I just want to leave a note here to let folks know that some of my gaming related content has moved over to 1000d4.com. My personal blog and site is getting a bit of an overhaul, but it will hopefully be better organized and linked soon. :)
November 7, 2015
August 23, 2014
Right before GenCon this article was published on Tor. I know the person who wrote it and he spends a lot of time doing outreach to the gaming community on race.
I was deeply disappointed to see that several people have taken this article as some sort of personal affront… including at least one person who I had a lot of respect for because of her work on advancing feminism in gaming circles.
Folks, I appreciate the knee jerk reaction that many of you feel. There aren’t a huge number of people of color attending GenCon (this isn’t up for debate, we white people currently far outnumber them), but the number has been growing. I understand why as a white person it is easy to see that and think “well the problem is slowly solving itself, I’m sure it’s fine.” And then get upset when someone calls gamer culture out about the topic.
I think the important things to remember are: 1) We do not live in a magical post racial society. Sorry, we just don’t (this also isn’t up for debate). I wish we did, but no. (I mean come on, this is not a subtle problem!) And 2) If you are not a person of color it’s harder to see the problem. The smaller signs that show up for white people are easy to forget as “unimportant” because we’ve been trained to see the status quo as ok.
When people bring up race in gaming, the first thing that comes to my mind is the many marginal experiences I’ve had as a white woman in gaming. Like the year when my husband came back from a WWII supers game and told me how extremely uncomfortable he was with one of the other players playing an Asian-American hero as a blatant Asian stereotype. Or how I’ve only been offered an African-American character at a con once, for a demo of Steal Away Jordan… and how acutely uncomfortable I was playing that demo and watching one of my white male friends try to behave as if his white-male privilege still existed in a setting where it did not. Or how this year at GenCon I was asked to play an overtly racist character in a historical setting… at a table with a player of color. Or when I wrote a LARP with an Indian immigrant character (who was a highly educated doctor and prided himself in his correct English) and I got to watch a player play him with an Indian accent consisting of mangled, broken English. Or how every con I wince when I see white people dressed up as Drow in full black-face makeup.
I could go on… this stuff happens and it’s awkward and uncomfortable even for white people.
I’m not asking anyone to jump up and become a crusader for people of color in gaming. I’m asking that we give people like A.A. George the benefit of the doubt when they come to us and tell us that there’s a problem. I’m asking that we pay attention to things happening at future cons and remember the marginal and creepy stuff that we see.
I’m also asking that people recognize that “racist behavior” and “behavior that makes people of color uncomfortable” are not the same as saying “gamers are racist.” Most gamers are not overtly racist nor are they trying to be horrible to people of other races. It’s easy to do something that hurts others because it’s a common thing in the mainstream (and as previously stated, the mainstream is not post racial!), without realizing that what you’re doing is hurtful.
It feels super easy to write a con-game with all white characters (I’m white, I know what that life experience is like and no one will yell at me for messing it up!), but when the vast majority of games do that it means that there are few minority characters available. Their stories aren’t told (some of which are quite interesting!) and we don’t have the opportunity to develop empathy for people who are different than ourselves by playing them. This mirrors an unfortunate trend in media, where we have few to no darker skinned actors to watch, even though non-white people make up a very sizable portion of the population in the US.
I’m not saying that people who write all white PCs for a con game are being racist. I don’t think they are. I’m saying that it’s easy to go with the way things have always been and it’s hard to include people who aren’t like you. It takes work and forethought. It requires us to care about an issue that probably hasn’t been important in our lives.
Again, I’m not asking people to leap up and start doing this work. All I want is for us to be more open minded to understanding there is a problem. To take time to see the problem and be patient with people who are complaining about it. I am especially asking that feminists in gaming try to be understanding as we’ve suffered similar ills because of gender, and have every reason to empathize.
Gaming is not a utopia. None of us live in a utopia. We can make gaming a better and more accepting place for everyone by working on the problems that the culture has. If we ignore the problems they aren’t going to magically get better on their own.
If you don’t see the problems, that’s ok. You don’t need to become a Super Justice Warrior to be a good person, just be nice to people who do.
January 4, 2014
I designed a game this week for the Will Design a Game for Art contest. It’s called the Raven Queen’s Woods and it’s a game about human needs, altruism, and regrets in a dark fairy tale setting.
You can find a copy of the first draft of the game here. Any feedback is welcome as the game isn’t finished by a long shot.
June 12, 2013
Edit: I figured I’d need to revisit this at some point, but I think Sophia McDougall has covered the core of why “Strong” female characters drive me mad in other media far better than I ever could in an article very appropriately titled I hate Strong Female Characters.
Can we stop talking about “strong” female characters please?
I hear a lot of appeals for strong female characters and I think we’re asking for the wrong thing. The gaming world is full of strong characters: they can fire hundreds of rounds without so much as putting the gun down, run for miles without sleeping, kill thousands of monsters with their bare hands, and climb tall buildings without pausing for breath. These physical strengths are ubiquitous because of the kinds of stories we tell and the sorts of mechanics we have in modern games.
Most of these characters also happen to be male.
There’s a separate phenomenon where many female characters in games are rewards, goals, background motivations, or set dressing. A lot of these women are not strong because it’s not narratively necessary. Often they’re overly used as “damsels in distress” for male characters to protect and save. Male protagonists have to do everything for them because otherwise the game makers don’t have anything to make the player do as the male protagonist.
There are two problems here: women don’t get to be competent in games and women don’t get to have agency in games. They physically can’t do things and they aren’t allowed to do things or make decisions.
When you say “strong” maybe you’re saying you want physically competent characters who could do things. That doesn’t mean they’re interesting. It doesn’t mean they have the agency to make their own choices. It doesn’t mean they’re well rounded or developed as people with motivations and stories. It doesn’t mean they’re main characters or playable.
I don’t want “strong” female characters who are physical super-people. I want competent female characters who are three dimensional and who are allowed to control their destiny. I want some of them to be playable.
When it comes down to it, that’s what I want for male characters as well. I want competent, believable male characters who are three dimensional. I’m sick to death of super-people. Men aren’t super-people in reality any more than women are and presenting them as such is increasingly boring with every similarly unrealistic game I see.
Can we change the dialog? Can we ask for competent female characters who are allowed to do things and make choices? Can we ask that characters be three dimensional, with interesting backstory and believable motivations (hint: because I’m evil isn’t a motivation for villains)? Can we say that we’re tired of fridging and damseling and otherwise using secondary characters of any gender as sacrificial narrative gimmicks?
“Strong” doesn’t mean those things. It means able to lift things. It means physically powerful. In gaming it often means “super-person with no basis in physical reality.”
Let’s be specific instead of using a word that doesn’t mean what we want.
June 4, 2013
When I was in my first year of high school I remember clearly having the teachers quote the “one in six women is raped” statistic to us. They had us seated at grouped sets of five or six desks and the teacher did the whole “look around to the people in your group… one of you is likely to be raped” that you hear about. I’m not sure if they expected that to make it more real for us or what they expected us to do about it. No one wants to be a statistic.
The first time that I had a friend tell me about being raped was in middle school. She wasn’t a particularly close friend, just another outcast who had no one else she could sit with at lunch. But people get lonely and in retrospect I think she felt that terrible pressure to talk about an experience that she desperately needed therapy for. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t even really understand what she was sharing with me and I had no idea how to help her. All I could do was listen.
I grew up in a happy home, was never abused or mistreated… and until that point, rape had no reality beyond the “scary thing” that happened off screen on TV or in backstories in books. After that, I’d been given a different narrative: one where the heros don’t help the innocent in time, terrible things happens just because terrible things happen, and then the victim had to live with the consequences.
Since then I’ve had three other people tell me the stories of how they were raped. Every story was different and terrible in it’s own way, and I’m not sure I was more help to these people, all of whom I care about deeply, than I was to that first lost girl. I could listen, and with each story the spectre of rape became more real to me.
Most of my friends are middle class with college degrees. I can’t fool myself anymore with the lie that rape is a thing that only happens to “other people.”
I asked my husband recently, “how many people have told you about being raped?” He looked at me a bit confused and replied, “None.” That was when I realized that not everyone hears these stories. Unless a rape strikes those few people who are the closest to them… how can I blame my peers for not seeing the spectre as looming or terrible? Why would it feel real at all? Maybe for some people rape feels more like far off lightning, hitting people who happen to stand stupidly on golf courses during rain storms, but not a thing that could hit them since they stay inside when it rains. Stay inside and don’t drink and don’t walk alone at night and have large dogs and have a black belt in karate, or are male and not in prison….
Is this why there are so many denialists out there? You can read an infinite number of stories on the internet, but if you’re already determined not to see the spectre of rape, it’s easy to dismiss imaginary internet people as liars, sensationalists, and fear-mongers.
It’s harder to dismiss a friend sitting next to you reluctantly telling you in a quiet, calm voice about a terrible, evil thing that colors their past… recounting their feelings and how bits of it still hang over them, changing how they live their lives to this day. It’s harder to dismiss someone as a convenient liar when there’s no public accusation and they’re someone you already love and trust… someone you wish you could help with more than just listening.
I know it’s pretty useless to tell everyone to listen in order to understand, because if people aren’t already telling you their secrets… you might not be the sort of person they’ll ever approach. But if someone you love starts talking, try to hear them out. Their pain may teach you something painful but important about the world, and if they’ve started to tell you it’s probably because they need you to listen.
I’m also not trying to imply anything about how often people are raped based on my own experiences. The things that I learned had more to do with how rape can hurt people and that rape has hurt people I love who aren’t so different from me. There are lots of groups out there collecting statistics if you want a more numerical view of the problem.
March 31, 2013
The storm of “fake geek girl” articles seems to have abated but in the heat of that I got into an interesting conversation with @koboldstyle I want to write about.
Why do geek women attack other geek women?
To answer that question, I have to back way up to when you joined a geeky hobby for the first time (sorry, this does presuppose geeks are reading this).
What makes you identify as a geek? Do you love a particular subject like anime, comics, or tabletop RPGs? Have you spent weekends at conventions or reading fan sites? How about long evenings glued to your computer learning the intricacies of a programming language or discovering the possibilities of open source projects for the first time? When did you first realize that particular part of geekdom was a part of you?
When you started out learning about and loving the geeky things you love, did anyone tease you because you were new? Maybe because you didn’t quite know everything yet or got something wrong? Did anyone assume that you weren’t a geek because of how you looked or talked or the username you wore?
Not everyone experiences this kind of hazing when they join a geek community, but a lot of people do. Many parts of the geek community are defined by knowledge and when you’re perceived as not knowing, people can be vicious.
Now imagine the knowledge tests and teasing didn’t stop when you proved your knowledge the first time. Imagine that every time you met new geeks they assumed you were an outsider. So you prove yourself and prove yourself… and prove yourself… and there’s just no end to it. Your old friends understand you, but every time you meet someone new you have to start all over again.
Gentlemen, this feeling is familiar for a lot of geek women. It happens to them, over and over and over. I know you’re thinking, “I would never do that to a fellow geek,” but what if you didn’t see them as a geek to start with? What if they’re “just a girlfriend that tagged along” or “just hanging around because they want to date that one guy”? Are you sure your internal geek-identifier isn’t ignoring people it should give the benefit of the doubt to?
Back to the ladies. You’ve spent your time proving again and again that no, you aren’t “a pretty face trying to snag a boyfriend” and no, you aren’t “a girlfriend who tags along.” Where do these stereotypes come from and why do you have to deal with them? You start to think, are there women out there who are “a girlfriend who tags along”? Did they create that stereotype?
And then you get mad. “What the f**k!,” you think, “Why do I have to deal with the fallout from what those stupid posers do?” “Why can’t they get the hell out of geekdom so I don’t have to deal with this stereotype anymore?!?”
You’ve walked into a trap. Are there any posers out there? Probably a few. Are there enough of them to justify the stereotypes? Not a chance in hell. But you’ve accepted that the stereotype must be true. If so many people assume it’s true about you, how can it not have a basis in fact, right?
Not all geek women go down that route of logic, but a few do and that’s how we end up in a place where women write articles about how fake-geek-women are ruining geekdom and how the posers should all get out. That’s is how we end up with women devaluing other women based on how they entered hobbies (so what if you’re the girlfriend of a geek? how does that make your interest in something geeky invalid?).
I’m not blaming anyone for believing what they’ve been told over and over. If you’re told anything often enough you’ll believe it. But right now women are accepting second class citizenship in many parts of geekdom. That’s not where I want to be.
Men, don’t do this to geek women in your life. Assume we’re inside the club instead of constantly making us prove ourselves. Women, don’t do this to other women either. Question the things that geekdom tells you about yourself and your gender.
If you’re wondering what the whole “fake geek girl” kerfuffle is, here’s some reading material.
May 16, 2012
I see myself as a feminist. I know by putting that out there at the beginning I’m raising a lot of expectations about what I care about, how I react to things, and what I’m likely to defend. I’m also a relatively laid back person, despite some of my blog rants, and I’ve been through a long journey trying to understand sexism and feminism. For me this journey was many small cycles of “not getting it” punctuated by bursts of insight as I incorporated new ideas into my worldview. I grew up in the gaming world and for a long time I was so used to how things are that the roots and implications of the many traditions were invisible to me.
I’ve also watched many of my friends go through various cycles of getting and not getting aspects of sexism, racism, and other -isms. I’m not going to claim to be super enlightened… I mess up on ableism issues all the time… but I’ve reached a point where that cycle is familiar to me.
When I read WotC’s article what I saw was Jon Schindehette going through one of the early cycles of trying to understand sexism. He was “not quite getting it” and honestly if he’s just starting to struggle with these issues, I can’t blame him for not understanding them all at once. I’ve been there and I’ve fallen in the same pitfalls. I wish he had gotten further along before he wrote a public article… but he has my empathy as to why getting there takes time.
Jon tried to approach the problem logically and understand what sexism is and what it’s doing to gaming. He fell short on three fronts. One is that he didn’t do enough research on discussion that’s already taking place in the online community. Blogs like Go Make Me a Sandwich contain lots of resources that include frank discussion of the sort he’s trying to elicit. Tumblrs like Women Fighters In Reasonable Armor include loads of beautiful examples of art that’s attractive and pretty while presenting characters who look like people rather than toys. The fact that Jon didn’t bring up any of these resources makes me suspicious that he didn’t do this kind of research. He tried to start from square one by himself and he suffered for it. It’s a lot easier if you build on the work others have already done. ;)
The second problem Jon ran into was that he got into his logical investigation and backed off when he was starting to get somewhere. The definition of sexism he found, which seems quite reasonable to me, was, “Sexism is defined as having an attitude, condition, or behavior that promotes stereotyping of social roles based upon one’s gender.” That’s a good start. After talking about it for a bit he failed to take the next step and investigate gender roles.
To start understanding how sexism could promote stereotyping, you need to ask: “what gender roles might we be perpetuating?” Wikipedia has a good overview of historical gender roles. However, in the last 30 years, gender roles have changed. The “perfect submissive wife” ideal is not what our societal norms think women should be anymore. Unfortunately, there are still some very damaging gender roles out there for men and women.
One of the ones that hurts women the most is the idea that they must always be physically attractive and sexually available for men. This is sometimes called the Beauty Myth, and it’s the big problem one Jon missed. The Beauty Myth says a woman can be a brilliant rocket scientist, but if she isn’t also pretty, she’s not really worthwhile as a woman and no one will love her.
One of the roles that hurts men the most is the idea that they can only succeed financially and aren’t particularly physically attractive to women. This is also called the Success Myth. This is rather insidious because the Success Myth says that an average man needs to find a high paying job if he wants any hope of attracting a woman. If he suffers setbacks in his career or prefers to do something that is low paying, then he’s worthless and no one will love him.
The twin roles define a lot of our popular culture and they bleed into our fantasy as well. The Beauty Myth is why people fixate on making female characters beautiful even when “beautiful” crosses the line into impractical and unrealistic. The Success Myth is why we’re still unbelievably stuck on the “guy succeeds and then guy gets the girl” story plot.
Back to Jon… the third thing that I think went wrong for him is that he stumbled into some very basic fallacies talking about an -ism. This is a pretty common mistake and while embarrassing, isn’t all that surprising. Fallacy one is to assume that whatever went before is ok by virtue of being tradition. This was mostly justified by “market forces” in the article. If all tradition was free of -isms life would be sunshine and kittens and I wouldn’t have to write any blog posts in the ‘feminism’ category. :)
More seriously, a lot of people think “feminism happened, sexism is done now, right?” and sadly the answer is no. It takes a long time to change culture and there’s a lot of momentum. That’s not to say we need to flip out and throw all of our traditions out the window tomorrow. We can start by calmly taking a step back and making a few rational changes at a time towards a better, less -ism filled world.
The second fallacy Jon made was while talking about his three images. He got a bit muddy because he couldn’t see the modern roles affecting them and drifted into the “it’s really all opinion, anyway” argument. There is some opinion in everything, I agree. Sadly the existence of a systemic problem in media and in gaming media specifically isn’t really up for debate. It’s been discussed at length by a lot of people, especially authors. You can’t use the fact that some people can’t identify prejudice to justify prejudice not existing at all… that’s downright Paranoia levels of circular logic.
I want to be clear: being a bit blind to sexism doesn’t mean you’re some sort of horrible misogynistic asshole who’s running around saying terrible things all the time, it just means you haven’t quite figured out how to see sexism hidden in the world around you. All of us have been there, you don’t need to be ashamed of it, just do your best to keep an open mind and learn. :)
The final fallacy that Jon fell into was the “a few people complained, but lots of people like it, so everything must be great!” The argument “lots of people agree with me, therefore I’m right!” is not meaningful, especially when you’re talking about -isms. It’s an appeal to base social pressure and has no bearing on the correctness of your argument.
I suppose at this point you’re probably wondering how I’m going to justify the title of this post. Well, to be totally honest, as much as parts of the article irritated me, Jon redeemed himself in my eyes by taking the initiative to write about something as scary as sexism in the first place, making an honest (if flawed) attempt to learn, and asking for our input.
I can remember the first time that I tried to write up a post on a feminist topic. I think my hand was actually shaking when I pressed the “Publish” button. It’s scary putting yourself out there to talk about any issue of prejudice, because we all know our culture is so ready to throw a firestorm back in your face if you get anything “wrong.” I appreciate and respect that Jon was willing to try and that WotC was willing to let him.
When I reached the end of his article I was overjoyed that he openly solicited our feedback and I was presented with a comment box to put my thoughts into. Wow, was I happy. I didn’t even realize how happy I was until I’d spent an hour skimming and “liking” other people’s comments. I wanted a chance to speak to WotC directly and he gave that to me, which I’m deeply grateful for. The number of people who posted ernest, well thought out comments, some with great links to resources, made me feel better about the community. It made me feel like other people believe I belong here. :)
A lot of the commenters were talking to Jon too and most were very civil. Some offered him links to resources (like some of the ones I posted above) and encouragement. I’m hoping he’s taken some of those links and moved forward on his own path to understanding.
So, thank you, Jon, and thank you, WotC. It had some issues, but I appreciated the outreach and the effort that went into it. Please keep learning and write more about sexism and other -isms in gaming in the future. :)
January 16, 2012
One of my hobbies, albiet not one I talk about a lot on this blog, is costuming. I sometimes dress up as existing characters from shows, games, or movies at conventions. There are a lot of characters I love who I’d love to dress as. Sometimes those characters are very different from me.
It’s acknowledged in the costuming community that people don’t need to be exactly the same as the characters they dress as. You don’t need colored contacts to perfectly match eye colors and it’s ok to dress as characters with body shapes or even genders that are different than your own. There are a lot of tricks the community accepts to make these costumes flattering: padding, control undergarments like corsets, chest binding, makeup, etc.
The one think you can’t do is paint your skin darker to portray a dark skinned person.
I can’t say that I instinctively understood why this is hurtful. I understood why it could hurt someone in theory, because there is such an enormous history of white people in dark makeup mocking dark skinned people. That was more than enough to stop me from doing it, even before I saw some of the really horrifying Victorian costuming magazines with “Negro” costume suggestions for the kids.*
For a long time there weren’t a whole lot of dark skinned characters that I wanted to dress as. I think this had less to do with my taste and more to do with the deplorable state of media in general. But in the last 5 years, I’ve started to see characters like Katara and Kyra. I started to want to cosplay as them.
The previous “no skin darkening” rule stopped me, but I was more confused and unsure about cosplaying without makeup. It wasn’t until more recently when a friend linked to this article that talks about Paizo’s race and gender sexualizing choices that I started to realize there was another issue, that was more than just a second issue.
There’s a history in the USA and in Hollywood of whitewashing characters. This came up when Avatar: the Last Airbender was made into a movie. I was not so thrilled about it at the time, because Katara was cast as a skinny blond girl, nothing like her original design. It seemed very unnecessary, just excluding for the sake of excluding.
When I read the post about Paizo and saw the part about the costume contest advertising using a white woman dressed as one of their darker characters, it clicked for me. Even though I can’t change my race, if I dress as a character who normally has dark skin, there are going to be people out there who don’t see a white woman who loves a dark skinned character, they’ll see the character being whitewashed.
This is worse, because I can’t paint my skin darker to portray the character more accurately without some people seeing it as mocking. There’s no way for me to express my love for Katara or Kyra through costuming without hurting someone.
I can’t tell the rest of fandom how much I want more characters like Katara by representing her at a con and that makes me really sad. If the world wasn’t full of systemic racism against non-white people, I might be able to, but the world is broken. It would be stupid to get mad at other people for being hurt by a broken world, so instead I’m going to be mad at the broken world for denying me what I want and hurting everyone.
I hope that people who can portray these characters without hurting others do. I want to see more Kataras and Kyras, and any number of other characters who aren’t white. I desperately want the costuming community to do them justice.
I wish there was more I could do to help.
* I need to scan these at some point so you get the full horror of them. The Victorians stop being so romantic and quaint when you remember how nauseatingly racist they were.
January 15, 2012
One of the most heartbreaking moments of my life was the GenCon the first year after my wedding. I was starting to truly grok feminism and for the first time I walked the exhibitor’s hall with my husband, Alan, and paid attention to how people treated each of us.
I made eye contact. I smiled. I asked vendors leading questions about their products like I always do. I found that in a minority of the time they treated me as if I knew nothing about gaming even when I said that I played RPGs. I’ve had people do this to me before. I look really young for my age, so I normally don’t mind letting them just assume whatever and go on with their job. The pitch is usually much the same, it just includes more intro and layman’s terms. This time it was different, because I realized that they weren’t making these kinds of assumptions about Alan.
There was one booth we stopped at where Alan was supremely uninterested and I thought the setting looked kind of cool. I picked up a book and skimmed the back, looked up at the nearest guy in the booth (there were three, all male, sitting around not doing anything), smiled, and asked some trivial question about the setting. The booth guy, instead of answering me, literally turned to Alan and answered my question. I was so shocked I just kind of stared at him. Alan was pretty startled as well.
There were other incidents, but that was the worst, the one that stood out above the others. I left that con feeling for the first time in my life like I did not belong. It hurt so much I couldn’t even express it.
When I was a kid GenCon was the one place outside my home where I felt totally accepted. I’ve attended almost every year of my life. I literally said my first words in a GenCon. Now it felt like the con had rejected me.
Soon I got angry. The man in that booth, he was probably half again as old as me. The chances are I’ve been to more GenCons than he has. I’ve been playing video and board games since before I started pre-school. The chances are I may have been gaming as long as or longer than he has. Fuck him. Fuck him and fuck his sexism.
GenCon doesn’t belong to just him. It belongs to all the gamers and geeks who attend. I attend and it belongs to me too. I sure as hell want the other people who attend to be less sexist, but even if they aren’t, I belong there and it’s also mine.
I’m not going to let prejudice drive me away from a hobby that I love.
December 24, 2011
I want to wish all my friends, family, and blog readers (probably the same as the first two groups but hey, if you’re here I want to include you!) a happy winter holiday season and a lovely New Year.
Don’t forget to put the T-rex back in Christmas! :)