Libertines Vs The New Puritans

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.

Sexual repression. Not a good idea.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.

No hyperbole. Remember, sexual repression was used to enforce EngSoc OrthodoxyThere 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’.

5 responses to “Libertines Vs The New Puritans

  1. There is nothing I disagree with in this article but I would like to explore one of your statements:

    “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.”

    I think this highlights a couple of factors at play here.

    Firstly, there are idiots in the world. The people who send hate mail just because someone publishes something they don’t like. Its not unique to any side in this topic or indeed any topic. All intelligent people can do is ignore them. The presence of such idiots neither validates or invalidates a particular side of a particular issue.

    Secondly, there is a difference between people discussing an issue and campaigning to have something done about that issue. Someone saying “I don’t like that kind of artwork for reason X” is very different from someone organising a law / social convention to prevent that kind of artwork. One is self-expression, the other is attempting to restrict someone else’s self-expression.

    I think these two factors combine to give the impression that there is a ‘moral panic’ on the issue but a cold, hard look at the facts says otherwise.

    There is no campaign to get RPGNow to drop all products with big, titted women on the cover. There is no petition demanding that all images of females in WotC products wear burkas. You and I are as free to publish as we always have been.

    There is nothing except a genuine debate taking place about women in gaming and at the end of the day the issue will be decided by consumers and publishers voting with their wallets.


    I didn’t want to actually touch on the subject matter, as you said, it is almost pointless at this stage. However you raised an aspect of it that I would like to know more of, from your point of view.

    You say:

    “There are valid concerns to be had about representations in advertising …”

    Many people would consider a book’s cover as the primary advert for a book. Do you think that mainstream publishers (WotC, Piazo etc) should give special consideration to how they display women in their cover artwork given those valid concerns?

  2. RPGNOW does censor covers.
    There are campaigns/boycotts etc from time to time and material is often savaged on blogs, often on a false basis. This is not a rare event by any means.

    When I talk about advertising I was talking about perfume, fashion, makeup etc. These are meant to entice us to be like that, use that product, be that beautiful IRL while the fantastical is escapism.

  3. Blogs are opinions. Unless you’re saying everybody should shut up and sit down, I don’t see anything wrong about somebody stating their opinion about a cover. Here, I’ll do one: I don’t like poser images, I think they are creepy, and I’d prefer if Hot Chicks were done with far fewer images, or possibly use illustrations or photos instead.

    Moving beyond that, I’m not sure I’ve seen any real campaigns or boycotts that have gotten any traction whatsoever. I.e., other than somebody using the word in a podcast or blog post, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actual boycott or any kind of organized protest against any gaming materials. As a disclaimer, I don’t game with minis other than very casually (setting up marching order, etc), so it’s possible there’s been some fuss in that segment of gaming that I’m unaware of.

    What exactly is the nature of this pressure you’re talking about? Or is it just that there are differing viewpoints being put out there on people’s blogs, podcasts, social networks, etc?

    • There’s a difference between expressing your taste: “I don’t like this” and going further to the point of: “This is bad/wrong.”

      I don’t like poser images either, because I think they’re cheap (in the bad-looking and tacky sense). I agree with you. I also recognise that this is a matter of taste. There seem to be a lot of people who like poser art, whole online communities in fact and more power to ’em.

      Like Furries, say. I just don’t get it. I will make fun of it, but so long as they’re not hurting anyone, why should I give that much of a fuck?

      Boycotts in gaming don’t tend to work because it just makes the supporters more militant, but the intention to socially censure is there and it stems, most of the time, from a matter of taste – not fact.

      Social media does tend to make you accessible and while it’s obvious that the people kicking up a stink are a minority, they’re capable of hounding you, dogpiling you and shouting louder than their numbers would normally allow for. You have to decide if the value of engagement is worth the hatemail and misrepresentation.

      To reiterate ‘I don’t like X’ is fine.
      ‘X is wrong’ – not so much, especially not without something to back it up.

      • Well, I always see “X is wrong” as merely opinion. There’s no actual objectivity in any statement involving right, wrong, good, evil, etc. You can say “X is bad” and then state why. I’d say most things have at least some drawbacks. Heck, that’s part of any decent review.

        It’s the references to boycotts or campaigns that is the key thing that I’m curious about. I’ve never seen any kind of actual organized effort to change anything or boycott anything. Sure, there are cultural movements, but they aren’t directed by anybody, or being centralized on any particular thing.

        Are there actual organized (meaning more than just a blog post) boycotts or demands going on for these kinds of things? Any petitions being taken seriously?

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