Rape is not edgy, creative, or original [TW][CW]

[Trigger/Content Warning for frank discussions of awful portrayals of rape]

This isn’t the post that I was going to write today.

Originally, I had been planning on writing about my experience facilitating a game (that I wrote) called Autonomy, which centers around forcing men to have an embodied experience of sexism and gender-based injustice. It was a powerful, cathartic, and borderline traumatic (in a good way!) experience that I do very much want to share.

But all of that was before a friend linked to this piece by Emma Boyle on Gadgette, in which she writes about the character Quiet in the new Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain, and the many and sundry ways that Quiet is very much not an empowered feminist-friendly character:

quiet-2-640x360-640x360

And now there are so many fucked up things about her design that I want to yell at the internet about! So very, very many fucked up things! Like:

  • Quiet is arguably the least clothed female character in the MGS series (it’s a little hard to tell in this screenshot, but those are ripped nylons that Quiet is wearing, not pants), which is – frankly – sort of impressive, given how very not clothed many female characters in the MGS series are.
  • Quiet doesn’t dress that way because she chooses to; she dresses that way because she has to. Her backstory is that she’s photosynthetic, so wearing clothes would LITERALLY SUFFOCATE HER. You know, BECAUSE SCIENCE.
  • Speaking of BECAUSE SCIENCE, there is another character in the MGS series – The End – who is also photosynthetic, who does actually get to wear clothes. You know, on account of him not being a woman. (Funny, that.)
  • Quiet also DOESN’T TALK. At all. Because really, isn’t it just so hard to objectify a woman when she goes and opens her mouth and reminds you that she’s a human being with thoughts, feelings, and an inner life of her own? Yeah. Better to have her just not talk at all.
  • And let’s not forget the shit cherry on the shit sundae: the series creator, Hideo Kojima, tried to shame people who expressed concern about the problematic design of the character by saying that once the full story was released, critics would “feel ashamed of their words and deeds”. Because it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that of course people who are expressing criticism of a fictional character who embodies many problematic tropes are the bad guys, not the guy who actually created the character in the first place.

[headdesk]

All of those things are fucked up, and any of them are things that I could easily get a full-length post out of. However, the thing that I am angriest about is the disturbingly scripted near-rape sequence that Quiet is only able to save herself from because sexualization:

At a later point in the game there’s a distressing scene where Quiet is attacked. Quiet is taken captive and dressed in prisoner clothing, which, in covering her skin, causes her to slowly suffocate. In this scene, a guard grabs Quiet by the throat and forces her head into a tank of water, holding her head under the surface until she stops resisting him. The camera zooms in on her lifeless face, holding there whilst the player can hear the sound of a zip being undone and Quiet’s clothing being removed. It’s with this removal of her clothing that Quiet’s skin is once again exposed and, able to breathe, she overpowers her attackers and escapes a grotesque rape. There’s a video, but we’re not going to link to it because it’s triggering and horrible. — Emma Boyle, Gadgette – A games company just came up with the worst excuse ever for their half-dressed female character

It’s bad enough that the BECAUSE SCIENCE that is used to justify Quiet being so undressed in the first place actually extends to the point that wearing clothes will actually kill her. Because as much as I hate choice feminism (“what I choose is automatically feminist because I identify as a feminist and I choose it”), that would still actually be better than a female character created by men whose only two choices are 1) wear revealing clothing or 2) die. But the near-rape on top of all that is, honestly, repellant. Repugnant. Horrifying.

And sadly, I’m pretty positive that Hideo Kojima thought that he was being “edgy” and “creative”. “Hey look! I set up a character who needs to expose skin to live, so that later when the villains think she is powerless and they want to victimize her they’re actually giving her what she needs to get the power to save herself! What a reversal! Hot damn, I am a genius!”

NO. NO YOU AREN’T. NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT.

And here’s why:

RAPE IS NOT EDGY

“Edgy” is the word that a lot of (male) creators like to use when they describe work that contains rape or attempted rape as a plot point. But here’s the problem with that.

Work that is legitimately edgy is either at the forefront of a trend or the start of an entirely new trend. It is experimental or avant-garde, and by fucking definition definitely not mainstream.

Now I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but rape is kind of an epidemic in our society, and it’s been that way for, I dunno, just about all of fucking human history. Still, one might be able to make a claim that art featuring rape was “edgy” if our media and culture actually recognized the horror of the prevalence of rape in our society and it was taboo to portray rape and sexual violence in art. But rape in media, especially geek media, is depressingly common.

And yet, there are all these creators, these male creators who think that using rape to make their work DARK and GRITTY somehow makes their work “edgy” – because somehow they all lose sight of the fact that GRIMDARK is the new mainstream. You see it from creators like Hideki Kamiya’s portrayal of Bayonetta as a sexually “empowered” and “liberated” woman who still suffers rape as a penalty for mechanical failure. Or George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, which is often touted as this revolutionary work of “realistic”, “edgy” “dark fantasy” – and yet everything about the books only reflects the power dynamics of patriarchy as it exists in the real world. Even Joss Whedon, whose work I am actually a fan of despite his tendency to fall into the same problematic traps regarding gender and race repeatedly, tried with Dollhouse to write a series that would be challenging and thought-provoking and wound up just being uncomfortably rapey.

In order to be truly, legitimately edgy, Phantom Pain would have to actively subvert and reverse common gender tropes and stereotypes. Instead, everything about the game, writing, and character design only serves to reinforce the status quo of patriarchy – which makes it about as far from edgy as it is possible to get.

RAPE IS NOT CREATIVE OR ORIGINAL

The reliance of geek writers on rape isn’t creative. Creativity is experimenting with new thoughts, ideas, and processes to create something original. It’s taking something familiar and using it in a way that it wasn’t intended for, or using it in a way that it’s never been used before. It’s throwing out ideas about how a problem “should” be solved and trying approaches that “shouldn’t” work just to see what happens. Creativity is not reaching for the same tool every time you have a problem that needs solving, even if that tool is not the ideal tool for the problem at hand. When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. And the problem is that for a depressingly large number of (usually but not exclusively) male writers, their go-to hammer is rape.

But when the default answer to “I need to show this person is evil, how do I do that” is “rape”, that’s not creative.

When the default answer is “I need to have this female character had to have overcome adversity in the past, what is it that she has overcome” is “rape”, that’s not creative.

When the default answer to “I need this female character to suffer a setback, what should happen to cause that setback” is “rape”, that is not creative.

I could write thousands, if not tens of thousands of words about how unbelievably fucking common rape is in geek media. But I’ve already done that, or tried to, and I was only able to just barely scratch the surface. It would be entirely possible to devote this blog to only writing about rape in gaming, and I would still never run out of material because seriously gaming is legit kind of obsessed with rape and it’s depressing.

TL;DR: JUST DON’T FUCKING WRITE ABOUT RAPE

It’s to the point where my advice to creators is now – does your idea include rape? Great. Scrap it and start over. Because I have literally never seen an instance of rape in any piece of media that I have consumed that I would say was handled well.

Every time I have seen rape in a piece of media, it has been about deprotagonizing women, either by punishing them for being strong or explaining their strength by victimizing in their backstory. It is about reducing women to plot objects that can be violated for the sake of story whenever it is convenient.

And it’s always about the reactions OF THE MEN to the rape, and never about the victim’s experience and journey. What’s important when someone (almost always a woman) is raped in a piece of fiction is how that rape gives strength of conviction and tragic purpose to the male protagonist in achieving their Plot Objective. You never get to experience stories about the experiences of the victim, of trying to navigate a system that blames and re-victimizes women for their own rapes, or of trying to balance recovery with the expectations of how “good” victims should behave – expectations which are often at odds with what will actually help in recovering.

Even when you have a character get raped and then get revenge on their rapist, that is such a simplistic, reductive take on rape that just isn’t helpful. The reality of rape is that in many cases, women have social, practical, or emotional ties to their attackers and violently attacking or killing their rapist would only be further traumatizing. That sort of story line also comes with the implication that women who don’t want to lash out violently at their attacker feel that way because they are weak. And if they were truly strong and “empowered”, they would hurt their attacker just as bad as they themselves were hurt, if not worse.

So despite the fact that I’m really not a fan of blanket “just don’t write about [x] in [y]” type rules, I’m calling it. We’re done. We all had our chance and we proved we couldn’t handle the responsibility. So from now on, JUST DON’T FUCKING WRITE ABOUT RAPE.

D&D 5E Core Books: Smurfettes and Sexy Corpses

Well folks, I lied when I said that I was going to focus exclusively on specific pieces of art in today’s post, because there is one very important meta-trend that I forgot. So, since I’ve already sunk more than 3800 words into this series already, let’s just jump straight to business.

Art Trend #3: Smurfette Syndrome

In the first post in this series, I talked about representation of women in group shots and how on the face of it the core books tended to do better  remembering to represent women in those than in the single-character shots – in which women were greatly underrepresented. However, the difference in representation between group shots and single-character illustrations is greatly exaggerated by the way that I counted, because I wasn’t actually looking at gender balance of figures within a group shot. I was just counting if a group shot contained women.

And depressingly, there were a significant number of group images that only contained ONE female character:

Bar

The first image might be a little unfair, given that there are two prominently placed female hero characters getting into a serious brawl in the foreground. However, if you take a look at the rest of the figures in the bar, ALL of the patrons shown in the background are men and the only other woman is a goddamn barmaid. The far right image, however, is more typical of what I’m talking about. On the face of it, I like the design of the female thief – she’s an interesting-looking WoC who looks like she’s a pretty capable lady. However, when you look at the image as a whole, the other characters all have discernable character traits – like “bruiser” or “mastermind”, whereas the female thief’s only discernable character trait is “woman”, which just exemplifies the problem with the Smurfette approach to group shot composition. Men can be anything you can imagine while women can be pretty.

The most ridiculous example, however, is the middle image which depicts a battlefield teeming with heroes and monsters, and only contains ONE figure that is discenably female. Because apparently it is easier to conceive of a titanic battle against ogres and skeletons and other monsters than it is to imagine a world where more than one woman might be found on a battlefield.

And it’s sad, because in some regards D&D has made great strides; when it comes to illustrations that are meant to depict a party of adventurers (ie player avatars), it’s clear that a lot of thought and care is being taken to balance gender and other factors. But that same level of care obviously isn’t being applied to the world itself, and the end result is a world creepily devoid of women. (Seriously. Where are they??)

Specific Things That Are Messed Up #1: Conditions

There are lots of specific illustrations that I could rant about, but instead I’m just going to hit the lowlights, as it were. Going from least to most fucked up, we’ll start with the illustrations done for conditions, found in the PHB:

Conditions

This is some of the worst “heroes are always men” bullshit that I have seen in a fucking long time. Sure it includes women, but take a look at what roles they occupy. You have a princess, a witch who is obviously not a PC, and a woman who is too scared of a monster to fight. Way to implicitly tell women that they can’t hack it as adventurers, WotC.

…please excuse me while I go punch the world in the face.

Specific Messed Up Thing #2: Vampire and Vampire Spawn

Perhaps my least favorite pair of illustrations in the Monster Manual are the illustrations for Vampire and Vampire Spawn respectively:

Vampire-wtf

To be honest, when I sat down to try to explain just why this made me so angry, all I could muster was the urge to furiously bang my keyboard.

Thankfully, aggressively curating my circles means that I have some wonderfully intelligent friends on G+, and they were more than happy to point out a whole host of reasons why this was pretty fucked up. (Paraphrasing their words here):

  • The man is depicted as an aspirational monster – a monster a PC might want to become, while the woman is crazy and clearly can’t be reasoned with – the sort of monster you don’t want to become
  • The man is depicted as reasoned and intelligent while the woman is shown as bestial and insane (bitches be crazy, amirite?)
  • “He’s talking to you, she’s stalking towards you. Also note the exaggerated hip/shoulder twist, is she doing a runway strut?”
  • The man is a person. The woman is not.
  • They reinforce social power dynamics; the man is a human-looking noble, the woman is a ragged, filthy-looking peasant
  • The woman is “spawn”, and is depicted as clearly inferior to the “original”
  • Given that the “spawn” is unreasoning and feral, the woman is clearly subject to the control of the master
  • Which makes it pretty fucking gross how sexualized the woman is; if she is feral and unreasoning and subject to the whims of her “master”, the degree of sexualization also implies some pretty rapey stuff about how her “master” could use her for sex
  • Especially because when you think about the process for becoming a vampire spawn in the first place, obvious rape metaphor is obvious
  • And there’s definitely a subtext that this is what happens to women who have sex, because she couldn’t resist his sexual advances and now she is damaged goods

(Many thanks to Laura Hamilton, Paul Czege, Joanna Piancastelli, Andrew Medeiros, Mikael Andersson, Arlene Medder, Sean Nittner, Brianna Sheldon, Brand Robins, Steve Dempsey, John Stavropoulos, Josh T Jordan, and Chris Chinn for helping me out on this one.)

Specific Messed Up Thing #3: Women as nurses and sexy corpses

The set of images that most raised my ire were these images from the DMG. These are the only three images in the core books that deal with the aftermath of battle from a PC perspective (there are several of a party of PCs surveying the damage after they have obviously murdilated a bunch of dudes and/or monsters):

Nurse

SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT. WHEN WOMEN GET WOUNDED, THEY DIE, BUT WHEN MEN GET WOUNDED THEY GET TO BE TENDED TO BY SEXY ASIAN-ELF NURSES? WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.

[ahem]

Looking at the image on the far left, you have a woman being cradled in the arms of a man. She’s suffered a gut wound, and there don’t seem to be any clerics or other sources of divine healing nearby, which reads to me as though she’s dying. I’ll admit that I do appreciate the way that he’s comforting her – there’s some real tenderness there which isn’t something that you often see in fantasy artwork of this nature. But given how the woman’s arms are raised and she’s clearly about to deliver some Touching Last Words That Will Imbue The Hero With Tragic Purpose To Achieve The Plot Point And Avenge The Woman He Couldn’t Save, it still leaves a bad fucking taste in my mouth.

But AT LEAST as awful as the subtext in the first image is, the woman isn’t being depicted as a SEXY CORPSE, like in the middle illustration. Yes she’s about to have (presumably) a scroll of resurrection recited over her, so she’ll get to not be dead, but look at how she’s twisted around to emphasize the sexy bits, especially that ridiculous fucking boobplate. (Which isn’t as bad as the boobplate in my previous post, but is still pretty fucking bad.) And of course, the cherry on the shit sundae is how she died by getting STABBED IN THE BOOBS.

Which. Seriously. What? NO.

First, the wound depicted would require her to have been stabbed through the sternum, which is one of the hardest points to penetrate on the human body – and with good reason. Your sternum protects some pretty important shit. Second, in order to penetrate BOTH her armor AND sternum with sufficient force to cause lethal damage, there would have to be a much bigger hole in her armor than that tiny-ass hole. I understand wanting to depict sanitized violence, but come on. It’s obvious that the artist just wanted to draw a dead lady who was dead from getting stabbed in the tits because tits.

So it isn’t so much the last image that I am angry about as the contrast between the last image and the first two. Those are some pretty fucking serious wounds that our male warrior friend is getting seen to; the chest wound especially could have been potentially very serious depending on the amount of blood lost. But don’t worry, ladies! He’ll live to fight another day. That is, after he grits his teeth and gets to be all stoic and stuff, and maybe talk a little about how being a hero is a hard job and somebody has to do it and he’d rather it be him than some kid who’s totally unprepared. And then maybe he’ll stare broodingly into the middle distance for a long while before banging that hot elf nurse chick.

I wanted this to be better

The depressing thing about writing this series of posts is that I wound up having so much material to work with. Hell, I have things in my notes that I may come back to and write about later, because it turns out there’s a surprising amount of messed up material enshrined in Forgotten Realms canon that doesn’t come across from just flipping through the books and looking at pictures. But I’d rather not beat a dead horse, so if it’s something I write about I will have to come back to it later.

And that’s not a great feeling, because frankly D&D 5E is still so much better than an awful lot of games out there! Because for all that I can point at specific pieces of art and rant about why they are messed up, at least doing better at depicting women is a priority for the D&D team and they are working on getting better at it. Which is, sadly, more than can be said for a pretty fucking huge portion of the industry.

So as much as I’ve gone on at length about things that D&D has gotten wrong, I feel it’s important to close by noting that they are moving things in the right direction and I hope that they continue to do so.

WTF, WotC? Your art direction is confusing.

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:

STARTUP ILLOS

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:

liliana-origins

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.

Sadly, it’s not unique to Liliana – whose color is black, which has always been the color of “evil”. Nissa Revane doesn’t fare any better, and she is plain old green. Just like Liliana, she gets to wear clothes when she’s not a planeswalker, but then as soon as she’s a planeswalker? BOOM. CLEAVAGE WINDOW.

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:

MODERN MASTERS

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:

AKROMA-NEW

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:

AKROMA-OLD
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.)

Smite: sexist, racist, and culturally appropriating [LONG]

[ETA: I’ve revised my comments with regards to the Greek deities and whiteness, which weren’t clear enough, but you should also read the comments.]

I try not to pay attention to MMOs anymore, because the vast majority of them are steaming dung piles of bullshit sexism. However, Smite is a game that kept coming up on my radar for various reasons. When it first came out, my brother emailed me a few pieces of promo art of the female characters. More recently, a few friends over on G+ that have been talking about playing Smite. So when Smite made a few headlines last week for its decision to include Hindu gods as playable characters, I figured that it would be worth taking a closer look since that was the third time in a relatively short period of time that it caught my attention.

As it turns out, I wound up having a lot of stuff to say. So let’s just jump right on in!

Getting ready to rumble

What exactly is Smite? Smite is a MOBA – a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, a genre made popular by games like Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA2) and League of Legends. Smite, like other MOBAs, has a pre-set roster of characters that you can choose to play as that have set abilities. If you wish, you can pay extra to unlock special characters or alternate skins. And Smite has a lot of playable characters – sixty-six in total.

Those of you who have been reading my blog long enough to be familiar with my numbers posts will know that I generally tend to stick to the same set of criteria when evaluating character designs in video games; typically I will compare the numbers of figures that are shown with: 1) active poses versus neutral poses and 2) fully clothed versus suggestively attired by gender in order to demonstrate the consistent under-representation, objectification, and sexualization of female characters.

However, this time around going to all that effort really felt like a tremendous waste of time. Such an approach might be worthwhile when I’m writing about Magic and how, despite recent improvements in art direction, their art is still very sexist. But when I’m looking at a game like Smite, which is just as blatant in it’s bullshit sexism as League of Legends, it just feels like a giant fucking waste of time.

I mean, look. This is Aphrodite:

aphrodite

Ridiculous, right? Even more so when you consider that she’s not even the least clothed Smite character. So let’s just take it as a given that the female character designs are definitely objectifying and sexist and not waste time beating a dead horse[1]. Especially as there were a lot of characters to look at and other issues of representation that I wanted write about regarding problematic racist tropes.

Criteria examined and overall summary

[Note: When looking at characters, I looked at the default designs and descriptions as shown on Gamepedia’s Smite Wiki. If I get anything wrong here, I blame Gamepedia.]

In the end, the criteria I decided to examine were:

Number of figures by gender: simply the number of female figures and the number of male figures

Whether a character was whitewashed: I considered a character to be whitewashed if they came from a nonwhite culture but were explicitly depicted as white. I did not count a character as whitewashed if they were an animal or other nonhuman, had animal features, or had nonhuman skin tones (there are several characters that are either blue or purple). While some of them seemed like edge cases that could count as whitewashing, for the most part it seemed too ambiguous to make a definite argument one way or another.

Deity alignment: This was taken from the character descriptions on the wiki rather than the artwork; each character had a blurb a few paragraphs long about their backstory. I read each and assigned each deity as either Good, Neutral, or Evil. (A lot of the Greek gods wound up as Neutral, just because they capricious assholes even if they are gods of nominally good things.)

Character Damage Type: Again, as defined on the Smite wiki, I was curious to see if there would be an imbalance of Ranged characters versus Melee characters, since that’s a pretty common area of imbalance in many other video games.

After going through all 66 characters and taking tally, here’s what I came up with:

overall

In some ways, the numbers were a bit surprising even while they were also completely predictable. Female characters account for 30% of all playable characters. However, while they were clearly more sexualized and objectified, they weren’t any more likely to be whitewashed or to be pigeon-holed as a ranged character. There is an interesting difference when it comes to alignment, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Bullshit sexism

As previously stated, I don’t intend to waste words proving that Smite’s character designs are sexist and bullshit, because they just are. Many of the female promo art pieces feature broken spines, anti-gravity sphere boobs, and painted on clothing. Almost none of the female characters have clothes that would actually function to preserve modesty in any meaningful way in the real world. So regarding the female character design, I’m just going to issue a blanket: THEY’RE BULLSHIT and move on with my life.

Instead, let’s talk about how Smite is another perfect example of the interesting/pretty binary, which I’ve talked about before:

Notice how the male human gets to have actual facial expressions that convey emotions? While the female character renders all have the same vapid expression but with different hairstyles. Because men get to DO THINGS and EXPRESS THEMSELVES but women get to BE PRETTY.

When looking at the different character types, there is such a huge variety when it comes to male characters! Male deities can be humans, humanoids, demi-humans, robots, giant flying serpents, or even giant-ass rock-creatures. Whereas the female deities? Well they get boobs. And sometimes funny hats.

Case in point, look at what happens when you compare male animal and demi-human deities with female animal and demi-human deities:

animal dudes Animal ladies

(TOP LEFT: Anhur, TOP MIDDLE: Anubis, TOP RIGHT: Fenrir, BOTTOM LEFT: Arachne, BOTTOM MIDDLE: Medusa, BOTTOM RIGHT: Bastet)

The male deities are all very appealing avatar images. They give a strong sense of the culture that they come from, while also appearing strong and heroic. Whereas the female deities? The most important part of their designs are their tits, and making sure that they are clearly visible to the viewer. Giant spider thing? TITS. Man-eating snake thing? ‘DEM BOOBS THO. It really goes a long way toward illustrating[2] the priorities of the design team.

Now the interesting thing about Smite is that is that it also manages to throw in some “benevolent” sexism along with all of the bullshit objectification. Remember how I said there was a weird gender imbalance when it came to deity alignment? Well it turns out that out of 19 evil deities, only one is female:

female alignment

male alignment

Now, you may be saying to yourself – but wundergeek, I don’t get it. What’s the problem? The problem is that the stereotype of women are more wholesome and more nurturing is benevolent sexism, which is still sexism. It’s like the boss I had once who told me he only hired women to work in the office because we were more nurturing and community-minded. I found his comment terribly offensive, but didn’t say anything because I happened to desperately need the job at the time.

However, even if it is a stereotype I will admit that this actually ran counter to what I expected. Given that the female characters in Smite were so grossly oversexualized, I had expected the evil deities to skew female – you know, because sexy women are always evil. Since, you know, [mumblemumble]femme fatale[mumblereasons].

So at least if the female characters are horribly stereotyped, at least we have a mix of regressive stereotypes. Yay diversity!

Racist whitewashing

Something that’s honestly more important than the frankly not-all-that-exceptional-for-video-games level of sexism in Smite is the fact that there is an UNBELIEVABLE LEVEL OF WHITEWASHING. Literally EVERY PANTHEON except the Norse deities is whitewashed, with the worst example being the Greek pantheon – who are shown almost universally as blondes or gingers:

greek-whitewashed
(LEFT: Aphrodite, MIDDLE LEFT: Scylla, MIDDLE RIGHT: Apollo, RIGHT: Athena)

[sigh] Uh, video game industry dudes? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Greeks are NOT ACTUALLY WHITE ACTUALLY PRETTY BROWN. Take for example, Tonia Sotiropoulou – who played the Bond Girl[3] in Skyfall. I realize this is an embarrassingly common trope in video games (I’m looking at you Soul Calibur!) but this is pretty fucking awful.

However, EVEN WORSE than the Greek deities are the Chinese deities:

Chinese whitewashed
LEFT: Chang’e, MIDDLE LEFT: He Bo, MIDDLE RIGHT: Hou Yi, RIGHT: Ne Zha

WHY DO NONE OF THEM LOOK ASIAN? Seriously, the only one who maybe looks even sorta-kinda Asian is Chang’e, and even then she still looks Katy Perry doing her best Asian drag. All of them have round eyes and decidedly European features.

And I already know what some people might be saying; OMG it’s just the style, the art is anime-influenced, the art is heavily stylized, blah blah blah. So let’s take a second and zoom in on two of the character portraits for these supposedly Chinese deities, shall we?

HouYi-NeZha
LEFT: Hou Yi, RIGHT: Ne Zha

Looking closely at the faces, you can see that it’s not just the eyes – although those are a big part of why they look decidedly un-Chinese. Their eyes are round, with visible lids, and are un-slanted. But more than that, the features and facial structure overall conveys the impression of whiteness. And given that I see this mistake repeated again and again across all of the character designs, I have to think that this mistake is more than just accidental.

The Chinese deities do not look Chinese. The Greek deities do not look Greek. The Hindu deities do not look South Asian. It’s obvious that effort was put into ensuring that the costume design would be recognizably adherent to the culture that was being referenced, but when it came to the actual faces of the gods being portrayed? The artist doing the designs obviously didn’t bother looking up references for non-white faces, because EVERY. SINGLE. DEITY. has white features. ALL of the deities that are even slightly human have indisputably white features, which is frankly, inexcusable.

About the only positive thing that can be said with regard to Smite’s frankly terribly racist character designs is that, contrary to my first impression, heroic gods weren’t more likely to be whitewashed than evil ones. So. yay? At least we’re engaging in equal opportunity racism and whitewashing here.

Culturally Appropriating

And here we come to the bit that inspired me to write about Smite in the first place. Apparently the publishers of Smite have decided to add Hindu deities as a faction – a decision which breaks with their use of only dead religions for all of their other factions. (ETA: It’s been pointed out to me that Norse paganism is not actually a dead religion, even if it is widely perceived to be. I apologize.) Unsurprisingly, given that Hinduism is a religion that is alive and well in the world today, there was pushback against this decision, arguing that if Hinduism was fair game that figures from other modern religion – like Jesus or Moses should be permissible.

However, Smite’s publishers would like us all to know that they are definitely not going to use Christian, Jewish, or Islamic figures in their game. But don’t worry – Hindu deities are still a-okay!

250px-T_Ram_Default_Card
Rama – one of the chief avatars of Vishnu

…which is, frankly, pretty bullshit. Especially when you look at the list of Hindu deities that are included, like Rama – one of the chief avatars of Vishnu and one of the most widely venerated figures in Hinduism today. And Hinduism is not a small religion! With approximately 1 billion adherents, Hindus account for approximately 1 in 7 humans on the planet – which makes the decision of Smite developers to use religious figures of central importance to a large and vibrant modern religion all the more shocking.

Because it’s obvious that when faced with the question of “where to draw the line” that the developers of Smite were clear on the fact that they weren’t willing to do anything that might offend any adherents of the Abrahamic traditions, many of whom are white or can pass for white[4]. But Hinduism? Well Hinduism is for INDIANS who are just so, you know, EXOTIC.

…which is just more creepy, culturally appropriating bullshit.

But really, given how generally awful Smite is, I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising.

[1] Fair warning. Any comments attempting to argue that Smite’s character designs aren’t sexist are going to be straight-up trashed. I don’t have time for bullshit of that magnitude.

[2] See what I did there?

[3] I have a whole ‘nother rant about Bond Girls and how fucking sexist they are, and how it’s particularly awful that in Skyfall the Bond Girl literally has sex with Bond and then has maybe 3 or 4 more lines of dialogue before dying.

[4] I realize that I am arguing something problematic here. There is a perception that Christianity is equated with whiteness, despite the fact that there are large and vibrant faith communities in South America and Africa and other areas of the world that are decidedly nonwhite. And given the overlap of traditions between the Abrahamic faiths, there tends to be a certain level of automatic goodwill extended to Judaism and Islam. However, I recognize the racial diversity of the communities that practice these faiths and certainly am not arguing that they are worth protecting because of their whiteness or proximity to whiteness.

 

Photos from GenCon: Part 2 of 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on.

God dammit, Wayne Reynolds.

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

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

/rant

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

I really wish I understood the appeal of corpse boobs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think you get the idea.

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

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

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

SO. MUCH. HATRED.

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

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

And that’s all I have to say about that

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

Photos from GenCon 2011: Part 1 of 2

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

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

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

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

The photos!

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

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

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

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

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

Because nothing says Lovecraftian mecha horror like… boobular women?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blech.

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

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

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

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

Fuck you, Lego. Fuck you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the mailbag: Heartbreak & Heroines win, M:TG wtf

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.

What is the concept? Well here are some key paragraphs from the Heartbreak & Heroines Kickstarter:

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.

…ahem. [/sarcasm]

Anyhow, I could write more about why inclusiveness in RPGs is important, and why RPGnet is (as usual) a wretched hive of scum and privilege, but the fine folks over on The Designer Monologues already beat me to it with a very well reasoned and well articulated post which I hope you’ll go read.

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.)

Fail: some M:TG wtf

A reader sent me a link to this blog post about Azure Mage over on the official Wizards site. As you might have guessed, the post features prominently the Azure Mage, from the Magic 2012 card gallery:

What the… but… she isn’t… those don’t… ARG!

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.

Dragon Magazine in 2010: Pictures

Yesterday I got the boring numbers bit out of the way. I won’t spend much time discussing the numbers, since there isn’t anything new or terribly surprising about them. Today I thought I’d go through the art and pick out some interesting points. (As always, none of this art is mine, I own nothing.)

Now I will briefly mention that with regards to numbers, the number of male figures counted as suggestive is probably higher than it should be. Because I was consistent in applying my standards of what constitutes suggestive attire, it led to the classification of figures that are clearly not meant to be sexualized. I realize we’ve had the debate here over whether monstrous races like minotaurs can still be considered sexy, and I won’t rehash that debate again. However, I feel pretty safe in declaring that none of the “suggestively attired” males in these images are sexy:

As none of the goblins are wearing pants, they’re automatically counted as suggestively attired. Am I supposed to think that they’re sexy? No, I don’t think so. The giant also seems pretty clear cut. He isn’t wearing pants, but the artist has definitely taken pains not to make him an appealing figure. It might be a little less safe to say this, but I still feel reasonably confident in declaring that rocks are not sexy, even when they are ambulatory and intelligent. And then there is the dwarf. I recognize that some dwarves can be sexy, but I’m pretty sure that this guy isn’t supposed to be.

So, as with any of my posts of this sort, take the numbers with a grain of salt.

The uneven

One of the most irksome trends I noticed when going through the art was the inequality in class depictions between men and women. All too often female characters were blatantly sexualized while male characters of the same archetype/class were not. For instance, look at these two clerics:

That chainmail practically requires an exotic armor proficiency.

The male cleric is presented as a capable adventurer, seen with the weapons, tools, and implements of his trade. The female cleric is presented as a sex object, posed and costumed for the presumed male viewer. The illustration is especially ridiculous in light of the caption. Twice the training, determination, and grit? Does that outfit and that pose say “grit” to you? Really? I’m having cognitive dissonance here.

One of these cows is not like the other…

The minotaur on the left is, for some reason, wearing only leather armor that leaves her midriff exposed and is about as slender as an athletic human. Why the lack of armor? You can argue that human women might not have the strength to fight in full plate mail, but minotaurs are supposed to be giant, super-strong cow people. With the shield and axe, she’s clearly a melee fighter; with a minotaur’s strength there’s no reason she shouldn’t be able to properly armor herself. Furthermore, the cow head on a waifish human body is just ridiculous – with that slender build she wouldn’t be capable of standing that straight, not with that giant head and neck to support. There’s a reason minotaurs are supposed to be heavily muscled. Cow heads are proportionately large and very heavy – you need a muscular frame to support that kind of a head on a biped.

Anyhow.

As with WoW, the biggest inequalities were mostly with depictions of mages. Male mages are almost universally depicted as wearing robes that completely cover them:

While female mages… not so much:

Cleavage – apparently an important somatic component for female spell-casters.

The only one of these that I would say approaches the amount of coverage of the male mages is the mage on the top right, even if she is wearing some sort of bizarre corset-robe that just barely comes up past her nipples. The amount of coverage that the mage in the lower left is ridiculous when you look at what’s not covered – the boob window exposes her cleavage and the undersides of her breasts, and that weirdo halter top shows her side, including a generous portion of sideboob. What makes that particular illustration even more ridiculous is that she’s an astral deva – a super-powerful angelic being from a higher plane of existence. Apparently cleavage as a somatic component is a law of physics that transcends all planes.

My favorite example of mage inequality, however, was this:

Illustrations within three pages of one another and by the same artist. It really doesn’t get any more blatant than that.

Except wait, it does:

So… tigers are badass animal companions when paired with male adventurers, and some kind of bizarre bedroom accessory when paired with females? This is just plain weird. And sure, some of you might be saying – dark skin, white hair, she’s a drow! Drow are supposed to be sexay! It’s, like, part of their culture and stuff. Or something. But what I don’t understand is if drow women are in charge, why don’t they make the men dress sexy too?

There’s clearly a double-standard going on here. If I was part of a matriarchal society in which being sexy was an important part of my culture, you can be damn sure that I would make the men in my life show just as much skin.

But wait, it gets even worse!

Worse that mages in club outfits? Worse than clerics in chain mail swimsuits with a slit down to their belly button? Worse than almost-naked sexy women with tigers? How can it be?

Every time I think I’ve found the basement, there’s always another level.

The one in the middle is bad. That’s a pretty big mace – clearly she’s going to smack something with it. While wearing armored panties, armored stripper sandals, one armored guantlet (because two just wouldn’t be fashion-forward) and a bustier. As ridiculous as the swimsuit cleric is, she’s wearing about twice the clothing than mace-wielding bikini warrior.

The one on the right is worse. She’s got to be doing several hundred crunches a day, because female abs are rarely that well defined. I’m also impressed that she’s managing to aim a shot while simultaneously thrusting out her tits and her ass. Seriously, with her spine arched like that, she isn’t drawing from a position of strength, so she must be doing lots of lifting to be able to draw that bow. Also, she’s not wearing pants. In the middle of a forest. I hope for her sake she doesn’t have the misfortune to fall into poison ivy – I doubt that there’s anti-histamine creams in the D&D universe.

The worst, however, is the one on the left. What the fuck is she supposed to be? Some kind of magic-sword-wielding bikini luchador? An S&M fantasy superhero? I don’t even know how to mock this, it’s just so bad. Talk about a good artist abusing their powers for evil…

This is not quite so bad as Bikini Luchador

Interestingly, there were some illustrations that were still revealing, but seemed to me to be trying to also present the women as having a real sense of agency or character:

The one on the left is the weakest to me, mostly because of the snow. I now live in Canada, and am going through what feels like the longest winter of my fucking life. When I see anyone in snow, I want to see them wearing clothes. Lots of clothes. Snow is evil and can only be defeated with clothes. The second one is another pet peeve of mine, the pantless warrior. But I do like the strength of her expression and the size of her hammer. (And that she’s holding it correctly and looks like she’s about to use it.)

The two on the right are the best – both of them convey such a strong sense of character. I love the cocky smirk on the rogue’s face, and I love how the dwarf is being shown as a strong defender. Both of them are such great characters and would make excellent avatars. I just wish the artist hadn’t felt the need to put a cleavage window in the dwarf’s armor, or that the rogue had something that covered her to the waist. Why can’t they be allowed to be awesome on their own terms without having to show some skin?

This is what I want. More of this. A lot more.

The assassin? Fucking epic. The bard? So awesome. The ranger is so fierce. And the fighter on the bottom right is exactly the sort of medium armor fighter I’m talking about. I just wish that women like this weren’t so rare. I’d take any of these women over a ridiculous bikini luchador anyday.

Some gaming news WTF: Eternal Light trailer; Duke Nukem Forever not sexist?

Hi, folks. I’m working on a series of posts about Magic that is proving to be more time consuming than I thought. So I thought I’d post a bit of WTF that I stumbled across on various gaming news sites just to tide you folks over while I continue to pull together research for the posts about Magic. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the first Magic post up tomorrow.

WTF the first: Duke Nukem Forever

Okay. I’ll admit that I’ve avoided dealing with Duke Nukem Forever, mostly because it just seemed too easy. I mean, pointing out how DNF is sexist is pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel. I mean, first we have the cover:

Now I have to admit that I do love that we get an angle of Duke that is almost exclusively used with female characters (I tend to think of it as “boob perspective”) – it’s a nice example of sexualization that male characters don’t usually get, even if Duke is pretty covered. But check out the manicured female hand. They are LITERALLY using a female body part to imply sexual gratification. It’s like they thought, well why bother showing the whole woman when all you really need is the hand? Ugh. And then you have the fact that half of the preview screens that are being released are of strippers, or lesbians, or lesbian strippers, or strippers with dildos…

… you get the picture.

Add to all of this the recent kerfuffle about the “Capture the Babe” mode and it seems mind-boggling that anyone could possibly argue against Duke Nukem being blatantly and horrifically sexist. I mean, Christ. In “Capture the Babe”, women are LITERALLY objects to be fought over. They are things, not people. It doesn’t get more clear cut than that.

So it should come as no surprise that Jim Sterling, that bastion of feminist advocacy, is arguing that we shouldn’t care if Duke Nukem Forever is sexist. Because, after all:

Does it really f*cking matter? When it comes to fictional people doing fictional things to each other in a fictional world, does it really affect you? No, it doesn’t, no matter how much you pretend a game like DNF could influence society with the “messages” you’ve projected onto it.

Seriously, how does it send the message that violence against women is normal? What’s normal about spanking women while people shoot at you with a shrink ray?

Oh, Jim Sterling. Thank you for helping me to keep sight of the big picture. Silly me! Why should I care about how women are portrayed in video games? After all, we all know that real people are never influenced by the media they consume. At all. Full stop.

Jim also did another post lampooning an article about DNF on the Fox News website about DNF’s sexism and harmful portrayals of women. And here’s the thing – I loathe Fox with every fiber of my being, but I think it was a pretty good article. I was pretty surprised, especially after the “video games cause rape” story that came out of Fox, that they were capable of producing a piece that limited itself to attacking DNF and not gaming in general. Certainly it was better than Jim’s, who couldn’t resist ending his feature on the Fox article with yet another rape joke. (Because we know how much Jim loves to joke about rape…)

Of course, Jim doesn’t get credit for the ONLY game news fail regarding DNF. I also found this feature on IGN making similar claims that Duke Nukem Forever is not sexist. In the feature, Editor Tristan Ogilvie writes about his experience as being the only gamer on a recent panel about gaming. Naturally the subject of DNF came up as a point against gaming. And here’s the thing, I think Tristan would have made a much better defense of gaming as not being a deviant hobby by coming and saying “sure, Duke Nukem Forever is sexist – but don’t judge all of gaming by one title” than by using weak-sauce arguments like:

…Similarly, if I play Duke Nukem Forever’s ‘Capture the Babe’ mode in all its bottom-slapping glory, I’m not suddenly going to start smacking women on the backside and calling them “sugartits” as though I’ve been thawed out from a state of suspended animation since the 1960s like Austin Powers (or nearing the end of a 12-hour bender like modern day Mel Gibson), because I’m well aware that to commit such acts wouldn’t be acceptable social behaviour by society’s standards…

Not very convincing, Tristan. Not very convincing at all.

Eternal Light Trailer

While browsing through the headlines on the IGN website, I stumbled across this trailer for the upcoming game Eternal Light (a game I’d previously never heard of). What caught my eye was the subtitle: “These monster-slaying, near-naked battle witches enjoy killing dragons. And breathing heavily.”

Curious, I fired up the trailer and discovered they weren’t kidding. Check out these screens:

The first thirty seconds features a slow camera pan around a mostly naked woman wearing a chainmail bikini… while she breathes heavily. Like, having sex heavily. Real subtle, guys. The rest of the trailer features in game combat shots that feature a lot of ridiculous camera angles where you can aaaaaalmost see ladybits but not quite. Frankly, it looks like a fanservice engine to me.

And of course the comments are pretty predictable:

I’m about as shallow as can be. I see boobs and I’m in. Don’t judge me.

i want to agree with all the haters but, boobs, 6 boobs goddamn
Like RedXIII i see 6 good arguments to buy this game, count me in!
Did someone say something about there being a dragon in this video…? All I saw was boobs.
…they go downhill from there. And people wonder why the stereotype of gamers is mouth-breathing male nerds living in their mom’s basement. Real classy, guys.

>Apologetic linkspam: Have some WTF, and also some win

>

Okay, folks. As promised, here’s a bit of extra WTF to carry you through the weekend. I resolve to fail less starting next week, but as I’ve discovered I need my weekends. Those two days to detox from all the icky shit I look at during the week in the name of research for this blog are important. Srsly. You don’t even want to know some of the shit I stumbled across by accident while researching “clothing damage”. Brr.

Anyway. Here’s some WTF to console yourself with.

WTF the first: yet more creepy shit from Japan

So. There’s this thing in Japan called a hostess club, where lonely young men go to spend time with women who are employed by the club, and by spend time I mean just that. Some of them will have board games, others will just have coffee… whatever. Anyhow, I stumbled across this article about a Japanese romance game centering around young women who work at a particular hostess club.

…yeah. Because stalking women home from work is totally romantic.

Anyway. No idea on if it’s being translated – these screens are all in Japanese. But here’s a taste:

If you want to see more, you can see the full article with lots, and lots, and LOTS of creeptastic screens here. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. (And don’t get caught reading it at work.)

WTF the second: dear Nukezilla, I heart you

Okay, this isn’t so much WTF as an awesome repudiation of WTF. So remember the fail-tastic IGN Gamer Girl Christmas Gift Guide? If you haven’t seen it, please do go glance through it. Don’t bother reading the text if you’re in a hurry – just check out the photos. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

… yuck, right? I mean, I’m pretty sure anyone who would attach a photo like this to an article supposedly about gifts for “girl gamers”…


Okay, why is she making Seductive Face at SACKBOY? That’s just creeping me out.
…has never really talked to a woman that games. (And yelling ‘tits or GTFO’ over XBox Live doesn’t count, fellas. Neither does sending ASCII penises in chat.)Anyway. John Kershaw over at NukeZilla wrote this amazing rant about how horrific that feature was. It starts off with “girls, meat, what’s the difference?” and gets better from there.

John Kershaw, I don’t know you, but you are my new hero.

WTF the third: The Bayonetta creator said something misogynist? NO! SAY IT ISN’T SO!

So everyone is familiar with Bayonetta, right? I have to say that she’s hands down one of the best female characters to come out of the gaming industry in the last few years. She’s strong, well rounded, not sexualized and… okay even I can’t maintain the sarcasm.

Anyway. She’s inspired a fair amount of controversy, which isn’t too surprising since one of her main attacks involves spreading her impossibly long legs to kill things with her ladybits sword.


Bayonetta. Feminist icon and role model.
Anyway, Hideki Kamiya – the creator of Bayonetta – apparently thinks that all women view each other as enemies. Which begs the question… He designed a title with a female lead… why?Oh right! The tits. I mean, sorry – the ass. Almost forgot. Kamiya is clearly an ass man.

…okay, that’s enough fail. So here, have some win:

Troll data analysis

Blogger Kirbybits got involved in that whole Penny Arcade internets fiasco and got a lot of internet traffic to her blog. Interestingly, she decided to analyze comments to see what sort of trends troll comments display. The results are super-interesting! You can read the post here, but be warned there’s lots of super-graphic language involving threats of rape.

And that’s all I have time for today. I’ll check in a few times this weekend just to make sure people aren’t setting themselves (or each other) on fire in the comment threads, but otherwise I’ll see you Monday!