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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covers

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

Criteria Studied

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender Representation in Pathfinder Books: Depressingly Predictable

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

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

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

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

Group-Versus-Single

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

Groups-and-Women

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

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

Differences in Depiction: Active Posing and Suggestive Attire

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

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

Active-v-Neutral

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

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

Pathfinder-SA-FC

[This section has been updated and corrected]

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

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

[/correction]

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

Class

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

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

Stay Tuned!

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

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

Pathfinder Adventures app: Okay gameplay and terrible art

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

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

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

[Sidebar: concerning the buggy UI]

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

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

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

[/Sidebar]

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

Main screen

God dammit, Wayne Reynolds.

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

This is why we can’t have nice things.

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

Loading Screen

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

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

Awful Seoni Wallpaper2

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

Seoni awful wallpaper

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

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

Erylium

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

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

Scenario henchmen

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

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

Spell Cards

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

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

Nualia

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

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

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

Women working on D&D: my complicated feels

Necessary disclaimers

This post might seem a little arcane, since it is rooted in a Twitter dustup that stemmed from a misunderstanding (funny how 140 characters makes it easy to lose context…). However, I also think it’s a good look at the messy what-goes-in-the-sausage side of game development, and how increasing diversity in game development isn’t as straightforward or as easy as it sounds.

(Before I get started, let me assert that this post isn’t meant to be seen as taking sides, in any form or fashion. Nor is it meant as a personal condemnation! I know the internet doesn’t like nuance, but that’s what’s being expressed here, so deal.)

Let me explain… No. Is too long. Let me sum up.

So here’s how it all went down. Tumblr user teal-deer made a post called “There are now Zero Women working on Dungeons and Dragons“. From that post:

Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, an editor who previously worked both on Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, was laid off on January 28th.

This means of the mere eight remaining employees working on Dungeons and Dragons, zero of them are women. This is a huge problem. –teal-dear (follow link for full post)

Subsequent to this post, rollforproblematic made a post about WotC D&D demographics as compared to Paizo’s demographics. Which is where Jessica Price, a project manager at Paizo, stepped in to provide comment about demographics at Paizo and the realities of uncredited work that might add to the perception of lack of female participation. Jessica’s post is classy and professional, only commenting on her direct experience at Paizo and not mentioning WotC or D&D even in passing.

However, Jessica Price has her tumblr set to push tumblr posts to Twitter, which – because of the format restriction – only includes the first line in the tweet; when making a response to a threaded Tumblr post, what appears in the pushed tweet is very often not written by the replying person in the first place. So it’s pretty understandable that there was some confusion about what it was that Jessica Price was actually saying. Unfortunately, how people reacted to that confusion was to start making angry posts on Twitter.

Mike Mearls got the ball rolling by making this rather combative tweet:

combative

Now to be fair, he did follow up his tweet with this one:

overlooked

…which is a sentiment I agree with! And plan to blog about in the future! But wow is this not the way to express that sentiment. Especially when you follow it up with a series of tweets listing women on the team in non-design positions without actually mentioning their names in the tweets. (This is something that happens to women all the damn time, where we are credited by position as “a woman” and not actually by name, and it sucks.)

So what could charitably[1] be seen as preventing the erasure of women in development suddenly starts look a lot more like an ally using the mere existence of women as a shield against criticism, which is the “I have coworkers that are black” of feminism. Furthermore, you have a male developer using the existence of these unnamed female coworkers as a bludgeon to demand an apology from a female developer for criticism that wasn’t actually hers. Which reads as an ally demanding feminism cookies at best and a man in a position of authority using their status to silence a woman making unwanted criticism at worst.

All of which is… incredibly problematic.

Even so! Jessica Price kept it classy and responded with:

…But the original post isn’t mine, and my responses are addressing comments about Paizo’s demographics. I have no expertise/interest in commenting on WotC’s demographics; if you want to talk about that, please remove me. … –Jessica Price (you can read the full thread here, or most of it)

And Mike Mearls apologized for the discussion, and that was pretty much that. (At least as far as I’m aware. Phew.)

All in all, pretty short-lived for a Twitter dustup. However, it left me with… well… a lot of complicated feels.

The feels and their complications

1. Mike Mearls’ response was not okay.

Regardless of the intent behind his tweets, the response that Mike Mearls chose to make was not okay. Women in the industry already have to deal with a bewildering array of harassers, trolls, and sea lions. So this kind of belligerence directed at a prominent female industry figure by one of the luminaries of the TRPG world is just not okay. Even if Jessica Price had been the one making the original criticism, this kind of combative defensiveness is not an appropriate response to what was actually a civilly expressed criticism, despite Tumblr’s shortening of the post making it appear otherwise.

Mike Mearls has expressed a desire to be an ally in that he wants to work for increasing diversity and inclusion within D&D products and the industry as a whole. Well part of being an ally is being able to take criticism on the chin. Yeah, it fucking sucks. But as a person of privilege, you do not get to prioritize your feelings over a marginalized person’s expression of marginalization. That is allying incorrectly.

2. Women in gaming who assume non-design roles are valuable

There is a weird cult of the Game Designer in TRPG circles, which sucks because there are an awful lot of women out there in non-design roles doing work that is vital to the community. Convention organizing! Event organizing! Community building! All of these are vital! Gaming is a hobby that requires community, and that requires a space and a time to happen. Without the women doing this work, our hobby wouldn’t be what it is.

Furthermore, we need to erase the myth of the Solitary (Male) Game Designer, because game design is not a solitary pursuit. It’s a craft that requires community to be successful. And so often it’s women providing vital first feedback and design advice who aren’t even recognized for the importance of their contributions to the final work.

2a. Credit where credit is due

If women are going to start having their contributions recognized, men in positions of power need to vigorously highlight the participation of women.

2b. Women often get pushed out of design and into support roles

Over on Google+, David Hill made the point that very often, women working in non-design support roles don’t want to be working in those roles.

Gosh, I think I’ve heard this story before. One of my good friends was hired for design and concept work at a major video game studio. Immediately upon relocating and starting, they decided she’d be a better fit off the design team, and as a community manager. With a pay cut.

Wait. This isn’t one of my friends. This is a lot of them.

Which still doesn’t change the fact that there are no women on the game design team. That’s a fact. Yet, people have to apologize for saying this empirical fact, because it erases all the non-game design people working on the property. –David Hill, (entire post here)

I know women who do great work in non-design support positions, and who are passionate about what they do. But it’s undeniable that women do get shunted away from design positions because of gendered workplace expectations.

And unfortunately, it’s impossible to know which is the case here. Because a bunch of internet people descending on them to demand that they talk about their job satisfaction for the purposes of resolving an internet argument isn’t exactly going to elicit honest responses.

3. Silencing women is not okay, community that demands our silence is toxic

I’m going to quote myself from a rant I made on Twitter (albeit lightly edited for grammar) that was partly inspired by this Twitter dustup, but also by a messily complicated situation I’m dealing with in my real life:

It is important to recognize that the work that women do in building community IS work and that it IS valuable. Women who build community are not less valuable because they are performing the role they were socialized to adhere to.

But it’s also important to recognize that women also serve and foster community in other ways than building community structures/supports. Most women I know have at some point chosen to be silent on an issue that harms them in the interest of community. Community is often a thing that is not built FOR women, but built ON women. A thing that requires their complicity and silence.

The penalty of not remaining silent is not being allowed to participate in the thing that they helped build/grow/foster. I make the choice to remain silent on certain things every day. Some days it is easier than others. Some days it’s an eyeroll and a whatev – nbd. Some days it’s a weight on your chest that makes it impossible to breathe or ask for help.

And I don’t know how to fix it, any of it. My silence won’t fix it. But I can’t deal with the consequences of not-silence. Community that requires the silence of the women who perform labor in its service is not healthy community, but how do we move on from that? I wish I had more than just questions.

4. Female and non-binary designers exist. There are lots of them.

Something that Mike Mearls failed to address is the fact that the core design team is exclusively male. And that is absolutely something he should have acknowledged instead of handwaving about ‘well look at all these women over here!’. Yes, I’m sure that the men on the design team are all eminently qualified and have an impressive roster of design work. But you know what? There are a lot of smart, talented, and experienced non-male designers out there who would be more than qualified to take on designing for D&D.

So getting defensive about the fact that they do have women… who aren’t designers? It feels like moving the goal posts. 0 out of 8 is a shitty ratio, and at the very least it should be acknowledged that, yeah, they could have done better wrt diversity.

4a. No I’m not saying fire Mike Mearls or any of the other male designers and hire a woman

FFS, don’t even start with the strawmen, okay?

5. Fucking up is inevitable. What matters is how you respond when called out.

Seriously. I’ve embarrassed myself plenty of times – it’s something that happens to everybody. You’re going to fuck up. Period. And it sucks being called out. Because dammit they should know that you’re not the enemy, and that you had good intentions, right?

Thing is, intent isn’t some magical cure-all. You can’t say “well that’s what I meant was…” and expect that to solve everything, because it won’t.

6. Lastly, walk the fucking walk

This past year, I had an encounter with a Big Name Game Industry Figure that highlights the kind of bullshit that game industry women have to deal with. First he belligerently make mocking comments about positions I’ve taken on my blog, then he attempted to silence me by making dismissive sarcastic remarks. It was an obvious show of power and status wielded against a woman who said things that he didn’t like, and IT FUCKING SUCKED.

And this guy? Someone who has said that he wants diversity in the industry. Someone who has worked to bring in more female writers and designers. And yet when faced with a woman who expressed opinions he didn’t like, he too thought it was totally okay to weaponize his superior status in order to shut up a woman having opinions he didn’t agree with.

It made me furious! Hell, I’m still mad about it! That kind of thing is the kind of shitty microaggression that piles up and drives women out of the industry. So if you’re a dude working in the game industry, you HAVE TO be conscious of the fact that you are always operating from a place of privilege and status, and that weaponizing that status is just not fucking okay.

In summary

It’s a complicated situation! And again, this isn’t intended as a personal attack against Mike Mearls. I’ve written previously about how I like the new direction of D&D and how meeting Mike Mearls gave me hope for the future of the hobby!

Still, this was a giant red flag for me, and yet another check mark on my list of “Reasons Why I’m Glad I Publish My Own Fucking Games” ie “I’m Glad This Is Shit I Don’t Have To Deal With”. Because if I had been Jessica Price, I sure as hell wouldn’t have been so classy in my response.

[1] I’m a bit fan of always making a strenuous effort to read charitably. Mostly because so much of what I say here gets deliberately quoted out of context elsewhere.

>Industy artist fail: Wayne Reynolds (at least he’s not as bad as HTK)

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[Preamble and Disclaimer: All of these can be seen at much higher resolution if you click the images. I recommend doing this. And as always, none of this is mine. All of this is copyright Wayne Reynolds and/or whichever company hired him. I don’t own a thing!]

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite a while now – it just kept getting put off every time I spotted more egregious stuff I wanted to post about. But Wayne Reynolds has long been a pet peeve of mine when it comes to fantasy tabletop art, and I thought it was important to highlight his artwork because he is a huge name within the fantasy art industry. I will certainly be the first to admit that skill-wise, his artistic chops far exceed my own; however, Mr. Reynolds is a perfect example of an artist using his powers for evil.

Now when I say “using his powers for evil”, let’s be clear. Wayne Reynolds is no HTK. Even if he has a propensity for stupidly cheesecakey women, his cheesecake women are definitely active and strong characters. Also, for the most part the only anatomy distortion that they suffer from is an over-inflation of the breasts, which is also a far cry from HTK’s barely-human-looking crotch-thrusting figures.

In a way, that is actually part of my frustration with Wayne. I know that he’s capable of producing totally epic, non-sexualized female characters that kick huge amounts of ass when an art director puts their foot down and insists on NO CLEAVAGE WAYNE I MEAN IT. I mean check these women out:

Totally epic, right? Any of these women would be completely badass characters for long-term play. Each of them is strong and has a real sense of character. I mean I’ve talked about how much I love Seelah (paladin, far right) before here. But sadly, I had to look pretty hard to find these examples. For the most part, Wayne prefers his women looking like this:

/sigh

Don’t get me wrong. Tiger lady is pretty badass, for sure. But, you know, does she have to have her tiger bits hanging out like that? Now, it wouldn’t be so bad if Wayne had a habit of doing equally sexualized illustrations of male characters. I’ve long said that I wouldn’t mind a line that just sexified everyone equally regardless of gender; it might not be to my personal tastes, but I could at least get behind it’s existence. And Wayne does occasionally do illustrations of sexy male characters like Seltyiel:

But sadly, Seltyiel is pretty well in the minority for male characters in Wayne’s art. Mostly Wayne’s men tend to look like this:
…covered head to toe in armor and in poses that don’t emphasize their sexy bits. (Okay, maybe not with quite that many weapons. I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a bit of visual hyperbole…)

Now this isn’t exactly new, and it certainly puts Wayne in good company with many other fantasy game artists. The male = fully armored & not sexualized / female = chainmail bikini and heaving bosoms paradigm has been pretty dominant in fantasy game art ever since the creation of D&D. And at least Wayne manages to draw women who look competent while thrusting their scantily clad bosoms out for the rest of the world to see, which is certainly a far cry from women in cages.

Still, it’s pretty discouraging when Paizo hires Wayne to design their iconic sorceress and he comes up with this:

Wow! How distinctive from every other female mage ever! A gorgeous woman with big fake boobs and not enough clothing. I mean, come on – she’s practically walking fanservice. Unless she’s using body glue to hold that top in place, there’s no way that top is going to confine those ta-tas once she starts dodging arrows. But then again, I suppose she could use sorcery to the same effect? Still, it seems like a waste of a spell slot…

And Seoni is far from the only example of Wayne’s stereotypically slutty cleavagey mages:

Okay, can the female = mage = slutty cleavagey stereotype please die now and forever please? The female = mage stereotype is bad enough! God knows I get so sick of seeing female characters get railroaded into being magic-users and not being allowed to swing an honest-to-god weapon at people. But it’s DOUBLY frustrating to see the mage = slutty cleavagey stereotype in action, because it just reinforces the “tits or GTFO” that women in gaming get all the time.

The trap that fantasy women fall into is that if all women are mages and all mages show their tits, then clearly all women show their tits! And Wayne certainly isn’t doing much to dispel that notion either. But then I think that stuff like this:

…makes Wayne’s opinions on the importance of breasts in fantasy art pretty clear. Sure, none of these women are in cages, but it doesn’t exactly feel very progressive to say “sure women can be adventurers” when the clear parenthetical is “as long as they show us (male gamers) their tits”.And most of these aren’t even NICE tits, which is kind of bizarre given the fact that these figures are otherwise pretty undistorted. (They’re all Barbie, sure, but not too distorted.) All of these women have bizarrely inflated sphere boobs that in some cases aren’t even that appealing. I mean, the gnome and the hook fighter especially have boobs that just kind of freak me out – it looks like someone taped melons to their chests. How is that in any way appealing?

The only one of these women that I in any way appreciate is the fire mage; her chest is actually quite small. Still, body paint =/ clothing and gee it would be great if she HAD SOME DAMN CLOTHES.

The ones that make me the most frustrated though are the ones where the art direction was pretty obviously for a strong, FULLY-COVERED female character and Wayne gave them cleavage anyway:

I mean, Christ, Wayne. Looking at these, I hate to think of what initial drafts of Seelah might have looked like. Did you honestly think that people wouldn’t notice the random cleavage? It’s especially frustrating on these characters because they come SO CLOSE to being every bit as awesome as the first set and then fall flat on her face. Is there ANY reason for us to see Imrijka’s (far left) hugely inflated sphere boobs? No. Does being able to see Merisiel’s (middle) tits somehow make her a better, more compelling avatar? No. Does being able to see the pirate’s tits AND panties make us more able to believe in her strength? Um… no.The worst part is that I can so clearly see what these characters could have been had they not been gratuitously sexualized. Please – can’t we allow strong female characters to be strong AND female and not have to show their tits to the world? Why do we have to do this? Why do we have to continue to tell women that they can only expect to be strong and competent so long as they agree to dress for the titillation of their male counterparts?

Fuck that. I want women who are badass and not sexualized:

So how about it, Wayne? You’re clearly able. Now are you willing?

>Paizo: Thanks for not being full of race fail, but…

>do you think you could maybe be a little less full of gender fail?

[Hi, kids! Just a little pre-amble. I wrote this when I hadn’t been blogging for very long, and parts of it are super slut-shamey. And that’s awful! Unfortunately, this being the internet, I can’t take it back. It’s out there forever, so there’s really no point in trying to pretend I never said it.

I have since regretted the slut shaming I did in this and a few other early posts and have made a point not to do it in my current work. So please consider this post in context. Thanks.]

[Preamble and Disclaimer: All of these can be seen at much higher resolution if you click the images. I recommend doing this. And as always, none of this is mine. All Pathfinder material is copyright Paizo. I don’t own a thing.]

So the first time I heard anything about Pathfinder was actually in a forum thread about positive female characters. Someone linked to pictures of Seela – Pathfinder’s iconic paladin, and Seoni – Pathfinder’s iconic sorceress:

These pictures blew my mind, especially the picture of the paladin. Two completely kick-ass, non-white female characters! And okay, sure, the sorceress is a total slut-bag, whatever. But oh my god I loved the paladin so, so very much. This is what I wanted and never saw in my fantasy art! It made me so very happy to know that there was an RPG publisher out there whose head wasn’t completely up its ass when it came to gender/race issues.Now that’s not to say that Paizo gets a total pass on the race front. Paizo is still guilty of race fail on occasion, like with the official photo promoting their 2010 GenCon costume contest. For the contest, they had a photo of someone costumed as Seoni, the aforementioned sorceress:

Sing it with me kids! One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong… I mean, come on guys. I’m sure it couldn’t have been too hard to find a racially appropriate model to pose for this photo. It’s not like white women have a monopoly on big fake breasts! And oh yeah, thanks for promoting your products at GenCon by encouraging women to dress up like cleavagey skanks. I mean, please. Wayne Reynolds really doesn’t need more encouragement to draw shit like this.Then again, as this photo taken by Sean K Reynolds shows, it’s not like this is the first time that Paizo has used boobs at GenCon to sell their products:

And the thing is, if it was Wizards or Blizzard or the like, I’d roll my eyes and call it par for the course. But it’s doubly disappointing coming from you, Paizo considering your obvious attempts to not completely whitewash your settings. Why take so much time to balance your depictions of non-white characters if you’re just going to make all of your female characters standard fantasy cheesecake?When you go through the portraits that are posted on the official Paizo blog, you do see a very diverse mix of ethnicities. But for the most part the portraits of women are at least mildly problematic. To illustrate my point, I’ve compiled a bunch of their portraits – which I’ve rated on a scale of WTF to awesome:WTF:

/facepalm

Okay. So first of all, mummies are not that hot. There’s this thing that happens where all of the moisture is removed from their bodies, which is what makes them mummies in the first place. There is absolutely no way that a mummy would have breasts that perky, or such a curvaceous backside. Also, real mummies are wrapped in so many layers of cloth that there’s no way they’re just going to start walking around.

Then we have Naked Dinosaur Chick. And again, seriously, what are you thinking? We’ll leave aside the question of why the dinosaur isn’t trying to eat her and consider the problem of her nudity. There’s a reason why women’s bike shorts have a lot of crotchal padding. (Yes I’m inventing words. Shut up.) It’s because bicycle seats can be painful for extended periods of time. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that having your crotch pretty much in direct contact with a dinosaur’s spine has got to be way worse.

And flying chick… So many anatomical problems. Like her shoulder connecting directly to her ribs. Or her lack of a neck. Or an ass. If you’re going to publish ridiculous cheesecake, at least get the basic anatomy right.

Bad

Hey look! Big fake boobs! At least the drow looks somewhat badass, which is more than can be said for the other two. I do have to give Wayne Reynolds props for that. His cheesecake women are at least never passive princesses waiting to be rescued. But it would be great if he could do NON-cheesecake badass women too. [Note: apparently the drow is by Steve Prescott, whoops! I’ll stand by my comments about the art, and my comments about Wayne, but he didn’t actually perpetrate this particular cheesecake indignity.]
Yawn. Cleavagey noble, check. Woman with cleavagey/disintegrated clothing, check. The “Persian Princess” on the right is actually disappointing because she comes SO CLOSE to being completely awesome. I love the costume, love the sword, love the jewelry, and love the fact that she actually looks Persian. So why, oh WHY the random cleavage? It’s like running 4.75k in a 5k race, then deciding to quit and go to Tim Hortons for doughnuts.Meh

No surprise here, numbers one and two are Wayne again. Come on, Wayne! It’s like he gets art direction asking for fully covered women and says to himself, “well, no one will notice if I stick in some cleavage”. It’s especially ridiculous on the woman in plate mail. Why go to all the effort of getting plate mail made if it doesn’t protect from heart-stabs?? The woman on the right I included despite being fully covered because she’s just… so… insipid. But that’s a judgement call on my part, I guess. [Note: Number one was also miscredited and is actually by Steve Prescott. Though, again, I stand by my commentary on the art and my commentary on Wayne’s art in general.]
Awesome

THIS! Oh my god, this! More of it! More of it, I say! THESE are the women I want to see in my roleplaying products. The cleric on the left is everything that the Persian Princess should have been! The duelist in the middle, I heart her so much! And Seela the paladin remains one of the best pieces of fantasy art I have seen ever! Yes I need this many exclamation points!See, it’s stuff like this that makes me delighted, makes me think that someone out there is listening to us! We’re finally getting the strong, non-sexualized female avatars we’ve been asking for! But then you turn around and do shit like this for the holidays:


(from 2009 and 2008 respectively)

And that just makes me disappointed, because these are supposedly a “thank you” to your customers. I’m not a customer, but even if I was I wouldn’t want to be thanked this way.So I guess how I feel about Paizo is kind of like how I feel about Enterprise. There’s just so much raw potential for awesomeness, but the reality just fails to deliver.