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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covers

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

Criteria Studied

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender Representation in Pathfinder Books: Depressingly Predictable

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

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

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

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

Group-Versus-Single

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

Groups-and-Women

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

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

Differences in Depiction: Active Posing and Suggestive Attire

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

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

Active-v-Neutral

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

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

Pathfinder-SA-FC

[This section has been updated and corrected]

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

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

[/correction]

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

Class

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

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

Stay Tuned!

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

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

Pathfinder Adventures app: Okay gameplay and terrible art

[Before I start: I know there’s been a large gap between posts. This started as a 1-off post and spiraled into something that will be a series of 2 or 3 posts, since I got a bit carried away doing research and gathering material for this. I’m going to do my best to get another post up before the end of the week, if not two more. Thanks for your patience.]

I follow a lot of folks who enjoy Pathfinder, so when the new digital/app version of their Pathfinder card game – Pathfinder Adventure – launched, my feed saw several re-posts of announcements of the launch. I usually don’t tend to hop on the bandwagon of new games quite so quickly (remember how it took me six months after the last chapter of Life is Strange was released to actually finish it?), but it just so happens that I was bored with my latest mobile game of choice and was looking for something new to play.

So I decided that I would check it out to see what it was like; I had vague thoughts that maybe when I’d played enough of it to get a feel for the basics I could write a post comparing it to Hearthstone, since that’s a digital card game whose art I have written about hating WITH A PASSION.

[Sidebar: concerning the buggy UI]

Despite the fact that this is not a review, but rather an examination of artwork used, I would be remiss if I did not mention the many issues that I had trying to play this game. The gameplay itself was solidly designed, which shouldn’t be surprising as it was based on the pre-existing Pathfinder Adventure card game. However, the app would have been a lot more fun if it weren’t for the absolutely terrible UI.

Seriously, in addition to being completely opaque (I frequently found myself with absolutely no fucking clue of what I needed to do to advance to the next screen, with no tool-tip having been given), it was also horrifically buggy. The Pathfinder Adventure app was designed for tablets, but I often had to touch something multiple times to get it to respond, and dragging things anywhere on the screen was even worse.

So if what I say about the terrible art doesn’t turn you off playing, and you’d be interested in playing a card-based adventuring game that is reasonably entertaining and can be played for free, definitely check it out. But wait another month or two until it’s been adequately patched, because only the fact that I wanted to write about it for my blog kept me motivated to keep suffering through all of the terrible UI issues.

[/Sidebar]

I went into this wanting to know how the Pathfinder Adventures app would compare to Hearthstone, and I have to say that the loading screen didn’t exactly fill me with a lot of hope:

Main screen

God dammit, Wayne Reynolds.

Amusingly, I was pretty sure that this piece of art was one that I had seen before; I remembered it as being on a banner, which I hate, that I’ve seen at the Reaper Miniatures booth at GenCon every year. But it turns out that that piece of art is completely different trainwreck by Wayne Reynolds (scroll down, it’s about halfway through the post) which shows the same two characters fighting a dragon, not goblins. But just like this piece of art, it still features huge amounts of sideboob and a basically naked ass on Seoni.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Except, no. Wait. This loading screen is why we can’t have nice things:

Loading Screen

That’s right,  everything but a goblin and Seoni’s completely unrealistic sideboob has been cropped out, because really what could convey the essence of the Pathfinder Adventures app better than a goblin and a half-naked sorceress? And this is the same loading screen you have to look at every time something is loading. So if you’re going to play the game, I hope you like looking at the side of badly rendered tits, because you’re going to be looking at this a lot. (Especially with the game’s unpredictable and sometimes long loading times.)

And apparently, the developers felt the need to re-use the same piece of art a THIRD time as one of the locations during one of the scenarios – by which point I was getting heartily sick of this bullshit Wayne Reynolds pile of hot garbage:

Awful Seoni Wallpaper2

And the worst part is, this isn’t even the only piece of Seoni fanservice garbage that gets used as a location background in the course of the first two story adventures! Later in the second adventure, I encountered this piece of location art and promptly facepalmed:

Seoni awful wallpaper

What the actual fuck? Why does EVERY GODDAMN PICTURE of Seoni need to contain sideboob? And what the hell is she doing with her staff? Is she fighting the monster or pole-dancing at it? How am I supposed to take this game at all seriously?

And unfortunately, it’s not just the location artwork that features frustratingly awful cheesecake fanservice. One of the early scenarios in story mode featured a main villain that looked like this:

Erylium

WHY. WHY DO FANTASY ARTISTS INSIST ON PUTTING BREASTS ON REPTILES?? If you have a character that is a bipedal reptile, to the point that they have scales and non-mammalian features like wings, horns, and crests, DON’T FUCKING GIVE THEM BREASTS. JUST. DON’T. Hell, there is an entire world of animals to choose from where I would accept more than two breasts as anatomically valid. Cats, for example. Cat-women could have anywhere between four and eight breasts, and while I would question your taste for feeling like you needed to illustrate something with eight breasts, at least you wouldn’t be abusing the limits of good sense.

And of course, it should go without saying that the contrast between the female villains and henchfolk is… well… stark:

Scenario henchmen

I don’t think I saw a single piece of card or location art in the first two story adventures that showed a man that was anything less than completely covered, and yet the women all came in varying flavors of cleavage, sideboob, underboob, and combinations of all three. What the fuck am I supposed to make of Lyrie’s outfit? Is double-sided garment tape just a standard part of every female adventurer’s kit in the Pathfinder universe? Does double-sided garment tape come imbued with significant bonuses to armor class? Or maybe with auto charges of cure spells or resurrection? Because I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would wear that outfit to do anything other than be in porn, and even then the setup required for that outfit looks like it would be way more trouble than it’s worth.

And because the artists want to make sure there are enough awful outfits and badly-rendered breasts to go around, there are lots of spell cards with cringe-tastic artwork too! Like these examples here:

Spell Cards

Unless the mage on the Guidance card is using dangerously sticky double-sided tape, there’s no way that that top wouldn’t just pop right off both of her breasts, and I don’t know about you but I don’t exactly relish the thought of charging into battle in the middle of a snowy plain with my tits just flapping in the wind. By a similar token, the outfit depicted on Inflict isn’t quite as bad, but that gigantic furry cloak is definitely at odds with the completely bared midriff. Wouldn’t it just be easier to put on a shirt that covered your whole torso instead of vastly overcompensating for not being adequately clothed? Lastly, while Force Missile deserves an honorable mention for being irritatingly deprotagonizing. If Pathfinder Adventures is about badass adventurers fighting monsters and being awesome, why does the art on this card look like she should be hopping up on a chair and yelling for someone to please squish the awful monster for her?

And sometimes, the villain card, the location card, and the story portrait come together to form one incredible hot mess of WTF-ness, as with Nualia – the supposed big-bad of an entire adventure:

Nualia

I’m sorry, but, what? I mean, boobplate is one thing, but what the hell is this? Her armor has individual boob-pods while leaving all of her stomach uncovered? And what the hell is with the skeletal hands as shoulder armor? And the bafflingly square gorget that protects her neck from all angles while, again, LEAVING ALL OF HER VITAL ORGANS EXPOSED? What the crapping crap??

So is Pathfinder Adventures as awful in its artwork as Hearthstone? It’s hard for me to compare, given that I played only six or so hours of Pathfinder Adventures, as opposed to a few hundred of Hearthstone. My impression is that overall it seems to do better, but given the baseline level of awful that Blizzard habitually occupies, saying Pathfinder Adventures isn’t “as bad” as something made by Blizzard is damning it with faint praise.

[Next time: How does the Pathfinder app compare to art in Pathfinder books?]

Fuckable female robots in video games – a timeline [LARGE][maybe-NSFW]

Recently, my brother sent me a screenshot from a MOBA in development – Paragon – of a female android character named Muriel. When I saw it, I promptly headdesked:

Paragon_Muriel.0.0

I was furious. Furious! ROBOT CAMEL TOE?? THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS! Which is what I yelled at Twitter, only to be promptly reminded that Mass Effect had gotten there previously, with EDI – a fact that I had forgotten because the very first thing I made EDI do was PUT ON SOME GODDAMN CLOTHES.

That got me thinking about female androids, and video gaming’s problem with wanting them to always be fuckable. So I started doing some digging, and Wikipedia handily provided me with a list of fictional female robots in video games! Huzzah! A lot of them I had heard of, but there were a lot that I hadn’t, and… jeez. Some of them are really bad. I struggled for a bit on how to actually present what I came up with, until I just decided to arrange them all in chronological order. So I plunked my screenshots into Illustrator and promptly… uh… got a bit carried away:

Timeline
CLICK THROUGH FOR MORE READABLE VERSION

(Note that some results from the Wikipedia list have been omitted. I chose not to include characters from visual novels, since those feel like their own distinct thing. I also, FOR THE LIFE OF ME, could not find any screenshots of the character from Doreamon worth using.)

Now because this is me, while I was staring at all of these screenshots of (mostly) incredibly sexualized character designs, I started wondering exactly how I could quantify “bad” for the purposes of determining the overall level of badness. After all, when going through the Female Armor BINGO, a lot of the points like “how does it attach” or “almost naked for an adventure in a cold climate” don’t really apply to characters that are robots. So instead, I compiled a “hierarchy of sins” (to steal a term from Dogs in the Vineyard) of sexualization, starting with things that represent not being sexualized at all (“Nonhumanoid”, “Humanoid, fully covered”) and going all the way to totally objectified (“actually naked”, “camel toe”).

Then I went through for each character I plotted on the timeline and counted the highest criteria that they met on the “hierarchy”, at which point I made some loose categorizations to see what would happen, and I got this:

androids

I realize statistics don’t mean as much when you invent the criteria and kind of half-ass the definitions, but two thirds of the designs counted are at least moderately sexualized, and only 18% of the designs weren’t sexualized at all. So, you know. SURPRISE! Most female android characters in video games are sexualized! What a shock!

Next time, I’ll write about something equally surprising. Like, character creation in RPGs is important, or video games require an input device in order to play them.

No fat women in games; a look at 10 of the most popular MMOs

Recently, I got back into playing Star Wars: The Old Republic when a friend of mine dragged me back into it. I’d played when it was first released as a subscription-only game, and again briefly when it went free-to-play, but I aside from occasional experiments with games like SW:TOR and Final Fantasy XIV, I haven’t seriously played an MMO for at least five years.

And it’s been fun! I’ve missed having a game to play with friends, and being the giant nerd that I am, I actually really enjoy MMO crafting and auctioneering. I’m also enjoying that SW:TOR gets story-based RPG all up in my MMO peanut butter – being able to group while playing story quests is quite a lot of fun, especially when grouping with people of different alignments.

One thing I have NOT enjoyed, however, is the bullshit gendered double-standards for body types. Because while ordinarily I would be happy that I can actually play a character who actually looks like me in terms of body shape, my character is actually at the top end of the body-size slider. Additionally, the bottom end of the female body size slider is anorexic-verging-on-impossible, and even the middle of that range is improbably skinny. Worst of all, however, is the fact that if you play a male character, you can be slim, average, muscular, or actually fat. (Which, you know, sucks. A lot. Because in effect, BioWare IS CALLING ME FAT. Bastards.)

It got me thinking, because honestly, my character in SW:TOR is actually the “fattest” female character I’ve ever played in an MMO, and I’ve played a fair number of MMOs. (Dark Age of Camelot, Warharmmer Online, World of Warcraft – several times, City of Heroes, Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars: The Old Republic, plus maybe one or two others that I’m missing.) And I’m not super familiar with the current MMO landscape, but I was fairly certain that my SW:TOR character would be at the top end of body sizes available for female characters in most MMOs.

So I decided to put it to the test, by taking 10 of the most popular MMOs and examining what the “fattest” female character in each one looked like.

Methodology: Determining Sources and Finding Screenshots

One of the difficulties in deciding which ten games to look at is that there are a good number of MMOs that don’t publish hard numbers on the numbers of subscribers. World of Warcraft publishes fairly comprehensive quarterly data regarding subscriber numbers, but others like RIFT and EVE Online do not. Additionally, figuring out a total number of players can get tricky when you look at the fact that a lot of MMOs have a mix of paying subscribers and free-to-play players; frex, Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, and World of Warcraft are all games that provide a mix of free and paid content.

So it’s important to note that these games might not be THE top ten in terms of player numbers. But the games presented here are actually taken from this list, compiled by Justin Olivetti at MassivelyOP, which examines a wide variety of sources like Reddit, Twitch, Steam, and others. (Although with one tweak, I substituted RIFT for RuneScape, because I’m not quite sure that RuneScape deserves a top ten spot.)

Once I had my list of games, I then dug up character creation videos on YouTube to scope out the character creation process before searching around for the best screenshots that would highlight the “fattest” female characters possible from each games. And the results were… well… predictably depressing.

The Results! (From thinnest to “fattest”)

[Note: these results are pretty subjective. The range of body types is pretty goddamn narrow, so it gets hard to compare.]

One of the things that disturbed me about EVE Online’s character creation is the fact that the body model is actually incredibly customizeable. You can shorten or lengthen the torso, or otherwise distort the figure in a number of ways. However, this is what the female model looks like with both the muscularity and weight sliders at maximum. On the thin end of healthy and not particularly muscular at all:

Eve online

I am reminded of Ford’s infamous slogan about the Model T: “any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it’s black”. You can customize your female character’s body in any way you like so long as she’s supermodel-thin.

However, the next few games’ “fattest” options were the same size as in EVE Online, only without any sort of body-size slider. Rather, all female characters are created exactly the same, as if some sort of eugenics program happened that left only women with impossibly thin physiques and large, incredibly firm breasts:

Archeage-GW2-WoW

Truly, I’m really not sure which is worse – a complete lack of diversity of body shapes or a range of body types where the “fattest” bodies are the default shape in other games that are otherwise equally sexist. Because having a world where women are all stamped from the same horrifically sexist mold is obviously problematic, but having a world where body diversity exists only for the sake of the aesthetic of the cishet male gaze is also problematic. Deciding which is worse is like trying to decide which I hate more: brussel sprouts or Rush Limbaugh.

An interesting additional complicating factor here is the fact that both Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft have female character types that are definitely large and muscular. In both instances, however, they are also monstrous:

Monstrous-women

So, you know, the fact that the only way to see a female body type that actually looks powerful is for that body to be actually monstrous is pretty fucking awful. Having impossibly slender, not-at-all muscular characters as the default body type for women in MMOs is bad enough without ALSO defacto saying that women who actually have larger bodies are fucking monsters.

That said, I will at least give Guild Wars 2 credit for almost getting it right with regards to their nonhuman female model. It’s always bugged me that the cow people in World of Warcraft have breasts. If you’re going to have bipedal cow-people with actual cow legs, then the lady-cow-people (Tauren) should have udders, not breasts. GW2’s Charr don’t have humanoid mammaries, so I can at least pretend that there are, like, 6 nipples under all that fur. Although they screwed it up by giving her that stupid top, because that implies humanoid breasts all over again, which. Arg. If you’re going to have a monstrous race, then let the women be actually fucking monstrous. (I’m looking at you, WoW zombies!)

Then you had the interesting middle ground of RIFT, in which there are no body size sliders, and all of the female models are the same damn size, except for the female dwarf:

riftrogue

Bullshit armor design aside, I actually like the muscularity of the dwarf model, at least compared to any of these other models so far. Unfortunately, the fact that she only has something resembling “normal” proportions because she’s not “human” is problematic, especially when you consider that the dwarves have the proportions of some actual real human people with dwarfism.

…[facepalm]

Near the top end of the scale (and let’s pause for just a moment to think about how fucking depressing that these next two games classify as being “near the top”) are two games where the largest female body types are actually models that I quite like. Body Type 4 in Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually quite a good model, in that she is muscular without being unbelievably slender. Similarly, the Roegadyn in Final Fantasy XIV are pleasingly sturdy and muscular. Where things get problematic is their contrast to their male counterparts:

dimorphism

The Roegadyn are bad enough, because it’s yet another example of the male power fantasy/male sexual fantasy theory of sexual dimorphism as applied to games. It’s problematic, sure, but it also doesn’t represent anything at all new in games. SW:TOR, however, is more upsetting because of the fact that they do have something new and unique – the ability to play a character that is both FAT AND HEROIC. …but only for men. Because while men can be both fat and heroic, women can only be heroic so long as they are also fuckable.

…please excuse me for a moment while I set the whole goddamn world on fire.

Which brings us to the two last entrants, which are the only games that offer the ability to play characters even slightly larger than myself – Neverwinter and Elder Scrolls Online:

Fat-ladies

Oh man. So many mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I definitely appreciate that the Neverwinter model is presented as beautiful. And I also like the fact that the Elder Scrolls Online model is the only one that I’ve ever seen that looks like I could play a badass mama barbarian who wears her newborn baby in a sling around as she kills shit and smites evil. (Seriously, the first person that makes me a game where I can do that that isn’t terrible or sexist, I will throw money at you SO GODDAMN FAST.)

However, while both models are technically “fat”, it’s also true that their bodies fit a certain narrow range of socially acceptable fatness. Their breasts, hips, and butts are large, but the extra weight around their middle is not carried on the stomach and their stomachs are still quite toned, which still falls into the trap of idealizing the hourglass figure, which a lot of women just don’t have.

Not to mention that it’s a bit hard to miss the fact that the names that Neverwinter offers for it’s body types are “toned” (positive connotations), “slim” (positive connotations), and “heavy” (mild negative connotations). So even when it’s being presented as an option, it’s being presented as one that is inherently inferior. Which is something that Star Wars: The Old Republic at least did get right by choosing to label its body types with numbers and not descriptors.

In conclusion: I’ll stick with the devil I know

So for now, given that the Star Wars mythos is one that appeals to me, the gameplay suits my play style, and I can play with friends, I’ll be sticking with Star Wars. There are still things that piss me off, like the preponderance of too-thin female NPCs and the fact that there are fat dudes but no fat ladies. But all of the female NPCs I’ve encountered have been fully clothed, with one notable exception. And I have as yet only found one piece of chest armor that didn’t fully cover my torso, and have not yet encountered leg armor that wasn’t fully covering as well.

And as much as that sounds like damned by faint praise, that’s honestly about as good as I’m ever going to get.

Terra Mystica: a terrain-based Eurogame with puzzlingly bad art

 

My husband and I are board game aficionados, to the point where we actually try not to buy board games; we have a games closet that has already overflowed into basement storage, not to mention the fact that with a toddler in the house we just don’t have the time for board games (or really any kind of games) that we did pre-child. However, the exception to this rule for the last few years has been my yearly trip to GenCon, when Kit sends me with a shopping list of things to acquire – which is how I wound up purchasing Terra Mystica.

It’s not something that I would have purchased on my own; Terra Mystica is a eurogame[1] – which I tend to find hit or miss. (Also, I was annoyed at my husband for making me buy something full of hundreds of wooden tokens that I had to carry around all day. Terra Mystica is HEAVY!) More importantly, though, the art is pretty bullshit. Each of the game’s 12 factions is pictured on the box, and only 3 of 12 are gendered as female. And of course, the female-gendered art is some grade-A bullshit:

Mystica-Green

Mermaid

Great. So the two choices for the Green faction, which is tied to Forests and is thus the most “nature-ish” are both flavors of breastacular. And of course we have Mermaids, because Mermaids.

This is something that I actually found sufficiently irritating in our initial game (which has a suggested setup for faction selection when you’re playing with people who have never played the game before) that I refused to play female-gendered anything and played the Halflings instead as I didn’t want to deal with having to look at this bullshit cheesecake right in the middle of my damn play mat while I was trying to make decisions about how best to allocate my resources.

Now to be fair, the Witches do almost manage not to be bullshit. The fur bustier is pretty ridiculous, but she’s got a cloak and hasn’t been twisted into some ridiculous pose meant to show off her feminine “attributes”. It really wouldn’t have taken much for the witches to be actually not-terrible, unlike the Auren. She has the stiffest, most rigid breasts that are completely unaffected by gravity, and the drape of her garment only obscures enough to make things even more confusing. Like, where is her left leg? Does she have a left leg? What about her spine? What is it doing? And why is her torso such a perfect cylinder? That’s really not how ribcages work.

Even the Auren can’t compete with the Mermaid, though, who is so very broken that I decided it was time to do a redraw[2], since it’s been a while since I’ve done one of those. Looking at her, it seemed pretty clear to me that the artist had one priority in mind – show her breasts front and center and don’t let anything like “anatomy” or “perspective” get in the way of that.

I realize that the perspective of the pose does make it a bit difficult to tease out what’s going on here, so first let’s start with a draw-over:

Mermaid-anatomy-side

Looking at this, I imagine the artist’s inner monologue while drawing the Mermaid went something like this: “Face. Okay, hot, because no ugly chicks. Also, she’s a mermaid so we gotta see her tits. Arms? Eh, I dunno, let’s just half ass some shoulders and slap some arms on there. I can hide the one arm behind her hair and nobody will pay attention, because boobs, right? And then, I dunno. A tail. Who cares about that, you can’t have sex with that part, so whatever.”

[sigh]

So there are a lot of things that are just flat-out wrong, and all in the name of putting TEH BREASTS front-and-center. First, how about her face, which looks to be sliding down and to the left? Because if she is looking UP and to the RIGHT, her face should not be DOWN and too the LEFT. I know this may seem like a minor quibble, but given the number of factors that seem to point to the artist literally not caring about anything other than her tits…

Her arms are an even bigger problem, and seem to be tacked on mostly because that’s a thing that people are supposed to have, right? At first look, it looked to me as though her right arm was bending backwards, but now I honestly can’t tell which way it’s supposed to bend. I do know that with her upper arm at that angle, that degree of foreshortening on the lower arm wouldn’t be possible, because human elbows just don’t bend in such a way that her arm could possibly be correct. Her left arm is even worse – the artist just hid it behind her hair, waved his hands and said “foreshortening”. Which. No. Given that the hand on that arm appears to be the same size as the hand on her right arm, which is supposed to be much closer to the viewer, there’s no way that foreshortening would account for what is going on with that arm.

The biggest problem of all, however, is her damn spine. In order for the viewer to have that full a view of her breasts and for her tail to be at that angle, it would require actually snapping her spine in half at a ninety degree angle, not to mention that it would also require not actually giving her a sufficient ribcage in which to store vital internal organs.

Now part of any redraw involves actually correcting the pose once the flaws have been pointed out. However, back bends are difficult – sufficiently difficult that I’m turning to pictures of yoga from Wikimedia Commons to help me cheat:

yoga

This level of back bend is just about the limit of human bending ability, short of actual contortionism[3]. I happen to think that it’s pretty damn unlikely that a swimming Mermaid is going to voluntarily twist herself into this sort of position while swimming, but it is important when doing these exercises (at least it is to me) to honor the spirit of the pose and replicate it as close as possible.

Now this picture is a side view, rather than a 3/4 front view, but it was still useful as a reference of what should go where, once I flipped it around to the appropriate angle:

Corrected

There are several things worth noting here. First, regarding her breasts – when breasts hang – they become elongated and DO NOT retain a spherical shape. Admittedly, water would diminish this effect, but not eliminate it completely.

Second, when her spine is arched properly and NOT snapped in half, you should be able to see her rib cage clearly underneath her breasts. The breasts are flesh sacks hanging off the pectorals, which are attached to the front of the rib cage. They would not completely obscure the thing to which they are attached.

As for her arms, I can’t guarantee that they are totally correct – I would have needed to get assistance in having someone take my picture while I was twisting my arms around in front of a mirror, and as my neck and shoulders haven’t been too happy with me of late I figured I wouldn’t push it. However, while I’m not sure about her left arm (foreshortening is haaaard), her right arm should be pretty close to correct.

Lastly, her tail is where I’m on the weakest footing, given that I know human anatomy but am not not conversant on fish anatomy. Still, it seems that most artists draw the lower half of mermaids as though they were two legs fused with fish skin, so that’s the approach that I have taken – which means that her tail would not be able to fold in on itself to such an extreme degree.

Interestingly, when you look at my redrawn version, it doesn’t look all that much different – sure lots of things have been tweaked but the general structure has been retained, right? Well… Look what happens when I plunk the original pose (outlined in red) over top of the newly redrawn pose:

final

In deciding how to line her up, I made her head the same size as the redraw for the purposes of aligning the two versions. I nearly decided to use her breasts as the point of alignment, but that would have inflated her head to somewhat freaky proportions, so I left it as is. Which really emphasizes how incredibly squished this poor woman was. Anything that didn’t contribute to TEH SEXAY was either an extreme afterthought or completely removed.

Which, you know, call me crazy but if you’re going to sexually objectify women in your game art, can they at least look like real people? Because random assortments of ill-fitting body parts assembled in a haphazard fashion aren’t just unsexy, they’re creepy and unsettling. Which is distracting, when I am trying to figure out how to allocate my SEVENTY BILLION DIFFERENT RESOURCES in order to take my turn.


[1] Hundreds and hundreds of tokens! So many moving parts! Badly translated rulebooks that are confusing to parse! Super-complex strategy!
[2] And of course, having decided this I could NOT find my tablet’s stylus, so this was done using my old monoprice tablet. I apologize for the shakiness of the lines.
[3] As a matter of fact, I do know an actual contortionist who can sit on her own head. It’s weird and I refuse to call that a human ability, regardless of the fact that she is human and can do it. That level of contortionism requires some serious monkeying around with all sorts of stuff that usually does not get monkeyed with.

Smite: sexist, racist, and culturally appropriating [LONG]

[ETA: I’ve revised my comments with regards to the Greek deities and whiteness, which weren’t clear enough, but you should also read the comments.]

I try not to pay attention to MMOs anymore, because the vast majority of them are steaming dung piles of bullshit sexism. However, Smite is a game that kept coming up on my radar for various reasons. When it first came out, my brother emailed me a few pieces of promo art of the female characters. More recently, a few friends over on G+ that have been talking about playing Smite. So when Smite made a few headlines last week for its decision to include Hindu gods as playable characters, I figured that it would be worth taking a closer look since that was the third time in a relatively short period of time that it caught my attention.

As it turns out, I wound up having a lot of stuff to say. So let’s just jump right on in!

Getting ready to rumble

What exactly is Smite? Smite is a MOBA – a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, a genre made popular by games like Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA2) and League of Legends. Smite, like other MOBAs, has a pre-set roster of characters that you can choose to play as that have set abilities. If you wish, you can pay extra to unlock special characters or alternate skins. And Smite has a lot of playable characters – sixty-six in total.

Those of you who have been reading my blog long enough to be familiar with my numbers posts will know that I generally tend to stick to the same set of criteria when evaluating character designs in video games; typically I will compare the numbers of figures that are shown with: 1) active poses versus neutral poses and 2) fully clothed versus suggestively attired by gender in order to demonstrate the consistent under-representation, objectification, and sexualization of female characters.

However, this time around going to all that effort really felt like a tremendous waste of time. Such an approach might be worthwhile when I’m writing about Magic and how, despite recent improvements in art direction, their art is still very sexist. But when I’m looking at a game like Smite, which is just as blatant in it’s bullshit sexism as League of Legends, it just feels like a giant fucking waste of time.

I mean, look. This is Aphrodite:

aphrodite

Ridiculous, right? Even more so when you consider that she’s not even the least clothed Smite character. So let’s just take it as a given that the female character designs are definitely objectifying and sexist and not waste time beating a dead horse[1]. Especially as there were a lot of characters to look at and other issues of representation that I wanted write about regarding problematic racist tropes.

Criteria examined and overall summary

[Note: When looking at characters, I looked at the default designs and descriptions as shown on Gamepedia’s Smite Wiki. If I get anything wrong here, I blame Gamepedia.]

In the end, the criteria I decided to examine were:

Number of figures by gender: simply the number of female figures and the number of male figures

Whether a character was whitewashed: I considered a character to be whitewashed if they came from a nonwhite culture but were explicitly depicted as white. I did not count a character as whitewashed if they were an animal or other nonhuman, had animal features, or had nonhuman skin tones (there are several characters that are either blue or purple). While some of them seemed like edge cases that could count as whitewashing, for the most part it seemed too ambiguous to make a definite argument one way or another.

Deity alignment: This was taken from the character descriptions on the wiki rather than the artwork; each character had a blurb a few paragraphs long about their backstory. I read each and assigned each deity as either Good, Neutral, or Evil. (A lot of the Greek gods wound up as Neutral, just because they capricious assholes even if they are gods of nominally good things.)

Character Damage Type: Again, as defined on the Smite wiki, I was curious to see if there would be an imbalance of Ranged characters versus Melee characters, since that’s a pretty common area of imbalance in many other video games.

After going through all 66 characters and taking tally, here’s what I came up with:

overall

In some ways, the numbers were a bit surprising even while they were also completely predictable. Female characters account for 30% of all playable characters. However, while they were clearly more sexualized and objectified, they weren’t any more likely to be whitewashed or to be pigeon-holed as a ranged character. There is an interesting difference when it comes to alignment, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Bullshit sexism

As previously stated, I don’t intend to waste words proving that Smite’s character designs are sexist and bullshit, because they just are. Many of the female promo art pieces feature broken spines, anti-gravity sphere boobs, and painted on clothing. Almost none of the female characters have clothes that would actually function to preserve modesty in any meaningful way in the real world. So regarding the female character design, I’m just going to issue a blanket: THEY’RE BULLSHIT and move on with my life.

Instead, let’s talk about how Smite is another perfect example of the interesting/pretty binary, which I’ve talked about before:

Notice how the male human gets to have actual facial expressions that convey emotions? While the female character renders all have the same vapid expression but with different hairstyles. Because men get to DO THINGS and EXPRESS THEMSELVES but women get to BE PRETTY.

When looking at the different character types, there is such a huge variety when it comes to male characters! Male deities can be humans, humanoids, demi-humans, robots, giant flying serpents, or even giant-ass rock-creatures. Whereas the female deities? Well they get boobs. And sometimes funny hats.

Case in point, look at what happens when you compare male animal and demi-human deities with female animal and demi-human deities:

animal dudes Animal ladies

(TOP LEFT: Anhur, TOP MIDDLE: Anubis, TOP RIGHT: Fenrir, BOTTOM LEFT: Arachne, BOTTOM MIDDLE: Medusa, BOTTOM RIGHT: Bastet)

The male deities are all very appealing avatar images. They give a strong sense of the culture that they come from, while also appearing strong and heroic. Whereas the female deities? The most important part of their designs are their tits, and making sure that they are clearly visible to the viewer. Giant spider thing? TITS. Man-eating snake thing? ‘DEM BOOBS THO. It really goes a long way toward illustrating[2] the priorities of the design team.

Now the interesting thing about Smite is that is that it also manages to throw in some “benevolent” sexism along with all of the bullshit objectification. Remember how I said there was a weird gender imbalance when it came to deity alignment? Well it turns out that out of 19 evil deities, only one is female:

female alignment

male alignment

Now, you may be saying to yourself – but wundergeek, I don’t get it. What’s the problem? The problem is that the stereotype of women are more wholesome and more nurturing is benevolent sexism, which is still sexism. It’s like the boss I had once who told me he only hired women to work in the office because we were more nurturing and community-minded. I found his comment terribly offensive, but didn’t say anything because I happened to desperately need the job at the time.

However, even if it is a stereotype I will admit that this actually ran counter to what I expected. Given that the female characters in Smite were so grossly oversexualized, I had expected the evil deities to skew female – you know, because sexy women are always evil. Since, you know, [mumblemumble]femme fatale[mumblereasons].

So at least if the female characters are horribly stereotyped, at least we have a mix of regressive stereotypes. Yay diversity!

Racist whitewashing

Something that’s honestly more important than the frankly not-all-that-exceptional-for-video-games level of sexism in Smite is the fact that there is an UNBELIEVABLE LEVEL OF WHITEWASHING. Literally EVERY PANTHEON except the Norse deities is whitewashed, with the worst example being the Greek pantheon – who are shown almost universally as blondes or gingers:

greek-whitewashed
(LEFT: Aphrodite, MIDDLE LEFT: Scylla, MIDDLE RIGHT: Apollo, RIGHT: Athena)

[sigh] Uh, video game industry dudes? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Greeks are NOT ACTUALLY WHITE ACTUALLY PRETTY BROWN. Take for example, Tonia Sotiropoulou – who played the Bond Girl[3] in Skyfall. I realize this is an embarrassingly common trope in video games (I’m looking at you Soul Calibur!) but this is pretty fucking awful.

However, EVEN WORSE than the Greek deities are the Chinese deities:

Chinese whitewashed
LEFT: Chang’e, MIDDLE LEFT: He Bo, MIDDLE RIGHT: Hou Yi, RIGHT: Ne Zha

WHY DO NONE OF THEM LOOK ASIAN? Seriously, the only one who maybe looks even sorta-kinda Asian is Chang’e, and even then she still looks Katy Perry doing her best Asian drag. All of them have round eyes and decidedly European features.

And I already know what some people might be saying; OMG it’s just the style, the art is anime-influenced, the art is heavily stylized, blah blah blah. So let’s take a second and zoom in on two of the character portraits for these supposedly Chinese deities, shall we?

HouYi-NeZha
LEFT: Hou Yi, RIGHT: Ne Zha

Looking closely at the faces, you can see that it’s not just the eyes – although those are a big part of why they look decidedly un-Chinese. Their eyes are round, with visible lids, and are un-slanted. But more than that, the features and facial structure overall conveys the impression of whiteness. And given that I see this mistake repeated again and again across all of the character designs, I have to think that this mistake is more than just accidental.

The Chinese deities do not look Chinese. The Greek deities do not look Greek. The Hindu deities do not look South Asian. It’s obvious that effort was put into ensuring that the costume design would be recognizably adherent to the culture that was being referenced, but when it came to the actual faces of the gods being portrayed? The artist doing the designs obviously didn’t bother looking up references for non-white faces, because EVERY. SINGLE. DEITY. has white features. ALL of the deities that are even slightly human have indisputably white features, which is frankly, inexcusable.

About the only positive thing that can be said with regard to Smite’s frankly terribly racist character designs is that, contrary to my first impression, heroic gods weren’t more likely to be whitewashed than evil ones. So. yay? At least we’re engaging in equal opportunity racism and whitewashing here.

Culturally Appropriating

And here we come to the bit that inspired me to write about Smite in the first place. Apparently the publishers of Smite have decided to add Hindu deities as a faction – a decision which breaks with their use of only dead religions for all of their other factions. (ETA: It’s been pointed out to me that Norse paganism is not actually a dead religion, even if it is widely perceived to be. I apologize.) Unsurprisingly, given that Hinduism is a religion that is alive and well in the world today, there was pushback against this decision, arguing that if Hinduism was fair game that figures from other modern religion – like Jesus or Moses should be permissible.

However, Smite’s publishers would like us all to know that they are definitely not going to use Christian, Jewish, or Islamic figures in their game. But don’t worry – Hindu deities are still a-okay!

250px-T_Ram_Default_Card
Rama – one of the chief avatars of Vishnu

…which is, frankly, pretty bullshit. Especially when you look at the list of Hindu deities that are included, like Rama – one of the chief avatars of Vishnu and one of the most widely venerated figures in Hinduism today. And Hinduism is not a small religion! With approximately 1 billion adherents, Hindus account for approximately 1 in 7 humans on the planet – which makes the decision of Smite developers to use religious figures of central importance to a large and vibrant modern religion all the more shocking.

Because it’s obvious that when faced with the question of “where to draw the line” that the developers of Smite were clear on the fact that they weren’t willing to do anything that might offend any adherents of the Abrahamic traditions, many of whom are white or can pass for white[4]. But Hinduism? Well Hinduism is for INDIANS who are just so, you know, EXOTIC.

…which is just more creepy, culturally appropriating bullshit.

But really, given how generally awful Smite is, I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising.

[1] Fair warning. Any comments attempting to argue that Smite’s character designs aren’t sexist are going to be straight-up trashed. I don’t have time for bullshit of that magnitude.

[2] See what I did there?

[3] I have a whole ‘nother rant about Bond Girls and how fucking sexist they are, and how it’s particularly awful that in Skyfall the Bond Girl literally has sex with Bond and then has maybe 3 or 4 more lines of dialogue before dying.

[4] I realize that I am arguing something problematic here. There is a perception that Christianity is equated with whiteness, despite the fact that there are large and vibrant faith communities in South America and Africa and other areas of the world that are decidedly nonwhite. And given the overlap of traditions between the Abrahamic faiths, there tends to be a certain level of automatic goodwill extended to Judaism and Islam. However, I recognize the racial diversity of the communities that practice these faiths and certainly am not arguing that they are worth protecting because of their whiteness or proximity to whiteness.

 

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.