Dec 232012
 

I have touched gently upon the subject of women in gaming before. It’s not something I talk about a lot, mainly because in my life it isn’t that big a deal. I game as part of a large role playing society that has a pretty healthy gender mix (still very much dude-heavy, but far from a sausage fest), and we’ve never put up with the kind of sexist/misogynistic behavior that I’ve heard about elsewhere. That being said, we still buy rule books, and I still get wound up by how women are represented in them. It’s not just RPGs though, so if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go on a little bit of a ramble right now.

I love watching strong female characters in action. I do however feel a little let down when they’re portrayed by tiny waif like creatures who look they’ve never eaten a meat pie in their lives. As an example, I find it hard to believe that this character is an absolute kick ass hard assassin.

Seriously, she’s tiny and has bugger all muscle tone and definition. I understand that a trained fighter can use leverage and perform amazing feats without being the strongest person in the world, but think back to how many times you’ve watched a movie or a TV show with a kick ass female lead, and they’ve been as sylph-like as Summer Glau.

Now, doesn’t Michelle look like she can handle herself just a little bit better in a fight. And yet, she is rarely cast in a lead role as an action star, instead ending up as part of the backdrop. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great in those roles, but so often is overshadowed by women with a slighter figure, who for some reason are seen as been better suited to that kind of role.

Lets go one further shall we. I’m sure a lot of my readers have seen the rather wonderful

sci-fi action/horror flick, Aliens. Do you remember this character? She kicked all kinds of ass, and held her own against the xenomorphs when surrounded by butch colonial marines. She looked and acted the part perfectly, but died while the rather incapable and more photogenic Ripley lived on. This happens a lot, and if you look at female characters as depicted in RPG rule books, you’ll almost always see the kind of thing. Male characters come in all shapes and sizes, but not so much female ones (I don’t want to get into a debate on costumes right now, but one phrase will sum up my opinions pretty well: Boob-windows?).

If I was an adventurer, I would be looking for compatriots who looked capable, not pretty. I have played a wide variety of characters in the past, and only one whom I actually described as handsome. It was a 7th Sea game, and it made sense for him to be a bit of ladies man. Other than that I’ve played all manner of grizzled adventurers, and con-men. They’ve been scarred, short & chubby and sometimes, just plain ugly, and no one has ever decided that they would rather not have me in the party because of it. So why is it assumed that female characters have to be hot to get accepted?

I’m not talking about all the time here, and of course there are exceptions, and ground is being made in a lot of arenas, but this is still certainly a problem.

One more example, and the reason my mind turned to this subject. I watched the latest

Batman film recently, and before it even started, I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much as the others, for one simple reason: Catwoman. Her story has been told before, and there really is nothing new to add to it, and I think Nolan just covered the basics without doing anything exciting with this character. And it is a dull, and cliched character. She is a skilled acrobat, and that’s kind of cool, but when a fight starts, I’ve never quite gotten how she poses a threat to Batman. She is always portrayed as just a slim as the other examples above, but here she is in Nolan’s movie. Lithe? certainly. Able to kick the crap out a guy in body armour who has had years of the finest combat training? Maybe not.

And here I come back to gaming again. If I was looking for a cat burglar to join in a caper I was on, I would be a hell of a lot more concerned with function than form. Anyone who turned up to the job in stiletto heals for instance, would  be laughed out the door. I love the idea of Catwoman as an actual thief. Someone who has to keep themselves in the kind of shape you’d need to be in to do the things she can do. have you ever seen a professional freerunner? Those guys are built like brick outhouses, and they need to be to hold up their entire body weight for as long as they have to while on a run. And to be able to fight, they need muscle mass for that too. All in all, I think it’s time for RPG games designers and artists to take a long hard look at how they represent women in their games.

Give them archetypes that make sense, that show that they are just as capable as the male characters, and really should dress in a manner appropriate to the job they will be doing. As always, comments and discussions are more than welcome, even if you don’t agree with me.

Jun 192012
 

Anyone interested in gaming culture this week will know that the biggest stories have been about the treatment of women within the hobby. It seemed to start with trailer for the latest Tomb Raider game, which contained a pretty damned lazy plot point that quite rightly had people up in arms. To be fair, a lot of them were pissed just because it was pretty shoddy writing; why does rape need to be alluded to, to show a women in a weakened state? A total cop-out and very poor short cut in this writer’s opinion.

Around about the same time, it was brought to light just how fucked up a lot of the comments posted on female gamers’ blogs could be. I’m not going to go into the details here, mainly because it’s just down right depressing, but also because people with a lot more interesting things to say on the subject have already said them with more power to their words than I could wring from mine. If you’re interested though, Felicia Day is someone whom I would point you towards.

My take on this is more as a tabletop gamer, console gaming being something I am relatively new to, having picked up a controller for the first time in a decade only a couple of years ago. So, does this same kind of ridiculous thinking pervade my hobby too? Sadly, of course it does. It’s rare – thankfully – but I have seen it with my own eyes.

My main socializing time spent with RPGers is thankfully devoid of such petty mindedness. The society actually has (as far as the hobby is concerned) an above average split of male/female players. It still comes out as close to a 5/1 ratio, but as I say, this is in a predominantly male hobby. With these numbers, with women drastically outnumbered by men, it seems like we do pretty well with the menfolk not treating their opposite number as anything other than respected equals. There are a few reasons for this.

Probably the most important is that there is no anonymity in the society, we meet up in a pub where everyone else can listen to what you have to say by just walking past, so anybody better be prepared to defend their opinion against some very rigorous arguments. Is there a chance that some of the guys I hang out with weekly are misogynistic twats the rest of the week? Of course there is. But when they’re surrounded by other people, everyone is nice as pie. There have been exceptions to this, but those people are swiftly kicked into touch by another reason there is so little sexism in HUGS. One of our longest running members – and most prolific participant on the executive board – is one fearsomely strong lady, in every sense of the word, and she brooks no nonsense on any such matters. She’s also a rugby fan, so kicking people into touch gives her great pleasure. (I’m remembering an instance of extreme racism with an ex-member of the society who was swiftly informed that he was no longer welcome at our weekly meetings, starting immediately. Whenever I think of this person I can’t help but paraphrase the great Garth Ennis, “Why is it the greatest champions of the white race are always the worst examples of it”?)

There is another fantastic side to the feminism story within HUGS, that involves a certain member, who for now shall remain nameless. They turn up fairly regularly in very fetching skirt and corset combinations as a way of highlighting their own opinions on feminism. If I can, I’ll get them to add something in the comments, as I would only be regurgitating their own ethos, instead of letting them speak for themselves.

That rules out HUGS for a lot of gaming based misogyny, but I have still seen it. I’ve been in a game when it’s happened in fact. It is annoyingly easy to let it slide occasionally and put it down to someone’s messed up sense of humour (my own running to the darker side on occasion), but that’s really no excuse. Especially when it’s not even funny, just misinformed, hurtful, outdated and frankly makes one wonder how these people ever formed a lasting relationship.

The comments I’ve overheard are just pathetic. Who the hell still thinks that it’s a given that if a woman wants to play a ranger, she will be all friends of the earth, with a cute little fluffy bunny as a familiar? Sod that, she had a hawk that was bloody useful for scouting and ripping people’s eyes out! I could go on here, but that would do nothing for the argument. No matter how enlightened the group you’re in, I’m sure any RPGers reading this have had similar experiences. Playing Vampire:the Masquerade? “So the girl will be playing a Toreador then”? Fuck off! This happens a bit too much for my liking.

All that considered, is there anything to be done about? Take the lead of our kick ass rugby fan for a start, and just don’t put up with it (like I have done in the past – to my shame). Choose not to hang out with that type of gamer; if they want to make those kind of comments, sod them. If enough people leave them to it, it has to be hoped that eventually a pattern will become noticeable and they’ll do something about it.

Here’s an odd suggestion, but one I’ve tried with some pretty good results in the past (and will be doing again this evening in fact). Make a bunch of pre-gen’ed characters for your game and give them unisex names/handles, with the most androgynous descriptions and backgrounds possible. Whoever picks up the character plays it as they like; so the big brute of a solo could be a six foot African man or woman hacking into people with a machete; the shy retiring medtechie might be a chap or a chapette who keeps away from combat and just tries to help people.

I know, that’s a limited solution, but hey, every little helps.

I would rather my comments on this didn’t end up as a list of shitty things people have experienced during games (but hey, not gonna stop you), but rather some good stuff that’s happened during your own games, or even ideas to try to lessen the impact of sexist twats on the hobby we love.