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Diversity Dungeons : Worldbuilding & Game Design in the Safe Space Age
Much digital ink (and blood) has been spilt taking about diversity representation in tabletop gaming and in every other field of geek and nerd endeavour. Usually these conversations are extremely combative and they tend to end poorly for everyone involved. I’ve been involved in these debates and discussions myself, to my detriment. The position I hold being that free expression and the vision of the author or creator should trump any and all other concerns – including diversity, representation and so on. To my mind the answer is for people to create according to their own conscience, not to be condemned out of hand or for their motivations to be presumed and for diversity of ideas to be the benchmark. I want a world in which Varg Vikernes and David Hill can both make and sell games and I can ignore both of them.
That said, I cannot help but be drawn to controversial topics – that is where the interesting conflicts and stories lie – and there are few topics so controversial as the treatment of ‘minorities’ within media. Here we arrive at a nexus-point between realism, expectation, demands for representation, demands for free expression, historical revisionism, magic, science fiction, truth, ‘is’ and ‘ought’. That makes it interesting, but the battle lines of identarian politics, liberalism, conservatism, the regressive left and cultural libertarianism also make it an area fraught with difficulty and wilful misunderstanding.
There are no good – or at least no satisfactory – answers to a lot of these questions. Perhaps there are just multiple approaches each of which will annoy some group or other. What’s true in all circumstances however is that these controversial topics are interesting, fascinating and important in terms of world, character and scenario building whatever your particular stance.
This booklet intends to examine these issues in and of themselves, outside of the current state of controversy and to ask – rather – how we might better simulate the plight of minority groups, understand them within the context of fictional worlds, make allowances for player-characters who might seek to buck those societal trends or allow characters – through their actions – to affect social change within the game worlds.
Gender: Goreans have views on sex and gender that are virtually the opposite of the dominant view found on Earth. Where Earth has embraced the idea of equality as equivalence, Goreans embrace the differences between the sexes.
Goreans would regard the idea that women are physically equal as a bad joke and consider women to be naturally submissive and men to be naturally dominant. The people of Earth would consider this to be oppressive and sexist but those of Gor see it as an immutable reality with each gender being valued and celebrated for what it can contribute and its own perceived strengths.
Women’s intelligence and social acumen is valued and sought after, even in slaves, and women are commonly agents for Kur, Priest Kings, merchants’ organizations and other kinds of espionage. Tatrices and Ubaras are not uncommon and wield great power while female free companions run households and hold the economic reins. Free women are exalted, valued, protected and treasured, while slaves are used to slake the carnal lusts of men which, again, are seen as perfectly natural and normal.
Intersex conditions and transsexuality is virtually unknown on Gor outside of particular cultures or fringe religious grounds such as the Waniyanpi of the barrens. It is likely that intersex conditions are seen as deformity and aborted or killed at birth while transsexuality is almost unheard of, outside some cultural accommodation and shaming amongst the Red Savages. Homosexuality is also somewhat rarer than on Earth, though it is in no way hated or considered unnatural and there are male slaves bred and raised solely for that market.
The Gorean concept of natural roles is so strong that they consider the ideas of Earth to be a pathological, societal sickness.
NB: These are the views of the fictional Gorean societies, not those of the authors.
A lot of ink (pixels?) have been spilt over the years about the misogynistic and patriarchal nature of the Gorean world and – more recently – about this fundraiser and this game as a whole. The Free Woman/Slave division is seen as the virgin/whore dichotomy writ large. Michael Moorcock even campaigned for Gorean novels to be put on the top shelf and Norman himself has blamed these criticisms for various setbacks over the time the novels have been published, though I’m not sure how true that is.
Still, we live in a more enlightened age, don’t we? People are much freer about sexuality than they used to be and after the Comics Code, Satanic Panic, Murder Simulators and all the other nonsense we’ve had to put up with we’re all well aware that (for the vast and overwhelming majority of people) there’s a sharp delineation between fantasy and reality? Right?
It seems not.
Well then, is there a role for women in a Gorean role-playing game or are they destined to just be – as some wag asked me on Twitter – ‘part of the equipment list?’
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Gorean society, as written is deeply patriarchal – as in genuinely, actually patriarchal. Men hold the power but in the Gorean world that is largely because men still hold the means of production and the military might. Gor is largely pre-industrial, everything is done by hand and muscle power is more important in fighting, agriculture and in generally keeping the world moving. Men cannot be done without and as such hold the balance of physical power.
Women are not without power though. Many castes do not disfavour women, the Scribes, Physicians and Initiates certainly don’t, and there’s nothing to prevent a woman becoming the head of her caste in a city. The caste of Warriors lacks examples of women in the books, but as an hereditary caste there seems no reason to think that there aren’t female warriors, though they might be more likely to fall into support roles, espionage and the like. Women in the Caste of Builders might be supply sellers, architects, researchers, even if they’re less likely to be hod-carriers or bricklayers.
Women hold a great deal of economic power as well, running most of the shops, leading merchant houses, investing their money, managing estates and breeding racing tharlarion (examples from the books). Free women are accorded a level of respect that – within certain bounds – give them a decided social advantage over Gorean men. Nor are free women asexual ‘Madonnas’. Free women have access to male silk slaves and are presented as sexual beings throughout the books, slavery is not an inevitable fate and many women and men find free companions to be with (equivalent to marriage) though both may also have slaves to entertain them on the side.
Tharna, until it was overthrown, was a vicious matriarchy. There are Panther Girls in the northern forests and in the great jungle of the interior (called Talunas) who are runaway slaves and free women who reject the dominant male society. So tough and committed are they that some scar their faces or otherwise mutilate themselves to show their rejection of Gorean society.
Nor is there any reason you can’t play as a slave girl (or slave boy) within the group. Many slaves are loved and cherished, fought over and for and many slaves have played key roles in important events on Gor. A slave may also only temporarily be a slave, seeking to earn their freedom or perhaps a skilled thief put in a collar as a punishment and simply biding their time.
Nobody, male or female, at the table should be – or is – forced to put up with anything they don’t want to.
Fantasy games, books, graphic novels, heck – fantasy art in general – is an opportunity to engage with and experience a world that doesn’t even have to exist. We don’t even have to like what occurs there to enjoy it. Just consider the popularity of horror novels, of splatterpunk films, reaction videos. It’s OK to enjoy ‘problematic things’ and you don’t have to agree with them to enjoy it. A game world that is genuinely different is interesting, conflict is interesting, a bland, generic, everything is shiny and happy game world is dull as ditchwater.
Your game is your own, make it your own.
Repeat that mantra.
When it comes to sexuality, Gor in the novels is presented as almost 100% heterosexual, though there are a few hints as to otherwise and one glaring exception that gives some hints that homosexuality is accepted within Gorean society and catered to by slavers. In short, there’s nothing whatsoever to stop you playing a gay or lesbian character and Gorean society doesn’t seem to give too much of a fig about it on a societal level.
Transgender issues are a bit more thorny. So if you’re sensitive, stop reading now.
Still want to read on?
Intersex conditions are likely to be viewed as deformity and the Goreans are pretty ruthless when it comes to babies with deformities, killing them almost all the time – for any deformity that cannot be healed or prevented by the physicians. Deformed people and cripples are viewed with disgust more than pity and even begging a living can become virtually impossible for them as in Gorean society it is seen as a deep insult to either be pitied or to be shown pity. It’s all a bit Spartan.
With that unpleasantness out of the way, what about people who aren’t intersex but feel that they’ve been born into the wrong sex? Given Gorean views on the importance of gender this is likely to be a very difficult path to go down and they’re more likely to be slotted into the homosexual identity than anything else. Some cultures have room for those who live differently than their obvious gender, the Red Savages in particular make young men who fail to become warriors live as women and it seems likely that the transplanted cultures of the jungles and of the barrens have also carried over cultural acceptance and spiritual reverence for this kind of thing.
It’d be a hard thing to play out, just as its a hard thing in real life, but the conflict between the hugely strict and important Gorean attitude to gender and someone who defies that could make for fascinating RP.
You can play a male or female character without gaining any special benefits or hindrances. Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender and sexual behaviour. For example, a male drow cleric defies the traditional gender divisions of drow society, which could be a reason for your haracter to leave that societay and come to the surface.
You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, ad some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.
This is the passage that, coupled with the use of consultants, seems to have been causing so much trouble when it should have been a source – surely – of happiness and victory for some people. I gave my thoughts about it before, but let’s take a break from the drama and consider the implications and meaning of these options.
At the heart of any role-playing game scenario there’s conflict and at the heart of any good character is also some sort of conflict or ambition. The downside of an accepting setting is that you lose some sources of that conflict. The conflict can be wearing in real life because it can often feel insurmountable but that is part of the power of fantasy and fiction, to resolve the irresolvable, win against impossible odds. Taking the ‘Blue Rose’ route that everyone and everything is completely tolerant and lovely about everything is to miss out on all that, especially if you’re making these choices for your character.
D&D settings are primarily pseudomedieval, though they also draw on other cultures for inspiration. While in Greco-Roman culture homosexuality and other alternative sexualities were mostly celebrated (though less lesbianism than than homosexuality) and even considered divine in some cases, or as a touch from the gods.
As Christianity took over that more accepting attitude melted away along with the panoply of pagan beliefs that were being replaced. As church and state became one in a much more prescriptive way via Christianity and Islam the tolerance also melted away, though as has become apparent to those paying attention to events in the Catholic Church and cases like ‘anal jihad’ or rulings on bestiality from Islamic scholars, that’s no guarantee that the rules are absolute – just that there are rules (note that I’m not comparing paedophilia or bestiality to homosexuality or trans issues, just pointing out – via extremes – how weirdly accepting even strict religions can be sometimes).
D&D cities and cultures tend to be polytheistic and while certain gods are more associated with certain races (Lolth and Dark Elves), it’s by no means certain or absolute. One of the examples given is a defiance of the gender roles within the Faerun context of dark elf society – a cruel matriarchy – though a male cleric of Lolth would have a near impossible task to win over his goddess.
Temples and churches in broader D&D fantasy societies tend to be more… goods and services. You go to the temple to pray and appeal to that specific god, to gain the services of the temple. It’s more like attending a shop and there’s no direct political power, only influence, save where the clerics are running the city.
The moral precepts of RPG gods and goddesses are rarely codified in the way, say, the Noachide or Levitical laws of the bible are and unlike ‘real’ religions if there’s any misunderstandings the god can be directly conferred with and is capable of manifesting in the real world.
Broadly speaking ‘Good’ gods, ‘Neutral’ gods and ‘Chaotic’ gods are probably more likely to be tolerant, while ‘Lawful’ and ‘Evil’ gods are probably more likely to be prescriptive. That will, of course, depend on the religion’s concept of ‘evil’. Transgressive behaviours and sexualities are considered ‘evil’ by many cultures and may be celebrated by evil gods on that basis and condemned for it by the followers of an opposing god. This is one of the fundamental plot problems with absolute – and inherent – moralities. On the other hand, fertility and agricultural gods and goddesses, whatever their alignment otherwise, might have a rather more Catholic approach to sexuality and reproduction.
In various religions and spiritual traditions in the real world, those of androgynous, trans or hermaphroditic nature have been regarded as special and accorded special spiritual or religious positions. That could be the position of shaman or living totem, or more formal roles such as the ‘contrary’ who would do everything backwards from speech to wearing women’s clothing. Places, however limited and restrictive, for people who were different.
Culture may shape attitudes towards people of alternate sexualities. The harder the life – generally – the less accepting and tolerant a society is while, when there’s luxury, wealth and leisure a society tends to become more accepting and tolerant – some would call this degenerate and decadent. Greek and Roman cultures did this via slavery, in a world of magic that power take up much of the strain and lead to a more tolerant and leisure oriented society but magic-users are a limited resource and – as with most places in the world – cosmopolitan cities are likely to be more tolerant and understanding than isolated rural communities. Those looking for acceptance may well move to the cities, seeking that acceptance and leaving the smaller, more superstitious rural communities to wallow in their bias – a potential problem for unconventional adventurers seeking a place to rest in the wilds. Conversely, of course, cultures in hard circumstances may end up being more accepting, more interested in a person’s capabilities than anything else, unwilling to sacrifice a single member of the group and needing everyone to maximise their chances of survival.
Subcultures are also likely to have different ideas and beliefs. Arts communities have always tended to be more accepting – or at least willing to overlook – ‘aberrant’ behaviours and lifestyles and this is also true of nobility, clergy and (less so) of wealthy merchant classes. Power buys license and causes scandals to disappear and people to refer to differences as eccentricity, rather than treating them as a death sentence.
The stage, in particular in many cultures, has been a haven. In some cultures all stage actors – even those playing women – are men which provides a plae for those who like to dress and behave as women. Pantomime especially has traditions of women playing men and men playing women but men playing women was a tradition in Elizabethan theatre.
As mentioned in culture, above, wealth and nobility or other forms of power are also excuses for aberrant behaviour: “They’re not like us.” There’s also the matter that being powerful almost invariably means being wealthy – or being able to access wealth and favours. Based on older editions, for example, a permanent magical sex change would cost at least 810 gold pieces, nearly seven and a half years of wages for a skilled hireling. Needless to say, a great deal of money for most people within the fantasy setting and means that adjusting ones gender (or appearance) to conform with ones wishes would cost – roughly – the equivalent of $100,000 USD. The only people with access to the money, and thus the ability, to be the way they want to be will be magicians themselves, nobles, clergy, merchants… and adventurers. That makes a hell of a motivation for a character.
Bridget, from the game Guilty Gear is a boy who was brought up as a girl, dresses as a nun and acts as a bounty hunter. Voted one of the most popular characters in the game, you could do worse than emulate parts of that character!
Pie’Oh’Pah, from Clive Barker’s Imajicca is an hermaphroditic non-human, an assassin with a fluttering ‘something’ between their legs that lets them be a lover as a man or a woman. A ‘mystif’, a sort of familiar, able to become something people love and trust and to use that to be an assassin. Pie carries a lot of weight from not fitting in and not being master of their own destiny. Perhaps a concept that can be adapted for a a doppelganger, changeling or shifter.
Orlando, the character created by Virginia Woolf (in part as a means to avoid scandal about writing about lesbianism) is an immortal who slowly changes from one gender to another over the course of the years. While the original is fascinating, for roleplaying purposes I would look to the version of the character created by Alan Moore and Kev O’Neill for the expanded timeline of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – which is far more accessible for roleplayers.
Tiresias of Greek mythology was transformed into a woman for seven years after attacking two mating snakes and displeasing Hera. Making the best of it and his/her gift of prophecy, Tiresias became – according to some versions – a much sought after prostitute before regaining his/her masculinity.
In the Mahabharata, the hero Aryuna takes on the persona of Brihannala and lives as a woman for some time, teaching dance and living amongst the maidens. Modern Indian culture may be conservative – and often misogynistic – but there is a rich past of sexual and gender mythology and traditions if you go looking for them and the Indian legends and mythology are criminally under-represented in role-playing.
Alfhild was, according to somewhat apocryphal writings, a shield maiden with her own viking fleet, ‘manned’ by women.
In the old west, Charley Parkhurst lived as a man, despite being a woman, so successfully as to have voted at a time when very few women (presenting as women) could. One eyed after being kicked by a horse, Parkhurst had a reputation as a great stagecoach driver and despite living as a man, had, had a child somewhen in their past. It’s a life that makes you wonder at the REAL reason John Wayne’s real name was Marion.
Dee Palmer from Jethro Tull would make an interesting model for a bard, and a hell of a life.
Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont was a spy, diplomat, soldier and chevalier (knight) in the 18th century who spent the last thirty years or so of her life as a woman. D’Eon was consistently and constantly frustrated in attempting to serve her country but a version of them as a character could overcome those roadbocks and would be well suited to game settings of a more clock/steampunk bent.
Roman Emperor/Empress Elagabalus – whose gender and orientation are the subject of some debate – gave precisely zero fucks about the Roman establishment, took huge amounts of lovers of all sexes, forced members of their court to worship the god they insisted on, rather than Jupiter and otherwise made Caligula look like Queen Victoria. Which was all very interesting and inspiring as a power play, up until they were assassinated by the Praetorian Guard, aged only 18. A genderfluid Justin Bieber if you will.
Here’s the recording of the interview.
If you have any comments, questions or follow-ups ask in the comments and I’ll try to address them. I’ll probably append some notes and links anyway.
[00:10] – It’s Dez-Buh-Ruh, rather than Dez-Bo-Row, but I didn’t have the heart to correct him.
[01:18] – I didn’t want trigger warnings, for reasons which become obvious later.
[02:10] – A reasonably full – but incomplete – bibliography of my work is here.
[02:45] – The blog post ‘In Defence of Rape’ can be found here. The image at the top is of Leda and the Swan which at the time (spring 2012) was being subjected to censorship.
[03:05] – Tomb Raider rape controversy. Keep in mind this game/scene was written by Rihanna Pratchett, one of the more prominent female writers in gaming.
[04:28] – ‘In Defence of the Use of Rape in Fiction’ is also a rather clumsy and unnecessarily long title. Part of the argument was about knee-jerk reactions so perhaps it made a powerful point than I intended.
[06:57] – I’ve had a quick look for a cached version of the original petition but have been unable to find one. If you can please link in the comments. The petitions in support of me are still up and I include the links here for sake of completeness.
[08:00] – I believe the pieces referred to were mostly the Mongoose Publishing humour books, Nymphology: Blue Magic, The Slayer’s Guide to Female Gamers and The Quintessential Temptress. I believe these are still available in PDF form at RPGNOW if you want to check them for yourselves to judge whether they qualify or not. Hentacle and Cthentacle probably also concern these people.
[08:40] – Referencing Tom Lehrer who remarked that satire was dead when Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m saying something more like people no longer recognise satire. They seem to take everything at face value. The whole Dickwolves saga is a pertinent example to our subculture of humour flying over people’s heads, despite supporting their PoV.
[08:50] – I’ll write a short piece on the new censorship below this timeline.
[13:00] – Orson Scott Card.
[13:40] – Prop 8.
[14:30] – ‘Rape Culture’.
[15:40] – I think I answer this fairly completely but it’s worth reiterating. Tastefulness and skill cannot be criteria to judge because they’re too subjective. We need to be able to examine the subject whether we’re good at it or not so setting stipulations about respect and talent etc are non-starters.
[17:20] – These are what I would consider instances of rape culture. Now, I’m not saying what happens around some rapes in other countries is not also bad, but I am saying these are not even close to anything that could properly be termed a rape culture.
[18:00] – Steubenville.
[22:25] – A recent case highlighting this was the ‘Don’t be that guy’ and ‘Don’t be that girl’ controversy. GirlWritesWhat does a good interview about this with links etc here. It’s, apparently, fine to paint one entire gender as dangerous potential rapists, but point out the double standard and it makes national and international news.
[26:25] – Examples of the ‘ends justifying the means‘ (note that this oft-quoted statistic would be on-par with war rape in the DRC, which is an extraordinary claim.
[28:15] – I did a few Twitter and G+ searches before and after the interview and while I don’t want to single anyone out by name for fear trolls will exploit is, it was quite clear that people weren’t willing to listen and even if they did sit through the interview weren’t listening. They take any quite of questioning or probing as an attack or evidence of their conclusions. It’s a kafkatrap.
[29:20] – If I use a certain air of derision when I say ‘allowed’ it is because it pisses me off enough that emotion leaks through my attempt to be reasonable and polite in this interview. I think people are intelligent enough to moderate their own media intake.
[30:15] – The Handmaid’s Tale.
[32:00] – Tumblr. For it to truly be said to be free expression it must be both expressed, and received. You can express anything you want mumbled into your pillow at night but this does not count as free speech.
[36:00] – The hypothetical excludes erotica, which I felt was a mistake and I want to address that a bit more than in the video. People can tell reality from fantasy and women’s erotica very often contains scenes of ‘dubious consent’. Many women (and men) do have rape/rough/forced sex fantasies and these people deserve to have access to material that tickles their fancy. It doesn’t mean they approve of rape in reality. Note that this would include rape victims themselves who can find something cathartic or useful in exploring it as fantasy.
[36:10] – Past examples of people blaming/confusing reality and fantasy would include the Comics Code, D&D as Satanic, games as murder simulators etc. Hopefully people watching this would all agree that these claims are nonsense, but some would part company when it comes to sexual content. Why?
[37:42] – And this is why.
[37:50] – Nullius in Verba is the motto of The Royal Society and roughly means ‘Take nobody’s word for it’. “It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment”.
[38:30] – These definitional problems are consistent and need to be addressed for meaningful discussion to carry on. When we say ‘harm’ are we including hurt feelings or being offended? Should we avoid criticising or lampooning politicians because they might get offended? Or religious leaders? We need some kind of idea of what we actually mean by the word.
[40:20] – Shaming is a huge issue for men and women. I offer my thoughts from a male perspective here. I think Alyssa Royse’s TED talk about this in a broader context is required viewing.
[41:40] – Other than by dismantling shame I don’t really see a way around solving this problem. It is the job, however distasteful, of a defence lawyer in a rape trial to call things into question, to confuse the matter, to represent the victim as consenting in order to do the best for their own client. This is a feature of the justice system rather than a bug.
[41:50] – I would argue, if ever forced to concede a meaningful amount of harm from free expression, that this is acceptable given the gains it provides for us. Even in cases such as PTSD I would not accept that the acute distress of the few excuses censoring content from the many.
[45:30] – Anti-Harassment policies is a current issue and deserves more than footnotes. I’ll append that below.
[50:00] – The Amazing Meeting decline in female attendees:
“Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been no reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in scepticism actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.” – DJ
[51:40] – More people need to speak up, so please do.
[52:00] – I do think it’s worth noting that, for whatever reason it might be, gender parity in certain interests in unlikely. One does not see model train enthusiasts or quilters agonising over the fact that their hobbies are (virtually) mono-gendered.
[57:00] – I concede that it is possible that American conventions are different to such a degree that they are unrecognisable, I simply doubt it.
[60:00] – Elevatorgate.
[61:00] – This is referencing Schroedinger’s Rapist which I’ve talked about before. I would have liked to make the racial comparison more forcefully but was acutely aware of the scrutiny our discussion would be put under.
[65:00] – Contextual examination of young men as victims of violence Vs women as victims of rape.
[66:00] – Missed it at the time but Mark shifts the focus of the discussion in his example because the hypothetical man in the example is described as getting threatening. This is a demonstration of more likely harm and different to default interactions.
[70:00] – I also think trigger warnings have become a bit of a ‘Look at me! See how progressive I am!’ thing, which is also a shame.
“Censorship is where you cross the line from ‘I don’t like this’ to ‘This should not exist’.”
There seems to be a deep gap between what I – and others like me – consider censorship and what our opponents are willing to admit is censorship. I regard their PoV that censorship is limited to governmental action and that it does not apply to the things that they do. I understand why they would not want to be labelled as censors, just as non-denominational Christians seem to like to avoid the word ‘religion’ but in both cases, it is what it is.
Modern censorship is not taking place at the governmental level so much. It is taking place at the hands of the mob, through outrage and through commercial pressure. It’s no less effective and given choke points (such as payment services, hosting etc) this absolutely is de facto censorship as are actions like trying to get people fired etc.
There are legion examples of this kind of pressure beyond the attempts to censor me. I was part of the fight back against Paypal when they tried to restrict the use of money via Paypal to buy erotic fiction. The very existence of adult pay services – that charge premiums – is close to financial censorship. Nebulous ‘community standards’ and weasel words like ‘sexualised’ are used to justify these actions.
Tumblr is merely the most recent case of this happening.
Being against anti-harassment policies does not mean one is pro harassment. There are existing tools and laws to deal with these problems and other than offering advice as ‘Here is what you ought to do if this happens’ anything more is problematic for a variety of reasons.
The problematic quote from the Geekfeminism suggested anti-harassment policy which seems to be the same one endorsed by The Ada Initiative and now by people in gaming is this:
“Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference [without a refund] at the discretion of the conference organizers.”
This goes well beyond trying to stop harassment and starts to impede on expression, conversation, jokes amongst friends (Donglegate). It would mean an end to anything risque, the discussion of any adult topics (such as the ones in this interview). It is not acceptable and organisations and events should think twice before agreeing to adopt it.
The potential for abuse is not just potential, it is actual.
Another example off the top of my head would be the persecution of Jessica Nigri at Pax (NB she’s a cosplayer, not a booth babe)
In the atheist/sceptic community some feminists have been trying to argue that ‘harassment policies’ should even apply beyond the bounds of the conference itself into private spaces and off-site spaces. Essentially wanting to control all human interactions even around the event rather than in it.
Thunderf00t covers, quite well, the use of these tactics and the damage they’ve done in atheism/skepticism
Video 2 (Probably the most relevant)
Having seen this happen in scepticism I do not want this to take place in gaming or SF&F.
Nerdy groups are a soft touch, they need to be less so.
I’ll be doing an interview about various controversial issues in gaming – and more general geek society – this coming Saturday from 3pm EST.
It’ll be recorded but since it’s a hangout it’ll also be live.
Hopefully we can have a respectful discussion without the witch-hunting that normally goes on in these discussions.
+Mark Diaz Truman will interview +James Desborough , controversial veteran of RPG publishing, about taboos and difficult subjects in gaming. The conversation will focus on the role of free speech and community standards in publishing, specifically how sensitive material should or should not be handled differently from ordinary material.
James ‘Grim’ Desborough has over a hundred writing credits to his name including Hentacle [ http://www.rpgnow.com/product/15750/Hentacle ], Agents of Swing [http://www.rpgnow.com/product/91482/Agents-of-SWING ], Blood [http://www.rpgnow.com/product/23173/Blood ] and The Munchkin’s Guide to Power Gaming [ http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=SJG30-3003 ]. An Origin Award winner, his work has been praised for its creativity and humour as well as being condemned for its sexual content and depiction of women. A fierce advocate for free speech, Desborough has been banned for life from RPG.Net.
In June 2012, Desborough published a blog post called In Defence of Rape [http://talesofgrim.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/in-defence-of-rape/ ], a response to the debate [ http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/06/15/should-rape-have-a-place-in-videogames/ ] over reports about a rape scene in the new Lara Croft Tomb Raider [ Tomb Raider: Lara Croft’s First Kill! ( Rape Scene) ] game, part of a larger debate about sexism in games and the gaming industry. The inflammatory title, which Desborough himself describes as “link bait”, drew negative attention across communities. His active participation in the resulting discussion helped fuel arguments on forums, social media, and blogs, as well as online protests. This instance in the larger discussion on sexism in modern storytelling gained particular notoriety due to the questionable actions of some of those involved; Desborough was found to be dismissive, offensive, or even threatening by some readers. In turn, some commentators accused Desborough of harboring desires to see women raped, and some activists called for publishers and stores to drop his work.
A year on from these events, Indie+ has invited James Desborough to part take in an interview on handling difficult subjects. As someone who has been accused of stepping over the line of acceptable behaviour and experienced first hand the social ramifications of controversy, he has a unique perspective on the subject. At the same time Indie+ recognises the need for care when discussing issues that may be disturbing to some people; the interview will be conducted by Mark Diaz Truman, a writer, game publisher and a supporter of inclusive gaming. The aim of the interview is for a thoughtful and balanced discussion about sensitive subjects and their role in games.
Over the last 15 months, Indie+ has run a series of events, many of which have touched on subjects of race and gender. We are proud of our commitment to supporting diversity in gaming. We recognise our responsibilities and will make time available during future events for any persons wishing to respond to the subjects raised in the interview.
Yet more gender-wars have been erupting on the internet. Yesterday it was about ConTessa an online con intended to step aside from the gender wars and promote the positive contribution of women in gaming and general nerdery. Ostensibly a great idea. Ironically, and somewhat predictably, it immediately became a lightning-rod for the gender wars and this was in no small part due to the policies and self-described nature of the event in its rough-draft guidelines (it explicitly excluded men from aspects of the con EDIT: And still does in its second incarnation).
Today it’s the #1ReasonWhy hashtag on Twitter which is being used to try and describe the trials and tribulations, under-representation etc of women in the gaming (and more general nerdery) industry. Again, predictably, this fairly rapidly descended into man-bashing and this from people who claim to be anti-sexism.
In both cases the laudable and original aim of promoting female contributions and driving for egalitarianism has been undermined by its own proponents. In the case of LadyCon/ConTessa because of its policy that no men are to be involved in the organisational or presentational side of it. In the case of #1ReasonWhy it’s not only the parade of sexism but also the condemnation of anything men might happen to like as being badwrongfun.
This, needless to say, does not foster an atmosphere of tolerance or understanding and appears to those of us sensitised to unfairness and sexism to be deeply hypocritical.
The fact is that the world of the do-gooder is as riddled with presumption, prejudice and privilege as the injustices that they attack. The presumption, in these cases, that men go out of their way to exclude or dismiss women. The idea that the things that men like and want in their games or media are necessarily bad or necessarily exclude women from liking the same things.
Prejudice also exists in other arenas such as erotica, pornography and sex-work. Often from the very people who claim to be out to help. Today that was an Irish organisation’s ‘Man Up’ campaign on Twitter against domestic violence which failed to take into account that men can be victims too and that ‘man up’ means to endure in silence – not helpful.
Previously I’ve seen sex-workers vilified for enjoying their work and have seen them be confused with human trafficking issues. I acknowledge that my more libertine point of view may not fit everyone but I don’t see the harm so long as it’s all consensual and by choice. Same with people who make porn and who suffer a great deal from nasty commentary, lack of understanding and judgement from people who would consider themselves ‘progressive‘.
When you look at an entire industry and broad-brush paint the men in it as sexist, self-interested or conspiring (somehow) against women you are being as sexist as the very few men that would actually fit that description.
Part of the problem here is the presumption that everyone else is ‘like you’ and that things need to be homogenised and changed in order to fit you, or your group’s, desires. Homogeneity isn’t equality and I doubt you’d see people argue that Die Hard needs more time spent on romance or Pride and Prejudice needs more explosions. ‘Games should be for everyone‘ is a frankly facile and stupid thing to say. More ‘There should be games for everyone’ (and there are even if they don’t necessarily meet with massive commercial success).
This homogenisation would mean a loss of diversity, not a gain. Women cannot presume that men react to these games/comics etc the same way that they do or indeed even that other women necessarily react or think the same way they do. It’s much better to argue for addition than for change since change attacks and removes something that someone else loves. That’s going to lose good will and cost opportunities to make points and create change.
People like a lot of things. People like different things. That one person reacts to something negatively or perceives it as negative doesn’t mean that it is.
Some people like curry, some people like cucumber finger sandwiches. Some people like to ogle Lara Craft while they put her through a gymnastics routine (and some of those are women) others don’t.
It undermines your message of acceptance and diversity if you fail to accept and accommodate the needs and desires of others. It invites people to ignore your needs and desires in return.
To take an example from the feminist movement of a breakdown of this sort, some meetings and rallies have had a ‘Women born women’ policy. That is to say no m2f transsexuals permitted on the grounds that they’re ‘not real women’.
Now, this is objectively true at a chromosomal and morphological level AND most likely at an experiential level growing up pre-transition (life experience as a male is going to mean different perceptions and exposure to different experiences than growing up female). However, it seriously undermines any sort of egalitarian principle and plays into the same kind of prejudice that lead to two girls beating up a trans woman in a restaurant toilet. They regarded the situation as being that of a Peeping Tom and again, one can understand that POV even if one disagrees with the outcome.
Creating a women only space, implicitly or explicitly, is not going to foster communication. It’s going to be nothing more than a cheerleading exercise. It’s only going to attract the faithful (and Cockatoo Cichlids) and is going to turn a lot of people off who might have useful insights but just happen to have the wrong gender plumbing – and that’s what we’re trying to fight against, right?
A ‘safe space’, a cheerleader-only space, doesn’t foster communication or solutions to problems. It creates an echo chamber, a positive feedback loop. These kind of closed ‘yes men’ situations are found to lead to extremism. In a very real sense they make compromise and accommodation less likely, not more likely and create levels of alienation from the cause that can cost potential allies.
A big part of the problem with these arguments is that any kind of dissent or disagreement is taken as an attack or an insult when this needn’t be the case. Ironically, the same people who are happy to ‘call people on their shit’ are profoundly unwilling to countenance any protest when they’re ‘called on THEIR shit’.
Robust and worthwhile ideas, theories, concepts are able to withstand criticism and they come out all the stronger for it. This is why Peer Review exists in science and why people work so hard to find problems with scientific theories. If it can resist being proven wrong, it’s a good theory. If people find valid criticisms of the way you’re conducting your social agenda, it might be worth taking a look.
So, is there a solution to all this? I think there is and that’s ‘Make Good Art‘. Add to what is here, don’t take away from it. The problem is not half naked women in games. There’s nothing actually, inherently wrong with catering to majority male sexuality (especially if you audience is predominantly male). The problem is the lack of other options.
Things are changing, additions are being made but this never seems to be enough and is rarely acknowledged. Dragon Age and Mass Effect get as much criticism as praise, despite making massive strides for gender equality in storylines and more grown-up and intricate storylines (if we pretend DA2 didn’t exist anyway).
There are games such as Borderlands and Lollipop Chainsaw that cock a wink at and make fun of the existing stereotypes and turn them on their head (seriously, is anyone in BL2 NOT gay/bi?) but, again, get attacked.
Like I say, we need to add, not take away. Increase our game options and more people are happy, attack someone over something they love and try to take it away and you’ll see their heels get dug in.
For tabletop games the barrier to entry is practically non-existent these days. There’s no reason whatsoever you can’t add to the diversity and scope of RPGs or boardgames but there’s no need to start from a position of ‘man stuff is bad and wrong’. That’s about as mature as ‘girls have kooties’.
For computer games there’s a bit more of a barrier but looking at the #1reasonwhy tag there’s all these women with company start-up experience, design experience, software programming skills and so on so why aren’t they chasing down some venture capital, creating a start-up company or making more indie games? Where’s the Kickstarters for girl games rather than for films bashing boy games?
Can we honestly not accept that different people like different things (sometimes based on gender) and that this is OK and not fundamentally evil? Do we see equal complaint in areas where men are under-represented or sidelined? Where’s the campaign decrying the evil fact that online Bingo is exclusively marketed to women?
If you want to see a more tolerant and inclusive world it falls upon you to be that and most people, taken on good faith, are just out to create things that they love and enjoy themselves. They’re not out to hurt you or even to purposefully exclude you (unless they’re the Westboro Baptist Church). Men want more women to be into games. They want partners who understand their love of Zelda/Xmen/D&D very much.
If you want people to be accepting, you have to be accepting.
If you want gender not to matter, it has to not matter to you.
If you want to see games that emphasise X over Y or Z then you need to make it happen.
A lot of the time these kinds of debates get nowhere because each side is looking for something to justify ignoring the other side. Even legitimate questions or points are dismissed. In the arena of the gender wars Derailing for Dummies is a particular culprit, as is Feminism 101 and the horrendously sexist term ‘Mansplaining’. Armed camps is no way to proceed and like accusations of emotional argument, PMS or bitchiness these things are the WMD of discussion.
As such I propose an open invitation to a calm and open blog debate where no question or dissent is considered stupid or out of bounds and such dismissals are disallowed. One on one – to avoid dogpiling – and with a limit of one post per day or even week.
Without communication there can be no progress and as someone who is staunchly egalitarian and has become increasingly turned off to women’s complaints and concerns by the very people supposedly promoting them, the fact that we seem unable to have that communication pains me.
Topics to be covered might include:
Just off the top of my head. My debate partner could choose several of their own and I’m sure any debate would throw up new items.
I have tried to keep this post as calm and explanatory as possible, as open as possible. Some will no doubt take it as yet another opportunity to misinterpret, misunderstand and/or give me a good kicking but I present it in good faith.