My Thoughts on Art in Paper Role Playing Games
Katie (sort of) tagged me for a meme about what art in paper rpg's attracts women to games. The post that inspired the meme is here and the rules for the meme are here. That said, I'm not deeply interested in following the rules to the letter. Instead I thought I'd just talk about the topic, since I'm in what I think is a relatively unique situation for this.
I was exposed to a lot of gaming art in my childhood. Both of my parents are gamers and I spent 4 days every year at GenCon, surrounded by piles of what I believe people call cheesecake nowadays. Pictures of barbarian women in chain-mail bikinis do nothing for me personally, but I don't feel inherently offended by them. To some degree I think I've developed a tolerance for skin in gaming art. I also feel the need to point out that things are not as bad as they used to be.
When I was a kid, the gaming industry was far more male than it is now. I have amusing memories of early RPG covers, some of which my parents own, with far more offensive and skin heavy pictures than what you'll find today. To some degree I think a prone woman being menaced by a large alien while showing a lot of nipple was just what people expected to be on the cover of a sci-fi rpg back then. Also there were far fewer women to complain. The fact that sex sells hasn't changed, just the tolerances of society and the make up of the gamer demographic.
I'm not saying that I like "the less armor women wear the more protection they get" theory of character design, but even having mild feminist leanings, this stuff just doesn't upset me much. I try to be on the look out for more realistic and flattering art at conventions and I go out of my way to buy from and complement artists who provide it, but I also recognize that most of the artists are just trying to make a living. Sexy women sell, to both women and men, and I can't begrudge artists wanting to eat.
More in the spirit of the meme, I spent a little time thinking about what art actually does attract me to games. The answer is, not much of it. I tend to like cover art that is less people and more stylized or representational of the game or setting. For example, I really like the covers of Garden Station 4 and Snow White. I think the folks at Shifting Forest did a good job of picking art that evokes the dark/gritty feel of the LARPs (especially Snow White) while still maintaining good overall composition and balance.
Other games in my collection whose cover art I actively admire include:
Cat: A Little Game About Little Heroes
I like this cover for the fact that it is simple, has nice colors, and the title is very easy to read.
Cold Hands Dark Hearts
This is one of the few covers with people on it that I like. The image is a nice dim color set while still having some bright splashes to attract attention to the girl and the title.
The modern run of D&D core books
I really like the worked metal and jewel encrusted style of the current D&D core books. Most of them seem vaguely art nuevo (which I like) and they just generally have good composition while having a lot going on. Sometimes the guys who made most of the covers come to GenCon. If you get a chance to see their work in person I would highly recommend it, since it's even more stunning as sculpture rather than flat art. Here's a link to the 3.5 players handbook if you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm also a fan of the internal sketches in this series of books, many of which hearken back to the style of Victorian naturalist field journals.
The current lines of d20 Modern and Future
Both of these lines use a semi realistic drawn style for their character illustrations that appeals to me. The characters are generally portrayed as, well, people rather than icons or stereotypes. I think it was the right decision since they are putting out a game that is meant to be fundamentally "modern realistic" (well until you start adding magic and elves and such back in...). Here are the core d20 Modern and the core d20 Future books as examples. I'm not saying there is no skin showing in these pictures, but if you walk around a mall in the summer time I don't think you could say there is no skin showing in modern society either...
The previous incarnation of White Wolf's World of Darkness
Many of the core books were given strong color sets and more stylistic images that easily identified the lines they were in. My special favorites were the use of the lovely stained glass motif in the Changeling line (example) and the series of portraits they used for the Kithbooks (example). The stained glass, well I just think it's beautiful. The portraits appeal to me because they are both caricatures and understated pretty pieces in harmonious (mostly warm) color sets.
Bunnies & Burrows : The Fantasy World of Intelligent Rabbits
And I don't mean the GURPs edition. I have a very early edition of this book that was pinched from my parents. The cover is a blue on blue line drawing of two armies of rabbits waging a medieval style war (complete with shield wall and battlefield banners). I like this cover because it speaks to me about the realism that I should expect in the style of this game. To me it says, this is not a game about playing the Easter bunny or a happy fluffy cartoon; this is a game about playing a rabbit in a gritty fantasy world. You might very well die. (I also like the sketches inside this book, for much the same reason.)
Now after saying all that, I want to mention: I don't buy games based on their covers. I don't think I have ever bought a game based on just its cover (or any one piece of art in it). I am occasionally encouraged to buy games based on lush internal illustration and good composition/layout, but even then I generally want to know more about what the game is like before I sink money into it. Some times I will even buy books were I do not like the cover or internal art, if I've had a particularly good play-test session or a recommendation from someone I trust.
I also learned a long time ago, that you don't chose gamer friends or a gamer group based on a system you want to play. A good GM can make anything good, and similarly, a bad gm can make the best designed game seem like a horrifying eternity of boredom (I won't even go into the stuff worse than boredom).
Addressing the other question that was mentioned in the Yudhishthira's Dice post, I have never seen a picture of a woman and said "I want to play her." I generally create a rough personality and back story for a character before I think much about her image. I just don't particularly feel a draw towards being an image that someone else has already dreamed up. That said, I wanted to point folks towards the art of Katherine N. Garlick as my amateur favorite for female characters. I particularly like her work titled Dragon's Ire. Awesome armor and super color sense. My pick for a professional artist to match would probably be Stephanie Pui-Mun Law (although she was an amateur back when I first discovered her). Her style involves a lot of movement and outlining in a semi-art neuvo style. It's all lovely.
Now I'd like to take a minute to discuss the unspoken question of the art that does turn me away from games. There is some and generally it has to do with more than just raw display of skin. I rarely see drawn art that bothers me enough that I couldn't ignore it. What I have seen is a whole lot of really crappy photo art (some manipulated and some not). The best-worst example of this that I can think of is the Book of Erotic Fantasy although I've seen similar things show up in some LARPing books.
I actually have no major issues with the cover of the book. I don't think it's stunning, but I don't find it offensive either. After all, succubi have a long established place in gaming art. The thing I find frustrating about the Book of Erotic Fantasy is the crap that passes for art inside of it. Looking through the pictures in there reminds me of a modern set of sexy bedroom costumes (and not in the pretty artistic way, more in the actual catalogue way). Some of the pictures didn't even try to be fantasy themed so they just ended up being semi-naked women with nothing at all special about them. Many of them were poorly composed and costumed, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. If I want porn I can get it free on the Internet. Porn is not what I wanted out of this book. I wanted some treatment of erotic themes and gender roles/issues in a fantasy world. I'm not even going to go into the text of the book here, because it failed even worse than the illustrations.
In general, I don't think that good fantasy photo art can be made with just some costumes and a camera. It requires a sense of composition, a good expressive model, and a minimal understanding of the art of photography at the very least. I have seen photo fantasy art that I liked, but it is often overwhelmed by the amount of crappy stuff there is out there. After all, it is awful easy to get your hands on a digital camera these days.
On a final note, I want to mention the game Everway. One of the core premises of the game was that players could draw images and ideas from a vast collection of really nice art cards. This was the central to character generation. Everway was also gifted with a good set of writers and some stunning artists. I still have their art cards squirreled away because of the sheer variety and beauty of them. There is some cheesecake, but there are also a lot of female characters who are both reasonably dressed and appear to be interesting, strong women.
You know what happened to Everway? It died. Very quickly I might add. The game had issues, but in my mind this is one of the best examples of a lavishly illustrated and female friendly game available. And it died. Art is not enough by itself.
While I love reasonable costumes and strong female characters, I think we (gamers of both genders) need to accept that things are not going to change over night. It's not reasonable to expect artists to not use sex sells to put food on their tables and it's not reasonable to expect magazines or game makers to completely ignore the skin factor that does attract some people to their products. I do think we have a right to complain and encourage the industry to present better art on average, but we need to be realistic about the market pressures that have caused things to be the way they are now. If you feel strongly about this issue, go out of your way to buy things that you think represent the sorts of art that should be in games whether or not you are interested in the actual games. Monetary pressure is going to get change a lot faster than complaints.
New Costume Pictures
The pictures of my new regency gown are up now! ^_^
Distracted by lunch... and other things
I've been a little distracted from blogging and producing web content for the last few weeks. I joined Weight Watchers two weeks ago and that is going well so far. I've lost about 4 pounds (which is about their expected 1 to 2 pounds a week) and on the whole I'm optimistic about it. I've been in a place where my tummy wanted less which matched better with the fact that my body needs less (being short has a few disadvantages in the era of 32 oz sodas). Now I just need to find that place again before all the point counting drives me bananas.
I do have to say that I partly agree with my boyfriend about the sad state of Weight Watcher's online presence. I think I'm a little more positive about their tools, because the "recipe builder" they provide has actually been quite helpful to me (once I actually found it in their mishmash website!). It sure made figuring out crepes way easier anyway.
On the up side of all the measuring and counting, I'm gaining an appreciation for foods I never bothered about much before. Grapes, blood oranges, cherry tomatoes, granola, and sushi are yummy. Well, I knew sushi was yummy, but now it's a bit easier to convince my boyfriend to go have some. (A small roll with 6 pieces is only 2 points! So happy! Yay for tuna!)
I've also been a bit distracted by the world of adorable Japanese lunches. Bento (or the slightly more polite obento) are apparently far more popular outside of Japan that I expected. You can buy the adorable little boxes in various places, including eBay and JBox and you can buy a hoard of accessories and tools to help you make the cutest lunch imaginable. I bought some molds for making rice balls (yay triangle mochi!) and for turning hard boiled eggs into weird shapes. You just wait until you're starring down a pumpkin shaped deviled egg and see who you call crazy then!... er...
Anyway, so with all this joyful (but more healthier) food I haven't been feeding my website as much as normal. I've still got lots of things to work on, including: sewing for a Victorian LARP event later this year, finishing up various sewing that was being pinned or stapled at the last minute, taking some pictures of my regency outfit, putting up some scanned Victorian photos I've collected, and scanning the volume of Beeton's Book of Needlework (published in 1870) which I recently acquired.
All of that will probably take me a while, but hopefully at least a little will make it on to my website soon. I also pulled out a very old (ie. my college years, not 1900's) photo album that I want to go through and scan for my own amusement. I'm a little sad I didn't pay much attention to GenCon's photo contests as I'm sure the picture of me with "Sailor Bubba" would have made someone out there laugh.
Shifting Forest Storyworks is not dead!
In the last week I've been contacted (via email) by two people associated with the elusive Parlor LARP producing company, Shifting Forest Storyworks. One of these two people introduced herself as J Li (one of the company's founders).
Not only did J kindly provide me with the detailed description text of all the published SFS games, but she also sold me copies of the games which I didn't already own. The package with the seven games arrived this evening. I'm so excited I could almost dance. ^_^
J also told me that she has plans to restart the SFS website within a month or so. In the mean time, she is selling the existing games. Folks who want to can contact her with orders or questions can do so via her gmail account which is jineris (that's at gmail dot com... just in case you are some sort of email scraper bot).
I've updated my page of SFS information if you want the full game list and much better game descriptions before the official SFS page is alive again.
I'm so thrilled by all of this! I can hardly wait to start arranging Parlor LARP runs! ^_^
Allerca, you make me cry
Growing up, my family kept cats. Well, cat for much of my childhood, but we got more later on. I love cats. I feel like my life is missing something major without them. I also live with a significant other who is violently allergic and asthmatic. I can still remember the day when he handed down the fiat from his allergist, there would be no cats in his home. It was cats or him. I'm not sure I could have been more upset if I had just been told I couldn't have biological children.
Then I found Allerca. They promised me that for the small price of about $5000 a pop (I'm including shipping, because it's non-negotiable), I could have cats. I was so blindingly happy for the short period of time before I actually looked at them carefully. If you search for Allerca or hypoallergenic cats you will find dozens of articles questioning the validity and integrity of the company, it's founder, and it's cats. I dug through all kinds of crap trying to learn more about them, from the scandal with Transgenetic Pets to a host of useless blog posts declaring Allerca's existence. Universally there was very little actual info.
I contacted Allerca itself to try to get information on it's claims and I got marketing fluff. I asked about actual papers verifying their results and they promised a scientific paper would be published some time in 2007.
A few months later, I was more than a little pissed to learn that Allerca's founder openly says there will never be a peer-reviewed scientific paper available (near the bottom of the article).
I tried to be patient with you Allerca. I tried to ignore the fact that your founder is apparently a con-artist and general scumbag. I hoped that you might pull through for me, as I suspect hundreds of other people across the country also hung on to that slimmest hope that they might someday be able to have cats.
In September of last year Allerca published the most fluffy useless piece of unscientific crap I have ever been disappointed by. This was the turning point for me. I tried to hang on, but that killed my ability to take anything from Allerca on faith.
Meanwhile, they have refused to tell anyone any useful details about their cats. They have refused to give prospective buyers any way to handle their cats before a purchase. They are pandering to the softer side of the media for publicity, but when reporters actually show up with questions they get vague and unhelpful answers. They have been trying to sell "franchise deals" while all of their cats (regardless of where you are across the world) are sold from their website. I don't know about you but I'd demand a lot more details about the business before I'd be willing to make that sort of commitment.
Allerca, if you aren't a scam, deliver the damn cats to real people and give us some details already. Provide real scientific proof. You can do that without allowing others to steal your methods or divulging the location of your breeding facilities to the general public.
If you are a scam, fall over and start on fire publicly already. I'm tired of the dark feeling I get in my chest every time I look at your website. I'm tired of wanting you to be real; your cats might as well be f'ing unicorns for all the proof you've offered me. I have reached the end of my patience with you and obviously any scientific paper you could have produced has come too late.
It's been a long time since I first wrote this post and Allerca hasn't gotten any less sleazy. A helpful commenter left me a link to Messy Beast's summary of the further saga of Allerca's total dirtball behavior, which is much better than the other summary information I had.
On a more positive note, my fiancee and I are now the happy owners of two pure breed Siberian cats. We love them dearly and he's able to tolerate them very well as long as we keep up with the house cleaning. We would highly recommend Absolutelay Siberians (where our kittens came from) to others. The owner, Lori, is a wonderful woman who really went above and beyond our expectations to make sure that we'd be able to bring the kittens into our home safely.
Good Things to Come
I finished scanning another period fashion magazine this week. This one is a copy of the Delineator from July of 1883. It's the very tail end of the natural form period, my personal favorite time. Unfortunately I've had a lot more luck finding resources both before and after this time period. Oh well.
Anyway, the full set of scans should be up some time in the next week or so, just as soon as I get ImageMagick working (frikkin crappy binaries...). I'll try to post a link when it's up.
Update: The issue is now up!
My domain is moving over to a new server. This is a test to see if Blogger gets it yet.
Update: As of now my website is on a new shiny server. Yay! I was more than a little confused for a while, because the move trashed the sim-link which made my blog work, but I have fixed it now and all is well with the world. :)
"Found redemption, the street signs bearing my name"
Ben took this photo for me a rather long time ago. I ran across it again while I was looking over his Europe gallery this evening. It still amuses me, and not just because I really like the song bearing the appropriate lyric. :)
Girl Genius Cosplay is Awesome
People other than me got some lovely pictures from the GG LARP! Squeee!!!!
Machines Have Secrets Too
Having now watched the entire series of The Secret Life of Machines on our household MythTV, I can now recommend it highly to my friends and relatives. If you aren't my friend or relative, well you might still enjoy it but I don't care if you decide to watch it or not. The two guys running/hosting the show are both very smart and some what insane. They do many things that I suspect should forcibly terminate their insurance coverage. Despite (or perhaps because of?) this, I found the show informative and highly engaging.
To be honest, it aged pretty gracefully despite being very noticeably dated now. Also the historical segments are quite interesting and their use of humorous animated segments works very well. In some ways it reminds me of the Connections series (the first one) but with a more whimsical feel and a lot more practical demonstrations of the properties/concepts involved in what they're explaining.
Did I mention the guys running the show are totally insane?
"Oh, we have two lathes in the shop... let's turn them into a fax machine!"
"Hey look, I can magnetize cellophane tape and iron dust with my band saw just like an audio cassette!"
"Let's demonstrate how pressure control valves work in modern lifts by lifting Rex ten feet off the ground!"
(Via Alan's Livejournal)
Back From Intercon G
I'm back from Intercon G. I had a lovely time and didn't take nearly as many pictures as I should have. They will be up in the Pictures and Sewing/Costumes sections as soon as I get them sorted out and organized.
I'm pretty well convinced that I want to go back again next year.
I also wanted to mention that I simultaneously love and hate flying. For the second time in my life I saw a circular rainbow around the shadow of my plane (awesome). I also saw the most horrifying eldritch conglomeration of clouds and city lights I have ever witnessed in my life. It was like some sort of writhing abomination of a living world surface softly under lit in unknowable patterns with the lights of some unimaginably horror concealed beneath it. Yea okay, I'm not Lovecraft, but it was pretty neat. Sadly cameras don't take good pictures out of dark plane windows, so I can't really share any more clearly than that.
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