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.

Advice for people (especially women) who have been thinking about starting a Patreon

I’ve gotten a lot of really positive responses to my last post about the barriers that keep women from engaging with Patreon. In the comments I mentioned that something I had meant to address in that post was advice for how women could go about having a Patreon ANYWAY, but that time and space constraints prevented me from including that. I’d been planning on moving on to my posts about KickStarter, since I try to avoid spending suuuper-long stretches of time on one particular topic – especially when that topic is highly specialized and isn’t of particular interest to people outside of a specific group. However, I’ve gotten several requests from people to please write this post. So here we are!

0: Material Previously Covered

Last year I did a huuuuge series on “advice for women looking to get into game design”. It covered pretty well everything, from the pros and cons of self-publishing to all of the various economic models for doing so. I’m not going to say you need to read all of that, because seriously it’s really long. However, I’d recommend reading part 2 of the first post in the series here about common cognitive pitfalls to watch out for. I also wrote a little about the different types of Patreons out there in part 3 of that series with some examples (under the heading Serial Content: Patreon), some of which are now sadly out of date.

So you can go read that stuff. You know, if you want.

1: JUST DO IT

If starting a Patreon is something that you’ve been waffling about for a while, then in the words of the immortal Shia Lebeouf…

Seriously, though. JUST. DO IT. Especially if what you want to start a Patreon for is shit that you would do anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? People don’t support you and nothing has changed. Setting up a Patreon page takes 1-2 hours, depending on how much thought you put into it. You’d be out that time, sure, but nothing else.

“But, wundergeek! If I start a Patreon and no one pledges, I’ll be so embarrassed!”

Look, I get it. I do. But I’ll tell you a secret, gentle reader. Failure is an unavoidable part of being creative. Not every idea is going to catch on! Patreon at least front-end-loads the failure so that you haven’t lost tens or even hundreds of hours on something no one wants to consume. (Which is something that I’ve done, by the way, and wow does it ever suck. But that’s a tale for another post.)

However, I’ll also note that sometimes it’s the projects that we most expect to fail that surprise us. Take this blog, for example; when I first started writing it, I thought that there was no way any significant number of people would read it. And yet nearly five years, 2+ million views, and 81 (at the time of writing this post) patrons later, here we are. So don’t let your assumptions about what people will be willing to support keep you from trying, because brains are assholes.

1a. “But the thing I want to do is weirdly specific and there’s no way anyone would pay for it!”

First, while there are some people who become patrons purely with a goal to consume specific content, there are also people who become patrons because they want to support the creator, and not necessarily because they’re a super fan who loves everything that that creator is producing.

Second, never forget that the internet is a weird place. Your weirdly specific thing might be someone else’s “thing they wished someone would make” that they’ve been waiting for someone to make so that they could give them money for it. The outrageous overnight success of Send Your Enemies Glitter is proof of that.

Third, if you are a member of a marginalized community, there’s a really good chance that your brain is being an asshole. Tell your brain that in a market as saturated with RPG content as the current market is, weird and specific also means distinctive, which will help you stand out. And then tell your brain to get stuffed.

2. Don’t feel pressured to make a video.

A profile and a cover picture is more than sufficient to launch a campaign with. Don’t let yourself get hung up on the idea that you “have” to have a polished video in order to be taken seriously, even though I’m pretty sure Patreon says when you’re setting up a profile that pages with videos get more patrons (or at least it did when I was setting mine up, which was admittedly two years ago).

2a. Cover images are easy, and here’s why

Are you making game hacks? Take a picture of some character sheets spread out on a table! Are you making stock art? Collage a few of your best pieces together. Blogs and other writing projects are a bit harder, since the end product is a bit more intangible. But even then there’s no need to get fussed, because here is what you can do.

First, do an image search on Wikimedia Commons (because stealing other people’s work to promote your own is a shitty thing to do). Find an image that you like and put some simple text over top of it that summarizes what you do. No graphics software? No problem. Pixlr’s photo editor is a nice, free, in-browser image editor that is pretty well equivalent to the old Limited editions of Photoshop. (Make sure you select Pixlr Editor and NOT Pixlr Express.)

example 1
SO PROFESSIONAL

Now, you might feel like your image looks a little slapped-together when you do that. So here is my totally easy trick to make your image look more polished with about 15 seconds of work: OUTER GLOW. So here’s what you do. You have your image, and your text will be on its own layer. Click the layer styles button (highlighted in the screenshot above). Then follow the steps in the screenshot below:

example 2

Now your text has a black border! Except it will still be fuzzy and not really all that useful, so you’ll need to tweak the settings a bit, like so:example 3

Bam. Now you’ve got an image that looks like you actually worked on it. Win.

3. Decide on a content model and communicate that content model clearly to your patrons

There are two basic ways of charging patrons – either they pledge a static amount per month, or they pledge per content – at which point their pledges might vary from month to month if you are getting into posting multiple items per month and they have monthly limits set up to cap their maximum contribution.

My recommendation to people just getting started with Patreon is that they default to per-content for their pledge model. When you’re just getting started, a per-month model is going to deter a lot of folks who might want to support you but also want to see a proven track record of providing consistent return on investment. Setting up your Patreon as per-content means that your patrons are only on the hook when you produce content, and the controls for setting monthly caps are robust and relatively easy to set up such that your patrons won’t need to worry about getting into paying you more money than you’d expected.

If you are someone who has a lot of real-world obligations and know that your content production is going to be inconsistent, make sure you make that part of your pitch upfront. That way your patrons are going into supporting you knowing that the content flow is going to be uneven, and if you have a few weeks where your life explodes and you don’t make anything – it’s okay. (Though if something happens that keeps you from adhering to your usual content frequency, it is polite to drop a note to your patrons letting them know. I’ve done this as patrons-only messages through Patreon when it’s happened to me in the past, and my patrons have always been wonderfully supportive when it’s been an issue.)

There are drawbacks. Per-month funding evens out the revenue stream; per-content logically means that you get more money in months where you produce more. And, also logically, the inverse is also true in that if you have a month where you don’t produce anything… you also don’t get any money. Still, I feel those are pretty minor considerations overall. I’ve had my Patreon for two years and still wouldn’t consider switching the funding model, because per-content is much better for how I operate given the meatspace demands on my time and attention.

3a. Different model subtypes: examples

For the sake of clarity, and because you shouldn’t do exactly what I do just because it works for me, here are the four most common Patreon models that pertain to game type. YMMV:

  • Charges per unit content, all content publicly available (ex: this blog!)
  • Charges per unit content, all content available to patrons (ex: Kaitlyn Peavler)
  • Charges per unit content, content available to patrons with previous content available for purchase (ex: Worlds Without Master)
  • Charges per month, grants access to content (ex: Avery McDaldno, now defunct)
  • Charges per month, all content publicly accessible (ex: John Harper, now pretty much defunct)

4. Offer a $1 level, even if $1 won’t give access to the thing you are making

Never underestimate the $1 pledges, because they really add up! Having a $1 level makes it possible for someone to say “well I’m not interested in that thing they’re doing, but I really like the creator so it’s worth $1 to me just to help them do what they want to do”.

TEN out of my 81 patrons have set themselves up as “no reward”, meaning they don’t want any of the perks that come with their donation level. They just want to give me money, and that’s it.

Patreon patrons are generous folk, is what I’m saying here.

5. Be conservative in setting up your milestones (if you set them up at all)

Milestones are NOT something that you need to start right away. Hell, two years later I still haven’t set up milestones, because I don’t know what I would set as my goals. I tailor the amount of work I do for posts here on my blog to the amount of support I get. When I first started this Patreon, I was averaging around 1500 words per post. Now 2000-2200 is much more my usual average, because I can afford to go more in-depth.

Still, if the thing you want to do is a thing that it would make sense to set up milestones for, BE CONSERVATIVE. I lose between $5 to $10 per post on pledges that don’t get processed, for whatever reason. People don’t do it maliciously – most often it’s because their credit card information changed and they forgot to update all of their peripheral shit like Patreon. But it happens. Add in the fact that Patreon’s and PayPal’s cut adds up to about 10-11% of your total AFTER dropped pledges… you can end up on the hook for a lot more work per unit dollar than you wanted to be doing.

My advice – don’t set them up right away. And leave yourself lots of wiggle room if you do set them up, and be willing to communicate with your patrons if you have to change your milestones.

Speaking of which…

6. Thou shalt communicate with your patrons

If you’re someone who sucks at email, learn to not suck at it. Patreon isn’t exactly a business transaction, in that your patrons aren’t buying and selling content per se. But they are making it possible for you to do the thing that you want to do, so be courteous about responding quickly to messages. It will go a long way toward building goodwill. It sounds stupid and obvious, but you want your patrons to feel good about you as a human being, since that will make them more likely to want to continue supporting you.

7. Don’t feel guilty about charging your patrons

If you’ve communicated what it is that you want to do, and you’ve communicated your expected content schedule, and the thing that you’ve produced is even remotely within the scope of your Patreon, then let go of your guilt and make that post paid already! Having a clear pitch isn’t just important to attracting new patrons. It’s also important to set expectations so that your patrons know who you are and what you’re doing.

If someone is your patron, they have agreed to become your patron because they WANT to give you money to do the thing that you are doing. So feeling guilty about doing the thing that you are doing and NOT allowing people to give you money for it is actually the opposite of what your patrons were hoping for.

Of course, I say this as someone who still struggles with this. I had to be reassured that it was okay to make this a paid post before I did so, and even then I still feel a bit hinky about it. So, you know, do as I say and not as I… feel? Or something.

Why don’t more women just… you know, create Patreons?

[Big thanks to the awesome ladies in my G+ circle who helped give me ammunition I needed to outline this post. Thanks especially to Filamena Young and Laura Hamilton for being super on-point about evil money things.]

In my last post, I looked at a sample of games-related Patreons and the not-too-encouraging gender breakdown of creators, and the breakdown is pretty dismal; only 24% of the Patreons that I looked at included one or more female creators. Of course, in the face of such numbers, the solution seems simple. Get more women to create and maintain Patreons, right? We can’t expect men to stop using Patreon to rectify the gender imbalance, so logically this means that more women have to get on board to even things out.

Sadly, I can only wish that this was such an easy problem to solve. I know that there were a number of gendered factors that made me a very reluctant adopter of Patreon. And since I ultimately did jump on the Patreon bandwagon, I know that I can’t necessarily speak to the experience of women who have considered it and decided it wasn’t for them.

So I threw out the following questions to my ladies-only circle on Google+, which is chock full of brilliant and talented women: 1) If you don’t have a Patreon, why not? 2) If you used to have a Patreon and have stopped doing things with it, why? And I got a wide variety of responses, which mostly can be broken out into four categories that form a pretty clear picture of the obstacles keeping women from being active, sustained creators on Patreon:

First: Imposter Syndrome[1]

“I don’t have anything to offer”, “No one would be interested in paying to hear what I think”, “I’m not really talented enough to make it on Patreon”. Imposter syndrome is an asshole, and it keeps a lot of super smart, super awesome women from simply believing that they have something unique to offer that people might be willing to pay to support.

And lest you think I’m talking dismissively from my lofty perch as a “successful” Patreon creator about “Those Other Women” who need to learn to “have confidence and everything will be fine”… actually, I’m including myself in this. Because to be honest, I got pushed into Patreon out of financial necessity, and even despite the previous success of my blog, I never anticipated the level of support that I’ve gotten.

Even more absurd, I actually argue with friends who try to state simple facts about how successful my blog has been. Not opinions. Facts. Because I’m not capable of believing that anything that I do or say here is actually important, no matter how much evidence to the contrary that you might show me. Because deep down, this is still just me yelling at the internet. And shit, I’d do that for free, so doesn’t that mean that people shouldn’t be paying me for it?

So just getting past the initial hurdle of believing that you are competent enough to have something to offer through Patreon? It’s a pretty damn big hurdle. But even if you manage to clear that and you do, create a Patreon, you’ll quickly run into the next hurdle that Imposter Syndrome throws at you: feeling guilty for charging your patrons for content that you create. Never mind that you’ve laid out what you want to do and how you want to get paid. Imposter Syndrome is that voice that shouts in your ear that your work isn’t nearly as good as everyone else’s, and your patrons deserve better.

And if you happen to have Imposter Syndrome and depression, that’s when things get really fun! Because not only do you get your brain telling you that your work is worthless, but it also tells you that you are worthless, so good luck ever being able to seriously believe that people would ever actually give you money to create things.

Second: Female Socialization

So. Let’s say that you are a woman who is either 1) lucky enough not to have Imposter Syndrome, or 2) has managed to find ways of at least getting it to shut up for a while. Awesome. That’s the big hurdle, right? From here everything should be easy! Except, wait. Just believing that you produce work that is worth paying for isn’t enough, because once you start actually doing the planning required to make the actual Patreon page, female socialization rears its ugly head.

First, there’s the trap of needing to polish things. A lot of men can have an idea, spend some time throwing together a proof-of-concept, get it to a reasonable level of “eh, good enough”, and expect that when they show it to people what they will respond to is the idea behind it. Unfortunately, if you’re a woman looks matter – even when it’s your work and not your actual personal appearance. In art school, I certainly had enough experiences where my male peers had their work engaged on a conceptual level while mine was criticized for execution, despite being created with the same level of craft.

Unfortunately, “perfect” is the mortal enemy of “good enough”. I’ve seen many a project languish forever in the “polishing” stage, never to be launched because of fear that it wouldn’t been seen as “professional” enough. Meanwhile, there are dudes slapping together some pretty sketchy campaign proposals and simply throwing it out there.

There’s also the issue of marketing. Women are taught pretty explicitly not to put themselves forward, and self-marketing requires doing exactly that[2]. And honestly, it would be pretty hard for me to overstate how drastically hard that is to deal with, because that conditioning isn’t something that simply happens in childhood and stops when you become an adult. It happens every goddamn day.

It happens when I decide to tone down my language on a subject that I feel passionately about, because I don’t want to seem too bitchy. It happens when I disclaim the ever-living shit out of something when I need to talk to a guy about a problem that he is causing because I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with him causing a scene. It happens when someone asks if there are people with specific qualifications who might be able to participate in a thing and I feel I have to choose my words carefully in responding so that I sound interested without being arrogant.

It’s a balancing act, one that women are constantly navigating. So expecting women to be good at the thing we socialize them not to do as part of their success? Yeah, that’s a problem.

Third: “Second Shift” Labor:

Say you manage to get past hurdles one and two. Fantastic! You’re well on your way to becoming a creator! Except, of course, for the fact that the internet is a voracious beast that consumes content at a ferocious rate. The Evil God of Content demands regular sacrifice, and if it is not appeased frequently and on something resembling a schedule, your audience will suffer as a result.

And, you know, fine. As Dorothy Parker once quipped, “writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat”. It’s only fitting that running a Patreon is something that takes work if that work is something you’re getting paid for, yes?

However, actually finding the time to do that work? Is pretty damn difficult if you’re a woman. “Second shift” domestic labor is something that still disproportionately falls on the shoulders of women. If you work all day, then have to come home to more domestic work, when exactly are you supposed to find the time to be creative? And if you have children? Multiply that problem by about three. Nobody is as good at finding ways to interrupt your concentration as a small child, because they love you and want to spend all of their time with you. Which is, okay, adorable (sometimes), but not exactly a boost to one’s productivity. So finding a way to manage all of the competing demands for attention and time, it’s not surprising that a lot of women simply don’t feel they have the bandwidth to sustain a Patreon for any length of time.

Personally, it’s something I struggle with quite a bit myself. I’m incredibly lucky to have a partner who does his fair share of housework and parenting. But being in school and raising a toddler are both full-time jobs, and much as my husband supports me, the economic realities of our situation means that if there is some sort of childcare emergency or doctor’s appointment, I’m always the one who gives up work time to deal with it. As such, keeping up with blogging means that I have to be pretty damn creative about finding time to do research and work on the posts I write here. It also means that I’ve had to learn to be able to write in small chunks – twenty minutes here and there. I don’t have the luxury of slowly “getting into the groove”. When I have time to write, I need to write. It takes a hell of a lot of discipline, and it’s not always something I’m capable of.

So it’s not too surprising that some women would consider all of the factors and say “you know what, I’ve got too much going on in my life to add yet another highly demanding obligation”.

Fourth: Practical reality – money

Even if you manage to deal with the previous three obstacles, money is still going to bite you in the ass. The wage gap is a thing for a reason – it didn’t just spring out of nowhere. Work produced by women is seen as having inherently less worth, which is something you run into… just about everywhere. Take, for example, the fact that white women earn about 78 cents on the dollar for what white men earn, and for women of color, it’s even worse. Hispanic women make only 51 cents on the dollar! Or how about the fact that only 3.5 percent of works of art in the MOMA were created by women – a figure that has held pretty steady despite noises being made about increasing the representation of women artists in the MOMA’s collection.

It’s a self-reinforcing conundrum. Part of the reason women have trouble believing that what they create is worth paying for is because everyone else has trouble believing it too. And if people aren’t going to pay to support the thing you’re making, that causes problems. In some instances, it can be a simple matter of “the time to dollar ratio means that I am working for less than minimum wage”.

Or there can be other problems specifically related to Patreon’s funding model – which takes pledges monthly off of credit cards. Inevitably, when a portion of your pledges get declined (and it happens every month), that’s money that you should have gotten but didn’t. And if you planned your milestones around needing a certain level of support, and your page says your getting that level of support, you can wind up being on the hook for doing extra work for a milestone goal that you didn’t actually financially achieve.

Which, you know, is pretty shitty.

Lastly, according to Pledge Society, there are a whopping 2485 games-related Patreons right now. Given the number of Patreons that exist, and given that we seem to be reaching a level of market saturation in that most people who are patron supporters have long since reached their cap of money that they are willing to contribute to support artists looking for patronage, there is a limited pool of money that is being chased after. If women’s work is seen as having less worth, how exactly are women supposed to compete with the dudes who are hogging so many of the available patron dollars?

For a lot of women the answer ends up being “I can’t”. And I’m not going to lie, sometimes when I look at the amount of money that some dudes are making off of Patreon to do stuff that requires significantly less effort than what I put into what I do here…? It makes me question why I even bother, sometimes.

Fifth: Practical reality – gender

Okay. So there are conceptual hurdles, social hurdles, and practical hurdles, none of which are easy to navigate – even if you happen to be someone with comparatively high levels of privilege like me. (I’m a woman, but I’m also white, middle-class, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, and culturally Christian, so believe me. I’m well aware I have a lot of advantages.) But even if you manage to deal with all of that, gender is always going to be a factor that you absolutely can’t control.

IF you persevere through all of the shit I just described AND you manage to achieve a level of success, congratulations! You’re making something of yourself as a female creator!

Except, don’t forget that making something of yourself as a female creator means that you’re also just plain making yourself more visible as a woman, which on the internet is often a dangerous proposition – especially when one is dealing with gamers. As a consequence of writing this blog, I’ve had some truly unnerving shit happen to me simply because I had the nerve to express opinions about games while female. I once had one dude write more than 11,000 original words about what a terrible human being I am in the space of about a week. (For perspective, my games average between 10,000 and 20,000 words.) I’ve had a professional comics artist swamp my blog with fans after telling them to tell me what a horrible, awful cunt I am. I’ve had people accuse me of being a professional victim for making money off of this blog at the inception of Gamer Gate when Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and Anita Sarkeesian were being crucified using that same language.

I’ve stuck it out this far because I’ve been lucky – I haven’t become a hate meme (yet). And because I’m stubborn, and contrary as hell. But I also make a point of telling women in my circles who lament that they don’t have my “courage” that not being willing to put yourself in a situation where you can expect this sort of abuse isn’t “cowardice”. It’s fucking self-care.

Does becoming a creator on Patreon guarantee that you’ll get harassed? No. Of course not. But any time a woman makes herself visible online, that is always a risk, and for some women that just isn’t something they are prepared to deal with. And good for them for knowing that about themselves.

Phew

[That turned out a lot longer than anticipated! Next time: I turn my gaze to KickStarter and the unique problems that women face there.]

[1] Mind, in citing this as an obstacle for women, I’m not saying that men don’t ever deal with imposter syndrome. However, it’s definitely something that is a bigger problem for women than men.

[2] And look. Self-marketing SUCKS, okay? For anyone of ANY gender. But as bad as it sucks for dudes, at least they don’t have an entire lifetime of socialization screaming at you that you’re a terrible person for doing it.

Revising art for Undying: A conversation with Paul and Shannon Riddle [NSFW ART]

The Conversation

[Note: Artwork and quoted correspondence shared with permission of Paul and Shannon Riddle]

Last year, I did a series of numbers posts in which I analyzed the art in the three core books of the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I got a lot of positive responses, but my favorite was actually from Paul Riddle – the author and designer of Undying, a diceless roleplaying game about vampires which had raised more than $31,000 on KickStarter approximately a month before I posted my series about D&D:

I read through your three write-ups analyzing the art of D&D 5 and I applied your methodology to the art for Undying, the vampire game that I am in the process of publishing. As a result, I discovered a strong bias that I didn’t intend for, but clearly did nothing to solve. I’d like to get the art on the right track by increasing the presence of women in the art and to make improvements to the current depiction of women to remedy the latent problems. Shannon and I went over my findings this morning and I’d like to share them with you and get your feedback. Is that something you’d be interested in doing?

Since I was pretty excited to receive Paul’s message, I responded enthusiastically in the affirmative. The process that I use to do my numbers posts is pretty laborious, and while I’ve seen a good number of friends who are publishers express support and appreciate of the work that I do in numerical analyses of game art in finished books, this was the first time that anyone had ever applied my methods to examining art in progress in a game that was still in the publication stages!

I was even more impressed and delighted when what Paul actually sent me was a full on report, with graphs, charts, and analytical commentary, as well as all of the completed pieces of art that had been done so far. I mean, seriously, here’s one of the first charts from the report:

 

Undying-chart

 

In the end, the numbers brought forward the conclusion that the art showed a clear gender bias (albeit a much smaller one than is typical in most roleplaying games!). Again, from Paul’s own report:

Conclusions While there is a clear bias toward men and male monsters in the artwork by the numbers, this bias could be reduced by adding more illustrations featuring women. To preserve the proportionality of fully clad to not fully clad women relative to men, not more than ¼ of these new illustrations should feature scantily clad or nude women, as defined above.

Overall, it was an impressively thorough analysis. My favorite aspect was that Paul noted where he and Shannon had disagreed on something; It’s a small detail, but it’s the small things that add up.

After looking through the report and all of the art that Paul and Shannon had forwarded, I agreed with his conclusion, although I did add a few cautionary caveats:

I would tend to agree with your conclusions that additional pieces of art centered on female characters would be the best way to go about resolving the imbalance – assuming that it’s something that you can make work with your remaining budget. If your budget won’t stretch far enough for more than a few additional pieces, I’d suggest that adding images of monstrous female characters would give the most bang for your buck – although I’d also stress that any monstrous female characters illustrated should be as non-sexualized as possible. If you search for “corpse boobs” on my blog, you’ll come up with lots and lots of reasons why sexualized female monsters get really awful really fast.

Thank you so much for taking this so much to heart – it’s obvious that you put a lot of work in examining what had already been done for your game and didn’t flinch from the results, which honestly is super rare and super encouraging. Overall, the art that you have for Undying is already comparatively great, so seeing that you are taking this so seriously makes me really happy.

We bounced emails back and forth during the revision process. And while I don’t want to spoil all of the art, because seriously Undying is a really interesting looking game and you should go check it out once it’s been released, I wanted to highlight a few particular pieces and the conversation that happened around them as an example of Doing It Right with regards to publishing and art direction.

 (And to be clear, this isn’t to say that Doing It Right = Doing What I Say, or Agreeing With Me Always. What I mean is that Doing It Right = always being willing to look for where you failed and how (because you did, somewhere), and then actually do something about it instead of handwaving and saying “we’ll do better next time”.)

Specific Examples

Example the first: Step into my parlor…
One of the pieces that jumped out to me the most in the original batch of artwork that Paul sent with his first report is the following piece; overall it’s a solid piece. It reminds me a lot of the Vicky Nelson urban fantasy series by Tanya Huff, which features as its protagonist a hard-nosed private eye who dabbles in the supernatural while simultaneously having zero fucks.
However, there’s also the issue that in the background, there’s a Randomly Naked Woman who is standing in a doorway while naked out in the open because… reasons? Now, to be fair, this was also one of the things that Paul called out in his initial report and identified as something that needed to change before I even offered any input. And the revision, while small, really makes a big difference:
Which just goes to show that often, small tweaks can help take a piece of art from “problematic” to “compelling and awesome”. Instead of Random Naked Woman prompting all sorts of questions about “why the fuck is she standing naked in her doorway, wtf, they are just out on the street”, the focus shifts to the woman in the foreground, which is good because she’s way more interesting!
Example the second: consensual bitey sexytimes versus nonconsensual corpse-biting
This (admittedly incredibly NSFW) piece is a perfect example of accidental terrible implications. In the original version, on the left, it was intended that what was to be depicted was some fun bitey sexytimes. However, because the piece is in black and white, the blood trail coming down her neck and across her collarbone as well as the hair draped across her neck can create the illusion that she is, in fact, dead and that the vampire is snacking on a sexy corpse whose throat has been slit.
Given that sexualizing female corpses is a thing that happens with disturbing frequency in game artnot including sexy female corpses is a thing that really most publishers should be aiming for.
Thankfully, this was something that Paul was aware of and was proactive in saying needed to change. I did make some additional commentary that the revised version might need further attention to ensure that the bitey sexytimes being depicted are clearly consensual sexytimes. (Because honestly, vampires in roleplaying games tend to come off as pretty rapey a lot, and murder-rape-vampires are also not uncommon, which is gross.) However, in the end the simple changes that Paul outlined in his notes make all the difference.
Vampires-naked
Hot. And now no possibility of reading as murder-rape. Hooray!
Example 3: Filling in the gaps with some monstrous ladies
The last piece I’ll point to as an example is one of the new pieces that was commissioned in response to the initial report that Paul did. As I’d observed, while there were monstrous nonsexy (ie non-naked) male characters, there weren’t any similarly nonsexy monstrous female characters. So that was something that Paul specifically asked for when he was commissioning a second round of images to fill in the gaps as discussed. And as it turns out, this piece is actually one of my favorites out of all of the art that Paul has shared with me!
3
Honestly, this is such a great piece. And it wouldn’t have existed at all if Paul hadn’t taken the initiative to take a hard look at his game’s art and to address the imbalances that were identified.
So many thanks to Paul and Shannon for being part of this conversation, and for allowing me to quote them. I’ll say that Vampire-specific roleplaying isn’t necessarily my roleplaying genre of choice (nevermind the fact that I’ve contributed to two separate Vampire books), but this is definitely a game that I’ll be keeping an eye on, and encouraging people to check out once it’s finished and released!

Self-promotion sidebar: The Starlit Kingdom

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

The Golden Age

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

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

It Comes To This

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


 

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

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

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