GenCon: Spousal Activity win, mascot fail

There were two points that I wanted to make specifically regarding trends, both positive and negative, I’ve noticed from my long-running attendance. Since neither of them merit a full post, I’m combining them into one.

First off, the Spousal Activities track, which actually gets a partial WIN.

In the past few years, GenCon has been trying hard to market itself as a family-friendly convention by offering services like childcare and an activities track for non-gaming spouses. Now yes, it’s true that the acronym used for the Spousal Activities track was SpA – not an accident. And the activities were definitely female-oriented, like yoga, massage, and other typically “female non-gamer interests”. But the important thing to consider is that the Spousal Activities track USED to be represented in the program by this icon:

That’s right. Activities for non-gaming partners were represented in the program with a ball and chain.

If memory serves, the SpA was introduced in 2009, and despite complaints about the icon (I know people complained – I was one of them), they used the same icon AGAIN in 2010. Thankfully, women weren’t the only ones who complained. Critical Hits had an awesome open letter to the GenCon organizers called “Save vs. Misogyny” in which they explained why this was such a bad idea.

So I was very pleased to see that this year, the SpA icon had been re-designed:

Now is the logo still problematic? Sure. Because it still clearly demonstrates that GenCon is operating under the assumption that non-gaming spouses will OF COURSE be female. And that’s kind of sad, because it disrespects the large number of gaming WOMEN who come to GenCon every year because they have a genuine passion for gaming.

However, I’m still calling this a partial win, because the idea of yin and yang is a much more positive way to approach the divide between gaming and non-gaming partners. It’s a way of treating non-gamers are compliments to their partners, rather than obstacles to the GAMING AWSUM that is GenCon. So while it’s not perfect, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

Which makes things like this year’s logo a little more disappointing:

Wow. I mean, yes they’re very vector-ish and stylized, but this is pretty much everything I bitch about here on my blog. You’ve got your nubile, not-terribly-clothed woman versus your completely-completely covered man. Not that I suppose this should surprise me. GenCon manages to have some sort of cheesecake mascot every year. It’s just that I haven’t really been paying a whole lot of attention until the last year or so.

Logos from previous years are pretty hard to find, but take a look at these logos from 2009 and 2010:

Why is it that every year GenCon’s mascot is a cheesecake female character? Now yes, this year’s female mascot is more covered and less sexualized than either the valkyrie or the vampire chick. But she’s also shown in stark contrast to a fully-covered, not-at-all sexualized male character, which is actually a bit of a step backwards.

Both the mascot choices and things like the SpA make it very clear that women still aren’t considered “real” gamers by the GenCon organizers, and it’s this more than anything else that I’d like to see GenCon’s organizers work toward changing. There are so many vibrant, passionate, brilliant women doing fantastic work in the gaming world that this casual disregard for their existence is very saddening to see. GenCon is supposed to be a showcase of everything that makes gaming great – after all, it’s the best four days in gaming. And yet how can it be the best if it continues to focus in on only what a very small segment of game devs, designers, and artists are doing?

I say all of this with the deepest and utmost love, but seriously – get your act together, guys. I want GenCon to be a convention that I can be PROUD of going to – not something that still makes me embarrassed to call myself a gamer openly sometimes.

61 thoughts on “GenCon: Spousal Activity win, mascot fail

  1. What’s really sad about this year’s logo is that, if they’d just put the woman warrior in proper armor, it would have been great.

  2. On the SpA track: I did hear that they got a number of complaints a few years ago that the activities were overly geared towards women, leaving the gaming widowers (male gaming widows) out in the cold. I’ve heard that there’s been progress on this front, but not from anyone who’s experienced it.

  3. I had a similar thought last year during the brief flare up of concern over the SPA logo: a whole lot of people jumped on the logo criticism bandwagon, but I noticed that no one made mention of the scantily clad, overtly sexual vampiress. When I pointed this out to a few people, the response was something like “Oh, well, the art in RPGs has always been like that. It doesn’t bother me.” It felt like people throwing in with a moral cause to feed their own self-righteousness rather than to understand or combat the underlying problem. Support where you can get it I guess, but it just seemed like everyone was missing the point.

  4. I complained about ye olde ball and chain after Gen Coon 2007 IIRC. No response.

    The valkyrie lady is all about the crypto-fascism, too. My eyes were drawn to the blood red runic SS in her hem. Maybe I think about Nazis too much.

  5. Fascist and crypto-fascist game imagery is definitely a thing, my personal Nazi-seeking disability aside. Gen Con is a little unsettling that way. So the (fantasy) Valkyrie’s got younger futhark “S” runes running conspicuously along her (Greek) hem for some reason.

    That’s all I’m sayin’. Oh wait! I’m also saying they positioned her in visual opposition to a big red star and faux-Cyrillic lettering. Anyway I’m sure I’m completely off base.

  6. I think the new mascots are sort of a step in the right direction. Just get rid of the stupid “boob armor” trend and we’ll get somewhere. I suspect the artist wasn’t intended to make something sexualized, he or she probably just didn’t know there was another way to draw a fantasy character.

    • Yeah, I fear sexualized fantasy women are kind of a self-perpetuating image. We’re surrounded by images of fantasy women in ridiculous sexualized outfits, so that’s the image that pops into mind. All the more reason to point it out to people in the hopes of breaking the cycle, because once you notice, you can’t un-notice.

      • Well, at least armpits and Zettai Ryouiki are some of the more niche fetishes to pander to. Hell, it took me a while to see what Wundergeek was talking about. I’ve asked a few non-geek co-workers and they don’t see a problem, so it’s probably not overtly alienating. Glass half-full, I guess.

        The biggest thing that gets to me is those silly pauldrons that she’s wearing. Her hair makes it look like they’re levitating above her shoulders instead of resting on them or being attached to her armourdress. I’m getting flashbacks to Phantasy Star.

  7. Ball and chain? Seriously? That’s embarrassing. Shame on GenCon.

    I’m a little annoyed about the wizard. I mean, can we have a wizard that doesn’t wear blue robes and have a long white beard? The Merlin look is getting old.

  8. I’m glad they changed the ball and chain, but what’s overtly female about a Yin-yang symbol which incorporates a floral and weaponry motif?

    I call ‘shenanigans’ on this comment:
    “Now is the logo still problematic? Sure. Because it still clearly demonstrates that GenCon is operating under the assumption that non-gaming spouses will OF COURSE be female. And that’s kind of sad, because it disrespects the large number of gaming WOMEN who come to GenCon every year because they have a genuine passion for gaming.”

    That symbol isn’t feminine, it’s a *balance*, and I was glad to see the shift. I’m curious how you justify that as a feminine symbol. If you claim it is because the flower is on top, then I say you’re picking nits. There’s no disrespect in that symbol, there’s balance.

    Has the convention header art been heavy on the cheesecake (for the last few years)? Yes, I won’t disagree with you there– but, artistically, it is a hell of a lot better than the multi-armed *thing* they before that. (Check old issues of Dragon and you can see the Gencon art fairly easily.)

    @Jason Morningstar: As far as the imagery from 2009 is concerned, that’s Bawidamann’s handiwork, and he’s renowned for WW2 style pin-ups of Axis and Allied models. So the fact that he would incorporate some of that into a Valkyre is not only unsurprising but I’d say expected.

    -Ben.

    • Follow-up– I thought the vampire from 2010 was downright terrible, but I’ve been long since vampired-out. It didn’t matter what the vampire looked like. Put me firmly in the “then Buffy staked Edward” camp.

      -Ben.

    • Yin – Dark – Female. Yang – Light – Male. Yin is a pretty flower, Yang is a nasty-edged sword. ‘Cause men will be swinging their nasty-edged swords at GenCon, whilst women decorate.

      • (Oh. My comment was, incidentally, disdainful toward the symbolism, if said disdain did not communicate itself in my typing.)

      • *blink*

        Righhhh…no.

        The yin symbolizes the soft, passive, earthy, shaded. It is the shadow of the valley.
        The yang is the hard, aggressive, fiery, bright. The mountain rising up.
        They incorporate each other and trade places as the sun’s passage lights the valley and plunges the mountainside into shade…it’s some clever zen thinking to use that symbol for the SpA listing, in my opinion.

        You’re putting some charged words in there by classifying swords as “nasty.” You’re changing the inflection and the tone of the symbol by coloring through your perception of swords. Your choice of diction immediately makes the sword a pejorative symbol– without any reasoning beyond your imposed intent. I’m a fencer, and I don’t see swords as anything but utilitarian– a sword’s use creates its impression. I could just as easily view it as the noble deterrent which keeps me safe through dedicated training. I’ve also read a bit about flower arranging, and consider it an artform. The symbol could just as easily represent the balance of physical and mental activities meant to better oneself.

        The comment about the symbol in the post is tossed out casually and left unsupported before wundergeek proceeds to look at the much more indefensible logos. I take issue with the lack of support and think the comment requires clarification. Don’t just take potshots in passing. You want to take a swing at it, then do it right.

        -Ben.

        • The way I interpreted wundergeek’s comment was that she COULD make an argument for why the yin-yang logo is sexist, but she felt it wasn’t sexist enough to deserve her time and effort. She just acknowledged it.

          “I’m curious how you justify [the flower] as a feminine symbol.”

          You’re kidding, right? Flower may as well be the logo for ‘feminine’! Along with ponies and lipstic! Women have long been equated with nature (mother nature, women as ‘delicate flowers’, growing into ‘womanhood’ has even been described as ‘blossoming/blooming’)! I’m sorry, but when I see flower on an item my first thought is ‘it’s for girls’. And not just any girls, GIRLY girls! So I can see where the problem in the image may lie (Only women like flowers thus all spouses are women and all women don’t care for videogames, only men like swords – a straight guy would generally feel insulted to be represented by a flower), but after the ball and chain I also think it can be classified as a definate improvement. Besides, the more I think about the yin-yang symbolism, the more I find myself liking it: “The symbol could just as easily represent the balance of physical and mental activities meant to better oneself.” – nice!😀 Now if only we didn’t have to explain that interpretation😉

          Oh, and I’m sorry, but swords are designed for fighting/killing. A pig dressed in silk is still a pig🙂

          • Oh, and I’m sorry, but swords are designed for fighting/killing. A pig dressed in silk is still a pig

            The sword’s being used as a positive symbol in the yin-yang logo, though — it’s a pretty clear reference to gamers, given the prevalence of swords in fantasy, with all the heroic implications that swords entail in games.

            Which is another issue, because equating gamers with the sword implies that their spouse is represented by the flower, which isn’t necessarily fair. Then again, given that non-gamer spouses are a rather heterogenous group, coming up with a perfect symbol is difficult; swapping the flower for an olive branch could switch the gendered symbolism to pure war/peace imagery, but that might not be what they’re going for, either.

            • You’re right about the sword. Unfortunately that means the logo is pretty much relying on the old women(passive/flower/boring)/men(active/sword/interesting) dichotomy:/ But I also can’t think of any replacements. /shrug

            • You’re clearly misquoting me by substituting [the flower] where I had previously noted the yin-yang symbol. I do not contest your notion that a flower is easily associated with females. I’m looking at the whole symbol, not just a part of it. I want to know how one can declare the yin-yang symbol “disrespects the large number of gaming WOMEN who come to GenCon every year because they have a genuine passion for gaming.”

              I take issue with the idea this new SpA symbol disrespects anyone, much less women. Why is this symbol of balanced femininity and masculinity sexist?

              @veric Your logic progression regarding the supposed insult implied equating men to flowers is odd. The French are often represented by the lily. My own Scottish heritage is often represented by a thistle bloom. Assuming most men will be insulted by the flower seems like a stretch– unless you’ve posted a poll I’m unaware of and haven’t yet answered.😉 I’m glad we can agree the yin-yang symbol is a good one, but I think our path to the conclusion is much different.

              And RE: swords. Yes, swords are designed for combat, I never claimed otherwise, but they are not “nasty.” That’s a charged word with negative connotation and one I find inappropriate to associate with the sword in the image, especially when the sword is later linked with male genitalia. I’ll leave it at that– such pejorative association is inappropriate, given the symbol and the conversation.

              -Ben.

              • I hope you haven’t interpreted any bad faith, I’m rather enjoying this conversation (probably because you’re challenging every assumption I’m making which is giving my brain a workout!). I’d like to write an essay on this, but I don’t want to spam the comments so i’ll try to be as brief and concise as possible🙂

                So in respect to the misquotation (oops) here’s your whole paragraph:

                “That symbol isn’t feminine, it’s a *balance*, and I was glad to see the shift. I’m curious how you justify that as a feminine symbol. If you claim it is because the flower is on top, then I say you’re picking nits. There’s no disrespect in that symbol, there’s balance.”

                I thought that you meant ‘flower’ by ‘symbol’, yin (as in the actual yin, not the flower-yin) never came to mind:/ Sorry, mea culpa.

                “I contest the idea declaring the yin-yang symbol to “disrespect the large number of gaming WOMEN who come to GenCon every year because they have a genuine passion for gaming.”” NOW I see where the issue lies!

                Through your interpretation I like to think that the yin-yang symbol applies to everyone, gamer and non-gamer, that we all have a need for physical and mental activities, for combative and calming ones. However, having read the related article on Critical-Hits, this symbol refers to ‘activities for the ‘Better Half'”, which immidiately splits it up in people’s mind (the balance is marriage). Half the symbol refers the gamers and the other to their spouses. This is where people (though perhaps not those of Scottish heritige ;)) will bring their previous assumptions and where their minds will make quick links between sword=gamer(male) and flower=woman. It’s automatic, nobody has to sit down and wonder ‘is that flower for gamers?’ or consult a symbol dictionary. The appearence of the flower here is cruicial. If it was a flower out of ‘Plants vs. Zombies’ then totally, that would refer to gamers! But it’s not. This isn’t about what the flower could be, but what it is. You won’t change my mind on this😛

                As to whether it disrespects female gamers… This is why I’m not convinced this is sexist enough to justify outrage, but I do understand why some may be angered by it. Flowers = women, sword = gamers (men). Men are gamers, women are ‘delicate flowers’ that don’t care about or understand games. This equation is obvious in my mind and it was the first thing that I thought of. But it’s fine, ok, whatever, sword can represent all gamers (female and male), at least for me, so I’m happy to give it a pass. The flower representing non-gaming husbands however, that is a problem because I don’t see that, therefore the flower in gendered which genders the sword. See, by themselves the symbols are fine, but together in that context, perhaps not so much😉

                As for men being insulted by flowers, I think my assumption lies in being exposed to a lot of homophobia. It’s a relief to hear that you don’t subscribe to it😀 For example, recently my (male)friend and I watched Game of Thrones. I read the books about four years ago; friend never read them. One of the characters, commonly known as Knight of Flowers, turned out to be gay in the TV series. This surprised me and I told my friend that he wasn’t gay in the books to the best of my knowledge. My friend retorted ‘he’s the Knight of FLOWERS. How much gayer do you need him to be?’ I know too many straight men who’s worst fear is to be seen as ‘gay’ hence the rejection of all things feminine (yes, I know, what do homosexual men really have to do with the feminine? /shrug) like flowers. I do appreciate your reference to the thistle (I can add my adoration of roses which for me are strongly linked to the War of the Roses and therefore are categorized under ‘badass’), but again it all comes down to what the flower in the logo looks like. It looks like a generic, inoffensive, girly flower:/

                Yes, our paths to the conclusion are much different, but that’s why it’s so interesting!😀 Also, even though I’m criticizing the symbol a lot, that doesn’t mean I don’t like it, it just means I understand why others might not.

                “And RE: swords. Yes, swords are designed for combat, I never claimed otherwise, but they are not “nasty.” That’s a charged word with negative connotation and one I find inappropriate to associate with the sword in the image, especially when the sword is later linked with male genitalia.”

                It isn’t really an accident that swords (used to stab things in violence) are easily equated with penis (even substituted for the word):/ It’s something that I strongly dislike along with the general trend towards equating sex with violence. Again, all I can say is that while I’ve seen this sort of equating many times, it’s great to hear you reject it😀

              • @Veric:
                (I can add my adoration of roses which for me are strongly linked to the War of the Roses and therefore are categorized under ‘badass’)

                Oh, hey, I think you just fixed it!

                If the motif was sword-and-rose rather than sword-and-generic-flower, it would be much harder to assign a gender to each side of the yin-yang. The symbolic contrast would be between the lover and the fighter; a rose would be no worse a symbol for a male lover than for a female one (male examples of this sort of symbolism certainly aren’t hard to come by in fiction, at least), and it would manage to encapsulate the one thing that all non-gaming spouses have in common — their love for a gamer!

                (It’d also fit well into the idea of yin and yang trading places, because it’s easy to see how either partner could be lover or fighter depending on the situation)

                It isn’t really an accident that swords (used to stab things in violence) are easily equated with penis (even substituted for the word):/ It’s something that I strongly dislike along with the general trend towards equating sex with violence.

                Hm, you say you dislike this sort of equation, and yet you say that’s not an accident?

                One would be hardpressed, at the very least, to argue that those sorts of similarities are intentional — every aspect of a sword that could lead to a comparison with male genitalia has a clear and specific function (that has nothing to do with sex).

                I’d say it’s a coincidence, regardless of how understandable the comparison may be.😉 (Though I’ve always found it silly to make that comparison for every object that’s long and narrow. There tend to be a lot of things like that simply due to convenience >_> )

                I totally agree with you about the strong dislike for equating sex with violence, by the way. It tends very easily towards being unhealthy, and usually ends up degrading women far more than men. =/

              • No bad faith perceived. It is a long thread, and so some misinterpretation is bound to happen along the way– I’m certainly guilty of it once or twice.😉 I appreciate your willingness to establish your viewpoint and I believe I understand your position now. Thanks! It’s nice to be able to discuss the (what might be considered a minor) point civilly.

              • @ Ikkin:

                You’re totally right about the rose! It’s so obvious!😀

                “Hm, you say you dislike this sort of equation, and yet you say that’s not an accident?”

                Oops, found my foot in my mouth again! The wording is inexcusable, but I tried to say that I see this sort of penis=sword thing very often (most recently in the before mentioned GoT HBO series :/) and it was always deliberate (I can’t remember an example of the sex-talks, but some go along the lines of ‘stabbing’=PIVsex and using ‘sword’ as a metaphor for ‘penis’). While I dislike that image/metaphor, I was surprised when Ben mentioned that link with apparent rejection because I’ve never heard a guy openly reject associating his penis with a sword. Thus foot made an abrupt acquaintance with mouth.

                So I dislike the equation, but don’t doubt that it is often presented deliberately in spoken form (you’re right that it’s next to unheard of in image-form. The only instances I can remember were snarky comments of ‘men with their swords’ pictures, and those don’t really count), if that makes sense. In the case of the logo I’m more than willing and happy to assume such a comparison is wholly unintentional. In all honestly I did some rather deep digging coming up with anti-logo arguments😉

                And of course a cigar can just be a cigar😀

                @ Ben McFarland:

                I’ve been so fixed on showing you there may be a legitimate argument against the logo that I forgot to say why I liked it! Well, I’ll just say it now: I like it because the sword implies excitement (at least for me) and the flower implies relaxation. Therefore the sword well describes gamers who are excited to be at the convention and the flower (or rather, rose ;)) well describes their spouses who aren’t that excited but get to have some more relaxed fun anyway. The yin-yang symbolism is wonderful because it implies a healthy relationship between gamer and non-gamer. I also like that it’s shortened to SpA, but I feel like expecting to get a massage! Heck, if they do give massages then I’d duck in for a quick one between convention-madness😀

                Oh and it was fun discussing the point with you! I discovered quite a bit about the many assumptions I operate under that I never thought to challenge before.

          • Unless that flower is an oleander bloom? And then how do you feel about it?

            My point is that the symbol is balanced– it’s the atomic nature of the symbol itself. You can’t just look at half and call it a feminine symbol, you have to take the whole image.

            -Ben.

            • But… I am taking the whole image. Coupled with the (rather girly) flower the sword pretty much equals penis, since the yin-yang implies opposities in balance:/ Common assosiations are powerful things.

              As for the oleander bloom, I understand what you’re trying to do, but the flower in the picture looks like the stereotypical flower you might see on a little girl’s lunchbox. It did occur to me that ‘hey, the flower could be poisonous!’ but that felt like a stretch. Is ‘poisonous’ really what first springs to mind?

              Anyway, I have nothing against the symbol, I’ve come to like it, especially your interpretation of it🙂

        • Yin is considered “feminine,” yang is considered “masculine.”  Leaving those connotations out is disingenuous.

          And how, exactly, is the sword on the “yang” half supposed to represent non-gamer husbands?  (Not that mine is a non-gamer or anything.)

          • The propriety of the sword as a symbol for non-gaming male spouses is the topic of another debate. I would concur the sword is a suboptimal choice in that regard, but I still contest the idea declaring the yin-yang to be a feminine symbol which disrespects female spouses.

            -Ben.

            • I need to amend this comment, but cannot edit it.

              I contest the idea declaring the yin-yang symbol to “disrespect the large number of gaming WOMEN who come to GenCon every year because they have a genuine passion for gaming.” wundergeek did not call the symbol feminine, that is a mistake on my part. I find the assertion this symbol disrespects anyone to be unsupported.

              -Ben.

        • The root problem I have with your contention is that you believe some “clever zen thinking” actually went into the creation of that symbol. Yes, it’s entirely possible that it did. However, this is all in the context of the organizers of GenCon–the people who gave us the ball and chain logo in the first place–and so I think you’re ascribing far too much complexity to the design decision.

          Here’s my (the Occam’s razor) version of the thinking that went into this: they felt the ball and chain might have gone a wee bit too far (or, more likely, received too many complaints.) Hence, the yin and yang: a balance of gamer and non-gamer. Great! So a gamer is going to be a sword–what better symbol to represent gaming? (that’s a rhetorical question: I actually think the sword as a symbol shows a lack of imagination, but, then, that’s kind of my point). And then, well, the non-gamer… they’re going to be women, so, a flower.

          Even if we grant you your symbolism, our GenCon organizers have another beautiful dichotomy to glom onto. Hard, agressive, firey? The gamer! Soft, passive, earthy? The non-gamer!

          So, yes, completely out of the context of GenCon the symbol could have shown some clever zen thinking, and I’d applaud GenCon if that were the case. However, in the context of GenCon, I’m dubious that this was the thought process they went through.

          Finally: you believe I was putting charged words in my comment by calling swords “nasty”. To clarify, the intention of my adjectives (“nasty” and “pretty”) was not for them to be charged, but to comically emphasize what I believed was the simplistic thinking that went into the choice of the symbols. I really don’t care about what swords do, one way or the other, as long as one is not heading towards me at high speed.

          • mhm, I agree on the sword part. It is easy to connect the sword with gamers. And hell, I’d be offended if anyone said the sword cannot represent me as a female gamer just because of its phallic nature. I just love swords. Most gamers do.

            However, I disagree with your idea that flower = female. If you are an artist/designer and you’re aiming towards a “balance” symbol… you already got the sword since it is captain obvious… and you seek for an easily recognizable “opposite” of it then you’d go for a symbol of peace since the next best meaning for a sword symbol is “war” “weapon” or “violence”. There is no obvious symbol for “non gamer”.

            Now, consider that flowers were meant to be symbols of peace back in the 70’s. The hippies were called “flower power people” for exact the same reason. And the kind of flower (It seems to me as either a sunflower or a daisy) in the symbol screamed “hippie” to me. (you can make pretty flower circlets out of daisies and many kids do that)

            Call me ignorant… maybe my state of mind is a bit diffetent in that point, but to claim the flower as symbol for feminine and the sword as symbol for masculine in that context is as obvious as claiming that the flower stands for vegetarian and the sword for carnivore (since you use it for slaughtering animals)
            In other words: i like that symbol.

            Oh and I don’t think that the creators put too much effort into research of what’s considered “yin” and what “yang”. Yin/yang in modern pop culture simply means “balanced life”

            Now for the mascot… I don’t like it either. But maybe that’s because I’m fed up with grumpy old male wizards (at least they could have made him hot, too) next to cheesecake and I don’t like the artistic style of the image. The vampiress is worse and she looks like she’s jumped out of the 80’s.
            I must admit that I like the valkyrie even if she shows some skin. First, the overall style + colour palette is great. Second, even if she’s in a pose that another artist might have easily abused for heavy T&A, she does not show any. She’s no thin supermodel, but a “real” woman Alphonse Mucha could have drawn. She holds her sword and shield confidently without showing too much agression and she avoids a sexual/sensual look in her face even though she’s looking at the viewer. Of course it would have been more badass if she actually had more armor. But her outfit doesn’t look overly sexual to me.
            In my opinion, showing skin has to be judged in context. It doesn’t need to be bad or sexist. No one would consider a male duelist (or Vaan) who wears no shirt or maybe just some bandages sexist.

            • I’m not going to go through and argue point-by-point, but there are a few things I want to quibble with you on:

              She holds her sword and shield confidently without showing too much agression and she avoids a sexual/sensual look in her face even though she’s looking at the viewer.

              The fact that she’s not showing aggressive is not, in fact, a neutral choice. It renders her less threatening and, while the artist didn’t choose an obviously sexual expression, it’s still designed to make her look pretty rather than like a competent fighter leading a charge.

              She’s not looking at the viewer, either; if you follow the line of her eyes, you’ll see she’s looking past the viewer somewhat further off to the left side of the image. Direct eye contact is threatening, so it’s better at making the character being portrayed look strong, which is a visual trick that’s not used as often as it should be for female characters.

              It doesn’t need to be bad or sexist. No one would consider a male duelist (or Vaan) who wears no shirt or maybe just some bandages sexist.

              A male character can be objectified without it seeming sexist, because it’s a defiance of the status quo rather than the performance of it. There’s definitely an argument to be made that Vaan is objectified in some of his renders (which is probably part of the reason he’s so hated). The male duelist could go either way, honestly, depending on how he was designed.

    • People have already listed them several times over. You’ve brushed them off, or claimed that they’re not connected.

      But to recap: Yin is generally associated with dark colors. That says to me that the flower is representing yin there.

      Yin is also associated with femininity. There’s a daisy on the yin half.

      Yang is associated with masculinity. There’s a sword—that is, an archaic weapon—on the yang half.

      Why is associating yin (feminine) with a daisy and yang (masculine) with a sword problematic, you ask? Because there are two possible implications there: The first is that Wundergeek’s right.

      The second? The sword does represent non-gamer husbands.  Because, after all, what guy isn’t into archaic weapons?

      If you can think of any other possible implications, feel free to enlighten us.

      • I’m not sure how I’ve “brushed off” anyone’s assertions thus far. I have challenged with opposing interpretations, but I don’t think I’ve dismissed anyone’s position without trying to say why.

        I think the yin-yang is a balanced symbol, and (as I said above,) could represent “the balance of physical and mental activities meant to better oneself.” It advocates that the yin-yang is a balanced symbol which appropriately represents its audience. While @veric and I like this interpretation, it does not seem to be a readily apparent one. Barring others proposing (or agreeing with my) alternate interpretations, I am content to say it seems to be an uncommon viewpoint.

        As far as I can see the rest of discussion to this point, there is the position asserting that the claim the yin-yang disrespects “the large number of gaming WOMEN who come to GenCon every year because they have a genuine passion for gaming” is unsupported.

        And there is the position that claims this symbol is problematic because “wundergeek is right.” Although this position seems circular to me.

        And there is the position that claims this symbol “disrespects the large number of gaming WOMEN who come to GenCon every year because they have a genuine passion for gaming” because (as I’m reading the presented position,) the flower portion of the symbol is not inclusive of male spouses. Inversely, this exclusion suggests mostly women will participate in SpA events, and that presumed participation is offensive?

        I’m not certain if there is more than this suggested exclusion of men from SpA events which makes the symbol disrespectful or the suggestion that mostly women will participate, but this (to me) still augers in on only half of the image while disregarding the fact that a yin-yang symbol is supposed to be taken as a whole rather than half-at-a-time, that it is supposed to include the masculine and the feminine, the hard and bright juxtaposed with the soft and shaded.

        If the assertion is that the flower equals non-gaming women, then the sword represents non-gaming men…and so this male representation is the disrespectful part? It’s not the flower, but the sword which is offensive because it implies non-gaming men still like a traditional fantasy weapon? …so we imply non-gaming women don’t like swords and … I’m trying here, but I’m not getting back to the disrespectful gesture to women who game. Help me see your position better, because right now, it seems tenuous. Would it be better if they had just appropriated the yin-yang, but made it in the Gencon colors of orange and teal? (And in fact, the more I think of it, that is probably a fine solution.)

        -Ben.

        • Here, let me try to explain the problem better, since you’re confused:

          The yin-yang symbol, as it’s being used, has multiple levels of symbolism.

          The highest and most obvious level is the dichotomy between gamers (sword) and non-gamers (flower).

          This is rendered problematic because of the second level of meaning inherent in both the chosen symbols and the yin-yang itself – the flower and yin are coded as feminine, while the sword and yang are coded as masculine. By extension, this links gaming with male-ness and non-gaming with female-ness (likely accidentally, because swords and yang are both symbolically appropriate in this context for gamers as a whole for reasons that have nothing to do with gender).

          And as I suggested above, this could be diffused to a large degree simply by giving the non-gamer side a more gender-neutral symbol. It’s possible to use the yin-yang without running into gender essentialism, but it’s hard to do if gendered interpretations aren’t de-emphasized.

        • You’ve been pretty dismissive about the innately gendered implications of the two sides of the yin-yang symbol. Yes, the symbol as a whole means balance, but…well, Ikkin covered what they’ve done with it.

          Don’t get me wrong; I think the new symbol is a vast improvement. (Ball and chain, really?) But there are still unfortunate implications to it.

  9. I’ve found this whole conversation to be interesting! I can see Ben’s point about the symbol itself not necessarily being disrespectful on its own…. but I do agree with Wundergeek and others that using a very gamer oriented symbol (the sword) on the masculine side, and a completely non-gamer symbol (the flower) on the feminine side strongly implies that the people taking advantage of the non-gamer activities will be woman. And THAT implication is the part I take offense at; not the necessarily the symbol itself.

    This does require the assumption that a sword = gamer, and perhaps this is not an intuitive leap for most people and shows my own biases rather than any intentions of the GenCon organizers. Speaking from my personal experiences, I play WoW and read a lot of epic fantasy…swords are VERY common in these worlds and when I see one my mind is immediately taken to the characters and places that I hold dear to my heart. Seeing a sword, something that is inherently representative of the fantasy worlds I relate to and love so much on the -male- side and seeing a simple, basic, cliche flower on the -feminine- side… really sucks. Why can’t I get a cool weapon too? Or even something remotely related to gaming/fantasy?

    If, as stayed by Veric above, they still wanted to use a flower but took the Sunflower from Plants vs. Zombies…I would have a different reaction. Because then I would be free to interpret both symbols as gaming/fantasy symbols, acknowledging that con-goers are of either gender and that their spouses could also be of either gender.

    Though using gaming symbols on both halves to represent a program of non-gaming activities is a little silly. Perhaps a non-gaming masculine symbol would have been more appropriate for that side of the symbol? I’m sort of at a loss of what that could be however…

    Lastly, at Veric and completely off topic…. I don’t want to get too deeply into spoilers, but the Knight of Flowers is gay in the books as well. GRRM writes it subtly (the show is extremely blatant), but the clues are there; enough to convince me of it anyways! I’d be happy to point out specific passages via another venue if you’d be interested.

    • This does require the assumption that a sword = gamer, and perhaps this is not an intuitive leap for most people and shows my own biases rather than any intentions of the GenCon organizers.

      Well, you’re not the only one whose mind went there, at any rate.

      Perhaps a non-gaming masculine symbol would have been more appropriate for that side of the symbol? I’m sort of at a loss of what that could be however…

      Yeah, I had the same thought, accompanied by “I don’t know…a pool ball?”

    • @Leiyan
      “a completely non-gamer symbol (the flower) on the feminine side strongly implies that the people taking advantage of the non-gamer activities will be woman. And THAT implication is the part I take offense at; not the necessarily the symbol itself.”

      Why is the implication offensive? You state you love fantasy worlds– and appear to be a gamer, based on your post. If you are a gamer, then the symbol isn’t intended for you, nor is it meant to represent you…so are you offended by the fact that non-gaming men are not represented by the symbol or that non-gaming women are expected to easily identify with a flower, or is there something else offensive about the choice of a flower?

      Or are you a non-gamer woman and feel the flower is pejorative in some way? (And side question, regardless of gaming interest: what do you think about my suggestion that is the juxtaposition of the flower and the sword which causes the offense, rather than just the flower itself?)

      Therein lies my sincere question– what is offensive about the implication that non-gaming women will be the primary audience of the SpA events? Help me understand this position, because right now it feels unsupported and more vicarious.

      -Ben.

      • What’s offensive about the same old, tired, “silly girls, games are for boys” B.S., you mean?  Because that implication, while certainly not a blatant example, has a decided whiff of it.

        Women are inching up on being half of the gamer population. Unfortunately, there’s really not much acknowledgement of that.

    • I would be very interested in that passage actually! I read the books about four years ago, so I’m very sketchy on the details (I’ve got to find the time to reread them so I can read A Dance with Dragons!), I just thought I would have remembered if Loras was gay (isn’t he also a bit of a lady’s man? Man, my memory must be dodgy :S). However it being subtle it’s no wonder I missed it: I don’t much care about romance, it wouldn’t be the first time I missed something like that😉

      As for the logo, I understand your outrage. That flower felt like a bit of a slap to the face, and I again felt the old impulse to prove that my lacking a y chromosome doesn’t make me any less of a gamer. We shouldn’t have or feel the need to prove ourselves:/

      How do you feel about the flower being replaced by a rose?

      • A rose would be better. I like Ikkin’s train of thought, and I can totally get behind it. That and (as Ikkin’s link also mentioned) rose = Tuxedo Kaman = super amazing awesome. Roses are very symbolic and much more evocative of many different things; certainly more interesting than the generic flower currently in use.

        Regarding Loras, I would recommend this article here, on the Tower of the Hand website. You’ll need to make sure your “scope” is set to at least book three (Storm of Swords) in order to read the article. As you’ll see it’s pretty subtle, scattered bits here and there, so it’s no wonder most people missed it!

  10. Add me as another voice agreeing that changing the flower to a rose would be a great move, for exactly the reasons Ikkin gives. Now, someone let GenCon know for next year.

      • Well, if you’re going to claim that swords are an inherently gendered symbol, I’m going to have to argue that point. I certainly wouldn’t feel excluded as a gamer if gamers were represented by a sword; they’re rather ubiquitous in fantasy gaming (and it’s not like they aren’t perfectly usable by women). They might be less common for as a weapon for female fantasy characters, but I think that just makes it more important to play it up as non-gendered. =/

          • If you’re using martial imagery as one side of a yin-yang, it pretty much has to be yang, though — leaving gender aside, all of the other connotations support sword = yang, and resist sword = yin.

            The problem is the gender essentialism of the yin-yang, not the sword itself. =/

            • I’m not sure why martial imagery, juxtaposed with a daisy, is necessary at all. As I mentioned above, I can only really see two interpretations: either non-gaming husbands not even being considered, or the presumption that even non-gaming men are going to automatically be interested in anything that involves weapons.

              Of course, my best suggestion for an alternative was a billiard ball. (Or a bowling ball, maybe.) So YMMV.

              • But I don’t think the sword was ever supposed to represent non-gamer husband — the primary point of the symbol is “gamer and non-gamer,” not “male and female.”

                Since the sword works perfectly well as a symbol for gamers of either gender (as long as it’s not contrasted with something that only works for women), I don’t see why it can’t be left alone, and the other symbol modified (ie. the “girly” daisy turned into a more gender-neutral rose).

              • @ Ikkin: The trouble is that the daisy is “girly.”  Even if we take the idea that the sword is meant to represent gamers at face value, the symbol used to represent non-gamers is clearly gendered.

                And I don’t think I’ve argued that changing it to a rose wouldn’t at least somewhat ameliorate it.  A daisy is “girly,” but a rose is a bit more of a neutral “love” icon.”

              • This is my sole point of disagreement with you:
                “(although I still say the sword is problematic in its own right).”

                I agree with you that the symbol, as it stands, is problematic due to the daisy being girly, so there’s no disagreement there.

              • Its placement in “yang,” juxtaposition with the daisy, and the whole idea of the Spousal Activity program gave me the impression that the sword was meant to represent non-gamer husbands. If it is intended to specifically mean “gamers,” a non-gendered symbol on yin would make quite a difference.

                Another possibility for the symbol on yin: your stereotypical interlocked wedding rings, perhaps?

  11. I know the times i post here it’s because I’ve disagreed with something you’ve said, but that’s only because there isn’t much for me to say when I agree with you. So I hope you don’t think I just come here to be difficult lol (though I doubt you really remember me at all so this is all a pointless aside).

    Anyway, the Gencon Icon from this year, with the wizard and… elf warrior whatever. I mean she’s kinda covered up other than her arms and a bit of her legs. When you get to the point where it’s like, yeah that’s not less covered up than a fairly typical real life woman, it seems like you’re splitting hairs a little bit to me. It just doesn’t seem at all sexualized to me- any sexualization there is a result of tropes in fantasy, and while it’s good to fight those sorts of ‘women wear less armor and stand in ridiculous model poses’ tropes, I think they did do that for the most part. It’s just not cheesecake-y.

  12. I agree with most of what is said on this blog. The cheesecake mascots are dumb and juvenile as hell, and the ball and chain was just offensive. As for the Yin and Yang, however, lets be real here. The number of gaming women who drag their non-gaming husbands to Gen Con is going to be next to nil. Most gaming women date/ are married to another gamer. My wife enjoys board games and some comics but would be bored to tears if I dragged her to Gen Con. She does enjoy massages, however and so would like this. This isn’t designed for female gamers, they can enjoy the rest of the con, this is for the widows. Female gamers are just as legit as male gamers but I find it hard to believe that there are a bunch of husbands that get dragged to Gen Con against their will.

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