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?

BUT WUNDERGEEK, I’m sure you’re saying. BUT WUNDERGEEK – GAMING WAS INVENTED BY MANLY MENZ AND THE GUESTS OF HONOR ARE GAMING PIONEERS AND THUS WILL BE MENZ AND NOT WIMMINZ. THAT’S NOT SEXIST, IT’S JUST THE WAY THE GAMING INDUSTRY IS.

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.

Two reasons I’m hating humanity

So, I didn’t realize that it had been a whole week since my last post. Holy cow! It’s been a crazy week and time got away from me there. Anyhow, my slowitude (yes it’s a word, shut up) means that the things I’m going to be writing about might seem like old news. To those of you who think this is too little too late, I say – throw off the tyranny of internet time! I refuse to fall into the trap of feeling like I have to blog about something the very second it happens!

-ahem-

Also, I have some stuff to say about these two topics that I haven’t seen other people (quite) say. So bear with me.

Fail the first: Organizers have decided to ban women from a major Battlefield 3 launch LAN party (Via Kotaku)

A lot of people have already written about this and about the titanic amounts of fail the organizers have engaged in by deciding to ban women from their event. Tami B (who sometimes goes by cuppycake), in particular, had a great analysis over on the Border House. However, I had a few points of my own that I wanted to add to the general castigation of the organizers of this event:

Point the first: this perpetuates stereotypes and makes it easier for others to do so

Thank you so much for once again contributing to the stereotype that women don’t count as “real” gamers. Your decision has ensured that this will be a major gaming event in which no women participate, despite that Battlefield is an immensely popular titled that appeals to both men and women. But by making your event a male-only space, your reinforcing the idea that only men are “real” gamers. Even worse, you’re perpetuating the idea of gaming as a male space and actually making women less welcome at future such events. If your event is successful, other event organizers are sure to at least consider adopting your highly flawed model. It will set a precedent that other organizers may well choose to emulate. After all, why put up with the hassle of trying to make a safe space for female attendees when you can just ban them all together?

Point the second: this is cowardice

I will at least give the organizers props for acknowleging that harassment is a serious problem at large gaming events. But by deciding to avoid the unpleasantness by banning the victims of potential harassment, the organizers are taking the cowardly way out. They want this to be a fun and friendly space; standing up to your friends and calling them on their privilege/bad behavior is often uncomfortable, sometimes even downright terrifying. Rather than being courageous enough to implement a strong non-harassment policy, the event organizers are caving, giving in to those men who use harassment as a tool to drive women away from such events. Which leads into…

Point the third: They know what they’re doing is wrong

In the original version of their event FAQ, here’s how they justified their decision to exclude women from the event:

Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts

Naturally, they got a lot of flack for this and have since removed the above language. The above language was replaced with:

This event is a ‘gentlemen’s retreat’; as such we do not allow women to attend.

Afterward, they were kind enough to add the following clarification:

We actively discourage gamers from being the kind of mysogynistic jackwagons seen in the Reddit post, and such behaviour should not be tolerated. Frankly, we don’t like that kind of player either. So far as this event goes, it is an special event designed specifically for male gamers. Further, it is meant as a getaway designed to help said male contingent become better men both for themselves and for those who love us.

Now, a lot of smart people have written about why this is just the wrong approach to take, and given that the organizers were cognizant of the problem of potential harassment, these arguments can’t have gone completely over their heads. Rather than listening and saying ‘mea culpa, we shouldn’t exclude women’, they’ve changed the language to call this a “gentleman’s retreat”, making it clear that they have no interest in reexamining their decision to exclude women from the event.

This is, to me, the most damning fact of all – the fact that they understand that this exclusion is unjust, or at least they understand enough to change their public statement that precludes argument. Clearly, they know this is wrong and they don’t give a shit because they’re doing it anyway. So shame on you all. I hope your event is a flop, or at the very least that the backlash you receive convinces organizers of future such events that it’s in their interests to be inclusive of women.

Fail the second:“easy” trivia quiz with E3 booth babes

Someone (I forget who) sent me the link to this video that made the rounds about a month ago. In it, a total of 8 booth babes at E3 are asked five “easy” trivia questions:

What are the original three Pokemon?
What love interest are you forced to kill in the original Portal?
What video game is inspired by the Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged?
What character introduced the gun stiletto?
What is the name of the main character in Zelda: Ocarina of time?

Predictably, the booth babes answered all of the questions incorrectly and were then mocked by male gamers for getting the answers to such easy questions wrong:

These aren’t trick questions. You know all of the answers, and they don’t. (Kotaku)

To be honest, they all sound very stupid, I’m sure they’d struggle with general knowledge, let alone that of video games. Who hasn’t even heard of Atlas Shrugged? *sigh* Hundreds of years of suffrage, and we’re still here. (Kotaku)

There is a reason they are [sic] both babes… brains is not it (G4tv.com forums)

Nice. Real nice. There’s one thing that you asswipes are forgetting – gaming trivia isn’t exactly general knowledge, is it? And honestly, can you really be surprised that booth babes at E3 turn out not to be gamers when they’re paid to be exposed to the very worst aspects of gaming culture? Would I be interested in a hobby that treated me like a piece of meat and largely turned a blind eye to incidents of harassment that happen on the job? No. No I wouldn’t. And I think that’s just human nature.

Secondly, some of these questions are just plain bad questions. Like the last question – we tend to be culturally conditioned to expect that if a media property (book, movie, game) names a character, that the named character will be the protagonist. After all, Hermione wasn’t the main character of Harry Potter, was she? Assuming that Zelda would be the main character is a logical assumption, kids.

Similarly, BioShock is a pretty niche game and I’m willing to bet there are a shitton of gamers who don’t know that BioShock is Atlas Shrugged plus a bazooka. And even if all gamers everywhere did know that, Ayn Rand is a shit author and I’d be happy to see her books drop off the list of what “educated” people should be expected to be conversant with. (But that’s just my opinion.)

The worst, though, is #2 – the question about portal. I’m sorry, but “love interest”?

Okay, now I know that there are people who really developed an attachment to the companion cube, and that some people felt having to destroy it very keenly. But I’m going to remind you that the companion cube IS A FUCKING BOX. Generally speaking, humans do not have romances with boxes, not even boxes with hearts on them. Putting a heart on something does not make it suddenly romance-able.

I realize I forgot to photoshop out her arm. D’oh! But I’m too lazy to care.

Not knowing the answers to these stupid questions doesn’t make these booth babes dumb. It makes them smart enough to not want to associate with a hobby that treats women like shit.