Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ridiculous? (Or: I agree with you, right up until where I don't)

So I want to take a moment to say hello to those of you who found their way here from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess blog. (Holy traffic spike batman!) I also want to take a moment to respond to some comments made in the post that linked to the blog.

REQUISITE DISCLAIMER: But before I begin, let me make clear that I don't secretly hate LotFP, or think that Jim is a horrible awful person who hates women, or anything like that. Honestly, LotFP isn't really my cup of tea, but that's cool. Some people do like it, and that's cool too. Honest.


Okay, so in this post, Jim talks about how in the last edition of LotFP he wound up with a contextless naked chick that he wasn't thrilled about:
But there is a naked lady in there, suddenly with no context. At the time of layout I was aware that this was not necessarily a good thing. I hate cheesecake art that comes across as being out of context. And the way the layout was going, Ollam Onga's swingin' doodaddle wasn't making it in the final product. To solve this imbalance, I was actually putting together an art montage, punk rock album style, to include in all the little art bits that got chopped by layout. And then I realized I was spending several hours on this for the sole purpose of having a cock in the game as a balance against showing a snatch.

I stopped immediately as it was quite obviously stupid and ridiculous, and just had to suffer that there was an out of context nude woman in there.
And I was like, hey - it happens. I'm lucky enough that in the one small game I published I was able to illustrate it myself - but it was a tiny project. For something as big as LotFP, that probably wouldn't be feasible. It's not terribly reasonable for me to sit on a high horse and decry contextless naked chick in this circumstance, and really it's just nice to know that there was some thought about the situation. Cool. So far, no complains sir.

But then he goes on to say:
So here I am counting instances of "female in power, female not in power, female scantily clad, female not scantily clad..." in the art that I'm commissioning because I feel I have to be aware of such things because people are watching and there's always talk of such things. And then I realize it's ridiculous. So I stop. And I think about a few things.
And I'm like... wait. Go back. Ridiculous? Really? And here's the part where I say to myself, wow. I was totally in agreement with you, right up until now when I stop agreeing. And from there he goes on to say some other things which I partially agree with and partially don't, but mostly can be summarized as a defense of traditional fantasy cheesecake tropes as RPG art and really you should go read the post if you haven't yet. Please, go read.

Okay. Now don't mistake me, not all of the things that he says are things that I disagree with. His explanation of why he's not going to shy away from violence against women in his art because of how the art fits into the setting makes sense to me. Ditto for his comments on the ridiculousness of bloodless violence in fantasy art. Once again, I'm not accusing Jim of being an eeeeeevil anti-feminist publisher. That's honestly not my intent.

But I just keep coming back to the word "ridiculous". Is it ridiculous to ask that publishers think about these things when commissioning and laying out art in their books? I don't think so. Yes there are women who like that sort of thing - I'm not going to claim that I speak for all women here. But there are women for whom the boobtacular cheesecake that dominates fantasy art is troublesome.

So, okay, Jim mentions a personal story of how the model for his topless snake demon was disappointed that she wouldn't be able to cos-play the character because of said toplessness. And I know she's not alone - at any geekery convention you see women cos-played in skimpy costumes. Jim's argument is that beauty is power, and again I agree except for where I don't.

Let me counter with a personal story of my own. So the first time I went to GenCon back in 2005? (maybe 2006?), I have a vivid memory of walking into the Dealer's Room for the first time and experiencing it as almost a tangible wall of chainmail bikini porn. And my very first thought was - wow, if I had known that this is what roleplaying was like, I'm not sure that I would have been okay with picking this up as a hobby. My first exposure to roleplaying was through LARP and D&D with friends. Perhaps it was naive, but I honestly was not expecting the vast quantities of fantasy porn.

My second thought, hot on the heels of the first, was IS THIS HOW THEY SEE ME? It was a very demoralizing and saddening realization, the idea that - outside of my insulated bubble of people that I was good friends with that I also happened to game with - that my worth as a gamer was probably judged (by some) more by my larger-than-average breasts than anything else.

And all of this was before I had done any real reading about feminism or gotten involved with trying to get more women into gaming. Looking back, I can see that part of the shock was realizing that roleplaying, which I had previously assumed to be a gender-neutral space, was actually an intensely gendered space that was actively unwelcoming to women. I didn't have the words to articulate it then, though, and I remember being frustrated when I tried to talk about it later. But I have the words now, so let me say this.

Wanting to consider how women are depicted in game art is not ridiculous. There are women who enjoy cheesecake representations of women, true. But there are women for whom the overwhelming prevalence of cheesecake is a source of personal pain and doubt. I've come to love this hobby too much to give it up now, and I realize that my preferences are not universal. But I am a female gamer who often feels marginalized by the legions of cheesecake women adorning fantasy products and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in my views either.

All of this is not to say that Jim is wrong and that LotFP is a bad product and you shouldn't buy it. Honestly, I'm thrilled that Jim is aware enough of these issues to take these things into consideration when working with his artists. I'm just trying to assert that standing up for more balanced portrayals of women is an equally valid viewpoint. So, you know, please don't flame me.