I’ve written previously about why I don’t attend official Magic: The Gathering events (tl;dr – stereotype threat is zero fun). Still, I really enjoy sealed booster events! They tend to level the playing field for people with less experience in deck-building (unless someone gets crazy lucky with their packs). It’s also a fun challenge, having a completely random subset of cards and a time limit within which to build a competitive deck – especially since it often forces you to build something that’s outside of your usual comfort zone in terms play style.
So what we’ve started doing is buying a box of boosters and splitting it with friends so we can have our own sealed booster night in the comfort of our own home that is free of randos and dudebros. It’s expensive – even when you split the cost between friends – so we only do it 2-3 times a year. But it’s something my husband and I both enjoy immensely, so we’re happy to splurge occasionally to make it happen.
This past weekend was one of those occasions, as a matter of fact. And as always, I had a tremendous time. But even so, I couldn’t help but be aware of the fact that even while playing with friends, away from the weird males-only atmosphere of a game store or other official tournament venue, the game itself was punching me in the feels, in a very particular “This Game Is Not For You” sort of way. And while I was opening packs and sorting through cards, I found myself repressing a lot of comments and complaints that I wanted to make, because while the friends we were playing with are receptive to feminism and the things that I do, they’re not terribly interested in it – and being That Boring Person Who Only Talks About Feminism has become a big fear of mine these last few years.
And it sucked. I hate that this game I like (and spend money on!) makes me feel crappy, and I doubly hate feeling like I have to censor myself. (And to be clear, I would feel the compulsion to censor myself to a certain degree no matter who I was with. It was just that in that situation, I felt I had to censor a bit more is all.) So I was going to write a description of my internal monologue as the night progressed, but then I thought – hell. A comic would be a lot more illustrative of what I’m talking about. (See what I did there?) It wasn’t my intention to do two comics posts in a row. It just sort of happened that way.
This isn’t a comprehensive post, in that it doesn’t look at art from an entire set as most of my other M:TG posts do. This is just focusing on my reactions to art from the packs my husband and I opened during our sealed booster night. Also, I know the preview shrinks these down pretty small, so if you want more detail, be sure to click through so you can see the art I’m talking about in more detail.
Feels: the Punching (deck-building edition)
While preparing for this post, I went through our cards one more time to get proper card titles so that I could look up larger versions of the card art online. While doing so, I found one card that I had missed altogether, although I’m really not sure how:
Despite all that, I still had fun, and it’s still something that I plan to do again. But is Magic a hobby that I would encourage other women to try, or plan on introducing my daughter to? Unless they start sucking a whole lot less at women, the answer is a resounding hell no. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got into Magic because my husband played, and I wanted to be able to play with him. But games like Magic live and die by word-of-mouth recruitment, and they certainly won’t get any of that from me.
The dilemma: two product lines, two art direction styles, one company
One of the things that has long been a source of irritation for me is the inconsistent art direction of Wizards of the Coast’s two major game products – Magic: The Gathering and D&D. It strikes me as weird that M:TG and D&D are both product lines owned and operated by WotC, and yet they have such wildly different approaches to art direction. (To be honest, it seems like a bit of a branding issue to me, but then what the hell do I know. I’m just an indie publisher.)
This has become top-of-mind recently for a few reasons. First, despite both of us being Magic: The Gathering fans, my husband follows the design and spoiler blogs much more closely than I do. (In that he reads them and I don’t.) So he tends to show me previews of art that he knows I will either find hilarious or objectionable. (Or both.) Recently, he’s been showing me a lot more of the latter, alas.
Second, as I prepare for this year’s GenCon, I keep thinking about last year and how the release of D&D 5th Edition wound up being a pretty big deal for me – despite that I still have not purchased any 5E products or even played the game. I got to have lunch with Mike Mearls and discuss the future direction of D&D and D&D art direction – something which was way encouraging.
And everything that I’ve seen, at least observing from a distance, coming out of the new D&D line has been pretty great and inclusive! Like check out these illustrations that come from the starter set:
Pretty awesome, right? Fully clothed female characters that have personality, agency, and aren’t pointlessly objectified. And there’s lots more examples of this sort of thing!
Which, again, is baffling when you consider that Magic… Magic can’t decide what the hell it’s doing – if they want to do better by women, or exclude them, or have more of them but sexier, or just go back to their old awful ways and forget about trying to improve their depictions of women at all. As someone who has only seriously gotten into Magic in the last two years, it’s been weird and off-putting to watch.
So while I realize that the plural of anecdote is not data, it’s something that has bothered me sufficiently that I thought it would be worth taking a look at what Magic has been up to recently that has been getting under my skin.
M:TG’s recent art direction: I call shenanigans
I’ve written in the past about how I find the trend toward better art in Magic expansions to be (mostly) encouraging. Particularly in Khans of Tarkir – there were some really great illustrations of non-sexualized powerful women doing fantastically gonzo awesome shit! However, while Khans may have done much better in cutting down on the bullshit sexism, they did so at the cost of actually – yannow – depicting any women.
Still. I was hopeful that the overall trend of not fucking up at depicting women might continue! But alas, no joy.
First there came Magic: Origins – a core set focused on, well, the origins of the planeswalkers – characters that are meant to be player avatars. Being a core set, there are often a lot of reprinted cards, which tends to mean reprints of old art. So it’s not surprising that some old awful art (like the boobplate sideboob in Act of Treason) is sneaking through. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of brand-new awful to be found – particularly with their treatment of female planeswalkers.
See, planeswalkers in Magic: Origins are actually double-sided. They start out as a Legendary Creature, then when they meet a certain condition you turn them over and they become a planeswalker. In theory, pretty cool, right? You get a chance to see and play with familiar planeswalkers in their pre- and post-planeswalker states. The problem is, as always, the execution. Take, for example, Liliana – one of Magic’s oldest female planeswalkers. Liliana is a pretty classic example of the evil woman who is evil because she is sexay (or maybe she is sexay because she is evil?). But somehow WotC dug deep and found a way to make Liliana even worse:
On the left, you see Liliana in her pre-planeswalker state. That’s right, young, innocent, demure, and not even remotely sexual. On the right is the art for Liliana once she becomes a planeswalker – definitely one of the more sexual Liliana’s that I’ve seen. Because women with power are evil and evil women are sexy. Or something.
What the ever loving fuck, Magic? Are you trying to say that women can only have power so long as they are sexually pleasing to a (presumed) straight male viewer? Because that’s pretty fucked up, especially for a game that claims to be friendly for children.
It gets even worse when you look at more fringey M:TG products that WotC is working on releasing, like Modern Masters – a limited edition set that will be reprinting some of the most popular cards that have fallen out of legality with the standard format. These are just straight up reprints of old cards with old art, which means that there is some extra shitty sexist cards like these gems:
Man, that woman in Blades of Velis Vel is possibly the most Liefeld-ian piece of Magic art that I have ever seen – obscured hands and feat, impossibly thin torso, improbable levels of spine arch, and ridiculous 90s-ish costume. All it needs is some AWSUM POUCHES!!1! to complete the ensemble.
Meanwhile, Indomitable Angel is both weird and baffling. Is she wearing armor, or is she actually made of metal and is just naked? Does she actually have an 8-pack? What is up with her shoulders? Are those actually attached to her boobs? Does she have metal boob-pauldrons? WHY ARE BOOB-PAULDRONS EVEN A THING??
But even Indomitable Angel isn’t as confusing as Fiery Fall. It took a solid two minutes of staring at it for me to even figure out what was going on until I realized that it was a human woman falling upside down so that the artist could get in both upskirt AND underboob without the unwanted effort of trying to squeeze in humanizing details like a face. Because who cares about portraying her as a person about to meet a grim fate so long as we can ogle her tits before she messes them up by falling into lava?
Ugh. Just ugh.
But for me, the shit icing on the shit cake are these two card previews taken from From the Vault: Angels – a limited edition 15 card set reprinting old angels. 5 out of the 15 cards are even getting new art, which I would normally take as an encouraging sign! That is until my husband showed me these:
Nope. That’s not old artwork, folks. That’s NEW artwork. New artwork which took the old character designs and faithfully translated them into something just as bad, or possibly even a bit worse than the old art:
I KNOW that I prefer the old Angel of Wrath to the new art. Sure the boobplate is just as stupid and obvious phallic symbol is still obvious and phallic. But at least the old art doesn’t make her look like she’s five seconds away from humping the damn sword. As for the Angel of Fury, I go back and forth. It’s definitely artist that the artist got lazy when it came to the not-sexy bits – obscured hands and feet anyone? But at least the old art looks like she’s actually doing something – namely flying. Whereas the new art shows her… uh… vamping? Power posing? I’m not really sure what, to be honest.
Conclusion: I don’t know what the fuck to think
So all of this nonsense has left me feeling very conflicted about the state of Magic: The Gathering and whether I want to continue supporting it with my dollaz. I enjoy the occasional sealed-pack event, which is pretty much how I’ve acquired most of my collection. And despite the problems that the Magic division of WotC seems to have with not actually failing at depicting women, I was willing to cut them some slack given that things overall seemed to (slowly) be getting better. But given the amount of eye-rolling I’ve done lately, I’m starting to question my willingness to continue turning a blind eye.
Seriously – I get that it can be difficult to change the direction of a flagship product as large and entrenched as Magic: The Gathering. But the knowledge and experience on how to do so already exists IN THEIR OWN DAMN COMPANY. Someone on the Magic team needs to pick up the damn phone and have a serious conversation with the art team for D&D already.
(As for myself, this has me regretting that I didn’t keep all my old data on art from Magic sets for previous posts about Magic on this blog. I know it would be quite the undertaking, but I’m thinking it could be pretty interesting (if incredibly time-consuming) to compile numbers for every set for the last three or so years so as to be able to have some real numbers regarding trends.)
Lately I’ve been having fun going through my collection recently and revamping old decks as well as building new ones. Because reasons that are boring to people who don’t play Magic, a lot of this deck-building has me going through our new Khans of Tarkir stuff as well as stuff from Return to Ravnica, which is a set from two years ago.
And the thing that I’m really noticing is that Ravnica… really sucks at it’s portrayals of women. For all that Khans artwork didn’t really include women, it also (for the most part) didn’t really fail that hard. I mean, there were a couple eyeroll-worthy pieces of art, particularly the snake tits on Kheru Spellsnatcher. But Ravnica? Man. Where to start.
Which is really interesting! Because it’s not like there’s a ton of time separating the two sets. There are only two years separating Ravnica and Khans. So I thought it would be worth taking a look at Ravnica, numbers-wise, to see how M:TG has changed direction with it’s artwork in the last two years.
Interestingly, while Khans may have had a much lower eyeroll factor, there were also many fewer women over all:
Yikes! The percentage of female representation went down by half! Given that women in the Ravnica set were already under-represented, that’s a pretty startling decrease!
However my initial assessment of Ravnica’s art was pretty accurate. Ravnica might have had many more women, but a large majority of them were objectified pretty blatantly:
HALF of all women in Ravnica artwork were counted as suggestively attired! As compared to Khans, where only five female characters total were counted as suggestively attired. Yikes!
Still it might be easy to look at the numbers for Ravnica and conclude that characters in Ravnica are just more suggestively attired overall. After all, looking at the breakdown of suggestively attired figures, men account for nearly half. So if there’s equal opportunity objectification going on, that’s not bad, right?
Caveats. Always with the caveats
Because as always, there are very stark differences between suggestively attired male figures and suggestively attired female figures. There tend to be three rough categories of suggestively attired male figures:
1. “Savage” or “bestial” characters clearly gendered as male
With art that falls into this category, the lack of clothing is always a device intended to display their lack of civilization:
All of the above images depict characters that are clearly not intended to be sexually appealing. Indeed, I’d argue that Golgari Charm is intended to be unappealing. These are just some “savage” beast-men looking to inflict some hurt on someone.
2. Dead stuff: corpses, necromancers, and corpse necromancers
All of the following figures were counted as suggestively attired:
Which is, of course, ridiculous. These figures were clearly not intended to be sexually appealing. Not unless you happen to find dessicated corpses and dudes without noses appealing, in which case I’d like to remind you that society has agreed that necrophilia is a thing that is Not Okay.
3. Goblins and weirdos
Okay, I’ll admit this is a bit of a catch-all. But seriously, check out this art:
Goblins always throw off the numbers when it comes to counts of suggestive figures, because it’s very common for the art of goblins to include high numbers of figures. And goblins always get counted as suggestive, because they never, ever wear pants. (I mean, I’m pretty sure if it wears pants, you can’t call it a goblin.)
And then there’s the weirdos, by which I mean figures that count as suggestively attired who are not bestial, dead, necromancers, or goblin, but are clearly not meant to be sexually appealing because they’re just… so… weird. I mean, look at the Rakdos Shred Freak. I’m pretty sure that even hardcore fetishists aren’t going to look at this guy and say “oo, look at his muscle definition”.
And the Hellhole Flailer? What the hell is up with this guy? Why are his forearms the size of his biceps? Why are his biceps the size of his thighs? Why does he have a skull on his head? Or does he have a skull for a head? Anyway, whatever is going on there – it’s clear that this guy isn’t supposed to be sexually appealing. And yet that’s how he was counted, along with all of the other savage, dead, and goblin figures.
Which has a clear spoiler effect on the numbers! Because while these figures are suggestively attired, they are clearly not suggestive.
In fact, out of all of the male figures in Ravnica, I’d argue that only one counts as being maybe sorta actually suggestive – the Golgari Decoy:
I have no idea what is going on here, but this guy is rocking some pretty extreme “boobs and butt”, which is pretty weird, frankly. Is this supposed to be a satire of the usual female boobs and butt? Or is this just an anatomy fail? I really don’t know.
Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that there are a good number of female figures who were counted as fully clothed, but who are actually kind of sexualized by their frigging boobplate. Take, for example, the Ash Zealot, who I otherwise really like because she is just straight up ending a bunch of zombies in the face:
She’s so great! So, so great! …except for her bizarre boobplate. The boobs on her boobplate are actually so high that she is actually wearing a pushup boobplate, because, I don’t know, it’s hard to want to go out and brain zombies with a flaming mace if you feel insecure about your saggy tits? I guess?
And unfortunately, Ravnica had a lot of pretty egregious boobplate:
The first three aren’t terrible, because the art itself is actually pretty rad and is about them being awesome, not about them having boobs. The last three, however, are pretty clearly a case of the artist going “bah, why draw a woman with armor if you can’t see her tits”? Arg.
In which I belabor the point
I don’t want to look like I’m arguing that the reason for the 50% decrease in female representation between Ravnica and Khans is because they got rid of all of the bullshit female characters. Because that would imply that only 50% of Ravnica art of women is bullshit. But the reality is that non-bullshit art of women is vastly outnumbered by the totally-bullshit art.
And it comes in so many different flavors! Flavors like “sexualized spellcasting”!
Or how about “the spec for this card actually has nothing to do with boobs at all, I just super like them”?
The Oak Street Innkeeper (far right) is the only one of these where you could maaaayyybe argue for the inclusion of some boobage. (But given the extremity of that boob window, I’d argue pretty hard against that). Chorus of Might and Electrickery (top left and top middle) don’t necessarily exclude ridiculous boobage, though the fact that some pretty ridiculously sexualized women were the go-to for otherwise ambiguous art requirement says a lot, I think.
But check out the Wild Beastmaster (top right). If you look up the full artwork, the animals she’s commanding are cropped almost entirely out of frame so that we can see the totality of that boobplate trainwreck she’s wearing. Even worse are the Korozda Monitor and Slime Molding (bottom left and bottom middle). The art requirements specifically called for not sexy ladies. Giant-ass lizards are not sexy ladies. Huge slimes are not sexy ladies. And yet, in both cases, the artist was so devastated about having to draw not-sexy-ladies that sexy ladies were inserted where none was needed. This is why we can’t have nice things.
And then we have the closely related flavor of “I can’t take this art seriously because of these gratuitous breasts”:
I’m sure that these were all intended to be dramatic pieces of art, but you completely lost me at the ridiculous sexualization. Why would a “Keening Apparition” (top middle) be a Kirsten Dunst-lookalike at serious risk for some nip-slip? Why would a soldier wear armor that completely fails to protect her vital organs? Why would you decide to summon a giant-ass rhino in a “Horncaller’s Chant” (top right) while completely failing to wear pants? Wouldn’t you think that putting on pants before summoning spectral rhinos would be a good call?
Anyhow, we can’t forget the “I don’t even know how that clothing is supposed to work”:
I have spent way too much time staring at those weirdo straps on Rites of Reaping (left) and still can’t figure out how they would do anything to prevent that vest from shifting, causing her boobs to fall right out anyway. Copious amounts of body glue? Which is also the only explanation I can muster for what the fuck is going on with Treasured Find (right). For fucks, sake, she’s a gorgon. Why would she go through such ridiculous fashion shenanigans if anyone who looks at her is just going to turn to stone anyway?
And last, but certainly not least, we have “what the actual fucking fuck”
No, seriously. What the fuck. What the actual unholy fuck is going on here. Who the fuck thought that this would be a good idea? And why the fuck would an art director let these awful breasttacular trainwrecks slide? Because about three seconds after…. whatever they’re doing in that card art, this would happen:
This card is delightfully called “stab wound”, and this is pretty much what would happen to all of these women in bullshit outfits. I have no idea if this piece was intended as satire (I suspect that it is, given the comical facial expression), and I’m reluctant to Google it lest I find out otherwise.
So I think we’ve pretty thoroughly disproven the notion that sexualization of men and women in Ravnica art is somehow “equal”. Which, you know, yay.
After looking at all this bullshit art, I’m left with a lot of mixed feelings about the direction that M:TG art direction has taken. On the one hand, it’s great to not have to look at bullshit art. Ravnica had a lot of super great cards with some super-bullshit art, and I have some Ravnica cards in my current decks with some pretty terrible artwork as a result.
But on the other hand, I don’t really feel that great about the “solution” to the problem of Magic artists being incapable of not treating women like shit. The only way that Magic can have NOT shitty women is to pretend that women don’t exist, period? What the ever-loving fuck is up with that? It is totally possible to have awesome, fantastical artwork that includes women and doesn’t ridiculously sexualize and objectify them. Look at D&D 5E! They pulled it off beautifully, and D&D is published by the same damn company.
So, you know, thanks for mostly not treating women like shit in the new Khans set. Now maybe we can take another small step and remember that we exist and actually do things.
Recently, I got a chance to attend a local pre-release tournament event for the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion – the Khans of Tarkir. And it was… an interesting experience. One I definitely felt was worth blogging about, in light of the fact that I do know people who are trying to get more women into playing M:TG. But also, I felt like it was time to revisit the art in this newest set and see how it breaks down, since it was my feeling that the art for Khans was “better” than art I’ve seen on previous sets.
First: my experience of the pre-release event
I’ve only attended one other pre-release event; it was for Theros last year. That event was in a game store, which was, frankly, terrible. There were 30 people crammed into the back of the store, which was insanely cramped and dimly lit. There was one other woman there, but she was on the opposite end of the room. And of the guys who were there, it was obvious that a large percentage of them were of the awkward persuasion.
But this time, we were both able to go to an event at a local university. Brightly lit classrooms, very spacious, absolutely not confining. Much better right?
Well… it was better in that I didn’t feel any of the low-level threat that I did at my first pre-release. But it was still decidedly uncomfortable walking into the room to realize that the only reason there would be another woman participating is because we came together. Said woman was a friend who has many, many more years experience playing Magic than me, but still – I would have been all alone if we hadn’t picked up the phone and been like, “hey, want to come to a pre-release with us”? And that’s really not a cool feeling.
So combine that with the fact that I was obviously there as a female S.O. to my male husband, and I felt a lot of pressure to do well, which unfortunately didn’t happen. I got very unlucky in that I didn’t have great cards to work with (the good stuff I got wasn’t in the colors I’d registered for), plus I’ll cop to making some mistakes. (It was my second ever tournament, and I’ve only been playing for a year.)
Now factor that in with the fact that I’m a very competitive person who really doesn’t enjoy losing. So my overall poor performance sucked from that standpoint, but also because by not doing well I became That Woman who only does geek things because her husband is doing them and generally sucks. (Stereotype threat is real, and it is zero fun.) And to add insult to injury, the very art on the cards reminded me that this game that I was spending money to play wasn’t for me. So overall, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth.
Which makes it too bad that there aren’t any chapters of the Lady Planeswalker Society anywhere close to where I live, because until the demographics of typical M:TG events change, I doubt I would go to another singles tournament. (I haven’t ruled out the idea of doing 2-headed Giant with my husband.) And yes, I’m fully aware that not going to Magic tournaments because there are no women is a self-reinforcing problem. I get that! But folks, Magic is an expensive hobby, and you can’t force people to spend a lot of time and money on something they don’t even enjoy “because inclusion”. I wish I had ideas on how to fix the gender imbalance, but for now all I have is a big fat shrug. (And the planeswalker my husband pulled in that tournament. Lucky bastard.)
On to the numbers
Veterans of my blog will be familiar with how I do these posts. New readers, the tl;dr is that I look at an entire set of artwork for a given game product and count figures with discernable gender as well as look at a list of set criteria: actively posed versus neutral, fully-clothed figures, and suggestively attired figures. (If you want definitions of these criteria, you can see the original article that I wrote for See Page XX that was the genesis of this blog, examining sexist trends in official game art across all areas of gaming.)
Before breaking down the numbers, my sense of the artwork from Khans of Tarkir was that it did much better than previous sets with the portrayals of women that it did have, it did worse at actually including female characters at all. (Depressingly, those impressions are pretty much borne out if you compare the numbers that I got with the numbers I gathered when I did a breakdown of the M11 core set.)
Only 18% of the figures for which I could discern gender were female! Yikes!
Now things do look a little more encouraging once you actually look at the number breakdown:
Given that women comprise 18% of all figures counted, they’re actually slightly overperforming with regard to active poses. Similarly, they are overperforming when it comes to fully clothed figures, as compared to their male counterparts. And holy cats, suddenly it’s the men who are all sexay instead of the women?
Well… no. Not so much.
Bring in the caveats!
So before we get any further, it’s worth mentioning that out of all of the artwork in Khans, only THREE CHARACTERS are depicted as being both non-human and female. THREE: a female djinn depicted on Riverwheel Aerialists (remember her, because we’re coming back to her in a bit) , the naga Sidisi the Brood Tyrant, and the naga shown on Kheru Spellsnatcher (we’ll revisit her as well).
This becomes significant, because this set featured a much higher percentage of non-human sentient characters, owing to the fact that there are goblins, orcs, djinn, efreet, bird people, dog people, and nagas in addition to vanilla humans in the set’s artwork. The orcs are pretty clearly depicted as male – that one is easy. But the djinn and the efreet are much more ambiguous. I would have been totally willing to believe in them as androgynous races were it not for the lone female djinn – which makes me think that the artists were handed specs that only specified race and not gender and simply defaulted to male, because male is always the default.
As for the bird people and the dog people, an argument could be made that they should be counted as ungendered, since they’re clearly non-humanoid characters. And in general I would agree, except that M:TG artists have had no problem ridiculously gendering inappropriate things in the past by putting tits on things that should not have tits like lions or trees. (And those aren’t even the worst examples I’ve seen – just the worst examples I can remember card names for.)
Furthermore, a depressingly large number of the small number of female figures that were included were depicted as the Smurfettes in a group of otherwise all-male characters:
The Ascendancies (each of the five clans had an Ascendancy card) were particularly bad for this, as they each had large groups of figures, with ooooone woman and the rest dudes. It’s like someone on the art team was giving art revision notes that said “needs women” and the artists changed one figure in each drawing. Which only serves to emphasize even more what an afterthought the inclusion of women is.
Also important to consider is the issue of the seeming saturation of suggestively attired male figures. As I’ve blogged about before, the phenomenon of pantsless/shirtless male figures in fantasy art is something that consistently throws off the results I get when doing these counts. Very often, “primitive”, “savage”, or “bestial” characters will be drawn as either shirtless or pantsless as a shorthand for conveying either non-human or non-civilized status.
So here is an example of some of the male figures that were counted as suggestively attired:
So sure the first is a beefy guy showing a lot of pecs punching a bear(!). But we also have flying bird man with leg-wraps-instead-of-pants, and goblins with no pants, because seriously when do goblins ever wear pants?
The other important thing to mention is that the consistency with which I applied this standard led to some ludicrous results. For example, all of this art was counted as containing suggestively attired male figures:
The criteria was clear – they have clearly discernable gender (or at least secondary sex characteristics consistent with gender in cis people; I’m not going to try to determine the cis-ness of zombies because that way lies madness). Plus none of them are wearing shirts or pants. So despite the fact that none of them are depicted in any way close to even resembling attractiveness, they are counted as suggestively attired. For that matter, the zombie figure on Dutiful Return is counted as suggestive, despite being called out on the card as being furniture. (I only counted it once.)
In fact, here is the only male figure I saw that I would call actually suggestive, because yum:
He’s muscular without being a ridiculous power fantasy or engaging in ridiculously cartoonish violence (ie punching a bear in the face), and his shirtlessness isn’t being used to comment on a “savage”, “bestial”, or “uncivilized” nature. He’s just a super pretty dude practicing some awesome kung fu and being super hawt.
But even then – even then – there is a clear difference in how Shirtless Kung Fu Guy is portrayed from this female naga:
I totally eyerolled when I first saw this card, because this is textbook boobs-and-butt… applied to a snake. I had to look pretty closely to verify that she does not, in fact, have boobs, but the artist still managed to suggest them with the angle of the straps on her chest. Also, she’s got serious snakespine, so it’s a good thing she is in fact a snake, because that’s pretty much the only way that degree of spine bend would be possible. Lastly, check out how she doesn’t have legs but the line of her belly scales, or whatever you’d call them, still implies a thigh and crotch.
Issues of ridiculous objectification of snake-women aside, there’s also the problem that the Kheru Spellsnatcher isn’t actually doing anything. Shirtless Kung Fu Guy is practicing some awesome kung fu, while Kheru Spellsnatcher is just like OH HAI ISN’T THIS A PRETTY LIGHT HOW U DOIN’.
Thankfully, the Kheru Spellsnatcher is the only piece of art that I whole-heartedly disapprove of. And there is art that I really, really like in this set! Certainly, this set has done a lot to address my previous complaint that fully-clothed women don’t get to be awesome, because here are a bunch of fully-clothed ladies being completely awesome.
The first two images are of Narset, whom I might add is one of the mythic rares in the set and either totally rules or totally sucks depending on if it was you that pulled her or the other guy. (I’ve seen her in action and she’s just wrong, folks.) But generally, this set was great for pictures of awesome ladies doing awesome martial arts, of which I am always a fan. Particularly I am always a fan of ass-kicking-grandmothers and think this set could have used 2000% more characters like the Jeskai Elder, because ass-kicking grandmothers make anything better. The end.
There were also women getting to do ridiculously gonzo fantasy awesome things, which has definitely not been the case in previous sets:
Check out the Tuskguard Captain being all HOW DO YOU LIKE MY SWEET-ASS RIDE BTW IT IS A MASTODON. Or the Abzan Guide being all DO NOT MESS WITH ME I CAN RIDE A GIRAFFE. And sure, the Chief of the Edge isn’t so much gonzo, but she sure looks like she’s about 2 seconds from ending a dude.
So it’s great to see art like this, because it shows that Wizards has made strides in how they portray women in the last few years. But looking at other products, like D&D – which is also produced by Wizards – it’s also clear that they could do so much better.
 Seriously I can’t emphasize how much I hate most game stores. They are not welcoming for many women, and often when I enter one I have dudes literally stop and stare at me.
 This, incidentally, is my new favorite card ever and will henceforth be referred to as “Bear Punch”
 The answer is never
 Thank god! Wizards is finally cracking down on putting breasts on reptiles!
I’ve gotten a fair number of emails recently and things have been piling up faster than I’ve had time to blog about them; I still have notes lying around for that post about Shelly Mazzanoble I’ve been meaning to write, and I still do want to do a roundup of all of the LoL characters… But these are things that deserve mention, so I thought I’d shove two half-posts together about things I think deserve some attention but wouldn’t ordinarily fill out an entire blog post of their own.
Win: Heartbreak & Heroines Kickstarter:
Amusingly, here’s the part where I have to disclose that I do have a sort of tenuous non-connection with Heartbreak & Heroines. Back at a much earlier stage in the game’s development, the author actually originally approached me asking if I would be willing to do the illustrations. At the time I was very burned out on illustration and had several other creative projects that were consuming all of my energy, so I regretfully passed. Still, the concept was interesting to me, so I’m glad to see that it’s close to turning into a finished product.
Heartbreak & Heroines is a fantasy roleplaying game about adventurous women who go and have awesome adventures — saving the world, falling in love, building community, defeating evil. It’s a game about relationships and romance, about fairy tales and feminism.
Heartbreak & Heroines is first and foremost a fantasy adventure game. It’s not preachy and it isn’t a textbook about feminism, but it’s written from a feminist point of view. It challenges some of our assumptions about the role of gender in gaming but at the heart of H&H, it’s about being a heroine (or hero) and finding your way to happiness in a dangerous world.
This is the kind of stuff that makes me happy, and honestly the sort of angle that I wish more mainstream companies would at least consider when writing games – telling stories from the female point of view. Roughly half of humans are female, so it does seem to make a sort of sense that one would create games that would explicitly seek to encourage storytelling from a female perspective.
But all of this sounds like crazy-talk to quite a lot of gamers. So, you know, predictably a bunch of people over on RPGnet freaked out about the game and started flailing at strawmen. Because, you know, HOW DARE someone suggest that gaming isn’t the most inclusive hobby out there. And HOW DARE someone have the gall to write a game that attempts to tell stories from a feminist perspective. Didn’t they know that gaming is THE MOST INCLUSIVE HOBBY EVAR? What a bitch.
I do want to take a moment here to mention, however, that Heartbreak & Heroines isn’t the first game ever to tackle storytelling from a female perspective. While mainstream RPG companies seem to have their collective heads very far up their asses, indie tabletop gaming offers quite a wide diversity of games that allow stories to be told from pretty much any perspective you can think of. For that matter, while the world of indie RPG design is still a world in which male designers outnumber female designers, you don’t see the kind of tokenism that you do in mainstream game companies.
So specifically I want to mention that if the idea of a game that encourages feminist-friendly storytelling from a female perspective is one that interests you but Heartbreak & Heroines doesn’t seem to appeal to your personal preferences, don’t be discouraged. If you’re into period romances without the fantasy adventure bits, might I recommend Kagematsu as another game that is explicitly designed to tell stories about female characters, albeit with a bit of a gender-bending twist.
And if that doesn’t float your boat, there are so many good indie titles out there by great female designers. I could try to list them, but I’d leave awesome people off the list and that would make me sad, so I’ll just say that as full of fail as companies like Wizards, Paizo, Green Ronin, White Wolf et all are… there’s some good stuff to be had out in indie land. (And bad stuff too – no one’s perfect. But much less bad stuff overall.)
Okay, so clearly the artist has not been reading Boobs Don’t Work That Way. Boobs are sacks of flesh attached the chest, not whatever the hell this guy is drawing. Without a bra, there is no way she would have this much cleavage. Cleavage just isn’t natural without some sort of support pushing breasts together; as sacks of flesh and fat, breasts tend to hang separately. They’re not magically attracted to each other like magnets.
Also, one assumes that those stupid silver buttons are meant to cover her nipples, which is just so very wrong. Nipples are not ON TOP of the breasts, they are generally toward the underside. Another reason her breasts are just plain freakish is her complete lack of areola. With that much exposed tit, we’d be seeing at least some areola – especially as the “nipple-concealing buttons” are in entirely the wrong place to actually conceal her nipples.
Lastly, her rib cage DOESN’T EVEN CONNECT TO ITSELF. Seriously, check this out:
It’s like the artist realized that without a bra, SOMETHING would need to push the two breasts together and then failed to remember that the arm connects to the shoulder, which connects to the rib cage… I mean, it’s not that hard. Remember the song we all had to learn in kindergarten? Maybe the Wizards artists should have to prove they know the song in the first place to get hired on…
So this is bad enough, but I had to laugh at the image that was pointed out to me at the very bottom of the article:
Were they seriously trying to rip off Crapping Frost Mage? I can’t think of any other explanation for this picture. I mean, honestly. As little sense as the Stripper Pole Dancing school of spellcasting makes to me, it at least makes more sense than the Taking a Dump school of spellcasting. Now, admittedly I might be too jaded to be an objective judge of this sort of thing, but I fail to see how this pose would be attractive on any real woman ever. Even her expression makes her look like she’s trying not to crap more than she’s concentrating on mastering arcane forces.
I never thought I’d see the day when Crapping Front Mage had competition for the most ridiculous crapping pose ever, but it looks like that day is here. I guess, this being the internet and all, I shouldn’t be surprised.
All right. It’s one thing to talk numbers. It’s another thing entirely to actually see some of the pictures represented by all those numbers. And it’s especially important given that my criteria are intentionally engineered to under-count suggestive female depictions and over-count suggestive male depictions (just so nobody can claim I’m being biased in my counting.)
(I’m just looking at art from the 2011 core set for this post, as I’m more concerned with criticizing stuff that Wizards is doing right now rather than ranting about art from fifteen year old cards.)
So, let’s get started…
All suggestive depictions are not created equal
So, case in point – let’s look at Magic’s vampires. Here are two vampires from the M11 set that were both counted as suggestive:
The male vampire was counted as suggestive because of the amount of chest that he’s showing; any character of either gender showing that much chest was automatically counted as suggestive. But looking at the two, it seems a little ridiculous to put both pictures in the same category. I mean, the male vampire just has his shirt unbuttoned a little, while the female vampire is wearing a bikini and a sarong. Talk about your double-standards.
That’s not to say that there aren’t images from the M11 set that I would say really are suggestive. Take, for example, the Frost Titan:
Mr. Frost Titan is pretty clearly designed to be sexy. He’s ripped, is wearing a minimal amount of clothing, and is posed in such a way as to put his… *ahem* attributes on display. Which, honestly, is pretty great. I get so tired of “boob perspective” (camera angles designed to best display boobs from below) that it’s actually pretty refreshing to see “junk perspective”.
Still, as awesome as the Frost Titan is, there are a lot of male figures who were counted as suggestive that, like our male vampire, really don’t belong in the category. Now some of them, I’ll admit, you could at least make an argument for, like these:
It’s my opinion that images like these probably don’t deserve to be counted as suggestive. I know we had this argument before about tauren, but I’m really skeptical that the top two images are intended to be viewed as sexy. The whole lack of pants thing really seems more about making a statement about their “primitive” culture than about making bipedal cats seem sexually appealing. (I know furries would tend to disagree with me, but I am so not having that argument here.)
The bottom two are ones that I would also say probably shouldn’t be called suggestive. Sure they’re both super-buff shirtless men, but they’re also being engulfed in some pretty nasty spell effects. Condemn almost looks like the guy is on fire, and Unholy Strength looks… well… unholy. And also kinda gross. Again, I’m willing to acknowledge that an argument could be made against my position. But looking at these images, it just feels like there’s a huge difference in how these figures are being presented from, say, Barony Vampire.
So let’s call those edge cases. These, however, are really, really not edge cases:
On the left we have a pretty gruesome looking corpse, and the other two are shirtless old men. I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s pretty ridiculous to count a corpse as suggestive. And with Flash Freeze and Pacifism, neither of the figures depicted have what we could call an appealing physique. And you know what? That’s cool – it’s great to have non-idealized body types represented. Unfortunately, it’s only male figures who are ever depicted as non-idealized or otherwise unappealing. All of the women in the Magic universe are young, nubile, and attractive. (Which is really kind of creepy, upon reflection. Does the Magic universe have some kind of female eugenics program?)
Anyway. Moving on…
Suggestive women are always just that – suggestive
The problem with female suggestive figures is that, unlike their male counterparts, you couldn’t really make a case for any of them not being suggestive the way you could with a subset of the male suggestive figures. Even female figures who are blatantly not human still have their feminine attributes emphasized in ridiculous ways:
Okay, so maybe it’s cheating to include the Siren. I mean, they are “supposed” to be sexy, after all – at least according to modern interpretation. But what about the Merfolk Sovereign? If she’s a sovereign, then what exactly is she ruling? I have to say, if my sovereign was doing bikini shoots on some weird seashell set piece, it would make me question her judgment. The worst, though, is the Conundrum Sphinx. They slapped boobs on a lion and covered them with a ridiculous plate-mail bikini top. Just how exactly did she get that thing on? I’m pretty sure body-glue doesn’t stick to fur, and she wouldn’t exactly be able to work a bra clasp with paws. (I mean, hell – those are tricky enough for those of us with opposable thumbs…) And then the cherry on the cake is that they drew her with “boob perspective” to boot.
Which reinforces my opinion, actually, that Ajani Goldmane and Ajani’s Pridemate really shouldn’t be called suggestive, because Wizards doesn’t really seem to be able to grasp subtlety. It seems like they think that either something is not sexy, or it’s REALLY SEXY and WE NEED TO CALL ATTENTION TO IT OMG. And because everyone knows that the sphinx is female SHE NEEDS BOOBZ AND A BIKINI.
But let’s not forget that suggestiveness isn’t the only problematic tendency that hounds female figures. There’s also the issue of active versus neutral poses – something that Magic is actually pretty good about. Still, active figures are not always preferable to neutral figures:
Aether Adept was counted as active because her pose shows movement while Reverberate was counted as neutral because the figure is planted and static. However, if I had to choose which of these two was more awesome, it would be Reverberate – hands down. Here’s the thing, Aether Adept’s expression is so passive it’s almost vapid. And Reverberate? She looks about five seconds from feeding you your own spleen.
(Also, as a side note, whoever invented the halter-top with a slit down to the belly button, long skirt with slits everywhere to shot lots of leg thing that so many women in fantasy art wear… I would really love to punch them in the nose. That would be awesome.)
Speaking of awesome, fully armored female fighters don’t get to have it
This is a big part of my pet peeve with the under-representation of women as fighters in Magic. Sadly, I have yet to figure out a numerical way to represent “AWESOME” – but, man. When I look at the fully-armored fighters from the M11 set, there are some seriously awesome figures doing seriously awesome stuff. Check this out:
Dude! He’s riding a lion with wings! That’s awesome! And the Palace Guards are fighting off hordes of zombie orc things with just the two of them. Also incredibly awesome! Seems like the heavy fighters get to do all the cool shit, right?
So, here’s the thing. I don’t want to seem ungrateful or anything. Knight Exemplar here is pretty cool. She’s got plate mail that doesn’t have the ridiculous breast cones you see all too often and she’s strong. Moreover, she’s even shown as a leader. All of these are super-great, because they’re all super-rare. But it makes me a little sad that all she gets to do is sit around and look tough instead of fighting hordes of zombie orcs or riding winged lions. She is strong, yes, but is she AWESOME? I’d have to say no. Which is disappointing.
Preamble: This is a bit of a tangent, but not really
All right. It’s been too long in coming, but after the debate that erupted in the comments after my first post about M:TG my husband suggested comparing male mages and female mages so that I could compare apples to apples and see if mages really are more passive and to see if there was a difference between gender depictions just among mages. There was just one problem: I had to go through and count all over again.
See, when I initially did the counts I only tallied totals. What he suggested, while a great idea, required going back and recording variables for each figure individually – a much bigger task! While I was at it, I also added a variable called “no class” for figures with no discernable hero archetype; FIgures without a class comprised a large percentage of all figures and I wanted to see if there were any interesting trends to be observed by looking at classless figures. All of this has been a lot of work, what with the re-counting and the fiddling with Excel formulas and the interpretation. Add to this the previously-mentioned decrease in time I have in which to work on research for this blog and that is the result of the radio silence. I apologize folks, but the posts that involve math always take the longest. (Hey, I majored in Fine Arts.)
The numbers I’m looking at today only involve cards from my husband’s collection of cards from the mid-90’s, which is why this is Part 1.5, since this is not quite a tangent but also doesn’t compare the old with the new. As long as it took to put these numbers together, the thought of going back and counting the new M11 set all over again makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a spork. So I’m not going to.
[note: the charts didn’t compress too well, so if the numbers are hard to read on your screen, click through to the larger version that will be much easier to read.]
As with looking at the set as a whole, the comparison of male and female figures who are mages displays clear sexist trends:
Women comprise only slightly more than 30% of all mages in the set. Interestingly, female mages are very slightly more active than their male counterparts by a small margin (4%). However, male mages are still more likely to be fully covered. And, unsurprisingly, the majority of suggestive depictions are female – 43% of female mages in this set are depicted as suggestive, accounting for a little more than 60% of suggestive mages overall. (Although, it still deserves mention that this is far better than other areas of gaming where around 80-95% of suggestive depictions are female.)
What is interesting is when the numbers for figures depicted as mages are compared with averages for the entire set regardless of class:
In the overall set, women actually account for a smaller percentage of figures than with the mages. Also, in the overall set the average woman is slightly less active than female mages and slightly more passive (or neutral), which would seem to disprove my hypothesis that female mages would be more passive than other non-mage females in the set.
Now there was something else I hadn’t thought to examine in the old set initially – figures with no discernible class archetype, which account for a large portion of all counted figures:
The proportion of female figures is roughly the same as with mages – again women make up a bit more than 30% of all figures with no class. However, while male and female mages displayed very similar rates of active and neutral poses, female figures with no class are significantly less active than their male counterparts, with less than 30% of all active figures with no class being female. Female classless figures are also less covered than the males with less that 40% of all fully covered classless figures. (Though, interestingly, female classless figures are very slightly less suggestive than female mages.)
What is most striking though when you look at the class archetype (or lack thereof) as a percentage of total representation by gender. The mage archetype accounts for a larger percentage of females than males, though the difference is pretty small with 23% of all male figurs counting as mages as compared to 29% of females. That’s not terribly exciting, I know. But consider the difference in depictions of figures with no class. Not only are female figures with no class less active and less covered than their male counterparts, they also comprise a much larger percentage of all figures; male classless figures accounted for only 31% of all male figures while female classless figures weighed in at a whopping 44% of all female figures! That’s almost half of all female figures!
This is important, because in the majority of instances, hero characters in M:TG and in fantasy art in general will fall into a discernible class archetype. The have such a large number of female figures, who are already vastly in the minority, be depicted as peasants, victims, seductresses, townsfolk, or other non-heroic roles sends a very clear message about the unimportance of women.
Something else I found bothersome is what happens when you look at figures with no class and mages together. These two categories combined account for only 54% of all male figues. Considering that the thief archetype represents a tiny proportion of figures for both genders, the lion’s share of the remaining 46% will be fighters. Contrast this will female figures where the two categories combined make up 73% of all female figures, leaving a little less than 27% of all female figures to be fighters once you take out the handful of female thieves.
And here’s where I reach the end of my ability to point at numbers and venture out into Opinion Land. To me, that difference feels significant, and I really, really don’t buy the argument that the difference in numbers of representations of male and female fighters is due to “historical” or “biological” accuracy. In a universe where dragons, elementals, gods, angels, and magicians exist, the “accuracy” argument doesn’t hold much water.
Also, women don’t have to be kitted out in full plate male to be fighters (though I always do love good images of non-boobular female plate mail.) The fact that women are not as strong as men doesn’t make them any less in their potential to be fighters; there is no law that says in order to be proficient in fighting that one has to be heavily armored and rely on brute strength. And, frankly, in a fantasy universe it’s easy to wave your hands and say ‘well in THIS universe there is no social stigma against women pursuing a career as a fighter’. It seems ridiculous to rely on the “accuracy” argument to back up the under-representation of women in any kind of fantasy art when fantasy as a genre is based on being not realistic.
Anyhow. That’s my rant for today. Since I’ve had my fill of graphs and numbers for quite a while, I’ll be going back to looking at actual images from both sets as originally planned, which should take much less time to finish since it won’t involve numbers.