breed with anyone, then why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to breed with women? Because that’s just hawt.

Ugh.

And then there’s the Asari Commandos, supposedly the most fearsome warriors the galaxy have to offer. Only when you run into them in ME1, they’re only mildly challenging to kill and you NEVER SEE THEM AGAIN. Seriously, even the frigging vorcha are harder to kill than the stupid Asari Commandos – the Commandos at least don’t regenerate so fast that you have to take them down with one shot.

So all in all, when it comes to world-building, D-.

Writing fail: party members

There’s also a fair amount of sexism to be had when it comes to the writing of crew missions and conversations. As I complained in my last post, it’s bad enough that I have to look at Miranda’s ass cleavage all the time, but what made it worse was how every conversation came back to how perfect she was and how she was genetically engineered for hawtness. She’s supposed to be this super-smart, super competent commander, and she can’t stop obsessing over how she looks like Barbie because she had such a terrible father. Give me a break.

[Sidenote: I’ll admit that part of my dislike for the writing of Miranda’s character is based on some comments made by the BioWare devs in regards to Miranda’s design, justifying the sexy costume and camera angles by calling her a femme fatale. Since Miranda fits none of the traditional criteria for being a femme fatale except for being hawt, this made me very cynical when hearing any of her dialogue.]

I also have to say that Miranda’s loyalty mission bugged me in terms of premise. They spend so much of the game building up Miranda as a hardass commander – I mean, the first time you meet her she shoots a dude in the face without any sort of preamble. So why is it that her loyalty mission had to be a touchy-feely “show Miranda’s emotional side” sort of mission?

Why couldn’t she have had a loyalty mission like Grunt’s? Or Garrus? Or, hell, what if Miranda had gone on a Zaeed-style killing spree? Miranda’s mission was well-written, I will admit. The betrayal and the choice to whether to allow her to shoot Niket are interesting, and the dialogue where Miranda wrestles with her doubts about Niket is well-written. Still, it was disappointing that Miranda’s mission was stereotyped, even if it was entertaining and better written than some of the other missions.

Jacob’s loyalty mission, however, was a whole different kettle of fish. Unlike Miranda’s mission, it was not terribly well-written. (Jacob’s dialogue was often clunky or awkward, though the voice actor was clearly doing the best he could with what he was given.) In his mission, you discover that Jacob’s father basically creates a harem for himself and kills off those few unaffected officers who could, ahem, enjoy their company. He lets this persist for ten years until the men he exiled become a serious threat and only then signals for help.

The women are, in the words of the log, passed around the officers “like pets”. And there’s even a snippet of  voice recording by one of the unaffected officers about how you can do terrible things to them and then distract them with something shiny and they’ll forget all about how unhappy they were. And, god. This mission was just… painful. I knew what was coming as soon as I stepped into the settlement and saw that it was nothing but women:

No one ever comes out and says the word rape, but it’s there. Even more horrific is that the women who are being taken advantage of are mentally compromised and not really able to give consent in the first place. All of this is supposed to establish what a terrible, awful person Ronald Taylor is and make the moment of truth a tough decision between whether Jacob should tell his father to kill himself or turn him over to authorities. But the whole time I was playing I couldn’t stop asking myself – really? Is this necessary?

We live in a culture where so much of our entertainment is saturated with rape, it’s almost become a shorthand for evil. How do we establish a man as a villain? Have him rape someone! Playing through this mission felt like reading through one of the Sword of Truth novels. It seemed like the writers were saying to themselves, “vanilla rape is too vanilla – what we need is extreme rape”. And the thing is, the bones of the mission are interesting. A situation where officers have to select who will decay mentally and who will not and the temptation to kill to prevent yourself from being one of the people who loses their mind – that’s interesting. All the rape stuff just felt like gratuitous baggage.

This is just my opinion

Okay, so I know there are those of you who disagree with me on this, which is why I’m tacking this on briefly at the end. I think that Jack is a prime example of sexist, over-sexualized character design. I know not everyone agrees (hell, my husband disagrees with me on this point). But the whole time I was playing, I couldn’t escape the feeling that Jack was not designed for me. That she was designed to appeal to a male audience. A male teenage goth audience, specifically. It’s hard to know really what the writers were thinking when they came up with Jack, but I don’t get the feeling that they really cared how women would react to her. (Again, my opinion)

As for her loyalty mission? I’m really not sure how I feel about it. It’s one of the very few times that we see anything approaching vulnerability from Jack, and the only time that I came close to feeling anything resembling sympathy for her. I did at least feel for little-girl Jack even if I hated psychopathic, unrepentant mass-murdering Jack. But I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Sure it provides insight into who she is, but why do we have such an obsession with making strong women “vulnerable”?

Look at the new redesign of Lara Croft where she gets cut up and bruised to show her “vulnerability”. Or look at The Third Birthday where Aya’s clothes get torn off as she takes damage to show that she’s “vulnerable”. So I go back and forth between thinking that Jack’s loyalty mission is a necessary attempt at establishing that Jack is at least a human being and thinking that it’s just another instance of undermining a strong female character (albeit without tearing her clothes off or abusing her physically).