Inside industry sexism: Q&A with a former female BioWare employee

First: How this came about

Last month, I wrote a post about the lack of options to play fat female characters in video games. The genesis of that post came from the fact that I’d recently started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic again, and was irritated all over again that you could play a fat male character, but the fattest female character option looked like… well… me. (And despite what internetbros like to tell me, I am definitely not fat.)
In the comments on that post, Leslee commented about one aspect of her experience as a former BioWare employee who had briefly worked on SW:TOR:
I worked at Bioware-Austin on SWTOR, and I know exactly why there is no option for a fat female character. When I worked there (2010-2011) the ratio of male to female employees was so bad that they converted one of the women’s restrooms to a third men’s room to accommodate all of the guys. (I cursed under my breath every time I had to hike all the way across the entire building to use the bathroom.)

There wasn’t a single female artist on the animation team (that I remember).

At the age of 43, I was one of the oldest employees who wasn’t a manager. ALL of upper management was male.

When the majority of a studio’s entire creative team is young (under 30) and male, the potential for realistic representation in female characters is significantly decreased.

Since Leslee volunteered to answer further questions, I contacted her privately to talk about the possibility of doing a Q&A about her experiences – since it’s not often that I get to see an honest account of what it’s like dealing with industry sexism as a female games industry worker. What follows are my questions and her answers about her experiences in the video games industry.

(Full disclosure, I have Leslee’s permission to make this a patron-supported post. In fact, I initially proposed doing this as a freebie.)

Q&A

How long did you/have you worked in the games industry? (Are you currently working in games now, or did you switch fields?)
I spent about a year, total, working in the games industry.  First at Bioware-Austin, then at Stoic.  Both were short-term contract positions that were problematic for a variety of reasons. Sadly, after these experiences I decided that the games industry was not a good career choice for me at this stage of my life and I retired shortly thereafter.
What was it like working in such a male-dominated environment? Were your supervisors supportive of your concerns, or did you feel you would get penalized for voicing your honest opinions?
The honest answer to the first question is: tiring.  I’ve spent the majority of my adult life working in male-dominated fields. I spent 4 years on active duty in the Army. A year doing contract archaeology. 7 years working as a land surveyor and autocad operator.  I’ve been the only woman – in the field or in the office – more times than I can count. So on my first day at Bioware, as I take a tour of the building and see the disproportionate amount of male heads sitting behind monitors (at that time it was at least 90% male), my immediate reaction was, “Ugh. Not again.”  So, what was it like working in such a male-dominated environment?  Annoying, disappointing, tiring, and way too damn familiar.
Were my supervisors supportive of my concerns?  Well, that probably would have depended upon which one of them I asked. During the later part of my time at Bioware I had 3 different bosses at the same time (all men, of course), and it was never entirely clear as to who was my direct supervisor.  Since they frequently contradicted each other, I never bothered to express my concerns to any of them. It didn’t seem worth my time.  There was also the issue of age and experience. I was considerably older than 2 of my 3 supervisors and that factored heavily into my lack of confidence in their managerial abilities.
Did you ever experience harassment or any other sort of gender-based discrimination, or did you hear of instances of it happening within the company? How were such complaints generally handled?
I didn’t experience harassment. I experienced prejudice, bias, condescension and devaluing. I often felt that I was discounted because of my gender.  During my second week on the job a friendly but utterly clueless coworker said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but since you’re a woman, how much experience do you actually have playing video games?” (He was a bit taken aback by my answer of, “…since the Ford administration”.) One coworker became openly hostile to me when he discovered (accidentally) that I was being paid $2 more an hour than he was.  Another, who had initially been friendly and helpful towards me, became distinctly unhelpful and dismissive after discovering that I was married.  One of the programmers refused to respond to any of my email questions, despite the fact that Ineeded his answers in order to complete my own work. I finally had to enlist a sympathetic project manager (also male) to intercede on my behalf and get the information I needed. He literally dragged the programmer over to my desk and forced him to answer my questions!
I was never aware of any overt sexual harassment toward my fellow female coworkers. The few times that I had the opportunity to speak to any of them (usually in the bathroom), our collective attitude was one of long-suffering weariness and exasperation.
Did you ever try to speak out against issues of sexism within the company? If so, how did that go over? If not, why not?
Oh yes. I did not hesitate to point out the fact that I was almost ALWAYS the only woman at every meeting I attended.  Or to speak up whenever I heard someone make a sexist comment at me, or near me.  For the most part, the reaction I got for my overt feminism was begrudging recognition followed by some variation of “That’s just the way it is in the gaming industry.” I think a lot of people knew it was a problem, but they saw it as an intractable one.  To be honest, after the years of blatant sexual harassment that I suffered while working in construction, what I experienced in the gaming industry felt tame by comparison.  It was still annoying as hell, but at least no one was groping my ass.
After BioWare, what was it like jumping into a tiny, bootstrapped startup?
 
After Bioware I briefly worked for Stoic, a game studio created by 3 ex-Bioware employees.  This was also a problematic work environment, but for slightly different reasons. I was the only woman in an office of 6 people, and our “office” was a shack that was part of a historic farmers market located behind a bar. We called it the Goat Shack.  It had no running water, but plenty of dirt, dust and dead roaches. Once we lost electricity for a day because a (probably intoxicated) patron from the bar had accidentally hit the front of our office with their car the night before, taking out our electrical box.

I think that on some level my coworkers derived a sense of pride by working in such “rustic” conditions, as if it was a testament to their frugality as a startup, or to their dedication to the project. But having already spent time in the military, I found these conditions to be less than appealing or conducive to productivity.  When the level of dirt on the floor (and on my desk, computer, etc.) became unbearable I convinced one of the developers to allow me to hire a cleaning service – for which I took responsibility for myself and was reimbursed by the company afterwards.Problems quickly arose at Stoic, due mainly by the fact that my role and responsibilities were never clearly defined.  Some of my coworkers would express annoyance or irritation whenever I asked them a question, but I was never clear on who I was supposed to ask. One of them became openly hostile towards me when I asserted myself too strongly in an effort to get a particular objective completed.  When I tried to talk to him privately, he accused me of being “too critical and opinionated”.  He immediately deflated when I pointed out to him that being critical was a defining characteristic of doing QA work, but I was never able to reestablish rapport with him afterwards.

Tensions finally came to a head when some of my coworkers discovered that I had publicly criticized another game on an online forum for its poor representation of female characters and its male-only protagonist. Both coworkers separately wrote me private emails, chastising me for my comments. They felt that my comments reflected badly on them because the developers of the other game were their personal friends.
How was working at a startup similar to working for BioWare?

In some ways, Stoic felt like a magnified version of Bioware.  The lack of clear supervision and direction was significantly more problematic when the entire company was only 6 people. The isolation I felt at Stoic was increased a hundredfold. I had no support and no allies. I lost track of how many times I was locked out of the office because my coworkers would go to lunch without me and forget that I was in the bathroom. (The restrooms at Stoic were in another building.)

The combined experiences of working at Bioware and Stoic made me realize that my 25+ years of working almost exclusively in male-dominated environments had finally taken its toll on me. As much as I enjoyed working on video games I felt that my time and energy were better spent speaking and writing directly about gender inequality, rather than experiencing it myself on a daily basis.

Based on your experiences and where you see the industry heading, what would you say to women interested in getting into the game industry? Would you advise them to choose another profession?

I would strongly encourage women who are considering going into any male-dominated profession to develop a good female support network.  Seek out women’s organizations that are affiliated with your interests and obtain a female mentor, if possible.  This is imperative, because the isolation that you may feel will greatly impact your self-esteem and confidence.
I also recommend that the gaming industry not be your first job, even if it’s really what you want to do. Having some traditional work experience under your belt (even if it’s really boring) will give you a better foundation with which to deal with the unique challenges of working in games.

In conclusion

As dire as this might sound, it’s important to point out that this is not intended as a universal indictment of the video games industry. I know women working for games companies that are quite happy with the work they are doing, and the companies they are working for. There are also increasingly companies that are owned and operated by women, especially in the area of mobile games.
So I’ll end by quoting Leslee one more time, since hers is a sentiment I agree with whole-heartedly:
My only request for this post is that I don’t want it to be wholly negative in nature. I also don’t want it to simply be a criticism of Bioware and Stoic, because I had some really good experiences at both companies and I don’t hold any animosity toward either of them.
Yes, I’ve endured a great deal of workplace sexism over the past quarter century, but I’ve also spent nearly as long discussing the issue with almost anyone who would listen to me. Sure, I got a lot of eye rolls and dismissals, and sometimes blatant antagonism. But I also got a lot of people to think, and talk, and sometimes change. It can be a burden, but a necessary one, and one that I know I’m strong enough to handle.  I want this article to be about awareness and acknowledgement of the problem, and an opportunity for dialogue.

Can we move past violence simulators? Because Batman is boring.

So here’s the thing. Before we get any further, let me disclaim that I LOVED Batman as a kid. The Batman animated series was one of the best cartoons on television when I was growing up, and I watched a ton of it! I’ve also seen all of the Batman movies – yes even the George Clooney one with the weird nipple armor.) I also very much enjoy video games that are violent. I own no less than three Mass Effect hoodies, have played every Final Fantasy game released by Sony (even Lightning Returns), and have been known to conquer civilizations because they annoyed in Civilization.

Never the less, because of what I’m about to say, I’m sure some people will try to paint me as Jack Thompson-esque reactionary who hates Batman. Which, you know. Whatever. Nothing I say will stop that, so let’s kick some internet beehives, shall we?

Batman has gotten boring

The older I get, the less interesting Batman becomes. Kid-Me loved Batman and his awesome jet and cool techno toys! But Adult Me? Well Adult Me thinks that Batman is nothing more than a weird, traumatized sociopath with too much money and anger, who spends much of his time and effort punishing the people (street-level criminals) least responsible for actually creating the social problems plaguing Gotham City.

I get that in a lot of ways he’s intended as a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy. He’s a kid who gets to grow up super rich, inherit billions that he doesn’t have to work for, use lots of cool techno toys to beat up people who piss him off, and sleep with lots of women in the guise of needing “cover” for his crime-fighting activities. But Batman is also a goddamn paragon of toxic masculinity.

Recently, my husband wanted to try watching Gotham – since several friends had been saying good things about it. But I can tell you the exact moment when I stopped giving a shit about the show. It came about eleven or so minutes in, when Alfred shows up to take Bruce home after his parents have just been murdered in front of him. And the VERY FIRST THING he says to young Bruce is to MAN UP SON. Of course, he doesn’t use those words, but he does tell young Bruce to stop crying. You know, stiff upper lip and all that. And for the rest of the episode, whenever young Bruce shows up, young Bruce struggles to choke back his feelings while Alfred hovers, scowling, in the background, the embodiment of the “proper” masculine reaction to grief. (Which is to say, to display no emotions other than looking grumpy or sort of constipated.)

…yeah. No. I get enough toxic masculinity hurled at me here on the internet. I don’t need to spend my free time watching a drama that’s basically TOXIC MASCULINITY: THE ORIGIN STORY.

The thing is, pop culture is increasingly starting to shift when it comes to portrayals of Batman. Finally, finally there is a recognition that Grimdark Batman is an inherently ridiculous character. From the Lego Movie’s take on Batman (which in my head has become the canonical Batman[1]), to the meme that spawned a thousand spin-off memes:

my_parents_are_deeaaaaaad

Unfortunately, when it comes to video games, it seems like Grimdark Batman is here to stay, simply because AAA game studios really aren’t any good at making games that AREN’T violence simulators – which necessitates a portrayal of the hyper-violent, emotionless, bastion of toxic masculinity version of Batman that has become so familiar from the movies and television series like Gotham.

Take, for example, the Arkham City games, in which you play Batman beating the ever-living snot out of… okay, out of really a pretty astonishing number of people:

darkness
Side note: I was a little uncomfortable with how easy it was to find screenshots of Batman beating up all, or mostly black dudes.

When “find the thing” and “kill the dudes” is the only sort of story that most game studios know how to produce, is it any wonder that Grimdark Batman is the only Batman we get in games made for adults? (I’m not including Lego Batman here.) The AAA game studios have put a lot of brainpower into innovating improvements in the area of graphics, UI design, and accessibility of gameplay – while putting pretty much no brainpower into innovating ways of telling stories that don’t center on violence.

How to make Batman actually interesting

The thing is, I think it would honestly take very little modification to make Batman an emotionally rich and compelling character. What if instead of telling young Bruce to MAN UP SON, Alfred instead teaches Bruce that it’s okay to express your feelings and be emotionally vulnerable? And what if, after that, Alfred became a real father figure to Bruce instead of being an emotionally distant butler/nanny? A Bruce Wayne capable of expressing a damn emotion, who dons the cape despite also knowing that systemic injustice is the real cause of the crime that he fights? Shit, that’s way more interesting than Grimdark “I growl all my dialogue” Batman.

batman
Click through for larger, more readable version

Heh.

…stupid jokes about Catman aside, honestly the Batman game I would love to play would be one in which Batman struggles to balance the philanthropic work needed to heal the damage caused by deep systemic injustice with his work as a hero who keeps ordinary citizens safe from violent crime. One where the social work of building community is actually part of the game and something that’s not glossed over in cutscenes.

It would be totally doable! One of my favorite RPGs for the PS2 was Dark Chronicle – a game in which there is a huge cataclysm, after which the two heroes have to go through dungeons and fight monsters to defeat The Big Evil while also helping various communities rebuild after their homes were destroyed:

dark-chronicle
Gathering resources to build buildings and deciding optimal placement is totally part of the game. It’s strangely addictive.

Modeling something like that and applying it to the Batman story would honestly not be too huge a task. This is a game design problem that I’m fully confident that game studios could solve… if they could be bothered to care. But the AAA game industry is hugely male-dominated, and largely guided by the pervasive (and inaccurate) myth that women don’t play video games in any significant numbers. So until the landscape of AAA game development changes significantly, which I don’t expect any time soon, I imagine that I won’t be playing any Batman games any time soon. I’ve got many more interesting games to catch up on.


[1] Whenever anyone mentions Batman, the first thing that pops into my head is DARKNESSSS. NO PARENTSSSS.

Data Analysis of Trolls and Sea Lions in 2015 [CW][TW]

For about the last month, I’ve been dealing with an increase in trolling. It seems that writing a 3-part series that examines data sets in detail to analyze sexist trends in representation in D&D 5E isn’t nearly as controversial as writing posts in which I talk about simply having feelings about a game. Because my post about my personal reactions to opening packs of the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion attracted a whole lot of assholes – not just here in the comments, but in other parts of my social media. Frex:

trolls

Those are all comments from ONE POST on Google+. (As someone else pointed out in that thread, it’s like I put out jackass fly paper or something.)

It’s gotten to the point where the last week or so, I’ve been leaving notifications on on my phone while I’m socializing with friends (something I usually make a point of not doing) simply so that I can keep an eye on comments on my blog, in case something particularly odious gets posted that I’d really rather not leave up for any length of time. Which, of course, presents a bit of a dilemma. If this sort of nonsense is getting to be more common, shouldn’t I just lock down comments completely?

The problem with that is that my patrons and other long-time readers are pretty damn smart, and often contribute quite a lot in the comments sections of my posts. Case-in-point, the comments on my recent semi-tongue-in-cheek post about games I don’t plan on letting my daughter play are actually full of some really great recommendations of fun and progressive games. One other notable example is my post from last year about Lightning Returns and its bonkers wholesale cultural appropriation of Western religious iconography. While I stand by the content of my post, the commenters added a lot of context that I hadn’t been aware of regarding the historical oppression of Christians in Japanese society.

Closing down comments entirely would mean that I would be cutting off actual intelligent and enlightening contributions by supportive readers, and I’m not quite ready to do that. However, while I’ve gotten pretty damn jaded when it comes to people calling me a crazy fat lesbian, there have been quite a few commenters that have started dragging my daughter into their attacks on me since my recent post, and that is… a lot harder to deal with.

To quote myself from Twitter:

I’ve been awake for half an hour, and I’ve already had to remove three comments from my blog that weren’t there when I went to bed. All because I wrote a post, which included GAMES I LOVE, about how I’m worried about sexism in games re: my 3yo daughter. And honestly, I’m so used to people talking smack about ME that it doesn’t even matter. Fat? Uh huh. Jealous? Sure. Lesbian? Whatevs. Man-hater? Obvs. Misandrist? You know it. Seriously, that shit just doesn’t even bother me 99% of the time anymore

But when they start dragging my DAUGHTER into it? That shit really fucking sucks. “it’s a good thing she doesn’t spend much time with you” “you’re raising her to be a dysfunctional lesbian” “you’re a bad parent”. They say all of this because I had the nerve to say even HALF-seriously that there are some games I might not let my daughter play. But for all that their objections are framed around her, they don’t actually CARE about my daughter, her feelings, or her upbringing.

It’s an entirely new level of sexist bro entitlement. They don’t just feel entitled to games that cater to ONLY THEIR INTERESTS… They feel ENTITLED to having MY DAUGHTER playing the same games that they want to play, like several years from now. Because fuck her feelings and her development as a healthy woman in a toxic patriarchal society. That bitch better like their favorite games. And honestly, I don’t know how I can find any of this shit surprising anymore. I really don’t. But I do.

So, you know, thank you, you entitled shitstains, for proving my damn premise about why sexism in games is so fucking toxic.

One of the things that I have done in an effort to make dealing with this sort of nonsense a bit easier is to write a FAQ covering all of the most common shit that gets hurled at me, so that I would have something to point at when removing comments instead of having to type out the same justifications over and over (and over and over…).

In the post which rolled out the new FAQ, I vented some of my frustration over the increased nonsense level around here by saying:

I don’t feel bad in the slightest about summarily trashing comments that insult myself or others, and I’ve grown to quite enjoy replacing derailing comments with sarcastic memes. Because again, see #3 – this is MY house where I make the rules.

But of course, there are certain types of people (men) who think it is LITERALLY JUST THE WORST that I don’t run an open forum for them to insult, abuse, and generally dispute everything I’m saying here. And those people get really. Fucking. Tiresome.

But of course I got questioned on it. Because despite that this is a feminist blog in which I write about sexism in a perceived-as-male-dominated-geeky-subculture, somehow me complaining that it’s always men who have a problem with me removing their comments from my blog is somehow suspect because… uh… reasons?

yes

At the time my response was terse and to the point, since I felt that was about all the attention that particular question deserved.

However, since then, the continued activity of trolls and sea lions got me thinking. As 2015 winds to a close, wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise to set about doing a data analysis of the comments that I’ve gotten to date in 2015? So that’s what I set about doing.

Data analyzing troll and sea lion comments

This has probably been the least fun post that I’ve written in a while. Gathering numbers to do one of my data analysis posts is always an exercise in tedium. Worse, it required going through 11 months of comments, including the ones that were so horrible that I simply deleted them from my blog without even meme-ing them.

I’ve left email comment notification on for the purpose of archiving all comments in their original state, so the process of reviewing them was actually simple, if rather unpleasant. Because breaking down the comments enough to categorize them and analyze the underlying trends required… actually reading them. In detail. Something which I do my best to avoid. And it also required digging up a lot of hurtful stuff that I’d honestly forgotten about from earlier in the year.

Originally I’d conceived of this post as something I’d be able to knock out in a day as a quickie “fuck you” to the trolls that have been plaguing me lately. However, I didn’t count on the fact that it is hard and upsetting purposefully immersing yourself in the words of people who want to make you feel like crap about yourself. What I thought would be a relatively easy task for one day has turned out to be a grueling and exhausting task that’s taken all of today, and parts of yesterday and the day before, and has left me feeling pretty emotionally raw.

Still. It’s done, and the analysis proves pretty clearly that my hypothesis was pretty near correct. You can read the entire summary here, with fancy interactive charts and everything, on Infogr.am. Though I’ll ask that you please exercise caution, since it might prove triggering for anyone who has experienced online harassment, gender-based or otherwise.

graphic
This is how it starts, and it gets “better” from there.

I’ll note that I know some readers have issue with accessibility re: color blindness with some of the charts that I use here. That’s mainly why I used Infogr.am to put this together – mousing over any particular data point highlights the data segment in question. This is especially useful in the couple of charts that have A LOT of different colors, if differentiating colors is something that is difficult for you.

Of course, I don’t believe that this sort of analysis is actually going to solve anything, because the sorts of people who troll and sea lion my blog aren’t the sorts of people to be swayed by actual facts. Besides, the fact that I’m making this a patron-supported post is pretty likely to draw at least a few trolls out of the woodwork, given that I’m literally being a “professional victim” by doing so. But I haven’t let the asshats and the haters stop me from doing what I do yet, and I’ll be damned if I’ll start now.

Games I won’t let my daughter play

Here’s the thing about having a three year old daughter. I write a lot about feminism, but even I wasn’t prepared for how goddamn early the cultural indoctrination happens. My daughter’s birthday was only three months ago, and yet she has already been infected with pink and with princesses. Her favorite toys are now princesses, her favorite movies are princess movies, and she insists that she herself is a princess (when she’s not insisting that she’s a fish). And every day she asks to wear dresses.

It wouldn’t be so bad if that’s as far as it went. I could handle having a pink-obsessed, princess-loving, dress-wearing daughter if she hadn’t also accepted all of the garbage that goes along with that. But more than once I have heard her observe, unprompted!, that “girls can’t” do… you name it. Mundane activities. Like “drive”. Even worse was when she said “a proper woman should…”

She never finished the sentence, so I don’t know what would have come next. But honestly, I don’t need to, because I know how that script reads and I know what it leads to – the same issues that I am still struggling with myself in my thirties surrounding my own internalized guilt about being generally pretty crappy at adhering to standard expectations of feminine behavior. Which breaks my fucking heart, because my daughter is three. She makes up stories about her toys, loves climbing things, and is so intensely curious and innocent. So the fact that she, AT THE AGE OF THREE has already internalized the idea that being female makes her LESS…

Well. It makes me want to punch the goddamn universe in the face.

Now, to be sure, as terrible as I feel about it, my spouse and I can’t be held entirely accountable. Since she’s in daycare, she spends more time with other people than she does with us. And even if she didn’t, it’s impossible to control for every exposure to possibly harmful media, because we have to leave the damn house on a daily basis.

Still, it doesn’t prevent me from putting a lot of thought into the sorts of media, games included, that I will allow her to consume while at home. Because while it may be impossible to prevent her from internalizing the core beliefs of our sexist culture, I certainly can do my best to expose her to alternative points of view during her formative years. The problem is that, when I try to come up with titles that I would be okay introducing her to, I don’t come up with a whole lot that she actually can play.

 

Things that are most definitely Not Allowed

1) Games with Damsels in Distress

First, my daughter will not be allowed to play any games that revolve around saving a damsel in distress. Period. It’s bad enough that at the age of three she’s already learning to think of herself as less capable than boys. But given that she’s obsessed with princesses, and well, a lot of damsels in video games are… fucking princesses…

Damsels

Yeah. So right off the hop, that rules out any game in the Super Mario series, except for Super Mario Brothers 2, since Peach is actually playable in that one. If asked, I’ll refuse to acknowledge any other game in the series. (Just like how I think it’s really sad that they never made a sequel to X-Men 2, or how Spider Man 3 never happened. Wink wink, nudge nudge) Mario Kart is all right, of course, since the characters are just color in those, but even Super Princess Peach (the one game that Peach starred in as her own title) will be verboten, since her superpowers in that game are basically having emotions and crying. So, you know, fuck that noise.

Likewise, any Zelda game. Zelda gets damseled in EVERY SINGLE ONE, even the ones where she turns into Shiek. And yes, Hyrule Warriors is a game, and yes you can play Zelda, and no she doesn’t get damseled. But Zelda’s costume design is a cleavagey boobplate nightmare, and she actually attacks people by pulling glowing energy OUT OF HER DAMN BITS to attack people. NO I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. Plus there’s also Shia, whose design is just a hot mess of pointless sexualization and that brings us back to nooooope. No Zelda.

Plus, you know, all those other games where women get damseled. You know, Donkey Kong, StarFox, Ico… (I could go on and on, but really it’s just easier to link to part 1 of the Feminist Frequency video on damsels, because really the list is just depressingly long.) That shit just isn’t going to exist in my house.

2) Any game with fridged female characters

Because Jesus Christ, do I really even need to explain why the trope of fridged women is a terrible idea to introduce as commonplace to a three year old girl?

Fridge

So, you know, thankfully this spares me from having to prevent her from playing a lot of games that I’m personally attached to. Games like StarCraft (which fridges Kerrigan), Max Payne (fridges his wife and daughter), and God of War (fridges his wife and daughter) have never really been my cup of tea.

However, one of my all time favorite games, a game that I replay every few years because I absolutely adore the gameplay and will never get tired of it, is Final Fantasy Tactics. And FFTactics unfortunately manages to have not one, but two damsels in distress (Alma and Princess Ovelia – again with the princesses!). But you also have a fridged woman – Delita’s sister Teta. So as much as it breaks my heart to ban Tactics, because really it’s a flawless example of a tactical RPG, Tactics goes on the shit list too.

Along with, you know, every fucking game featured in part TWO of FemFreq’s Damsel series. So, just with our first two points, we’re already running out of games that can be considered.

3) Games with pointless fucking fanservice

I certainly don’t want my daughter to internalize the idea that being strong and competent requires being sexually pleasing to men. Nor do I want her to internalize unhealthy lessons about how she “should” look, because our culture is already saturated with toxic imagery that holds women to literally impossible standards of beauty. I don’t need to add to that bombardment by exposing her to that kind of bullshit in media that is meant to entertain.

Objectified

Unfortunately, that means mostly no online roleplaying games. Certainly not League of Legends, or really any MOBA. Or… you know, really any MMO, except Dark Age of Camelot or Lord of the Rings Online. Except… wait. No, almost none of the major lore characters are women, and hell, almost none of the minor lore characters are women either. So… just Dark Age then. Yes I know that it’s unspeakably ancient and a second-gen MMO that hasn’t kept up with standard MMO UI innovations, but that’s just the price she’ll have to pay. Oh and she’ll have to play on a roleplaying server so doesn’t run into female toons with names like “Muffeater” or “Sweettits” – yes both actual honest to god names I have literally seen.

What else…

Well, as far as single player games go, no Mortal Kombat or Soul Calibur. Or, you know, really any fighting games at all, because fighting games are the goddamn reason why “jiggle physics” are even a thing in the first place. It does make me a bit sad, because I lost hundreds of hours to the original Soul Calibur and to Soul Calibur 2; also, Mortal Kombat 1 was one of the first games that my brother and I purchased for ourself and I have many fond memories of playing it. But … yeah. No.

Sadly, #3 means I’ll also have to outlaw a good portion of the Final Fantasy games. It will be hard, and sad, and I will struggle with temptation, but it has to be done. Frankly, anything past Final Fantasy X-2 just has to go. From the ridiculous, ass-exposing shorts Yuna wears in X-2, to Fran’s awful lingerie ninja outfit in XII, to Vanille’s outfit and porny battle noises in XIII… yeah. I did think about outlawing X, but really X is mostly equal opportunity with it’s objectification, so it can stay. Especially because Yuna is one of my favorite female protagonists in games. (Even if her outfit has a stupid amount of sideboob for someone who is traveling across the damn continent and fighting monsters.)

Most heartbreaking, however, is the fact that I will have to outlaw Mass Effect 2 and 3 because of the ridiculously sexualized female companions. Mass Effect 2 has Miranda of the Ass Cleavage, Samara the Space MILF, and Jack of the Ridiculous Nipple Straps, and given that they’re in your party they’re pretty inescapable. Mass Effect 3 is a bit better, but EDI still gets her fucking awful sex-droid body, not to mention that Jack and Miranda still make cameos, so… no Mass Effect 2 or 3, which kills Mass Effect altogether since ME1 is really not all that playable since the stupid Mako missions are required.

And can we just have a moment of silence, because honestly my N7 hoodie is one of my most treasured possessions, and I am still ridiculously excited about getting the reversible Paragon/Renegade hoodie for my birthday this year.

…shit. We’re down to a handful of games here, but there are more things I want to ban. Like…

4) Games with no female characters, or smurfettes, or female characters who are only important for their connection to male characters

Games with NO female characters? That should be fairly obvious, I’d think. Games with smurfettes, though, those have to go too. That particular brand of under-representation really contributes to the notion that women always have to compete with one another – because if half of the population are women, but only 20% or so are heroic, that means that other women who are competent must be the enemy. And while we’re at it we’ll also lump in games who feature female characters that are only important because of their connection to male characters, because that is deprotagonizing and heteronormative as fuck and seriously it’s almost 2016 and I want my daughter to learn that she has the power to make a difference in the world.

Manz

So, uh, let’s see. Well, much as I loved Sonic, none of the early Sonic games, because they only had Sonic, Tails, and Robotnik, all of whom are male. It also means pretty much nothing by Blizzard, especially anything based on WarCraft IP. (Except Blizzard already DQs themselves with their copious amounts of pointless sexualization of female characters, so I guess that’s really a non-issue.)

Sadly, this also catches up games that I’ve even been playing pretty recently. Bastion is totally guilty of this; Zia is “central”, but only in that the McGuffin is her father’s journal, and Zulf and the Kid wind up fighting over her. Sure she sorta has an opinion for what you should choose at the end, but you can totally ignore her if you want, because why would you listen to a girl?

Oh god, we’re really down to almost nothing here, but there’s just one more thing that I have to ban and that’s…

5) Games that are casually misogynist

hitman_dead_woman

There’s enough casual misogyny in the world without it being packaged as entertainment. Bad enough that she’s going to have to learn that casual misogyny is a thing without me having to introduce the concept of casual misogyny AS ENTERTAINMENT.

So, you know, Grand Theft Auto. The Arkham games. The entire Hitman series…

So. Uh. I guess that leaves… puzzle games? Which isn’t so bad because I love puzzle games! Like, Katamari is one of my favorite games ever! Except… wait. No. No Katamari, because it’s about The King and The Prince, and it takes a long time to unlock The Princess. And there is a Queen, but only in the intro, and she only seems to exist to be pretty and make pies and…

…you know what, maybe I’d better just stop there.

Administrativa: FAQ, and update to the comment policy [LONG]

So here’s the deal. My comments policy is not all that complex: 1) no insults 2) no derailing 3) my house, my rules. And yet, this is something that a lot of commenters seem to struggle with – especially #3.

Since re-opening my blog, I’ve taken a much more liberal approach to enforcing the comments policy. I pretty much have zero fucks left when it comes to people coming into my space and behaving like an asshat; I don’t feel bad in the slightest about summarily trashing comments that insult myself or others, and I’ve grown to quite enjoy replacing derailing comments with sarcastic memes. Because again, see #3 – this is MY house where I make the rules.

But of course, there are certain types of people (men) who think it is LITERALLY JUST THE WORST that I don’t run an open forum for them to insult, abuse, and generally dispute everything I’m saying here. And those people get really. Fucking. Tiresome.

mary poppins

Because I’m getting real tired of this shit recently, I figured that it’s probably time to clarify the comment policy, just for the sake of transparency, so that when people whine about me removing their comments, I have something to point to instead of having to repeat the same five responses over and over again. I will also be updating the comment policy in the sidebar accordingly.

So. FAQ first, and then updated comment policy.

Frequently Asked Questions and Complaints

While this is not a comprehensive list of the terrible comments I get here on this blog, these are definitely the worst offenders. You’ll note that there are a lot of links in my answers to these questions. That’s because Go Make Me a Sandwich is not and never has been a 101-level feminist blog. I do not have the time, interest, or obligation to educate you if you have not done the basics of self-education with regards to feminism as it applies to geekdom.

1) BUT ALL THE MENZ GET OBJECTIFIED TOO

[sigh] No. Just… no.

First, attempting to dispute that game art is sexist by saying that men get objectified too completely misses the point. I have written extensively on how game art in every segment of gaming consistently under-represents and over-sexualizes women as compared to their male counterparts. This is not speculation – this is based on careful analysis and data collection of a wide variety of sources.

My original article written for Pelgrane covering video game art is here. Additionally, you can find many other posts using the same methodology if you search the “numbers” category here on my blog.

Second, saying that all men are idealized in games and game art is demonstrably factually incorrect. Male characters in games have always enjoyed a diversity of depiction of body size and shape that does not exist for female characters.

Third, male power fantasies are absolutely, categorically not the same as sexualized depictions of women. See my takedown of people who claimed that male characters in TERA were “as bad” as female characters. Or you can read either one of these great posts tackling why that’s just not the case.

2) THAT CHARACTER IS STRONG AND EMPOWERED AND WANTS TO SHOW HER TITS, YOU ARE SLUT SHAMING

For this, I am going to straight up quote myself from this post I wrote about the first Bayonetta game, since Bayonetta is a pretty classic example of a character that is frequently cited as “strong”, “liberated”, and “sexually empowered”:

If Bayonetta were an actual person, then it would make sense to proclaim that her sexuality is a choice and that she’s an empowering female figure. But she’s not a real woman. Everything about her was designed to be sexually appealing by a man who in his own words thinks that all women should strive to be as sexual as Bayonetta. …

It all comes back to the male gaze. (Seriously, please visit that link if the male gaze is a concept you’re not familiar with.) When looking at fictional characters like Bayonetta, you can’t disregard the creator. It’s not enough to say that she embraces her sexuality, because at no point did Bayonetta ever get to make a choice. Her creators made the choices for her. So I totally agree with Jonathan Holmes in his assessment of Bayonetta:

she’s an empty shell of a character; a shell made from here creators’ sexual fantasies, negative stereotypes, and misconceived notions of the female gender.

As for the people who claim you are somehow sexist or slut-shaming when you hate on Bayonetta, the same point applies. Bayonetta is not a person with agency, she’s a fictional creation devoid of any free will or choice. It is not slut-shaming to decry Bayonetta as a hollow stereotype whose sexuality is nothing more than a harmful perpetuation of the stereotypes surrounding female sexuality. It is a judgement on the designers and writers who created her to be what she is. Bayonetta is not for women, plain and simple. She is designed by men for men. As such, I feel no need to pretend that she’s a positive role model.

3) WHAT’S WRONG WITH CATERING TO MEN’S SEXY DESIRES

Nothing! Nowhere have I ever said that I think that there should be no games ever that include sexy women, for cishet-normative values of sexy. What I object to is the idea that every woman in every game must be designed to appeal to the cishet male gaze, because that makes no goddamn sense.

Women have represented juuuust under 50% of the video gamer market for quite a while now, not to mention that 85% of all consumer purchases (which includes video games) are made by women. And yet nearly the entire games industry is focused on designing characters that exist solely for the sexual pleasure and titillation of a presumed male player.

And that sucks! It would be like going to a restaurant that purports to serve people of any gender, but any cisman who walks through the door gets punched in the face. And if you try to complain, the restaurant staff deny punching you, and the other patrons form a lynch mob and run you out of the restaurant.

Further, this kind of thinking assumes that all men are a monolith, which they are not (of course). As shocking as this may be, not all men who play video games are straight. So the hyperfocus on the hetero-normative view of game development also does a disservice to men who don’t really care about sexy women, thanks.

4) GAMES ARE MADE FOR MEN

See the above response.

5) WHY DO YOU WANT TO CENSOR ART AND STOP ARTISTS!

Again, see #3. Also, stop being stupid.

6) IT’S THE ART DIRECTORS YOU SHOULD TARGET

Art direction is definitely a huge piece of the puzzle; I’ve written about the inconsistent art direction coming out of WotC, how internally inconsistent Magic: The Gathering’s art direction is within their own product line.

However, the ingrained sexist attitudes of the artists doing the work is also a huge problem. To quote Erik Mona of Paizo from a comment that he left on my old post about Pathfinder and racial diversity:

“The number of times over my 10-year career in this industry that I’ve had to send back an image with a note like “um, thanks, but can I get this without hard nipples showing through the leather armor, please?” would shock just about everyone.”

So does art direction need to get better? Absolutely. But the artists are just as culpable.

7) WHY DO YOU HATE WOMENZ WITH BIG BOOBZ?

I don’t hate women with big boobs. I am a woman with big boobs. What I hate is that there is a complete lack of body diversity of women depicted in games, despite that male characters come in every shape and size imaginable. It’s the bullshit double-standard that pisses me off, not the boobs or the women they’re attached to.

8) YOU ARE A MASSIVE PRUDE

Quoting myself again:

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.

For more details on why I actually quite enjoy sex in games when it’s done well, go read the rest of the post that’s taken from.

Or if you’re too lazy, the TL;DR is: I’m not against all sex ever in games. I’m not against all sex ever in art. I’m not against all people ever who like sexy art, or who like sex, or who like sex and games. The end.

9) WHY ARE YOU WRITING ABOUT THIS INSTEAD OF [X]?

Where do I even start…?

First, asking this question somehow implies that I can’t care about more than one thing about the same time. Frex, if I care about Cause Y, then why would I devote time to writing about Cause X? Which is silly, because the vast majority of humans are capable of being passionate about more than one thing. Odds are, you don’t spend all of your free time pursuing ONE activity. So assuming that me taking time to write about something that I feel passionately about – feminism in games – completely precludes the possibility of me engaging in other sorts of activism is… odd. (For more on this, see Derailing for Dummies)

Second, in application this question is almost always racist. Every time I have seen it used, people are asking things like “why are you writing about feminism in video games when you should be writing about female genital mutilation”. Or the violence against Afghan women and girls attempting to access education? Or poverty of women in the Asian subcontinent?  Which becomes really awful when you think about the context.

I am a white, middle class, cishet, able-bodied Christian-ish woman living in Canada. I am privileged as fuck, and I acknowledge that. So for me to devote myself to some crusade to save “foreign” brown women from the evils of their own culture would be the height of White Feminism. And while I am a feminist who is white, I do my damndest not to be a White Feminist. (I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I really do try.) And not attempting to save brown women from their own culture is the low-hanging fruit of not being a goddamn White Feminist.

Third, asking this question is really just trivializing my passion. I write about feminism in games because I am passionate about games, and sexism in games is something that impacts me personally. So for you to say “well actually, this thing you’re passionate about isn’t really all that important” makes you the asshole.

10) IT’S JUST A GAME

Refer to point number three of the previous response.

11) WHY DON’T YOU PLAY SOMETHING ELSE OR MAKE YOUR OWN GAMES?

Telling me to play something else if I don’t like a particular game is predicated on the assumption that there are a cornucopia of games out there that are perfectly enlightened and not at all sexist. Which, uh, yeah. Yeah that’s not even close to being true.

Usually, my game selection process involves finding the games that are the least sexist and still appeal to my play preferences. It’s a lot like the Monty Python spam sketch – “how about the spam eggs sausage and spam, that’s not got much spam in it” – in that one my primary criteria is always “is this game at least only minimally sexist?”.

Case in point, I play a lot of BioWare games, because they do get an awful lot of stuff right. Even if they really do fall on their faces when it comes to women. Like, a lot.

As for “why don’t I make my own games”? Uh. I do.

12) FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!1!1!eleventy! RAARGH!

Quoting myself again from this post in which I first implemented the comment policy:
most of all, I want this to be MY PLACE …

It’s not my place when I feel constantly challenged to assert my expertise on the matters I’m discussing, when I feel that I must always re-affirm my credentials.

It’s not my place when people come here to tell me that I’m crazy, ugly, irrational, stupid, ignorant, or a fascist.

It’s not my place when they tell me that harassment against women doesn’t matter.

It’s not my place when they tell me to lie down in front of a train rather than continue to speak out.

I can’t handle the volume of negative comments that I get anymore – it drains my energy, wastes my time, and sucks air out of the conversation. This was never intended to be a forum for other people to vent their hatred, and I’m tired letting toxic comments stifle real conversation in the name of welcoming free speech. Fuck free speech. This is not a democracy, and I am not obligated to give you a soapbox.

If you want a forum to tell me that I am wrong, or stupid, or even to just vent your hatred of women, that’s called THE REST OF THE GODDAMN INTERNET.

13) YOU’RE AFRAID OF REAL DISCUSSION

A lot of the time when I replace a comment with a meme, said commenter whines that I’m not “interested in real discussion”. Which, uh. Yeah. You’re right!

The reason I haven’t entirely closed down comments is that sometimes commenters are able to provide valuable and interesting perspective about a related topic or angle that I didn’t have knowledge of. Take, for example, my post on Lightning Returns and cultural appropriation. There were some really interesting things in the comments said about the history of oppressive violence in Japan against Christians. Similarly, in my post about MMOs and the lack of diversity of female body types, where a commenter provided personal perspective as a female employee who had worked on one of the MMOs I wrote about. That’s the sort of thing that I want to allow for!

The sort of thing that I have zero interest in, however? Shit like sea lioning, insults, cred-checking, or mansplaining. Especially since a lot of what people (men) attempt to mansplain is my own goddamn feelings.

So, you know. Not interested in real discussion? Yes! Way to hit the nail on the head! Where you go astray is thinking that I somehow actually give a shit or think that’s a bad thing.

Policy: Removing and Replacing Comments

If you violate rule #1 (no insults), your comment will be trashed. Period.

If you violate rule #2 (derailing), your comment will be replaced with an appropriate meme of my choosing.

If you complain about rule #3 (my house, my rules), your comment will be replaced with a meme on the first offense, with summary deletion thereafter. You don’t get to come into my house, trash my shit, and whine when I tell you to get the fuck out.

NEW RULE #4

WRT #2, any comment that resembles one of the above questions will be removed and the commenter will be instructed to see the FAQ for reasons why their comment is a waste of everyone’s time. Further, comments on the FAQ itself will not be allowed. This is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship.

No fat women in games; a look at 10 of the most popular MMOs

Recently, I got back into playing Star Wars: The Old Republic when a friend of mine dragged me back into it. I’d played when it was first released as a subscription-only game, and again briefly when it went free-to-play, but I aside from occasional experiments with games like SW:TOR and Final Fantasy XIV, I haven’t seriously played an MMO for at least five years.

And it’s been fun! I’ve missed having a game to play with friends, and being the giant nerd that I am, I actually really enjoy MMO crafting and auctioneering. I’m also enjoying that SW:TOR gets story-based RPG all up in my MMO peanut butter – being able to group while playing story quests is quite a lot of fun, especially when grouping with people of different alignments.

One thing I have NOT enjoyed, however, is the bullshit gendered double-standards for body types. Because while ordinarily I would be happy that I can actually play a character who actually looks like me in terms of body shape, my character is actually at the top end of the body-size slider. Additionally, the bottom end of the female body size slider is anorexic-verging-on-impossible, and even the middle of that range is improbably skinny. Worst of all, however, is the fact that if you play a male character, you can be slim, average, muscular, or actually fat. (Which, you know, sucks. A lot. Because in effect, BioWare IS CALLING ME FAT. Bastards.)

It got me thinking, because honestly, my character in SW:TOR is actually the “fattest” female character I’ve ever played in an MMO, and I’ve played a fair number of MMOs. (Dark Age of Camelot, Warharmmer Online, World of Warcraft – several times, City of Heroes, Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars: The Old Republic, plus maybe one or two others that I’m missing.) And I’m not super familiar with the current MMO landscape, but I was fairly certain that my SW:TOR character would be at the top end of body sizes available for female characters in most MMOs.

So I decided to put it to the test, by taking 10 of the most popular MMOs and examining what the “fattest” female character in each one looked like.

Methodology: Determining Sources and Finding Screenshots

One of the difficulties in deciding which ten games to look at is that there are a good number of MMOs that don’t publish hard numbers on the numbers of subscribers. World of Warcraft publishes fairly comprehensive quarterly data regarding subscriber numbers, but others like RIFT and EVE Online do not. Additionally, figuring out a total number of players can get tricky when you look at the fact that a lot of MMOs have a mix of paying subscribers and free-to-play players; frex, Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, and World of Warcraft are all games that provide a mix of free and paid content.

So it’s important to note that these games might not be THE top ten in terms of player numbers. But the games presented here are actually taken from this list, compiled by Justin Olivetti at MassivelyOP, which examines a wide variety of sources like Reddit, Twitch, Steam, and others. (Although with one tweak, I substituted RIFT for RuneScape, because I’m not quite sure that RuneScape deserves a top ten spot.)

Once I had my list of games, I then dug up character creation videos on YouTube to scope out the character creation process before searching around for the best screenshots that would highlight the “fattest” female characters possible from each games. And the results were… well… predictably depressing.

The Results! (From thinnest to “fattest”)

[Note: these results are pretty subjective. The range of body types is pretty goddamn narrow, so it gets hard to compare.]

One of the things that disturbed me about EVE Online’s character creation is the fact that the body model is actually incredibly customizeable. You can shorten or lengthen the torso, or otherwise distort the figure in a number of ways. However, this is what the female model looks like with both the muscularity and weight sliders at maximum. On the thin end of healthy and not particularly muscular at all:

Eve online

I am reminded of Ford’s infamous slogan about the Model T: “any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it’s black”. You can customize your female character’s body in any way you like so long as she’s supermodel-thin.

However, the next few games’ “fattest” options were the same size as in EVE Online, only without any sort of body-size slider. Rather, all female characters are created exactly the same, as if some sort of eugenics program happened that left only women with impossibly thin physiques and large, incredibly firm breasts:

Archeage-GW2-WoW

Truly, I’m really not sure which is worse – a complete lack of diversity of body shapes or a range of body types where the “fattest” bodies are the default shape in other games that are otherwise equally sexist. Because having a world where women are all stamped from the same horrifically sexist mold is obviously problematic, but having a world where body diversity exists only for the sake of the aesthetic of the cishet male gaze is also problematic. Deciding which is worse is like trying to decide which I hate more: brussel sprouts or Rush Limbaugh.

An interesting additional complicating factor here is the fact that both Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft have female character types that are definitely large and muscular. In both instances, however, they are also monstrous:

Monstrous-women

So, you know, the fact that the only way to see a female body type that actually looks powerful is for that body to be actually monstrous is pretty fucking awful. Having impossibly slender, not-at-all muscular characters as the default body type for women in MMOs is bad enough without ALSO defacto saying that women who actually have larger bodies are fucking monsters.

That said, I will at least give Guild Wars 2 credit for almost getting it right with regards to their nonhuman female model. It’s always bugged me that the cow people in World of Warcraft have breasts. If you’re going to have bipedal cow-people with actual cow legs, then the lady-cow-people (Tauren) should have udders, not breasts. GW2’s Charr don’t have humanoid mammaries, so I can at least pretend that there are, like, 6 nipples under all that fur. Although they screwed it up by giving her that stupid top, because that implies humanoid breasts all over again, which. Arg. If you’re going to have a monstrous race, then let the women be actually fucking monstrous. (I’m looking at you, WoW zombies!)

Then you had the interesting middle ground of RIFT, in which there are no body size sliders, and all of the female models are the same damn size, except for the female dwarf:

riftrogue

Bullshit armor design aside, I actually like the muscularity of the dwarf model, at least compared to any of these other models so far. Unfortunately, the fact that she only has something resembling “normal” proportions because she’s not “human” is problematic, especially when you consider that the dwarves have the proportions of some actual real human people with dwarfism.

…[facepalm]

Near the top end of the scale (and let’s pause for just a moment to think about how fucking depressing that these next two games classify as being “near the top”) are two games where the largest female body types are actually models that I quite like. Body Type 4 in Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually quite a good model, in that she is muscular without being unbelievably slender. Similarly, the Roegadyn in Final Fantasy XIV are pleasingly sturdy and muscular. Where things get problematic is their contrast to their male counterparts:

dimorphism

The Roegadyn are bad enough, because it’s yet another example of the male power fantasy/male sexual fantasy theory of sexual dimorphism as applied to games. It’s problematic, sure, but it also doesn’t represent anything at all new in games. SW:TOR, however, is more upsetting because of the fact that they do have something new and unique – the ability to play a character that is both FAT AND HEROIC. …but only for men. Because while men can be both fat and heroic, women can only be heroic so long as they are also fuckable.

…please excuse me for a moment while I set the whole goddamn world on fire.

Which brings us to the two last entrants, which are the only games that offer the ability to play characters even slightly larger than myself – Neverwinter and Elder Scrolls Online:

Fat-ladies

Oh man. So many mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I definitely appreciate that the Neverwinter model is presented as beautiful. And I also like the fact that the Elder Scrolls Online model is the only one that I’ve ever seen that looks like I could play a badass mama barbarian who wears her newborn baby in a sling around as she kills shit and smites evil. (Seriously, the first person that makes me a game where I can do that that isn’t terrible or sexist, I will throw money at you SO GODDAMN FAST.)

However, while both models are technically “fat”, it’s also true that their bodies fit a certain narrow range of socially acceptable fatness. Their breasts, hips, and butts are large, but the extra weight around their middle is not carried on the stomach and their stomachs are still quite toned, which still falls into the trap of idealizing the hourglass figure, which a lot of women just don’t have.

Not to mention that it’s a bit hard to miss the fact that the names that Neverwinter offers for it’s body types are “toned” (positive connotations), “slim” (positive connotations), and “heavy” (mild negative connotations). So even when it’s being presented as an option, it’s being presented as one that is inherently inferior. Which is something that Star Wars: The Old Republic at least did get right by choosing to label its body types with numbers and not descriptors.

In conclusion: I’ll stick with the devil I know

So for now, given that the Star Wars mythos is one that appeals to me, the gameplay suits my play style, and I can play with friends, I’ll be sticking with Star Wars. There are still things that piss me off, like the preponderance of too-thin female NPCs and the fact that there are fat dudes but no fat ladies. But all of the female NPCs I’ve encountered have been fully clothed, with one notable exception. And I have as yet only found one piece of chest armor that didn’t fully cover my torso, and have not yet encountered leg armor that wasn’t fully covering as well.

And as much as that sounds like damned by faint praise, that’s honestly about as good as I’m ever going to get.

What it’s like for me, as a woman, to play Magic: the Gathering [BIG IMAGES]

I’ve written previously about why I don’t attend official Magic: The Gathering events (tl;dr – stereotype threat is zero fun). Still, I really enjoy sealed booster events! They tend to level the playing field for people with less experience in deck-building (unless someone gets crazy lucky with their packs). It’s also a fun challenge, having a completely random subset of cards and a time limit within which to build a competitive deck – especially since it often forces you to build something that’s outside of your usual comfort zone in terms play style.

So what we’ve started doing is buying a box of boosters and splitting it with friends so we can have our own sealed booster night in the comfort of our own home that is free of randos and dudebros. It’s expensive – even when you split the cost between friends – so we only do it 2-3 times a year. But it’s something my husband and I both enjoy immensely, so we’re happy to splurge occasionally to make it happen.

This past weekend was one of those occasions, as a matter of fact. And as always, I had a tremendous time. But even so, I couldn’t help but be aware of the fact that even while playing with friends, away from the weird males-only atmosphere of a game store or other official tournament venue, the game itself was punching me in the feels, in a very particular “This Game Is Not For You” sort of way. And while I was opening packs and sorting through cards, I found myself repressing a lot of comments and complaints that I wanted to make, because while the friends we were playing with are receptive to feminism and the things that I do, they’re not terribly interested in it – and being That Boring Person Who Only Talks About Feminism has become a big fear of mine these last few years.

And it sucked. I hate that this game I like (and spend money on!) makes me feel crappy, and I doubly hate feeling like I have to censor myself. (And to be clear, I would feel the compulsion to censor myself to a certain degree no matter who I was with. It was just that in that situation, I felt I had to censor a bit more is all.) So I was going to write a description of my internal monologue as the night progressed, but then I thought – hell. A comic would be a lot more illustrative of what I’m talking about. (See what I did there?) It wasn’t my intention to do two comics posts in a row. It just sort of happened that way.

This isn’t a comprehensive post, in that it doesn’t look at art from an entire set as most of my other M:TG posts do. This is just focusing on my reactions to art from the packs my husband and I opened during our sealed booster night. Also, I know the preview shrinks these down pretty small, so if you want more detail, be sure to click through so you can see the art I’m talking about in more detail.

Feels: the Punching (deck-building edition)

Magic1

Blue

Tightening-Coils-Battle-for-Zendikar-MtG-Art

Tajuru-Stalwart-Battle-for-Zendikar-MtG-Art

Swell of Growth

Bonus: Epilogue

While preparing for this post, I went through our cards one more time to get proper card titles so that I could look up larger versions of the card art online. While doing so, I found one card that I had missed altogether, although I’m really not sure how:

Lifespring_Druid_MTG_BFZ_Willmurai_910
…yeah.

Despite all that, I still had fun, and it’s still something that I plan to do again. But is Magic a hobby that I would encourage other women to try, or plan on introducing my daughter to? Unless they start sucking a whole lot less at women, the answer is a resounding hell no. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got into Magic because my husband played, and I wanted to be able to play with him. But games like Magic live and die by word-of-mouth recruitment, and they certainly won’t get any of that from me.

Self-promotion sidebar: The Starlit Kingdom

[For those of you who don’t follow me on other social media channels…]

The Golden Age

Many, many centuries ago, the people of Earth co-existed with the people of the Moon in peace and harmony. This might surprise you, as the Moon queendom was a place rich with beauty and full of wonders, not the least of which were its people, who were blessed with magic and long life. It might seem natural that the people of Earth would look upon their neighbors with jealousy, but the people of the Moon shared freely of their gifts and kept to themselves.

It was thought that this golden age would last forever. Such is the complacency that peace brings.

It Comes To This

It may be that the golden age of humanity will crumble. It may be that Elysium will fall into civil war or declare war on the Moon queendom. The future is not yours to read. All you know is that you have been called to fulfill a sacred duty and you will uphold that duty even at the cost of your life.


 

It’s been a long time in the making, but The Starlit Kingdom  is finally finished and available for purchase. The Starlit Kingdom is a game about magical girls struggling against tragic fate, and is inspired by Sailor Moon, but you don’t have to be a fan of anime or magical girls to appreciate this game. This game tells beautiful, sad stories about the fall of a magical kingdom full of beauty and wonder, and your doomed efforts to save it and the people you love. It is GM/MCless, and runs 2-4 sessions with 3-5 players.

You can purchase The Starlit Kingdom in print at Lulu, or in PDF through my PayHip storefront.

(Lastly, I will note that The Starlit Kingdom is a hack of Thou Art But A Warrior, which is powered by the Polaris system by Ben Lehman – who is awesome.)

SXSW, GamerGate, and bears

I don’t blog much about GamerGate anymore, and for the most part it’s faded from a lot of online discussion, now that anyone with any semblance of empathy or ability to think of women as people has left GamerGate behind. However, GamerGate is still very much active, and all the more frightening now that it has crystallized into an actual hate group. (No, really. I’m not even kidding.)

So it was a bit baffling that SXSW, a huge pop culture convention/festival centered around music, film, and interactive entertainment decided to allow a pro-GamerGate panel on their roster of upcoming events, especially given that there was also to have been a panel about online harassment featuring Randi Harper, Katherine Cross, and Brianna Wu – three of GamerGate’s favorite targets.

Predictably, there were threats made against the festival and its organizers, because of course there were – this is GamerGate we’re talking about. And rather than commit to providing extra security, SXSW canceled both the pro-GamerGate panel and the online harassment panel. Despite that SXSW is a huge festival that makes absurd amounts of money, and they have played host to some pretty damn big names in the past and have done just fine in providing them with extra security.

Even more ludicrous was the fact that the SXSW organizers then proceeded to pat themselves on the back, calling the decision “strong community management”. Which is when I conceived of this great idea for a comic, explaining how absolutely ludicrous that decision is by substituting “GamerGate” for “bears”, and then exaggerating for comedic effect.

Unfortunately, then my three year old decided to share her cold with me, and by the time I had it finished and got around to posting it, SXSW had already acknowledged that their previous decision was a mistake, which kills some of the humor. Still, I’m pretty proud of how it came out:

bears

Oh well. Even if I didn’t act quickly enough to post for maximum internet hilarity, I still got to draw angry bears – which was pretty awesome.

Now something I will point out is that this comic is a bit reductive in painting this purely as GamerGate versus Randi Harper, Brianna Wu, and Katherine Cross – when the panel that they had wanted to host is actually about online harassment more broadly, not just as part of GamerGate. (Katherine Cross in particular has said that she has been trying to leave GamerGate behind and to move on with her work and her activism.) Still, the fact remains that GamerGate remains the genesis of their anti-harassment work, and still constitutes a large share of the abuse that they receive online.

It is encouraging to see SXSW not only acknowledge that their decision was wrong-headed, but also put together a day-long event that already has a pretty awesome roster of speakers. It would have been nicer if this summit had been something that could have happened without a giant debacle of this nature. But hopefully the extra publicity generated by the bungled handling of this matter will end up resulting in additional publicity for a much-needed event.

Gender swap: SMITE’s newest character – Sol

I’ve done a lot of writing about serious subjects recently, and in trying to find something more light-hearted to post about it occurred to me that it’s been quite a while since I’ve done a gender-swap. And really, I do love doing gender swaps, if only because I think that attempting to objectify men as much as women are objectified in games is both 1) an interesting intellectual exercise and 2) hilarious.

In which I pick on SMITE

Several months ago I wrote about SMITE, a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) that has been gaining in popularity. At launch, it had three million players, and as of July they have passed the ten million mark. Unfortunately, its character designs are impressively, almost comically sexist, not to mention racist and culturally appropriating.

(And let me be clear, when I say that SMITE has some of the most sexist character designs that I’ve seen in video games outside of kMMOs, that really means something given that the base level of sexism in video games is really fucking high. I mean, this is a character that actually happened in a major video game release by a major game studio in 2015: )

Quiet
Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Anyway, when I was thinking of where I should look for material for a new gender swap, SMITE was the first game that came to mind. Since I’ve been criticized in the past for going after “older” skins in previous critiques of similar games, I wanted to make sure I got something current. So I loaded up the SMITE website, not with any particular character in mind, and this is what I got:

Smite-Website

…okay then. At least they solved the problem of which character I was going to gender swap without me having to actually bother looking through their website. If they’re going to be objectively awful, I do at least appreciate them being upfront about it so as to save me tedious minutes of research.

So, meet Sol. Sol is a gender-swapped interpretation of the Roman sun god for whom our sun is named. Since driving the solar chariot across the sky is still a thing that has to happen, Sol-the-character is an elemental manifestation of fire, a projection of the sun god’s will, or some such nonsense. To be honest, I really didn’t bother reading her background that closely, since it was a blatantly transparent attempt to design a female character that is completely naked:

Sol-screens

“She can’t wear clothes because she’s made of fire” “Those aren’t actual breasts, she’s just using her power to look human” “She’s an elemental being, she doesn’t care about human morality”, etc etc etc. I could come up with more such justifications if I cared enough to try, but I don’t.

Now to be fair, her anatomy at least isn’t all that terrible. She’s got a moderate case of sphere-boob, and given the width of her hips, her waist is improbably narrow. (It’s not impossible, but in many people it would require a certain degree of corseting to achieve.) In fact, her anatomy is actually less improbable than some of the goddesses who wear more clothing (I’m looking at you, Aphrodite!). Though now that I mention it, “goddesses who wear more clothing” is still setting the bar depressingly low.

Despite being generally okay in terms of non-distorted anatomy, it’s hard to deny that the rest of her design conveys nothing but “sexy fire girl”. The “tattoos” on her shoulders point RIGHT AT her creepy nippleless breasts, and the “tattoos” on her thighs draw attention to the fact that YUP she is TOTES NAKED. But really, it’s fine, because she has a Barbie-doll crotch, and, you know, fire. Right? Except for the fact that her quotes only emphasize that she is meant to be seen as a sexual character that you could totes have sex with, because she is WAY HOT:

Sol-quotes

“Let’s make it hot”? “Oh I look hot… If I do say so myself”? “If you play with fire it enjoys it”? Seriously, the last one is just kind of creepy, not to mention awkwardly worded. Can’t they hire an editor to vet their creepy innuendos? Ugh.

And now the Gender-swap

So my mission was clear. Gender-swap Sol. Which I knew, even with her complete lack of clothing, was going to be a challenge:

Sol-genderswap

First, you’ll note that I gave male-Sol a g-string. That’s pretty much entirely because game studios are dominated by the sorts of dudes who have no trouble having a naked female character in their game, but a naked man? With full frontal nudity? Well they can’t have any of that, because that would make them gay. Because REASONS. Or cooties. Or something.

So right off the bat, male-Sol winds up losing a lot of the punch that female-Sol has. But even without the g-string, I think male-Sol still would have lost a lot in translation. The original portrait of female-Sol is intentionally in what I call “boob perspective”, to emphasize her, uh, feminine attributes. You still get a little of that, what with male-Sol’s junk being thrust toward the viewer, but a lot of the objectification inherent in the camera angle gets lost, since male-Sol doesn’t have breasts to be emphasized by that perspective.

There’s also the issue that, unfortunately, in our culture there are a lot of shitty gendered assumptions surrounding nudity. For female-Sol, being posed in this manner from this perspective combined with her nudity, the implication is that she is sexually available and is being presented for the enjoyment of a (presumed) straight male viewer. Because we don’t have the same assumptions surrounding men, male-Sol, ridiculous g-string and all, doesn’t convey the same level of sexual availability.

And yet, had male-Sol actually been put forward as a character design by the developers as a new character, doubtless there would be hoards of gamers decrying the design for being too gay, or for pandering to women, or any other number of homophobic and/or misogynist reasons. Character designs that cater to the straight male gaze in games are A-okay, but heaven forfend if someone actually attempts to cater to the the gaze of people who are attracted to men. Because at the heart of it, things that present men in ways that are objectifying threaten the sexist assumption that men are people and women are sexual objects, and not the other way around.