My script for the next big AAA blockbuster

12action_reacher

The sun shining weakly through dirty mini-blinds wakes you. You grunt stoically and get out of bed, not paying attention to the stunningly gorgeous blonde sleeping next to you. She meant nothing. She could only ever mean nothing because you are hollow and empty inside.

You shuffle into the bathroom and lean on the sink, moodily looking into the mirror. Your grizzled reflection stares back at you, the image of a man who has seen too much and done terrible things. Handsome, generically white features and a square jaw twist into a scowl as you look at yourself. It is the beginning of a new day, and you are alone – except for that gorgeous blonde, who doesn’t count because she is not your wife, who is dead.

The gorgeous blonde sits up when you return and she is naked because that is how people have sex when they are heterosexual, manly men, and you definitely had sex last night because you are so very manly.

“Last night was great,” she purrs. “But I never did get your name.”

“That doesn’t matter.” You scowl. “None of it matters now.”

She sighs and motions for you to come back to bed, but you turn away and scowl. “The sex that we had last night was great, but it mean nothing because I am hollow and empty inside. No one can ever replace my wife, who is dead.”

The gorgeous blonde frowned. “I thought you said she was kidnapped and you were going to rescue her.”

“Yeah. That. Whatever.” You stare broodily into the middle distance for several minutes until she gets up to take a shower. No one understands you.

Guns. You have guns but you need more. You scowl as you think about how much you need guns. You always need more guns.

“I need more guns,” you growl to that annoying person who insists on tagging along with you, whom you definitely are not emotionally attached to because your wife is dead.

“More guns? You already have ten guns. How are you going to carry that many guns?”

He doesn’t understand. They never understand. Your life is void of meaning or joy and you just want to shoot things. “I have to avenge my wife, who is dead. They killed her in front of me and now my life is void of meaning and joy because she is dead.”

That annoying person rolls his eyes. “She’s probably not even dead, she’s just been kidnapped.” He adds something else, a pithy comment to lighten the mood but you don’t hear it because you are too busy thinking about guns.

“JUST GET ME MORE GUNS OR I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU,” you snarl, cursing because you are gritty and edgy and definitely not for kids. “I’ll kill you because I’ll do whatever it takes. I don’t care if it makes me a monster because morality is for people with wives, which I don’t have because she was killed.”

“You mean kidnapped.”

“Whatever. I’ve moved past that now.” You have too many people to shoot to worry about the small stuff now. “Just get me more guns.”

At last you’ve made it to where your enemy is making his last stand. It’s been a long road full of violence and death, and your hands are covered in blood but none of that matters.

You storm in, guns blazing, murdering everything that moves. One of the guards throws down his gun and holds up his hands, sobbing as he begs you to just let him live. You shoot him in the face and move on. He feels nothing now that he is dead, just like you. Your wife is dead.

You lose track of the number of people you kill before you finally make it to the room where your enemy is. There is a woman behind him who is tied to a chair, but you don’t pay any attention to her because she is not important. You have to avenge your wife, who is dead.

“I am here to get revenge for my wife,” you grunt. “Who is dead.”

“I’m not dead,” the woman in the corner says. “I’m right here.”

You grit your teeth, too focused on your enemy to listen to some woman. “She was the best thing that ever happened to me. I didn’t deserve her because she was a shining being too good for this sinful world, and I will make you pay for killing her.”

“I’m quite alive, actually.”

Your enemy smirks. “Don’t you realize? This was all just a test. A test which you passed with flying colors.”

You scowl, mostly because that’s the only facial expression you’re capable of anymore.

“Yes, that’s right. I created you in a lab to be the perfect soldier. And now that you’ve come back to me, we will–”

“Shut up,” you say as you shoot him in the face. He falls over, gurgling, and dies. After everything that has happened, your enemy is gone and your journey is over, but you feel nothing. You haven’t felt anything since your wife died.

“Aren’t you going to untie me?” the woman in the chair asks.

You think about your lost wife and wish she could be here to share this moment with you. You almost shed a tear, but you clench your fists and think about punching kittens until the feeling passes, except that you don’t have those anymore now that your wife is dead.

“Nathan? Are you even listening?”

“That person doesn’t exist anymore,” you rasp. “He is dead, like my wife.”

“Except I’m not dead.”

You look sternly into the middle distance. She doesn’t understand. No one can ever understand. “Allison,” you whisper as you turn to leave.

“Hey! Hey! Untie me already!”

There is blood on your hands that can never be removed, and you are alone. So, so alone. “I will never forget you,” you promise as you walk back down the hallway toward the stairs that will take you to the surface.

“Nathan? Nathan!”

-fin-

And now for something completely silly

[ETA: Hey, folks. So I did a jerk thing – for good reasons, but it was still a jerk thing. I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about a mutual troll that Filamena Young and I both share, so I blocked out her name on the Google+ post that she made that started this whole mess. Which was bad! I shouldn’t have done that! So I’ve fixed that, and linked to the post. But also you should maybe go buy some of her games, because she’s good people and also an amazing game designer. 

So this post requires a little background.

First, earlier in the week people started sharing this (NSFW!!) image: “if males had the same armor as females in RPGs”.

And predictably, people started reporting the photo as obscene. Because a dong-esque, metallic Pringles can codpiece is obscene, but women in RPG art showing the exact same amount of skin are TOTALLY AWSUM!!1!!11!eleventy

I’ll give you a moment to stew in the hypocrisy.

I aaalmost wish I could use this meme more, because his beard is amazing.

Thankfully, because the people in my circles are some cool people, it didn’t take long for people to make some pretty funny responses. Including this thread! Which led to… well… okay, just read the screen cap, okay?

convo

RETALIATORY WANG. Is that not the name of the best punk band in the history of ever? And I found myself compelled – compelled – to draw the cover art of this hypothetical Retaliatory Wang album. Because reasons! And empowerment! And… uh… reasons!

And the idea rattled around in my head for a day or two, but I dithered a bit. I mean, sure it would be funny! …to me. But would anyone else thing so?

And then another thing happened. A female artist friend on the Plus started a thread in which she brought this art (also NSFW!!) to my attention, because she knows how much I hate corpse tits in game art. And almost immediately some male artist, previously unknown to me, jumped in and started complaining that women like us were what was wrong with game art, and you know he’s definitely a feminist, but complaining about gratuitous nipples on a flaming skeletal corpse is, like, the worst. ART IS DEAD. (Yes he literally used the phrase “art is dead”.)

And suddenly, my desire to draw Retaliatory Wang’s album cover assumed new meaning. Now this wasn’t just about conceptual silliness! This was about retaliation! With wangs! I started sketching, and I started a new thread asking people for song title ideas and… well… then this happened:

johnnyramone (1)
Reference used: this photo by Rolling Stone of The Ramones

 

 

And then for some reason I felt it necessary to write more than 400 words explaining why this was a thing that needed to happen. So I blame my brain, okay? And the internet, too. But mostly my brain.

[Thanks to the following for supplying track titles, or portions thereof: Arlene Medder, Ezio Melega, Dymphna, J. Walton, Jonas Richter, and Josh Roby. Thanks also to the people who inspired this trainwreck. You know who you are.]

The Impossibility of Satirizing Game Art [NSFW!]

Those of you who follow my art blog over on Tumblr will already know that I’ve been working on publishing a new tabletop game, a satire hack of Dungeon World that I’m calling SexyTime Adventures – meant to parody all of the awful sexism that gets included in just about every fantasy dungeoneering game ever[1]. For instance, here is my description of the Cleric:

Others may be ambivalent in their faith, worshipping whichever god in the pantheon most serves their needs in the moment. Some have no faith at all, citing the existence of monsters, demons, and war as proof that there are no gods. But you, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a god, and that god has touched you deep in your soul. Your bosomy, voluptuous soul.

You have been called to bring faith to a faithless world, to smash down the unrighteous and stand triumphantly over them without any pants on. For pants are the work of the devil. So sayeth the lord.

(You can find plenty more previews of the game text here.)

Satire is always challenging. No matter how hard you work, how carefully you craft it, how blindingly obvious you think it is that no one would ever actually say or think this, someone (or multiple someones) will always think that you’re being serious. Always. It’s one of the sad, immutable truths of satire. But that’s not to say that satire isn’t worth doing. Shows like The Daily Show and the Colbert Report illustrate the continuing relevance of satire as an important form of social commentary.

And honestly? Satire can be so much fun. Everything that’s in SexyTime Adventures makes me giggle. I especially had a blast with names for character abilities – “The Male Gaze”, “I Said Lesbians”, and “Which Way to the Beach?” are just a few of my favorites.

But then there’s the problem of art.

Any decent tabletop product has to have art. It’s something that people expect to get when they pay for a new game or setting book or supplement. And to be fair, a weighty tome of dry rules with no art would be a pretty unappealing product. But the problem of SexyTime Adventures that plagued me was the art. The text has been finalized for months now, but I hadn’t made any headway on finishing it because the question of how to tackle illustrations had me completely stumped. How the hell do you satirize something that is already its own satire?

My first attempt: well-meaning, but a dismal failure

Eventually I made myself a checklist of terrible things that I wanted to hit in each illustration and went to work. As it turns out, given that I actually have an education in anatomy, I wound up referring to Escher Girls as a reference in how to “correctly” break anatomy. Because honestly, getting it as wrong as some professional game illustrators get it on a consistent basis is, um, HARD. Really, really hard.

The problem was that when I looked at the finished products, they made me… uncomfortable. Despite the skull-sized anti-gravity basketball breasts, the broken spines, the stick arms, and the anatomically impossible poses – the art that I’d made still looked too… believable.

This was supposed to be satire. It failed.
These were meant to be illustrations for the Amazon and the Thief.

While I was doing the initial pencils, I was giggling to myself because it all seemed so ridiculous. Look at her waist! And the ridiculous breasts! No one could fire a bow like that! No one can possibly ever take this seriously! But the finished product wound up being completely indistinguishable from the real thing!

BIKINI. LUCHADOR. WTF.
Illustrations taken from Dragon Magazine – an official D&D publication.

And therein lies the problem. The games industry is so tragically, deeply invested in its bullshit sexism that it is practically impossible to out-ridiculous anything that has already been published. How can I possibly make art more ridiculous than a magic-sword-wielding bikini luchador? I CAN’T. I JUST CAN’T.

Because the important thing to remember about satire is this: what makes something successful satire is how it is viewed by the audience, not what the author or creator’s intentions behind the creation were. When you create art, you don’t get to tell people how they will respond to it. They bring their own feelings and experiences to the table, and the best intentions in the world won’t make offensive art any less offensive. And of course, that’s the trap that so many artists and creators fall into. YOU CAN’T GET MAD BECAUSE I DIDN’T MEAN IT THAT WAY.

INTENT. IT'S FUCKING MAGIC.
Unsure of original source, image found here (tumblr sucks at attribution, sorry)

Sorry, folks. Artistic intent just doesn’t work that way.

At the end of it, I had a set of illustrations that I’d worked rather hard on that I couldn’t use because they didn’t read as satire, which sucked because that was the point of the whole damn exercise. So I figured a second attempt was warranted.

Attempt number two: satire achieved!

When I started drawing a second set of illustrations, I recycled poses from the first set. But this time around I threw out any pretense of anatomy. These weren’t human women I was drawing, but plasticine statues, twisted nearly beyond recognition. More importantly, I also changed the style. Instead of making my style more realistic, I deliberately went as cartoon-y as possible.

So much of the worst RPG art also has some of the most nicely rendered anatomical shading out there. Because even though the vast majority of pornified game women are not even remotely anatomically possible, the illusion of “realism” is important. Because sexy.

This time around, I was much, much happier with the results:

So sexay.
New illustrations for the Thief, Amazon, and Druid.

I think the tipping point (for me anyhow) are the ridiculous expressions, especially paired with the cartoon-y style. But even then, I didn’t know that I’d feel comfortable publishing something with just these depictions of women and nothing more. I needed something that would be an equally ridiculous treatment of male stereotypes in gaming…

Such masculine. Very muscles. Wow.
Illustration for The Dude. This is my fucking magnum opus.

The key to successful satire of awful stereotypes is context. And what could provide a better satirical context than a muscle-y Conan-type hero literally festooned in beautiful women? Especially women who don’t mind Conan stabbing them in the boob, or stepping on their head?

Lesson Learned: Satire takes work, it doesn’t just happen

So many times, game creators use offensive humor in their work, and then hide behind the defense of satire, because some people think “it was just a joke” gives you an automatic pass. All too often, people think that ironic sexism (I know that you know that I know I’m being sexist, therefore it’s funny!) is automatically satire because it’s ironic. But the problem that ironic sexism (or racism, or whatever) is still sexist because it does nothing to actually challenge sexism. In the end, ironic sexism and “actual” sexism have the same result, because both only serve to perpetuate a harmful cultural narrative.

By the same token, satire is only successful when deliberate thought and effort go into deconstructing the thing you are attempting to satirize. And even with thought and effort, it’s possible to fall short if you don’t find a way to make your work obviously distinct from the thing that you’re satirizing.

And now for something humorous

Just so I don’t end on a ponderous, pontificating note (I do hate doing that), here’s the first few paragraphs of the introduction to SexyTime Adventures. Enjoy!

The land of Sexonia is a dangerous place, a land of fantasy and adventure beyond your wildest imaginings. Maybe you got into adventuring because your village was destroyed by orcs, or to prevent fire elementals from taking over your kingdom, or maybe just because it was better than staying at home and settling down with that nice boy that your parents wanted you to marry. Whatever the reason, you can’t go home now. The kingdom needs you. And more importantly, that chain mail makes you look totally hot. Are you seeing anyone right now? Could I maybe buy you an ale some time?

…ahem.

Who can say what dangers you might face? What’s important is that you pick up your sword and set out to defend what’s important to you and yours while also looking sexy, because it’s important to always put your best foot forward, am I right? And because the world is a scary place, who better to go adventuring with than some of your closest (and hottest) friends? And if maybe some night you find yourself camped on a glacier with no fire wood and you have to cuddle together in one sleeping bag with no clothes on…

…I’m sorry, where was I?

Adventure! Danger! Sexy outfits! Come, fellow adventurers. It’s sexytime.

[1] I wrote this game entirely for my own amusement, but I admit it will be nice to have something to throw in dudebros’ faces when they get all angry and tell me to MAKE UR OWN GAME THEN. Make my own game, you say? Well! I already did!

Some videos you should watch

Sorry for the crappy posting schedule, folks. Because I hate having free time, I’m doing a play and going to martial arts classes at the same time – on top of having a full-time job and having a life and marriage and stuff. I’m doing my best. So because I don’t have time to finish the post I’m working on tonight, I wanted to post some video links with a bit of commentary, just so you’re not totally empty-handed until I get a chance to finish up this other, beefier post.

(Thanks goes out to my brother, who sent me two of these three links. He always keeps an eye out for this stuff for me.)

First up: Movie Bob’s take on feminism and gaming on the Escapist

So if you have gamer friends that you’d like to be more aware of why exactly feminism is important in gaming but you’re afraid that they’ll have a knee-jerk reaction to anything involving the word “feminism” or “women’s rights” in combination with gaming, get them to watch this video. It does a pretty excellent job of summing up about half of what I’ve been writing about for the last year, which is impressive since it’s all of five minutes.

Also, it has amusing visual representations of the typical internet over-reaction:

He even did a pretty decent job of dealing with issues of costume and posing, which is pretty awesome given the limited format. The issue of body diversity is pretty much glossed over, though he acknowledged pretty clearly that he didn’t have space to deal with that and also added that that’s something that everyone should be pissed about, woman or no.

So this makes me feel a little better about the Escapist than I have been recently. Not much, since they’re still paying Jim Sterling for his lazily produced misogyny, but a little better at least.

Arkham City: Behind Harley’s Hot Moves

Another link courtesy of my brother, whose commentary was simply:

I thought I was going to rage, then I giggled.

And, yeah. That’s a pretty accurate assessment.

So the video starts off showing off the new design of Harley Quinn in the Arkham City game, which I’ve raged about previously. (I mean, seriously, folks. The old Harley was already wearing full body spandex. What about that is NOT SEXY ENOUGH?):

OH YEAH. Because there’s nothing I love more than sexualized digital women who have been so fetishized that they plunge right into the uncanny valley. SIGN ME UP RIGHT NOW. *pant pant*

Hey, look at what they did there. See, the exclamation point is right next to Harley’s ass which is showing… um… quite a lot of ass-cheek in that still. And I’m not entirely certain she’s wearing underwear. (Well, okay, she could be wearing a thong.) So, yeah. Go, IGN. Way to be tasteful.

You’ll have to watch the video for the actual twist, which happens right afterward. There is one, and it’s pretty amusing. And it’s only a 30-second clip, so it’s worth the payoff.

(That said, I’m still not going to buy the game, and I’d be disappointed in anyone who does buy it for the sake of HAWT HARLEY AND CATWOMAN ACTION. But then I tend to be pretty unforgiving of companies that murder my best childhood geek memories. The Batman cartoon was a thing of beauty and anything that defiles Harley Quinn in such a manner deserves nothing but scorn and contempt.)

Marvel vs. Capcom Cartoon

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this TOTALLY AWESOME Newgrounds animation – a fake trailer for Marvel vs. Capcom 3, as presented by Iron Man/Tony Stark. Yet again, it’s a totally awesome distillation of many things that I have ranted about at great length, distilled into about 30 seconds of awesomely funny animation. It’s pretty much a summary of everything that’s wrong with the fighting game genre.

Also? I have to love anything that takes a super-macho character like Iron Man and presents him in a stereotypically video-game-female way:

Dammit. Looks like I could have sexed Abe up a little more if I’d put my mind to it…

>Two short plays in the style of Vincent Baker

>I promise that I’ll get back to criticizing images soon! I have two posts planned out on body customization in MMOs and on terrible webcomic banners. (It’s not games, but considering how many webcomics are based on games I’m bending the rules a bit.) Also, once my article on sexism in gaming goes live with the new issue of See Page XX (some time in December, I’m hoping?) I’ll be discussing that in detail.

Anyhow, what I have for you is two “short plays” in the style of “short plays” done by Vincent Baker. I find that writing small, satirical plays is a good way to deconstruct conversations – especially conversations that happen on the internet. So with no further ado:

A THING THAT HAPPENS ON THE INTERNETS: A SHORT PLAY IN THREE ACTS

ACT 1

GROUP Y: We are a statistically significant number of people who are highly articulate and intelligent, as well as linked by a common background and experience. We all agree that Thing X happens to us because we are a part of Group Y.

SOME OTHER PEOPLE: Thing X is entirely fictitious. I discount your intelligence and experience. I also ignore that a statistically significant number of people are sharing personal experiences to support Thing X.

GROUP Y: We are upset and feel unvalued!

ACT 2

GROUP Y: Thing X exists. Let us discuss Thing X to understand the underlying causes and implications.

SOME OTHER PEOPLE: I am interested in discussing this with you. Let us talk in a civil manner.

STILL OTHER PEOPLE: Anyone who thinks Thing X exists is dumb and/or evil!

GROUP Y: We are upset!

SOME OTHER PEOPLE: We question whether your aggressiveness contributes to this discussion.

STILL OTHER PEOPLE: People over-reacting in a way they would not be were this discussion not about Thing X. Clearly, talking about Thing X makes people crazy.

GROUP Y: Being called crazy because of Thing X pushes our Internet Crazy button! Get out of our thread!

STILL OTHER PEOPLE: This only proves my point. I am vindicated!

ACT 3, SCENE 1

A PERSON: I say Thing Q about Thing X.

GROUP Y: Saying Thing Q upsets me!

A PERSON: Upon reflection, Thing Q was not called for. I apologize.

GROUP Y: Let’s move on and have a productive conversation.

ACT 3, SCENE 2

ANOTHER PERSON: I say Thing R about Thing X.

GROUP Y: Saying Thing Q upsets me!

ANOTHER PERSON: Whoa! Let me clarify. What I said was Thing R, not Thing Q.

GROUP Y: We apologize. Let’s move on and have a productive conversation.

ACT 3, SCENE 3

A THIRD PERSON: I say Thing Q about Thing X! Unapologetically!

GROUP Y: Saying Thing Q upsets me!

A THIRD PERSON: Thing Q is righteous! Your disapproval makes me a martyr!

GROUP Y: We are upset and feel unvalued!

EVERYBODY ELSE: Alas, Internet Crazy has killed the conversation. Let us talk about something else.

THE END.

I wrote this back in 2007, and sadly I don’t see it becoming obsolete any time soon. One of the biggest problems about trying to discuss anything controversial on the internet, be it racism, sexism, gender issues, or anything else that pushes people’s Crazy Buttons, people never get to have a productive conversation because it always ends in flames and people walk away. As such, important conversations about discrimination in the hobby we love never happen.

Sometimes, however, I find myself prompted to try to educate myself further about subjects that border on controversial. When this happens I will spend half an hour crafting a question that is absolutely neutral and totally controversy proof. And then this happens:

WHY I F*CKING HATE THE INTERNET: A SHORT PLAY

Me: [A Specific Question about a very specific aspect of Controversial Subject that, none the less, attempts to avoid controversy]

A Small Number of People on The Internet: [Thoughtful and informative response to Specific Question]

Many More People on The Internet: [Controversy targetted! Commence strawman arguments and offended flailing!]

Me: [An attempt to clarify the original Specific Question]

Many More People on The Internet: [Philosophic questions about the broader nature of controversial subject totally not related to the initial Specific Question]

Me: [Polite refusal to engage in philosophic discussion of Controversial Subject for therein lies the path directly to Internet Crazy]

Many More People on The Internet: [Internet Crazy!]

A Small Number of People on The Internet: [We will send you whispers supporting you, but have given this conversation up as a lost cause. Turn back! For this way lies madness!]

Many More People on The Internet: [Personal attacks FTW!]

Me: [An attempt to take the high ground by refusing to participate further]

Many More People on the Internet: [Let us continue with personal attacks and strawmen now that the Specific Question has been completely destroyed]

Me & A Small Number of People on The Internet: [Note to self: quit asking controversial questions on The Internet]

Some days I find humanity tiresome.