Detailed analysis of successfully funded games KickStarters in 2015 [SO MANY CHARTS]

Lately, I’ve been working on a series looking at the gender distribution of crowdfunding, starting first with Patreon – which is a crowdfunding model that enables serial content. So far in the series, I’ve done a gender breakdown of a representative sample of Patreon creators with games-related Patreons, a look at the barriers that keep women from becoming creators on Patreon, and an aside with advice for women who want to get into having a Patreon anyway. And unfortunately, the statistics of Patreon creators are pretty dismal; only 24% of Patreons had female contributors, with only 13% of creators surveyed being solo women.

However, only looking at Patreon would be ignoring the elephant in the room. Patreon has changed the landscape of creativity in that artists who want to do projects that wouldn’t traditionally be commercially viable now have a venue for doing work that they want to do instead of having to focus on projects that they are not as interested in but they know will be an easier sell. But Patreon’s funding model doesn’t really do much to address the economic realities of game development: it’s expensive. In order to produce a polished, finished game there are a lot of expenses – writing, editing, artwork, layout, printing, fulfillment, and they’re all vitally important.

Tabletop RPGs are procedural documents – ensuring that your text is clearly written and conveys what it needs to is vital. Layout is just as critical, because the best writing and editing in the world won’t keep your customers from being frustrated if they can’t find the rules they need to reference at the table. Art is important to draw people in to the world you are creating, and to convey the feel of the game. And as with any creative work, you get what you pay for. You can save money by finding people who are willing to work on the cheap, but generally the people doing the best work know that they’re doing the best work and will insist on being fairly compensated for their time.

Lastly, while I’ve heard increasing grumbling from publisher friends that “next time” they’re going to do a KickStarter with digital-only distribution, we have yet to reach a point where that wouldn’t be cutting off your own nose to spite your face. But face it, shipping physical product suuuuuuckkkkksssss. Production and shipping the physical product is a huge chunk of any KickStarter budget, and costs are non-negotiable. If you want the thing, you pay what the supplier demands. Those costs add up quickly, and even for small projects with only modest aspirations, budgets for a typical RPG tend to be thousands of dollars. So for most small to medium-sized publishers, KickStarter (or other platforms like IndieGoGo) is the only way that indie publishers can afford to produce polished, professional quality game products.

So with all of that said, I felt that I would be I would remiss were I to not do examine the demographics of KickStarter, just as I have already done with Patreon.

Methodology and Sources

In determining which data I wanted to examine, I decided that I would look at all successfully funded RPG KickStarters from 2015 – excluding campaigns that were either canceled or failed to meet their goal. Unfortunately, assigning gender to a KickStarter is a much trickier prospect than with Patreon; very few Patreons had more than two creators, and only one that I surveyed had a creator team with more than four people. However, since KickStarter projects can be much larger, teams for RPG products can get pretty damn huge. For example, I was one of twenty or so writers on V20 Dark Ages. Then there were lead developers, an editor, and I don’t even know how many artists. So figuring out how to determine the “gender” of a project becomes a much trickier prospect.

In the end, what I settled for was looking at who it was that fronted the project – so either who was it that created the campaign, or if that was inconclusive was there a name attached to the title of the campaign itself? (Frex) I then assigned each result to one of the following categories:

  • solo male (a single man working alone)
  • solo female (a single woman working alone)
  • all male (a group of at least 2 men working together)
  • all female (a group of at least 2 women working together)
  • mixed gender (a group with at least one woman and one man working together)
  • studio (a medium to large sized games company or publisher that is not a sole proprietorship)
  • unknown (aliases or names for which gender could not be determined)

I also broke down the types of campaigns, since “roleplaying games” is a pretty broad category, into the following sub-categories: campaign settings, adventures, events, multimedia, dice, accessories, supplements, and games. Lastly, for each campaign I recorded the total amount raised and what percent of their goal was raised. (Logically, since I only looked at successful campaigns, all results for percent of goal raised were over 100%)

Sadly, KickStarter’s interface is pretty terrible for collecting this sort of data. So I wound up turning to RPGGeek, where RPGGeek users maintain an ongoing list of games KickStarters by year. I’ll admit that I have no way of verifying if their data collection is 100% comprehensive, but it is definitely exhaustive. In collecting the data that I needed, I had to go through twenty four pages of forum results. Given that I counted a total of 388 successfully funded campaigns, I feel that my results are definitely statistically rigorous.

That said, I did filter my raw results slightly. In putting together “final” numbers for the charts that I was preparing, I chose to omit 18 campaigns from the results because of sketchy practices surrounding artificially low funding goals. For instance, there was one guy who by himself had 8 successfully funded campaigns in 2015 – which sounds impressive! Until you realize that he was funding basic adventure modules and his goal for each campaign was only $30. So despite that each campaign was only making around $800-$1500 or so, he was seeing THOUSANDS of percent on his campaigns in terms of percent of goals raised. Since I was very interested in percent of goal raised to see if gender was a factor, I wanted to get rid of the extreme results so that my conclusions would actually be meaningful. So it should be noted that while I recorded 388 successful campaigns, results below were tabulated based on the filtered total of 370.

The Results

Overall-gender

As someone who has been observing KickStarter as a publishing platform for several years, I wasn’t too surprised that the gender breakdown even less egalitarian than Patreon. What did surprise me was how much lower the percent of female participation was. Patreon’s 13% representation of female-only creators is pretty dismal, but 13% is at least mostly in line with the current representation of women in the industry as a whole.

KickStarter, however, had slightly less than half those numbers in terms of solo female representation, with only 6% of all successfully funded games projects in 2015 being fronted by solo women. And widening the focus to include all campaigns that include at least one female front person actually makes the numbers worse, which may be due to the fact that out of 370 KickStarters, not a one of them was fronted by a group of just women. As it turns out, solo female campaigns together with mixed gender campaigns made up 9% of overall KickStarter campaigns, as opposed to 24% of the Patreons that I examined having female creator participation (or only 3/8 of Patreon’s numbers).

Pretty bleak, right? Well strap in, because it gets worse.

Overall-funds-pie

Holy shit! Solo female campaigns make up 6% of the total number of KickStarters, but account for only 3% of 2015’s total funds raised! Mixed-gender campaigns also suffer a penalty, although not quite as bad – they received only 2% of total funds raised despite making up 3% of overall campaigns. By contrast, all-male campaigns accounted for 10% of total funds raised while only making up 4% of overall campaigns.

Granted, it is true that solo male campaigns “underperformed”, at 41% of total funds raised for 65% of total campaigns. However, I think that probably has a lot to do with the fact that there were an awwwwful lot of sketchy solo-male campaigns that I saw that had super-low (ie sub-$1000) goals, so it makes a lot of sense that the studio campaigns would overperform so dramatically while solo-male campaigns would suffer.

So what happens when you start looking at averages by gender category? Well, things get interesting, and a bit less clear.

Overall-amt-raised

Studios had the highest average funds-raised-per-campaign, which makes sense. A company like Onyx Path or Green Ronin is going to have a larger audience and has the logistics in place to fund a campaign with a much larger scope than the smaller operators, which lets them rake in the big money. What I didn’t expect was how comparatively small the gap between studios and all-male campaigns would be, and how large the gap between all-male campaigns and everything else would be.

The fact that mixed-gender campaigns outperformed solo gender campaigns is interesting, although it may be another reflection of the preponderance of low-goal “sketchy” campaigns by solo male creators. Still, it is undeniable that solo female creators have the lowest average funds raised by far, with solo female campaigns averaging a mere quarter of all-male campaigns, and just under 90% of the average solo male campaign.

Of course, something that is undoubtedly a factor is that if you look at the average requested funding level, the gender category that asks for the least money is, of course, women:

Overall-avg-goal

Again, studios come out on top – although again that’s not terribly surprising given the scope of many studio-fronted products. The results after that get a little muddled; for instance why are mixed-gender campaigns averaging the second-highest requested goal?

Still, women again come in last, asking for only only 73% of what solo male campaigns requested, and only 39% of what all-male campaigns requested. I was hoping against hope that perhaps that would be mitigated if I looked at the percent of goal raised. If the lower goals were perhaps offset by solo female campaigns doing better in terms of percent of goal raised…? But no. They weren’t, mostly:

Overall-PCT-goal

So yeah, there’s a weird blip with mixed gender campaigns having the second-highest requested goals and yet having the lowest percent raised. I honestly couldn’t begin to untangle what’s going on there. But solo female campaigns still come in second last, at only half of the percentages that all-male campaigns have managed. So, you know, that’s a thing that’s depressing.

I could have stopped there, but I got curious about what would happen if I looked at each campaign type by gender, which actually turned out pretty interesting. So just for shits and giggles, I present for your further edification the gender breakdown of each category examined:

Bar-settings

What the actual fuck. In ALL of 2015, EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN SETTING KickStarter was either by a studio or a lone dude? (For a second I was like, WHAT THE SHIT WHAT ABOUT RUINED EMPIRE, I KNOW THAT WAS BY A LADY LIKE PRETTY CONCLUSIVELY. And then I remembered that was in 2014 and felt stupid.)

So. Yeah. NO settings fronted by women, or even partially by women in 2015. Wow.

bar-adventure

Jeez. Adventures have some female representation, but honestly the numbers don’t look all that much better. Around 8ish percent of all adventure KickStarters had female participation, but they only received 2% of total funds raised for their category? I mean, sure it’s great that they over-represented in terms of goal and percent of goal, but still. Oof. Feels.

Bar-events

Events represented the smallest category, so it’s hard to make any conclusive statements other than even with a large relative proportion of campaigns by people of unknown gender, it’s still pretty damn male-dominated. Which was surprising, because all of the best, most competent, most hard-working event organizers I know are women! So I didn’t expect that at all.

Bar-multimedia

The lack of any mixed-gender teams in this category makes the numbers really straight forward. Yes it’s great that when you look at average funding, solo female campaigns over-performed relative to their overall participation in the category. But that doesn’t change the fact that only ONE out of ten multimedia KickStarters in 2015 was by a woman, which is a shitty ratio no matter how you look at it.

Bar-dice

I seriously was not expecting such a large number of KickStarters making DICE of all things, nor was I expecting them to be so lucrative. Still, not really sure what else to say that won’t sound repetitive here. I mean, whee! Yet another category totally dominated by men. Shocker.Bar-accessories

Cool. So with no mixed-gender participation, once again we have ONE campaign with female contribution out of an entire category that makes up a pretty sizeable chunk of the total number of successful campaigns. Still, one out of 44 is still 2.2%, so that doesn’t really explain the fact that that singular campaign only raised 0.3% of total revenue. Seriously? What the hell.
Bar-supplements

Yup. Looks like women making supplements have a shitty time of it too. MY SURPRISED FACE. LET ME SHOW IT TO YOU.

bar-games

Well. Kickstarters for games at least manage to do (sliiiightly) better than average in that 8% of total campaigns were fronted by solo women, as opposed to 6% of the overall total. Still, as with every other category, they did not receive a proportionate level of funding. YAY. EVERYTHING IS DEPRESSING.

And that’s all for today

I’ve got more to say, but that’ll have to wait for next time because this post got super long and I AM FINALLY DONE.

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.

The gender imbalance of games-content creators on Patreon

Since the end of the year, I’ve been working on a numerical analysis of my freelance income in 2015 (although admittedly, it did get derailed by real life stuff; I’d been hoping that it would be finished before now). Non incoincidentally, the income I receive through Patreon for this blog is a large part of that.

My Patreon has done pretty well for itself since inception. I started out with 17 patrons in 2014 and currently have 80 patrons – though that’s down from a high of 84. According to data compiled by Graphtreon, as of the time of writing this post my blog is in the 88th percentile of all Patreons by number of current patrons. Still, as well as I’m doing here, it’s sometimes a little hard for me not to get hung up on the number of male-fronted Patreons that are doing… significantly better than mine. And sure – obviously I recognize that a feminist blog about games is much more of a “niche” Patreon than Patreons producing “actual” game content. Still, something I have been quietly discontented about for a while is the fact that Patreon is a platform heavily dominated by men, and it got me wondering – just what are the gender demographics of games-related Patreon creators[1]?

Unfortunately, this is a difficult question to answer, since Patreon’s interface is, frankly, really really bad. To be fair, they are trying to improve on this, but the results so far have been… mixed. So gathering this sort of data required looking to sources outside of Patreon, since I was not able to determine a way to do this using Patreon’s own website.

Sources

In the introduction, I mentioned Graphtreon as a source of Patreon rankings. I actually wound up not using Graphtreon as a source for my data, since it turns out they were actually a little too accurate for my purposes.

Instead, I gathered all of my ranking data from Pledge Society – which combines Patreon’s own data with a pretty, actually sort of usable UI. Unfortunately, Pledge Society doesn’t do anything to mitigate Patreon’s awful sorting algorithms, which don’t take into account the different revenue models built into their own site, and makes the rankings that it comes up with pretty useless if what you want is an actual list of “who ranks higher than whom”.

What do I mean by this? Well, the ranking system used by Patreon (and thus Pledge Society) doesn’t differentiate between Patreon’s structured around revenue generated per unit content and Patreon’s structured around revenue generated per month. So to use my own blog as an example, I average between 3-5 paid posts per month, with a nominal pledge level of $170/post (which doesn’t incorporate the diminishing returns effect of monthly pledge caps, but that’s a different can of worms entirely). Logically, my blog outperforms Patreons which only bring in $170 at the end of the month, and yet that’s where it appears in the rankings.

However, in this case, that mix of high and medium-level campaigns in the top rankings actually wound up more useful in capturing a representative sample for two reasons: First, the very top of the top of the leaderboards are even more homogenous than the lower-high-end and the middle of the pack, which still aren’t terribly diverse anyway. Second, despite the different sorting methods, both Graphtreon and Pledge Society are getting their data from Patreon, which does not include gender of creator in its rankings or campaign summaries. So in order to put together the data for this post, I had to go to each individual Patreon page to attempt to determine the gender of the creator(s), which was a stupid amount of extra, incredibly tedious work.

About three quarters of the time, this was all that was needed. Hooray! However, the rest of the time I wound up needing to go to a YouTube channel, or a Twitter account, or a Facebook page, etc. Given how irritating all of that was, I lost patience early on and decided I was only going to do the “top” 200 games Patreons as ranked by Pledge Society, since the inaccurate sorting method meant that I’d get a random sampling of middle-level Patreons sprinkled in. Because NO EFFING WAY am I going to look at 2485 INDIVIDUAL PATREONS. Nope nope nope.

Data

In gathering data, I looked at two things: 1) what a Patreon was producing and 2) the gender composition of its creators[2] – which I recorded as either “male creator(s)”, “female creator(s)”, “mixed-gender group”, and “unknown gender”. You’ll note that there’s no differentiation between solo creators and homogeneously gendered groups of creators. Unfortunately, this is something I regret, however I didn’t think to record solo versus group until I was around #175 or so, at which point I wasn’t about to go repeat almost all of my work.

As for what a Patreon is producing, the categories that I recorded were: games (video games, tabletop games, game settings and resources, game mods, etc), videos (let’s plays, streams, vlogs), podcasts, comics, and other (multimedia, art, reviews, blogs, criticism, etc).

It’s important for me to note that there was one category of campaign that I trashed from my results entirely, despite being the third largest category overall: porn. It may sound naive, but I honestly was surprised that porn is even allowed on Patreon, and I was even more surprised by how much porn there is and how much support it’s receiving. But it’s there, and there is a lot of it, and wow is it making a lot of money.

Out of the 200 Patreons that I looked at, a whopping 54 are for campaigns producing porn. The largest portion seems to be for campaigns making porn games and interactive novels. However, there were also things like porn comics featuring notable video game characters, porn videos using custom renders of video game characters, and even an online platform for virtual furry sex rendered in… uh… quite graphic detail.

These sorts of Patreons were not only nearly 100% male-created, but it also seemed that the issues present had much more to do with the subculture of porn content production than the subculture of games content production, for all that the content being created uses the medium and visual language of games. As such, these sorts of campaigns were not included, although an analysis of these Patreons would be interesting on its own (even if I’m not likely to ever write it myself.)

The Results

Out of the 200 Patreons that I looked at, here’s how they broke down by category:

PATR-overall

Patreons producing video content through YouTube are outproducing Patreons producing actual games by 4%, which was a bit of a surprise. Although reflected in those numbers is an increasing trend of content that would have been delivered as podcasts now being delivered as vlogs or video series – as indicated by the fact that podcasts are making up a measly 3% of the Patreons surveyed. I suspect had Patreon been available five years ago, the proportions of vlogs and YouTube Channels being funded would have been far lower, and podcasts would have been much higher; certainly five years ago[3] it seemed like there were an awful lot of gaming podcasts out there (many of which are now defunct).

Unfortunately, when you start looking at the breakdown of gender of creators overall (again, this is not including porn), the results are depressing but not really all that surprising.

PATR-games

Female-only creator(s) make up only thirteen percent of non-porn Games Patreons! That’s squarely in “just barely better than the MOMA” territory, which is pretty goddamn sad. And creator teams that simply include even just one woman still only bump the total up to 24%! Yikes! Now, yes, it is true that creators of unknown gender account for 10%. However, even if you say that every single one of that 10% of creators is actually a woman (statistically unlikely), that still leaves two thirds of the non-porn Patreons that were examined with no female contributors whatsoever, which is pretty sad.

Things get sliiiightly less bleak when you look at the breakdown of non-porn Patreons that are producing games, although I still wouldn’t start dancing in the streets:

PATR-games2

Just under half of Patreons surveyed that are making non-porn games have zero female contributors while fewer than one-fifth of Patreons for non-porn games are controlled exclusively by women. Including mixed-gender teams gets the distribution much closer to half, but again these numbers are belied by the fact that in mixed-gender teams of creators with more than two people, the women were always outnumbered, usually rather significantly. (Again, something I’m kicking myself for not recording actual numbers on.)

But wait, it gets worse. The most popular content type provided by the Patreons I surveyed is also the second-most male dominated!

PATR-videos

SEVENTY SIX percent of Patreons creating video content have zero female contributors, while only a fifth have any female contributors at all! Unfortunately, it seems that as Let’s Plays continue to expand in popularity as an entertainment trend, the people actually getting paid to produce that sort of content are… pretty well all male.

But even seventy six percent is still better than zero, which is how many Patreons producing podcasts featured any female contributors:

PATR-podcasts

Yup. That’s a thing that happened.

As for comics, they look downright egalitarian by comparison.

PATR-comics

Hooray! Fifty percent of Patreons for comics feature content by women! Except, the sample size is pretty absurdly tiny, so I’m pretty sure all I did for this one was make a pretty chart. Oh well.

Lastly, the “other” category, which encompasses art, conventions and events, reviews, criticism, etc. This is the hardest to gauge, because it has the highest proportion of unknown gender creators:

PATR-other

Is it good that people producing content that is hard to categorize are less likely to be male? Or is it that people producing this sort of content feel more compelled to obscured? I’m honestly not sure what to think.

Whichever way you look at it, though, it’s impossible to deny that the gender imbalance on Patreon in its games-related content is pretty staggering.

[1] It’s worth pointing out that the thesis of this post completely ignores the overwhelming whiteness of games-Patreons, which reflects the overwhelming whiteness of the games industry itself. However, while using names, bios, videos, and profile pictures to make judgements about gender presentation is itself (at the very least!) venturing into problematic territory, it is impossible to use these same methods to determine anything useful about a creator’s racial or ethnic identity. As such, I figured it was best to not even try.

[2] I know that my data falls into the gender binary trap, which is problematic and can be erasing of trans and nonbinary gender identities. And I acknowledge that that sucks! However, I feel strongly that looking at the gender imbalance of crowdfunding platforms like Patreon is important, so this is where I simply acknowledge that “hey, this thing I’m doing is still a bit problematic but I didn’t know how to solve that problem”.

[3]

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!

Hiatus ending, lots of stuff in progress

Hi, folks!

I’m actually working on the final formatting for a post that will go up in a few minutes, but I wanted to take a moment to address something that I had already apprised my patrons of.

You’ll have noticed that there haven’t been any new posts in the past month. That’s because my life kind of got turned upside down, but in a good way. It turned out that I had the chance to go back to school to upgrade my credentials, something that I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while, but I had to do it starting the January term. As in, right now. So getting all that sorted had to take precedence, which required putting the blog on pause.

I’m happy to say it all worked out. I’ve just finished my second week of classes and I’m happily optimistic about where this will lead. And now that I’m finding my feet, I’m working on getting back into the swing of things blogging-wise. My schedule may end up being less predictable – there will be homework and exams and the like to schedule around. So, for instance, I’m putting up a post today and another on Monday, and that might be more the way things go for a bit. I honestly don’t know! This is a new and weird adventure.

What I do know is that I have LOTS of things I want to write about, and that this blog is my number one priority for freelance scheduling for the forseeable future. And now that the “who the fuck knows what I’ll be doing with myself for the next year and a half” uncertainty of the past month+ has finally been resolved, I can get back to working on plans for providing more and better content for you, my lovely patrons and readers.

Thanks for all of your support, and for sticking with me.

Inside industry sexism: Q&A with a former female BioWare employee

First: How this came about

Last month, I wrote a post about the lack of options to play fat female characters in video games. The genesis of that post came from the fact that I’d recently started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic again, and was irritated all over again that you could play a fat male character, but the fattest female character option looked like… well… me. (And despite what internetbros like to tell me, I am definitely not fat.)
In the comments on that post, Leslee commented about one aspect of her experience as a former BioWare employee who had briefly worked on SW:TOR:
I worked at Bioware-Austin on SWTOR, and I know exactly why there is no option for a fat female character. When I worked there (2010-2011) the ratio of male to female employees was so bad that they converted one of the women’s restrooms to a third men’s room to accommodate all of the guys. (I cursed under my breath every time I had to hike all the way across the entire building to use the bathroom.)

There wasn’t a single female artist on the animation team (that I remember).

At the age of 43, I was one of the oldest employees who wasn’t a manager. ALL of upper management was male.

When the majority of a studio’s entire creative team is young (under 30) and male, the potential for realistic representation in female characters is significantly decreased.

Since Leslee volunteered to answer further questions, I contacted her privately to talk about the possibility of doing a Q&A about her experiences – since it’s not often that I get to see an honest account of what it’s like dealing with industry sexism as a female games industry worker. What follows are my questions and her answers about her experiences in the video games industry.

(Full disclosure, I have Leslee’s permission to make this a patron-supported post. In fact, I initially proposed doing this as a freebie.)

Q&A

How long did you/have you worked in the games industry? (Are you currently working in games now, or did you switch fields?)

I spent about a year, total, working in the games industry.  First at Bioware-Austin, then at Stoic.  Both were short-term contract positions that were problematic for a variety of reasons. Sadly, after these experiences I decided that the games industry was not a good career choice for me at this stage of my life and I retired shortly thereafter.

What was it like working in such a male-dominated environment? Were your supervisors supportive of your concerns, or did you feel you would get penalized for voicing your honest opinions?

The honest answer to the first question is: tiring.  I’ve spent the majority of my adult life working in male-dominated fields. I spent 4 years on active duty in the Army. A year doing contract archaeology. 7 years working as a land surveyor and autocad operator.  I’ve been the only woman – in the field or in the office – more times than I can count. So on my first day at Bioware, as I take a tour of the building and see the disproportionate amount of male heads sitting behind monitors (at that time it was at least 90% male), my immediate reaction was, “Ugh. Not again.”  So, what was it like working in such a male-dominated environment?  Annoying, disappointing, tiring, and way too damn familiar.

Were my supervisors supportive of my concerns?  Well, that probably would have depended upon which one of them I asked. During the later part of my time at Bioware I had 3 different bosses at the same time (all men, of course), and it was never entirely clear as to who was my direct supervisor.  Since they frequently contradicted each other, I never bothered to express my concerns to any of them. It didn’t seem worth my time.  There was also the issue of age and experience. I was considerably older than 2 of my 3 supervisors and that factored heavily into my lack of confidence in their managerial abilities.

Did you ever experience harassment or any other sort of gender-based discrimination, or did you hear of instances of it happening within the company? How were such complaints generally handled?

I didn’t experience harassment. I experienced prejudice, bias, condescension and devaluing. I often felt that I was discounted because of my gender.  During my second week on the job a friendly but utterly clueless coworker said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but since you’re a woman, how much experience do you actually have playing video games?” (He was a bit taken aback by my answer of, “…since the Ford administration”.) One coworker became openly hostile to me when he discovered (accidentally) that I was being paid $2 more an hour than he was.  Another, who had initially been friendly and helpful towards me, became distinctly unhelpful and dismissive after discovering that I was married.  One of the programmers refused to respond to any of my email questions, despite the fact that Ineeded his answers in order to complete my own work. I finally had to enlist a sympathetic project manager (also male) to intercede on my behalf and get the information I needed. He literally dragged the programmer over to my desk and forced him to answer my questions!

I was never aware of any overt sexual harassment toward my fellow female coworkers. The few times that I had the opportunity to speak to any of them (usually in the bathroom), our collective attitude was one of long-suffering weariness and exasperation.

Did you ever try to speak out against issues of sexism within the company? If so, how did that go over? If not, why not?

Oh yes. I did not hesitate to point out the fact that I was almost ALWAYS the only woman at every meeting I attended.  Or to speak up whenever I heard someone make a sexist comment at me, or near me.  For the most part, the reaction I got for my overt feminism was begrudging recognition followed by some variation of “That’s just the way it is in the gaming industry.” I think a lot of people knew it was a problem, but they saw it as an intractable one.  To be honest, after the years of blatant sexual harassment that I suffered while working in construction, what I experienced in the gaming industry felt tame by comparison.  It was still annoying as hell, but at least no one was groping my ass.

After BioWare, what was it like jumping into a tiny, bootstrapped startup?
 
After Bioware I briefly worked for Stoic, a game studio created by 3 ex-Bioware employees.  This was also a problematic work environment, but for slightly different reasons. I was the only woman in an office of 6 people, and our “office” was a shack that was part of a historic farmers market located behind a bar. We called it the Goat Shack.  It had no running water, but plenty of dirt, dust and dead roaches. Once we lost electricity for a day because a (probably intoxicated) patron from the bar had accidentally hit the front of our office with their car the night before, taking out our electrical box.

I think that on some level my coworkers derived a sense of pride by working in such “rustic” conditions, as if it was a testament to their frugality as a startup, or to their dedication to the project. But having already spent time in the military, I found these conditions to be less than appealing or conducive to productivity.  When the level of dirt on the floor (and on my desk, computer, etc.) became unbearable I convinced one of the developers to allow me to hire a cleaning service – for which I took responsibility for myself and was reimbursed by the company afterwards.Problems quickly arose at Stoic, due mainly by the fact that my role and responsibilities were never clearly defined.  Some of my coworkers would express annoyance or irritation whenever I asked them a question, but I was never clear on who I was supposed to ask. One of them became openly hostile towards me when I asserted myself too strongly in an effort to get a particular objective completed.  When I tried to talk to him privately, he accused me of being “too critical and opinionated”.  He immediately deflated when I pointed out to him that being critical was a defining characteristic of doing QA work, but I was never able to reestablish rapport with him afterwards.

Tensions finally came to a head when some of my coworkers discovered that I had publicly criticized another game on an online forum for its poor representation of female characters and its male-only protagonist. Both coworkers separately wrote me private emails, chastising me for my comments. They felt that my comments reflected badly on them because the developers of the other game were their personal friends.

How was working at a startup similar to working for BioWare?

In some ways, Stoic felt like a magnified version of Bioware.  The lack of clear supervision and direction was significantly more problematic when the entire company was only 6 people. The isolation I felt at Stoic was increased a hundredfold. I had no support and no allies. I lost track of how many times I was locked out of the office because my coworkers would go to lunch without me and forget that I was in the bathroom. (The restrooms at Stoic were in another building.)

The combined experiences of working at Bioware and Stoic made me realize that my 25+ years of working almost exclusively in male-dominated environments had finally taken its toll on me. As much as I enjoyed working on video games I felt that my time and energy were better spent speaking and writing directly about gender inequality, rather than experiencing it myself on a daily basis.

Based on your experiences and where you see the industry heading, what would you say to women interested in getting into the game industry? Would you advise them to choose another profession?

I would strongly encourage women who are considering going into any male-dominated profession to develop a good female support network.  Seek out women’s organizations that are affiliated with your interests and obtain a female mentor, if possible.  This is imperative, because the isolation that you may feel will greatly impact your self-esteem and confidence.

I also recommend that the gaming industry not be your first job, even if it’s really what you want to do. Having some traditional work experience under your belt (even if it’s really boring) will give you a better foundation with which to deal with the unique challenges of working in games.

In conclusion

As dire as this might sound, it’s important to point out that this is not intended as a universal indictment of the video games industry. I know women working for games companies that are quite happy with the work they are doing, and the companies they are working for. There are also increasingly companies that are owned and operated by women, especially in the area of mobile games.

So I’ll end by quoting Leslee one more time, since hers is a sentiment I agree with whole-heartedly:

My only request for this post is that I don’t want it to be wholly negative in nature. I also don’t want it to simply be a criticism of Bioware and Stoic, because I had some really good experiences at both companies and I don’t hold any animosity toward either of them.

Yes, I’ve endured a great deal of workplace sexism over the past quarter century, but I’ve also spent nearly as long discussing the issue with almost anyone who would listen to me. Sure, I got a lot of eye rolls and dismissals, and sometimes blatant antagonism. But I also got a lot of people to think, and talk, and sometimes change. It can be a burden, but a necessary one, and one that I know I’m strong enough to handle.  I want this article to be about awareness and acknowledgement of the problem, and an opportunity for dialogue.

Can we move past violence simulators? Because Batman is boring.

So here’s the thing. Before we get any further, let me disclaim that I LOVED Batman as a kid. The Batman animated series was one of the best cartoons on television when I was growing up, and I watched a ton of it! I’ve also seen all of the Batman movies – yes even the George Clooney one with the weird nipple armor.) I also very much enjoy video games that are violent. I own no less than three Mass Effect hoodies, have played every Final Fantasy game released by Sony (even Lightning Returns), and have been known to conquer civilizations because they annoyed in Civilization.

Never the less, because of what I’m about to say, I’m sure some people will try to paint me as Jack Thompson-esque reactionary who hates Batman. Which, you know. Whatever. Nothing I say will stop that, so let’s kick some internet beehives, shall we?

Batman has gotten boring

The older I get, the less interesting Batman becomes. Kid-Me loved Batman and his awesome jet and cool techno toys! But Adult Me? Well Adult Me thinks that Batman is nothing more than a weird, traumatized sociopath with too much money and anger, who spends much of his time and effort punishing the people (street-level criminals) least responsible for actually creating the social problems plaguing Gotham City.

I get that in a lot of ways he’s intended as a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy. He’s a kid who gets to grow up super rich, inherit billions that he doesn’t have to work for, use lots of cool techno toys to beat up people who piss him off, and sleep with lots of women in the guise of needing “cover” for his crime-fighting activities. But Batman is also a goddamn paragon of toxic masculinity.

Recently, my husband wanted to try watching Gotham – since several friends had been saying good things about it. But I can tell you the exact moment when I stopped giving a shit about the show. It came about eleven or so minutes in, when Alfred shows up to take Bruce home after his parents have just been murdered in front of him. And the VERY FIRST THING he says to young Bruce is to MAN UP SON. Of course, he doesn’t use those words, but he does tell young Bruce to stop crying. You know, stiff upper lip and all that. And for the rest of the episode, whenever young Bruce shows up, young Bruce struggles to choke back his feelings while Alfred hovers, scowling, in the background, the embodiment of the “proper” masculine reaction to grief. (Which is to say, to display no emotions other than looking grumpy or sort of constipated.)

…yeah. No. I get enough toxic masculinity hurled at me here on the internet. I don’t need to spend my free time watching a drama that’s basically TOXIC MASCULINITY: THE ORIGIN STORY.

The thing is, pop culture is increasingly starting to shift when it comes to portrayals of Batman. Finally, finally there is a recognition that Grimdark Batman is an inherently ridiculous character. From the Lego Movie’s take on Batman (which in my head has become the canonical Batman[1]), to the meme that spawned a thousand spin-off memes:

my_parents_are_deeaaaaaad

Unfortunately, when it comes to video games, it seems like Grimdark Batman is here to stay, simply because AAA game studios really aren’t any good at making games that AREN’T violence simulators – which necessitates a portrayal of the hyper-violent, emotionless, bastion of toxic masculinity version of Batman that has become so familiar from the movies and television series like Gotham.

Take, for example, the Arkham City games, in which you play Batman beating the ever-living snot out of… okay, out of really a pretty astonishing number of people:

darkness

Side note: I was a little uncomfortable with how easy it was to find screenshots of Batman beating up all, or mostly black dudes.

When “find the thing” and “kill the dudes” is the only sort of story that most game studios know how to produce, is it any wonder that Grimdark Batman is the only Batman we get in games made for adults? (I’m not including Lego Batman here.) The AAA game studios have put a lot of brainpower into innovating improvements in the area of graphics, UI design, and accessibility of gameplay – while putting pretty much no brainpower into innovating ways of telling stories that don’t center on violence.

How to make Batman actually interesting

The thing is, I think it would honestly take very little modification to make Batman an emotionally rich and compelling character. What if instead of telling young Bruce to MAN UP SON, Alfred instead teaches Bruce that it’s okay to express your feelings and be emotionally vulnerable? And what if, after that, Alfred became a real father figure to Bruce instead of being an emotionally distant butler/nanny? A Bruce Wayne capable of expressing a damn emotion, who dons the cape despite also knowing that systemic injustice is the real cause of the crime that he fights? Shit, that’s way more interesting than Grimdark “I growl all my dialogue” Batman.

batman

Click through for larger, more readable version

Heh.

…stupid jokes about Catman aside, honestly the Batman game I would love to play would be one in which Batman struggles to balance the philanthropic work needed to heal the damage caused by deep systemic injustice with his work as a hero who keeps ordinary citizens safe from violent crime. One where the social work of building community is actually part of the game and something that’s not glossed over in cutscenes.

It would be totally doable! One of my favorite RPGs for the PS2 was Dark Chronicle – a game in which there is a huge cataclysm, after which the two heroes have to go through dungeons and fight monsters to defeat The Big Evil while also helping various communities rebuild after their homes were destroyed:

dark-chronicle

Gathering resources to build buildings and deciding optimal placement is totally part of the game. It’s strangely addictive.

Modeling something like that and applying it to the Batman story would honestly not be too huge a task. This is a game design problem that I’m fully confident that game studios could solve… if they could be bothered to care. But the AAA game industry is hugely male-dominated, and largely guided by the pervasive (and inaccurate) myth that women don’t play video games in any significant numbers. So until the landscape of AAA game development changes significantly, which I don’t expect any time soon, I imagine that I won’t be playing any Batman games any time soon. I’ve got many more interesting games to catch up on.


[1] Whenever anyone mentions Batman, the first thing that pops into my head is DARKNESSSS. NO PARENTSSSS.

Data Analysis of Trolls and Sea Lions in 2015 [CW][TW]

For about the last month, I’ve been dealing with an increase in trolling. It seems that writing a 3-part series that examines data sets in detail to analyze sexist trends in representation in D&D 5E isn’t nearly as controversial as writing posts in which I talk about simply having feelings about a game. Because my post about my personal reactions to opening packs of the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion attracted a whole lot of assholes – not just here in the comments, but in other parts of my social media. Frex:

trolls

Those are all comments from ONE POST on Google+. (As someone else pointed out in that thread, it’s like I put out jackass fly paper or something.)

It’s gotten to the point where the last week or so, I’ve been leaving notifications on on my phone while I’m socializing with friends (something I usually make a point of not doing) simply so that I can keep an eye on comments on my blog, in case something particularly odious gets posted that I’d really rather not leave up for any length of time. Which, of course, presents a bit of a dilemma. If this sort of nonsense is getting to be more common, shouldn’t I just lock down comments completely?

The problem with that is that my patrons and other long-time readers are pretty damn smart, and often contribute quite a lot in the comments sections of my posts. Case-in-point, the comments on my recent semi-tongue-in-cheek post about games I don’t plan on letting my daughter play are actually full of some really great recommendations of fun and progressive games. One other notable example is my post from last year about Lightning Returns and its bonkers wholesale cultural appropriation of Western religious iconography. While I stand by the content of my post, the commenters added a lot of context that I hadn’t been aware of regarding the historical oppression of Christians in Japanese society.

Closing down comments entirely would mean that I would be cutting off actual intelligent and enlightening contributions by supportive readers, and I’m not quite ready to do that. However, while I’ve gotten pretty damn jaded when it comes to people calling me a crazy fat lesbian, there have been quite a few commenters that have started dragging my daughter into their attacks on me since my recent post, and that is… a lot harder to deal with.

To quote myself from Twitter:

I’ve been awake for half an hour, and I’ve already had to remove three comments from my blog that weren’t there when I went to bed. All because I wrote a post, which included GAMES I LOVE, about how I’m worried about sexism in games re: my 3yo daughter. And honestly, I’m so used to people talking smack about ME that it doesn’t even matter. Fat? Uh huh. Jealous? Sure. Lesbian? Whatevs. Man-hater? Obvs. Misandrist? You know it. Seriously, that shit just doesn’t even bother me 99% of the time anymore

But when they start dragging my DAUGHTER into it? That shit really fucking sucks. “it’s a good thing she doesn’t spend much time with you” “you’re raising her to be a dysfunctional lesbian” “you’re a bad parent”. They say all of this because I had the nerve to say even HALF-seriously that there are some games I might not let my daughter play. But for all that their objections are framed around her, they don’t actually CARE about my daughter, her feelings, or her upbringing.

It’s an entirely new level of sexist bro entitlement. They don’t just feel entitled to games that cater to ONLY THEIR INTERESTS… They feel ENTITLED to having MY DAUGHTER playing the same games that they want to play, like several years from now. Because fuck her feelings and her development as a healthy woman in a toxic patriarchal society. That bitch better like their favorite games. And honestly, I don’t know how I can find any of this shit surprising anymore. I really don’t. But I do.

So, you know, thank you, you entitled shitstains, for proving my damn premise about why sexism in games is so fucking toxic.

One of the things that I have done in an effort to make dealing with this sort of nonsense a bit easier is to write a FAQ covering all of the most common shit that gets hurled at me, so that I would have something to point at when removing comments instead of having to type out the same justifications over and over (and over and over…).

In the post which rolled out the new FAQ, I vented some of my frustration over the increased nonsense level around here by saying:

I don’t feel bad in the slightest about summarily trashing comments that insult myself or others, and I’ve grown to quite enjoy replacing derailing comments with sarcastic memes. Because again, see #3 – this is MY house where I make the rules.

But of course, there are certain types of people (men) who think it is LITERALLY JUST THE WORST that I don’t run an open forum for them to insult, abuse, and generally dispute everything I’m saying here. And those people get really. Fucking. Tiresome.

But of course I got questioned on it. Because despite that this is a feminist blog in which I write about sexism in a perceived-as-male-dominated-geeky-subculture, somehow me complaining that it’s always men who have a problem with me removing their comments from my blog is somehow suspect because… uh… reasons?

yes

At the time my response was terse and to the point, since I felt that was about all the attention that particular question deserved.

However, since then, the continued activity of trolls and sea lions got me thinking. As 2015 winds to a close, wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise to set about doing a data analysis of the comments that I’ve gotten to date in 2015? So that’s what I set about doing.

Data analyzing troll and sea lion comments

This has probably been the least fun post that I’ve written in a while. Gathering numbers to do one of my data analysis posts is always an exercise in tedium. Worse, it required going through 11 months of comments, including the ones that were so horrible that I simply deleted them from my blog without even meme-ing them.

I’ve left email comment notification on for the purpose of archiving all comments in their original state, so the process of reviewing them was actually simple, if rather unpleasant. Because breaking down the comments enough to categorize them and analyze the underlying trends required… actually reading them. In detail. Something which I do my best to avoid. And it also required digging up a lot of hurtful stuff that I’d honestly forgotten about from earlier in the year.

Originally I’d conceived of this post as something I’d be able to knock out in a day as a quickie “fuck you” to the trolls that have been plaguing me lately. However, I didn’t count on the fact that it is hard and upsetting purposefully immersing yourself in the words of people who want to make you feel like crap about yourself. What I thought would be a relatively easy task for one day has turned out to be a grueling and exhausting task that’s taken all of today, and parts of yesterday and the day before, and has left me feeling pretty emotionally raw.

Still. It’s done, and the analysis proves pretty clearly that my hypothesis was pretty near correct. You can read the entire summary here, with fancy interactive charts and everything, on Infogr.am. Though I’ll ask that you please exercise caution, since it might prove triggering for anyone who has experienced online harassment, gender-based or otherwise.

graphic

This is how it starts, and it gets “better” from there.

I’ll note that I know some readers have issue with accessibility re: color blindness with some of the charts that I use here. That’s mainly why I used Infogr.am to put this together – mousing over any particular data point highlights the data segment in question. This is especially useful in the couple of charts that have A LOT of different colors, if differentiating colors is something that is difficult for you.

Of course, I don’t believe that this sort of analysis is actually going to solve anything, because the sorts of people who troll and sea lion my blog aren’t the sorts of people to be swayed by actual facts. Besides, the fact that I’m making this a patron-supported post is pretty likely to draw at least a few trolls out of the woodwork, given that I’m literally being a “professional victim” by doing so. But I haven’t let the asshats and the haters stop me from doing what I do yet, and I’ll be damned if I’ll start now.

Games I won’t let my daughter play

Here’s the thing about having a three year old daughter. I write a lot about feminism, but even I wasn’t prepared for how goddamn early the cultural indoctrination happens. My daughter’s birthday was only three months ago, and yet she has already been infected with pink and with princesses. Her favorite toys are now princesses, her favorite movies are princess movies, and she insists that she herself is a princess (when she’s not insisting that she’s a fish). And every day she asks to wear dresses.

It wouldn’t be so bad if that’s as far as it went. I could handle having a pink-obsessed, princess-loving, dress-wearing daughter if she hadn’t also accepted all of the garbage that goes along with that. But more than once I have heard her observe, unprompted!, that “girls can’t” do… you name it. Mundane activities. Like “drive”. Even worse was when she said “a proper woman should…”

She never finished the sentence, so I don’t know what would have come next. But honestly, I don’t need to, because I know how that script reads and I know what it leads to – the same issues that I am still struggling with myself in my thirties surrounding my own internalized guilt about being generally pretty crappy at adhering to standard expectations of feminine behavior. Which breaks my fucking heart, because my daughter is three. She makes up stories about her toys, loves climbing things, and is so intensely curious and innocent. So the fact that she, AT THE AGE OF THREE has already internalized the idea that being female makes her LESS…

Well. It makes me want to punch the goddamn universe in the face.

Now, to be sure, as terrible as I feel about it, my spouse and I can’t be held entirely accountable. Since she’s in daycare, she spends more time with other people than she does with us. And even if she didn’t, it’s impossible to control for every exposure to possibly harmful media, because we have to leave the damn house on a daily basis.

Still, it doesn’t prevent me from putting a lot of thought into the sorts of media, games included, that I will allow her to consume while at home. Because while it may be impossible to prevent her from internalizing the core beliefs of our sexist culture, I certainly can do my best to expose her to alternative points of view during her formative years. The problem is that, when I try to come up with titles that I would be okay introducing her to, I don’t come up with a whole lot that she actually can play.

 

Things that are most definitely Not Allowed

1) Games with Damsels in Distress

First, my daughter will not be allowed to play any games that revolve around saving a damsel in distress. Period. It’s bad enough that at the age of three she’s already learning to think of herself as less capable than boys. But given that she’s obsessed with princesses, and well, a lot of damsels in video games are… fucking princesses…

Damsels

Yeah. So right off the hop, that rules out any game in the Super Mario series, except for Super Mario Brothers 2, since Peach is actually playable in that one. If asked, I’ll refuse to acknowledge any other game in the series. (Just like how I think it’s really sad that they never made a sequel to X-Men 2, or how Spider Man 3 never happened. Wink wink, nudge nudge) Mario Kart is all right, of course, since the characters are just color in those, but even Super Princess Peach (the one game that Peach starred in as her own title) will be verboten, since her superpowers in that game are basically having emotions and crying. So, you know, fuck that noise.

Likewise, any Zelda game. Zelda gets damseled in EVERY SINGLE ONE, even the ones where she turns into Shiek. And yes, Hyrule Warriors is a game, and yes you can play Zelda, and no she doesn’t get damseled. But Zelda’s costume design is a cleavagey boobplate nightmare, and she actually attacks people by pulling glowing energy OUT OF HER DAMN BITS to attack people. NO I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. Plus there’s also Shia, whose design is just a hot mess of pointless sexualization and that brings us back to nooooope. No Zelda.

Plus, you know, all those other games where women get damseled. You know, Donkey Kong, StarFox, Ico… (I could go on and on, but really it’s just easier to link to part 1 of the Feminist Frequency video on damsels, because really the list is just depressingly long.) That shit just isn’t going to exist in my house.

2) Any game with fridged female characters

Because Jesus Christ, do I really even need to explain why the trope of fridged women is a terrible idea to introduce as commonplace to a three year old girl?

Fridge

So, you know, thankfully this spares me from having to prevent her from playing a lot of games that I’m personally attached to. Games like StarCraft (which fridges Kerrigan), Max Payne (fridges his wife and daughter), and God of War (fridges his wife and daughter) have never really been my cup of tea.

However, one of my all time favorite games, a game that I replay every few years because I absolutely adore the gameplay and will never get tired of it, is Final Fantasy Tactics. And FFTactics unfortunately manages to have not one, but two damsels in distress (Alma and Princess Ovelia – again with the princesses!). But you also have a fridged woman – Delita’s sister Teta. So as much as it breaks my heart to ban Tactics, because really it’s a flawless example of a tactical RPG, Tactics goes on the shit list too.

Along with, you know, every fucking game featured in part TWO of FemFreq’s Damsel series. So, just with our first two points, we’re already running out of games that can be considered.

3) Games with pointless fucking fanservice

I certainly don’t want my daughter to internalize the idea that being strong and competent requires being sexually pleasing to men. Nor do I want her to internalize unhealthy lessons about how she “should” look, because our culture is already saturated with toxic imagery that holds women to literally impossible standards of beauty. I don’t need to add to that bombardment by exposing her to that kind of bullshit in media that is meant to entertain.

Objectified

Unfortunately, that means mostly no online roleplaying games. Certainly not League of Legends, or really any MOBA. Or… you know, really any MMO, except Dark Age of Camelot or Lord of the Rings Online. Except… wait. No, almost none of the major lore characters are women, and hell, almost none of the minor lore characters are women either. So… just Dark Age then. Yes I know that it’s unspeakably ancient and a second-gen MMO that hasn’t kept up with standard MMO UI innovations, but that’s just the price she’ll have to pay. Oh and she’ll have to play on a roleplaying server so doesn’t run into female toons with names like “Muffeater” or “Sweettits” – yes both actual honest to god names I have literally seen.

What else…

Well, as far as single player games go, no Mortal Kombat or Soul Calibur. Or, you know, really any fighting games at all, because fighting games are the goddamn reason why “jiggle physics” are even a thing in the first place. It does make me a bit sad, because I lost hundreds of hours to the original Soul Calibur and to Soul Calibur 2; also, Mortal Kombat 1 was one of the first games that my brother and I purchased for ourself and I have many fond memories of playing it. But … yeah. No.

Sadly, #3 means I’ll also have to outlaw a good portion of the Final Fantasy games. It will be hard, and sad, and I will struggle with temptation, but it has to be done. Frankly, anything past Final Fantasy X-2 just has to go. From the ridiculous, ass-exposing shorts Yuna wears in X-2, to Fran’s awful lingerie ninja outfit in XII, to Vanille’s outfit and porny battle noises in XIII… yeah. I did think about outlawing X, but really X is mostly equal opportunity with it’s objectification, so it can stay. Especially because Yuna is one of my favorite female protagonists in games. (Even if her outfit has a stupid amount of sideboob for someone who is traveling across the damn continent and fighting monsters.)

Most heartbreaking, however, is the fact that I will have to outlaw Mass Effect 2 and 3 because of the ridiculously sexualized female companions. Mass Effect 2 has Miranda of the Ass Cleavage, Samara the Space MILF, and Jack of the Ridiculous Nipple Straps, and given that they’re in your party they’re pretty inescapable. Mass Effect 3 is a bit better, but EDI still gets her fucking awful sex-droid body, not to mention that Jack and Miranda still make cameos, so… no Mass Effect 2 or 3, which kills Mass Effect altogether since ME1 is really not all that playable since the stupid Mako missions are required.

And can we just have a moment of silence, because honestly my N7 hoodie is one of my most treasured possessions, and I am still ridiculously excited about getting the reversible Paragon/Renegade hoodie for my birthday this year.

…shit. We’re down to a handful of games here, but there are more things I want to ban. Like…

4) Games with no female characters, or smurfettes, or female characters who are only important for their connection to male characters

Games with NO female characters? That should be fairly obvious, I’d think. Games with smurfettes, though, those have to go too. That particular brand of under-representation really contributes to the notion that women always have to compete with one another – because if half of the population are women, but only 20% or so are heroic, that means that other women who are competent must be the enemy. And while we’re at it we’ll also lump in games who feature female characters that are only important because of their connection to male characters, because that is deprotagonizing and heteronormative as fuck and seriously it’s almost 2016 and I want my daughter to learn that she has the power to make a difference in the world.

Manz

So, uh, let’s see. Well, much as I loved Sonic, none of the early Sonic games, because they only had Sonic, Tails, and Robotnik, all of whom are male. It also means pretty much nothing by Blizzard, especially anything based on WarCraft IP. (Except Blizzard already DQs themselves with their copious amounts of pointless sexualization of female characters, so I guess that’s really a non-issue.)

Sadly, this also catches up games that I’ve even been playing pretty recently. Bastion is totally guilty of this; Zia is “central”, but only in that the McGuffin is her father’s journal, and Zulf and the Kid wind up fighting over her. Sure she sorta has an opinion for what you should choose at the end, but you can totally ignore her if you want, because why would you listen to a girl?

Oh god, we’re really down to almost nothing here, but there’s just one more thing that I have to ban and that’s…

5) Games that are casually misogynist

hitman_dead_woman

There’s enough casual misogyny in the world without it being packaged as entertainment. Bad enough that she’s going to have to learn that casual misogyny is a thing without me having to introduce the concept of casual misogyny AS ENTERTAINMENT.

So, you know, Grand Theft Auto. The Arkham games. The entire Hitman series…

So. Uh. I guess that leaves… puzzle games? Which isn’t so bad because I love puzzle games! Like, Katamari is one of my favorite games ever! Except… wait. No. No Katamari, because it’s about The King and The Prince, and it takes a long time to unlock The Princess. And there is a Queen, but only in the intro, and she only seems to exist to be pretty and make pies and…

…you know what, maybe I’d better just stop there.

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