GenCon: it’s time for an anti-harassment policy

A bit of an extended note before I begin here. Due to the extremely personal nature of this post, I will be moderating comments on this post very heavily. If you know, or you think you know, or you think you might have a good idea of who I’m talking about – I ask you to please not speculate. The situation has been dealt with to my satisfaction, and this isn’t about pointing figures. If you happen to think that refusing to point fingers makes me “not feminist enough”, then you can keep those thoughts to yourself. Thank you.

I was sexually harassed at this year’s GenCon, and not in a ‘hey, baby’ kind of way or a ‘guys staring at my tits instead of my face’ kind of way. This was a very serious incident that only just managed not to be assault, one that left me feeling shaken, shamed, and damaged for days. Even writing this now, it’s a struggle for me to maintain enough clarity to keep my train of thought.

The reason I say this is not because I want this to be a confessional post about my experience. Rather, I want to use my experience to highlight the fact that harassment is a very real problem at gaming events and conventions. I’ll admit that the thought of remaining silent had its appeal – in a lot of ways I still feel very shaken and not entirely sure that I want to air my dirty laundry, as it were, in public. But if anything, the backlash that I got on my first few posts about GenCon convinced me that speaking out about my experience was the right thing to do.

There are people within the gaming community who want to pretend that sexism in gaming doesn’t exist, or who would seek to justify its existence, or who seek to belittle anyone who tries to speak out against the sexism and misogyny that is so clear and so prevalently on display at conventions like GenCon. And this attitude is not only wrong-headed, it’s dangerous; When you look at the high prevalence of sexism within the gaming community and the high prevalence of sexual harassment at gaming events, conventions, and other conferences, it is entirely fallacious to assume that the first does not influence the second.

People who sexually harass and assault their fellow con-goers are acting in a environment that condones sexism and misogyny as part of con culture. Just as the characters I mock here don’t spring from a magical thought-vacuum, the actions of people who victimize other convention attendees in such a manner also do NOT spring from a magical thought vacuum. The victims of sexual harassment and assault aren’t “asking for it”, they’re not using some kind of voodoo that forces their harassers to take actions they wouldn’t normally.

But, wundergeek, you might be saying. Just because gaming is sexist is no excuse for such behavior. After all, I would never act in such a manner.

And you’re right, it isn’t an excuse. There can never be an excuse for acting in such a horrendous manner toward another human being. But just because you wouldn’t act this way, can you make that guarantee for everyone you know? This epidemic of sexual assault and harassment isn’t happening on its own. It’s a reflection of the community as a whole, and a clear sign that we need to pull our heads out of our asses and start taking misogynist attitudes within gaming culture seriously.

So what do we do? Where do we go from here? Well, I think that depends on which end of the convention you’re on…

Convention goers: Don’t waste time trying to talk about how women who go to conventions need to be careful to prevent themselves from being victims. That’s victim-blaming of the worst sort. It’s possible to experience harassment or assault even when one is being careful about the sorts of situations one is placed in. Certainly it was my experience that I was in a situation I had judged to be safe and turned out not to be.

So, no. Take responsibility, do some self-examination. Be aware of when you are in situations that might become sketchy and if you are ever unsure of how you are being received, ASK. Never just assume. For that matter, never assume that silence means assent, because silence can often mean dissent, fear, terror, or anger.

As for people who find themselves uncomfortable and/or threatened, always remember you’re allowed to feel that way. Don’t second-guess how you feel, don’t apologize for their behavior. If you can tell them no, then do so. Even if you can’t find the words in that moment, remove yourself from the situation and confront them later.

Convention organizers: It’s time to start taking the threat of harassment and assault seriously and start implementing clear, consistent,  and enforceable anti-harassment policy. Convention organizers can’t continue to pretend that it’s a problem that doesn’t exist, or that it won’t happen at their convention, or that they can’t be expected to assume any responsibility for incidents of harassment that happen at their convention.

The closest thing that GenCon has to an anti-harassment policy is a small phrase buried within their policies for ethics and conduct:

All of the following constitute grounds for expulsion from the convention without refund:

Threatening, stealing, cheating or harassing others

That’s just not enough. There needs to be a clear policy defining harassment and setting out clearly who harassment can be reported to and how harassment situations will be dealt with. It’s not enough to shove your head in the sand and hope that some vaguely worded phrase in your ethics policy will prevent harassment. Real, serious, and thoughtful policies are needed – policies that have teeth to them.

If GenCon LLC is serious about being a family-friendly space, then this is something that they need to take real action toward addressing. It’s not enough for a subset of convention attendees to try to raise awareness. There needs to be a clear signal from convention officials that harassment and assault is not acceptable convention behavior if this disturbing trend is ever going to see real change.

GenCon: Spousal Activity win, mascot fail

There were two points that I wanted to make specifically regarding trends, both positive and negative, I’ve noticed from my long-running attendance. Since neither of them merit a full post, I’m combining them into one.

First off, the Spousal Activities track, which actually gets a partial WIN.

In the past few years, GenCon has been trying hard to market itself as a family-friendly convention by offering services like childcare and an activities track for non-gaming spouses. Now yes, it’s true that the acronym used for the Spousal Activities track was SpA – not an accident. And the activities were definitely female-oriented, like yoga, massage, and other typically “female non-gamer interests”. But the important thing to consider is that the Spousal Activities track USED to be represented in the program by this icon:

That’s right. Activities for non-gaming partners were represented in the program with a ball and chain.

If memory serves, the SpA was introduced in 2009, and despite complaints about the icon (I know people complained – I was one of them), they used the same icon AGAIN in 2010. Thankfully, women weren’t the only ones who complained. Critical Hits had an awesome open letter to the GenCon organizers called “Save vs. Misogyny” in which they explained why this was such a bad idea.

So I was very pleased to see that this year, the SpA icon had been re-designed:

Now is the logo still problematic? Sure. Because it still clearly demonstrates that GenCon is operating under the assumption that non-gaming spouses will OF COURSE be female. And that’s kind of sad, because it disrespects the large number of gaming WOMEN who come to GenCon every year because they have a genuine passion for gaming.

However, I’m still calling this a partial win, because the idea of yin and yang is a much more positive way to approach the divide between gaming and non-gaming partners. It’s a way of treating non-gamers are compliments to their partners, rather than obstacles to the GAMING AWSUM that is GenCon. So while it’s not perfect, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

Which makes things like this year’s logo a little more disappointing:

Wow. I mean, yes they’re very vector-ish and stylized, but this is pretty much everything I bitch about here on my blog. You’ve got your nubile, not-terribly-clothed woman versus your completely-completely covered man. Not that I suppose this should surprise me. GenCon manages to have some sort of cheesecake mascot every year. It’s just that I haven’t really been paying a whole lot of attention until the last year or so.

Logos from previous years are pretty hard to find, but take a look at these logos from 2009 and 2010:

Why is it that every year GenCon’s mascot is a cheesecake female character? Now yes, this year’s female mascot is more covered and less sexualized than either the valkyrie or the vampire chick. But she’s also shown in stark contrast to a fully-covered, not-at-all sexualized male character, which is actually a bit of a step backwards.

Both the mascot choices and things like the SpA make it very clear that women still aren’t considered “real” gamers by the GenCon organizers, and it’s this more than anything else that I’d like to see GenCon’s organizers work toward changing. There are so many vibrant, passionate, brilliant women doing fantastic work in the gaming world that this casual disregard for their existence is very saddening to see. GenCon is supposed to be a showcase of everything that makes gaming great – after all, it’s the best four days in gaming. And yet how can it be the best if it continues to focus in on only what a very small segment of game devs, designers, and artists are doing?

I say all of this with the deepest and utmost love, but seriously – get your act together, guys. I want GenCon to be a convention that I can be PROUD of going to – not something that still makes me embarrassed to call myself a gamer openly sometimes.

GenCon’s Guests of Honor: Unless you’re Margaret Weis, forget it ladies

Oh man. After the response that I got last week, getting ready to write this post feels like walking back into a biker bar and punching someone in the face again. So let me disclaim by saying that my criticisms are in no way intended to dis the people that GenCon DID select as their guests of honor. I don’t know who most of them are, but I’m sure they’re infinitely more awesome than yours truly. Having met Will Hindmarch in the past, I can attest that he not only flies but can shoot lasers out of his eyes while reciting pi to 1000 places. (It’s true! Would I lie to you?) And the other 2011 GenCon Guests of Honor are EVER MORE AWESOME than that, I’m sure.

For those of you who didn’t go, here’s the list of 2011 GoHs:

  • Wolfgang Baur
  • Jeff Neil Bellinger
  • Ryan Dancey
  • Jack Emmert
  • James Ernest
  • Matt Forbeck
  • Mike Gray
  • Will Hindmarch
  • Brian Lewis
  • Gary M. Sarli
  • Stan!
  • Greg Stolze
  • Daniel Solis
  • Margaret Weis
  • Tracy Hickman
  • Jeff Miracola (Artist Guest of Honor)

Even so, I was disappointed when I was flipping through the program to note that of the 16 Guests of Honor, only one GoH – Margaret Weis – is a woman. And I can’t help but ask myself – where are the women?


And, sure, it’s hard to argue with the facts that the pioneers of the gaming industry were mostly male. Certainly one would expect a convention as large as GenCon to honor early pioneers, and it would be reasonable to expect a roster of Guests of Honor to skew in favor of men because of this. But I think it’s a little disingenuous to claim that a list of “pioneers” would be exclusively male. What, then, of Margaret Weis? Is she an anomaly? Is she the noteworthy exception? Is she the Betsy Ross of the gaming world?

Furthermore, the GenCon GoHs are not just people selected for their role as pioneers in the creation of the modern gaming industry. Some, like Gary M. Sarli and Brian Lewis were honored because of their recent and/or current work for mainstream game/toy companies. Which begs the question, again, where are the women? I’m quite aware of the low numbers of women working in the game industry, but they do exist. The big players like Wizards, Fantasy Flight, Hasbro, etc, can’t be exclusively staffed by men. And unless these companies are hiring women solely on the basis of their looks, it stands to reason that that at least some of the women within those organizations have to be doing work important enough to be recognized by being named a Guest of Honor. (Hell, even if they WERE hiring based on looks, they’d still have to have some stand-out female employees. Let’s not fall into the trap of assuming that hot = dumb.)

Others, like Will Hindmarch, Greg Stolze, and Daniel Solis are writers and designers who have been working in indie RPG design and indie publishing. And if we’re going to open the doors to indie publishers, then the question becomes even harder to ignore. Where are the women? As someone who has dabbled in indie game design, I can tell you that there are A LOT of women doing fantastic work over here in indie game land who are all more than sufficiently awesome to be a GenCon Guest of Honor. Meg Baker, Emily Care Boss, Julie Bond Ellingboe, Elizabeth Shoemaker, Willow Palacek, Giulia Barbano – these are just women I can think of off the top of my head who would be good GoH choices, and just for indie RPG design. I know that there just have to be women working in other areas of gaming that I don’t participate in who are equally excellent in their own areas.

And if we’re going to include artists as possible Guests of Honor, then – DUDE, WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? There are a lot of fantastic male artists out there, sure. But I saw tons of women in this year’s art show whose art just knocked my socks off. If you’re going to pay someone’s way to GenCon, why not pay Sarah Frary, whose art totally and completely rocks my world? Or Stephanie Pui Mun Law, whose art has been a mainstay in the fantasy world for many years, even if her usual subjects are stereotyped as “female”. I’m not saying that OMG JEFF MIRACOLA SUX, here. I’m just saying, man. There are so many female artists whose stuff is just as good.

It makes me sad because a convention as large and as venerable can be seen as affirming the status quo of a male-dominated games industry. Even worse, it seems to lend credence to the idea that women just aren’t doing work worth honoring in the games industry, which isn’t true – though there are (I’m sure) plenty of people who would like to believe that’s the case so that they can continue to justify the sexism that runs rampant in game marketing and development.

Now I don’t think that any of this was intentional or malicious on the part of the GenCon organizers. But the problem is that gaming is a subculture that is steeped in sexism; being inclusive of women is something that takes effort and conscious thought. I’m sure they didn’t consciously decide to exclude women – it’s just a side effect of the fact that the gaming industry tends not to pay attention to those parts of gaming that women do get involved with. (Seriously, watch what happens in almost any gaming forum when the subject of casual gaming comes up and people rush to proclaim that casual gamers aren’t “real” gamers.)

The few women that do get attention are those who have become SO AWESOME that they simply can’t be ignored, like Margaret Weis. And even then, much as I think Margaret Weis is a badly needed role model, how much of her fame is due to being half of the Dragonlance Chronicles, rather than – at least in my opinion – the far more interesting game design work she’s done on her own post-Dragonlance?

I guess it goes without saying, but this is something I’m hoping to see the GenCon organizers work on improving for the future. Yes having a more balanced roster of Guests of Honor takes more work, but it’s something worth doing. GenCon has made noises about wanting to be more inclusive, and choosing to include more women in the lists of Guests of Honor would go a long way toward putting their money where their mouth is.

Photos from GenCon: Part 2 of 2

Okay. Now that I’ve diverted long enough to post responses to the absolute FLOOD of comments on the first half of this post… (I really should have seen that coming), let’s get back to business. I’m hoping that the photos in this half should prove less controversial, but considering that there wound up being a serious argument about the practicality of certain types of clothing for fighting in, I’m not holding out much hope. Oh well.

Anyhow. We’ll start off this second post with more photographic evidence that bewbs=/sales:

I almost felt sorry for this guy. He looked quietly desperate for someone, anyone, to talk to him about this game that he was selling. This is a lesson that I wish more publishers would learn. Slapping boobs on a banner does not mean that horny nerds will clamor to check out your game if you have a bad booth setup or a boring game. Srsly. It doesn’t. Don’t assume that bewbs will do your marketing for you.

Those of you who know me have probably heard me bitch about this guy’s booth every year after coming back. This guy ALWAYS has his booth right next to one of the main entrances to the Dealer’s Hall, eschewing the space in Artists Alley that is meant for artists. That isn’t a problem in itself, were it not for the fact that his booth is full of pictures of naked women, many of which have orange stickers covering up nipples.

I will at least give this guy credit. His craft is good and his anatomy is quite excellent. However, I hate the fact that being right next to the entrance means that his stuff in inescapable, and I hate the goddamn nipple stickies, because really that just calls attention to it and makes what might be an artistically rendered nude into a cheap and tawdry effort to make money by selling pictures of women with no clothes on:

And yeah, at least the guy’s pretty open about what he’s doing. He’s there to self soft-core porn. But shit like this just takes the ridiculous to a whole new level:

That is probably about the most pointless thing I’ve ever seen.

Moving on.

God dammit, Wayne Reynolds.

Seriously, Wizards? Every time I walked past this booth, it was full of men, and considering that I had to walk past it to get to the Dealer’s Room I did pass it quite a few times. When you have a banner with breasts bigger than the human head, you shouldn’t think it too surprising when women don’t stop to check out your booth. It’s not because we’re “not interested” in the product. It’s because you’ve created a blatantly gendered space that women aren’t interested in investigating.

So kindly pull your head out of your ass and realize that women, too, play games and have money and that maybe you don’t want to have ridiculous Wayne Reynolds sphere boob cheesecake be the very first thing that people notice about your booth.


Okay, now I’ll profess to a little ignorance here. I spent today responding to a shitstorm of comments on my last post rather than looking up the context. I think that this is for a new Neverwinter campaign setting for D&D. However, whatever it’s for doesn’t change the context here. You have two fully covered male figures next to a half-naked cleavagey corpse woman whose breasts are a little too perky to be believed considering that she has NO NOSE LEFT.

I really wish I understood the appeal of corpse boobs.

I’ve posted about Reaper Minis before and how disappointing I find their product catalog to be. (Honestly, the first minis company that starts making nothing but decent female minis is going to make money hand over fist. I can’t count the number of women I’ve talked to who wish they could find decent minis for their female characters.) So it’s a little saddening to see this as one of the banners they came to the show with. But not as saddening as this:

Reaper does have some awesomely female friendly minis in its lineup. …not that you’d know it from the minis they brought with them to the show. Not only that, but they put all the boobular minis next to each other too! Hell, most of these are minis I complained about in my Reaper post…

And then of course, just to add insult to injury, they had even more Wayne Reynolds:

God dammit, Wayne. Why do you have to be so omnipresent? I mean, I think this is the least amount of clothing I’ve ever seen Seoni wearing, which is impressive considering that she’s usually, you know, illustrated by Wayne Reynolds. Arg.

See, why couldn’t more of the Shadowrun stuff have been like this? I rather like the woman on this banner. She’s much more well done (and more attractive) than the weirdo Echo Chernik Picasso-boob shadowrunner.

I’m running out of ways to mock this theme, but I would like to point out that it is a little creepy that the space man is wearing what seems to be very tight pants and yet seems to have NO GENITALIA. Look at that, he’s like a ken doll. It makes me wonder which is worse – the exagerated and objectified space woman, or the creepy and DE-sexualized space man. Brr. They both creep me out.

Yup. That looks like such a practical outfit for dungeoneering in. She’d better just hope that no one decides to stab her in the cleavage. Or the armpit. Or the shoulder. Or the hip. Or the thigh. Or the…

I think you get the idea.

All right, I’ll grant that this zombie woman isn’t all rotten like Thay, but… really? Again, I’ll ask – just what is the appeal of corpse tits? I thought we had agreed as a society that necrophilia is gross. Is that not the case when it comes to women? Did I miss the memo?

I will at least give these guys props for having a completely covered, awesomely armored female figure on their banner. Unfortunately, she’s standing right next to Leather Bikini Druid woman, so any points that they get for having an awesome and not sexualized female character get taken away immediately for having completely unnecessary fanservice.

So the guy who created Wench! has come out with a new cardgame that apparently also involves mostly naked women.


I’ve bitched enough here about WoW that I think this photo says all that needs to be said. Blizzard’s made it pretty clear that their SoP is pretty much dudes get clothes and chicks don’t, so this isn’t terribly surprising. And yes, compared to a lot of other photos, the cleavage isn’t that bad, but… still. It’d nice to see Blizzard buck the trend at least once in a while. Especially since:

Hey look! Even more corpse boobs! And they’re the boobiest corpse boobs of all! I’m so happy, because now I have a trifecta of completely unnecessary, improbably perky necro-tits! Now my life is complete!

And that’s all I have to say about that

Phew! That was a lot of photos, I know. But fear not! I’ve got more GenCon goodness coming your way. My next post will be about the Guest of Honor lineup, among other things.

Responding to comments on my previous post

Okay, the comment threads have exploded on my previous post, which I guess I should have expected considering that I had the nerve to say nasty stuff about GenCon. Only I didn’t expect it, and am now fighting con crud and find that I don’t have the energy to keep up with the multiple conversations. Also, there are a lot of comments (mostly troll comments) that pretty much duplicate each other. So I skimmed through the comment threads and picked out the stuff I felt warranted response.

Stuff that deserves a proper response:

D20 Girls

I was not aware of the D20 girls. There was no sign at that particular booth, and I didn’t get close enough to read their badges. Having read the website, I have to say I’m left with pretty mixed feelings. They have some very body-positive stuff to say, and I appreciate that they want women who are knowledgeable about products to be the ones representing them. However, the fact that they are still hiring themselves out as models makes me uncertain of how I feel about this. I’m willing to say mea culpa – I wasn’t aware that these women were any different from the usual model booth babes you get at usual conventions. But I also don’t think I want to be seen as endorsing them either. I think for now I’ll say that I’m Switzerland (neutral) on the subject until I’ve had a chance to think over how I feel about their business model.


Man. I walked away for half a day and this conversation just exploded on me, way past my ability to track it right now. So I’m going to say some stuff that I realize might not respond to everyone’s concerns, but I’m doing my best here.

I don’t have a particular like or dislike for corsets. They’re not for me, but that has a lot more to do with the fact that I trained as a singer for many years; I habitually breathe from the diaphragm which is something you just can’t do in a corset. That said, I understand some women love them, and if it’s something they enjoy then more power to them.

As a tween, I desperately wanted a subscription to 17 magazine. My dad tried out outlaw it, but I bought it with my own money. Something he didn’t articulate until I was in my 20’s that I wish he had said to me earlier was that he was afraid that it would distort my body image and give me harmful ideas about what I was supposed to look like. And he was right – it did. And I wish that someone had SAID THAT to me when I was that tween looking through 17 and not understanding why I didn’t look like those girls. It could have saved me a lot of heartbreak and self-loathing.

So when I see this little girl looking at corsets, I can’t help but put her in a context that is full of distorted and dehumanized depictions of women. And people have made some really good points – I can’t know what’s going through her head. I can’t know that she doesn’t just want to try on that corset because she thinks is pretty. But at the same time I can’t know that the opposite isn’t true. In a situation where the image that is being sold is predominantly white, beautiful, impossibly thin, and entirely distorted, I have trouble thinking that this is entirely a healthy thing.

And who knows, maybe this is a purely personal thing. Maybe I’m doing nothing more than reading my own childhood reactions to distorted images of women into this situation.

I hope that does a better job of unpacking my feelings on the situation. If it doesn’t, then I’ll have to come back later. While I think there’s some good food for discussion, it seems like a tangent to all of the things that I have to say about GenCon.

Troll comments (ie. stuff not really worth my time)

You’re irrationally angry/Sex sells

Screw you. If you’re coming here and saying that, you obviously haven’t been reading anything that I’ve been writing for the last 8 months or so. If you want to come here and have a serious conversation, fine. But if you’re not prepared to check your privilege long enough to try listening to an opposing point of view, then I feel no need to seriously engage with anything you say.

Women need to complain less and do more to change things

You know, it’s really easy to dismiss women by saying that women need to “do things” to change the state of affairs. And the thing that gets lost when you say that is the fact that there are very good reasons for the lack of female involvement in illustration and game development. While I’m not going to say that this is universal, sexual harassment is a huge problem for any woman who “dares” to venture into the world of game development. Even if you’re lucky enough to not have to deal with harassment from your bosses and co-workers, it is not at all uncommon to be harassed by one’s fans. Just look at the fiasco that happened with Jade Raymond, where a pornographic comic was circulated suggesting that she was exchanging sexual favors for promotion of the game. And when some people, rightly, pointed out how reprehensible this was, the response from a lot of male gamers was ‘well that’s what she gets for being an attractive female in game development’. So with all of this, can we be surprised that women aren’t leaping into game design/development/illustration?

But you know what? There are already lots of female game designers, artists, etc out there. There are already women doing some amazing work, and a lot of them don’t get the attention they deserve. So it’s not that we’re not here. It’s that women getting into the development side of things face SUCH a high barrier to entry in terms of feeling welcome, and that many of the women working in game design/development/illustration don’t get the attention that they deserve.

You are against all women being sexualized ever

At the risk of being repetitive, I’m going to quote myself:

I’m not against all sex ever in RPGs. I’m not against all sex ever in art. I’m not against all people ever who like sexy art, or who like sex, or who like sex and RPGs. I’m against people who purposefully, deliberately, and systematically dehumanize women for personal gain and profit.

The problem is that these sexualized depictions of women have become a commodity. The objectification of women becomes a standard practice used to sell games, a practice in which women are reduced to nothing more than their sexy bits while men are allowed to be complete characters with dimensionality beyond their sexayness.

I don’t want to see sex removed from games, because sex is part of the human condition. But the endless parade of dehumanized chainmail bikini porn needs to be addressed, because these sexualized depictions exist solely for the male gamer. It’s not “empowerment” of female sexuality, it’s the commodification of female sexuality – something much, much different.

Men just like sexy ladies

Isn’t it kind of insulting to say that men are inclined to buy any product that has sufficiently luscious T&A associated with it? Do you seriously expect me to believe that men as consumers have all of their purchases decided by whether or not a product is seen as sexy? That’s just ridiculous.

There are men out there who like sexy ladies, sure. There are also men out there who like sexy men, and men who don’t like sexy ladies, and men who like sexy ladies but not marketing that panders to them, and – shockingly – there are also WOMEN who buy products for whom some or all of the above might also be true.

Proclaiming that “men like sexy ladies” as a justification for the systematic marketing of dehumanized sexualized female characters is doing your business a disservice, because you’re proclaiming that your market ONLY consists of straight male gamers – a fact that just isn’t true.

Feminists have no sense of humor/Feminists are dumb/I won’t listen to you unless you’re hot/Feminists are ugly

I love it when trolls quote almost directly from Anti-Feminist Bingo.

Anime encompasses many things that don’t include sexual harassment

I’m quite aware of that fact. When I made that joke about the cover of collateral damage, that was sarcasm.

The human body is art

If the human body is so artistic, then where are all of the mostly-nude depictions of men? Where are all the sexualized male characters with impossible anatomy and distorted poses? Is it only the female form that is beautiful? Or is the male body somehow less than human?


I have repeatedly made a point of criticizing artists who distort the human body and objectify women for personal profit, and Echo Chernik’s artwork fits that criteria very well. Even then, I was (mostly) happy to keep my hatred of her art to myself, were it not for that banner proclaiming proudly that that godawful Shadowrun cover was her work. Because that cover? Is BAD. The breasts were lopsided and defied gravity, the ribcage was wrong, the neck was wrong, the hips were wrong. In addition to being a sexualized distortion of the female figure, it was a poorly done sexualized depiction, and not even up to Echo’s usual high standards of craft and workmanship. Even if I hate Echo’s art, I am still happy to admit that the level of skill and aesthetic is very high, and the Shadowrun cover did NOT live up to that usual high standard.

But let me also add that being a woman does not give someone an automatic pass when it comes to sexism. As is common with any form of oppression (homophobia, racism, sexism, etc), members of oppressed minorities often internalize oppressive ideas. You can’t say that Echo is incapable of producing sexist art because she’s a woman, because sexism is something that all of us participate in. Even you, and even me.

[And that’s enough of that. My next post will be the other half of my photos from GenCon.]

Photos from GenCon 2011: Part 1 of 2

[This is just the beginning of me talking about GenCon. There will be two photo posts, as well as probably three others. I definitely want to talk about the under-representation of women in the Guests of Honor, changes to the “Spouse Activity Program”, as well as the complete lack of an anti-harassment policy. I realize that this will be a lot of time and attention to GenCon, but GenCon is the gaming convention, and tends to be a pretty good reflection of gamer culture as a whole, which is why I feel the attention is warranted.]

Well folks, GenCon was totally awesome. I want to thank all of the people I got to meet and play games with for the first time, as well as those of you I got to connect with once again. As always, GenCon was an exhilarating experience and a real chance to recharge my batteries and recapture my excitement for what makes gaming great.

However, GenCon is also a real reminder of all of the privileged and sexist bullshit that has come to be an accepted part of the hobby, and walking through the Dealer’s Room can be a real reminder that as much as the little corner of gaming that I like to wall myself off in tends to be more free from fail than much of the rest of gaming, gaming as a whole still has a long way to come.

In an attempt to make sure that I spent my time actually enjoying my time at GenCon rather than foaming at the mouth at all the bullshit cheesecake I saw, I promised myself one trip through the Dealer’s Room to take all the photos I wanted. I didn’t quite hold to that decree (I kept spotting stuff I missed), and as such wound up with quite a few photos that I wanted to share. It’s too much for one post, so I’m splitting the photos into two posts. Here, then, for your edification, is part one of two of my tour of the Dealer’s Room and convention hall. Warning, this post is LONG.

The photos!

There are a lot of awful booths with a lot of awful displays, but I found the booths with booth babes to be far and away the creepiest. Thankfully there didn’t seem to be too many of those this year (and believe me – I was looking), but the instances that I did spot were plenty creepy. Take, for instance,’s booth:

Those women had exhibitor badges and were running demos of card games with convention attendees. In maid outfits. And yet, I didn’t spot any male booth employees in costume. Funny how that works. (I blurred their faces because something about posting their photos while in costume made me feel weird, since I’m not really sure how voluntary that was.)

This is the sort of bullshit that people tend to take for granted at GenCon that really pisses me off. Either people will buy your bullshit anime card game or they won’t – do they really think that having pretty girls in maid outfits demo the game will make a difference? I honestly can’t decide who should be more insulted – women, or the guys who are Card Haus’ target audience.

Yet another anime card game, Collateral Damage actually shows a woman getting sexually harassed on the cover. Because everyone knows that anime just isn’t anime without the sexual harassment, amirite?

What is it about ninjas and shaolin warriors that men get to wear pants and women don’t? I mean, I suppose I should be grateful that her tits aren’t hanging out all over the place or generally defying the laws of physics, but still. Is it too much to ask to have a female martial artist that wears pants? Speaking as a real life female and martial artist, I can affirm that that outfit would be impractical in the extreme for one attempting to perform any kind of martial arts.

Because nothing says Lovecraftian mecha horror like… boobular women?

(I actually had a moment of guilt as I was taking this picture. This guy looked so proud that I was taking a picture of his booth that I hated to put this picture up and mock his display for all the internets to see. Then I remembered that I hate cheesecake and it deserves to be mocked. Crisis solved.)

Hey look. A dungeon card game in which you fight monsters and can also backstab your team mates. It looks like they’ve decided to make themselves stand out by putting cheesecake women on the cover next to fully-covered, heavily armored men.

…wait. No. That’s the opposite of standing out. That’s blending in.

It actually sounds kind of unique in that there’s a balance between team survival and fucking over your buddies. From the bit of reading I’ve done, it seems like something I may have been interested in demoing, had the cover art not made me roll my eyes and walk on past. I had plenty of money to burn at the show, but I don’t think they were too interested in my dollars. After all, my money has cooties.

What… Just… I… Can’t… Even… No. Just. No.

When they say “For Gamers By Gamers”, clearly gamers = men.

Yawn. I don’t even know what your product is and you’ve already lost my interest.

These people weren’t even selling games – they were selling gaming accessories, and yet they still felt compelled to plaster their banners with absurd cleavage and badly drawn breasts. Worst of all, the products are things I probably would be interested in if I played more D&D. As it is, I am going to emphatically refrain from recommending their products to those friends I have who do play a lot of D&D.

The art makes this product look about 40 years old. Then again, maybe that’s the goal.

In a previous post, I mentioned my hatred of the Shadowrun cover that happened to get nominated for the Ennies:

Her hips are wrong, her waist is wrong, her ribcage is wrong… And what the hell is with the gravity-defying spherical Picasso-boobs? This anatomy is just terrible, and yet this cover is considered one of the best in the industry for THE PAST YEAR? Honestly, if this cover winds up taking the title, the Ennies will have lost all credibility with me forever. I realize that there’s not a lot of choice when one is looking for art that doesn’t blatantly objectify women and distort female anatomy past the realm of the physically possible, but there’s GOT TO BE something better than this bullshit. There’s just got to be.

Well, it turns out that the cover was apparently done by Echo Chernik – an artist whom I have hated for years. (Let it not be said that I hate only male artists, folks, for Echo Chernik is – alas – a woman.) Considering how godawful that Shadowrun cover was, I certainly wouldn’t have rushed to associate my name with it, but apparently Echo felt differently.


More art fail, here’s Larry Elmore’s booth. I found it amusing how his head was almost censoring the cleavage in the second example that I picked out. I also found it amusing how dated his artwork looks compared with a lot of the other arists at the show. It made me wonder if he’s getting by on name recognition and cleavage.

Fantasy fails a lot at everything. This is just another example.

God, this is just embarrassing. This is a freaking gaming convention. There’s no need to try and make board games “look cool”. There’s 30,000 nerds in one place who already think board games are cool. Many of us drove incredibly long distances to drop insane amounts of money on board games because we think they’re cool.

Still, it deserves a special place in hell for more than just being embarrassing. Notice what’s missing from these banners? Girls. Because everyone knows girls don’t play board games. And they ESPECIALLY don’t play Lego.

Fuck you, Lego. Fuck you.

You can’t really tell from the photo, but this banner was at least 15 or 20 feet high. (The ceilings are really high in the exhibit hall, so it’s kind of hard to tell.) This was a service that debuted at last year’s GenCon using this same mascot, much to my chagrin wrath. At the time, a friend dubbed this inexplicable tail fanservice “tailcock”. As ridiculous as it was, I was not happy to see it return. However…

The few times I wandered past the booth, absolutely no one was interested in the service. Let that be a lesson to you, publishers! Bewbs =/ sales.

Man. Another card game with boobs. These are a pretty solid contender for the most spherical boobs on a game cover that I saw, as well, which puts this game pretty solidly in the “I will never buy this game” category.

Ugh. Those boobs are just plain awful. Why are they all compressed like that? There’s no way that fabric could generate enough force to flatten her chest like that? Then again, why am I surprised when it’s YET ANOTHER case of old, fully-clothed male mage versus young, hot, barely clothed female mage?

Who knows. The game might actually have something original to offer. But I tend to assume that games with covers that uninspired generally tend to be pretty awful games and move on with my life.

For this, I am willing to forgive Fantasy Flight many of its sins. This was one of the larger banners in the Dealer’s Room, and also one of the most epic depictions of a female character to be found at the show. If THIS is what game publishers had to offer in the way of female characters, I would be much happier and this post would be much, much shorter.

Lastly, I’ll end with this little girl. This was a corset booth, and that is a booth employee help this little girl try on a corset. Since it may not be clear, since I blurred out the little girl’s face, SHE’S ABOUT 9.

I can’t even articulate how incredibly angry this makes me. I can’t say that I’m surprised that female geek children would seek to emulate the incredibly unrealistic depictions of women that are part of the hobby. Still, it makes me sad and angry that this is something that is just “to be expected” for girl-children who are getting into gaming.

More than anything else in this post, this photo makes me really sad about the state of female depictions in gaming. I want so very badly to tell this little girl that she can look however she wants and still be valued by the gaming community as a whole, but I’m afraid that as things stand right now the “as a whole” bit would probably be a lie.