[Before I start – full disclosure, I am one of the Industry Insider Featured Presenters for this year’s GenCon. So I’m sure that there are those who will say that me writing this post is self-serving arrogance and/or egomania, but whatever.]
The GenCon Industry Insider Featured Presenters for 2016 have been announced, and holy shit is this year’s lineup amazing! Seriously, take a look:
That’s right, folks. There are 13 female IIFPs and only 12 men. This means there are MORE WOMEN THAN MEN, and that is a HUGE FUCKING DEAL, because that is a HUGE amount of change in a really short period of time. To prove it, let’s look at the numbers:
That said, while gender parity has been achieved, there’s still some progress to be made on other fronts. While there is increased representation of LGBT people, the lineup is still pretty darn white. Even so, the current lineup is a lot less cishet and is less white than in years past, which is encouraging. To quote Jessica Price, an IIFP and developer at Paizo:
Does this magically fix all of tabletop gaming’s misogyny problems? No. But women being recognized as gaming authorities, our work being highlighted, our input being sought, and just our presence in equal numbers with men helps
And importantly, this lineup is much more reflective of the diversity of activity within the gaming industry as a whole. In years past, in order to get selected you pretty much had to be a cishet white dude working for a mainstream company on trad tabletop games. But this year’s lineup includes a wide swath of thought-leadership in the hobby, including tabletop publishers, LARP designers, event organizers, activists, critics, podcasters, academics, and community managers. Which is EXCITING! I can’t wait to see what sort of discussion comes out of this year’s panels!
Lastly, there’s one other reason to be excited about this lineup, and it’s a doozy.
GenCon: First Industry convention to achieve parity
GenCon is pretty much THE FIRST major gaming industry convention to achieve gender parity in it’s lineup of guests of honor / special guests / featured guests / featured presenters – from here on out referred to as the GoH lineup, just so I don’t have to keep typing all of that out. (Honestly it would make my life a lot easier if the industry could agree on a standard term, event organizers. Just sayin’.) Don’t believe me? Let me back that up with some numbers.
I went looking at the GoH lineup for every convention in the United States and Canada with attendance over 10,000 that included gaming (of any kind) as a primary or secondary focus. (Sourced using Wikipedia, here)
This means that conventions without a GoH program were excluded, such as BlizzCon, Minecon, and PAX. (Although to be fair, PAX might have a GoH program, but their website was terrible and I gave up looking after twenty minutes.) I also didn’t include Game Developers Conference, despite being one of the major industry conferences, because they have a list of speakers with hundreds of people, but not a list of GoH, and given that I’m in school right now I just don’t have time for that shit. Lastly, E3 was also not included because they have industry partners and sponsors, but no GoH.
That left a list of 10 conventions. Most of them, finding a roster of 2016 GoH was easy, but for whatever reason I had trouble with IndieCade, so I counted their lineup for 2015, figuring that was a good enough approximation. And here’s what I came up with:
Out of the ten conventions surveyed, only MarCon had more representation of women. However, while MarCon does include gaming as a secondary focus, it’s primarily a sci-fi and anime convention; it’s gaming presence is very small, and it’snot one of the major stops on the typical gaming industry convention tour. (I say this not to knock MarCon – it’s quite lovely, and I’ve been several times, before I left the US for Canada.)
So out of major gaming industry conventions? GenCon comes out clearly on top. The next-most even gender split of conventions that are more than just video games is Momo Con, which is still nearly two thirds male and has Totalbiscuit – one of the big names of GamerGate – as a GoH, for fuck’s sake.
Reactions to the lineup
There have been some encouragingly positive reactions to the announcement of the IIFP lineup. Both The Mary SueandBoingBoing have highlighted the lineup and what it means for the industry.
But of course, there have also been those who are… less pleased with this development. Both Jessica Price and Whitney “Strix” Beltran (who was an IIFP last year, but not this year) have faced sexist backlash about the composition of the IIFP lineup – despite the fact that one of them is not a current IIFP and neither of them have anything to do with the selection process. Some of the “arguments” being presented are:
Old school RPGs are the only “real” RPGs
Mainstream trad games outsell indie games, and thus indie developers don’t matter
Indies chosen as IIFPs were selected because of pretentious identity politics and not merit
The current lineup is a result of “SJW gatekeepers”
Thankfully, the amount of obviously sexist MRA garbage has been fairly small as of yet. However, there are those who have reacted by expressing puzzlement about why GenCon would select such an “obscure” lineup, or by speculating that only “unknowns” must be applying to the IIFP program.
Which. Ugh. There’s not as much gross sexism in that sort of response, but it’s still pretty insulting hearing people imply that the obvious increase in diversity must be as a result of an overall decrease of merit. And I could write a couple thousand words on that alone, but I think I’ll let Elizabeth Sampat and Jessica Price take it from here:
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:
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.
Part the First: GenCon’s “Industry Insider” Program
The lack of diversity of GenCon’s Guest of Honor lineup is something that I’ve written about before, and rather stridently so. After the complete embarrassment that was 2011, in which the lineup of 16 Guests of Honor included only 1 woman – Margaret Weis – GenCon has been making noises about wanting increased diversity in it’s GoH rosters. Their track record on that front, however, hasn’t been all that great. 2014’s lineup was actually LESS inclusive of women than 2012. And a lot of the changes that have been made, supposedly in the name of greater inclusiveness, have been pretty fucking tone deaf.
Take, for example, the name of the program – which used to be the “Guest of Honor” track. It was pointed out by myself and others that having Guests of Honor that were almost exclusively white and male was hugely problematic! Because, as I said in my first post on the issue:
A convention as large and as venerable [as GenCon] can be seen as affirming the status quo of a male-dominated games industry. Even worse, it seems to lend credence to the idea that women just aren’t doing work worth honoring in the games industry, which isn’t true – though there are (I’m sure) plenty of people who would like to believe that’s the case so that they can continue to justify the sexism that runs rampant in game marketing and development.
On the surface, it’s nominally a good change – and is something that I actually pushed for in last year’s post on the matter. The problem is that the name change was suggested as a way of having a two-track Guest of Honor program – one for the startlingly not-diverse pool of Industry Insiders, many of whom are honored several years in a row, and an actual Guest of Honor track that would allow for not-hetciswhitedude GoHs that would be able to actually bring diverse programming to GenCon. And that’s the part that GenCon has completely failed to follow through on. (You know, the part that actually matters.)
Changing the name of the program doesn’t actually do anything to resolve any of the concerns that have been expressed about lack of diversity. Call the program what you will – Guest of Honor, Industry Insider, whatever. But functionally speaking, the Industry Insider program is indistinguishable from what any other convention would call a Guest of Honor program. What is being honored by GenCon is whiteness and maleness, and that is something that a name change simply can’t fix. Changing the name on the box doesn’t actually fix any thing if what’s in the box is THE SAME FUCKING THING IT ALWAYS WAS.
Now have some improvements been made? Certainly. This year’s lineup featured 8 women out of a pool of 26 GoHs, which means that women made up 30% of the lineup. And sure that’s still a depressing minority, but at least it’s moving in the right direction with regards to gender equality. However, acknowledging that it’s incredibly fucking difficult and hugely problematic to make assumptions regarding someone’s racial identity based on their appearance, the fact remains that range of skin tones is still monochromatic! If the only meaningful representation that is increased is the representation of white women, then it cannot be claimed that diversity has been achieved.
A defense that has been raised “against” these concerns by some has been “well women aren’t applying to the program”. Which. Just. NO. I’ve already written a couple thousand words about why “women aren’t applying” is NOT an acceptable response to concerns about lack of diversity in an organization, and they’re all on-point so rather than quote myself I’ll just say go here and read if you haven’t already.
Part the Second: Recognition
I had what felt like an important moment at the Diana Jones Award ceremony (which I enjoy going to because I always meet at least one cool person and I also get to see friends I wouldn’t see otherwise). When Matt Forbeck got up onstage to announce the winner of this year’s award, I was talking with Ajit George and Mark Diaz-Truman, who are both visibly not-white guys who have done a lot of work to increase diversity in gaming.
So the winner is announced (Guide to Glorantha, if you’re curious), and six white guys got up on the stage and had their moment of recognition. I honestly can’t remember which of us said something first, but I do remember observing that this year was my fourth year attending the DJAs and I had never seen anyone other than a white guy on that stage to win the award. After which there was a moment of depressed reflection, because Jesus. It’s such a sad indictment of this fucking industry.
The games industry has this fucked up masturbatory circle of recognition that only includes men recognizing the work of other men – the overwhelming majority of whom are white. And it’s fucking HEARTBREAKING, because I know so very many amazing people who are women, queer, nonbinary, PoC, and various combinations of some or all of those traits who are doing amazing and valuable work that enriches the game industry and game design as a whole. And yet year after year AFTER YEAR, the people who get recognized are most often white guys who have been part of the old boy’s club in the industry for decades. And I KNOW someone is going to say that I think all work by white guys is garbage and should be killed with fire, and that’s not what I’m saying at all. But when the only people winning awards are white guys who are getting awards from other white guys and this is a pattern that persists, you gotta admit that it’s pretty fucked up.
And yet, the people who attempt to point this out are reviled, castigated, and demonized. Last year, I found myself having to send the following email to someone about an industry dude who was really unhappy with what I’d written about the Guest of Honor program and used his status in an obvious show of power meant to make me feel bad: (serial numbers filed off to protect the guilty)
I was meeting up with some folk in the dealer’s room at the end of the day when I happened to encounter a Really Big Deal Industry Guy. And RBDIG? Apparently not happy about things I’d said about about GenCon and it’s GoH program – specifically the part where I was arguing that we need to decrease the representation of hetwhitecis dudes. He was very aggressive and made me very defensive as I tried to explain the context of my comments, that I wasn’t disputing the merit of any individual, that I know and respect and look up to a good many people on the list.
So then RBDIG aggressively declared that if women don’t apply to the program, there’s nothing to be done. End of story. Still feeling defensive, I tried to explain how women can be made to feel like they’re not really welcome to apply (I didn’t even try to broach the topic of how economics is a barrier for a lot of women, what with the wage gap, lack of accessible childcare options, and the expensiveness of the con) and offered some of my personal experiences where I had been made to feel unwelcome in the gaming community.
Finally after about fifteen minutes of back and forth, RBDIG just said sarcastically “well I’m going to go own my privilege and have a steak”. And it made me really, really angry.
This was a situation where RBDIG, as the industry professional with the big name, had all of the power. And despite the fact that I was polite and re-explained the context of my remarks and stuck solely to discussing my personal experience and feelings, he was aggressive and rude. And he closed our interaction with a passive-aggressive remark seemingly intended to drive home the power imbalance between us. I literally had not exchanged more than two words with RBDIG before this, but I’d only ever heard good things about him and people that I know in our community have expressed respect for him. And again, nothing about my remarks were intended to question anyone’s qualifications or merits as a Guest of Honor. They were simply intended to address the fact that in order to increase diversity, they need to stop including so many white guys.
It fucking sucked. And yet that’s the BEST of the sort of bullshit that not-hetciswhitedudes get when they have the temerity to question the status quo regarding recognition in the industry. At least because I’m white, no one was actually afraid of me for being angry, which is a thing that actually happened in real life. One of the people who also spoke out against the lack of diversity in 2014’s lineup had an industry person actually express fear of them when they met face to face this year.
Part the Third: Access
GenCon, unlike pretty much every other convention on the planet, doesn’t actually offer any monetary support for GoHs beyond providing a badge and some marketing – so the Guests of Honor they attract are mostly industry people who would have attended anyway. The Guest of Honor program essentially gets no budget, and when the issue of providing a budget for travel expenses for GoHs arises the response tends to be a lot of helpless shrugging. “It’s not in the budget”, you see – the implication being that GenCon couldn’t afford to provide travel expenses for it’s GoHs since it’s such a large program.
And to that, I say bullshit. Here are this year’s numbers from GenCon’s own website:
Gen Con 2015 has set an all-new attendance record with a unique attendance of 61,423 and a turnstile attendance of 197,695, creating a six-year span of record growth. Since 2010, Gen Con has more than doubled in attendance. Year-over-year, Gen Con has experienced 9% attendance growth, primarily driven by 4-Day and Family Fun Day badge sales.
The growth in badge sale revenue alone is staggering. DOUBLE the unique attendees in five years, with the largest growth seen in the most expensive badge types? GenCon badges are not cheap. There’s also the revenue that GenCon earns selling booth space in the Dealer’s Room. Prices for booth space have risen nigh-exponentially year over year, with no ceiling in sight because vendors are still fighting for the space – there are always more interested vendors than available space, and they’re more than happy to continue paying whatever GenCon wants to get that space. As an indie publisher, I’ve witnessed it first hand. Over the past five years, indies have been almost entirely pushed out of the dealer’s room, with the only vestiges of indie presence being Indie Press Revolution and the Indie Game Developers Network. And prices for booth space will only continue to rise, with no ceiling in sight.
So the idea that GenCon somehow “can’t afford” a budget to support travel expenses for GoHs is laughable at best, and borderline offensive at worst. Because the economics of the thing are actually the largest barrier to increasing diversity!
Getting to GenCon is expensive because Indy is far from fucking everything, hotels are expensive, the badge is expensive, and the food is expensive and not even remotely nutritious. (By the end of the convention, I’m desperate for anything resembling a vegetable.) And the wage gap is still a very real thing, which puts convention attendance out of reach of the sorts of people that the program would most benefit from including! (To say nothing of the issue of childcare, which is a responsibility that disproportionately falls on women and is its own barrier to convention attendance, but that’s a separate issue. Mostly.)
To use a personal example, in my conversation with Ajit George, he asked me why I hadn’t applied to be an Industry Insider for this year’s convention. For me the answer was simple – I had to do too many GM hours to get my room and badge covered for the convention, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go without that support. I didn’t want to do yet another 4-6 hours of panels on top of my already-pretty-bonkers GMing commitment, because then when would I actually play any fucking games? Or have time to eat? Or sleep? Or enjoy hanging out with awesome folk? I’m not getting paid to come to GenCon, and despite that it is as much business as pleasure, I wouldn’t go if it was actively unpleasant or stressful.
And here’s the thing, I joked about doing PovertyCon whenever people asked if I wanted to go get drinks, but the uncomfortable reality is that being in Indy made me blindingly aware of my privilege. Here I was at GenCon, with the ability to spend what I saw as “a bit” of money in the dealer’s room. And yet all of the bathroom attendants? Hispanic and South-Asian women. The porters at the hotel? Overwhelmingly black and brown. The employees at the food court in the mall? More brown and black than white. I may have had to “pinch pennies” to get to GenCon, but I still fucking got to GO TO GENCON.
So if the economics keep me as a white, cisgender, middle class as fuck woman with enough connections to get a room and a badge for free from applying as an Industry Insider, you can sure as shit bet that there’s a whole lot of WAY LESS PRIVILEGED PEOPLE who are going to look at the program, what it’s offering, and say “nope, not even a possibility”.
So, if GenCon wants to put its money where its mouth is in regards to increasing diversity of it’s GoH lineup? It needs to… Well. Put it’s money where its mouth is. Give the GoH program a fucking budget and start actually giving money to qualified applicants who wouldn’t be able to be part of the program without economic support. It won’t fix the problem overnight, but it’ll remove the largest barrier to continuing to move in the right direction.
I’ve never been a fan of status games, but my least favorite is this: there’s this thing that happens in the tabletop world where designers occupy the top of the status pyramid and are considered to be solitary geniuses who pull games fully formed from their brain meats.
This is deeply problematic, because it erases the contributions of women in many ways. Game design is not a solitary pursuit, you cannot make a good game without the input of other smart, insightful people – and I know a lot of women who rock at giving playtest feedback that helps to solve design problems for games still in playtesting! It also sucks because there is an ongoing impulse by certain high-status members of the community to gatekeep what “counts” as “a game”, and coincidentally a lot of the work done by women somehow manages to consistently get disqualified in these “conversations”.
But mostly it sucks because it plays into gendered narratives surrounding what is important to our hobby and what is trivial. Game design is seen as a male activity and is thus valued more highly than stereotypically “female” activities – even when those activities improve the hobby as a whole!
…there are an awful lot of women out there in non-design roles doing work that is vital to the community. Convention organizing! Event organizing! Community building! All of these are vital! Gaming is a hobby that requires community, and that requires a space and a time to happen. Without the women doing this work, our hobby wouldn’t be what it is.
And it’s something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. Event organizing is vital because event organizers are literally creating the spaces where gamers can meet new people and interact with new ideas – which is what is needed to keep our hobby innovative and vibrant. So I’ve been wanting to talk about the work they do and maybe counter some of that for quite a while now. Because the gendered narratives surrounding whose work is valued in our community suck!
The problem that kept me from doing so is that I’m most decidedly Not An Event Organizer. I do pretty okay at keeping myself organized and on task, but event organizing is not (nor is it likely to ever be) one of my skillsets. So I decided that I would recruit some of the awesome women that I know who do event organizing to have a roundtable to highlight their experiences and why what they do is important. (Spoiler alert: it went super well!)
Normally this is the sort of thing that one might publicize beforehand, but honestly this was agonizing for me to put together as I was dealing with all of the imposter syndrome. Which is why I put this together, made it happen, and decided to publicize after. Thankfully, all I had to do was let the awesome ladies I assembled talk and say really smart things. It went really well, even if I did say “awesome” too much.
Of course, the process of putting this together made me really appreciate just how much work event organizers do and how invisible that work usually is. This is something that I started trying to put together in January and only just managed now, and I can tell you that even for something this simple there were a fair number of things that I overlooked. (Thankfully everyone was super gracious about it.)
The team that I assembled to help me talk about this ended up being:
Many thanks to the ladies who made this possible. Given how well this went, I might consider doing this in the future if I find myself wanting to spotlight a topic that I don’t have a lot of personal expertise in!
[This is not a paid post for a lot of reasons. The tl;dr is that as far as my work that I will cite here, I’ve been paid for some of it, and the rest was the result of time that I donated to local organizations. I didn’t feel right “double dipping”, as it were. Not to mention that with #GamerGate still incomprehensibly a thing, I want to avoid anything that even resembles being a “professional victim”. That said, if you want to support me in doing this kind of work, becoming a patron would certainly help.]
The ongoing climate of fear, intimidation, and harassment sparked by GG has certainly put gaming’s problem with women in stark relief. If there can be said to be any good that has come of GooberGate, it is that gamers who have previously tried to “stay neutral” in such debates are realizing that there is no such thing as “neutrality” when it comes to hate movements.
So I felt like this would be a good time to talk about anti-harassment policies, because working to implement harassment policies is a concrete step that can be taken to make women feel safer at conferences and other large events.
First: What is an anti-harassment policy and why should our event have one?
An anti-harassment policy is a policy that clearly spells out types of behavior that will not be permitted, steps that event attendees can take to report harassment, and how the policy will be enforced. Anti-harassment policies are a key part of creating a safe environment, because they help to set an expectation that harassment is an issue that will be taken seriously by event organizers.
Pelgrane Press has an official anti-harassment policy for 13th Age events that I was paid to work on, along with Ash Law. I quite like this as an example of a policy that not only spells out inappropriate behavior but also spells out the things that event attendees should be able to expect as part of a positive and open gaming environment.
Anti-harassment policies don’t have to be limited to geek events, however. They can, and should!, be written for pretty much any kind of volunteer-run organization. After working on the 13th Age policy, I helped to adapt some of that language in the implementation of an anti-harassment policy for a local amateur theater company that I am a part of.
Third: How do I notify attendees of an anti-harassment policy?
Well, personally I’m a huge fan the approach that New York ComicCon took:
GIANT-ASS VERY READABLE SIGNS.
Your organization might not have the budget for such large signage, but prominently placed, clearly worded signage is definitely the way to go. At the very minimum, the anti-harassment policy should be posted in a high-visibility area near your event’s registration area and outside each entrance to the dealer’s hall, if you are running an event that has one. A lot of harassment actually takes place in convention dealer halls and is largely directed at cosplayers.
Which is why, if you are running an event that participants are likely to attend in costume, you should also consider posting “cosplay is not consent” posters in high traffic areas of your event space.
Lastly, it can be very difficult for convention staff to know how to handle harassment complaints in the moment, especially as many gaming and other geekdom conventions are at least partially staffed by volunteers. However, it is critical that convention staff know how to conduct themselves when approached with a harassment complaint, so as to avoid making an already terrible situation even worse.
So here is an example of a concise document that can be used to train staff in how to talk to someone bringing forward a harassment complaint, as well as guidelines for how to responsibly take action. This was something that I wrote for that same local theater company, but could easily be adapted to fit the needs of a conference or convention.
Fourth: what can I do to push event organizers to implement harassment policies?
If there’s an event you’d like to attend that doesn’t have an anti-harassment policy, contact the event organizers directly and express your concern about the lack of a policy. Most of the time, event organizers who are running events without anti-harassment policies aren’t doing so out of malice. The problem of convention harassment is something that has pretty much always existed, but been kept silent.
For instance – after I approached GenCon organizers about my concern regarding their lack of a policy and related my experience of being harassed at GenCon, GenCon subsequently implemented an anti-harassment policy, which was even mentioned in the opening ceremonies at the beginning of the convention. (They could still do better with signage, but they’re working on it, which is hugely encouraging.)
It can be a bit scary broaching such a topic, but remember that it is in the best interests of event organizers to ensure that their attendees feel safe and welcome.
Lastly, should you be blessed enough to possess sufficient status within your community to be invited as a panelist or guest of honor at a convention, please strongly consider following John Scalzi’s example in refusing to attend events without an anti-harassment policy. By setting such an example, you can make things better for everyone.
 Either you side with the people being abused, or you side with their abusers. The idea of this as a conflict with opposing “sides” is victim-blaming of the worst sort, because it makes speaking out against abuse somehow morally equivalent with ACTUALLY ABUSING PEOPLE.
While I have some posts coming up that are prompted by interactions I had at GenCon, this will be the last post I write explicitly about my experience at GenCon itself (at least for the next little while). I’ve talked about the things that made me excited, as well as specific crappy things observed in the dealers’ room. But I didn’t address negative things outside of the dealers’ room, so here are some observations about things with varying degrees of crappyness.
Bad: Some dude mansplained my shirt to me
One of my birthday gifts this year was a shirt that said “FAKE GEEK GIRL: REAL GEEK WOMAN”. So of course I wore it to GenCon. I mean, how could I not?
Friday morning, I got dressed in The Shirt (and also pants) and headed out to get breakfast, bleary from a late night of awesome awesomeness. As I was standing in line, two guys spotted my shirt. One of them looked excited and said, “oh wow, that’s an awesome shirt! My wife would love that shirt? Where did you get it?”.
Pleased, I said that I did love the shirt but that it was a gift and I didn’t know where it was purchased. And that’s when Complimentary Dude’s mansplainy friend chimed in with, “but you’re not fake”. Which led to the following conversation:
Me: I’m… not a girl.
Mansplainy Friend: But you’re not fake. You’re–
Me: Not a girl. I have a toddler. I pay taxes. I am a woman.
Mansplainy Friend: Yes, but you’re not a fake woman.
Me: Okay, but you’re getting bogged down in the definition of one word. Do you not understand that this shirt is commenting on a larger social phenomenon where women like me have to fight to have our interest in geek culture seen as valid?
…at which point Mansplainy Friend tried to continue the argument, but thankfully Shirt-Complimenting Guy got him to shut up and I collected my breakfast and left.
And I suppose that I really should have expected something of the sort to occur. After all, I did wear the shirt rather expecting that hanging out primarily in tabletop RPG areas would mean that it would provoke some kind of a reaction. Still, in my defense, I don’t think anyone can be entirely blamed for being surprised when someone attempts to mansplain their own clothing to them when they are still in a severely under-caffeinated state.
Bad: I didn’t X-card the jokey sexism in a game that I ran
I was a GM at Games on Demand this year, which turned out to be tons of fun for all of my games except one – a game of Zombie Cinema. (Zombie Cinema is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a fun little game that creates zombie movie plots. It’s eminently replayable and never leaves my bag at conventions, in case I ever find myself with spare time, friends, and desire for a pick-up game that lasts about two hours.)
The problem with that game? There were six people at the table, including myself, but I was the only woman. And three of the six players were, well, the bro-iest of bros. Still, because some of the random character gen options specify gender, we wound up with three female characters, so I was hoping things would turn out well.
Early on in the game, however, the bro players started tossing out stuff about “protecting the women”, which was irritating. I jokingly had my character, a middle-aged mom and secretary, call them on it. At which point it promptly became a running joke throughout the rest of the session. And not the friendly sort of running joke, a “oh this clearly bothers you, so now my character is going to keep doing it” kind of running joke.
At the time, I just thought that it was a B- game of Zombie Cinema. There were some amusing jokes, like how the zombie plague came to be known as “raibola” (rabies/Ebola), but mostly it was a slightly sub-par but still amusing enough for the price of a generic ticket game of Zombie Cinema.
It wasn’t until I ran into James Stuart, the “new” proprietor of Story-Games, fellow GoD GM, and one of the not-bros at the table for the game, that he helped crystallize my annoyance by asking if I was okay with what happened in our game. He said that he was reluctant to X-card them since I seemed okay with it, but at the same time it seemed pretty gross. And at the time I was like, “oh yeah, I was okay, it was just kind of irritating is all”.
But since then I’ve examined that reaction and now I regret not X-carding the jokey sexism once it became a nasty little running joke, because it was a joke that made the game less fun for me. I got trapped in the mindset that because Games on Demand was paying for my badge, I was obligated to provide the players with a fun game. But I forgot that my fun was also an important part of the equation, and the “ha ha girls suck” running “joke” throughout the game definitely made it less fun for me.
And all of this despite an excellent all-hands meeting on Thursday night that stressed that GMs had to consider their own fun as much as their players when deciding what to X-card! So it’s not even like this was a possibility that hadn’t been addressed.
So that’s something I think I’ll need to work on being more aware of next year.
Bad: Casual harassment
I didn’t experience as much of it this year as I have previous years, there was only one creepy dude on the street of the “oh god avert your eyes, don’t make eye contact, stick close to your group” variety that I encountered this year, although he was a doozie. (He started singing at me and pelvic thrusting, although thankfully he didn’t approach me and I was able to give him a wide berth as we passed him on the sidewalk.)
But let me turn that around and say that this year was the best year I’ve had in terms of street harassment. So the fact that I go to GenCon expecting to be creepily harassed and made to feel unsafe by at least one dude while at the convention? That’s messed up.
Another insanely not-cool moment was my very first night at the convention, at a party where I was going to head back to my hotel with my hotel roomie and her boyfriend. On the way out, she stopped at a table to say hi to someone that she knew, and a dude literally grabbed her hand and started trying to pull her into the booth. At which point I started hovering very visibily while wearing my best “we need to leave because I need sleep face”.
And, you know, generally my friend and convention-roomie is a super capable woman and I would trust her to be able to handle her own creeps. But at the same time, Creepy Arm-Hauling Guy was large and I wanted to at least try to shame him into letting go. (Which he did, though probably not because of me, and we made our escape, and that was the end of that.)
And maybe it was because we were at a party? But you know what, fellas? Being drunk is not an excuse for harassing women, even if it’s just because you want to get to know them. Calm the fuck down, and if you can’t behave yourself around strange women when you’re drunk, then DON’T FUCKING DRINK.
One of the things that I forgot to mention in my post about good things about GenCon was the fact that the opening ceremonies of the convention specifically mentioned the harassment policy and that harassment was not okay, and that anyone feeling threatened or uncomfortable should seek out convention staff who would take the situation seriously. WHICH IS GREAT. The fact that GenCon has gone from having effectively no harassment policy to having a well-written policy that staff are being trained on? That’s awesome.
The only signs spelling out the complete policy were in the badge registration area. There weren’t any in the dealer’s room area that I or any of the people that attended the Women in Gaming panel had spotted. And I didn’t see any outside of the main convention center, either.
And that’s a problem! If nothing else, there needs to be at least some basic “cosplay is not consent” posters in the dealers’ room, because that’s where a whole lot of cosplay is happening.
The other problem is that a whole lot of people just don’t need to go to the badge registration area. Because I was running through Games on Demand, I picked up my badge from the GoD staff without ever having to go through the badge line. And for the most part, trips to the dealers’ room to acquire specific items were the only trips that I made into the convention center itself. The one panel I was able to go to (all the others overlapped with my GM slots! Curses!) was in the Crowne Plaza – all of which were areas that didn’t have any sort of signage to raise awareness of this policy.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of people don’t attend the first day of the convention, or don’t manage to be awake in time to hit the dealers room in time for the opening ceremonies, or aren’t able to stand close enough to hear what everyone else is saying.
This is something that is important. If you want to change the social norms around toxic and harassing behavior at conventions, you have to change expectations and raise awareness, and signage is an important part of that. GenCon is just too big an event to do it in a more individualized way.
Back in 2011, I started photographing all of the women on banners (or other prominently placed promotional art) that I saw in the dealers’ room for the purposes of blogging about it. This year was challenging – there were more than 2800 booths. That is a lot of walking; both times I did the full circuit it took me two hours.
And I’m pleased to report that things are getting better… slowly. I’m starting to see a few game publishers who are obviously making an effort, and some of them are even getting it right. The publishers getting it wrong are still in the majority, but I have hope that they’ll only make their products look increasingly dated as the rest of the hobby moves on without them.
So let’s get on to the pictures!
Doing it wrong
Speaking of dated, the fact that I even remember EverQuest being a huge thing makes me feel creakingly ancient. So I felt even older when I saw a booth for EverQuest Next at the show. EVERQUEST NEXT? I felt like I’d fallen into a time warp back to the era of terrible MMO UI design and shitty sexist armor designs:
God. I almost feel embarrassed for Sony at this point. This hits pretty much every checkbox on the “is this terrible” list and barely breaks a sweat, while simultaneously managing to look like a piece of promo art for a game released 20 years ago. Did they just hire the same artists again? Because that wouldn’t surprise me at all.
And yet, sadly, this will probably make lots of money, because gamers. But who knows? Maybe (hopefully) I’m wrong.
Next up, Force of Will – an anime-looking card game thing that didn’t appear to be doing too much business on the two occasions I went past their booth:
I have to say, the no-pants knight there is pretty run of the mill, but the artists of the witch really worked to sneak in that underboob. I mean, she’s wearing shorts under the skirt and otherwise seems reasonable attired, but then – BAM! BOOB WINDOW! Shit like that always makes me suspect artist shenanigans.
Art Director: Right, we want a strong, empowered female character who definitely isn’t sexualized.
Artist: Gotcha. [draws practical outfit with boob window]
Or maybe it was the art director after all. Either way, I call shenanigans. And also, I’m not going to stop at your booth ever, so have fun losing a sale from someone who came to this very large dealers’ room specifically for the purpose of finding things to spend money on.
Or take another example: Grey Fox Games. I literally have no idea what kinds of games they publish, because I saw cleavagey demon chick and promptly meh’ed any other details about their games out of my brain.
If I remember correctly, HC&D Game Supplies was one of approximately 3 million general CCG booths at the show this year. I was actually keeping an eye out for good deals on deck boxes, since my Magic collection is a serious mess right now, but chainmail bikinis are an automatic deal-killer for me:
And sure, these weren’t the most ridiculous chainmail bikinis that I saw at the convention. Honestly, as far as game boobs go these are actually pretty tame. Still, not failing at women is the low-hanging fruit of not automatically killing a sale when it comes to getting my money.
This next one… This next one looks pretty decent at first blush:
Two humans, PoC humans!, beating up on some orcs. And they’re both wearing platemail, so yay? Except look at the woman’s armor – it’s one of the worst examples of boobplate I’ve ever seen. The plates are molded specifically to her chest, to each individual boob even, which is objectively a terrible idea. Not only that but there’s this bizarre jewel thing right on her sternum? And again, that’s just really bad armor design! The artist wants to call attention to her boobs so bad that he’s putting her in potentially fatal, or at least very seriously injuring armor. So big fat fail on this one, guys.
Moving on, here is a matched pair in the WTF ARE THEY EVEN WEARING category:
Realms of Havoc is, I guess, a CCG? Which, you know, whatever. I hadn’t heard of it before I got to the show, and I’m certainly not all that likely to try it out when it’s being advertised with HOLY SHIT A LOT OF SIDEBOOB, ragged clothes, and a wedgie of doom.
And then we have Dark Age which is, you know what, I don’t really care because LOOK AT WHAT SHE’S WEARING. She HAS to have had some serious waxing done because what the hell is she wearing? This is like the ultimate cameltoe wedgie of doom! How can I possibly take any game seriously that advertises itself with cameltoe wedgies??
The problem with banners in the dealers room is that the people making them tend to operate under one of two assumptions: 1) just have a sexay lady on it 2) have a lot of dudes and shove a woman on there as an afterthought. (If #2, sexualizing the woman is an option that can also be taken, and is encouraged if you’re operating from the Awful Manual of Promotional Material Design.)
In terms of sexualization, neither Mage Wars nor Freeblades are terribly exceptional, although I will say that I’m getting really, really tired of sexualized crypto-Natives in my games, which is how the Freeblades mascot reads to me. The woman in the Guardians Chronicles banner was clearly tagged on as an afterthought, at which point the artists took the opportunity to go LOL BEWBZ. (Seriously, the most skin any of the men are exposing is their neck. It’s just ridiculous!)
And Iron and Ale? [sigh] To be honest, I actually like the lady dwarf, even if I am firmly of the opinion that lady dwarves should always have facial hair. But she’s also suffering from a severe case of Fantasy Party Smurfette in that it doesn’t matter how large a group of fantasy adventurers is, because there will only ever be one woman.
WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON HERE? This is like the worst FemShep ever. She’s surrounded by dudes, her tech armor is… I don’t even know what’s going on. Her thighs are just bizarre – her right thigh is bizarrely skinny and her left thigh is bulging weirdly and kind of bending in the middle? And let’s not forget that her breasts are bizarrely spherical with individual armor compartments, which just makes my head hurt.
I don’t even know what to say about this. Dude, dude, and BONDAGE DOMINATRIX. Bondage dominatrix with ridiculous anime/80’s hair.
Oh hey look, it’s another game where the women are an afterthought and are both showing cleavage. Seriously, I’m getting bored writing this section and can’t be bothered to say anything else. Thankfully, it’s time to look at the stuff I saw that sort of failed but sort of didn’t.
Doing It Only Sort-of Wrong
Next we have what was one of the most puzzling contrasts I saw at the convention. On the right, the banner for Counterblast is actually pretty cool. We have Space Tiger Guy and Space Lady Redhead firing lasers at tentacle aliens! That’s pretty awesome! Except look at the banner right next to it. Which is for… bombshell babes minis.
Here’s another entry in the SO CLOSE AND YET SO FAR series:
Infinity is yet another CCG. But honestly, I actually kinda liked the art, except for how the artist drew interesting characters with dynamic poses and then overly-emphasized the boobs. The medic? Is actually super cool. I really like the character design and the action of the pose. But WHY ARE HER BOOBS FALLING OUT?? Ditty for the other girl? She has some really interesting character design, except WHY IS SHE WEARING BOOB PLATE?
Come on, guys. That’s like running 95 yards, then dropping the ball on purpose, saying “fuck it”, and leaving the field to get a beer.
Last in the “so close and yet so far” collection is this banner for Valiant:
So the two figures that are women are pretty awesome! Not to mention that one of them is fat and heroic and attractive? Holy crap! That’s awesome! …except that only 2 out of a total of 12 figures are female, and neither of the female figures are focal figures – they’re both background figures. So women are allowed to be fully clothed and heroic, but only if they’re in the minority and kept out of the spotlight? Not cool, dudes. Not cool.
Doing It Right
All right! Now for the stuff I’d much rather write about! The stuff that I actually super liked! First up, this banner for Citadel Sky Pirates, which I found quite delightful:
None of the banners in their booth had any overly sexualized ladies, and I found that I really liked the Sky Pirates banner. Both of the women have really excellent character designs, neither have unrealistic physiques, and both look heroic. The woman on the right looks sexual, sure, but she doesn’t look sexualized. (I realize that might sound like a pedantic distinction to make, but for me it’s a key difference.) And it’s also worth mentioning that the pirate on the right was one of the few PoC I saw adorning banners in the dealers’ room. (As much as companies have been making slow strides with their depiction of women, they have farther to go with PoCs.)
Next up, my favorite booth of the entire convention!
WHAT. WHAT. THIS IS SO AWESOME I CAN’T EVEN.
Heroic women! Women of color! Women doing a job! Women sharing focus and screen time! Equal numbers of men and women! Focal women and background women and OH GOD IT’S JUST SO GOOD. I was kind of sad that I already own all of the Pandemic products I want to, because it would be nice to give them some money just because.
But of course, the other notable publisher that managed to succeed at gender and racial diversity is Paizo, as demonstrated by this very large banner across the back of their booth space.
Fifty percent women, fifty percent men, and, at least by my reckoning, more than fifty percent PoC. Dear Paizo, I love you. And I’m deeply sad that Pathfinder just really isn’t my gaming style, because I would dearly love to give you lots of money. So I’ll just have to settle for blogging a lot about how deeply awesome you are.
Speaking of deeply awesome! Here’s an awesome thing:
It’s a lady adventurer! In the snow! APPROPRIATELY DRESSED TO THE WEATHER!
I got so excited about this that I stopped to snap a picture and didn’t even try to be surreptitious about it. One of the people at the booth seemed very puzzled by this, so I apologized and said, “I’m sorry, I just was really excited that your banner had a woman in the snow wearing appropriate clothing. That’s something I never see!”
At which point the publisher told me very earnestly that women are very important and that they want to represent women. And then he dug out a product catalog, which was very nicely produced, glossy, and on heavy stock and gave it to me. Which just really blew me away.
THAT. THAT is a model of how to interact with female fans, publishers. I was absolutely blown away. So SHADOWS OF ESTEREN, Y’ALL. Did you know that it won an Ennie? Did you know that the art is fantastic? Check it out, because seriously, so impressed.
When I walked past this booth, I first had a little eyeroll moment until I realized, wait a minute. These women are actually all awesome and not sexualized. WUT. I mean, yeah they’re all blonde women, so maybe it would be nice if one of them wasn’t white. But still, a game publisher putting only awesomely characterized female characters on their banners? Progress!
Last up, I just really liked these War Machine banners. On the left, the lady in red just looks really cool, and not impractically dressed for the winter weather – which is an automatic +1000 points from me. And the lady on the right, similarly, her armor seems practical and her poses looks dynamic without being overly sexual. Best of all, they’re just drawn like that isn’t really a thing that needs to be called attention to. And that? That is what I would DESPERATELY LOVE to see more of out of my dealers’ room experience!