A bit of followup silliness

In my previous post, I complained about the new Civilization board game and how it sexualized the female leaders and not the male leaders. This prompted Scott (a commenter) to make the following observation:

One bizzare sidenote, Catherine the Great’s cleavage stops midway up her chest. It looks really weird, like her breasts are somehow fused together. Does the artist even know what breasts look like? Just another example of the absurdity. Probably more a result of lazy artists than anything.

Also, if they had drawn Lincoln thrusting his junk out, I would buy this game today. If we’re gonna have ridiculous sexualized depictions, let’s make it equal and have some fun with it!

And dammit. I could not get the vision of a junk-thrusting Abraham Lincoln out of my head. I mentioned this to my husband, who elevated the concept to a new level of terrifying by suggesting that he cover his junk suggestively with his stovepipe hat – with no pants of course. And then I really had to draw it.

So I suppose you can blame Scott for this monstrosity:


I’m so sorry. I had no choice. NO CHOICE AT ALL.

To the folks at Fantasy Flight Games, I have designed this specifically for the next edition of the Civilization board game. You may use it royalty free. You’re welcome.

Fantasy Flight fail: Descent and (the new version of) Civilization the board game

Descent

I know it doesn’t get a lot of space here, but I happen to be a huge lover of board games. The more complicated, the better! The kinds of games I like to play tend to have lots of pieces and moving parts. So it shouldn’t be too surprising, given my previously stated interest in fantasy-themed roleplaying games, that I loves me some Descent.

Descent is a competitive dungeon-crawl board game in which one player plays the Overlord and the other players play heroes. The players are trying to defeat the dungeon while the Overlord is trying to kill them all until they lose. It’s a fantastic game that’s very high-crunch and very finely balanced – no mean feat when you consider all the possible ability permutations that both sides have to work with. Over the past few years, I have played a few hundred hours of Descent, so I think that I can state unequivocally that I’m a huge fan. The dungeon setup is fun, the abilities are fun, the competition is fun – it’s a fun game all around. The only part that isn’t fun is character creation.

See, Descent has pre-made characters that the players choose randomly at the start of a new game. But the odds are pretty overwhelming that when we’re drawing characters, I won’t get to play a female character. (I’ll disclaim at this point that we don’t have all the expansions. We own and use the base game, Well of Darkness, and Road to Legend.) See, out of the 23 possible characters I have to pick from, only seven heroes are women:

It might look ambiguous from the cropping in some of these portraits, so let me assure you that it’s quite clear when looking at the figures that only one of these characters (Tethrys) is wearing pants – and she has a ridiculous belly shirt. And of course we have stupid sexualized poses, like Astara thrusting out her ass while spell-casting and Red Scorpion managing to show off both her strangely pointed tits and ass at the same time. Thankfully, the fact that the figures are paint-able means that it’s possible to fix some of the more egregious aspects of these character designs. When painting our figures, my husband made sure to paint Astarra so that she’s actually wearing pants:

He also made her not white since all of the human heroes are so very, very white. But that’s an entirely different kettle of fail.

So, you know, not surprisingly my only options for female characters are sexualized Barbies in armored lingerie. Aggravating.

Even more aggravating is the fact that the two worst characters out of these 23 are not only female, but the least clothed females in the bunch – Lyssa and Red Scorpion. Even though the rules state that you have to play the hero you select, I’ve house-ruled that I am allowed to mulligan Lyssa and Red Scorpion since not only are they irritating to look at, but they’re also completely broken and useless in play.

Not surprisingly, the male characters enjoy a diversity of depictions that the women don’t get. And of course, the vast majority of them get to wear freaking clothes:

What’s interesting to note here is that there are quite a few non-humans tossed into the mix, which is not the case for the female characters. So apparently only men get to be awesome and bestial looking, or awesome and undead (whatever), because it’s too important that women look sexay to allow them to be anything other than human. Also, every single one of these characters has a great unique ability. Some of them aren’t necessarily my play style, but they’re all sufficiently rewarding that I wouldn’t mulligan any of them.

Now there are a few male characters that are scantily clad as the female heroes, but when you examine them, it becomes clear that you can’t exactly compare them with the unrealistic lingerie ninjas that the female heroes are depicted as:

First off, two of the four heroes are not human. The two non-humans are also pretty clearly not sexualized to the ridiculous extent that the female heroes are. They’re posed in such a way as to emphasize their muscle-y arms, and their poses show them poised on the brink of action. The only thing the female heroes are posed on the brink of is a pole-dancing routine. And while I’ll give Fantasy Flight props for actually depicting nipple on Runemaster Thorn (seriously, people, they exist), I wouldn’t call this a sexualized depiction either.

The only character that I think you could make a half-assed argument for being sexualized would be Nanok, and honestly this pose is way more about making him look tough and badass than it is about making him look sexay. Note that he’s not contorted into anatomically improbably positions, his anatomy is pretty well human normal, and he’s not thrusting his junk at the viewer.

All in all, as far as character design goes, the guys at Fantasy Flight get a big fat F from me for Descent. I know it comes as a shock, but they might want to remember that there are women who actually play this game. It would be appreciated if there could be some female heroes that aren’t ridiculous fantasy cheesecake in the future, rather than me having to choose between playing a character that doesn’t look like me or a character that does look like me, but pornified.

Civilization the board game (the new version)

This is a game I picked up more recently, and actually the reason I was prompted to write this post in the first place. We’d played the Eagle Games Civilization boardgame (not the original that came before that one) and were very disappointed in it. So when the new game came out and was well-reviewed, my husband asked me to pick up a copy at GenCon, which I did.

Part of the randomized setup for the Civ board game is choosing a leader, and I do have to at least acknowledge that the leaders are evenly split male/female. However, there’s a pretty big difference between how the male leaders are depicted and how the female leaders are depicted:

TOP: Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, and Wu Zetian BOTTOM: Caesar, Bismark, and Lincoln

How surprising. All of then are shown as being completely covered while all of them women have their breasts exposed. Yes, they’re at least posed as being strong and confident like their male counterparts and not like strippers like the Descent women, but that’s only a small mercy. All of the male leaders are wearing outfits true to their era, not distorted to emphasize secondary sex characteristics. But the female leaders have had their costumes distorted for the purposes of showing off their breasts.

Now I’ll admit that Wu Zetian is a bit ambiguous. When you look at paintings that purport to depict her, the height of the collar varies wildly. It’s entirely possible that her costume would have displayed that much cleavage. However, as Wu Zetian displays the least amount of breastage, I’m more concerned with Catherine and Cleopatra.

My husband was kind enough to do some digging for me and he discovered that the dress that Catherine is wearing is actually a formal dress version of a regimental uniform. When you look at the dress, it’s pretty clear that the collar is not that low. There’s just no way it would have exposed that much cleavage. Also, if you compare the portrait of Catherine with the photo of the dress, she’s wearing the dress with all of the buttons unbuttoned, which is clearly now how the dress is meant to be worn – not with how closely tailored the jacket is.

Now it’s true that when you look for pictures of Catherine the Great, you do see several that show her wearing very low-cut corsets. But none of them are so low that her breasts are on the verge of popping out of her corset. And anyhow, if they wanted to show Catherine in a cleavage-y corset they should have picked one of the many dresses she wore that showed actual cleavage rather than a regimental uniform that didn’t show any.

Cleopatra is even worse, what with her incredibly distorted anatomy. She’s got a severe case of Chest TARDIS, not to mention Invisible Corset Syndrome. (The only way to get a waist that small is with extreme corseting, only I definitely don’t see a corset…) Also, her boobs are gravity-defying and kind of freaky-looking. They’re round on the inside but not on the outside?

What’s even dumber is that if Fantasy Flight had wanted to depict her as being bare-breasted, they would have had a pretty strong historical record to point to for backup. Instead, they chose to cover her up with a metal bikini tube top, which is historically and culturally inaccurate, not to mention insanely stupid. Now I realize that this being North America, they couldn’t expect to sell a game with a bare-breasted woman as a possible leader. (As a friend of mine pointed out recently, we all know that the nipple is the evil part of the breast.) But they had a perfectly cleavage-y, non-breast-revealing option available to them which they decided to ditch so that they could make her more naked without being TOO naked.

So I guess it would be kind of a relief that the game itself was kind of disappointing, were it not for the game’s hefty price tag. Still, it makes me a little sad that as much as both of these games fail at depicting women, the game that fails less is the game that is less fun to play. Looks like I’ll just have to keep hoping for male characters next time I play Descent.

Blade and Soul: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG

I happened to stumble across something in my internet travels that reminded me of an old post that I did about industry game artist Hyung Tae Kim – who gets paid a lot of money to draw freakishly distorted women with flopping distended lemons pinned to their chests, freakishly long legs, and lovingly detailed ladybits. For those of you who haven’t seen the old post, go take a look. (Linked to the blogger version since I still haven’t gone back and fixed the wacky image sizing problems that importing to wordpress caused…)

I kind of forgot about it for a while, but it looks like NCSoft – the publisher of Guild Wars – is picking up Blade and Soul – the MMO that HTK has been hired to design – for publication, formerly referred to by the code name “Project M”. I’ve been having trouble finding details, but I’m assuming this means it will be available for publication in North America, which is about a million different kinds of fucked up. I mean, Blade and Soul makes Tera look like they’re not even trying:

So I’ve pretty much promised myself that if I find out that any of my friends express a desire to play this game, I will either stop talking to them or smack them repeatedly in the head until they come to their senses. Seriously, every female model has lovingly modeled cameltoe, which is just… disturbing. And about every third screen shot I found makes sure to show it off.

Clearly this is not a game aimed at women, or anyone who sees women as anything other than pieces of meat.

And you know, whatever. Once upon a time I would have ranted and raved, but really -what else is there that I can say? Hey, look. It’s yet another game coming out of Korea that treats women even more like shit than North American-developed games do, and yet tons of North American dudes are falling over themselves to play this game when it’s released. I’ve kind of lost my ability to be surprised at this shit anymore.

So instead, I thought I’d take a look at the incredibly fucked-up anatomy of the Blade and Soul character models to point out just how freakishly inhuman these women are. Now last time I took on HTK, I got many, many comments along the lines of OMG ITS JUST THE STYLE WTF U DON’T KNOW WHAT UR TALKING ABOUT or U R JUST JEALOUS HTK IS MORE AWSUM THAN U!!!1!eleventy1!! And, yes, I’m aware that HTK is not illustrating using a North American style. However, there’s a huge difference between even vanilla “anime” style and the distorted freak-shows that HTK creates.

To whit: Here is a Blade and Soul character model with almost no foreshortening:

Oh my god, people. I swear if I could punch HTK through the internet, right now I would. I realize that the model had to be created by the game studio, but this is pretty faithful to the proportions that HTK uses in all of his illustrations. Now, the many and varied ways the figure is distorted can be a little confusing, so first of all let’s start with vertical proportions:

For those of you who have seen me do these posts before, I hope you’ll remember me pointing out that the average human is around 7 heads tall, plus or minus half a head. Now, it’s pretty common for comic book artists and many video game studios to use 8 heads as a standard female proportion to give characters a more “statuesque” look. (Again, I prefer that women look like actual women and not goddamn statues, but that’s just me.) But this freak of nature here is 9 heads tall. NINE. That’s not even remotely possible in nature. Furthermore, she’s more than half leg. Really – check this out:

If you take her legs and add one head height to them, you have a normal human being. (And now I’m thinking about just a head prancing around on bizarrely stretch legs and it’s kind of freaking me out. Brr.) So first things, first, let’s take Gumbi here and correct her vertical proportions a little:

Now, yes. This does create a few more problems that it solves, particularly with the torso. But notice how when you look at the legs, they look a lot more like human legs? Now it doesn’t completely solve things, because you still have some fundamental proportions problems:

(Let’s just take it as given that the boobs are fucking terrible and move on to less obvious things.)

So you have the problem that her torso has been shrunk in order to make her legs as long as possible. This has resulted in her having a microscopic rib cage and a waist only just wider than her head. Now there’s nothing wrong with having your shoulders be narrower than your hips, or vice versa. But there’s just no freaking way that you’re going to get this much of an hourglass figure without enough corseting to cause internal bleeding in the unprepared.

Her legs are also a huge problem, even after one adjusts for their impossible length. The way HTK draws his women (and the way the model is constructed), the hips and ass are so exaggerated that the legs become cylinders that are tacked on to the front of the hips. Which is so very wrong and not how real people actually work. The hips and buttocks are not separate from the legs – they are part of them. And legs aren’t cylinders pinned on to the front end of the lower torso. They attach, via the hips, on the sides of your body, like so:

So with all of this in mind, what would a corrected figure in the same pose look like? Well, let’s take a look:

(Looking at this now I think the hips might be a little off. Drawing on top of HTK’s super-distorted figure was really hard; it kept throwing me off and I kept having to make corrections to my corrections.)

When you have the corrections on top of the original lines of the figure, you can really see how exaggerated the figure is from the waist down. Aside from the shortening of the torso and the clearly problematic breasts, the torso is actually far more normally proportioned than the legs. The legs are where most of the problems are: they’ve been elongated unnaturally and the hips and buttocks have been stretched horizontally to ridiculous proportions until the torso and lower body look like they should belong to two different figures.

And you know what, having hips this wide and curvaceous? Not necessarily wrong. But it is wrong on a body with a torso this compacted and waifish. You’ll see hips this wide on full-figured women, sure. But not on freakish HTK women without even enough space in their torsos to keep all their internal organs, much less space for them to eat meals that don’t come through a straw.

The thing that makes all of this the most disturbing is that all of these problematic distortions were an obvious, conscious choice. Because here’s the thing – HTK’s understanding of human anatomy is quite clear from the rendering of musculature in his illustrations. I can’t speak to the understanding of the people working from his illustrations, but I can definitely state that HTK understands just what he’s doing when he mutilates these poor women’s bodies.

Someone please explain to me why we’re paying this man the big bucks?

Why I don’t want Shelly Mazzanoble to represent female D&D players

[I’ve been promising to write this post for quite a while, and it’s long. Super-long. Like, the longest thing I’ve ever posted. You’ve been warned!]

I’ve wanted to write for a while about Shelly Mazzanoble and the problems I have with Wizards’ choice to promote her as presenting a female perspective of D&D players. Wizards first started promoting her back in 2007 or so when she published “Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress” – a (supposed) guide to getting into D&D from a female perspective. Here’s what I had to say about it at the time on an indie tabletop forum:

Honestly? The book made me want to scrub my brain with Lysol. It’s one of the most sexist things I’ve read in a long time, and by sexist I mean ‘using women to reinforce stereotypes about women’. (Not all sexism is perpetrated by men. Not by a long shot. A lot of it is perpetuated by women.)

But ultimately, I’m glad I read it, even if it did provoke me into screaming “WHAT THE F*CK????” at it a couple times. I found it an instructive lesson on the mainstream view of women and gaming, which doesn’t much resemble (if at all) the view of women and gaming held over here in Indie Land.

Well, it seems that my adverse reaction to the book wasn’t a commonly held one – or at least not commonly held among the demographic that Wizards was targeting – since they subsequently gave Shelly Mazzanoble a column in their monthly Dragon Magazine called “Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard”. So I decided to dig up all of the columns from 2010 and see how they compared to the book.

[side note]

I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence when I saw the title image that is used with every column (though admittedly, it might not be fair to hold the art direction against Shelly. I desperately hope that she didn’t see and approve this.)

(presumeably) Tabitha Sparkles – Shelly Mazzanoble’s tiefling wizard (about whom she writes most frequently)

[/side note]

After reading all of the columns, I was just as irritated and infuriated as I remember being after reading the book. Shelly’s column is billed as a “lifestyle” column, a view into a female experience of D&D. But the problem is that in almost every column she portrays herself as a combination of all of the negative stereotypes about female tabletop gamers and/or women ever, and it makes me cringe because omigod I don’t want THIS AWFUL STEREOTYPE to represent me as a female gamer.

To break this out a little, here are the stereotypes that pop up most frequently in Shelly’s columns:

  • Women are insecure, neurotic, and occasionally irrational
  • Women are fashion and/or beauty obsessed
  • (when talking about player error) D&D has numbers and math is haaaaaarrrrrd!
  • (when talking about player success) Oh yeah! *tee hee!*
  • Women are incapable of taking the game seriously or being dedicated to the game.

Now the “D&D is haaard” stereotype is, in my books, the worst, because that stereotype underlies these themes – which are rife throughout Shelly’s columns:

  • Women can’t make decisions or perform complex tasks without someone’s help (read: a man)
  • Women shouldn’t try for system mastery. They should stick to the basics and let other players (read: male players) worry about min-maxing and system mastery.

Now I realize that all of this is some pretty harsh criticism, so here’s where the wordiness comes in. I’ve picked out columns that I felt were particularly egregious and selected quotes (so… many… quotes…) to help illustrate my points. For those of you playing along at home, the columns I selected were April 2010, May 2010, June 2010, July 2010, October 2010, and December 2010.

In Shelly’s words (many, many of them)

Women are insecure, neurotic, and occasionally irrational

You mean my sub-par D&D proficiencies are that obvious? Suddenly I feel like those people who order “Flab-Be-Gone” or face-freezing lotion from late-night infomercials. Oh please, let this work! (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

“Something’s different about me,” I told my boss.
She spun around in her chair. “You’re not wearing heels? You forgot your gym clothes? You finally stood up to your cat?”
“No.” Like I’d ever stand up to Zelda. “Something… bigger. I’m not nervous about DMing.” (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

“Congratulations,” Greg said about thirty minutes into our game. “You’ve managed to cover just about every perceived female psychosis.” To be clear, I wasn’t experiencing those psychoses. My newest Gamma World character was. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

What if I make a fool of myself? Now, these guys were not serious or jerks, but they did appear to be good at roleplaying. And I’m the new girl here. I’ve got to join them or beat it. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what was up with Mojita other than she obviously didn’t want to be a cockroach. Or gelatinous. Or committed to one emotion. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

“It’s true what they say about cockroaches,” Josh said. “They can survive anything.”

That proves to be true of the whole game. We defeated the glow dragons, Mojita defeated her agoraphobia, and I defeated my irrational fear of roleplaying. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

Look, magazines, I don’t pay you to make me feel bad! My cat does that for free. (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

The thing that really bothers me about this is that almost every one of Shelly’s columns seems to follow the same formula, and that always starts with Shelly being adorably and/or humorously insecure about some facet of playing D&D. This then leads into neurotic and sometimes irrational attempts to wrestle with the insecurity in which a humorous result is achieved and a lesson of some sort is said to have been learned. Only it’s not learned, because the same insecurities pop up again and again and again.

That’s not to say it’s not okay to be insecure about stuff. Heck, no one is the perfect gamer, and D&D is a tough system to master. Some insecurity is justified – especially as a woman in a predominantly male environment. It’s the fact that at no point does Shelly ever express confidence about anything pertaining to D&D that bothers me. The tone, too, bothers me. If these insecurities were addressed in a genuine way, it wouldn’t be so bothersome. But these are clearly stereotypes being played for laughs.

Women are fashion and/or beauty obsessed

I must confess. Sometimes I’m a bit insecure. And no, not in the predictable “does this belt of vigor make my butt look fat?” way. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

At least I’m doing something right. The book recommends you, “shop for particularly utilitarian or extraordinary flamboyant clothing”. Finally! My work as Player-in-Chief has paid off. It then goes on to say, “Come up with a couple of interesting possessions to wear or carry”. This must be a nod to Tabby getting a new outfit or accessory every time we finish an adventure. She’s been dressed by the best – bracers by Hershey, robes by Cote D’Or, feather boa by… well… someone’s Halloween costume. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

Out of ten questions I scored three points each under ranger, rogue, and wizard, and one point under paladin. (How did that get in there?) For the record, question four about my wardrobe didn’t have any appropriate answers. A taxidermy shop? Maybe R&D should have consulted me before coming up with these answers. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

Ah yes, one of my greatest regrets. I’ve clearly leveled up my shopping skills since then.  (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

“Tabby knows what that is!” I shouted. I rolled a 2. “15?”

“Tabitha thinks this stone might be amethyst.” New DM says. “Maybe rose quartz. Real good for preventing intoxication and looks nice with jewel tones and Bermuda shorts.”

“What? Tabby would never say that,” I argued. Not only did I fail my Arcana check, but Tabitha failed her fashion check. Bermuda shorts? (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

Once I had my villain and a little information about his habit and habitat, New DM suggested I go back to the setting of my previous adventure, the one I ran my group through when I first tried my hand at dungeon mastering (with disasterous results, I reminded New DM.)

“Ah, you’re an old hand at it now,” he smiled.

I looked sheepishly down at my hands. Yeah, I could use a manicure, I guess.  (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

What’s with the high-pressure minion sales pitch? Where am I, the Nordstrom shoe department? (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

Later at home, I moved the dog-eared Nordstrom catalogs, Lucky Magazines, and Sephora shopping bags off the dining room tables and laid out my dungeon tiles, difficult terrain, and traps. (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

Welcome to the world, Mojita Especiala, a lime green gelatinous cockroach. She’s not so much cockroach as she is gelatinous. Her blobby being was forced into a roach-shaped bundt cake pan which doubles as armor. It’s like squeezing into a pair of skinny jeans after a long workout. “Very painful,” I explained. Not to mention humiliating should someone be in the locker room with you. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

The end of another year is upon us. I know this not because the calendar tells me so. It’s because my magazine subscriptions are yelling at me to clean this! Cleanse that! Change everything! Hey Shape, I already work out six days a week. And yeah, Lucky, I’d love to revamp my entire wardrobe to include the 379 “key pieces every woman should own”. Sorry Elle Decor – I don’t have a crawl space that I can make over into a reading room. I don’t even have room to read. (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

The sheer number of fashion and/or beauty-related examples really says everything for me. You know what? There are lots of women who have interests that aren’t fashion. But even if you are a woman that does love fashion, I’m pretty sure that not everything in your life ever comes back to fashion. Seriously.

Of course, there was a metric shit-ton of fashion references in the book as well, which makes me think that this is just a cynical attempt by marketing bots that want to appeal to women outside their “core market”. But let me say that as someone who is female, I am probably outside that core market, and this does not appeal to me at all. I find this one-sided depiction of Shelly-the-character as a shallow, fashion-obsessed maniac who relates everything in her life to clothes or beauty to be insulting.

Oh yeah! *tee hee!*

Hmm. When did I get wizard’s escape? Oh yeah, I have a shield. I double-checked to make sure this character sheet said “Tabitha Sparkles”. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

“When Herteus gets to here,” Chris said, pointing to the square I just passed through, “a large green blob falls from the ceiling and tries to attack”. Hmm. Didn’t I just approve some banner ads that mentioned something about wearing protective headgear? (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

Ten minutes later, I hadn’t finished my cup of peas, but my unaligned female elf thief was in my arsenal. Holy moley, I did it! I made a character using a book and a pencil. (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

The use of cutesy ‘oh yeah, I knew that’ or ‘oh yeah, I should have known that’ can die now and forever and never come back. Ever. I mean, seriously. Don’t be proud of being able to create a character from scratch. It just means that you are literate and don’t have any learning difficulties that would prevent you from teaching yourself complex tasks from a book.

D&D has numbers and math is haaaaaarrrrrd!

Instead of saying, “Sorry guys, I must have been out sick the day we covered force fields,” she may have been able to offer up some knowledge that would have helped the party in a skill challenge. Ugh. I hope they don’t read this. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

A long time ago, Tabitha went and got herself all multiclassed as a warlock. Oh, I never mentioned that? Well that’s probably because I have no idea what to do with her fancy warlock sophistication. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

“I know,” he said, rolling his eyes like he did last Tuesday when I insisted that Tabby was bending over to pick up a penny when that minion’s arrow came at her. “What kind of encounter?”

“How about a good encounter?” I said, not sure of what my choices were. I didn’t want it to suck. “And one that won’t give me an ulcer trying to figure out how to run it.” I still have anxiety dreams over the last one. (June 2010, Canine Enounters)

“Every encounter should be a free-standing adventure,” he said. “You want to include as much for the players to do as you’re comfortable running.”

Again, I suggested just one monster… a big, slow, lazy monster. “I can handle sitting back and substracting a few hitpoints here and there,” I said. (June 2010, Canine Enounters)

With my two gargoyles, remaining minions, and one dragon waiting in the wings, I realized the importance of placement. I was kind of throwing minions out there willy nilly and kept forgetting the gargoyles could make better distance by air than ground. Aeon had a minion and a gargoyle marked. Anwar was bloodied, and I was overlooking opportunity attacks at every corner. Dungeon Masters have a lot to keep track of! (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

What’s so hard about a little roleplaying? But it was too late. Panic moved in and tossed reason’s possesions to the curb. The guys were chattering back and forth, in character, with Greg interjecting important plot developments or story elements or Alpha Mutation cards now and again. It was only a matter of time before they discovered the new girl! Was it too late to remember an appointment with my therapist? Was it too late to make one? (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

I caved to my basic instinct. “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

“Are you crying?” Greg asked.

And… scene!

Okay, back up. I wasn’t crying. But Mojita was. Way to go, Instinct. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

“I know, but if you really want a female wizard named Berry White, then it’s time for you to make one,” he said. “Before our first encounter.”

Ha! That’s crazy talk! “You mean, like with this book? And a pencil? Right! I actually want to play this season, so I think I’ll just stick to the gender-confused wizard Chuck misnamed.” (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

As a child, my father railed against “helpless female syndrome” and abjured me to never pretend to be helpless just because I felt it was expected of me. And that’s the feeling I get when I read this. Shelly expresses insecurity about system mastery, about playing her character right, about making good choices for character advancement, about creating encounters, about just creating a character, about roleplaying – about EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING to do with D&D is painted as this herculean task and it is just SO AMAZING when the people around her manage to do these things and do them well.

There’s no shame in genuinely needing help, but this just smacks of deliberate obtuseness.

Women are incapable of taking the game seriously or being dedicated to the game.

And he failed his first two death saves. “Oh no,” I croaked over the lump in my throat. “He hasn’t even had his first haircut yet!” (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

If I don’t learn how to write an encounter, I’m going to use this space to psychoanalyze each and every Real Housewife of NewYork, which may be fun but probably not appropriate for Dragon Magazine. (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

“Wait a minute. I don’t know if I can kill a dragon,” I told New DM. “Dragons are animals too. I’ll feel bad.”

“Didn’t a dragon kill your beloved barbarian minotaur?” New DM asked. “What was his stupid name?”

Man, Kevin can’t catch a break. “Yes, but still. This is my dragon.” (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

“What if the dragon is susceptible to tickling, and if the adventurers tickle him he laughs so hard he spits out puppies? Unharmed, of course.”

New DM shook his head, then started mumbling things like help me, please make it stop, I don’t think we’re in D&D anymore.  (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

“But you get a mutation card.” Greg handed me a deck to choose from. I drew mind trick, which would grant me a bonus to an Interaction check. Helpful, if only the glow dragons understood us. Not one to let things go to waste, I decided to use it on Viktor to make him believe he’s in love with Mojita.

“Um…” Viktor said. “You are the color of spring, Mojita.” (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

“Ah, an eladrin wizard!” I said. “I shall love you and keep you and call you Berry White.”

“It’s Berrian,” Chuck said. “I named him. I should know.”

“Trust me. It’s Berry White,” I said, explaining once again that in addition to my role as Player-in-Chief, Zelda’s lackey, and most recently “sado maso cookiest” due to my unloading thirty-seven tons of holiday cookies on R&D, I am also the Pre-Generated Character Whisperer.

“I’m like that guy, John Edward, who allows dead people to communicate with their loved ones through him. Sara: someone whose name begins with a D, always smelled like ham and used to favor plaid shirts wants you to check behind the refrigerator. Does this make sense? I know what the pre-gens want. They speak through me.” (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

Everyone is familiar with the unflattering stereotype of the woman who’s only there because her male S.O. is there. The woman who does stupid shit like name her warhorse Fluffy (I’ll admit it, guilty once upon a time), constantly looks at her watch, gets distracted frequently and can’t stay focused on the game. This is like that, only minus the male S.O.

Women shouldn’t try for system mastery. They should stick to the basics and let other players (read: male players) worry about min-maxing and system mastery.

I want to help the party solve puzzles and reap rewards. And yet sometimes I choose to have Tabitha cast scorching burst because I know she’s good at it. I can attack and roll damage without once referencing my character sheet. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

Maybe Tabby should ditch her dreams of becoming a warlock and concentrate on becoming a really good wizard. (April 2010) (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

“It could run away,” New DM suggested. “Or negotiate.”

Yeah, but that would involve roleplaying, and we all know I’m not the best negotiator. I guess I could just pretend this is a game of make-believe and no dragons were hurt in the process.  (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

Then it hit me. The talking. And not just the “What are you having for dinner tonight” or “Would you rather have eyes in the back of your head or a giant lizard tail” table talking I’m used to. This was relevant talking. Like important to the game talking. This was – gasp! – roleplaying!

I know what you’re thinking: “This is D&D, you big dummy!” But maybe you don’t remember my irrational fear of roleplaying and playing D&D with people who are: 1. Too serious. 2. Jerks. 3. Really good at roleplaying.

This is why I usually create characters that are too sullen or naive or too apathetic to talk to strangers. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

This makes me so very angry. Shelly Mazzanoble is presented as a very prominently female voice, one of the only female voices to come out of Wizards. And she constantly presents herself as this stereotyped caricature of a woman who is insecure and thinks D&D is hard and this roleplaying stuff is pretty scary. And you know what? That could be okay if she managed to soldier on and find a way to succeed despite her many insecurities. I could roll my eyes and move on with my life if it didn’t constantly lead to the conclusion that she should just stick to the basics and let other people worry about achieving system mastery. That system mastery is for other people and is too lofty a goal for poor little Shelly to achieve.

This makes me want to hit things, because this shit is insidious and toxic and just reinforces stereotypes of female gamer behavior. This more than anything says that when it comes to gaming, women are never going to be more than second class citizens because gaming is just too hard for our little female brains. And. Gah. This is so wrong. Being a dude does not automatically confer superior powers of mathematics and gaming. It just doesn’t. Like, times a million.

Women can’t make decisions or perform complex tasks without someone’s help (read: a man)

“Don’t you remember?” she went on. “We took you and your brother to Florida for spring break when you guys were in high school and Dad put a $100 gift card in your Easter Basket. You were so overwhelmed by what to buy you never spent it.” (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

New DM has exacted the ultimate revenge! “He’s on vacation?” I whined. “He’s supposed to be helping me with my encounter!” Technically he did help, as you might remember from last month’s column. But that was a month ago. You can’t expect me to remember everything he said about traps and tactics. I can’t even find my notes. (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

I’m pretty sure they won’t love it, but if Chris Perkins, Dungeon Master to the Stars, says to do it, I’ll consider it. My number one priority is not to overwhelm myself.  (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

Once Chuck even helped me weigh the pros and cons of cognac leather versus mahogany suede when I found myself in a winter boot conundrum. (His arguments for both were so well articulated, I ended up buying both pairs.) (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

“Have you become so reliant on the Character Builder that you forgot how to roll up a character the old fashioned way?”

“That’s nuts,” I said in my defense. “Everyone knows I rely on Marty to roll up my characters.”

And I didn’t forget. It’s quite possible I never knew. The last character I rolled up the “old fashioned way” was Astrid, my 3.5 elf sorceress, and really my old DM did most of the work. (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

Getting men to either perform complex tasks she should be doing or to make decisions for her is another theme that is super-prevalent in Shelly’s columns, which – again – makes me want to punch something. In a year’s worth of columns, not once did Shelly write about turning to a female to bail her out of whatever tempest in a teacup she’d created for herself.

She’s essentially handed over all agency to the men in her life and doesn’t even bat an eyelash at it, seeming to take for granted that of course these men should drop everything and roll her a character, or write an encounter for her, or whatever it is that she’s supposed to be doing. And it’s demeaning for everyone involved. It’s demeaning for Shelly-the-character to be completely dependent on men for everything. But it’s also demeaning for the men, who I’m sure have better things to do with their life than babysit someone who could learn to do all this stuff if she exerted herself.

This is so messed up it deserves a special mention:

This doesn’t actually relate to any of the above stereotypes, but it was so messed up that I had to specifically call it out. In a column in which Shelly angsts about preparing an encounter for her group, she ends with this paragraph:

I’d love to tell you, but I’m much too busy gathering up Dungeon Tiles and minis. And maybe creating some special actions for my monsters to appease Bart. And possibly a skill challenge for Kierin. Maybe a puppy for Laura and a chocolate torte for Hilary.

My jaw literally dropped when I read this because I could not believe what I was reading. The BOYS get skill challenges and monsters – stuff that engages them with the system. And the GIRLS get puppies and chocolate. Because all that stupid system stuff wouldn’t be rewarding for them, since they’re – you know – GIRLS. Which deserves a special mention and a particularly loud “…the FUCK???”.

Argh. So angry.

In summary: some closing notes (or – tl;dr)

(This is dragging on way too long, so I’ll keep this brief.) I will give Shelly one thing. There is a certain level of craft to these columns. If one can speak of comic timing in writing, then Shelly’s timing is good and her jokes are always well-delivered, even if I hate the content.

Now do I think that Shelly Mazzanoble is all of these stereotypes? No. I think that Shelly is being used by Wizards to try to broaden their appeal to women. Only their marketing department doesn’t really understand how to speak to women without being off-putting, insulting, and patronizing. So as a result, you get Shelly-the-character’s Fluffy Adventures in D&D is Also For Girls Land.

This pisses me off. It pisses me off because I don’t want the neurotic, fashion-obsessed, passive, please-decide-things-for-me, d&d-has-numbers-and-is-haaaaaard character she portrays herself as to represent me as a female player. In her columns, Shelly frequently refers to herself as Player In Chief. This implies that she is somehow representing players of D&D, which is what I am violently against. I desperately, vehemently, passionately want to be disassociated from pretty much everything Shelly’s columns say about women. Shelly-the-character doesn’t represent me or any of the women I know who play D&D, or even any of the women I know who play roleplaying games that aren’t D&D. Not at all.

Yes I know it’s been forever

Seriously, my next post is killing me. I’ve already put six hours into this thing and I’ve got maybe another hour to go. I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m not dead and I’m not slacking. I’m just working on something that I was putting off because I knew it was going to be tedious. (And I was right.)

I hope to have it up tomorrow.

In the mean time – hey look! EA realized that women actually play their games! OMG!

(Seriously this is great and really encouraging, and holy crap that girl is awesome. But still – I find the narrative of the EA execs being surprised at the news that women like sports games to be really disingenuous. But whatever, it’s a totally awesome step in the right direction.)

Dead Island shitstorm: even if it was a “private joke”, it’s still not okay

So there’s been a bit of a controversy surrounding the accidental release of a debug build of Dead Island on Steam and the discovery of a skill called “Feminist Whore” buried in the code of said test build. I’m not going to waste too much space summarizing the incident, so if you have managed to avoid the internet shitstorm thus far, the Escapist has a pretty good summary of what exactly happened. Go read it. I’ll wait.

… okay. Amusingly, I’m feeling a bit vindicated about some stuff I said about Dead Island after watching the E3 pre-release trailer. It seems that  my belief that the game was a cynical attempt to package a healthy dose of T&A along with good old fashioned zombie killing might have some grounds after all. But this isn’t about saying I told you so.

Now, a lot of people have said a lot of things in response to this. Some people have professed horror that this could have ever happened. Many others have tried to dismiss the incident with a wide variety of justifications – from ‘it was a joke’ to ‘I wasn’t offended’ to ‘you feminists have no sense of humor’ to ‘it’s not sexist it’s just code’. And Jim Sterling, that bastion of civil behavior and tireless supporter of feminism, responded (somewhat predictably) with:

That’s definitely the kind of thing you want to make sure you take out, because I can tell you from firsthand experience that pissing off the more radical of feminists is way more trouble than it’s worth.

(emphasis mine)

Now I could take on Jim Sterling’s response. It seems to me that there are a lot of reasons for being upset about this incident, not the least of which is the base level of misogyny and sexism still present in the gaming industry. But you know what? I’ve devoted more space here to Jim Sterling than I really care to, and I don’t have anything to say about him that I haven’t said previously. So if this isn’t about saying ‘I told you so’, neither is it about Jim Sterling’s problematic understanding of why this should be a Big Fucking Deal.

It’s not even about the responses of those who have tried to handwave or otherwise justify this incident as not being a big deal. I could have written about that, but Tracey John already beat me to the punch with a well-written post about why misogyny in code is still misogyny. I don’t really have anything to say that she hasn’t said already. And over on VG24/7 Brenna Hiller did a wonderful post on how this incident plays into the sexism in the hobby as a whole.

So what am I adding here?

“Feminist Whore” is not a joke

This about the idea that “Feminist Whore” was a “private joke”, a joke shared in the office that is only offensive in the context of being shared with the world. I’ve seen that in more than a few places. Heck, the Escapist’s summary ended by saying that they hoped this was nothing more than an in-joke. And Techland’s official response, too, plays on this idea (again, emphasis mine):

It has come to our attention that one of Dead Island’s leftover debug files contains a highly inappropriate internal script name of one of the character skills. This has been inexcusably overlooked and released with the game. The line in question was something a programmer considered a private joke. The skill naturaly [sic] has a completely different in-game name and the script reference was also changed…

Here’s the thing I can’t get past. I can’t conceive of a situation that is not rampantly inappropriate in which an office in-joke that would cause a coder to implement “Feminist Whore” as a skill name in a debug build. Now that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an office in-joke anyway, but the thing that concerns me is this: we can’t know the environment in which this “joke” was conceived, but we know that misogyny is very prevalent in the game industry and that harassment is a very real and ever-present phenomenon.

Seriously, go read that last link. Go read it now. If the sorts of “jokes” that happen in game studios can include employees wearing shirts that say ‘dead girls can’t say no’ and women being interrupted during meetings by male employees telling them to make them a sandwich, I don’t see why we should assume that this joke is benign. In an environment where jokes that trivialize sexual harassment, assault, and rape are considered funny, why should we assume that this anonymous coder is an anomaly?

Furthermore, the studios are responsible for creating the work environment in which this coder was working, an environment in which he had the idea that “Feminist Whore” was appropriate to implement in a debug build. So I don’t think we should be so quick to absolve the studio of responsibility, even if they claim ignorance of this “joke” up to this point.

I don’t know the makeup of Techland or Deep Silver. I don’t know if there are female employees who worked on this game. But if there are, I hope to god that this wasn’t something that they had to deal with as an office “joke”, because that would really break my heart.

New Liara Figure: DO NOT WANT

Or – An Open Letter to BioWare – Why this blatant pandering to the (straight) male portion of your audience represents a betrayal of your female fans.

(I realize the second title isn’t as catchy.)

Dear BioWare,

I think it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan, and that I’m slightly obsessed with the Mass Effect series. I’ve been a fan since the Baldur’s Gate days, but I think you guys really found your voice with the KOTOR series and have continued to hone your craft more and more with each game. Dragon Age: Origins snags the honor of the first PC game that made me cry, and I am so in love with the Mass Effect series that I’ve finished 3 games of ME1 and 2 games of ME2 and I cannot freaking wait for ME3. (Seriously. Hurry up, please.)

One of my favorite things from Mass Effect 2 (that wasn’t FemShep) was the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. At the time, here’s what I had to say about Liara:

Okay. So I’ll confess that Liara wasn’t exactly my favorite character in the first Mass Effect. … 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.

Even now that the afterglow of having finished my first ME2 playthrough has faded (at least as much as it’s ever going to), the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC remains one of my favorite parts of the game. Liara is an awesome, competent, not-sexualized female character who has her own agenda – which is exactly what I have been asking for by writing this blog. I can’t emphasize how important the not-sexualized aspect of that is, either. See, Liara should look like this:

See? Awesome sci-fi female character in a non-sexualized pose displaying emotion that’s not OH GOD PLZ SAVE ME HALP or I AM TEH SEX.

But that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t also look like this:

Again, awesome. Again, non-sexualized. Competent? Definitely. Badass? Yup. This, too, is acceptable.

But not this. Never ever this:

WHAT THE CRAPPING CRAP. THIS IS NOT MY LIARA AT ALL.

Seriously, what the hell is it? What is this pose? Her back is arched, her ass is thrust out, and she’s squeezing her tits together to make her cleavage look huge – none of which, I might add, will help you aim better. In fact, I’m going to go on a limb and say that it would present a bit of a handicap.

Honestly, let’s do a little comparison between Liara in the game and this b.s. Liara statue:

Let’s review. You didn’t do so hot when it came to female crew in Mass Effect 2. There was Miranda of the ridiculous ass cleavage, Jack of the absurd leather nipple-strap, and Samara the Space MILF. Besides Tali, Liara was the only female who wasn’t Shepard who got to wear some damn clothes without having to fork out extra cash for a DLC that would fix their various wardrobe issues.

So what happened? Were your male fans upset that Liara wasn’t sexy enough? Because I just don’t understand this blatant pandering. Even after you said that FemShep would only be on the collector’s edition cover of ME3, I was still encouraged and elated that you were making such a step at all. You’ve been talking with your fans this time around – letting us choose the FemShep we wanted on the cover, promising a FemShep trailer… It made me think that you were maybe, finally turning over a new leaf.

And then this. I feel upset. I feel angry. I feel betrayed.

I mean, come ON! You guys aren’t Atlus, here.

You said on your facebook page that you wanted to know what we thought of this statue? Well comments are closed, otherwise I would have commented, but I hate it. I hate the design, I hate the concept, I hate everything it represents.

I think the most upsetting part of all is that I can’t refuse to vote with my dollar because there’s nothing else to vote for. This kind of pandering is the sort of bullshit that tells us female fans that we do not count, that we are not welcome. This Others us, pushes us to the margins. And I can’t even ‘take my ball and go home’, because there’s nothing to go home TO. As angry as you make me, as upset as I am with you, you’re the folks who make games that insult me the least.

So, come on, BioWare. I don’t want to be this angry with you. You guys are masters of your craft. The art, the writing, the game play – you guys are industry leaders in all of these things. When are you going to see that you don’t need bullshit sexism to push your titles? Your games sell because they’re good games, and anyone who says that they’re not going to buy ME3 if it doesn’t have enough hawt T&A in it is lying. Anyone who has played ME1 and ME2 is going to buy ME3 because we know it will be awesome and we want more Shepard.

Please, I implore you, if you sell a Liara statue – make it something true to the design and the character that you created, not this dumbed down, sexualized version of an awesome character just so you can make a quick few bucks. BioWare, you’re so much better than this.

Sincerely,

~wundergeek