Barriers to diverse recruitment [LONG]

(This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but either I’ve been busy or I keep getting distracted by other things.)

One of the problems with the gaming industry is that it is overwhelmingly white and male, and as such tends to produce games that reflect problematic biases, simply because they are being produced by teams of people conditioned to be oblivious to their own privileges. Often with entirely predictable, if unfortunate, results. Diversity of writers and designers is one of the most important ways that the game industry can start to make truly inclusive games. However, it’s easy to say that you’re looking to recruit a diverse team, and another thing entirely to actually succeed.

So I’m going to write about the factors that prevent the recruitment of non-white, non-male, non-cisgender designers and writers. It’s worth noting that I’m writing from my perspective as a tabletop game designer, mostly drawing on my own experiences as someone who started in self-publishing and later branched out into doing freelance design and game writing. I’m aware that there are different issues in video game development that might not necessarily be covered here. Still, a lot of what I say should still be applicable.

Barriers to entry

When examining the factors that contribute to the continuing lack of diversity in organizations not actively opposed to diversity (and most organizations aren’t! But there are definitely those that are), it’s important to look at barriers to entry that prevent marginalized applicants from entering the industry. These barriers can be active barriers – factors that directly discourage diverse writers from applying. But there are also invisible barriers to entry – barriers that are impossible to perceive unless you are already aware that they exist.

Active Barriers to entry

Obscure or esoteric knowledge
Any time you set a firm requirement that someone have knowledge or experience of a thing not freely available, you are restricting the pool of applicants that can apply. Quite often, this takes the form of requiring writers to have knowledge or experience of the previous edition (or editions plural!) of the game you will be working on. But unless the thing you want your writers to have knowledge of is a thing that is freely available, you are quite naturally restricting your pool of writers to people who already own or have already experienced the thing, as well as people who can afford to spend money to acquire the thing to get sufficiently up to speed. The more esoteric and/or hard to obtain the thing you are requiring knowledge of is, the smaller your available pool of writers will get.

Such requirements are always going to skew your applicant pool toward white and male. The fact is that many non-white/non-dude/non-cisgender people just haven’t been around long enough to be familiar with old editions of games from 15+ years ago. And because the wage gap is a very real thing, and 2nd shift labor is very much a thing that disproportionately affects women, often such writers either can’t afford to acquire the needed materials, or don’t have extra time to spend getting up to speed.
Which is a problem! Because these requirements usually wind up prioritizing grognardery over actual writing ability and experience, which actively prevents
otherwise qualified writers from applying.

Industry experience
Requiring industry experience in order to obtain a job with industry experience is an obvious catch-22. How is anyone ever supposed to break into the industry if they need to have already broken into the industry to even work in the industry? Such requirements are also increasingly irrelevant. The self-publishing revolution means that it is often easier and more profitable to publish work outside of the traditional games industry. It’s entirely possible to build the design and writing skills that are sought after without ever having worked for one of the “mainstream” game publishing companies.

Insider connections
The game industry is an old boy’s club. That’s not to say that all of the men who work in game publishing are sexist, woman-excluding douchebags. But the industry has been so male-dominated for so long that most men in the industry have worked with many more men than women. Logical, right? This becomes a huge barrier to diversity when one considers the network factor of game publishing.

Game publishing is a tough business. Publishers operate on narrow margins, deadlines are often tight, and there is little room for error. So when a publisher is embarking on a new project, there is a natural impulse to want to recruit known quantities – people you have worked with well in the past. Logical, right? But this has the direct consequence of excluding otherwise talented not-white/not-dude/not-cisgender people. When you recruit exclusively from people in established industry circles, you are restricting your pool of applicants to privilege almost exclusively white men.

Ability to do free labor
If you require applicants to complete a particular writing prompt, or to read a particular game or other written work, or to perform any other activity that represents a non-trivial time investment, you are restricting your pool of applicants to people who can afford to perform free labor in pursuit of a POTENTIAL position that – quite honestly – pays like shit and most likely won’t be paid at all promptly, if at all. (Pay-on-publication is
still a quite common model for paying freelancers, which is something I intend to write about later, as it is complete and utter bullshit.)

And – again – the wage gap and 2nd shift labor are going to be factors that skew your applicant pool (again) toward white, male, and cisgender.

Invisible barriers to entry

Lack of diversity
There are many reasons why lack of diversity is its own barrier to entry:
– marginalized people routinely face negative consequences for “presuming” to enter spaces that are marked as belonging to people with privilege.
– marginalized people routinely have their concerns ignored when trying to point out offensive stereotypes
– marginalized people are routinely told that they need to “have a thick skin” when trying to point out offensive behavior by colleagues
– marginalized people experience discomfort simply by virtue of existing in a non-diverse space – this is called stereotype threat and is well documented

So if your organization is very not-diverse, as pretty much every game company is, simply saying that you want women to apply isn’t enough. Because many marginalized people are going to look at the lack of diversity in your company and decide that a company that was formed and perpetuated such a lack of diversity is not a company that they want to work for.

Imposter syndrome
Because gaming is a nerd-dominated industry, men tend to bristle when I tell them that imposter syndrome is a heavily gendered phenomenon. Many nerds in their 30s were bullied and ostracized for their nerdiness, which means there are an awful lot of game writers of all genders with low self-esteem who have trouble believing in the worth of their work. And I do know men who wrestle with imposter syndrome, and I’m not trying to belittle their struggle.

BUT.

However bad imposter syndrome is for men, it’s just plain worse for women and non-binary folk. Men, especially white men, don’t ever have to deal with having their work discounted or belittled by the simple virtue of their gender, but that is frankly de rigeur for female and non-binary creators – an unavoidable reality of making games while not male. Men are also not socialized to believe that they are not capable of being creative, or that their ideas and work are inherently inferior to those of their male counterparts. And yet this is a message that almost all women receive (to varying degrees) while growing up.

While it is possible for men to struggle with low self esteem and the belief that their work is not worthy, they are doing so within the context of a society that privileges their voices by simple virtue of their maleness. Conversely, women and non-binary folk who struggle with imposter syndrome are doing so within a context of a society that has raised them from childhood to believe that their work is worth LESS, and a hobby that tells them on a daily basis that they do not belong.

So many marginalized people are simply not able to believe that they could ever be qualified enough to be a “real” game writer, and thus are not going to apply.

Marginalized people need more supports to get into industry
Because of all of the active barriers to entry that marginalized people face, they often need more active support to get into the industry in the first place. There are all sorts of advantages that white and male game writers have; simply not having to deal with active barriers to entry is in itself a huge advantage. Most often the supports that marginalized writers need are eminently within the abilities of lead developers and companies. Things like access to previous source material that they don’t have to pay for, someone who can provide system mentorship without the marginalized person having to read 500 pages of incredibly dense rules text, project leadership that is prepared to listen to concerns about offensive tone or material and is willing to take action to correct course – all of these are simple way to support marginalized writers in “getting up to speed” as freelancers.

Succeeding at diverse recruitment

So with all of the above in mind, how exactly does a company succeed in diversifying its pool of applicants once it has removed all active barriers to entry? It’s actually pretty simple, as it turns out!

1) Make a point of calling out your own lack of diversity as something you take seriously, though you needn’t engage in any self-flagellation. All that is needed is an honest recognition that your company is not diverse, and that is a thing that needs rectifying. (It’s important to note that a few men WILL whine about “not being allowed to apply”, as if they are somehow being persecuted when more than 80% of game industry jobs are held by men. Absolutely on no terms should you engage in serious conversation with these men, although you may feel free to mock them if that is your inclination.)

2) Specifically call out imposter syndrome and say that you want applications from all interested parties, even if they don’t think they’re qualified. This is important! A lot of people with imposter syndrome feel like they need permission to apply for such positions. So it’s important to specify that you really, truly do want EVERYONE who is interested to apply.

3) Be flexible in your submission requirements. Make it easy for people to apply with material that they’ve already written.

4) Make it clear that you’re willing to provide support to writers who aren’t conversant with the particular system you’re writing for. This is in your best interest as a publisher, as system mastery is something you can teach, while writing talent and ability aren’t (or at least not on the timelines that game companies are operating on).

Examples: Real-life examples of doing it right and wrong

The recent all-call for Exalted 3e writers

The lead developer for Exalted 3e, recently caused a stir when he put out an all-call for new writers that was actually a university-level literature essay test. Seriously, I had literature tests in first year university that weren’t as in-depth as the “application” this developer was looking for.

Rowan Cota did an excellent 2.5-part takedown of the many ways in which this was a terrible, terrible all-call, so I won’t reproduce her excellent work here. I’ll just confine myself to saying that this all-call managed include every single active barrier to entry that was discussed here.

It’s important to note that, the owners of Onyx Path – the company that owns Exalted and had hired the lead developer on the project – was not amused. Nor were the senior developers who had worked with them before. This sort of absurd literature test is absolutely against Onyx Path’s recruitment policies, and they acted quickly to make sure that the “all-call” was retracted. So while this particular instance is a classic example of how to do everything wrong, it’s also a good example of an organization responding quickly and appropriately to someone who does something bone-headed while acting on their behalf.

GenCon Guests of Honor – “as diverse as the industry itself” 

This is something that I’ve written about extensively before, so I won’t duplicate what I’ve said previously. However, I will recommend that you go read that previous post, as it’s a very good look at an organization consistently making choices that actively work against diversity over many years, all in the name of supposedly increasing diversity.

They’ve made passive calls for diversity in the past, such as comments that they want women and PoC to apply to the GoH program. But those comments are usually made on forums, social media, or other non-official venues. And the astonishing lack of diversity of GenCon GoH doesn’t exactly lend credibility to their desire for diversity, nor does the fact that in the two years that they’ve been supposedly working to increase representation of women on their GoH roster, they’ve managed only a meager 6% increase in the proportion of women.

But then, GenCon is a very expensive convention to attend, and as long as GenCon continues not to offer any support toward attendance beyond a free badge (that you have to earn by doing a very large number of panels), that’s always going to privilege white and male applicants. So GenCon’s complete lack of diversity on their Guest of Honor lineups isn’t something I anticipate changing any time soon.

David Hill’s all-call for Darkening Sky.

As lead developer for Darkening Sky – a collection of adventures meant for Onyx Path’s Dark Ages line – David Hill put out an all-call that is the reason that I have any experience freelancing for a major games publisher. Short, sweet, and to the point, it’s proof that you don’t need to write a novel to do everything right when it comes to writer recruitment:

 

all-call

Paizo’s recent designer all-call

Perhaps the best example of diverse writer recruitment I’ve seen, however, came recently from Jessica Price – an editor at Paizo. (Seriously go read it – it’s a really great example of how to do recruitment right.)

The recruitment pitch was made by a woman speaking to her own experience with insecurity and imposter syndrome, and they specifically asked for women and binary. Even more delightful was the fact that she and Wes Schneider subsequently mocked the few men who whined that they were being excluuuuuuded. (Poor babies.) Which isn’t required, but is something I certainly enjoyed.

Reflections on cultural osmosis

(I promise this post isn’t a post about children, but it is inspired by my kid so that’s where we’re going to start. But it’s still totally relevant to gaming, honest.)

My husband and I have differing philosophies when it comes to the problem of Santa and the question of whether we would teach the kid about Santa or not. Previous to this year, the question was more academic than anything. However, while my daughter isn’t quite old enough to understand all the trappings of Christmas, she’s now definitely of an age to be learning from this year what Christmas is about. So we found ourselves needing to reach some sort of detente.

Thankfully, my mother-in-law provided an elegant solution: never comment on the question of Santa’s existence. We need never confirm or deny the existence of Santa, because the culture at large will take care of the issue for us. If she believes, she believes – and vice versa. And this way the disagreement between my husband and I becomes something we can live with, because neither of us will be taking a course of action opposed to the philosophy of the other parent.

Watching the results of our experiment (children are living experiments, only there’s no way to prove the hypothesis until it’s way too late to affect the outcome) has been interesting. Despite the fact that we have not provided any sort of instruction in the Santa myth, my daughter can now point to the Santa ornaments on our tree and identify them as Santa. She can also identify reindeer, though it’s unclear whether this is a result of Santification or just her obsession with learning to identify animals. And she has come home with a few Santa-related crafts made at the daycare, which tells me there must be at least a small amount of Santa lore being delivered there.

Of course, this process has also been a bit unsettling as well. Because here is proof that even at the age of two and a half, the simple act of failing to talk about a cultural idea with our daughter means that she is slowly absorbing the cultural default through contact with the culture as a whole. And sure, it’s true that if we cared to we could educate her from day one about how Santa is a myth and etc etc etc, we’d probably have a kid that didn’t believe in Santa at all. But even then, she’s still going to perceive Santa/Christmas as the default cultural event of the season until she’s old enough to learn about different traditions, because that’s just how cultural background radiation works.

So what does this have to do with games already?

In my last post, I talked about (among other things) Valve/Steam’s handling of indie shooter game Hatred – a game in which you play a white man going on a violent rampage where the goal is to cause as much carnage as possible before being killed by law enforcement. One particular point that I made was the harm that Hatred commits in helping perpetuate a harmful cultural narrative:

I mean, it’s not like mass shootings have exploded as a phenomenon since Postal and Manhunt were first released (1997 and 2003 respectively). And, you know, who needs to be concerned about promoting a cultural narrative that glorifies mass violence when there have been 278 American mass shootings up to this point in 2014? I’m sure that can’t possibly have any negative repercussions.

Predictably some people got super upset about this. How dare I say that video games cause violence! Didn’t I know there was all kinds of science proving that false? Clearly I’m just some sort of science-hating feminazi! And on and on, you get the idea. The only problem is: that isn’t what I was saying at all. Saying that I was seriously arguing that violent video games directly cause violence is a gross over-simplification to the point of straw-manning what I was actually saying. Which is that cultural narratives matter, and that mindlessly contributing to harmful cultural narratives is harmful.

In much the same way that my daughter is learning about Santa through passive cultural osmosis, other children are absorbing the dominant cultural narrative that glorifies rugged individualism and violent hypermasculinity because that’s how cultural osmosis fucking works. Games like Hatred that mindlessly replicate depictions of hypermasculine violence without making even the smallest effort to be critical of that violence are contributing to the cultural background radiation that informs our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not crying WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREEEEENNNN here.

lovejoy-think-of-the-children-16nov131

Far from it! I’m actually pretty excited for the time, not too distant from now, when I can start playing games with my daughter and introducing her to the best parts of what gaming can be.

BUT. I’m also going to be careful to have truthful, critical conversations with her about the harmful elements of culture that she’ll encounter through games. Because the ugly reality of being a child-haver is that you can’t protect children from the harmful elements of cultural background radiation, no matter how hard you try. The best you can hope for is to give them tools that will allow them to remain critical and to actively resist accepting kyriarchy as the norm.

I know that despite my best efforts, I’m going to fail at some things. Because the same harmful ideas I’m attempting to teach my kid to resist are the same ones that I absorbed through passive cultural osmosis myself. Growing up, none of the adults in my life ever said anything overtly racist. But that didn’t stop me from growing up with unconscious racist attitudes, or from saying embarrassingly racist shit when I was in University. (That’s not to say that I’m perfect now, but I’d certainly like to think that I’ve gotten better.)

It also didn’t protect me from all of the unspoken sexism that I internalized. No one ever said that women were inferior. Indeed, the opposite was frequently articulated. Women are equal to men! Sexism is an outdated ideal! Women deserve equal rights and equal pay! But that message didn’t align with the reality of the social stigma for being outspoken, not conforming to traditional standards of femininity, and not confining my life aspirations to traditionally “female” career paths. So is it any wonder that as an adult, what I struggle with more than anything is allowing myself to feel as if I have worth? As if I am allowed to occupy space and want not-traditionally-feminine things?

And let’s not forget that it’s not only children who are susceptible to the harmful influence of our culture. There is a wealth of scientific data about the myriad negative effects that women suffer from being surrounded by a culture of sexism. There is also a growing body of evidence about the deleterious effects of sexist media on men, not the least of which is that men who consume sexist media display higher rates of sexist attitudes. Much as we like to delude ourselves that we’re too smart to be affected by the media we consume, scientifically speaking – that is demonstrably not the case.

A tale of two marketplaces

Well, folks. I had actually planned on writing about how recruiting truly diverse teams of writers requires actively removing barriers to entry. But instead, thanks to Gabe Newell and the legions of MRA asshats on Steam, I’m writing this instead. Blame the fedoras.

Anyway. Before I get into a detailed look at why Gabe Newell’s response to a flap over on Steam was both unethical and colossally bone-headed, let’s cover some necessary background. (Feminism is much like sci-fi in that infodumps are an evil necessity.)

Chapter 1: Steam Greenlight and indie game Hatred

Hatred isn’t a new game – it’s been in development for a while. But it wasn’t a game that many people had heard of before it got put up on Steam Greenlight two days ago:

Hatred, from unknown Polish developer Destructive Creations, was first announced back in October. Its trailer seemed to revel in the massacre of civilians with a kind of gruesome glee. The video drew comparisons to ultra-violent game franchises like Postal and Manhunt for its apparently amoral focus on gunning down innocent bystanders in violent detail. “This is the time for vengeance, and no life is worth saving, and I will put in the grave as many as I can,” the protagonist says in the trailer. “It’s time for me to kill, and it’s time for me to die. My genocide crusade begins here.” —Kyle Orland, Ars Technica

Charming.

Granted, it is true Hatred isn’t exactly the first game of its kind. Postal and Manhunt blazed that dubious trail. Still, given that the rate of mass shootings in the United States has tripled from 2011’s already pretty-fucking-high levels, it’s not too surprising that Steam stepped in and quickly removed the game from Greenlight.

…for about 24 hours, that is.

Late last night, Hatred re-appeared on the fan-voting section of Steam Greenlight, with all of its original comments and votes intact. What’s more, it seems like Destructive Creations received an email from Gabe Newell, apologizing for the decision to remove their game:

Hi, Jaroslaw.

Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up. My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers.

Good luck with your game.

-Gabe.

Oh good. I’m so glad that Gabe Newell is committed to fighting for the artistic freedom of game developers to make games that paint entitled men who go on violent rampages as the hero. I mean, it’s not like mass shootings have exploded as a phenomenon since Postal and Manhunt were first released (1997 and 2003 respectively). And, you know, who needs to be concerned about promoting a cultural narrative that glorifies mass violence when there have been 278 American mass shootings up to this point in 2014? I’m sure that can’t possibly have any negative repercussions.

Even more disturbing are the comments that have been added since Hatred was reinstated that call for developers to add SJW NPCs that they can murder:

SJW

WHAT. THE ACTUAL. FUCK.

The first comment is actually a (particularly gross) description of Zoe Quinn – the unfortunate original target of #GamerGate. I honestly don’t have the bandwidth to marinate in that kind of bile, but it seems that there have been specific requests for other favorite targets of #GamerGate, including Anita Sarkeesian.

But. You know. FREEEEEEDOM. Or something.

Chapter 2: Drive Thru Cards/Drive Thru RPG and the #GamerGate card game

So let’s compare and contrast the above with DTRPG’ handling of an analogous situation that arose when MRA tabletop designer James Desborough used their self-publishing tools published a #GamerGate card game that purported to be “satire”:

One player takes the side of Gamergate, and the other is the SJW’s in this satirical look at the recent controversy.  Play either the “Social Justice Warriors trying to get away with egregious breaches of ethics before Gamergate can create enough of a fuss and social pressure to expose them, all the while flaming each other on Twitter, screaming for attention and being trolled hard.[1]

…riiiight.

DTRPG reacted swiftly and removed the game from its site. A few days later, the following update was sent to DTRPG publishers and was also posted to DTRPG’s social media feed. Their update addressed several points, including the merits of supposedly satirical works based on active hate movements (emphasis mine):

Normally, satirical works would be welcome on our marketplaces. However, we feel that there are situations where satire is inappropriate. For example, we do not think that a game released today that satirizes police killings of minorities in the USA would be appropriate. Regardless of how one feels about an issue like that, we feel that it is too current, too emotionally charged on both sides, and too related to real-world violence or death to make it an appropriate matter for satire.

Similarly, no matter how one feels about Gamergate, it is likewise too current, too emotionally [sic] frought, and too related to violence to be an appropriate subject for satire. Additionally, we considered that the violent element of the Gamergate issue has a basis in misogyny. For these reasons, we felt that this card game title was not welcome for sale on our site.

(The entirety of their post can be found here and is well worth reading.)

Chapter 3: Privately owned marketplaces and censorship

It’s interesting that both Valve and DTRPG raised the spectre of censorship in their responses to their respective situations. But it’s also unfortunate in that it helps promote popular misconceptions about what actually constitutes censorship.

Neither Valve nor DTRPG are in any way connected with any kind of government or governmental body. They have no power to stifle the free speech of a creator, because they don’t have any ability to levy sanctions against the creator of an offensive game. Nor do they have the power to prevent a creator from publishing a game via alternative methods, of which – it should be noted – there are many. (KickStarter, Patreon, IndieGoGo, etc etc.) Indeed, it has never been easier to be a self-published game creator.

Valve and DTRPG are simply companies that happen to own a marketplace where third parties are allowed to promote and sell their own games, in exchange for a share of revenue earned. They get to set the rules for that marketplace, because it’s their fucking marketplace.  Kicking someone out of their marketplace or pulling a particular product from their digital shelves isn’t censorship. It’s a private company discontinuing a relationship with a vendor.

To use a real-world analogy…

GenCon has a Dealer’s Room in which vendors may purchase space to set up a booth and sell merchandise. The Dealer’s Room is, essentially, an absurdly large private marketplace. (In 2014 there were more than 3000 booths!) Because GenCon owns the marketplace, they set rules as to what may and may not be sold in the Dealer’s Room. Some of these rules relate to the types of items that may not be sold (biohazards, live animals, rocket launchers, etc). Some of these rules relate to the content of items being sold. (No visible female nipples, no frontal nudity.)

For the most part, these rules don’t generate any controversy. Partly because vendors know that they can’t expect total freedom when using someone else’s marketplace to sell their goods. But also because those rules protect the interests of the vendors who choose to participate in that private marketplace.

Continuing with our analogy, let’s say that GenCon had no restrictions on use of their space and were happy to let you do anything, anything with your space once you had paid for it. And let’s say that you’re a vendor who sells products that meet the core demand of GenCon’s typical audience, and you have a booth. You’re looking forward to doing some solid business, but when you show up it turns out that the booth next to you is selling fresh-from-the-cow manure. And their booth is full of it. Hundreds of pounds of manure.

When you talk to them, they say that there is a demand for their product. And it’s true. The demand is small, and their traffic is pretty meager, but people do seek out their booth to buy their manure. But this puts you in a difficult position. You’re not the one selling manure, but you’re sure as hell going to be associated with it, and your products are going to wind up smelling more and more like shit the longer their manure sits right next to your booth.

Now some of your customers will be completely unfazed by the presence of the manure, either because they are dedicated customers with whom you have a long-established relationship, or because they have no strong feelings about manure. Some of your customers will be unhappy about the manure, but will still patronize your booth if they happen to be nearby. But some of your customers will decide that they don’t want to go near a tremendous mountain of shit in order to buy your products, and it goes without saying that you’re going to have a harder time attracting new business when many customers won’t even see your booth, they’ll just see the massive shit pile and go somewhere else.

However, this isn’t the case for Valve and DTRPG. Both companies have, to varying degrees, restrictions on what products they will allow to be sold in their marketplaces. Both companies have recently found themselves in the situation of having a publisher that wanted to use their marketplace to sell games that amounted to festering piles of shit. The difference is how they reacted.

DTRPG quickly stepped in, removed the manure from their marketplace, Febreezed the shit out of everything, and apologized to their vendors and customers. Whereas Valve initially removed the manure from their marketplace, then let the manure vendor back in and personally apologized to the shit-sellers for having the temerity to imply that perhaps some people would be unhappy about having a festering shitpile attracting flies in their marketplace.

Which just goes to show why DTRPG is a company I’m happy to do business with, while Valve/Steam is a company that I go out of my way to avoid patronizing, if at all humanly possible.

Monday Freebie: the entitled douchebro edition

Well, folks. I had intended to start working on a new post today, but the world’s worst headache has reduced me to pasting links into a textbox, so I’ve given up and decided to do a freebie linkspam instead.


 

The incomparable Jay Smooth talking about beating what he calls the Little Hater – the voice that tells us that we are not good enough and no one could possibly find our art valuable. This is something that pretty much every creative person I know struggles with, myself included.

 

25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male. This is an excellent, excellent video about the kinds of privilege that male gamers experience in gaming spaces, and is an excellent resource if you find yourself getting into an argument with someone who confuses privilege with special treatment.

 

Okay, this has nothing to do with social justice – it’s just really flipping cool. Are you the kind of nerd who has ever wanted to create a planet, only it seems like too much work, and then you find out that someone wrote a free planet-generation tool that does all the work for you and you get super excited even though you don’t really know what you’d use such a tool for? …I mean. [cough cough] Not that would ever be that nerdy, but I hear that some of my readers are. Nerds.

 

Congrats on your opinion. This excellent post by Prolost’s Stu Maschwitz is a thing that should be enshrined in geek canon forever. In particular, it’s written about lens flares in JJ Abrams’ Trek movies, but it could just as easily be about women having Patreons or really whatever nerd thing it is that you happen to get in someone’s face about. GO READ IT.


And now a thing that requires a little background.

So over the weekend, the somewhat-infamous James Desborough – a game designer who has been a vocal supporter of #GamerGate and who even tried to make #tabletopgate a thing (yes really) – published a particularly tasteless #GamerGate card game in which one has to battle unethical SJWs by stalking, harassing, and doxxing them. The venue he chose to do this on was Drive Thru Cards, which has an automated publishing process for publishers who have previously published titles with them.

Considering that a lot of publishers who use Drive Thru Cards/Drive Thru RPG/One Bookshelf to publish their content are also people who have been the targets of #GG’s harassment and doxxing, naturally there was swift and immediate backlash against the game; many publishers sent complaints to DTRPG saying that they would not continue to use DTRPG’s services if the game wasn’t pulled – which it was, and quite quickly. (Kudos to DTRPG for dealing with it so quickly over a weekend, no less.)

Of course, a lot of people got terribly upset about this awful, awful ceeeeensoooorshiiiiiip. So here are some things that summarize the situation better than I could in my be-headached state. (No, YOU’RE making up stupid words on the internet.)

First, Matt McFarland knocks it out of the park on his blog in explaining why DTRPG pulling the game IS NOT CENSORSHIP ZOMG READ A DICTIONARY. Also, he talks about why the response by some people who actually harassed and doxxed the owner of DTRPG was not fucking okay. (Spoiler alert: DOXXING IS NEVER FUCKING OKAY)

Second, this post by Fred Hicks is worth reading as a response to the fallout from the game being pulled. Apparently, because some of the Evil Hat crew had the nerve to talk publicly about how – hey, if this stays up we should evaluate if we want Evil Hat’s brand to be tarnished by association, a bunch of anti-SJWs got all het up and decided to harass Fred Hicks, because clearly this was solely his fault and CENSORSHIP and also BULLYING. So then they got a bunch of people to harass Fred when he was just trying to do real life shit, because ETHICS. Or something.

…I’m going back to bed and coming out never.

On being a “professional victim”

I’ve been pretty quiet the last two weeks, and I apologize for that. I meant to get one more post up in November, but, well, that didn’t so much happen. Partly it’s because I was pouring a lot of writing energy into finishing a first draft of my current game project! Which I am excited about! But partly it’s because I’ve found myself second-guessing everything I’ve wanted to write about.

Writing about Bayonetta because a bunch of dudes got mad about me having opinions on Bayonetta was an easy choice. I mean, oh, you don’t like me writing about Bayonetta? Well here, have some more unsolicited opinions about Bayonetta, since that’s how I roll. (I’m contrary like that.) But how to move on from there? Well… that’s more difficult.

The problem is that I actually read about 19 pages of this weird anti-me hatefest (which was a terrible idea, seriously, don’t ever do that. What were you thinking past me??), and since then I’ve felt stuck as to how to pick a topic for a new post that wouldn’t play into the narrative that has been constructed against me, which has gotten so sprawling and disjointed that literally anything I write here can be co-opted as ammunition.

It can be pretty unnerving knowing that anything you write can then be twisted to support someone’s arguments that you are a: homophobic, anti-feminist, sex-negative, compulsively lying, egomaniacal, unethical feminazi fascist who harasses people and is so delusional that someone should really have me involuntarily committed for my own good. (To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t been accused of being racist yet. Although given that my first published game, Thou Art But A Warrior, is about Muslims, I fully expect that to be added to the litany at some point in the future.) Seriously, how do you keep that level of bullshit from messing you up once in a while?

But in the end, I have to choose between giving the trolls new ammunition (everything is ammunition. Everything.) and remaining silent, which I’m not willing to do. So instead, I’m going to rant a bit about Patreon, and about my least-favorite new slur being hurled at women, queer people, and PoC with Patreons – “professional victim”.

First: Patreons by women, queer people, and PoC are the devil

When Patreon was just starting to develop a head of steam among my indie game design circles, the earliest adopters that I saw jumping on board were predominantly white and male. To the point where it initially made me pretty uneasy as a new thing that was happening, as I was afraid that it was going to turn into yet another way in which the voices of white men were going to be privileged over other voices:

plus

However, after a while I was able to get over the idea that I didn’t have anything of worth to offer potential patrons and I put up a Patreon of my own. As did other not-white-dude creators that I knew! And much to my delight, Patreon became a vital platform in enabling otherwise marginalized voices to create things they were passionate about and receive the support that they needed to do so.

Which is naturally about when there was a bit of a paradigm shift in how individual Patreons were talked about online.

Now instead of being universally lauded as a “revolutionary new crowdfunding model”, very often the reaction to an individual Patreon depends greatly on the identity of the person running it. Are they white and male? Excellent! Carry on! You use this new crowdfunding tool to make the things you want to make, you bold and visionary content creator you!

But wait! Is that Patreon being run by a woman? Or a PoC? Or a queer person? Or – gasp – someone who represents a combination of some or all of those traits? Then it is a TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE! Legit just the worst! Because mumble mumble ethics and mumble mumble other reasons!

Seriously, it’s a little baffling how incredibly offended some people get about the fact that this blog is Patreon supported. Despite the fact that everything that I accept Patreon funds for writing is published free of charge here on my blog, which means that anyone who cares to can read my blog without needing to contribute a single red cent, it’s somehow the absolute worst that I have sixty seven whole patrons who contribute varying amounts of money per unit content generated. THE WORST! How dare I take people’s money in return for expressing opinions! FACISM.

… [ahem]

The fact is that I use my Patreon money to justify the time and energy that I put into writing content here, time that could otherwise be spent on other paying projects. And I fail to understand just why that’s such a terrible thing. Despite that my average monthly revenue has increased about 50% from when I first re-launched GMMaS, I’m still not raking in huge butt-piles of money. On average I’m making about 2/3 of what it costs to keep my kid in daycare – which is only one of many new, exciting, and completely non-optional child-related expenses.

And for the most part, that’s the sort of shit that a lot of Patreon dollars get used for – the daily shit you have to do just to stay afloat. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but being a Millennial is fucking hard. We don’t have any careers, housing fucking sucks, we’re going bankrupt getting the education we need to compete, and the Boomers are never, ever, ever going to retire. (Never.) So anything that allows people the breathing room they need to make art instead of spending potential creative energy just fucking surviving is something that we should be celebrating!

But of course, since the success of Patreon as a platform means the increasing prominence of female, queer, and minority voices… WELL. We can’t have that, now can we!

Second: “Professional victim” is so fucking silencing I can’t even

When I started hammering out the initial outline for this post, I knew that I had enough content to justify making a paid post. And yet, the idea of making a paid post taking on the idea of Patreon creators as “professional victims” was pretty terrifying! Because of course, the two biggest targets of this new “professional victim” label are Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. Both of whom are women I admire tremendously and look up to, but whose example I desperately do not want to emulate. So when “professional victim” was recently added to the constructed narrative circulating against me, it was… unnerving to say the least.

I was sufficiently aggravated that I took to venting on twitter:

tweets
Tweets are in reverse chronological order, because twitter is dumb

There is a huge problem with calling women like Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn (and, to a lesser extent, myself) “professional victims”. When you extend that logic to its natural conclusion, that means that the moment any not-white-dude has the temerity to accept crowdfunding monies in exchange for a good or service, they automatically forfeit any right to speak openly about the abuse that they receive as a result.

Which is, of course, complete horse shit. Not to mention that “professional victim” is a term very often hurled by #GamerGaters, or at least people who support #GamerGate – despite their claims of being concerned primarily about “ethics in game journalism”. (But then, #GamerGate has always been singularly blind to the hypocrisy displayed by a campaign of harassment designed to silence and discredit women that simultaneously purports to be about ethics.)

However, just the very idea of “professional victim” is very toxic, and can very often be incredibly silencing. I know it’s something that I wrestle with all the damn time in writing this blog – the fear that I will drive away patrons if I write “too many” posts about gendered harassment. When deciding what topic to write about next, in the back of my head there is always the calculus of “how many posts have I written about a specific game or piece of game art since the last time I talked about this” and “should I set this aside until I’ve put more non-harassment-focused stuff out there?”. Despite very much wanting to speak out against the sort of harassment that Zoe and Anita (among really so many others) have faced, it’s hard to for me believe that me talking openly and honestly about my experiences is something that has any real worth.

“Professional victim” is a term that is also brutally effective in dismissing someone’s worth, not only as a creator but as a human being. When someone is a “professional victim”, literally any sort of behavior against them is okay, because any abuse perpetrated against them is something that they were asking for in the first place. “Professional victim” is the “what were you wearing” or “how much did you drink” of the internet – a blanket permission to engage in toxic misogyny without any real fear of negative consequence.

So the fact that I have written paid posts in the past about harassment I’ve received, and that I am writing this post now, and likely will do more such posts in the future? That’s a hard, scary thing, friends. Because that only reinforces the “professional victim” aspect of the constructed narrative against me, and as Anita Sarkeesian has excellently discussed, once the narrative that has been constructed against a person reaches a certain critical mass, it no longer matters what the facts are because the myth attains a life of its own and nothing you say or do can ever slay that myth.

Friday silliness: Bayonetta proportions in real life

After doing my recent post about Bayonetta 2, I regretted I’d given up doing a corrected redraw as completely pointless. The problem was that Bayonetta’s proportions are so inhumanly wrong that a “corrected” version wouldn’t match the original at all. So then I got to thinking…

Maybe what I needed wasn’t a drawing over top of the original artwork to illustrate exactly where the figure went wrong. (Ie: everywhere) Maybe what I needed was to photoshop an actual human woman to have the same proportions as Bayonetta for it to really hit home about how weirdly inhuman her proportions are.

So I decided on Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, since she’s someone we’re used to seeing obviously-Photoshopped images of. Case in point, this awful Cap 2 poster:

captain-america-2-poster-black-widow

Then I just needed to find a mostly-not-foreshortened picture of Bayonetta that WASN’T posed like a porn still. That turned out to be… a lot harder than I thought. But finally, I found this render here:

bayonetta-imagen-i244178-i

Lastly, I needed a full-body still of Scarjo as Black Widow to make sure that I got something un-photoshopped (like pretty much all of her promo photos). I would have preferred her in the catsuit, since that’s most similar to what Bayonetta herself is wearing. But this is what I settled for, since the pose is the most similar:

captain-america-2-black-widow-bhdznrru

All right! So with the images sourced, it was time for some photoshop magic. In order to do this, I overlaid Bayonetta as a transparent layer on top of Scarjo and then just resized-stretched things until they matched the Bayonetta’s proportions. Once that was done, I did some half-assed cloning to blend it together and… ta-da!

scarlett-johansson-black-widow-5 (1)
I’ll admit I got lazy photoshopping the background back in

Yes Scarlett’s head looks tiny, but it is the same size as Bayonetta’s. Bayonetta’s weird beehive hairdo just serves as an optical illusion. I’ll admit that I also should have smudged her thighs a tiny bit wider, but honestly it was close enough to illustrate the point. It’s easy to look at a computer-rendered figure and ignore obvious distortions, because there’s already a level of removal there by virtue of it obviously not being real. But seeing these anatomy distortions on an actual human? I find that really emphasizes how very inhuman Bayonetta is.

I’m not anti-sex, video games just suck at not failing at it

One of the charges that routinely gets hurled at me is that I’m a sex-hating prude that hates sex in games and thinks that people who put sex in games are just the worst. Which is pretty ludicrous, but it’s the lowest-hanging fruit of dismissive criticism aside from “she’s crazy”, which means it’s something I hear a lot. For a lot of people, it’s easier to attack the messenger than it is to engage with the message, especially when the message is openly critical of something that you like.

However, it’s also true that about 99% of the things that I write here pertaining to sex and female sexuality as they are portrayed in video games are harshly critical. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since writing my last post, because Bayonetta is a character that you really can’t write about without examining how her sexuality is portrayed and how that portrayal is actively harmful.

Sex in videogames: seriously, why is it so bad?

The reality is that as a medium, video games are 10-15 years behind other art forms in their portrayal of female sexuality[1]. That’s not to say that the rest of art and pop culture get it right – there are still an awful lot of terrible things to be found in movies, comics, and television. But there are also a wealth of examples of non-video-game pop culture in which female sexuality isn’t demonized, punished, or objectified[2].

As for video games…? Even after wracking my brains, I was only able to come up with a handful of games with totally positive portrayals of female sexuality, and even then half of those had caveats:

good_depictions

Although romance has been a staple of the Final Fantasy series, it’s been pretty much void of sex, with the exception of that not-a-sex-scene-that’s-still-totally-a-sex-scene in FFX. Which is a shame, because as much as Squeenix fails at costume design, their writers are really top notch at writing believable female characters who are a mix of strong and vulnerable and everything in between. And despite the fact that they didn’t technically have sex, I thought X’s not-a-sex-scene was a really touching portrayal of Yuna and Tidus allowing themselves to be mutually vulnerable to each other. (And you will never convince me that they weren’t totally having sex offscreen and that the music montage was just some epic afterglow.)

BioWare is a better example in that its sex scenes are actually sex scenes, although this hasn’t always been the case. While Dragon Age: Origins takes the cake for the BioWare romance I found most compelling (I know he’s not to everyone’s taste, but my female warden fell for Alistair so frigging hard), the fact that the designers chickened out and rendered all of the sex scenes with characters in their underwear really bugged me. It actually felt more objectifying than the Mass Effect series’ sex scenes, which were underwear free, just because at least Mass Effect wasn’t specifically calling attention to people’s junk.

Still, ridiculous underwear aside, BioWare has done really well in their portrayals of female sexuality. There are women who are lesbians, bisexual, hetero, and cheerfully ambiguous. They have women who just want casual sex, women who are after romance, and women who aren’t really sure what they want. And none of these women are presented as wrong, or as being punished for their sexuality. Even better, there’s no difference between how sex scenes are handled between FemShep and BroShep. No matter who you play, there’s real tenderness there.

And sure, there are missteps. Like Morrigan’s blatant and stereotypical sexuality, or Jack with her ridiculous nipple straps and her MaleShep romance option of fixing her with sex, which I just find really terrible. (Seriously, feminists get told all the damn time that what we need to “fix” us is a good dicking, so I find that trope particularly offensive.)

But beyond Final Fantasy and recent BioWare titles, I was stuck. An informal straw poll on Google+ yielded a few more like Saint’s Row IV (which I haven’t played) – a notable example that was put forth by several people. (I’ll admit to being surprised.) Gone Home also came up, as did The Sims[3]. ..aaaand that was about all any of us could come up with. Sadly, it seems AAA game studios (that aren’t BioWare) simply don’t have a clue how to write sexual content that doesn’t exist to solely to objectify female characters.

Not that that should come as a surprise. 88 percent of game industry devs are male, and it’s been well documented that harassment for women in the industry is pretty much a given. (Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Elizabeth Shoemaker-Sampat, Jennifer Hepler, Jade Raymond… the list is very long and very depressing.) Much as we think of games as an interactive medium, interactions have to be programmed. Every interaction has to be scripted and its potential outcomes defined, and the people doing that programming are largely white and male – and all of that is happening in an environment steeped in misogyny and brogramming culture.

Is it any wonder, then, that AAA games nearly always fail to deliver genuine portrayals of female sexuality? How can they, when the few women in the industry can’t effectively advocate for themselves, let alone for a fictional female character? So when AAA game studios try to include honest portrayals of female sexuality, the result is nearly always something like this:

So_romantic

Oof. Right in the feels.

But you know what? It doesn’t have to be this way.

Sex in tabletop game design: an example to be emulated [4]

The conversation about how to handle sex at the table is hardly a new one in tabletop land. Of course, being a different medium, that conversation has resulted in different tools. Some of those tools can best be described as “safety nets” – tools to help people feel safe in playing through content that makes them vulnerable. I’m only going to mention those tangentially as a separate conversation worth being aware of; though if you’re not familiar with lines and veils  and the X-Card, you should definitely read up on them.

What I find more interesting, however – at least for the purposes of this conversation – is the different mechanical approaches that varying designers have taken to solving this problem of how to address sex in a mechanical way in ways that feel meaningful, without resorting to cheap stereotypes. While this is far from an exhaustive catalog of games worth considering, here are some games that explicitly include sex mechanics I have played and enjoyed:

1) Kagematsu – a game in which the sole male character (a ronin) is played by a woman, and all of the other characters are trying to seduce him with the purpose of convincing him to stay and protect their village. In playing this, I loved how it greatly inverted players’ default point of view.

2) Apocalypse World focuses on the consequences that result from sex, with custom sex moves that only take effect after characters have sex, and with varying results, depending on just who it is that’s doing it. (And let me tell you, things get real interesting when it’s two PCs having sex.)

3) Much to my regret, I have yet to play Monsterhearts as anything other than a convention game. Still, Monsterhearts is a fantastic game for exploring themes of emerging sexuality – queer or otherwise – and the confusion that this can cause. As an Apocalypse World derivative, Monsterhearts has sex moves. However, it’s worth noting that a Monsterhearts-specific move lets all PCs make rolls to turn someone on – the person targeted is either turned on or not as determined by the dice.

Of course, the main thing that all of these systems have in common is that these are systems that aren’t exclusively engineered to model violence. Violence is definitely a large part of Apocalypse World, because hey – apocalypse. But Apocalypse World is also designed to model relationships, sex, fucking, psychic horror, and general social dysfunction. Monsterhearts does include harm (damage), but that’s far less central to the system than the mechanics modeling relationships, obligation, arousal, and sex. And Kagematsu doesn’t even have any violence mechanics at all! Kagematsu’s rules focus on modeling affection versus desperation, and about the most violent thing that players can choose to do mechanically is slap Kagematsu – which doesn’t leave any lasting effect, aside from the effect on what he thinks of you.

These sorts of mechanics lead to sex that feels messy and vulnerable and real. Sex that can feel fun or fraught; romantic or deeply unhealthy or even both; complicated and wonderful and meaningful. And the mechanics drive that story!

The best example I have witnessed of this is actually something that just happened in an Apocalypse World campaign that I’m part of. My character and another PC had been “circling the drain” (as I had previously described our relationship), with sex as an almost-inevitable conclusion that we somehow hadn’t managed until the end of our most recent session. And when it did finally happen, I was so very excited because of this little rule on my character sheet:

quarantine
For those of you familiar with AW, it was my Quarantine and the Hocus. Yes it was just as messed up as it sounds.

And let me tell you, knowing that this was a move that was going to come into play, the rest of the players were super invested in the scene! There wasn’t any phone-checking or side conversations, because the Quarantine sex move is so goddamn sweet in a post-apocalyptic world composed almost entirely of awfulness! Which is how this happened:

loved-oh-snap

And then the rest of the scene happened, and it was great and we moved on with our lives. It wasn’t until later that it really struck me that people had reacted as if we were playing D&D and I’d just rolled a one-shot on a dragon, which just goes to show why I love Apocalypse World so very much. It is absolutely possible to get player investment and excitement in things other than death and violence!

The problem is that the complete lack of these sorts of mechanics is where the majority of video games run into problems. The majority of AAA video games are violence simulators, with a couple other sub-systems thrown in. And that’s not to decry their worth as games – I’ll admit that I find using Adrenaline’s slow-mo effect in Mass Effect to line up a sniper rifle shot through an eye-slit in a riot shield immensely satisfying! But when 90% or more of a game’s mechanics revolve around various flavors of how to kill things, it shouldn’t be surprising that portrayals of female sexuality wind up as hollow retreads of awful sexist stereotypes.

Even BioWare games, which I feel generally handle female sexuality pretty well, rely on an incredibly shallow sub-system slapped on top of their violence simulator. If you do things a, b, and c and say things x, y, and z – you can accumulate enough points sleep with a woman, so long as the option has been programmed to allow you to do so. Their very sophisticated script-writing obscures the fact that the only design that has gone into modeling character relationships is a simple system of one-time bonuses and penalties, hidden behind pretty graphics and clever dialogue.

And as a game designer, I just feel like we can do so much better! Yes video games are a different medium with different constraints than tabletop. But tabletop designers have been learning from video game design for years. Maybe it’s time for video game devs to start looking at tabletop systems for solutions to the problem of how to use mechanical systems to drive satisfying stories about sex and relationships.

Sadly, until that happens I think the best we can expect is a thin veneer of romance on top of games about killing things and taking their stuff.

[1] Worth noting, that I’m almost exclusively writing about cisgender female sexuality here, simply because of the dearth of examples available to me.

[2] Granted, those examples are almost always indie-affiliated. But that’s a different conundrum.

[3] Which I wouldn’t have thought of, since the Sims don’t have any character beyond what the player constructs for them. But at the same time, any punishment of female Sims for having sex comes entirely from the player and not from the game. And given that having recreational sex is an entirely different option from having procreative sex, the mechanics are pretty darn feminist.

[4] I’m going to speak specifically about indie tabletop design, mostly because that’s the type of game that I play and the type of games that my friends design. That’s not to say that there aren’t games outside of Indie Tabletop Land that might not also provide positive examples.

On Bayonetta 2 and Female Sexuality in Video Games [TW]

[TW: The first part of this post contains some content looking at rape-as-punishment-of-in-game-failure, as well as a link to a rapey cut scene.]

Recently, I had a decent-sized traffic spike on my old post about Bayonetta and the male gaze… from three years ago. (Usually that post averages 200-300 direct links per month; in October of this year it got 3700+.) Apparently, a bunch of guys on Reddit got really sore that I said nasty things about Bayonetta and hate-read the article so they could talk about how terrible I was.

…weird. And they say the feminists are just “looking for things to be offended by”.

My reaction initially was along the lines of ‘oh well – I feel pretty much everything I said about Bayonetta back then certainly applies to the new game’, so I’d planned on leaving well enough alone. But a few things caught my attention recently that made me think it would be worth revisiting. So first, some thoughts, and then a redraw.

Part the first: you can oppose #GamerGate and still be misogynist

One of the things that made me want to revisit Bayonetta is that her creator, Hideki Kamiya, has actually gained a small amount of notoriety as a game dev opposed to #GamerGate who attracted moderate levels of harassment. (And by that I mean that he was harassed by #GG proponents, but certainly not anything comparable to what women like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian have faced.)

However, it’s very important to remember that even though he opposes #GamerGate, Hideki Kamiya is still very much a misogynist. Here are just a few things he’s said about Bayonetta in the past:

Well, if I had to pick one, I would say it is the scene where Joy first appears in the game, with Bayonetta and her impostor getting into a pose battle. That was my way of expressing the feminine notion that, to one woman, all other women are enemies. Even women walking by each other will check out what the other is wearing, and might smolder a bit with antagonism. Women are scary. (source: Bayonetta dev: to one woman, all other women are enemies)

I strongly feel that women outside should dress like her. Like, when she does a hair attack, you’d see the skin. I want women to wear fashion like that. (1up.com: Bayonetta developer interview)

But anyway that’s how we’re creating Bayonetta’s moves and all that, and that’s actually the most fun part of this game, thinking about all that stuff. So you will be able to see what everybody in the team likes in a girl from the finished project. (1up.com: Bayonetta developer interview)

[On whether her outfit really is just hair] Yes, completely hair. That means that she’s actually naked, but naked because that’s just hair, that’s not clothing. She has strong magical powers, she’s using her strength, her magical power to keep her hair on her body, to make it form an outfit. So when she gets weak or something, she might just lose her magical power, and if that happens…you know what that means. (1up.com: Bayonetta developer interview)

In other words, Hideki Kamiya is someone who has zero problems objectifying women, whether in real life or in fiction. He also has designed Bayonetta explicitly to appeal to male sexuality, and has no problem equating a woman’s worth with her sexual appeal.

Still, some people point to Bayonetta as a character to be celebrated because empowerment! And choice feminism! Bayonetta’s chosen to be this way!

But that ignores the fact that Bayonetta is not real. All of the choices she makes – how to dress, how to act, who to flirt with and when – are actually being made by her creator, whose only priority is to present Bayonetta as a sexual object that is pleasing to men. Her sexuality isn’t presented as something to be celebrated – it’s something that is explicitly punished.

Part of Bayonetta 2 includes a secret fight against Rodin, a character from the first game who is a friend of Bayonetta’s. Unfortunately, the sequence that plays if you actually lose this boss fight is… suuuuper rapetastic.

If you win the fight, Bayonetta doesn’t have sex with Rodin. Sex is only something that happens if you lose. And yeah, a lot of people would argue that the flirtatious dialogue at the beginning of the scene means that it’s not rape. I mean, how can it be rape if she flirted with him, right? But that’s just victim-blaming of the worst sort. I point again to the fact that Bayonetta only has sex with Rodin if she loses; if sex can only happen with violence, that looks an awful lot like rape.

And then there’s just the whole way it’s presented. Bayonetta is naked lying face down, trying to cover herself while Rodin smokes a cigarette. All of which really just screams rape to me – especially when you consider that “rape” is (disgustingly) still widely used as a synonym for “defeat” by many gamers.

I hate Bayonetta as a character and all of the hollow, awful stereotypes about female sexuality that she represents, but I still find this sequence utterly repugnant.Yes Bayonetta is presented as in charge and blatant in her sexuality. Yes she is aggressively flirtatious. Yes she dresses provocatively. But she is not “asking for it”. No woman is ever “asking for it”.

This is categorically not what female empowerment looks like.

Maybe Kamiya isn’t a misogynist in the sense of hating women. I really can’t say – I’ve never met the guy, nor am I ever likely to have the chance to. But in terms of being someone who promotes the objectification of women and perpetuates toxic sexist stereotypes? Absolutely he is a misogynist.

Besides, have you seen her character design?

Part two: everything about Bayonetta is wrong

So here’s the image that I decided to work with:

20140615210025!Cereza_Bayonetta_2_renderHoo boy. Looking at this, I’m actually a little terrified of Hideki Kamiya, because Bayonetta isn’t even remotely human. Clearly Kamiya has a fetish for weirdly elongated, rubber-boned snake women. Literally every part of her body is wrong.

Let’s start with the easy part. Heads:

Bayonetta-heads

Bayonetta is a whopping nine heads tall. So if you at Bayonetta and think “wow, her head looks really small”, that’s because it’s weirdly tiny. The average human is 7 heads tall, with half a head variance on either side. That’s an extra two heads of height!

Furthermore, Bayonetta’s legs by themselves are 6 heads tall. So just like Hyung Tae Kim’s anatomy nightmares, you could put Bayonetta’s head on just her legs and it would be as tall as a real human. Brr. (I did try to draw that, by the way, but it wasn’t nearly as funny as I’d hoped.)

When doing redraws, parsing the anatomy is usually pretty simple. But with Bayonetta, I found myself stumped and had to resort to drawing part of her skeleton to figure out what was going on:

Bayonetta-skeleton

Oh god. My head hurts.

Looking at this, about the only thing that I can give Bayonetta’s creators for is that she does, at least, have a ribcage and internal organs. However, Bayonetta’s spine is just ridiculous – it’s bent at a 130 degree angle there. And sure, there are contortionists out there who can sit on their own heads, but even they can’t fold their spine sharply in half in the middle.

There’s also this confusing thing that happens in order to elongate Bayonetta’s breasts (we’ll come back to that in a second) that results in her having the world’s longest sternum. The average human sternum is 17cm (6.69 inches) – and is significantly shorter in women. But despite spending way too much time trying to figure out a base for an estimate, all I can say is that her sternum is just too long, okay?

Her arms are also weirdly messed up:

Bayonetta-boobs-elbow

 

To be honest, I don’t know what the fuck is happening with her right arm, other than her shoulder is completely dislocated. I can partially dislocate one of my shoulders (on purpose) and I still can’t reach backwards that far. As for the rest of her arm… Man, I don’t know. I mean, it looks like it might be correct? But the foreshortening combined with the extreme anatomy distortion makes it really hard to tell.

As for her left arm, it’s waaaay hyper-extended. Now I’ll admit that it’s actually not beyond the realm of anatomical possibility – I have a few friends with hyper-bendy elbows and they like to squick me out by bending them freakily. (Stop it bendy friends!) But a choice was clearly made to hyper extend the arm so that the foreshortened hand wouldn’t block the view of her breasts, which. Okay. I guess most dudes don’t share my squick over elbow hyper-extension, but it still strikes me as really weird.

And her breasts! (I said I’d come back to those…) I can’t get over how weird and elongated they are. They look like baguettes stapled to her torso and… just… what? What’s up with that? I mean, when’s the last time you heard a guy say “hey, look at the sub buns on that chick”? Never, that’s when. Because normal humans fetishize round breasts. Melons. Basketballs. Not baguettes.

But the thing I find most disconcerting of all is Bayonetta’s pelvis:

Bayonetta-pelvis

When I was drawing her skeleton, I was weirded out by how tall Bayonetta’s pelvis is. It just seemed out of proportion, and way too large in comparison to the ribcage. So I drew a perspective box around the pelvis, duplicated the layer, rotated it, and stuck it on top of the ribcage. And her ribcage is only a tiiiny bit bigger than her pelvis, which is just about a million kinds of wrong:
Human-SkeletonThe pelvis on this (real, not fake) skeleton is slightly more than HALF the height of the ribcage. It’s true that there is an awful lot of variance in the length of the human ribcage, but we’re not talking anywhere near enough variance to make Bayonetta’s freaky pelvis remotely plausible.

All of which leaves me incredibly stymied. Normally this is the point where I’d try to correct everything and redraw the figure over the original art with normal human proportions. But in this instance, I’ll concede defeat because really – what’s the point? When literally everything about Bayonetta is wrong, it seems easier to just point you to photos of Bayonetta cosplayers. (Who, it’s worth noting, still manage to be very sexy despite their handicap of having an “ordinary” human skeleton.)

Concluding thoughts

There’s a legal concept that I find useful in this situation – namely, fruit of the poison tree. Basically, Bayonetta is not an empowering feminist figure, because everything that she is has been tainted by the deeply-held misogyny of her creators. At no point does Bayonetta have any real agency over her sexuality because she is entirely fictional. Rather than being a celebration of female sexuality, Bayonetta is a shallow stereotype constructed out of sexist stereotypes and objectification who only serves as a mirror for the misogynist views of the people who designed her.