Hey, folks. I’ve been working for, like, the last week on a numbers post looking at older M:TG Ravnica art and comparing the trends in art then (a couple years ago) to now (very recently, with M:TG Khans). (Spoiler alert: Ravnica’s art is really terrible).
And look, it’s super laborious. I’ve already sunk 6 hours into this thing with analyzing art and grabbing images and photoshopping them and writing an outline… and I’ve got probably another 2 or 3 of writing to go. In fact, here’s an image that I put together for the post:
Totally awesome, right?
Anyway, the post will happen. I might wind up splitting it? We’ll see. I was trying hard to get it done for this week, but KickStarter yannow? It’s hard to get anything done when you’re running one of those.
You guys, I promise that this is the best anime/Final Fantasy/social-justice/feminism campaign setting sourcebook ever. You could totally use this to play a social justice cyborg ninja wizard who runs around getting into laser battles with giant mechs if you wanted. People might question your taste, but you could still do it!
Plus there’s going to be system conversions if it funds! The book will include hacks of The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System and Dogs in the Vineyard. There will also be PDF mini-supplements for use with Fate, Heroine, and a hack of Dungeon World/Numenera!
And it’s going to be ridiculously pretty! So very very pretty, because Claudia Cangini is amazing!
As of the time of this post, we only need $1046 CAD to reach the goal, which – for you non-Canadians – is roughly equivalent to three squirrels and a mountie. Or the Maple Leafs.
[ETA: The name of the forum poster who assisted Steffie de Vaan with the Laibon is Jacob Middleton.]
Coincidentally, The Ruined Empire (62% funded with 11 days to go!) isn’t the only thing that I’ve written currently on KickStarter. I was also part of the team that wrote for V20 Dark Ages – the new edition of Dark Ages: Vampire. V20DA is totally killing it on KickStarter, which makes me happy because it’s seriously one of the most social justice-oriented game projects I’ve seen come out of the game world in the last few years.
Seriously, look at this art. LOOK AT IT.
Look at this! Look at it! Look at all those awesome ladies and people of color! That’s doing it right folks! Take that, people who hate SJWs making games!
So because I want to talk about something that’s not totally depressing, I wanted to peel back the curtain a bit and demonstrate what real progressive game development looks like. To that end, I asked some people on the people on the very large and very awesome team of writers to comment on they approached the work. (I’ll be chipping in my two cents with them as well.) The things I asked them to address were:
What section(s) they wrote
Their thoughts on how the previous edition did re: the section(s) they wrote
Their thoughts going into the writing process, as well as reasons behind changes they made to lore/tone in their sections from the previous edition
This post got a bit long because I couldn’t bear to cut down any of the stuff that was sent to me! It’s all so good! So I’ve formatted this for clarity as best as I can.
Neall Raemonn Price on the Malkavians and mental illness
* What section(s) you wrote
I wrote the section on Derangements and Dementation, the Malkavian signature Discipline. David Hill did Malkavians. (I also wrote Baali, Salubri, and their respective Disciplines, but that’s not really germane to the topic)
* Your thoughts on how the previous edition did re: the section(s) you wrote
Malkavians have a very long and tortured history in Masquerade, especially in the LARP community. Because their clan flaw involves an automatic and severe Derangement, that sort of subsumes their character concept, no matter what it is. Everyone’s heard about the fishmalk – the Malkavian who carries around a fish, or hits the prince with the fish, or thinks the fish is Caine, or whatever. Vampire was originally conceived as a horror game, so each vampire clan sort of embodies a particular fearful image – and mental illness is frightening. The vast majority of mentally ill folks aren’t violent, yet there’s this incredible stigma and lack of understanding and acceptance. With that comes the fear of violence, and Malkavians, for good or ill, tap into that fear.
The previous Dark Ages raised the idea that if you were visibly mentally ill in the High Middle Ages – meaning schizophrenic, because both the modern and Dark Ages lines generally portrayed Malkavians as either schizophrenic or somewhere deep on the autistic spectrum – you were probably possessed by demons, which wasn’t a truism everywhere.
Adding to that, Derangements were never precisely fun to play around with. Not that mental illness should exactly be fun, but if you’re trying to portray characters with struggles in their lives, grappling with those elements should be part of the game.
* Your thoughts going into writing your stuff and reasons behind changes of lore/tone/whatevs from previous edition.
In a lot of the media I consume, mental illness is either frightening or it’s a punching bag for mockery. Early on in the writing process, we decided that we wanted to break from the classic portrayal of Malkavians and Derangements. We decided this for a lot of reasons: firstly, because we wanted to move away from the fishmalk in the direction that Revised and V20 started. Secondly, it was always jarring to see the list of Dark Ages Derangements and see stuff like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Schizophrenia, Fugue…
People in the Dark Ages didn’t have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. They had what we’d now characterize as those tendencies, but medical science at the time had zero context whatsoever for that behavior, and we felt that it introduced an unnecessarily modern angle into a period game. Even when you’re talking about a time and a place, you have to approach things from a modern angle, because players (and writers) don’t always have the necessary scholarship to view things from a medieval mindset. Nor do we really want to. We’re talking about eight hundred years of change, and even for a vampire, that’s a long time.
So we went at Derangements from a medieval mindset, but with an eye towards being respectful, and making them play at the game table. Derangements – and fundamentally, mental illness – can be something your character has and deals with, but only rarely should be the whole of that character, even for Malkavians. Because of the global focus of DA:V20, I went with a sort of “greatest hits” of medieval causes for illness. Demonic possession, angelic communion, blessed by the gods, cursed by the gods, humour imbalance. They don’t map to modern illnesses or conditions – they instead reflect what was the best guess of scholars and doctors and priests at the time.
Dementation was a slightly different case, built around inflicting “madness” to victims. I tried, instead, to rebuild the Discipline around the Derangements themselves, and around being a Malkavian at higher levels – since realistically, that’s who’d have the Discipline.
Steffie de Vaan on not writing the Laibon (African vampires) as a monolith
When David asked me to write the Laibon for V20 Dark Ages, we knew from the start that we wanted to split them into two or three bloodlines. After all, ‘Laibon’ is the name for African vampires as a whole, so having a ‘bloodline: Laibon’ is the same as ‘bloodline: Cainite’ – it lumps a lot of different people in under the same (mis)nomer. Plus Africa is a preeeetty big place and we felt it warranted more than one kind of vampire. So I picked up my copy of Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom (KotEK) to find three legacies in there and translate them to bloodlines. KotEK comes with its own setting and system though, and there was simply no way to do that justice in the space we had. So I re-shelved the book and started from scratch.
The first decision I made for the Dark Ages Laibon is that I did not want them to be Cainite bloodlines. I wanted them to be indigenous African vampires, distinct from the European and Middle-Eastern Cainites. I racked my brain for information on Africa and discovered that my European education had been sorely lacking in that department. Which threw me for a loop, because how was I going to find a voice for the Laibon if I didn’t know anything about their home? That’s when I realized that I was searching in the wrong place. I didn’t have to look for *my* voice – I needed to listen to African voices. I began researching African vampire myths and found three that looked like they’d make great vampire archetypes (actually, I found more than three, but that was the extent of the room we had). Then I worked backwards, in a way, thinking: “what kind of creature would have inspired mortals to tell this particular story.” I used online resources to get the right setting for them too, though googling i.e. ‘Ghana in 1242’ didn’t yield much. I particularly made sure to stay as true to the original myth as possible, and give the Laibon strong voices and unique origin stories.
When the Ramanga, Impundulu and Bonsam were finished, we posted them on the open development blog. There were a lot of responses, but the ones that stood out most were from Jacob Middleton, a poster who said we painted Africa as one homogeneous continent without doing justice to African culture. That hurt, because doing justice to African culture had been a main focus in writing the new Laibon. I’d worked hard on that and I was still accused of ignorance. I put that feeling aside though, and asked the poster to help me make the Laibon better. That’s what you do when people confront you with your own ignorance. First you try to educate yourself (start with google) and if that doesn’t work, you ask someone to teach you. Fortunately he was really patient and knowledgeable, and offered more information about medieval Africa than I could ever fit into three Laibon (though if we ever do a Laibon stretch goal or supplement, I’m ready to go!). The Laibon are better for it, too. Not only did we use African myth to inspire the Laibon, we used a (more) accurate depiction of medieval Africa to place them in. Sometimes it pays to shut up and listen to voices other than your own.
I’m happy with the new Laibon. We worked hard on them and I think we did a great job in the time we had. Still, I’m hoping that in a few years from now, people will read them and go “man, I can’t believe she fell into that trope.” Because if they do, that might hurt my pride a little, but it also means that as a whole we’ve become more inclusive and more sensitive. That’s a good thing.
Renee Knipe on trans inclusiveness and the Tzimisce
So I got to write a bunch of fun stuff for V20: Dark Ages. Most prominently, the Tzimisce, but also the Gargoyles and Anda, associated Disciplines, some Roads, and a bunch of the setting material.
The Tzimisce were special because it was an opportunity to approach something I have a real issue with in gaming (and pop culture in general): The treatment and portrayal of transgender people. We’ve seem some decent depictions of late, particularly from the likes of Paizo, but with only one or two exceptions, trans* folks – when they’re represented at all – are often depicted in a way familiar and convenient to cis people. A way that’s extremely othering to trans* people. Usually it involves trotting out birth names, blatant misgendering, subtle but troublesome understandings of sex and gender, lazy stereotyping, and so on.
Heck, you can see some of this if you Google “Sascha Vykos” right now. Sascha is arguably the most famous Tzimisce in all of Vampire, and the first line on whitewolfwikia trots out their former name. Maybe this was necessary, given that Sascha was known by both names at different points in canon, but it’s nonetheless reminiscent of the way media and popular culture likes to think about trans* people. A manner which exemplifies the banal dehumanization of trans* people we’ve accepted into our general way of thinking. It doesn’t help that Sascha is pretty much the monster of monsters in Vampire lore…their aren’t many who can top them for sheer grotesqueness and psychopathy. That, as it turns out, is another trope…going back to at least Psycho, and familiar to anyone who’s seen Sleepaway Camp, Silence of the Lambs, pretty much any television police procedural (NCIS probably has the grossest depiction I can think of), any film “based” on Ed Gein, and countless, countless others. In a pop culture nutshell, trans* people are either monsters, victims, or both. And to be frank, the vast majority of this is reserved for trans* women (because in any social calculus, women always come out “less than”, though to what degree this is true simply because people refuse to acknowledge the existence of non-binary people, I couldn’t say). That’s something I wanted to address, and thanks to mighty, mighty Vicissitude, I had a perfect opportunity.
Most of what I wrote regarding Caltuna and her journey doesn’t end up in the book. I wasn’t working on the fiction, but I did write up a couple thousand words as a sort of guide for those who were handling the fiction. You can see it here, actually:
– Never refer to her as anything but “she” and “her”, even when discussing the pre-transition part of her life (which is most of what I wrote).
– Never refer to her by anything but her chosen name.
– Ensure sure she is neither psychopath nor victim (while still being tough and good vampire material).
– Give her an authentic point of view.
It’s a rough piece of writing; it was never intended to be polished, or even seen outside the development team. But there it is, and I think it stands well as an example of how to write trans* characters respectfully. It wasn’t easy, even for me…there was a lot of language I couldn’t use due to it being a period piece, but it was totally worth the effort and I hope others can see it and take heed. In truth, there are a lot of good ways to write trans* characters, and not all of them will always be able to follow the rules I set for myself (nor should they). But if you’re going to fall back on misgendering or using their “old name”, make them a murderer or a murder victim or a prostitute, there should be a good reason for it. The lazy tropes we’ve been condition to accept, when used in an unconsidered manner, only allow us to see trans* people as objects or monsters – a narrative we’ve been all too willing to accept thus far, despite its complete lack of credibility.
My thoughts on Lasombra, Setites, and the whitewashing of Europe
One of the things that excited me most about being part of this project was the chance to portray medieval Europe as the fantastically diverse place that it actually was, instead of the whitewashed white-Christians-only version that is the vision that most people have today when they think of Europe in medieval times. So my choices of what to write were very much informed by that, as well as the fact that I had a chance to fix some specific things that had irked me.
With the Lasombra, I wanted to make the Muslim Kindred much more front-and-center because while much of Europe was in the “Dark Ages”, the Islamic kingdoms of Spain were still very much a power. Scholars from all over the world came to take part in the flowering of art and academics that took place there, and at the point that the book is set at, the final elimination of Muslims from Iberia wouldn’t take place for more than 250 years. If anything, I felt they deserved top billing over their Christian clanmates from comparatively backward parts of Europe!
I also took on the Setites, because there were honestly so many things that bothered me about them. Setites are evil hedonists who want to destroy civilization because mumble mumble evil! And they worship Set, but their Clan Discipline is all about snakes even though Set was totally not about snakes because I honestly have no idea. Christian symbolism? All of which, really bothered me. Because there are a lot of really great, totally historically accurate reasons why Setites would totally hate European civilization and try to knock that shit down.
Like the fact that Set totally wasn’t an evil god… until the Ptolemies took over Egypt and made him that way. And then destroyed the native Egyptian religion completely by about the 5th century. Yep. And then Egypt kept getting invaded by other European powers. That’s bound to make you pretty bitter.
Serpentis was also a totally easy fix with only a modicum of reading about Egyptian mythology. Before the Ptolemaic influence on the Set cult, one of Set’s primary functions was to protect Ra as he sailed through the Underworld each night by fighting off Apep, the serpent of Chaos. Boom! There’s the snake connection right there! A totally easy fix that turned the Setites from a totally boring collection of cartoonishly evil stereotypes to a group of antagonist with rich history and compelling motives.
Lastly, I jumped at the chance to re-write the Road of Heaven for much the same reasons as I wanted to work on the Lasombra and Setites. I mean, This sort of whitewashing makes even less sense when you are writing about Vampires, because you’re going to have a ton of anachronistic vampires who definitely are not Christian, and who would see Christianity as the new kid on the block, thanks.
So now the new Road of Heaven includes Christianity and Islam and Judaism (remember them? they were totally there!), as well as differing strains of paganism. As I cracked in an email to David, medieval Europe wasn’t some wacky sitcom called Everybody Loves Abraham.
David Hill on picking teams, revising nostalgic properties, and SJW-friendliness
Whenever I do an all-call, and whenever I’ve been part of an all-call in the past for a roleplaying game project, I tend to see significantly less diversity than we end up seeing in final products. And let’s be honest: we could all use a little more diversity in final products.
The problem I run into the most is, if a designer isn’t the stereotype (straight, white, cis male), they’re very likely to send a pitch that self-deprecates, apologizes, points out a lack of experience, or otherwise downplays its viability. And we’re all human. So if a writer sends me a submission and says, “I’m a really terrible writer, but I’d like you to consider my work,” I’m not likely to spend my valuable time on it. After all, I don’t want to hire terrible writers, right? But this becomes a problem that perpetuates itself.
In hard numbers, I usually see about 5 women to every 95 men in a standard all-call. That’s just one metric, but that doesn’t bode well. So, with V20 Dark Ages, I explicitly made all calls looking for groups I don’t often see. I just flat-out said, “I’m looking for women writers” among other things. I also explained what I was looking for, and the kinds of things I don’t really want to see (like the aforementioned self-deprecation). This time, I got about 150 women’s submissions (and about twenty guys who didn’t read the submission guidelines or just flat-out disregarded them).
This let me bring in a lot of new talent in the field, as well as bringing in some people who had only worked in independent circles in the past. I think the book is significantly better for it.
I think it’s important to stick with what’s best for the product. But there’s the rub, you have to understand what you want out of the product, and your priorities. Diversity in V20 Dark Ages is less a social justice issue for me, and more just a flat-out intellectual honesty thing. I’m so tired of seeing white-washed, romanticized, Victorian concepts of the Middle Ages in games and fiction. Some people dig that. I don’t. So, I wanted to present something that right to me. There was a lot of fascinating diversity in that time period, so I wanted to touch on it.
Most of the changes we made were little design experiments, like fussing with Koldunic Sorcery. This was stuff I field tested by sharing with the public (as the whole document is currently available for free on the Kickstarter page). We also did a couple of logical changes. For example, the “Giovanni” clan has always had a bit of a controversial name with anyone familiar with the Italian language and culture. One of our writers, the wonderful Giulia Barbano, proposed we change it to Giovani, which actually has a really cool etymology now and makes sense within that cultural context.
As far as nostalgia goes, nostalgia is a feeling. So I made design choices that weren’t necessarily identical to the originals everywhere, but I did focus on trying to evoke the same feelings. That’s always important to me.
Listen. Listen. Listen. I hired diverse voices for their diverse views and backgrounds. I could have very easily shouted over them and not paid attention to the things they had to say and the choices they wanted to make. But even when I disagreed with a choice, I listened and took it to heart. I tried to put together why they thought that way. And if I couldn’t understand, I just asked. The fact is, if you’re trying to hire diversity, that’s part of the inherent value in your team. So from both business and artistic standpoints, it’s important to grab onto that value and not throw it away.
There’s a weird thing with leadership and credibility from a place of privilege. I’m a straight white cis dude, basically. Throw in my blonde hair and you basically have a cultural winning lottery ticket, right? I mean, contextually that’s not always true. Sure, I grew up absurdly poor. Sure, I grew up around mental illness all my life. But the thing is, people are always going to take me a little more seriously and give me a little more inherent credibility than most other people in the world. And like Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. So instead of just ignoring that fact or denying it, I try to be mindful of when it can hurt people both on my team and off, and I try to use my privilege for the change I want. I have the privilege of making hiring decisions. So I use that privilege to be that change. I have the privilege of a pulpit people pay attention to. So I try to present my values in a way that people will be excited to engage with.
Lastly, why diverse development teams matter from Tristan Tarwater
It was a pleasure watching and reading as the developers picked over history and etymology as they tried to reconstruct a darker but more genuine version of the Dark Ages. People went in with the intent to research and willing to learn, and were genuinely exited to read about the actual borders of countries, trade routes that connected regions, cultures and religions. As a person of color and a woman, I was proud to be able to talk about Dark Ages at conventions to gamers of all backgrounds and see their eyes light up as we said yes, finally, the truth. PLUS VAMPIRES. HA!
[Thanks for sticking with me if you made it this far, and thanks to David Hill for allowing me to solicit content for this post. And if what you read here interests you, consider backing my KickStarter for the Ruined Empire, which is also social-justice-oriented?]
[This is not a paid post for a lot of reasons. The tl;dr is that as far as my work that I will cite here, I’ve been paid for some of it, and the rest was the result of time that I donated to local organizations. I didn’t feel right “double dipping”, as it were. Not to mention that with #GamerGate still incomprehensibly a thing, I want to avoid anything that even resembles being a “professional victim”. That said, if you want to support me in doing this kind of work, becoming a patron would certainly help.]
The ongoing climate of fear, intimidation, and harassment sparked by GG has certainly put gaming’s problem with women in stark relief. If there can be said to be any good that has come of GooberGate, it is that gamers who have previously tried to “stay neutral” in such debates are realizing that there is no such thing as “neutrality” when it comes to hate movements.
So I felt like this would be a good time to talk about anti-harassment policies, because working to implement harassment policies is a concrete step that can be taken to make women feel safer at conferences and other large events.
First: What is an anti-harassment policy and why should our event have one?
An anti-harassment policy is a policy that clearly spells out types of behavior that will not be permitted, steps that event attendees can take to report harassment, and how the policy will be enforced. Anti-harassment policies are a key part of creating a safe environment, because they help to set an expectation that harassment is an issue that will be taken seriously by event organizers.
Pelgrane Press has an official anti-harassment policy for 13th Age events that I was paid to work on, along with Ash Law. I quite like this as an example of a policy that not only spells out inappropriate behavior but also spells out the things that event attendees should be able to expect as part of a positive and open gaming environment.
Anti-harassment policies don’t have to be limited to geek events, however. They can, and should!, be written for pretty much any kind of volunteer-run organization. After working on the 13th Age policy, I helped to adapt some of that language in the implementation of an anti-harassment policy for a local amateur theater company that I am a part of.
Third: How do I notify attendees of an anti-harassment policy?
Well, personally I’m a huge fan the approach that New York ComicCon took:
GIANT-ASS VERY READABLE SIGNS.
Your organization might not have the budget for such large signage, but prominently placed, clearly worded signage is definitely the way to go. At the very minimum, the anti-harassment policy should be posted in a high-visibility area near your event’s registration area and outside each entrance to the dealer’s hall, if you are running an event that has one. A lot of harassment actually takes place in convention dealer halls and is largely directed at cosplayers.
Which is why, if you are running an event that participants are likely to attend in costume, you should also consider posting “cosplay is not consent” posters in high traffic areas of your event space.
Lastly, it can be very difficult for convention staff to know how to handle harassment complaints in the moment, especially as many gaming and other geekdom conventions are at least partially staffed by volunteers. However, it is critical that convention staff know how to conduct themselves when approached with a harassment complaint, so as to avoid making an already terrible situation even worse.
So here is an example of a concise document that can be used to train staff in how to talk to someone bringing forward a harassment complaint, as well as guidelines for how to responsibly take action. This was something that I wrote for that same local theater company, but could easily be adapted to fit the needs of a conference or convention.
Fourth: what can I do to push event organizers to implement harassment policies?
If there’s an event you’d like to attend that doesn’t have an anti-harassment policy, contact the event organizers directly and express your concern about the lack of a policy. Most of the time, event organizers who are running events without anti-harassment policies aren’t doing so out of malice. The problem of convention harassment is something that has pretty much always existed, but been kept silent.
For instance – after I approached GenCon organizers about my concern regarding their lack of a policy and related my experience of being harassed at GenCon, GenCon subsequently implemented an anti-harassment policy, which was even mentioned in the opening ceremonies at the beginning of the convention. (They could still do better with signage, but they’re working on it, which is hugely encouraging.)
It can be a bit scary broaching such a topic, but remember that it is in the best interests of event organizers to ensure that their attendees feel safe and welcome.
Lastly, should you be blessed enough to possess sufficient status within your community to be invited as a panelist or guest of honor at a convention, please strongly consider following John Scalzi’s example in refusing to attend events without an anti-harassment policy. By setting such an example, you can make things better for everyone.
 Either you side with the people being abused, or you side with their abusers. The idea of this as a conflict with opposing “sides” is victim-blaming of the worst sort, because it makes speaking out against abuse somehow morally equivalent with ACTUALLY ABUSING PEOPLE.
Hey, folks. So you’ll notice that there haven’t been any freebie linkspams for… a while. And that’s pretty much a direct result of #GamerGate, because everything that I would link to could be summarized as TL;DR HUMANS ARE AWFUL. Not to mention that it is not possible to put enough trigger warnings on even the not-terrible coverage of GG issues.
I’ve also been having a hard time finding the bandwidth to write here, despite the abundance of topics that I want to write about. I have friends that I want to interview about their positive work in games, there’s more analysis I want to do of the changing trends in Magic: The Gathering art direction, I’d like to noodle about some thoughts inspired by recent game projects on the intersection between social justice and game design. I mean, I have a fucking Patreon – you’d think it would be easier to find space to write here when I am literally getting paid to blog about the things that I am passionate about.
But friends, it’s been so hard.
We get told “just make games” or “just make art” like it’s supposed to be some kind of panacea. Like “just making games” will enable me to rise above the bullshit and transcend the awful with sheer awesome. And honestly, I would love, LOVE for that to be the solution. Nothing would please me more than being able to post a clever “haters gonna hate” meme and move on with my life.
But how can I “just make games” for a hobby that wants me to stop existing?
How can I “just make games” when “just making games” requires me to engage with a community that I don’t want my daughter to be a part of, and that I will do my best to hide her from when she is old enough to venture into online spaces. (Which, thankfully, is many years away yet.)
How can I “just make games” when hate and terror campaigns created to scare women out of gaming are triggering my anxiety and making it hard for me to just function day-to-day, let alone “just make games”.
For those of you who have never had to deal with anxiety, it’s fucking exhausting. And GG makes it literally impossible to know where the line is between “shut up brain, you’re being stupid again” and reasonable fucking caution.
Is enabling 2-factor authentication on my accounts needless paranoia, or reasonable caution? Who the fuck knows? When a co-worker discovered my blog, was I being an over-reacting paranoid weirdo when I asked him not to link it to a bunch of trolls? Or was I justified? Fuck if I know! When my name pops up on a forum that is well-known as a haven for misogynist tabletop gamers and I am called an “extremist”, am I making mountains out of molehills when that site’s presence in my blog’s referral links for the last month causes a vague, generalized dread whenever I check my site stats? Or is this something that I need to worry about?
I DON’T FUCKING KNOW ANYMORE.
People who say “it’s just on the internet” are not only completely out of touch with the reality of how modern life works, but they’re ignoring the real mental health consequences of these cyber harassment mobs. You don’t have to be directly targeted by them, either. Just the knowledge that they exist is a visceral threat. And when these mobs attack women that you respect, admire, and look up to – there’s a certain sense of inevitability. If I continue to walk down this path, it’s hard not to believe that this is what the future holds for me.
That is terrifying.
And it keeps me from doing the fucking work that needs to get done in order to “just make games”.
I have a KickStarter I need to be promoting more. That I’m proud of! Because it’s fucking awesome! And I have done some promotion work, but I’ve been chasing after “safe” audiences, because it’s not as worry-inducing as chasing potentially-hostile promotion sources for an explicitly social-justice-oriented game product, and hoping that the stats on funding and KickStarter are accurate and that momentum will get me over my funding goal.
The fear, the anxiety, the need to detox and spend time doing and thinking about things that aren’t games – it all gets in the way of “just making games”.
And to those who say that I’m overreacting, that it’s all in my head, that it’s not a big deal, that “no one’s died yet” – that’s bullshit. At least one trans game dev, Kate von Roeder has committed suicide, and a mass shooting threat has forced Anita Sarkeesian to cancel a talk when the local law enforcement was unwilling to prevent attendees from bringing concealed weapons.
Let’s not forget that it was only several months ago that the Isla Vista shooter went on a killing spree after months of escalating online rhetoric about how much he despised and wanted to kill women. And it was nearly twenty-five years ago that the Montreal massacre resulted in the deaths of fourteen female engineering students at the hands of a man who blamed feminists for ruining his life.
So yeah, people have died. And more people might die. And that’s what every woman who works in games and is vocal about feminist issues deals with. The knowledge that speaking out comes with consequences, and it is impossible to know how steep those consequences will be.
So where does that leave me? For now, I’m still here. I’m still making games. I’m still blogging. My anxiety means that I’m not able to sustain the level of output that I know I’m capable of when I’m feeling well and am not having active symptoms, but I’m in the process of getting help and am trying not to beat myself up too much. I’m forcing myself to engage in self-care and am doing what I can.
Maybe some day we’ll be at a point where I can “just make games”. But that’s not a future I see arriving any time soon.
 I’ve heard reports of a second trans dev committing suicide, but the Google search results are too toxic for me to face today. So I guess it’s a good thing I’m just a blogger and not a real journalist or something.
[ETA: The officer who murdered Michael Brown was Daren Wilson, not Darren Watts. I am a tremendous moron, and that mistake has been corrected. I deeply apologize for the confusion.]
One of the biggest and, to my mind, best changes to alter the indie tabletop publishing landscape in the last few years is the advent of crowdfunding. Prior to things like KickStarter, publishing even small book projects required a substantial investment, one that might not pay off for the first few months of a new project. That privileged people with the ability to tie up hundreds or even thousands of dollars in dead-tree books for months at a time until they saw a profit.
True story, the first edition of Thou Art But A Warrior that I published cost me about $400 for the initial print run, and I did everything myself. EVERYTHING. Writing, art, layout (that was a mistake – I’m terrible at layout), the only things I had to pay for were printing and shipping. I had a pretty successful debut at GenCon in 2008, for indie values of success that is, but even so it took two and a half months to earn back my investment and start making “profits”, as it were.
Luckily, I could afford to do that. When I published the first edition of TABAW, I was a DINK living in an apartment with no significant ongoing expenses. I had the financial ability to write off that $400 knowing that it would come out in the wash. Eventually. Probably.
Now obviously, that sort of publishing landscape is going to privilege a certain class of creator, and serve as a bar to entry to other classes of creators.
So KickStarter was revolutionary, in that it allowed designers to make games without the painful initial investment. It also took away the financial worries behind publishing a new project. Was this going to be a flop? What if no one bought it? What would you do with 200 copies of a game no one wanted? With KickStarter-style crowdfunding, you can know if your project isn’t commercially viable before sinking massive funds into it, which again is a huge, huge deal for people who want to make games but can’t afford to waste money on a failure.
(Sidebar: Patreon has been even more revolutionary in lowering the barrier to publishing paid content, because the ability to get funding on an ongoing basis for creating a stream of content is really just the best and so much less stressful than project-based platforms like KickStarter. And I think it’s not a coincidence that I’m seeing more women and PoC and queer designers putting out work since Patreon became a thing, but that is maybe a post for another time.)
The success of KickStarter has spawned a legion of crowdfunding platforms, however some of KickStarter’s biggest competitors have not adhered to KickStarter’s high ethical standards. So since ethics in gaming seems to be “a thing” right now, I thought I’d provide a publisher’s-eye view of the ethical concerns behind my decision to switch to KickStarter for my most recent crowdfunding campaign.
The ethical quandaries inherent in running a crowdfunding platform
The thing about KickStarter and other crowdfunding platforms is that they make money on each campaign that funds successfully. So as a business, it’s in their best interest to see lots of campaigns funding successfully so as to make lots of money. However, the fact that KickStarter and similar funding platforms are what is enabling the projects being funded to exist adds an interesting ethical wrinkle. KickStarter is not itself a publisher or creator, but it profits from the works that are created through their campaigns.
Ergo, there’s a balance that has to be struck when considering projects – where does a crowdfunding platform draw the line of content they won’t publish, or do they even draw one at all? Being willing to deny or shut down campaigns for projects that are harmful in some fashion also means turning down potential income.
So how do different crowdfunding companies balance these two concerns? I’m not going to look at every crowdfunding company, because that would be insane. But I thought it would be worth comparing KickStarter and IndieGoGo – the two most popular sites for crowdfunding games right now.
Until very recently, KickStarter’s campaigns were 100% curated – meaning that they had to approve every campaign before it was allowed to go live. So a lot of the worst (ie offensive/harmful) campaigns were simply not allowed to fund on KickStarter.
Even when something truly awful managed to get through the approval process, KickStarter has been willing to shutdown harmful campaigns in clear violation of their ToS, such as in the case of Tentacle Bento – a truly awful game about aliens abducting school girls and sexually assaulting them. Thankfully, KickStarter stepped in and shut that one down. (Though it didn’t stop the game from being produced, depressingly.)
But even more tellingly, KickStarter is also able to admit when they get something wrong. Take this example of a campaign for a PUA manual that instructed men in how to get around clear refusals in order to coerce women to sleep with them. This repugnant manual was at the very least advocating sexual harassment, and at the worst advocating sexual assault. KickStarter staff were alerted to the campaign and were faced with making a decision a mere two hours before the funding deadline and they decided to not shut down the campaign.
However, in the wake of that campaign they repented and wrote this blog post called “We Were Wrong” in which they explained the motives behind their decision and how they got it wrong. They then pledged to donate $25,000 – which was more than the offensive campaign raised in the first place – to RAINN.
Which, you know, kudos. They took it on the chin, admitted they got it wrong, and took action as a result. Which is more than can be said for…
IndieGoGo’s main selling features as a competitor of KickStarter were that they didn’t curate campaigns and that creators have the option to run “flexible funding campaigns”, which means you can choose to keep all of the money you raise even your campaign fails (though the fees for this type of campaign are higher than the all-or-nothing campaigns). And in theory, the lack of curation isn’t a terrible thing, so long as they’re willing to enforce their own ToS, which prohibits: “Bullying, harassing, obscene or pornographic items, sexually oriented or explicit materials or services”.
The problem is that they’re willing to let pretty much anything fly, ToS be damned, because sweet sweet filthy lucre. Take, for example, the case of Tentacle Grape Soda – a truly repugnant campaign for rape-joke-themed grape soda. (Yes really)
Here is a copy of what I sent to IndieGoGo staff when I reported the campaign:
This item promotes rape and sexual harassment through the trivialization of rape. They have a disclaimer at the bottom saying that they don’t support rape, but this is belied by the following:
* their artwork depicts a woman about to be raped by a tentacle in a rather playful light
* the campaign creators FREELY ACKNOWLEDGE that the name of their product is a play on “tentacle rape”
* the campaign includes unused label designs that show women in mild to extreme distress about their impending tentacle rape
* this alternate art is being sold as a premium reward level, allowing the creators to profit off of a graphic depiction of a woman clearly in distress
* their reward levels include not-at-all-veiled rape jokes, such as the $25 Get Graped level or the $6000 A Ton of Grape level.
* the promo descriptions of their reward levels imply that women enjoy and actually look for rape, such as: “$25 – Get Graped – We all know why you’re here and what you really want…”
These are the sort of rape jokes that normalize rape culture and promote the harassment of women. Simply saying “we don’t support rape” DOES NOT obviate the fact that this campaign is seeking to profit on rape jokes at the expense of survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and rape – which continue to be a HUGE problem in the geek community these campaign contributors claim to represent.
There are only 10 days left. Please act quickly to remove this campaign and send the message that Indiegogo will not support creators that promote rape and sexual violence, even as a joke.
Unfortunately, what I got back was a whole lot of boiler plate weasel words. And sure enough, not only did IndieGoGo not remove the campaign, THEY FEATURED IT ON THE FRONT PAGE TWO DAYS LATER. So not only was IndieGoGo NOT willing to enforce their own ToS, but they were totally okay with officially endorsing a rape-joke-themed-product! WOO! RAPE JOKE SODA! DRINK UP EVERYONE!
But, guys, guys! It’s okay, because Tentacle Grape Soda totally does not support rape:
Tentacle Grape Soda does not support rape
Rape is a serious subject. The makers of Tentacle Grape (Cosplay Deviants, LLC) do not, in any way, shape, or form condone the despicable act of violence towards women. While we are open minded about the nature of sexual relationships and respect the variety of ways that people choose to express these things, we do not (and never have) supported the idea of unwilling participation… the difference between fantasy and flagrant violence.
That said, Tentacle Grape is a play on the phrase “tentacle rape” – a staple in popular Japanese animated pornography aka “hentai.” The facts are these:
The drink is a parody of a parody. (A play on words based on a fictional animated sexual cliché.)
The drink doesn’t promote an act of violence – it mainstreams a phrase that already exists in a popular adult subculture.
It’s a cartoon image. No actual schoolgirls were assaulted, hurt or violated in the creation of the soft drink. In fact our Mascot Murasaki is quite happy in ALL images of her and her tentacle companion.
There have not been, to date, any reported cases of tentacles raping women that we know of. *
While we respect (and agree with) the firm stance opposing sexual violence, we feel strongly that Tentacle Grape soda does not condone this unspeakable act.
*We reserve the right to revoke this bullet point in the event of an impending alien invasion… just in case
Oh, yes, of course. Us awful feminists are just being hysterical and over-sensitive again for thinking that rape jokes – even tentacle rape jokes – shouldn’t fucking be mainstreamed.
And of course the campaign succeeded +$8000 and I hated life and was totally not surprised when I found out later that they’d initially tried to fund on KickStarter, only KickStarter didn’t approve the campaign and they noped on over to IndieGoGo, because IGG is awful. The end.
All of which is why I switched to using KickStarter for my most recent campaign, because seriously. Fuck those guys.
But hey, at least IndieGoGo isn’t GoFundMe
As bad as IGG is, at least it can’t compete with GoFundMe for the crown of The Biggest Asshoe of Crowdfunding Sites. Because GoFundMe, among many other dubious decisions lately, has the distinction of hosting a campaign to give money to Daren Wilson – the #Ferguson cop that murdered Michael Brown. And not only did they not shut the campaign down, but they actually issued a Cease and Desist to Color Lines – an advocacy organization that was pressuring GoFundMe to honor their own fucking ToS and shut down the campaign.
So congratulations, IndieGoGo! You may be willing to profit off of the sale of products that normalize rape jokes and perpetuate rape culture, but at least you’re not literally profiting from the murder of children.
 It astounds me that #GamerGate is still a thing. STILL. Like, Jesus. Don’t any of them actually, you know, play games?
 Dual Income, No Kids
 Although no negative judgement on publishers that prefer and can afford to avoid the crowdfunding model of publishing. It is time-consuming and STRESSFUL, and certainly not how I would like to put out major projects if I had another choice.
 That has since changed, owing to the growth of the platform and number of campaigns. It’s too early as of yet to say if this will have an effect on the quality of campaigns on the site.
Hi, folks! So I haven’t been managing to post freebies very much lately. Some of that has been that I’ve been reluctant to clutter this blog with the toxic negativity of #GamerGate, but another factor was that I was busy putting the finishing touches on a KickStarter campaign. Which launched today!
Do you like gonzo anime? Do you wish your tabletop experience had more cyborgs? Did you ever wish you could play a game where PCs could be ninjas, wizards, and mecha? Then this is totally the sourcebook for you.
Do you like social justice?: Did you ever want to play in a setting that is social-justice focused, that critically examines imperialism, income inequality, and human trafficking? (And really, who hasn’t?) Cool, ’cause I’ve totally got you covered.
The Ruined Empire was originally supposed to be a supplement for Tenra Bansho Zero, but when that fell through Andy Kitkowski (the guy who translated Tenra into English and ran the English language KickStarter) was kind enough to let me publish on my own. (Plus he answered a ton of questions and really this couldn’t have happened without him.)
Lastly, here is an overview of the setting, just to whet your whistle:
Once the land held many nations, but recent decades have seen two great empires arise, each locked in a struggle to the death for supremacy. In the east lies the Imperial Dynasty of Azumi, the Iron Empire. Expanding ever westward, it absorbs all nations that lie in its path as it hungrily devours the resources of the land to fuel the engines of industry. In the west lies the Jahga Republic of Enlightened Peoples. Expanding eastward, it seeks to bring civilization and self-determination to nations that have not yet embraced the principles of enlightened rule that govern their empire. As it stands, only a handful of resisting nations remain even nominally independent, forming a scant buffer between these two implacably expanding forces.
On Jahga’s doorstep lies the Rinden Kingdom, a provincial monarchy devoted mostly to farms and herd land. Fiercely jealous of its independence, its citizens struggle against an occupying force they have no hope of defeating. The Jahgan Republic’s occupational forces crack down harshly on the rebels whenever they can, frustrated by the resistance of Rinden’s citizens to the improvements that the republic has brought to the small, backward nation. The rebellion, however, seems undaunted in the face of monolithic opposition.
To the Kingdom of Rinden’s east, in the shadow of the Imperial Dynasty of Azumi, lies the Independent State of Horom. Horom is a wealthy trading nation, with cosmopolitan cities full of wonders from all over the world. Nominally ruled by the Grand Council of trade guilds that have ordered affairs in the small nation, the truth is that the Grand Council has no real authority. The Imperial Dynasty is the real power responsible for the day-to-day rule of Horom, with the Grand Council paying handsomely to be permitted to retain the illusion of sovereignty. In this way, the Grand Council retains its dignity and Azumi reaps considerable sums in wealth and resources as tribute.
To the south of Rinden and Horom, bordering both Jahga and Azumi, lies the ruined nation of the Dangoro Trading State. It was here that the armies of the two great empires met for the first time. It was a conflict great and terrible, one that eclipsed in scale anything yet seen in the land. In the end, the cities of Dangoro were left in smoking ruins. Its rulers were dead, its people scattered, either fleeing to the wilderness or to Rinden or Horom as refugees, and only a handful of her citizens remained. The great armies have since retreated, not wanting to spill further blood over a useless wasteland. The land is no longer known as Dangoro, for the people of the region now call it Nil, the Desecrated Lands. The Shinto priesthood has searched for anyone even marginally qualified to rule that would be willing to take on the rule of Nil, but as yet their search has been in vain.
Recently, I got a chance to attend a local pre-release tournament event for the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion – the Khans of Tarkir. And it was… an interesting experience. One I definitely felt was worth blogging about, in light of the fact that I do know people who are trying to get more women into playing M:TG. But also, I felt like it was time to revisit the art in this newest set and see how it breaks down, since it was my feeling that the art for Khans was “better” than art I’ve seen on previous sets.
First: my experience of the pre-release event
I’ve only attended one other pre-release event; it was for Theros last year. That event was in a game store, which was, frankly, terrible. There were 30 people crammed into the back of the store, which was insanely cramped and dimly lit. There was one other woman there, but she was on the opposite end of the room. And of the guys who were there, it was obvious that a large percentage of them were of the awkward persuasion.
But this time, we were both able to go to an event at a local university. Brightly lit classrooms, very spacious, absolutely not confining. Much better right?
Well… it was better in that I didn’t feel any of the low-level threat that I did at my first pre-release. But it was still decidedly uncomfortable walking into the room to realize that the only reason there would be another woman participating is because we came together. Said woman was a friend who has many, many more years experience playing Magic than me, but still – I would have been all alone if we hadn’t picked up the phone and been like, “hey, want to come to a pre-release with us”? And that’s really not a cool feeling.
So combine that with the fact that I was obviously there as a female S.O. to my male husband, and I felt a lot of pressure to do well, which unfortunately didn’t happen. I got very unlucky in that I didn’t have great cards to work with (the good stuff I got wasn’t in the colors I’d registered for), plus I’ll cop to making some mistakes. (It was my second ever tournament, and I’ve only been playing for a year.)
Now factor that in with the fact that I’m a very competitive person who really doesn’t enjoy losing. So my overall poor performance sucked from that standpoint, but also because by not doing well I became That Woman who only does geek things because her husband is doing them and generally sucks. (Stereotype threat is real, and it is zero fun.) And to add insult to injury, the very art on the cards reminded me that this game that I was spending money to play wasn’t for me. So overall, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth.
Which makes it too bad that there aren’t any chapters of the Lady Planeswalker Society anywhere close to where I live, because until the demographics of typical M:TG events change, I doubt I would go to another singles tournament. (I haven’t ruled out the idea of doing 2-headed Giant with my husband.) And yes, I’m fully aware that not going to Magic tournaments because there are no women is a self-reinforcing problem. I get that! But folks, Magic is an expensive hobby, and you can’t force people to spend a lot of time and money on something they don’t even enjoy “because inclusion”. I wish I had ideas on how to fix the gender imbalance, but for now all I have is a big fat shrug. (And the planeswalker my husband pulled in that tournament. Lucky bastard.)
On to the numbers
Veterans of my blog will be familiar with how I do these posts. New readers, the tl;dr is that I look at an entire set of artwork for a given game product and count figures with discernable gender as well as look at a list of set criteria: actively posed versus neutral, fully-clothed figures, and suggestively attired figures. (If you want definitions of these criteria, you can see the original article that I wrote for See Page XX that was the genesis of this blog, examining sexist trends in official game art across all areas of gaming.)
Before breaking down the numbers, my sense of the artwork from Khans of Tarkir was that it did much better than previous sets with the portrayals of women that it did have, it did worse at actually including female characters at all. (Depressingly, those impressions are pretty much borne out if you compare the numbers that I got with the numbers I gathered when I did a breakdown of the M11 core set.)
Only 18% of the figures for which I could discern gender were female! Yikes!
Now things do look a little more encouraging once you actually look at the number breakdown:
Given that women comprise 18% of all figures counted, they’re actually slightly overperforming with regard to active poses. Similarly, they are overperforming when it comes to fully clothed figures, as compared to their male counterparts. And holy cats, suddenly it’s the men who are all sexay instead of the women?
Well… no. Not so much.
Bring in the caveats!
So before we get any further, it’s worth mentioning that out of all of the artwork in Khans, only THREE CHARACTERS are depicted as being both non-human and female. THREE: a female djinn depicted on Riverwheel Aerialists (remember her, because we’re coming back to her in a bit) , the naga Sidisi the Brood Tyrant, and the naga shown on Kheru Spellsnatcher (we’ll revisit her as well).
This becomes significant, because this set featured a much higher percentage of non-human sentient characters, owing to the fact that there are goblins, orcs, djinn, efreet, bird people, dog people, and nagas in addition to vanilla humans in the set’s artwork. The orcs are pretty clearly depicted as male – that one is easy. But the djinn and the efreet are much more ambiguous. I would have been totally willing to believe in them as androgynous races were it not for the lone female djinn – which makes me think that the artists were handed specs that only specified race and not gender and simply defaulted to male, because male is always the default.
As for the bird people and the dog people, an argument could be made that they should be counted as ungendered, since they’re clearly non-humanoid characters. And in general I would agree, except that M:TG artists have had no problem ridiculously gendering inappropriate things in the past by putting tits on things that should not have tits like lions or trees. (And those aren’t even the worst examples I’ve seen – just the worst examples I can remember card names for.)
Furthermore, a depressingly large number of the small number of female figures that were included were depicted as the Smurfettes in a group of otherwise all-male characters:
The Ascendancies (each of the five clans had an Ascendancy card) were particularly bad for this, as they each had large groups of figures, with ooooone woman and the rest dudes. It’s like someone on the art team was giving art revision notes that said “needs women” and the artists changed one figure in each drawing. Which only serves to emphasize even more what an afterthought the inclusion of women is.
Also important to consider is the issue of the seeming saturation of suggestively attired male figures. As I’ve blogged about before, the phenomenon of pantsless/shirtless male figures in fantasy art is something that consistently throws off the results I get when doing these counts. Very often, “primitive”, “savage”, or “bestial” characters will be drawn as either shirtless or pantsless as a shorthand for conveying either non-human or non-civilized status.
So here is an example of some of the male figures that were counted as suggestively attired:
So sure the first is a beefy guy showing a lot of pecs punching a bear(!). But we also have flying bird man with leg-wraps-instead-of-pants, and goblins with no pants, because seriously when do goblins ever wear pants?
The other important thing to mention is that the consistency with which I applied this standard led to some ludicrous results. For example, all of this art was counted as containing suggestively attired male figures:
The criteria was clear – they have clearly discernable gender (or at least secondary sex characteristics consistent with gender in cis people; I’m not going to try to determine the cis-ness of zombies because that way lies madness). Plus none of them are wearing shirts or pants. So despite the fact that none of them are depicted in any way close to even resembling attractiveness, they are counted as suggestively attired. For that matter, the zombie figure on Dutiful Return is counted as suggestive, despite being called out on the card as being furniture. (I only counted it once.)
In fact, here is the only male figure I saw that I would call actually suggestive, because yum:
He’s muscular without being a ridiculous power fantasy or engaging in ridiculously cartoonish violence (ie punching a bear in the face), and his shirtlessness isn’t being used to comment on a “savage”, “bestial”, or “uncivilized” nature. He’s just a super pretty dude practicing some awesome kung fu and being super hawt.
But even then – even then – there is a clear difference in how Shirtless Kung Fu Guy is portrayed from this female naga:
I totally eyerolled when I first saw this card, because this is textbook boobs-and-butt… applied to a snake. I had to look pretty closely to verify that she does not, in fact, have boobs, but the artist still managed to suggest them with the angle of the straps on her chest. Also, she’s got serious snakespine, so it’s a good thing she is in fact a snake, because that’s pretty much the only way that degree of spine bend would be possible. Lastly, check out how she doesn’t have legs but the line of her belly scales, or whatever you’d call them, still implies a thigh and crotch.
Issues of ridiculous objectification of snake-women aside, there’s also the problem that the Kheru Spellsnatcher isn’t actually doing anything. Shirtless Kung Fu Guy is practicing some awesome kung fu, while Kheru Spellsnatcher is just like OH HAI ISN’T THIS A PRETTY LIGHT HOW U DOIN’.
Thankfully, the Kheru Spellsnatcher is the only piece of art that I whole-heartedly disapprove of. And there is art that I really, really like in this set! Certainly, this set has done a lot to address my previous complaint that fully-clothed women don’t get to be awesome, because here are a bunch of fully-clothed ladies being completely awesome.
The first two images are of Narset, whom I might add is one of the mythic rares in the set and either totally rules or totally sucks depending on if it was you that pulled her or the other guy. (I’ve seen her in action and she’s just wrong, folks.) But generally, this set was great for pictures of awesome ladies doing awesome martial arts, of which I am always a fan. Particularly I am always a fan of ass-kicking-grandmothers and think this set could have used 2000% more characters like the Jeskai Elder, because ass-kicking grandmothers make anything better. The end.
There were also women getting to do ridiculously gonzo fantasy awesome things, which has definitely not been the case in previous sets:
Check out the Tuskguard Captain being all HOW DO YOU LIKE MY SWEET-ASS RIDE BTW IT IS A MASTODON. Or the Abzan Guide being all DO NOT MESS WITH ME I CAN RIDE A GIRAFFE. And sure, the Chief of the Edge isn’t so much gonzo, but she sure looks like she’s about 2 seconds from ending a dude.
So it’s great to see art like this, because it shows that Wizards has made strides in how they portray women in the last few years. But looking at other products, like D&D – which is also produced by Wizards – it’s also clear that they could do so much better.
 Seriously I can’t emphasize how much I hate most game stores. They are not welcoming for many women, and often when I enter one I have dudes literally stop and stare at me.
 This, incidentally, is my new favorite card ever and will henceforth be referred to as “Bear Punch”
 The answer is never
 Thank god! Wizards is finally cracking down on putting breasts on reptiles!