On being a “professional victim”

I’ve been pretty quiet the last two weeks, and I apologize for that. I meant to get one more post up in November, but, well, that didn’t so much happen. Partly it’s because I was pouring a lot of writing energy into finishing a first draft of my current game project! Which I am excited about! But partly it’s because I’ve found myself second-guessing everything I’ve wanted to write about.

Writing about Bayonetta because a bunch of dudes got mad about me having opinions on Bayonetta was an easy choice. I mean, oh, you don’t like me writing about Bayonetta? Well here, have some more unsolicited opinions about Bayonetta, since that’s how I roll. (I’m contrary like that.) But how to move on from there? Well… that’s more difficult.

The problem is that I actually read about 19 pages of this weird anti-me hatefest (which was a terrible idea, seriously, don’t ever do that. What were you thinking past me??), and since then I’ve felt stuck as to how to pick a topic for a new post that wouldn’t play into the narrative that has been constructed against me, which has gotten so sprawling and disjointed that literally anything I write here can be co-opted as ammunition.

It can be pretty unnerving knowing that anything you write can then be twisted to support someone’s arguments that you are a: homophobic, anti-feminist, sex-negative, compulsively lying, egomaniacal, unethical feminazi fascist who harasses people and is so delusional that someone should really have me involuntarily committed for my own good. (To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t been accused of being racist yet. Although given that my first published game, Thou Art But A Warrior, is about Muslims, I fully expect that to be added to the litany at some point in the future.) Seriously, how do you keep that level of bullshit from messing you up once in a while?

But in the end, I have to choose between giving the trolls new ammunition (everything is ammunition. Everything.) and remaining silent, which I’m not willing to do. So instead, I’m going to rant a bit about Patreon, and about my least-favorite new slur being hurled at women, queer people, and PoC with Patreons – “professional victim”.

First: Patreons by women, queer people, and PoC are the devil

When Patreon was just starting to develop a head of steam among my indie game design circles, the earliest adopters that I saw jumping on board were predominantly white and male. To the point where it initially made me pretty uneasy as a new thing that was happening, as I was afraid that it was going to turn into yet another way in which the voices of white men were going to be privileged over other voices:

plus

However, after a while I was able to get over the idea that I didn’t have anything of worth to offer potential patrons and I put up a Patreon of my own. As did other not-white-dude creators that I knew! And much to my delight, Patreon became a vital platform in enabling otherwise marginalized voices to create things they were passionate about and receive the support that they needed to do so.

Which is naturally about when there was a bit of a paradigm shift in how individual Patreons were talked about online.

Now instead of being universally lauded as a “revolutionary new crowdfunding model”, very often the reaction to an individual Patreon depends greatly on the identity of the person running it. Are they white and male? Excellent! Carry on! You use this new crowdfunding tool to make the things you want to make, you bold and visionary content creator you!

But wait! Is that Patreon being run by a woman? Or a PoC? Or a queer person? Or – gasp – someone who represents a combination of some or all of those traits? Then it is a TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE! Legit just the worst! Because mumble mumble ethics and mumble mumble other reasons!

Seriously, it’s a little baffling how incredibly offended some people get about the fact that this blog is Patreon supported. Despite the fact that everything that I accept Patreon funds for writing is published free of charge here on my blog, which means that anyone who cares to can read my blog without needing to contribute a single red cent, it’s somehow the absolute worst that I have sixty seven whole patrons who contribute varying amounts of money per unit content generated. THE WORST! How dare I take people’s money in return for expressing opinions! FACISM.

… [ahem]

The fact is that I use my Patreon money to justify the time and energy that I put into writing content here, time that could otherwise be spent on other paying projects. And I fail to understand just why that’s such a terrible thing. Despite that my average monthly revenue has increased about 50% from when I first re-launched GMMaS, I’m still not raking in huge butt-piles of money. On average I’m making about 2/3 of what it costs to keep my kid in daycare – which is only one of many new, exciting, and completely non-optional child-related expenses.

And for the most part, that’s the sort of shit that a lot of Patreon dollars get used for – the daily shit you have to do just to stay afloat. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but being a Millennial is fucking hard. We don’t have any careers, housing fucking sucks, we’re going bankrupt getting the education we need to compete, and the Boomers are never, ever, ever going to retire. (Never.) So anything that allows people the breathing room they need to make art instead of spending potential creative energy just fucking surviving is something that we should be celebrating!

But of course, since the success of Patreon as a platform means the increasing prominence of female, queer, and minority voices… WELL. We can’t have that, now can we!

Second: “Professional victim” is so fucking silencing I can’t even

When I started hammering out the initial outline for this post, I knew that I had enough content to justify making a paid post. And yet, the idea of making a paid post taking on the idea of Patreon creators as “professional victims” was pretty terrifying! Because of course, the two biggest targets of this new “professional victim” label are Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. Both of whom are women I admire tremendously and look up to, but whose example I desperately do not want to emulate. So when “professional victim” was recently added to the constructed narrative circulating against me, it was… unnerving to say the least.

I was sufficiently aggravated that I took to venting on twitter:

tweets
Tweets are in reverse chronological order, because twitter is dumb

There is a huge problem with calling women like Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn (and, to a lesser extent, myself) “professional victims”. When you extend that logic to its natural conclusion, that means that the moment any not-white-dude has the temerity to accept crowdfunding monies in exchange for a good or service, they automatically forfeit any right to speak openly about the abuse that they receive as a result.

Which is, of course, complete horse shit. Not to mention that “professional victim” is a term very often hurled by #GamerGaters, or at least people who support #GamerGate – despite their claims of being concerned primarily about “ethics in game journalism”. (But then, #GamerGate has always been singularly blind to the hypocrisy displayed by a campaign of harassment designed to silence and discredit women that simultaneously purports to be about ethics.)

However, just the very idea of “professional victim” is very toxic, and can very often be incredibly silencing. I know it’s something that I wrestle with all the damn time in writing this blog – the fear that I will drive away patrons if I write “too many” posts about gendered harassment. When deciding what topic to write about next, in the back of my head there is always the calculus of “how many posts have I written about a specific game or piece of game art since the last time I talked about this” and “should I set this aside until I’ve put more non-harassment-focused stuff out there?”. Despite very much wanting to speak out against the sort of harassment that Zoe and Anita (among really so many others) have faced, it’s hard to for me believe that me talking openly and honestly about my experiences is something that has any real worth.

“Professional victim” is a term that is also brutally effective in dismissing someone’s worth, not only as a creator but as a human being. When someone is a “professional victim”, literally any sort of behavior against them is okay, because any abuse perpetrated against them is something that they were asking for in the first place. “Professional victim” is the “what were you wearing” or “how much did you drink” of the internet – a blanket permission to engage in toxic misogyny without any real fear of negative consequence.

So the fact that I have written paid posts in the past about harassment I’ve received, and that I am writing this post now, and likely will do more such posts in the future? That’s a hard, scary thing, friends. Because that only reinforces the “professional victim” aspect of the constructed narrative against me, and as Anita Sarkeesian has excellently discussed, once the narrative that has been constructed against a person reaches a certain critical mass, it no longer matters what the facts are because the myth attains a life of its own and nothing you say or do can ever slay that myth.

Friday silliness: Bayonetta proportions in real life

After doing my recent post about Bayonetta 2, I regretted I’d given up doing a corrected redraw as completely pointless. The problem was that Bayonetta’s proportions are so inhumanly wrong that a “corrected” version wouldn’t match the original at all. So then I got to thinking…

Maybe what I needed wasn’t a drawing over top of the original artwork to illustrate exactly where the figure went wrong. (Ie: everywhere) Maybe what I needed was to photoshop an actual human woman to have the same proportions as Bayonetta for it to really hit home about how weirdly inhuman her proportions are.

So I decided on Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, since she’s someone we’re used to seeing obviously-Photoshopped images of. Case in point, this awful Cap 2 poster:

captain-america-2-poster-black-widow

Then I just needed to find a mostly-not-foreshortened picture of Bayonetta that WASN’T posed like a porn still. That turned out to be… a lot harder than I thought. But finally, I found this render here:

bayonetta-imagen-i244178-i

Lastly, I needed a full-body still of Scarjo as Black Widow to make sure that I got something un-photoshopped (like pretty much all of her promo photos). I would have preferred her in the catsuit, since that’s most similar to what Bayonetta herself is wearing. But this is what I settled for, since the pose is the most similar:

captain-america-2-black-widow-bhdznrru

All right! So with the images sourced, it was time for some photoshop magic. In order to do this, I overlaid Bayonetta as a transparent layer on top of Scarjo and then just resized-stretched things until they matched the Bayonetta’s proportions. Once that was done, I did some half-assed cloning to blend it together and… ta-da!

scarlett-johansson-black-widow-5 (1)
I’ll admit I got lazy photoshopping the background back in

Yes Scarlett’s head looks tiny, but it is the same size as Bayonetta’s. Bayonetta’s weird beehive hairdo just serves as an optical illusion. I’ll admit that I also should have smudged her thighs a tiny bit wider, but honestly it was close enough to illustrate the point. It’s easy to look at a computer-rendered figure and ignore obvious distortions, because there’s already a level of removal there by virtue of it obviously not being real. But seeing these anatomy distortions on an actual human? I find that really emphasizes how very inhuman Bayonetta is.

The re-launch of Go Make Me a Sandwich as a Patreon-supported blog

Go Make Me a Sandwich now has a Patreon!

Well, folks. I’ve decided to jump on the Patreon bandwagon. I’d like your help to make re-launching my feminist gaming blog, Go Make Me a Sandwich, a financially viable activity.

Why start a Patreon when I used to blog for free?

Let’s face it, the economy is tight, and with a toddler in the house I have to maximize the financial return on my creative output. As much as I love blogging, I just can’t justify the amount of time and energy that it takes away from paying work such as the freelance writing I’ve done for White Wolf or my own independent game publishing projects.

But I still feel like I have important things to say, so I’m turning to you, oh reader, to help make blogging a financially viable activity for me.

Paying for a blog? How does that even work?

Everything written for my blog will be published free of charge for the internet-viewing public. When you pledge money, that supports me in devoting creative bandwidth to creating content for my blog. Each time I publish a post, I receive money according to your pledge amounts.

But have no fear! You can set monthly limits on your pledges, so if I have a month where I’m feeling particularly voluble you don’t wind up breaking the bank. In fact, if it helps you feel comfortable with pledging, I encourage you to do so! Also importantly, this is not a permanent commitment. You can withdraw your support at any time.

Quality criticism of game and game culture is important. Any amount you care to give in support will be so, so appreciated. Thank you.

Building Rome In a Day has a new home

It was pointed out that I should say something here so that people can find me…

 

Building Rome In a Day, my art/game design blog, has moved from Blogspot to Tumblr, mainly because Blogspot’s interface drives me to distraction. You can find me at wundergeek.tumblr.com

Though it’s mostly in-progress posts about creative projects, feminism is bound to creep in there (and has already).

Thanks!

By popular request: your chance to own a sexy president

I think I may have created a monster when I created sexy Abraham Lincoln. The fervor with which some of you wanted to own a piece of sexy Abe merchandise has been, frankly, a little frightening. Still, I am nothing if not accommodating. So to facilitate your requests, I’ve created a shop over on Spreadshirt that should satisfy your suggestive Presidential attire needs.

Yes, I realize that leaves those of you who wanted prints out in the cold. However, the reason I went with Spreadshirt is because they offer a nicer range of products for women and because they allow users to select the color of shirt they want the image printed on without me having to manually create each different iteration. Bonus! In compensation, if I find time (ha!) I’ll create some wallpaper versions of Abe. Or maybe I’ll just see if any of my enterprising readers want to save me a bit of time and have fun coming up with sexy Abe wallpapers. (If you do, feel free to post them wherever. Just please also post links in the comments, and please also be sure to credit me.)

Lastly, I went with Spreadshirt because their pricing was most favorable, and as previously mentioned I intend to donate half of the profits to the International Myeloma Foundation – a foundation that raises money for research into treatment methods for incurable blood cancers. I realize that this might not exactly seem aligned with the stated purpose of this blog, but this past summer I lost my father to multiple myeloma – bone marrow cancer. I realize that there are no “good” cancers, but watching my father go through years of agony from having tumors inside his bones was especially cruel. Even more cruel is that there is no cure for myeloma. Around 33% of patients diagnosed with the cancer that my father had are dead within 6 months. I was lucky that my father lived almost 6 years after his diagnosis. My father was incredible instrumental in shaping my feminism and inspiring me to speak my conscience. He taught me the importance of speaking out, even when silence would be easier. This blog wouldn’t exist without him.

That said: don’t buy a sexy Abe shirt because I’m guilting you to help raise money for cancer research. If you feel genuinely moved, go donate directly to the International Myeloma Foundation. If you’re going to buy this shirt, buy it because you want to wear a ludicrously portrayed sexy historical President.

Yes I know it’s been forever

Seriously, my next post is killing me. I’ve already put six hours into this thing and I’ve got maybe another hour to go. I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m not dead and I’m not slacking. I’m just working on something that I was putting off because I knew it was going to be tedious. (And I was right.)

I hope to have it up tomorrow.

In the mean time – hey look! EA realized that women actually play their games! OMG!

(Seriously this is great and really encouraging, and holy crap that girl is awesome. But still – I find the narrative of the EA execs being surprised at the news that women like sports games to be really disingenuous. But whatever, it’s a totally awesome step in the right direction.)

GenCon!

Hi, folks! This space will be silent until next week, as I’m leaving for GenCon tomorrow! I promise I’ll have lots of GenCon goodness for you when I come back, but until then, do try to behave yourselves as I won’t be reading email or comments. I’ll be too busy not sleeping and stuff.

Guest Post: Review & Analysis of Duke Nukem

[The following is a guest post by Willow Palacek, gamer extraordinaire and indie game designer. You can visit her blog at Willow Rants. A few weeks ago, Willow asked me if she could do a guest review of Duke Nukem Forever. Seeing as how I intended to never played the game myself, I was quite happy to have someone offer to suffer through the game for me. As such, I owe a debt of gratitude to Willow for playing such an awful game so I don’t have to. Thanks, Willow!]

Like many gamers, I fondly remember Duke Nukem 3D, blowing up aliens, exploring (and blowing up) colorful environments pulled from life, and laughing at Duke’s one-liners. By the time I first became aware of Duke Nukem Forever, it was already a joke, a game no one really expected would ever be released.

So, I was pretty impressed by any design company that has the development chops and guts to pick up Duke Nukem Forever and actually release it. I was sold as a day one purchase.

In retrospect, this was a mistake.

I am a girl gamer. This qualifies me to write a review of Duke Nukem Forever. The girl part qualifies me to call it out for being horribly sexist (which it is.) The gamer part qualifies me to call it out for not really being that good of a game.

“But,” I hear you saying, “girls aren’t real gamers.”

As of the time of writing this article, my Xbox Live Gamer Score was 38,370. Chances are very good that my gaming e-peen is bigger than yours.

Part I, or Why Duke Nukem Forever Isn’t That Good of a Game

Let’s talk first about what made Duke Nukem 3D a great game. Mechanically, it’s essentially the same game as DOOM (although with a more advanced engine, making 3D environments possible). Go around an area, collect weapons and keycards, fight bad guys, get beat up, find medkits, find the exit.

What seperates Duke Nukem 3D is both the game’s unique voice and unique polish on the FPS formula. Wise cracking Duke taunts his enemies, remarks on the environment, and yes, even tips strippers. Our DOOM protagonist is largely silent, occasionally grunting. The levels in Duke Nukem often depict, very clearly, real life locations, such as movie theaters, adult video stores, a burger joint, a supermarket, but retain a fiendish level design that rewards searching every nook and cranny for alternate routes and power-ups. Secrets are tantalizingly hidden everywhere.

To me, the most iconic feature of Duke Nukem 3D is the creative weapon selection: instead of just the standard pistol/shotgun/machine gun/grenades/rocket launcher, the grenades are remote activated pipe bombs, one has access to laser tripwires to lay traps for enemies, and there’s the ridiculous shrink ray and freeze rays, and the absurdly powerful Devastator.

Now let’s talk about Duke Nukem Forever.

In a 90s shooter, you lived by your wits and your reflexes. Health and ammo were regularly hard to come by. In most modern shooters, health is regenerative. (See Halo, Gears of War, and too many others to count.) Get hit, your screen goes red, and you need to take cover for it to recharge. I remember many fights against a nasty monster in Duke Nukem 3D where I frantically pulled out all the stops, burning through Devastator ammo, then Rockets, then using the Chaingun, finally plugging it with pistol rounds until it was dead.

Most battles in Duke Nukem Forever are repetitive. Fight the monsters, duck behind cover, heal, take ammo off their body. You can only carry two weapons at a time instead of the whole arsenal. (The classic array returns, plus the Rail Gun, which is a nice variant on the Sniper Rifle.) Ammo is plentiful. Most boss fights are boring: figure out the weakness, duck in and out of cover, and fire rockets. Rockets are the only thing that damage the bosses, and there’s no ammo scarcity: ammo crates are everywhere in boss fights. (The exception is the final boss, which has rocket wielding enemies spawn into the area you must dispatch to take their ammo. That’s actually an interesting fight.)

What about the level design? We have a few theme levels: Duke Nukem’s casino, and the Duke Burger restaurant, but most of the game is generic industria. The levels are also almost exclusively linear in scope. There is little imagination or passion to the level design. (The Duke Burger is a strong exception, featuring a shrunken Duke and enemies, and gun battles in the stock room and a flooded kitchen. It’s still linear, but at least it takes advantage of the environment to create some interesting gameplay.)

There’s some environmental puzzles, but they mostly involve finding heavy barrels and stacking them to create a weight, and are more tedious than puzzling. There’s also less variety to the power-ups available. Duke Nukem Forever has Beer (toughness), Steroids (melee power up), Duke Vision (night vision, only used in a few places), and the Holoduke (a fun way to distract your enemy, but extremely scarce.) Duke Nukem 3D also had a portable medkit and an underwater rebreather, but the best powerup was the Jetpack, allowing Duke to fly around the level and bypass many obstacles. The lack of even a single Jetpack level is a waste. Also, the controls seem a little sluggish. This is completely subjective, but it’s my damn review.

What’s not subjective is the completely glacial load times. Without the Duke Nukem brand, this game would be completely off the radar, a laughable failure. (As is, it’s a laughable embarrassment.)

Let’s sum up. In a shooter game, the shooting sections are forgetable. The level design is completely generic. During a loading sequence, I literally have enough time to go make a sandwich. I’m taking my copy of Duke Nukem to gamestop today to turn it in for credit. I always keep my games, even the ones I have scored 1000/1000 and know I’ll never play again.

Part II, or Why Duke Nukem is Horribly Sexist

There’s sexism, and then there’s sexism.

I was able to find the humor in the elevator sequence, where a woman says “I’ll go down with you anytime, Duke.” I’ve been known to have a crude sense of humor, and I’ll laugh at a good sexual innuendo (or even a mediocre one.)
Is the fact that Duke is desired by all women in the game sexist? Probably. Is the fact that, in a dig against Halo, Duke says that “Power armor is for pussies” sexist? (Absolutely- although also funny.) But I’m not going to get my panties in a knot about either.

Then there’s Capture the Babe. Where instead of flags, you have ditzy “babes” you hoist over your shoulder, have to occasionally spank (because otherwise they cloud your field of vision), and call out sexual innuendos. (“Did we just score?”)

Capture the Babe is sexist. It’s not endearingly sexist though, or offensively sexist. It’s just stupidly sexist. My response to Capture the Babe was largely the same as Gabe’s.

No, what’s really sexist about Duke Nukem Forever is how it glamorizes violence towards women and fetishizes rape.

Think I’m overreacting? In the level the Hive, we find the women who have been kidnapped by the aliens, and transformed into some sort of (topless) human/alien hybrid breeder. What does Duke do to these women? He kills them. (“Even I can’t save you now,” he says, or even worse, “Sorry babe, it’s better this way.”)

I lack a vocabulary to convey how wrong this is, but I’m going to give it a shot anyways.

No, fuck it. If you don’t understand why that’s twisted and wrong, you’re not worth my time.

As fate would have it, my boyfriend chose that level to sit down and watch me play Duke Nukem Forever. And he was made uncomfortable. (I think he’s a keeper.)

Soon after, you fight an alien queen with three disgusting withered bare breasts.

Then there’s the strip club dream sequence level, Duke Nukem’s Titty City. In this level, you are first confronted with a stripper (naked except for a tiny thong) who gives you a quest to find a bag of potato chips, a vibrator, and a condom. Then you get an unskippable lap dance cut scene.

You know what’s worse than unskippable cut scenes? An unskippable cut scene that’s uncomfortably sexual. (I don’t know of any game that waves a giant dick in your face. If that was the case in Dragon Age 2, maybe that one guy would have had a point.)

Oh, you know what’s even worse than that? In said strip club dream sequence, there’s a number of mini-games to increase your ego. (Health). Air hockey, pinball, a basketball hoop, and the Whack-a-Mole game. Except they completely ruined Whack-a-Mole by making it sexist tripe. Called Alien Abortion. Where the game-space is a naked woman’s body. With aliens popping out of it.

In all of this, I wonder how in hell this game slipped through without an Adults Only rating.

Part III, or Why the Multiplayer is Terrible

Most of the controversy surrounding Duke Nukem Forever is about Capture the Babe (not the single player campaign, which really deserves more scrutiny.) So I knew I had to play multiplayer for my review experience to be complete.

Most of the multiplayer is ripped directly from Dukematch from Duke Nukem 3D, which is to say, it’s the same exact levels, only the gameplay is worse because the servers are terrible and there’s rampant lag. Capture the Babe is the same, only with a veneer of sexism drenched over the awkwardly implemented capture the flag mechanics.

Also, you can only play as Duke. I would have gotten a bit of a chuckle if I could go around blowing people up with one of the babes as my avatar. That would have almost made multiplayer enjoyable for me.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Gamestop.

>WTF: the "not enough hours in the day" edition

>Okay, folks. Sorry for the radio silence. (I’ve been trying to check in with the comment threads since things have been pretty busy…) I got a MASSIVE video-editing project with a crazily short deadline dumped in my lap, and it’s consuming almost every waking moment of my existence. Literally.

But I was feeling guilty, so here are some things that are WTF and some things that are not so WTF.

WTF the first


(images taken from this post from Spinksville)

So it seems like a lot of the new MMOs are feeling threatened by TERAs effort to have the least-clothed women in MMO Land, because I’m seeing a lot of pornular women that really up the ante from other MMO companies. Case in point, here are male and female guards from the same area in the upcoming MMO Rift. Looks like their uniforms aren’t all that… um… uniform.

WTF the second

Someone was kind enough to email me this ad that they spotted for Rappelz. I was intrigued because Rappelz was the very first game I ever lambasted, and this woman is even LESS clothed than the Rappelz women of six months ago! I think I’m going to have to hunt up a bunch of new Rappelz ads and see how they compare to the old ones…

WTF the third

Lastly, I wanted to link to an article about the upcoming Tomb Raider game. A lot of people have lauded the redesign of Lara, but perhaps there is a cause for trepidation. The feature on IGN seemed very enthusiastic about the realistic death animations and describes several ways in which Lara can die, including the gem:

All of which should keep you happy if you enjoy watching bad things happening to pretty ladies.

And this is why female gamers hate IGN. Still, I’m a bit nervous now for how the new and improved Lara will fare. Here’s hoping she doesn’t meet with the same fate as Samus in Other M.

Thankfully, I have something to get rid of the bad taste…

Awesome the first


(Image from the Tumblr of Michael Pawlak)

I stumbled across this on Ben Paddon’s blog and thought it was amazing. I think the ladies at Fat, Ugly or Slutty could probably identify with this pretty well.

Awesome the second

Last but not least, I’ll link to a video that a friend sent me the link to: an episode of Extra Credits by the Escapist about female video game characters. It’s long, but it’s well worth watching. Also, it makes fun of Other M and Ivy, which I support.

That’s it for this week folks. Things will return to normal next week.