I’m not quite dead

I’ve been having a tough week and haven’t really managed to write anything. However, I did yell at Twitter a lot the other day about patriarchy and how it makes women crazy, and a friend Storifyed it here so maybe go check it out?

I’m still alive and still working on some stuff for the blog. However it’s big and time consuming and I’m running low on both time and bandwidth. Many apologies.


Sidebar: Ruined Empire – my social justice-y campaign setting and sourcebook inspired by Final Fantasy – is finally available for sale now that the books have shipped to KickStarter backers. You can get it in print here, or in PDF either on my PayHip store (which makes me the most money) or DriveThru RPG.

 

Friday Freebies: the apology edition

Before I get started, a few notes:

So here’s the deal: we’ve just entered the busy season at my day job. More workload means less time and bandwidth, means less ability to post here. Go Make Me a Sandwich is going to be my first priority when it comes to writing, but I still have to go to my job and be a mom as well as all that other stuff. Not to mention that this is convention season, and I’ll be attending a couple of those. Lastly, I just signed all of the paperwork to start a big, really exciting project that I’m super excited about. I think it’s going to be a really good thing for tabletop! Unfortunately, it’s on a deadline and it’s not something I can really talk about until after it happens. So that will be a factor too.

My goal is to get one paid post up per week, and I will try to get freebie link posts up as well. Realistically that may not happen. I promise things will pick up again once we get into late summer, and I do have some cool stuff in the works. Thanks for bearing with me.

And now on to the linkage!

Leigh Alexander is totally killing it

Over on Offworld, a new BoingBoing affiliate, Leigh Alexander has been totally killing it with a ton of interesting articles. My favorites lately include: A look at the disturbing trend of bootleg Frozen games, a really interesting profile of indie game developer Nina Freeman, and a piece about Holly Gramazio’s absurd game Pornography for Beginners which lampoons the UK’s new anti-pornography laws.

I would say that OffWorld is definitely worth subscribing to.

Noelle Stevenson, similarly killing it

Noelle Stevenson, the creator of Nimona and one of the writers for Lumberjanes, is one of my favorite people on Twitter.

Recently, she did a series of tweets about the lazy trope of introducing a male antihero by having him wake up to a beautiful woman he clearly has just slept with, suggesting possible alternatives which are all brilliant:

 

antihero

CLICK FOR LARGER MORE READABLE VIEW

 

anti-GamerGate awesome meets GamerGate shenanigans

Recently, ABC did a radio story about GamerGate that characterized it as, you know, what it is – an abusive hate group. Predictably, GamerGate responded with complaints about biased coverage and ABC responded with actual, journalistic integrity! Who knew?

Twitter unveiled some new policy updates regarding harassment, which look promising! However, in the same week they also unveiled a “let any old rando direct message you whenever” feature that left most of my Twitter feed asking WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK WHO WOULD WANT THIS? (Thank heavens it is opt-in.)

The Verge had some great coverage of an awesome story: Zoe Quinn spoke to Congress in a congressional briefing on online harassment and cyberstalking!  It should be noted that The Verge is an example of how to correctly cover such an event, while Polygon’s coverage gets everything so wrong I can’t even. Brian Crecente does some amazing verbal footwork to completely dance around journalistic responsibility; not once does he mention the fact that GamerGate is an actual literal hate group. Worse, he falls back on false equivalence in attempting to present “both sides” which is both reprehensible and cowardly in the extreme.

One of the things that I have been interested to see is how the internet community has been responding to GamerGate as a new reality by creating new tools and platforms to help targets of abuse deal with that abuse. I’ve linked to Crash Override and the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative before, but now there’s an awesome KickStarter by the creators of iHollaback! to fund the creation of HeartMob:

WHAT: After 18 months of planning, collaborating, and creating working prototypes, Hollaback! is launching HeartMob, a platform that provides real-time support to individuals experiencing online harassment – and gives bystanders concrete actions they can take to step in and save the day.

HOW: HeartMob allows users to easily report their harassment and maintain complete control over their story. Once reported, users will have the option of keeping their report private and cataloguing it in case it escalates, or they can make the report public. If they choose to make it public, they will be able to choose from a menu of options on how they want bystanders to support them, take action, or intervene. They will also be given extensive resources including: safety planning, materials on how to differentiate an empty threat from a real threat, online harassment laws and details on how to report their harassment to authorities (if requested), and referrals to other organizations that can provide counseling and legal services.

Bystanders looking to provide support will receive public requests, along with chosen actions of support. You can “have someone’s back” and know that you’re helping them out in a time of need while directly contributing to safer spaces online. HeartMob staff will review all messages and reports to ensure the platform remains safe and supportive.

They’re currently $2000 shy of their goal with 21 days to go. I hope they meet all kinds of stretch goals because this seems like it will be a really great tool.

[Trigger Warning: Harassment and pedophilia]

Okay, this last one’s a bit convoluted so bear with me.

Last week at Calgary Expo there was a booth funded by Honey Badger Radio – a GG/MRA-affiliated group – which was selling GG merch and sending MRAs to troll panels. Calgary Expo, thank god, took swift action and booted them from the convention.

Enter Anne Wheaton (yes that Anne Wheaton), who blogged about this in light of her attendance at Calgary Expo. Predictably, GamerGate didn’t take kindly to that, and started flooding Anne Wheaton’s mentions with harassing messages. So she announced that for every harassing message she got from a Gator, she would donate $1 up to a cap of $1000 to Feminist Frequency. John Scalzi jumped in and said that he would match, and unsurprisingly they got to $2000 in pretty short order. Go Anne!

…unfortunately, GamerGate – ever eager to prove that even when you think you’ve hit bottom there is always another basement where the internet is concerned – responded by saying they were going to donate a matching amount to NAMBLA. (I hope to god that this wasn’t serious.)

Sentinels of the Multiverse: why you always need a woman in the room

[Disclaimer the First: I am going to primarily refer to women and sexism in this post, because this was inspired by a personal experience and that’s the angle that I approach this issue from.  However, you could very easily replace these terms with “trans/non-binary person and transphobia” or “PoC and racism”, and everything I’m saying here would still apply.]

[Disclaimer the Second: I’m going to pick on Sentinels of the Multiverse a lot in this post. It’s a fun game! I enjoyed it! I’d probably play it again! So please don’t interpret this as a scathing non-endorsement. This just happens to be a conveniently illustrative example.]

I recently got a chance to play Sentinels of the Multiverse for the first time, and it was pretty cool. Sentinels is a cooperative deck-based card game in which you play a group of superheroes attempting to defeat a supervillain while also dealing with environmental threats like fires or train derailments. It’s a well designed game that is focused pretty tightly on genre emulation, and it does a great job of it. Sentinels reproduces the feel of superhero comics pretty faithfully through its use of high-powered superhero combat, ridiculous backstories, and… bullshit sexist character design:

Wraith splash

That’s right, all of the female heroes in the base game are drawn with impossibly narrow torsos that leave no room for internal organs and impossibly perky sphere-boobs. Most of them have costumes that expose either cleavage, thighs, or midriff (the Visionary gets all three); though even the one exception (Fanatic) wears boobplate armor that allllmoooost shows cleavage, so even she doesn’t get a pass. The sexy costumes aren’t even “appropriate” to the character concepts! Wraith is a thinly veiled Batman clone, so what’s up with the swimsuit and bandages? Why can’t she have some goddamn armor? Expatriatte is a Punisher-analog who doesn’t have powers, she just has shit-tons of guns. And again, for someone who fights primarily with guns, wouldn’t body armor be more the ticket instead of spandex?

What’s more, Citizen Dawn (a villain) is supposed to be the mother of Expatriette, except you’d never be able to tell because there is no such thing as a woman in comics who appears to be older than mid twenties. Visionary is supposed to be 18 according to her backstory, but you’d never be able to tell from the art that Citizen Dawn isn’t her age!

Sadly, there wasn’t one of the female heroes that wasn’t awful to some degree, and I’m not going to lie: it definitely ruined my fun a little. I tend to want to play female heroes, so long as the female heroes don’t suck (I’m looking at you, 1st edition Descent). But in this instance I stuck to male heroes for the two games we played, since I was playing mostly with people I didn’t know so well and didn’t want to ruin everyone’s fun by harping endlessly about how bullshit some of the card art is.

An important sidebar about depictions of race:

While I said that I was going to focus on issues of sexism as seen through my experience as a woman, I would be remiss in not mentioning that there are some definitely problematic depictions of race in Sentinels as well:

haka-ra

LEFT: Haka, RIGHT: Ra

For example: Haka is a Hulk analog who is Maori. And that could have been cool? Except despite Sentinels being set in a modern timeline, there is some serious noble savage all up in Haka’s backstory. There’s also the problem that Haka’s powers come from his culture, whereas all of the white heroes’ power come from their backstories – which is exotifying and definitely not cool.

Ra, on the other hand, almost falls into the trap of “powers because culture”, except he narrowly avoids that trap by falling into a different trap. Turns out that Ra has actually been reborn on Earth… as a white dude from New Jersey. And look, Egyptian gods reborn as/portrayed by white people is really fucking common, but it’s also just plain shitty.

[end sidebar]

In reflecting on the game afterward, I was strongly reminded of exactly why it is that I came at superheroes through cartoons and not through comic books. I have a definite soft spot for superpowered hijinx, but even before I became a feminist I was never able to get past the feeling that comics were NOT FOR ME. Cartoons like Batman and X-Men may have had their problems, but at least there were female characters I could latch on to that weren’t depicted solely as titillating or objectified. Storm! Rogue! Poison Ivy! Harley Quinn! Their costumes might have been stupid, but they at least got to be people and not collections of sexy bits offered up to a (presumed) straight white male viewer.

And that sucks for a lot of reasons. It sucks that bullshit sexism is so ingrained in comic books that faithful reproduction of comics almost always comes with an equally faithful reproduction of the things that make comics so very problematic.

Worse, it sucks that I want to like superheroes, but most of the time I feel like I just can’t enjoy them the way my male comics friends do. Because well-done superhero stuff that doesn’t fuck up, or at least doesn’t fuck up too much? Oh man that’s just the best ever. Captain America 2 was the best! The new Ms. Marvel is pretty fucking great! And Avengers might not have passed the Bechdel test, but I’m Team Black Widow forever. Superheroes are great, and compelling, and just plain fun! And all I want, all I have ever wanted is to be able to like them as uncritically as my dude friends have always been able to. Because it’s hard to give something your entire heart when that thing won’t stop telling you that it’s just not for you.

But most of all, it sucks because looking at the art for this game and the character concepts, I get the feeling that the team behind Sentinels didn’t intend to make a game full of sexist art. Because yeah the female character designs suck, but the card art still shows them being heroes and not just broken-spined, dead-eyed assemblages of sexy parts of female anatomy. (Except for that one boobshot-with-no-face of Fanatic. Seriously, what were you thinking letting that one through?) To me, it feels like this was a case of there just not being any women[1] in the room.

Because that’s the problem with the vast gender imbalance in the gaming industry. When the people working in the industry on game design and development are overwhelmingly white and male, shit like this is going to happen without anyone ever thinking that maybe they should do something different. Sexist character design is so very, very entrenched across geekdom, and privilege keeps many male game developers and designers from even seeing that it’s there.

When sexism is the background radiation that pervades our lives, the people who benefit from sexism (men) often don’t notice that it’s even there. Even the most well-intentioned, enlightened, feminist-leaning dude is just plain going to miss shit. He doesn’t need to see it, after all, because it doesn’t affect him. Which is why it’s so very important for there to be women at the table during the process of game development[2]. Sometimes what you need is someone who can speak up and say, “wait, you get why that’s bullshit right?”

Let me tell you, I’ve had variations of this experience more times than I can count since starting this blog that can be summed up as a male friend being surprised when I complain about sexist art in a game because they hadn’t even noticed[3]. And then they admit that, shit, yeah – that thing they like is pretty sexist, and express some level of embarrassment that it needed to be pointed out to them. It sucks! (And not just for them, because let me tell you, I don’t enjoy being that person who craps on people’s fun[4].)

But not failing doesn’t have to be hard! Game design is not a solitary process – it takes time and an awful lot of eyeballs. So just make sure to include women and other not-white-het-cis people as some of those eyeballs, and make sure that they know you’ll take their feedback seriously. The wonderful thing about game design is that it is an iterative process! It’s impossible not to fuck up your first draft – but early designs are always a hot mess of bad writing and clunky design. If you make spotting -ism fails part of your design agenda, it is absolutely possible to make games that don’t punch girls in the feels and tell them they have cooties.

[1] Or n-b folk, or PoC, etc.

[2] They also need to have an environment where they feel safe and supported in speaking out against sexist design decisions, which is something many women in the games industry don’t have. But that’s a topic for another post.

[3] I don’t mean this as an indictment on you, dudes, promise. I’m getting better about spotting racist tropes, but I’m still pretty shit at spotting transphobic and ableist tropes. I’m trying, but it’s hard when that shit just doesn’t apply to me. (See how that works?)

[4] I’ve accidentally ruined Guardians of the Galaxy for a more than a few people and I still feel really bad about it.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but apparently I do

[I’m starting off with an anecdote about my kid, but this is by no means a post about my kid, so bear with me.]

My daughter is two-and-a-half, which is an interesting age in that we’re starting to get out of the “what is the word for this” mode of language teaching and into the “social norms behind use of language” mode of language teaching. Granted, we still have hilarious arguments sometimes about what something actually is (“no, sweetheart, that’s a carrot, not a pineapple”). But more and more we’re starting to get into teaching things like manners.

You know, things like, “say please when you want something instead of pointing and screaming” or “if you kick someone, you have to say you’re sorry”.

Of course, that’s not all that goes into a good apology. My daughter is a bit young to start teaching her the difference between a good apology and a bad apology; after all, she still struggles with the difference between zebras and tigers so that’s perhaps something a little beyond her. It’s enough for us for now that we are teaching her that when she transgresses a social norm (like, say, kicking someone) she has to say that she’s sorry.

Pretty basic shit, right? So why am I even talking about this? Well, as basic and just-plain-obvious as this should be, lately a nontrivial number of men with status in the games community keep fucking up and not fucking apologizing. And as one of the people who continually gets hurt by these sorts of shenanigans, I’m just. So. Tired. Of it. So even though this is something that you all should have mastered a long time ago, we’re going to have a little talk about apologies.

It’s important to note here that I’m primarily going to use the term “high-status person of privilege”, because it is important to acknowledge that people who are not white and/or not men can and do fuck up. But make no mistake that I am primarily aiming this at white dudes in positions of power and status within the game community. And if you don’t like that, white men? Then start taking other men to task when they fuck up and maybe I won’t have to make with the condescending lectures anymore, okay? Then we all win.

First: What makes a good apology

There’s a lot of great writing on this subject, so I’ll keep this pretty brief. What counts as a good apology is actually fairly specific:

1. Expressing Regret – Saying, “I am sorry.”

2. Accepting Responsibility – Admitting, “I was wrong.”

3. Making Restitution – Committing, “I will make it right.”

4. Genuinely Repenting – Promising, “I will not do that again.”

5. Requesting Forgiveness – Asking, “Will you forgive me?”

— Anthropologist Gary Chapman, The Five Languages of Apology

“I’m sorry that you were offended” is never a good apology. Neither is saying “sorry” only to then go on at length how you didn’t actually mean to hurt someone. If you want to apologize well and have it accepted gracefully, you need to follow the above structure.

Wait – why are apologies so important anyway?

Why are apologies important? Because you fucking hurt someone, you asshat. And when you hurt someone, you need to apologize.

But I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, they’re just being oversensitive

Contrary to what you’d like to believe, the intent behind an action that hurts someone doesn’t actually matter, and here’s why:

Let’s say that you live in a society that rigidly codifies hair lengths. In this society, people with long hair are allowed to punch short-haired people in the face as hard as they want, as often as they want. And not only are long-haired people not punished for punching short-haired people in the face, but often long-haired people will reward you for it.

Now you? You’re a person with long hair. Maybe you used to punch short-haired people, and maybe you didn’t. But either way you’ve come to realize that punching people of any hair length in the face is wrong and have decided not to do it anymore. However, you can’t overcome a lifetime of conditioning, and sometimes you react out of fear or anger or weakness, and the old instincts kick in before you can stop them. For that matter, a lifetime of being allowed to punch short-haired people in the face has made you a bit oblivious about short-haired people’s personal space, and sometimes you just plain smack a short-haired person in the face without meaning to.

Whatever the reason, the end result is always going to be the same. They, a short-haired person, have been hit in the face by a long-haired person. And if they don’t know you personally, they have no reason not to assume that you’re just another long-haired person who likes to go out and punch short-haired people in the face – because long-haired people are always fucking punching them in the face.

Their hurt and pain is real, because they’ve been punched in the goddamn face. Does the fact that you punched out of habit, or societal condition, or even accidentally… does that actually matter? No, because their face still hurts, and no amount of explanations about the context of that particular punch to the face will make their face hurt less.

Is the short-haired person allowed to be angry in this situation? You bet your ass they are. Not only have they been punched in the face, but people like you go out of their way to punch them in the face on a daily basis. You demanding that they not be angry because you didn’t mean to punch them in the face is the height of entitlement, because you are trying to put your defensive desire to not feel shame on the same level as the short-haired person’s bruised face.

The context surrounding the punch doesn’t fucking matter in that moment. What matters is the short-haired person’s face hurts and you need to apologize for hitting them in the fucking face.

But they don’t want to believe that I’m being sincere!

Unfortunately, that’s always going to be a risk that you run as a person of privilege and status. To continue the previous example, if you were a short-haired person would you be able to 100% trust someone who punched you in the face if they said they didn’t mean it? When people who looked liked like them punched you in the face on a daily basis? Gleefully and unrepentantly?

Marginalized people get hurt by allies all the damn time. Speaking to my own personal experience, as much as I hate and fear trolls, sometimes dealing with someone who calls themselves an ally and turns out to be a secret misogynist is far, far worse. Because these fake-allies get behind your guard, earn your trust and respect and even friendship. Which just makes it all that harder when someone you thought was an ally turns around and punches you in the face with their deep-seated misogyny.

Over time, that has a tendency to wear away your trust in the fundamental goodness of humanity. I love gaming and find going to conventions energizing. But anymore, I find actually meeting new gamers to be terrifying, because gamers have proven over and over and over that they are not a safe group of people to trust. Individual gamers? Yeah they can be okay. But gamers as a whole are a group that I cannot trust, because they have hurt me too many times for me to be able to trust them.

Look I said I was sorry privately. Why do I have to make my apology a public thing?

Did you fuck up in public? Then your fuckup hurt more than just the person you were aiming it at. In order to even begin to make amends, you need to own your fuckup just as publicly.

If I say I won’t do it again, why is it bad if I don’t apologize?

Aside from the fact that you’re hurting people, you mean? Well, it’s simple.

When you hurt people and refuse to apologize, that compounds the hurt. Sometimes the people that you hurt will decide to brush off the abuse and remain part of the community. However, sometimes the people that you hurt will leave, because they will (correctly!) perceive that the lack of an apology reflects their lack of worth in the eyes of the community. Further, other members of the group that you hurt will refuse to even join the community that you are a part of, reasoning that there’s no reason they should have to put up with a group where they have no reasonable expectation of emotional or physical safety.

Worst of all, however. YOU MAKE THE ABUSERS THINK THAT THEY HAVE YOUR SUPPORT.

Each time you, as a person of status and privilege, use that power to lash out at someone and hurt them, and you refuse to own that screwup and apologize? The abusers in our community, of which there are MANY, see that and assume that YOU ARE ON THEIR SIDE. Because you are yet another person like them who is using your power to quash and silence marginalized voices.

And it doesn’t matter that it’s not your intention. It doesn’t matter that you don’t agree with the abusers. It doesn’t matter that you are working either publicly or behind the scenes to end abuse in the community. It doesn’t matter what you have done or are doing to get marginalized people into positions of status in the community. What matters is that you are being complicit in reinforcing the cultural standard that it is okay for people of privilege and status to use their power to abuse people without power.

But apologizing is hard and painful and makes me feel bad about myself

You are a person with status and privilege. If the worst you have to deal with is occasionally feeling shitty for metaphorically punching people in the face? Count yourself lucky.
When you fuck up and hurt someone, the only thing you can control is how you respond. You can choose to be defensive and double down on your hurtful action or statement, or you can apologize sincerely, listen to what they say about why what you said/did was hurtful, and do your best not to do it again. It’s human nature to not want to have to do any of that, and privilege conditions you to believe that we shouldn’t have to!
But that’s when we come back to the notion of social norms and apologies. If my two-and-half-year old who can’t tell the difference between zebras and tigers can understand the idea that she needs to apologize when she hurts someone, what is so fucking hard to understand?

Tuesday freebies: the useful stuff and weird crap edition

Before I get started, a self-promotion sidebar:

Last week I launched a new Patreon with the goal of being able to write serial fiction. It’s gone pretty well and is a little under 2/3 of the way toward my initial milestone goal that would let me start working on the project. (I’m not looking for much to get started; my initial milestone is about half of what I’d ever accept for freelance work.)

What is the project? In From the Cold is a novel that I have been planning for the last few months, based on a long-running campaign of Apocalypse World set in the Canadian arctic – albeit with many liberties taken and changes made for the needs of a different format. I have an experienced editor on board to make sure each chapter will be polished, and my goal is to publish chapters approximately once per month.

The Patreon is here, and you can read the first chapter for free here. Any help in sharing or tweeting the link would be greatly appreciated.

And now on to business

Things that suck

Today’s freebie is a a bit of a mixed bag. I have some useful things, and some… well… not so useful things. So let’s start with the useless and go from there.

First! This screenshot got shared on my Google+ and I am resharing it here with permission, simply because this is so stupid I can’t even:

femalebreadtagonist

What the actual fuck. I don’t know if this is a positive reflection on the desire for more female protagonists, an indictment on the overall LACK of female protagonists, or an overall indicator that the human race is just doomed. Of course, the saddest part is that even these stupid pieces of bread are still probably better designed than the vast majority of actually human female not-bread characters out there.

Next, a behavior protip by way of Twitter:

wtf

WHAT THE FUCK, INTERNET.

I never thought I would have to say this, but don’t fucking do this! Don’t do it! It is insanely creepy and makes you a terrible human!

Things that make up for the suck

I generally try to avoid feminist theory here on my blog, preferring to use language that is accessible outside of social-justice circles to the social-justice layperson. However, the idea of intersectionality is something that I try to strive for in my own feminism. So I am delighted to be able to link to this delightful video that uses pizza to explain intersectional feminism. It is both highly informative and very entertaining, so do go take four minutes to watch it.

Game Developers Conference happened recently, and at this year’s GDC there was a talk on how to deal with online harassment that was given by Neha Nair, Elizabeth Sampat, Zoe Quinn, and Donna Prior. There is a great overview of the talk here on Venture Beat, but really I recommend watching the entire talk itself on the GDC Vault. There is a lot of really great information presented by some really smart ladies who, unfortunately, have become experts through hard experience.

Have you been watching PBS Idea Channel on YouTube? No, well here are two videos that you should definitely watch, and then maybe scroll through their (LARGE!) list of videos to see what else jumps out at you.

First, this video uses the Sims to explain gender performance and the gender binary in an informative, really accessible way. It’s definitely the best explanation I’ve seen in quite a while. (Don’t be fooled by the long play time – the last 6 minutes are Q&A about the previous episode.)

You should also watch this video about how to create responsible criticism that honestly, I wish I could shove into the eyeballs of every person who claims that offensive shit is “just satire”. NO IT’S NOT. MINDLESS REPLICATION IS NOT SATIRE. WATCH THIS AND SHUT UP FOREVER.

Thoughts on Dragon Age:Inquisition from someone who probably won’t finish it

So here’s the deal. It pains me to make this admission. I love BioWare games, and I am something of a completionist. I have played some pretty terrible games in the name of completionism. Hell, I played all of Lightning Returns in the name of completionism. However, I’m probably not going to finish playing Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I tried! Believe me, I tried. I tried to the tune of playing 20 hours, then starting over and playing another 15 hours… and I just can’t. Seriously, folks, Dragon Age: Inquisition is the worst PC port of a console game that I have ever played, and I’ve been playing both PC and console games for a long time. The UI is just insanely bad, inventory management is punishing, and combat is about as exciting as waiting in line[1].

So even though I make a point of trying not to write about games until I have completed them (or mostly completed, in the case of Lightning Returns), I’m going to call it and write about my impressions of DA:I.

Spoiler warning, obviously, but only if you think shit no more than 20 hours in even counts.

Stuff that is bullshit

Because I like to end on a positive note, let’s start with stuff that I didn’t like. Which can be mostly summarized as “Vivienne”.

First, while I appreciate that BioWare’s developers were trying to make a character who is beautiful, empowered, and romantically appealing while also being a black woman – they really, really dropped the ball on Vivienne’s character design:

viv

God dammit, BioWare. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS. This is literally one of the worst pairs of breasts I have ever seen in video games. Everything has texture in your graphics engine except for the weirdly lustrous plastic of Vivienne’s breasts, which are perfectly spherical and somehow never fall out of that dress, despite that all of the garment tape in the world would not prevent at least some areola peeking out.

Dammit, even Samara had breasts that were less bullshit than Vivienne’s, and that was previously one of the high (low?) bars of awful BioWare boob design.

The thing that sucks most is that Vivienne’s promo art was gloriously free of bullshit boob window:

Vivienne_inquisition_promotional

Why couldn’t we have had that Vivienne? I’ll take a tiny bit of stomach over a boob window big enough to fit a corgi through any day.

So anything positive the BioWare devs might have been trying to do flew right out the damn window, because every time I returned to base to talk to Vivienne, all I could focus on were her bizarrely artificial breasts. Instead of portraying a black woman who is complex and intelligent and attractive, Vivienne winds up as just another objectified black lady. (Literally. Because she is an object. You will never convince me those breasts are real.)

Second, Vivienne also had me throwing major amounts of side-eye at BioWare’s writers.

(It’s important for me sidetrack a moment here to note that I was playing as a Dalish Elf mage. Elf, because why would you play as anything but an elf if “elf” is an option? And mage, since – what with all of the demon-possession shenanigans that go along with magery in the DA setting – mages are automatically the most interesting character type. (Warriors don’t have to worry about accidentally turning into demons whenever they hit people, after all.) With all of the Dragon Age games, the writing is just more interesting if you’re playing a mage, because all of a sudden all sorts of shit gets really personal.

…anyway, back to Vivienne.)

So at the outset of DA:I, the mages – who had previously allowed themselves to be kept in golden cages and basically enslaved – have gotten tired of that shit and have had themselves a nice little rebellion because freedom! Yeah! And then you meet Vivienne, who immediately starts lamenting about how isn’t it a shame that the old system has broken down. You know, that system that incarcerated mages “for the public good” and effectively had no real checks against abuses by those in power who were supposed to look after the well-being of those supposedly “in their care”.

And according to Vivienne, this really is just the worst! Because now those stupid mages are going to run around, letting their magery hang out everywhere, and they’ll go drunk with power and let themselves get possessed by demons so they can go on blood-magic fueled murder rampages. Right? Of course. Because that’s what you do when you don’t have a bunch of murderous, mage-hating fuckheads in full-plate hanging over your every goddamn move. Way to go, you stupid freedom-wanting mages! There go our property values.

…yeah. Holy internalized oppression, Batman. That is some Bill Cosby-level respectability politics.

Naturally, as a mage myself, I tried to challenge her on the… uh… problematic implications of her view that the Circle needed to be reformed and all those pesky mages locked down right away. At which point Vivienne started accusing me of being “just as bad” because everyone knows that the Dalish are child-murderers!

Which. What? No. Just. No. Please, Vivienne. Just go die in a fire, or something. Okay? Okay. Great. (Also, BioWare character designers? Go to your room and don’t come out until you’ve thought about what you’ve done.)

Stuff that I hated but wasn’t bullshit

There was another character that I also hated, but it felt a bit unfair to lump him in with Vivienne because I kind of felt like I was supposed to hate him: Solas.

solas

In addition to looking like a constipated egg with pointy ears, Solas had the most terminal case of mansplaining I have ever encountered in a BioWare game. (And let me tell you, there have been some serious contenders over the years! Like Anders “let me mansplain your magic to you, Merill” in Dragon Age 2, or The Illusive Man and his serious love of “deeply” cynical Ayn Randian monologues in Mass Effect 2 and 3.)

First, let’s talk about how the way to win Solas’ approval is to listen to him talk about his magical research, which is about as exciting as watching paint peel. I went into my first playthrough thinking I would romance him, despite the whole constipated egg thing, because we were both outcasts! And elves! And mages! We had so much in common! Except it’s hard to have a relationship with someone whose idea of romance is “listen to me talk about how amazing I am, and then maybe you can tell me that I am amazing if you want”.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when he started trashing the Dalish as know-nothing posers. And when I broke in with, “uh, standing right here. Still Dalish”, he doubled down by elfsplaining my own fictional culture to me. At which point I said, “fuck you, I’m going to go romance Cullen, the relentlessly hetero Teutonic guy, because literally anyone would be better than you”, and restarted my game since I’d already passed on my chance earlier.

And yet, even after all that, I still feel that Solas is a feather in the cap of the BioWare writers, because I just couldn’t shake the feeling that he was wearing an invisible fedora whenever he opened his mouth. I’m sure when I’m not playing that he tries to talk to Vivienne about ethics in magery.

Stuff that I loved!

Dorian

Let’s start with Dorian, who is fucking amazing. Can we just take a moment to appreciate how amazing he is?

dorian

Oh, Dorian. I hate mustaches, but I could never bring myself to hate you. I mean, look at you pulling it off with that mustache and fabulous hair and the inexplicably-one-sleeved robe you’re rocking there, you glorious zero-fucks-giving bastard.

I would have romanced Dorian in a heartbeat if he weren’t completely and irrevocably gay. Which, you know what? Cool. Because that whole “I’m gay, except for you because you don’t count because we’re soouuullllmates” trope that you see in a lot of games and other media always struck me as kind of creepy anyway.

Even better? If you don’t try to romance Dorian or Iron Bull (who is also a romance option for female protagonists), the two of them actually hook up partway through the story! And I’m actually sad that I didn’t get that far, because dammit that is just awesome.

Krem

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Krem, who is second-in-command of the Chargers – Iron Bull’s mercenary company – and also trans.

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Krem met up with Iron Bull pre-transition when Iron Bull saved his life, and it’s never treated as a big deal. And later in the game (alas, again I did not get that far), Krem tells the story of his transition, and it’s allowed to just be a thing that happens. In other words, Krem is just a normal (for Dragon Age values of normal) mercenary who happens to be trans, and is out and accepted. And it’s kind of horrible to realize this, but I think this might be the first time I’ve ever encountered an out trans normal-ass character in a video game – so good on BioWare for thinking to make a character like Krem.

My oooonly quibble is that he is voiced by Jennifer Hale – a cis woman. And yes, I do appreciate just how amazing Jennifer Hale is. (FemShep 5evvvvaaaaaa!) However, there’s a lot of amazing talent out there and it would have been nice to see such an important trans role go to someone who is actually trans. Jennifer Hale being who she is, she totally killed it! It just feels like a missed opportunity.

Cassandra

Cassandra is interesting, because she was part of the story framing device in Dragon Age 2, but actually returns for Dragon Age: Inquisition as a playable character.

Cassandralarge

I didn’t expect to like her as much as I did! She’s rigidly inflexible and a total hardass – which combined with the whole “religious zealot” angle made me think I was going to wind up totally hating her. But she also gives the fewest fucks of anyone in the party, except perhaps Dorian[3]. And even better, she makes no apologies for being completely and totally awesome.

Since I was playing a female character, Cassandra wasn’t a romance option – although I flirted with her anyway – mostly because flirting with Cassandra consisted of telling her “you know you’re amazing, right?” and her getting annoyed and asserting that it was all just her job or that someone had to do it or somesuch.

I also greatly appreciated that Cassandra is not conventionally attractive. She’s scarred, and dirty, and her jawline is decidedly masculine. And yet, if she had been a romance option, I would consoled myself about my inability to romance Dorian by romancing her instead. And given that Cassandra is both a party member and a member of the ruling council of the Inquisition, she’s definitely written as one of the strongest romance contenders – which is pretty cool.

Last: CANONICAL MISANDRY

The last thing I loved about Dragon Age: Inquisition isn’t so much a character as a writing/design decision by the BioWare team.

At the beginning of the game when the Inquisition is formed, a ruling committee is formed consisting of the protagonist, Cassandra, Leliana, Kirkwall’s former Templar Knight-Commander Cullen, and a new diplomat character – Josephine. Which means if you’re playing a female protagonist, your ruling committee looks a little something like this:

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SWEET SWEET MISANDRY.

Best of all, Cullen doesn’t crack any jokes about the level of estrogen, or about periods, or about that time of the month. He just accepts that the best people to fill these jobs happen to be women and moves on with his life. Ruling council of mostly women? Whatevs. That’s just how it is.

And predictably, some dudes think this is just the worst thing ever, which makes me love it even more. My Male Tears mug was starting to get a little empty.

[1] To be fair, that’s a sport here. Canadians call it “queuing”, but I haven’t assimilated enough to find it amusing yet[2].

[2] It’s been nearly 9 years since I moved to Canada and I’m still not tired of expat jokes.

[3] And now I want someone to draw fanart of Cassandra and Dorian arguing about who has the fewest fucks

[Self-promotion sidebar] New project launching on Patreon!

Hello, folks! I have a post that I’m currently working on finishing up – it’ll be up either today or tomorrow. But in the mean time, I’m going to take the time to pimp a new project that I desperately, desperately want to be a thing. (But don’t worry! Go Make Me a Sandwich isn’t going anywhere!)

Here’s how I described it on Google+:

Mostly what I write these days are roleplaying games and blog posts, but my first love was and always will be writing fiction. I desperately miss writing fiction, and would like to get back into it! So today I’m launching a new Patreon with the goal of making that happen. The goal of this project is to write a novel that will be published in a serial fiction format, one chapter at a time. I’m hoping that I can attract enough support to make this a financially viable prospect.

In From the Cold is a novel that I have been planning for the last few months, based on a long-running campaign of Apocalypse World set in the Canadian arctic – albeit with many liberties taken and changes made for the needs of a different format. I have an experienced editor on board to make sure each chapter will be polished, and my goal is to publish chapters approximately once per month.

Yes, this is technically fanfic. But given genre fiction’s long and storied history of glorified TRPG fanfic, I don’t particularly think that’s a bad thing. So if you love post-apocalypses and genre fiction and would love to read about grey morality in the post-apocalypse with a big old helping of gender queerness? Then I think I’ve got you covered.

I’m not looking for much to get started; my initial milestone is about half of what I’d ever accept for freelance work. But really I’m just looking to get the ball rolling here, and hopefully with your help I can make this a thing!

The first chapter is up for free here, and the Patreon itself is here.

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