Publishers: STOP HIRING ARTISTS WHO CAN’T FOLLOW DIRECTIONS

So before I start, two things:

  1. I’ll cop to the fact that this post is inspired by the series I just completed on Pathfinder – but it’s not about Pathfinder, if you catch my meaning. The problem that I’m writing about is a problem for the entire industry, not just for one or two companies.
  2. While I use particular examples, this isn’t me saying we need to run certain specific people out of the industry, although I’m pretty certain some people will hear just that. I can use someone’s work as an example of what not to do and still not say they should be run out of the industry with torches and pitchforks.
  3. I am NOT saying get rid of all sexy art in games ever, okay? FFS.

Now that that’s been said, let’s move on to the matter at hand:

When addressing the issue of “how does bad art get past a strong art director”, the thing that comes up again and again is the short timelines to produce a finished product, and not having the luxury of sending a piece back to an artist time, and time, and time again until they get it right. The number of times I’ve heard publishers say things like “sometimes you ask for a strong armored black woman in plate armor and you get porn”, and just shrug it off like there’s nothing to be done about it because that’s just the way things are… It’s kind of astonishing.

Take, for example, this comment by Erik Mona on a long-ago post about Pathfinder:

…we generally give our artists a loose rein to draw what pleases them, and the fact of the matter is that lots of artists, especially the younger male ones who like to draw stuff for comics and gaming companies, are fucking perverts. It must have something to do with all of those life drawing classes they take, or their focus on the human form, or whatever. As a class of people, artists are generally pretty filthy. 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… (full comment can be viewed here)

And trust me, this mirrors pretty precisely what other highly-placed publishers both at large “mainstream” companies and mid-to-large indie outfits have told me[1]. This is a problem that isn’t just widespread – it’s endemic. This results in the sort of cheesecake where the artist was obviously not following the spec, like these images:

NotSpec
LEFT and MIDDLE: art by Wayne Reynolds; RIGHT: art by Eric Belisle

(You’ll note that two of the three example images I’ve picked are by Wayne Reynolds. I’ve even joked in the past about calling this Wayne Reynolds syndrome because he’s particularly bad for depicting women as sexual that were obviously meant to be depicted as powerful.) Check out these examples. In the first, we have a pirate that is meant to be sword-fighting some kind of were-shark, but instead she is contorting into the most spine-breaking boobs-and-butt pose imaginable so that we can see her incredibly unrealistic cleavage AND her panties. In the second, we have a female orc who is meant to be seen as a powerful warrior, shown in medium armor and bristling with weapons, with boobs that are perfect spheres, and are about 30 seconds from popping out of her chainmail top. And in the third, we have a character that is clearly meant to be shown as a capable mage, with a collection of scrolls and a magic wand, but instead she is being shown as baring midriff and sideboob in one of the most gravity-defying fantasy outfits I have yet seen.

AND IT’S A REAL PROBLEM.

It’s a problem for the intended audience of the product, because of how the product is perceived – in this case as being sexist. A few isolated examples here and there are one thing, but in the aggregate – given the large scale of this problem – it signals that certain game products are not safe for or welcoming to consumption by women. Some women will buy the product anyway, but a significant number will choose to invest their money in products they feel are more respectful in their depictions of women.

It’s also a problem for the publishers, because the potential loss in sales and long-term damage to the brand’s image of inclusivity isn’t the only factor being weighed. Whenever a publisher gets a sexualized image that is counter to what they asked for, it puts them in a situation where all of the available options suck. Do they throw their timeline out the window by sending the art back – something they might have to do multiple times, depending on how truculent the artist is being? (And trust me, some artists will flat out refuse not to sexualize their images of women.) Or do they roll their eyes and stick to the time line? Both choices are bad! PLUS, the artist is putting them in a situation where they have to spend extra time and energy to evaluating “how much of a problem is this”.

Faced with such a situation, most publishers tend to opt for rolling their eyes and moving on. (They might send it back once, if they have “lots” of time, but then go with whatever they get.) And as much as I rail against the glacial pace of change in tabletop game art, I can’t say that I entirely fault the publishers on that front. Publishing is a tough business! Gamers expect huge value at bargain basement prices! The margins are incredibly narrow, and all it takes is a small mistake for you to end up eating your shirt on a game. (Hell, even if you do everything “perfectly” as a publisher, it’s possible that circumstances entirely beyond your control can still entirely fuck your profit margins.) Breaking a committed timeline can be hugely expensive! So mostly, the people who can afford to be principled and “get it right” are the indies[2] – most of whom have day jobs and aren’t relying on publishing as a primary income.

That said, much as I understand the short-term decision to accept the individual piece of art in the name of getting a product out the door, the fact that the industry as a whole has put up with this incredibly widespread phenomenon as being a thing for so very long is baffling! Publishers will say things like “well what can you do” and “we have no choice” – as if there’s nothing that can be done about a problem that MOST publishers say they want to change, and which has persisted for decades. And then even after an artist gives them art that does not meet the spec that was requested, publishers will continue hiring the same artists over and over again! And that is BONKERS, because that kind of blatant disregard wouldn’t fly for creative work in any other industry. It’s unprofessional, and counter to the interest of the publishers who hire them.

For example, if I hired someone to design a logo for my furniture business and I got back a cleavagey woman humping a couch, I wouldn’t pay for that – it would be a violation of what I asked for. And I definitely wouldn’t say “I should give them more business” once that transaction was complete!

The helplessness with which publishers discuss the phenomenon of rogue artists is doubly frustrating given that ARTISTS ARE NOT UNICORNS; they aren’t some rare, incredibly precious commodity that must be guarded and protected at all costs. In the recent artists all-call that Ryan and I did for Katanas & Trenchcoats, we had eighty-five portfolio submissions. We’re STILL working on narrowing down who we want to work with, because the level of skill among the submissions is incredible! (Seriously, this is a good problem to have.) And yet, because we made such a focus on emphasizing that we wanted diverse applicants, a good many of them are people whose portfolios are deep and impressive, but their illustration experience lies outside the games industry.

Now it’s important to be clear. Sometimes there is miscommunication between publishers and artists that leads to delays that isn’t the artist’s fault, and publishers should ABSOLUTELY not throw their artists under the bus when that happens. Trust me, as someone who has done freelance game illustration, I feel that very keenly. Sometimes publishers ask for a draft, then flat out change their mind. Sometimes what is needed isn’t clear and it takes some back and forth to discover what that is. And that’s fine! I’m talking only about bad-faith approaches to art specs, because the people I’m talking about are repeat offenders. They do this shit over, and over, and over, and over again – and it shows quite clearly in their body of work.

Admittedly, finding new artists does take work. As you might imagine, going through 85 portfolios, narrowing down which artists would be a fit for your project, and deciding from there is something that takes a lot of time! And a lot of publishers have a stable of artists that they like to work with – artists that they know and have worked with in the past. Given the volumes of art required for a typical game book, which can have hundreds of full-color illustrations, going back to the same artists you’ve worked with in the past is just one less decision that needs to be made.

But in the long run, getting rid of artists who can’t follow the instructions you give them for what you are looking for in an illustration will pay off. You’ll get art that matches your creative vision, that doesn’t tarnish your brand by association, and that doesn’t force you to choose between satisfying your morals and honoring business commitments. (Because the thing is, every publisher I’ve talked to will say this is a problem, and that they would like to see it change.) As long as everyone’s response is to throw their hands in the air and claim that NOTHING CAN BE DONE, no substantial change will ever be made!

As publishers, we can make things SO much better by simply insisting on the absolute minimum standards of professionalism when dealing with artists; if your artists can’t be bothered to give you, THE CLIENT, what you are asking for, tell them that you need them to pay attention to the specs as written. And if they still don’t follow it? Fire them and hire a different artist.

[1] This tends to be less of a problem for micro-publishers like myself, because micro-publishers tend to either 1) do the art themselves 2) use stock art 3) work out a trade arrangement with a friend who won’t fuck them over. There are exceptions, sure, but any time you have a shoe-string budget, you end up doing more yourself, which means you keep more CONTROL to yourself.

[2] There are exceptions, of course – Evil Hat, Pelgrane Press, and Magpie Games being the most notable.

Pathfinder Art (Part 3): What… I… Just… No.

[Notes: Some problems with my language were pointed out, and I have some made some revisions accordingly. WRT calling Roma “gypsys”, that was my bad. I knew better. As far as “heebie jeebies”, that was something I wasn’t aware of as being a problem.]

In my last post, I did an analysis of art from a few Pathfinder books to look at the differences in how men and women are portrayed, and how that sheds light on sexist trends that are present in Pathfinder art. This post was done according to my usual methods, and you can find a whole lot more such posts by searching the numbers tag here on my blog.

Now, numbers will only take you so far – which is why today’s post will look in some pretty extreme depth at art in these books and why saying simply “the art in the three books I examined displayed clearly sexist trends” is, if anything, understating the matter. I’ll be talking about specific issues with the artwork in order of increasing awfulness, from “ick, really?” to “what the actual fuck, gross”.

(And as always, click through the images for a view with more detail)

Gross Trend #1: The prevalence of sexualized character design

Because it’s supported by the numbers that were gathered, I can say that “in the NPC Codex and Inner Sea World Guide … women were about twice as likely to be suggestively attired as their male counterparts”. But that statement alone doesn’t really convey the sheer stupidity of so many of these pieces of artwork, where the spec obviously called for “heroic avatar” and the artist, instead, turned in “hurr hurr tits”.

The least offensive example I have of this is boobplate, which was depressingly prevalent:

Boobplate
These are just the MOST INFURIATING examples of boobplate, btw. I had a depressing variety to choose from. (Click for larger view)

I don’t think it’s necessary for me to cover yet again why boobplate with individual boob pods, or boobplate with a boob window is a terrible fucking idea[1]. But I think it’s worth pointing out that the Haughty Avenger’s boob window is actually one of the least offensive (in my opinion) of the images that I picked out. The Ice Maiden, with her Madonna-esque metal brassiere over her armor, strikes me as being just as gross, despite not actually being able to see any skin. The Tribal Champion and Bloodfire Sorceror are similarly frustrating, given that they also have metal boob pods over other armor – although theirs at least aren’t cone-shaped. And the Heir Apparent… [facepalm]

The Heir Apparent is possibly the worst drawing of boobplate I have ever seen, which is impressive, because I’ve been writing this blog a long time and have looked at A LOT of really bad art. First of all, her breastplate seems to also double as a corset, judging by the otherwise impossible narrowness of her torso and waist. More important, however, is the fact that her armor’s boob pods are distended and lemon-shaped, which… you know… just… no. Breasts can be shaped like a lot of things! They’re all different! But NEVER distended protruding lemons, because that’s just not how gravity works. So the stupidity of drawing protruding-lemon boobplate is just staggering.

But of course, boobplate isn’t the only kind of frustratingly sexist character design. That comes in a wide variety of flavors!

StupidOutfits

A spear and shield fighter who doesn’t wear any goddamn pants! A huntress who punches things with magic fire (?) while wearing a bra and hot pants! A cleric who dual wields crossbows while wearing a drab-colored evening gown that require a lot of garment tape to prevent wardrobe malfunction! An embarrassingly racist Asian elf whose leotard is meant to be sexy but mostly looks like an adult diaper! A lizard person with tits in a bustier[2]! Boobplate is just one tool in an artist’s stupid sexualization tool kit! The number of ways that a female character can be reduced from “heroic avatar” to “sexual object” are almost limitless!

[facepalm]

It’s worth noting that this sort of thing can get unintentionally hilarious when you have a particularly egregious example of sexualization in the same 2-page spread as a male cover that is completely covered from wrist to neck to ankle:

DumbestSpreads

[siiiiiiiggghhhhh]

Gross Trend #1a: Impossible breasts

The fact that so many artists insist on needlessly sexualizing the women they draw wouldn’t be nearly so infuriating if they bothered to put in the least bit of effort into understanding 1) how breasts work 2) how gravity works 3) how breasts and gravity work in combination with each other. Breasts are sacs of flesh and fat that hang from the pectoral muscles. This means that they hang down and slightly away from one another. BREASTS DO NOT HAVE THEIR OWN GRAVITY. They don’t pull themselves into perfect spheres. They don’t magnetically stick together to form cleavage without a garment providing A LOT of structure. And gravity pulls them DOWNWARD. Which is why all of the following is just plain inexcusable:

DumbestBoobs

No. No no no NO. The only one of these that is even CLOSE to correct is the halfling on the far right, and even then her breasts are doing some uncanny valley shit where they’re close to correct, but just wrong enough that they’re giving me the heebie jeebies willies.

Sadly, even when artists manage to get the structure of breasts right, they often fail to consider how breasts + gravity will interact with the clothing being worn. For example, while the following images actually manage to not screw up the actual breasts (too much), all of them would be a hot mess the instant any of these women tried to actually do anything:

FabricTape

The Battle Skald’s outfit is the most practical/realistic of these trainwrecks, but even that isn’t saying much. With no underwire or other supportive structure, the fact that only two stitches hold the two halves of her top together means that she’d get maybe a few swings of that axe in before having some severe wardrobe difficulties. As for the Undead Slayer, I will at least give the artist points for structuring her outfit such that they managed to have visible underboob without having to worry about areola or nipples[3]. However, the Undead Slayer, the Vivisectionist Cleric, and the Seductive Enchantress will find themselves popping right out of their tops, because BREASTS ARE AFFECTED BY GRAVITY. Without a structuring top like a corset or supportive bra, breasts move around a lot.

There’s also the issue that AREOLA EXIST – covering the nipple doesn’t render them magically invisible. Further, NIPPLES ARE THINGS THAT HAVE THREE DIMENSIONS. They are protruding fleshy bits! So there should absolutely be nipple showing through both the Vivisectionist Cleric’s and Seductive Enchanter’s “tops”.

Tl;dr, LEARN HOW BREASTS WORK. The internet has a wealth of examples you can learn from.

Gross Trend #2: Women aren’t heroes

As I pointed out in my last post:

…when looking at the Inner Sea World Guide … 34% of all women can be said to fit into a class archetype – which is ALL KINDS OF DEPRESSING when you consider how incredibly underrepresented women are in the Inner Sea World Guide as a whole. There are vast swathes of the book where there are no women at all, and when women DO show up, fucking TWO THIRDS OF THEM aren’t even heroes or adventurers. They’re fucking barmaids, peasants, princesses, and slaves – which is some creepy woman-erasing misogynistic bullshit.

That alone is bad enough! But even worse is the fact that A LOT of these non-heroic women are also objectified. Most women can’t be heroes, but they can be sexy barmaids?

Barmaid

And sexy slaves. And sexy princesses. And sexy human sacrifice victims (more on that in a bit). Welcome to Golarion! Where the men are heroes and the women are fuckable! …which is fucking horrific when you consider the overall lack of women in the books in the first place. [brr]

Gross Thing #3: Quotas and Interchangeable Women

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the major problems with representation in the books I examined was the fact that so many group scenes contained only 1 woman. This is pretty aggravating when the lone woman is shown as a hero or other avatar figure, but when they’re shown as something else, things can get pretty gross.

Take, for example, these examples – in which the ratio of male figures to lone female figures was particularly egregious: 

Only1

In the left image and the bottom right, the lone women in the scene are at least shown as heroes. But in the top right, our lone woman is shown as an imminent victim of human sacrifice, which is just all kinds of wrong! Apparently the answer to “where are all the women in Golarion” is WE MURDERED THEM?

But then, it’s not like any of this is entirely surprising given that women are so entirely unimportant that they are completely interchangeable. After all, one sexy woman is as good as another, right?

Sameface

There were no less than six pieces in the Inner Sea World Guide by the same artist of ostensibly different women who had the same damn face. Because who cares about depicting women as individuals with their own unique characteristics and attributes? Really all that matters is that they’re sexy, and so long as that requirement is fulfilled, they can be assigned a generic face. That’s the bit that no one cares about (as long as it’s sufficiently aesthetically pleasing), because sometimes words come out of it and that’s gross.

…obviously I’m being sarcastic here, but sameface syndrome is something you almost always only see in illustrations of female characters. And it’s something that I would expect an art director to be more on top of, when dealing with a large number of images from the same artist.

Gross Trend #4: Embarrassingly Racist Art

Last, but most certainly not least, was the distressing prevalence of racist art. Starting with CODING ALL OF YOUR BARBARIANS AS CRYPTO-NATIVES:

Racist

NO. NO NO NO. NO.

“Barbarian” is literally just another way of saying “savage”:

barbarian

The stereotype of Native peoples as savage devils is one of the most pernicious, destructive, racist stereotypes out there. It directly led to the genocide of Native peoples by colonialist forces, the establishment of the Canadian residential school system – which was only shut down in 1996, as well as a legacy of racism and structural injustice for natives. So coding Barbarians as Native is bad, but making a subset of those Barbarians a CANNIBALISTIC EVIL MATRIARCHY??? NO. Just. NO.

Sadly, I wish I could say these were the only example of gross racism, but… no:

MoarRacist

Oh good. A sexy gypsy Roma – a trope almost as gross as “savage” Natives – and evil crypto-Arabs. (There are A LOT of game products that even call them “gypsies”, which at least Pathfinder didn’t do – since “gypsy” is an actual ethnic slur.)

That’s nice. At least the racism is well rounded.

In Conclusion

I parted ways with D&D quite a while ago after discovering indie table top games – not because indie games are “better” per se. But because the complexity and crunch of D&D and other systems like it or derived from it, as is the case with Pathfinder, just didn’t do it for me. But even if that were the case, I don’t think I would feel comfortable picking up these books, or recommending Pathfinder to someone just getting into games for the first time – because this is the kind of shit that makes me embarrassed to be a gamer.

[1] If you’re struggling with “why is boobplate bad”, then this probably isn’t the blog for you.

[2] LIZARDS SHOULDN’T EVER HAVE TITS. THEY ARE NOT MAMMALS. YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

[3] Because nipples WILL be visible through a lot of fabrics

Pathfinder Part 2: Looking at Art in Pathfinder Material [CHARTS][LONG]

[EDIT TO ADD: I realize some people are going to look at it and say “so what, two of these three books are older books”. However, what I feel makes it pertinent are the fact that the numbers from the newer book in the lineup are right in line with the older book. And, to slightly mangle one of my favorite Tumblr gifsets, it’s not exactly like women hadn’t been invented yet.]

[Edit 2: In the comments, Jean-Francois was kind enough to point out that I’d made my charts for suggestively attired and fully covered using absolute values and not percentages, which was completely my mistake in selecting the wrong fields to pull data from while making the charts, and then writing about the incorrect charts. This has now been fixed.]

Recently, I wrote about my experiences in trying out the Pathfinder Adventures card game app, which was released several weeks ago. Unfortunately, the sub-optimal experience created by the already confusing and buggy UI was made worse by bafflingly sexist art which I had no option to escape or avoid. And that was confusing! I don’t play Pathfinder, since the system makes me cranky, but I’ve always had an impression of Paizo as being One Of The Good Companies. As I said on Twitter:

Here’s a thing that I find puzzling: about 40% of the awesome female fantasy characters I pin on Pinterest come from Pathfinder art. And yet actual Pathfinder products make me want to punch things and scream, like, A LOT.

Case in point, I was bored with my recent mobile addiction and decided to try out the new Pathfinder Adventures app. Spoiler alert: the art is frustratingly sexist. Also, kinda bad – I mean, it’s impressive how WRONG some of these breasts are. Because I wanted to believe that it was video game devs skewing the product, I borrowed a bunch of Pathfinder books from a friend and…

Nope. That shit was just as bad, if not worse. Which – guys I wanted to like it so bad. SO BAD. There are great people at Paizo, and they have done and said some really great things wrt inclusion in their products. Also, [Jessica Price] has been one of the people I consistently point to as an example of how to promote diversity in the industry correctly. I WANT to be able to appreciate Pathfinder! I want it to be as great a game as the people I know at Paizo!

So I decided that I would try to borrow some Pathfinder books and take a look at the art, just to see how they compared to the game. I was hoping (foolishly, perhaps) that they would be better than the game? But, alas, my hopes were dashed.

Since something that I discovered in looking at the D&D 5E core books last year was that the art was much more balanced in the player’s handbook, I made sure to borrow more GM-facing materials, as I wanted to see how bad the art really got. And, uh. It gets pretty bad – starting with the covers. The books I borrowed were Battle of Bloodmarch Hill Part 1 – a small adventure path, The NPC Codex, and The Inner Sea World Guide. And two of the three covers… well…

Covers

The fact that the artist (I’m guessing Wayne Reynolds) felt it necessary to squeeze in a weirdly objectified barmaid on the cover is aggravating enough, but WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK is going on with the cover of the Inner Sea World Guide?? Seriously, it took me a good three or four minutes of squinting to determine if Seoni was facing toward or away from the camera. The artist was SO DETERMINED to show some boobage that they drew her boobs showing on either side of her torso, never mind the fact that this would mean her boobs would have to be pointing outward away from each other at about a 45 degree angle. But, you know. Whatever. Let’s just move on and get to the numbers:

Criteria Studied

Since the issues I was interested in looking at with the Pathfinder books were pretty much the same as what I examined with D&D, I used all of the same criteria:

As with all of my other “numbers” posts, I was specifically interested in tracking the following criteria:

  • total breakdown of figures by gender
  • prevalence of fully-covered versus suggestively-attired figures by gender
  • class archetype depicted by gender

(For a more detailed explanation of what I mean by these criteria, you can read my very first such study here –starting with the heading “Determining Methodology”.)

However, because of trends that I noticed flipping through books, I did make some modifications to my criteria and how I counted things. For instance, as there were a large number of illustrations where it was not possible to determine the gender of a given figure, I counted “humanoid figures without discernible gender” separately from male and female figures.

One thing that I also noticed while flipping through the books is that there seemed to be a marked difference in representation between group shots (shots with multiple figures) and shots with only one character; as such I looked at the gender-breakdown of single-character shots as well as group shots that contained male figures and group shots that contained female figures.

Gender Representation in Pathfinder Books: Depressingly Predictable

I went into this analysis hoping that the results wouldn’t be as predictably imbalanced as I thought they would be. And… well… the good news is that they weren’t. The bad news, however, is that’s only because they were worse than I had anticipated.
Gender

Out of the three books I surveyed, the NPC Codex wins the dubious distinction of being the most gender-balanced – despite actually having a higher percentage of male figures than Battle of Bloodmarch Hill – simply because all of the characters illustrated in the NPC Codex had handy text blurbs specifying who the character was. Conversely, the Inner Sea World Guide – the setting guide of all of the nations that make up Golarion (the official Pathfinder setting) – wins the “honors” of least gender-balanced, with an impressive 68% of all figures with discernible gender being male and only 24% being female.

Most depressing, however, is the fact that the breakdown for Battle of Bloodmarch Hill and the Inner Sea World Guide look almost identical, despite being published four years apart. The Inner Sea World Guide was released in 2011, the NPC Codex in 2012, and the Battle of Bloodmarch Hill was released in 2015. One would hope that there would be at least some movement toward inclusion, along the line of what Wizards managed with the release of 5th Edition D&D, in those four years, but… not so much.

Somewhere else that Pathfinder comes up short in comparison to D&D is the issue of representation in group shots. In examining the art from D&D 5th Edition books last year, I discovered that women were better represented in group shots than they were in single-character illustrations. So given the overall abysmal numbers of female representation, I was curious to see if that would be the case with these Pathfinder books. They are, after all, a pretty similar product. But as it turns out, women are actually less represented in groups and scenes!

Group-Versus-Single

Despite the fact that only 26% of all female figures in Battle of Bloodmarch Hill are women, 35% of all single-character illustrations are female – which means that group scenes are punching way below their weight. And while the disparity isn’t quite as noticeable with the other books, the fact remains that groups and scenes are actually less representative than single-character illustrations. Seriously, check this shit out:

Groups-and-Women

For all that Battle of Bloodmarch Hill had pretty much the same disappointingly low levels of female representation as the Inner Sea World Guide, there was only 1 illustration out of 8 (12.5%) that didn’t include any women. The Inner Sea World Guide, however, which is supposed to be a book about setting and the world of Golarion, had a staggering 59% of all group shots containing only men. Which is some weird and creepy shit, right there, when you’re writing a book about an entire world. Seriously, where the fuck are all the women???

And when women DID appear in group shots or scenes, the odds were pretty damn high that they would be THE ONLY WOMAN in the image. Only ONE of the 7 group shots in Battle of Bloodmarch Hill contained more than one woman. And out of the depressingly small number of group shots that DO contain women in the Inner Sea World Guide, only 31% of those images contain more than one woman, which is just… fucking depressing.

Differences in Depiction: Active Posing and Suggestive Attire

The other set of numbers that I collected for the three books focused on how men and women were portrayed differently. In collecting these numbers, again I stuck with my usual methodology for counting 1) figures that are actively posed versus neutrally posed 2) figures that were suggestively attired and 3) figures that were fully covered. (If you want to read explanations of how I determine these things, my methodology and reasoning are all spelled out here.) When looking at each figure, I also determined what the class archetype of the figure was: warrior, rogue, mage, or no class depicted.

When looking at active poses versus neutral poses, the numbers come out a bit mixed:

Active-v-Neutral

For both Battle of Bloodmarch Hill and the Inner Sea World Guide, women are slightly more likely to be posed as neutral than active. In the NPC Codex, women are slightly less likely to be posed as neutral. However, a confounding variable that I didn’t know how to account for was that the NPC Codex contains almost exclusively single-character illustrations with no background whatsoever, and it is significantly harder to draw a character that looks active with those constraints.

When looking at suggestively attired figures and fully covered figures, things similarly come out a bit mixed:

Pathfinder-SA-FC

[This section has been updated and corrected]

There is pretty close to an even gender split of suggestively attired figures in Battle of Bloodmarch Hill are male, with a slightly higher percentage of male figures counting as suggesting – although this is entirely owing to the fact that Battle of Bloodmarch Hill is a scenario that involves A LOT of orcs – almost none of whom are wearing shirts. And as I’ve written about VERY recently, simply not wearing a shirt does NOT make an illustration sexy. However, the numbers are a lot more clear in the NPC Codex and Inner Sea World Guide. In both of these books, women were about twice as likely to be suggestively attired as their male counterparts.

As for fully covered figures, again the prevalence of orcs plays havoc with these numbers in Battle of Bloodmarch Hill. Even so, women come out only slightly more likely to be fully covered, and in the NPC Codex they are less likely to be full covered. Which means that as usual, women have the double-whammy of being both less likely to be fully covered and more likely to be suggestively attired – which is in keeping with the general trend toward sexualization of women in game art.

[/correction]

Finally, we come to depictions of class archetype, which I include simply because in fantasy and gaming artwork, it’s still an unfortunately common stereotype to see men depicted overwhelmingly as fighters and women overwhelmingly depicted as mages. And the numbers are… mostly frustrating:

Class

Interestingly, the NPC Codex manages to have a nearly even split of how men and women are depicted, with women actually being slightly less likely to be depicted as not having a class than men. Which is fascinating! Especially since it’s bookended (in terms of publication dates) by Battle of Bloodmarch Hill and the Inner Sea World Guide, which are both very unbalanced in their class depictions.

In Battle of Bloodmarch Hill, only TWO out of 34 male figures that fit into a class archetype are shown as anything other than a warrior or fighter! As compared to the women, who are 40% less likely to be fighters and are nearly 20% more likely to not fit any class archetype at all. And the split is even worse when looking at the Inner Sea World Guide! Only 34% of all women can be said to fit into a class archetype – which is ALL KINDS OF DEPRESSING when you consider how incredibly underrepresented women are in the Inner Sea World Guide as a whole. There are vast swathes of the book where there are no women at all, and when women DO show up, fucking TWO THIRDS OF THEM aren’t even heroes or adventurers. They’re fucking barmaids, peasants, princesses, and slaves – which is some creepy woman-erasing misogynistic bullshit.

Stay Tuned!

Because next time, I’m going to be looking at specific piece of art – because HOLY SHIT THEY ARE SO BAD WTF HOW ARE THEY SO BAD.

So because I don’t want to end on such a downer note, here’s a baby squirrel:

Beefcake: what it is and what it isn’t [VERY NSFW]

As mentioned in other places on the interbutts, I’ve been hired by Ryan Macklin to assist with art direction for Katanas & Trenchcoats – his love letter to 90’s tabletop roleplaying (“Embrace the dream of ’90s tabletop roleplaying through the darkness-fueled madness of immortals, werebeasts, car wizards, and more!”) – which is down to hours left at the time of writing this post, so really, do go take a look.

Ahem.

Anyhow. Yesterday we put out an artists all-call looking for artists to submit portfolios[1], which contained the following:

Are you interested in drawing beefcake?

Anna and I are in particular looking for two or three artists who are attracted to men and enjoy drawing sexy men to be part of the team. (Note: it takes more than being shirtless to be sexy.)

Being able to draw beefcake is not a requirement for doing K&T art. If this isn’t your thing, say so. You will not be penalized or be taken less seriously. We’re looking for a lot of artists to draw a variety of things.

Ryan and I are very much in agreement that we want there to be sexy men in the book because [ahem] equality.

Importantly, did you catch that we asked for artists who are attracted to men who would be interested in doing beefcake? That’s because we’ve both learned through previous industry experience that a lot of artists do not know the difference between male power fantasy and beefcake. So a lot of the time if you ask an artist (who, if you’re working in the games industry is more likely to be cishet and male than not) to draw you some sexy dudes, what you’ll get is a whole lotta shirtless dudes that… aren’t actually all that sexy.

And certainly, several of the artists who have contacted me so far have said “oh yeah, I’m not into dudes, but I don’t mind doing beefcake”, and then the pieces that are used as examples are emphatically not beefcake.

So! Pull up your chairs and gather round, folks. Because we’re going to take a look at art that gets confused for beefcake versus actual beefcake and break down the difference.

[The rest of this post has been placed behind a jump cut because WOW I found some, uh, empowered dudes to use as examples.]

Continue reading

Monday freebie: Shit you need to read about harassment

Hey, folks

Last week saw a ton of amazing pieces about gendered harassment online. At the time, I didn’t have bandwidth to do more than hit reshare, but looking back at the wealth of well-researched and written articles that shed light on a phenomenon many people would prefer not to think about, I’m retroactively declaring this required reading. These are long pieces, so save them for when you have some bandwidth to process – don’t just skim them, because these pieces all deserve more than just a perfunctory read.

First, this actually dates back a couple of weeks, but if you haven’t seen this piece by Tumblr user latining about the white male terrorism problem in tabletop gaming, then go read it right now. Don’t let the strong headline put you off, because the experiences that she recounts in stark detail are not all ones that I’ve had personally, but many of them are. And the ones that I haven’t experienced directly, I’ve seen them happen to other women, or talked to other women who have had those experiences after the fact.

Second, The Guardian did a week of pieces about gendered harassment last week, and each one of them hit it out of the park. The first entry in the series was this post where they talked about the trolling that happens in their own comment section, their moderation policies and process, and how it can be difficult to apply in real life. But more importantly, they also have a lot of great interactive graphs which show the data of which writers for which sections face the most harassment, so you should make sure to read on desktop rather than mobile.

The next piece in The Guardian’s series is this look at how, in the face of indifference and lack of action on the part of major social network companies like Facebook and Twitter, women are starting to build their own tools for fighting back against online abuse.

Following that was this piece by Jessica Valenti, who has the unfortunate distinction of being the most-harassed writer for The Guardian, about why writers shouldn’t be expected to put up with insults and rape threats as “part of the job”. (It sounds like stating the obvious, but I promise it’s an excellent read.)

Last in the series was this piece that takes a look at the current state of laws and company policies that are supposed to deal with cyber-harassment, and the gaping holes in those policies that prevent them from being anything resembling useful.

Third, this long read by The Atlantic looks at how concerns over “free speech” have been used to turn social media into a space where harassing speech by users becomes the default, and is seen as worth protecting – moreso than the feelings of safety of those whom the harassing speech is directed at.

Last, make sure to read this piece on Broadly about why nerds are so sexist, especially as it features male tears about how Star Wars is being taken over by women.

Go! Read! There may be a quiz later.

 

KickStarter Part 2: The Only Way to Fix the Problem is to BUY GAMES BY WOMEN

Okay, folks. Today’s post is a 301-level post, in that it builds on a lot of things that I’ve written previously here. I know I’m shooting myself in the foot in terms of expecting anyone to read this by linking to a bunch of stuff right off the bat, but…

So here goes.

In the past, I’ve written about

Importantly, I’ve also written about the statistics of crowdfunding while female for both Patreon and KickStarter – although looking back I can see that my stats for Patreon were not as in-depth as I would like. (I may go back and correct that, but probably not.)

Everything I write here in this post is going to be predicated on the assumption that you have read those posts, or at least understand the concepts that I’ll be addressing. If I get any questions or comments referencing something covered in one of the above posts, I’m going to moderate your comment.

Again, this is NOT a 101-level post, so fair warning.

WHY IT SUCKS TO BE A FEMALE GAME DESIGNER/PUBLISHER: A SUMMARY

One of the classes I’m taking, now that I’ve gone back to community college (Canadians call it “college, which confuses the shit out of me, still), is Operations and Supply Chain Management. I never expected to get much out of it, but surprise! I am. And one of the things that we’ve spent A LOT of time on is various types of flow charts, or “process charts”. Which is sort of what I’m starting with here.

…so to tl;dr everything I just linked to in the most reductive way possible, if you are a female game designer and/or publisher, you will face the following barriers to designing, producing, and publishing your own games:

  • lack of community support (passive): fewer reshares of promotional posts on social media, less “buzz” around the development of projects you are working on, etc etc
  • lack of community support (active): gate-keeping, misogynist backlash against your games because… reasons (it’s a thing folks, it really is), marginalization of your work as “for women” or “niche”, etc etc
  • internal cognitive: especially Imposter Syndrome – this one is the biggest
  • practical realities of being a woman, and miscellaneous RL shit: the wage gap, second shift labor that disproportionately affects women, losing emotional/mental bandwidth to having to deal with microaggressions on a daily basis

If you struggle and persevere and actually start publishing games, you will attract:

  • less community buzz/support: Yes I listed it twice. It’s that important. Buzz translates into post-crowdfunding sales. Without it, you can’t expect anything substantive with regard to post-campaign sales
  • fewer backers/patrons: which when combined with less support leads directly to
  • fewer long term sales and lower overall revenue

These factors translate directly into:

  • women designers having to set lower goals and take on less ambitions projects: which is itself an ugly catch 22, because over time this perpetuates an unconscious view of women designers are people who make scrappy little games and niche projects and men as designers capable of pulling down the big bucks ($50,000+). Look at all of the $200,000+ RPG KickStarters in the past two years. It’s not a coincidence that every single one of them was fronted by a man.
  • projects by women designers attaining their goals with much lower margins of success (which is stressful): look, I’ve done it. I didn’t think Ruined Empire was going to fund, to be honest. It’s stressful, and it sucks, and that stress was the main reason why I didn’t do a KickStarter in 2015.

Over time, this has long-term consequences:

  • Women become less active or simply produce less over time: You can’t afford to produce what you won’t get paid for. Designing for the “passion” or “the love of the hobby” just doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about something that takes as much work as designing games
  • Talented and amazing women leave the hobby: Elizabeth Shoemaker-Sampat leaving tabletop gaming, or Leigh Alexander leaving video gaming are just two of my least favorite depressing examples of this. Not everyone is as amazingly hard-headed and contrary as I am, and that’s mostly a good thing, because sometimes choosing to leave is the only objectively sane course of action.
  • Women become 2nd class designers: Women resign themselves to being 2nd class designers who write freelance for larger projects on which they won’t earn any royalties (this is distressingly common), or who write small games that might make a couple hundred here or there, but nothing else

All of which translates into A PAY GAP FOR FEMALE GAME DESIGNERS. And unless you ACTUALLY BELIEVE that men just do better work than women, that is a problem, not just for the women but for the hobby itself. Because logically, if male game designers aren’t better at game design than women, it means there are a whole lot of amazing games that could change the face of the hobby entirely that just won’t ever get written, because women don’t have the time, energy, and bandwidth to write them.

The only way to fix this is for people to START BUYING GAMES BY WOMEN

It doesn’t matter if you personally buy games by women. I mean, of course YOU do, gentle reader, because you’re lovely and progressive and are invested in the betterment of the hobby and all that. Now be quiet and don’t interrupt.

Look, the numbers are stark, and the only conclusion that can be drawn is as bleak as it is inescapable: as a community, WE ARE NOT BUYING GAMES BY WOMEN.

Obviously that needs to change. So what can you, personally, do? Well…

1) TAKE A HARD LOOK AT WHO YOU FOLLOW AND HOW YOU BUY GAMES

First, look at your social media: Who is in your circles on G+? Who do you follow on FB/Twitter? What is the breakdown of the space where you go to talk about games? How many women are in those spaces?

Second, look hard at who are the designers whose work you follow most closely? How many of those designers are women?

Third, look really hard at how much money do you give to men versus how much to women? (I’ll admit that I’m not so great about this, myself. My personal games collection is hugely unbalanced, and I don’t feel great about that.)

Note that I am NOT saying “don’t buy games by men”. FFS, that’s some straw-manning bullshit, so don’t even do that shit.

What I am saying is this: if the if the people you talk about games with are mostly white dudes, expand your circles to include more people who aren’t white dudes.

If the designers you follow are mostly white dudes, start following designers who aren’t white dudes.

If the people you buy games from are mostly white dudes, try to buy more games from people who aren’t white dudes.

I’m not saying that you’ll reach perfect parity overnight, but being aware that your spending is skewed isn’t enough. You need to actively look for ways to support projects by women.

2) PROMOTE WOMEN’S WORK

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had what I felt like was a solid, appealing project and tried to promote it and gotten… crickets.

This goes DOUBLE for you, whites dudes with community “cred”. Your word carries more weight than mine ever will, because that’s how bullshit identity politics work. You may not like it, you may not want to hear it, but it’s the truth.

3) MAKE GENDER A TIPPING POINT

How many times have you thrown money at a game you know you probably won’t ever play but want to read? Shit, I’ve done it. I’ve got half a shelf of game books that looked appealing but I knew I probably wouldn’t play, and most of them are by men.

Make “IS IT BY A WOMAN” part of that calculus. If you’re not sure if you want to buy a thing, and it looks interesting but you’re not sure if you’ll play it, check the gender of the author. And if it’s by a woman, and you have the money to spare anyway, consider actually buying it – because that supports that game designer in making more games down the line.

This got longer than I was expecting, so next time: I’ll look at examples of what I’m talking about “in the wild”

KickStarter Part 1.5, by way of the #Feminism anthology, nano-games, and gate-keeping

[Before I start: I know that I said I was going to come back and do the second part of my look at the gender breakdown of KickStarter campaigns, and I really am! But what I wound up writing about here felt very germane to that post that I am going to write, in that writing this felt like laying the groundwork for that.

Also, I reference A LOT of names and specific games, but if you’re not involved in the world of indie tabletop, don’t let that put you off. The sorts of bullshit identity politics I’m talking about exist in ANY scene.

ETA: The first version of this post got completely fucked up by wordpress. I fixed it as fast as possible; many apologies to those who saw it in its accidentally unfinished state.]

First: #Feminism and why it’s cool

Last week was Dreamation, which I went to for the first time this year, and it was an amazing experience. There were SO MANY [women and visible minorities and visibly queer folk] in attendance that it felt really wonderful and safe and welcoming.

One of my favorite things that I got to experience while at Dreamation was #Feminism, an anthology of feminist nano-games that was funded through IndieGoGo and (so I hear) will be available for sale very shortly. What is a nano-game? Well, to quote Misha Bushyager (the campaign coordinator):

For our purposes, a nanogame is an analog roleplaying game that lasts less than an hour. Our games are for 3 to 5 players, and are playable with simple tools like paper, pens, paperclips, timers, or other things you can find in the bottom of your bag.

Because the games were short, and so many authors of the games were in attendance, they offered a “smorgasbord” of a subset of games from the anthology on the last day of the convention. About thirty people showed up and split into groups and most people got to play two games in a two hour slot. There were so many great games on offer from the anthology that it was difficult to choose!

Some of the games that were there that I did not play: Manic Pixie Dream Girl Commandos – a game that involved a scavenger hunt of sorts that required doing stereotypically MPDG activities. There was a game about the orgasm gap in which you play a couple on a first date (unfortunately the title escapes me First Date). There was another game that was actually a trio of even SMALLER games about breaking down taboos around talking about female anatomy, Mentioning the Unmentionables, the first of which is literally just replacing words in movie titles with the word vulva. (ie Dances With Vulvas, Octovulva, Vulva Wars) Lizzie Stark (who is amazing) was describing the game to me and a friend, and I giggled the entire time out of horrid, visceral nervousness. (Hooray for being a recovering Catholic!)

The two games I did get to play from #Feminism were Curtain Call – a game about the horrifying sexism that women celebrities in the entertainment industry face, and Shoutdown to Launch – a game about gendered interruption humorously disguised as a game about troubleshooting a last minute mechanical problem before a space shuttle launch. Both games were very intense and hard-hitting, and the conversations that were had afterward were important. And playing those two games made me really excited about picking up a copy of #Feminism and playing through the games to see what other interesting and important conversations might be prompted by the other games in the collection!

Which leads directly into…

Gatekeeping and why it’s bullshit

(I’M SO GOOD AT SEGUES YOU GUYS.)

Ironically, the first night I was at Dreamation, I wound up having a conversation with a couple male game designer friends who I hadn’t seen in several years, since they stopped going to GenCon. One of them started complaining about nano-games and how he doesn’t understand why they’re “trendy”. Most of his complaints revolved around format and presentation – Epidiah Ravachol’s Vast and Starlit kicked off a bit of a fad for writing games that could fit on a business card, and it was such a novel idea several game designers were intrigued by the challenge and wrote games with similar space constraints. And sure, the text on Vast and Starlit is hard to read, and yeah, it’s not convenient to refer back to you if you need to clarify something. But using a particular attribute (ie fits on a business card) of a subset of a genre of games (ie nano games) in order to dismiss an entire genre of games? That’s shitty!

In this particular instance, it’s shitty because there are people doing hard-hitting, important work within the format of nano-games! #Feminism is an amazing collection of games! Moreover, that designer’s complaints about format don’t even apply, because the anthology is beautifully presented – large text and headings, very readable, icononography that clearly classifies each game and conveys at a glance what sort of play experience you can expect. (For example, each game has x out of 5 teardrops that are labeled “feels”. PERFECT.) So dismissing work like #Feminism “because nano-games” is doubly shitty because 1) #Feminism is hard-hitting, important, and DESERVING OF ATTENTION and 2) the reason being given to dismiss nano-games (and thus #Feminism) doesn’t even apply.

It’s this kind of behavior such a classic example of the sort of gate-keeping behavior that keeps women’s work from being regarded as “important” or “noteworthy” or even just “worth paying attention to”, which sucks! (And is surprising, given that this designer has a history of publicly butting heads with certain people in the hobby who like to gatekeep hardest.)

Or, to provide another, more personal example… I am a game designer who “only” writes hacks. It wasn’t until recently, with the runaway success of Dungeon World and Blades in the Dark that what I do was even universally acknowledged to be “real” game design. Previous to these games, it was pretty common for people to dismiss hacks as not “real” game design. Hell – I did it to myself; I argued with people who tried to call me a game designer for two years after publishing my first game because I had “just” written a hack. However, since anything that makes $179,000+ on KickStarter (as Blades in the Dark did) can’t possibly not be “real”, the goal posts have since been moved. Hacks are now game design, but designers who write “new and original” systems are doing “better” work, because they are helping “progress the state of the hobby”.

And this is ALSO shitty gate-keeping. Because ANY time you have a person or group of people who believe that they have the ability to draw a line around what work is “real” game design and what work is less valuable, or doesn’t contribute to the hobby, or just plain isn’t game design… Inevitably the boundaries of the space defined as “real” privilege whiteness and maleness, and the space defined as “not real” is where not-white-dudes end up being greatly over-represented. The fact that it took the legitimizing male-whiteness of John Harper, Sage LaTorra, and Adam Koebel to shift that conversation is just the latest example in a long line of shitty examples of white men re-drawing the boundaries of game design in ways that include MOSTLY JUST WHITE DUDES.

So yeah, I get pretty damn annoyed with people who dismiss projects like #feminism “because nano games”, and it’s why I look at games like this. If the author calls it a game, then it’s a game. Period.

Because the existence of spaces like Dreamation, that are wonderful, and inclusive, and safe feeling  does NOT change the fact that tabletop gaming is a hobby with A LOT of shit to unlearn, and women’s work just ISN’T TAKEN SERIOUSLY. And that’s not just my personal bias opinion. You can argue with opinions, but you can’t argue with data, and the data is that 6% of all KickStarters for tabletop games in 2015 were female-fronted but raised only 3% of total revenue. And that’s just one of many statistics that I’ve gathered recently that show how deeply, DEEPLY fucked it is to be a female game designer, let alone a female publisher.

And here’s the thing. There’s no such thing as a game, or a game type, that everyone likes. The importance of #Feminism as a group of games with powerful things to say doesn’t mean that you have to LIKE the games it contains.

Hell, I HATE super-trad dungeon crawling games. Torchbearer and Dungeon Crawl Classics push every single one of my “HOW THE HELL IS THIS EVEN FUN” buttons. But I have friends who do love them, and I’ve even gotten to play a couple of these games with them, and their enjoyment and enthusiasm was infectious and wonderful, and doesn’t in any way invalidate my opinion that I REALLY HATE playing Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Similarly, your personal gripes about nano-games doesn’t in any way invalidate the worth of a collection like #Feminism. And moreover, I might suggest that if your grumpiness about a particular genre of game is leading you to dismiss wholesale a collection of work about the real-world, lived experiences of marginalized people, as written by a pretty-damn-diverse group of people – many of whom are writing from their own lives and experiences? You might be the sort of person who would benefit most from playing a few of the games in #Feminism.