[ETA: Hey, folks. So I did a jerk thing – for good reasons, but it was still a jerk thing. I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about a mutual troll that Filamena Young and I both share, so I blocked out her name on the Google+ post that she made that started this whole mess. Which was bad! I shouldn’t have done that! So I’ve fixed that, and linked to the post. But also you should maybe go buy some of her games, because she’s good people and also an amazing game designer.
And predictably, people started reporting the photo as obscene. Because a dong-esque, metallic Pringles can codpiece is obscene, but women in RPG art showing the exact same amount of skin are TOTALLY AWSUM!!1!!11!eleventy
I’ll give you a moment to stew in the hypocrisy.
Thankfully, because the people in my circles are some cool people, it didn’t take long for people to make some pretty funny responses. Including this thread! Which led to… well… okay, just read the screen cap, okay?
RETALIATORY WANG. Is that not the name of the best punk band in the history of ever? And I found myself compelled – compelled – to draw the cover art of this hypothetical Retaliatory Wang album. Because reasons! And empowerment! And… uh… reasons!
And the idea rattled around in my head for a day or two, but I dithered a bit. I mean, sure it would be funny! …to me. But would anyone else thing so?
And then another thing happened. A female artist friend on the Plus started a thread in which she brought this art (also NSFW!!) to my attention, because she knows how much I hate corpse tits in game art. And almost immediately some male artist, previously unknown to me, jumped in and started complaining that women like us were what was wrong with game art, and you know he’s definitely a feminist, but complaining about gratuitous nipples on a flaming skeletal corpse is, like, the worst. ART IS DEAD. (Yes he literally used the phrase “art is dead”.)
And suddenly, my desire to draw Retaliatory Wang’s album cover assumed new meaning. Now this wasn’t just about conceptual silliness! This was about retaliation! With wangs! I started sketching, and I started a new thread asking people for song title ideas and… well… then this happened:
And then for some reason I felt it necessary to write more than 400 words explaining why this was a thing that needed to happen. So I blame my brain, okay? And the internet, too. But mostly my brain.
[Thanks to the following for supplying track titles, or portions thereof: Arlene Medder, Ezio Melega, Dymphna, J. Walton, Jonas Richter, and Josh Roby. Thanks also to the people who inspired this trainwreck. You know who you are.]
Well, folks. I’m hard at work on another paid post, and it’s an art post! And it will be glorious. (And maybe a bit NSFW.) Unfortunately, it’s not done yet and I won’t get a chance to finish it until tomorrow. So in the mean time, let’s have some freebies!
Things that are useful
This post is a fantastic look at communication styles, and how clashing communication styles can cause women to just quietly leave gaming groups without ever addressing the problems that are bothering them. This should be required reading for GMs who frequently game with new people.
Lastly, this isn’t useful so much as “really effing cool”, but I could totally see this getting used in tabletop campaign, so… Turns out, a Swiss taxidermist did a facial reconstruction of the tattooed Siberian princess that was unearthed last year. And she looks so metal! I’m totally going to play her in a game some time.
Thing related to #GamerGate
The incomparable Leigh Alexander gave a talk about 90’s culture and how it ties into trends that led to the current state of game culture. It’s super fascinating (especially for me as a child of the 90’s), and the entire talk is online for free. Though make sure you skip to about 10:00, since before that they were just streaming technical difficulties in setting up the stream. Of particular note, the second question that she took was some dude trying to punk her using #GamerGate talking points. Beautifully, she dismantled him and his BS question – politely, and with infinite class. It was pretty much the best. (Transcription of the exchange is here for those who don’t want to watch the whole video.)
Also of note, Feminist Frequency released its first annual report since becoming a registered charity. And like everything that Anita Sarkeesian has a hand in, I am super impressed by how polished it is, and how it paints an honest picture of the current state of game culture while also remaining full of hope for the future.
Lastly, you may have heard about the flap over several feminist Wikipedia articles being censured for their part in a dispute over articles about #GamerGate. Turns out, initial reports may have been exaggerated? This is an interesting behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on that manages to be informative without being boring.
Things I wrote!
Lastly, I posted the following on G+ in a private thread in response to someone asking how people with longer-running Patreons feel that Patreon has affected their art. It covers ground I haven’t previously covered here, so I thought I’d repost my comment in full here on my blog:
Okay, so disclaimer, I’m using it to support my blog. So, you know, is blogging “art” and all that…
I think the first and most important factor for me is that I wouldn’t have been able to re-launch my blog without Patreon support. I would need to chase other paying work. That is a not-inconsiderable factor. If you are economic circumstances that privilege you from needing to consider profitability of art that you make, that’s awesome! However, for myself and other artists with constrained budgets, Patreon is invaluable simply because it gives us freedom to make what we want to and not simply what will sell like gangbusters.
Now, from a personal standpoint, what has it meant to me personally and my work?
If anything, I find that my standards for what should be a paid post have risen since I first started blogging again. I’ll admit that it’s in small part due to the scrutiny that I’ve gotten from some quarters over being a “professional victim”. But mostly it’s because I want my patrons to stick with me for the long haul, and since I’ve hit a plateau in terms of patron support it’s important to me that I maintain strict standards of quality/quantity in terms of posts that I make as paid.
As far as does it influence what I choose to blog about? Sure. Of course it does. Some of that in good ways and some of that in not so good ways.
The not-so-good is that because I feel pressured to deliver quality posts, I sometimes fall into being silent when I don’t feel like I have things of worth to say. And that’s a trap! (I wrote about it at length here.) I’m trying to be better at not doing that, and also trying to do more free, off-the-cuff things so I don’t fall into that trap of not making paid posts because I’m feeling particularly worthless that day.
However, the good is twofold. First, that the accountability that I feel to my patrons has pushed me to improve my craft. I spend more time on my posts than I did pre-Patreon, for the most part. And I think the difference shows. Also, again because I feel pressure to deliver value, I’ve pushed myself to break out of my comfort zone and start experimenting with different kinds of posts. Like Claustrophobia! That was done with the intention of making it a Patreon thing. I never would have thought to do that sort of thing pre-Patreon, because I wouldn’t have been able to believe that people might find it valuable.
And then there’s just practical stuff. Like how Patreon’s UI SUCKS DONKEY BALLS. But for me, it’s been a game changer. And I think it’s a great thing for art overall, and for me as an artist personally.
The internet’s been pretty busy at being interesting this week, so it’s time for another link roundup!
Awesome people being awesome
I missed seeing this when it first went up, but Blerds put up this fantastic piece in December about “5 Offensive Stereotypes Reinforced by Video Games That Need to End“. It’s an interesting piece, especially as it comes at the issue from a scientific angle by examining the real-world biases that these games are helping reinforce.
Over on KickStarter, there’s a campaign to fund an anthology of science fiction stories by queer authors, delightfully titled Queers Destroy Science Fiction. (Okay, so this totally isn’t about gaming, but I have to admit the title totally got me.) It’s already funded, so anything else they get is gravy.
And last, but certainly not least, the ever-amazing Avery McDaldno is spear-heading New Stories – “a retreat designed to celebrate diverse creatorship and bring together several indie games communities (digital, tabletop, LARP, and beyond).” What is it? Well,
New Stories is a retreat being held at Camp Solomon Schechter, just outside Olympia, WA. May 8-10. It runs Friday afternoon to Sunday evening. Registration includes rustic accommodations and a weekend of catered meals (kosher, vegan options).
The weekend will include games, workshops, panels, semi-structured social spaces, and an opportunity to connect with makers and thinkers from several indie games communities. The retreat will challenge us to look at digital, tabletop, and live-action play in new ways. We’re hoping for 100-150 attendees.
We’ll be inviting several guests to the retreat – women, people of colour, and queers who can bring game design wisdom, critical perspectives, and awesome workshops to the table.
If you live on or near the West Coast, I’d advise you to maybe check it out!
Social Justice Adventuring Party
A lot of my feed this week has been awesome women fighting back against #GamerGate. Which is awesome. Especially since it occurred to me that their approaches would make for a pretty well-rounded Social Justice Adventuring Party. (Because a party of nothing but Social Justice Warriors wouldn’t be balanced enough to deal with a typical adventure, yannow?) So here’s what I think the super teamup from this week would look like in terms of class:
Social Justice Cleric: Zoe Quinn proves that she’s a cleric, not a warrior with the launch of Crash Override, a service devoted to helping victims of cyber harassment recover their lives and a sense of safety. I wonder how many times a day she can cast Turn Neckbeards?
(I didn’t mean to go nearly two weeks without a paid post! However, the PhotoShopping for the last part of this post took significantly longer than I thought it would, and I lost a lot of evenings this past week to rehearsals for the play I’m in. Alas!)
Quite a while ago, this drifted across my tumblr dash (courtesy of Bikini Armor Battle Damage – which is a great tumblr that I love), and I facepalmed:
It’s almost like… Blizzard has a complete lack of awareness of how and why their games were failing at women in the first place. No, wait, scratch that. It’s exactly like that. Because that’s what it is. That’s exactly what it is.
Curious to see what the other characters were like, because I hate myself and like being angry, I went digging for a character roster and found this:
Now, looking at it, I’ll admit that this does do better than WoW and Hearthstone, in that 5 out of 12 characters are gendered as female. However, given that Blizzard’s modus operandi is to clearly delineate female gendered characters with BOOBS, I think it’s a safe assumption that the four characters without immediately discernable gender (Robot Monk (front), Giant-ass Robot, Heavy-Armor Gorilla, and Mech-with-the-Bird) are going to be gendered as male.
Granted, 5 out of 12 characters is 41% female representation – which is much better than Hearthstone’s batting average of around 22%. But still! You’d think that if a game company is going to trumpet that they’re trying to “do women characters better” (and really, I hope that was Kotaku’s phrasing and not Blizzard’s, because that’s a really unfortunate choice of phrasing), this is the low hanging fruit.
It’s not hard! TWELVE IS AN EVEN NUMBER. Half of twelve is six. If you want to NOT FAIL AT WOMEN CHARACTERS, you should maybe, I dunno, HAVE HALF OF THEM BE WOMEN. (At least.)
Even then – even then – I might have been happy with this as a sign of progress if the character designs weren’t so uniform, or if they didn’t fall into all the same design pitfalls as their other games. Looking at the above image, the male-gendered characters cover every body type imaginable, while the women are all slim (some impossibly so – I call bullshit on the angel’s ribcage), all present as femme, and all fit standard definitions of pretty. And then of course, things get uglier when you start looking at the character designs more closely:
Widowmaker (top left) is bullshit, for obvious reasons. Why the fuck would you wear that to a gunfight? Her boobs are about to pop out any second, not to mention the massive ass cleavage in the first screenshot. (Seriously, her suit looks like it must be lodged in her colon. WTF.) Tracer (top middle) is… yeah, okay, I guess she’s okay. I mean she’s skinny as fuck, but maybe that’s part of the tomboy vibe? We’ll come back to her.
Symmetra (bottom left) is yet another instance of Blizzard’s obsession with designing characters that wear dresses with thigh slits that go above the hips, no pants, and stripper boots. But at least she fares better than Mercy (the angel, bottom left), who not only doesn’t get pants but also has some of the most ridiculous fucking boob armor I’ve ever seen. You want to “do women characters”, Blizzard? How about you don’t put them in fucking boobplate?
Lastly, there’s Pharah. Initially I was pleased with her design, even if I was miffed that she didn’t get to be big and bulky like the male heavies. I actually like the contrast of her femme presentation (especially the eye makeup) with the heavy armor. And then I spotted THE BATTLE THONG.
Seriously, look at the male armored characters. None of them have ridiculous armor cod-pieces, so what gives? It’s like someone tried to give her a strong design without sexualizing her, until some studio head came in and said “yeah, yeah, that’s great, can we put her in a thong?”.
And all of this is just the obvious issues with the individual character designs! None of which are helped by shit like this piece of promo art here:
And remember Tracer? The one “yeah, I guess she’s pretty okay” character? Well don’t worry, because Blizzard made sure to sexualize her as well. So far there is only one Overwatch statue available and it’s this one:
Ridiculous boobs and butt pose? Check. Ass cleavage (seriously, who is it on the design team that is so obsessed with ass cleavage? That’s just weird), check. Distorted anatomy? Check. Phew! For a second there I almost thought Blizzard was going to manage to not screw that one up!
Oh, but I can’t forget to mention that the game’s role assignments are also horrendously stereotypical:
That’s right. Two out of three healers are female, two out of four high-DPS/rogue-equivalent characters are female, one out of three defensive characters are female (the least-clothed female character to boot), and there are zero female tanks. Because women are just too dainty and fragile and shit. Or something. REASONS.
So basically, if Blizzard really was trying to make an effort to “do women characters” better, then they failed miserably. Yeah, okay, they didn’t fail quite as hard as they do in all of their other games! But touting this as some kind of achievement is like bragging that you only slap women a little sometimes instead of full on punching them in the face. You don’t get feminist cookies for not failing slightly less than you used to.
How could this be better? Re-examining design choices
If I’d followed my usual posting format, I could have rambled on for another 1,000 words easily about individual characters and problematic design decisions as well as problematic meta-patterns. But instead, I decided to do something a little different – I decided that I would PhotoShop the full-cast poster to actually show how easy it would be to have a character lineup that isn’t fucking terrible.
It turns out that this was a bit more a time investment, PhotoShop-wise, than I anticipated, mostly because the figures all overlap. However! The fact remains that more than half of the changes I made were purely cosmetic! Check this out:
So first, the easiest fix – the gender imbalance. Make one of the characters without obvious gender voiced by a female voice actor, and suddenly the problem is solved. I went with the gorilla, since that’s a character design that recalls other male archetypical characters (like Beast and others). Also, that way there would be a female tank, so win.
Next, looking at the design of the humanoid female characters overall, I was pretty pleased by the overall racial balance. Two brown ladies, a purple lady, and two white ladies? Rock on! Except. Mercy is an angel character with blonde hair. Which. NO. We’ve been over this. Always having angels be blond is some creepy white supremacy bullshit, okay? And sure, I could have shifted her skin tone as a fix, but part of the point of this exercise was to show HOW LITTLE WORK it is to fix this shit. (While I was at it, I also de-boob-plated Mercy’s armor and widened her waist enough to give her a fucking ribcage.)
Symmetra and Pharah were also changes that required almost no effort. I widened Symmetra’s thighs a bit because her torso is not totally skinny like Tracer’s. If she’s carrying more weight on top, then her legs should be more than just pipe cleaners, okay? I also gave her some fucking pants, because FUCKITY FUCK SHE SHOULD BE WEARING PANTS. As for Pharah, I resized her by about 50% to make her the same height as Really Huge Robot Guy, because at least one of the women needed to be a giant, with that degree of character size variance. (I also half-assedly got rid of the battle thong, although it was totally lazy and I can do better.) As for Widowmaker? I let her keep her bullshit costume, but I made her fat so that she’s fat, badass, and sexy. Now at least she reads as someone doing sexy for herself and not because she’s some game dev’s fetish/fantasy.
Lastly, looking at the humanoid male characters (Cowboy Guy, Dwarf Guy, Big Bruiser Guy, and Samurai Guy), there was a serious imbalance in representation with only samurai guy arguably counting as Asian and the others all definitely coded as white. So since Mexican, Native, and Black cowboys are largely erased in anything that portrays cowboys ever, boom. Cowboy Guy is now Latin@.
I also wanted to make one of the other male characters Black, since I wasn’t positive that Symmetra read as Black. I wasn’t thrilled about my choices, but opted to make Dwarf Guy black by shifting the skin tone and desaturating his blond beard into a grey beard, operating on the “grandparents as PCs make anything better” principle. Sure he’s an Angry Black Guy now, but in my head he’s a badass grandfather who’s just angry because people are trying to fuck with his teammates, and when they have downtime he tells awesome stories and makes pie or whatever.
And there you have it! I won’t make any claims that this lineup is 100% free of problems, but if one person can fix most of the problems with a game’s lineup with 4 hours and PhotoShop, then we’re not talking about things that would require a vast investment of resources to correct! Unfortunately, while Blizzard cares enough to give lip-service to the idea of “doing women better”, it’s obvious that they don’t care enough to actually put their money where their mouth is. So I’m not going to hold my breath for any actual substantive changes in their design directives any time soon.
 I could take time to look up their names, but honestly I don’t really give a shit. I’m not likely to ever play this game.
 I hate everything. Seriously, everything.
 CAN YOU TELL HOW ANNOYED I AM?
 Again, I literally do not give enough shits about ever playing this game to Google their names. Just more proof that I’m either NOT A REAL GAMER or OUT TO DESTROY GAMING, I guess. Take your pick.
The thing is, once I started comparing the screen shots to references of actual female athletes, I realized that there’s actually not much to complain about in terms of anatomical correctness. Granted, it would have been much better if the female orcs and tauren (and hell, humans!) were as bulky as their male counterparts, and if female trolls had a stoop like the male trolls did. But at least their anatomy is completely within the realm of the reasonable.
So, you know. Well done, Blizzard on not failing at one very specific thing. Now please do carry on failing at pretty much everything else related to gender.
So while I’m figuring out a different entertaining thing to blog about (I do actually have a few other pies in the oven, just none of them are done yet, so to speak), I thought I’d do another links post.
Related, the Guardian has a pretty good piece about SWATting as a #GG tactic and why it’s so dangerous. (In 2011, American cops killed 404 people – and that figure only includes murders by cops that were counted as “justified homicides”. Killings not counted as homicides were not included in this figure, so it’s hard to say how much higher the real number is. So with that in mind, each time GG gets someone SWATted, the odds are frighteningly high that the police will shoot first and ask questions later.)
Things not about gamers that are pretty much about gamers
Arthur Chu wrote a fantastic piece on Slate about “the plight of the bitter nerd” and why so many so many nerd men wind up hating feminism. It’s great because it has a lot of empathy, since the author himself identifies as a former bitter nerd who hated feminism. But at the same time it’s an excellent takedown of guys who pull shit like trying to equate “she made me feel bad” with “he raped me”. Mostly this is written about people in tech, but sub in “gamer” for tech and this 100% applies.
We talk about outrage culture and never stop to ask ourselves why someone saying “This hurt me, here’s why” is offensive, but a white man creating a comic where women are raped and non-whites are racially stereotyped is not. We scream “Free speech!” in the face of people who say “This is messed up.” We never examine why someone is angry before dismissing them for their anger. We demand perfection and eloquence from someone who has just been confronted with the unbridled contempt someone else has for them and everything they represent.
Considering that a certain segment of my trollbase likes to refer to me as being part of the “Outrage Brigade”, this really rings true. Almost none of the hate I get online is for the games that I make, despite that they cover controversial subjects. Pretty much all of it is related things I say here. Because having opinions about things and expressing my feelings is, to some people, somehow a Crime Against Art.
Anyway. The piece is a bit long, but fantastic and you should read all of it.
People making progressive games despite some pretty strong pushback
This piece on The Guardian starts out with a pretty depressing rehash of the origins of #GamerGate, but the other 2/3 are an interesting look at how Twine is democratizing game development by lowering barriers to entry and allowing more female, queer, and PoC developers to make games and get them published.
Things that are totally cool
Because I wanted to end on a high note…
New podcast alert! Chris Chinn, one of the smartest voices in games blogging, and Na’amen Tilahun are starting a new podcast called Yellow Peril & Magical Negro (love the name, btw) – where they talk about games from a PoC perspective. The first episode covers a lot of ground – everything from Dragon Age: Inquisition to superJews – and was an interesting listen!
Lastly, Epidiah Ravachol, the mind behind Worlds Without Master and many other cool games projects, is doing a cool thing this year; he’s trying to play 51 different games in 2015. It’s a pretty neat idea, but what’s really cool is that he’s making badges for people who want to try the challenge, including some pretty neat variants. Like this one:
 Credit where credit is due, you still get props for making the purple elves the good guys and the milky elves the bad ones.
Diversity can’t be founded on charity. We want these designers to connect with the broader community as equals, which means paying them like the professionals they are.
We don’t believe in “working for exposure”. We plan on paying the writers, the editors, the artists, and the layout people at market rates. It helps support our designers, as well as the ecosystem of people creating independent analog games.
Now that they’ve met their first milestone, they’re going to be able to start publishing games! Which is exciting! This is exactly the sort of thing the game design community needs.
I just published Claustrophobia – my first Twine game!
What is Claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia is a Twine game (my first!). It is a mostly autobiographical game (some details have been changed or vagued up) about the difficulty in being someone who Makes Games While Female.
If you’ve been harassed online, or someone you love has been harassed online, or you have significant anxiety about being harassed online, this might not be the game for you. Play with care.
This game contains profanity. Partly because I like profanity, but partly because that’s kind of unavoidable given the subject matter.
Obviously this isn’t intended to be any sort of universal statement about This Is What Harassment Looks Like. This is just my experience of it.
If you are aware of who a particular passage is referencing (I’ve tried to prevent this), for God’s sake don’t point at my game and name names. This isn’t about pointing fingers, so cut it out – you make my life worse when you do that.
Yes I am aware that I don’t have it “as bad” as other prominent female gaming culture critics. That’s not the point.
You’ll note that I made this post a patron-supported post, so that I could release this freely. (I put a lot of time and effort into this, not to mention the emotional labor of putting myself in this kind of headspace.)
So if you are finding this by other means, play the game. If you like or appreciate it, you could throw me a dollar or two (there’s a Donate button in the sidebar there – it’s new!) – that will make it easier for me to do such work in the future. But no need to feel bad if you don’t.
 I know I said I was going to work on more fun things, but this was something I’d been working on for a few weeks already! Fun stuff after this! Promise!