There’s a constant clash going on between two minority groups in gaming. Those who give a flying fuck about art/representations/gender pronouns and those who want to defend the creative freedom that we – in theory – have. The majority of people, whatever their gender, sexuality or whatever, don’t seem to give the flying fuck in question and are happily getting on with their games.
That said a lot of pressure – or at least what feels like a lot of pressure – is being applied upon creators to do what they’re ‘told’ by those seeking to pressure. This goes on to the point where you can be called all sorts of nasty names, have boycotts organised of your material and people can dedicate their lives to hate-mailing you and posting constantly on fora about what a terrible person you are.
The argument itself is pretty redundant at this point, people are too entrenched and won’t countenance thought or compromise but it might be an idea to give an historical perspective on sex/representation in fantasy and science fiction literature and film. That might also give some of the hardliners a bit of a better idea why there are some of us who enjoy sexy material, sexual material and whose eyes roll hard into our heads any time someone starts whining about armour or clothing styles.
SF and Fantasy have long been ahead of public attitudes when it comes to sex and sexuality. The fantastical has often provided a safe forum to examine these ideas, particularly when it comes to matters that are transgressive, experimental, odd.
HG Wells was a prophet of the sexual revolution and something of a ‘player’ himself. Many of the great masters and mistresses of SF and Fantasy cut their literary teeth during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Going back to the Victorian period (Pearson’s magazine etc) one would find at least ‘racy’ descriptions, if not illustrations, women characters in positions of power and authority and so forth. Lest we forget, in the formative and hidebound Christian years of the 19th and 20th centuries – which so inform society even today – women were barely even seen as sexual beings, not so in fantasy and SF.
Fantastical writings brought sex and sexuality out into the light, examined it, made it plain. Pulp covers might be lurid and titillating, but there was nothing wrong with that. Even Burroughs had his Martians – of all colours and genders – running around naked. Not that that will make it to the films I’m sure.
We suffered our setbacks at the hands of the moral majority, the comics code, the banning of horror comics, furore over the pulps, moral panic at the content of works by Harrison, Farmer, you name it and those aren’t even the authors who went after sexuality as a topic all out. Women in these works might have been sexual, but one must remember that this itself was, still is, somewhat revolutionary. No slut-shaming here, just an enjoyment of male and female sexuality and – often – the imaginings of more liberated, promiscuous and less dysfunctional socio-sexual politics from the group families of Heinlein to the incestuous what if of Sturgeon’s Notorious ‘If All Men Were Brothers, Would you Let One Marry Your Sister?’
Women tagged along in SF/Fantasy long before it was acceptable to the morals of the world at large, wore trousers first in SF (or Bloomers, a solution to the skirt issues of zero gravity). It’s taken women from closeted and protected McGuffins to leaders and warriors. Wilma Deering, Samus Aran, Eowyn, Red Sonja and a part of that liberation has also been to recognise the female as a motivated sexual being.
So, when the censorious come to call, whether they be motivated by religion or gender studies those of us who lived in, or studied, or appreciate all the effort, time and battles that have gone into creating a liberated and anything goes field of fiction bristle. I think it’s understandable that we do so. What I don’t understand is why anyone would seek to drag us back to puritanical outlooks, particularly those on the liberal or leftist side of things. That’s where I place myself politically, but I guess I’m a libertine.
There are valid concerns to be had about representations in advertising and celebrity, but the fantastical is pure fantasy. Nobody, hopefully, expects Superman or Wonder Woman to be someone they could ever really aspire to be and we need our ‘gods and monsters’, our archetypes, our ‘gods’ even if we know that they’re not real. These things are about escaping, dragging real world bullshit into games and escapism rather defeats the object of ‘escape’.
I don’t want to turn the dial back to a more repressed age and I think we lose more than we gain that way.
You’re free to not like something, just try to be consistent, knowledgable, tolerant and don’t confuse ‘I don’t like X’ with ‘X should not exist’.