Filed under Gaming

Another Associated Geekery episode!

We did another episode of the show, we’ve done a few actually and I’m just needing to remember to post them here more often, join us wont you?

Girlfriend Mode: Just Another Straw

If you’re a gamer, you’ve been there: you want to share a game so desperately with someone else, you want to play together, to enjoy it together, but they just suck. Maybe it’s just this game, maybe it’s most games, but you want to play this awesome title and you want to share this with them, and they just can’t keep up. And sometimes maybe you wish there was a way for them to be able to play this game without either of you throwing the controller in rage. If only there was a setting or a mode for that…

Quoth John Hemingway:

I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters.

You may be expecting me to rail against Hemingway on this point, to call him out on flagrant sexism, to perhaps throw rocks at the BLT team. But I’m not going to do that, because honestly, that’s not the problem, and that’s not the point.

Instead I want to focus on a very telling bit of wording in that quote: “for the lack of a better term.”

Gaming and geek culture in general has a specific self-identity, that it is largely comprised of white, straight dudes who behave in stereotypical male ways. Challenge instead of acceptance. Confrontation instead of cooperation. Domination instead of community. This is celebrated as what is Good and True about gaming, and others need not apply. This may not be the dominant part of the community — it’s certainly not in the people I hang out with, though I have met these assholes before — but it’s an image which is there, and which has stuck.

What comes along with this a casual misogyny, revealed by the constant derision of things which are more stereotypically feminine, by the assumption that women cannot bring as much to the table as men can when it comes to gaming. It is revealed by phrases like “girlfriend mode.” It is revealed by the fact that (a) everybody understands what is meant by that phrase, and (b) the developer can’t seem to think of a better way to communicate the idea. There is an implication here that women don’t play games, and when they do, they are the girlfriend of a man who does.

Daniel Nye Griffiths described this very succinctly by saying, “‘girlfriend mode’ is just another note in an unwelcoming chorus.” It’s another straw being delicately placed across the camel’s back, nestled into the ever-growing pile of casual insults which only serve to remind women that while they are welcome, they will never be truly welcome.

Can’t think of a better term to describe making a game less difficult? How about “Easy Mode”? Is that a completely new phrase to gaming? Howsabout “Newbie Mode”? Or maybe “Freshman Mode”?

I could do this all day. There are tonnes of ways to indicate a lack of skill that don’t imply gender.

The point is, it’s so ingrained in gaming culture that women are only present as significant others, and when they are present they are never going to be as good as and certainly never better than the men they are with, that this is the kind of phrase that gets tossed around. Is “girlfriend mode” an explosive phrase all on its own? Not really. But it’s just one more way in which men show women what they truly think of us. It’s a symptom of a bigger disease.

Yes it’s a casual slip, but that fact is important. This is what happens when barriers are down, and language goes unscreened. This shit is so ingrained, so ever-present, that it becomes inescapable.

Sexism Doesn’t Exist, Except When It Totally Exists

On Wednesday night I went to the Women in Games event at Zynga. It was pretty awesome, I got to talk to some incredibly smart and talented people in the industry, and hear some really sharp women talk about their experiences. The panel was a joy to listen to, in particular Brenda Garno, who is totally fabulous and knows all my feels about being a lady in a male-dominated environment.

But something cropped up in the panel discussion, and it came up a few times, and it’s one of those things that irks me that we do: saying sexism “doesn’t exist” in the spaces we occupy, then go on to say “oh wait except for this one example I have.”

“I never notice sexism. People treat me the same. Oh except that I get asked a lot if I’m in marketing.”

“I’m one of the guys, you know? I’m not like other girls, so they respect me.”

“There’s less sexism in games than anywhere else, I think. Oh but I get treated like armcandy a lot.”

“I don’t dress nice because I don’t want guys to get certain opinions of me, you know?”

This is pretty common, and it makes me sad. And there are a few problems in statements like these. Saying sexism doesn’t exist because it’s never happened to you (that you can recall) is like saying Australia doesn’t exist because you’ve never been there.

I think a lot of this comes down to having to refine the definition of sexism. Once upon a time, sexism was smacking your secretary’s ass and telling her to get some coffee, sweetheart. Sexism was telling a woman to her face that she was being let go because shouldn’t she be at home with the kids anyway? It was telling a woman she couldn’t do something because her ovaries would get in the way.

This sort of behaviour is unacceptable now. But you know what’s totally acceptable? Assuming every woman at a gaming convention is there to be looked at by men and judged on their fuckability, rather than assuming the nicely-dressed woman standing at the booth might actually be responsible for developing the game she’s selling. If a woman is attractive, it’s acceptable to dismiss her, to say she only got to where she is based on looks alone. The shit that gets spewed forth in the comments pages on Kotaku is acceptable. How do I know all this is acceptable? Because it keeps happening, and nobody’s really putting a stop to this shit.

So that’s one point. Sexism is more subtle, harder to spot, and easier to dismiss. But there’s another problem here, one that irks me ever so much: why does a woman have to be “one of the guys” to be accepted?

There was a comment made which was such a clear-cut example of internalized misogyny that I had to bite my hand to keep from laughing out loud. “I’m not like other girls. I’m one of the guys.”

Here’s the thing: being “one of the guys” is totally cool. Being a woman whose personality is dominated by typically masculine traits is totally cool. I’m really glad that it’s acceptable for women to behave that way.

What I’m not okay with is deriding women who act typically feminine. And I’m less-okay with the traits that were described as belonging to “most other girls”: catty back-biting, passive-aggressive comments, obsession with appearance… basically a MRA laundry list of why women suck. I shouldn’t have to state the obvious, but I’m going to: these traits exist among both men and women (seriously, meet the men in my office, oh the catty gossip). Singling out women as being the ones who posses this trait unfairly maligns an entire gender, all because you can’t think past the latest romcom you just watched.

But what about other typically feminine traits? Nurturing? Building? Concern with appearance? How are these bad things? Why are we celebrating eschewing these traits in favor of conquering and destruction? How about a little balance?

It’s difficult to argue sexism doesn’t exist when the panelists themselves are making the sexist comments.

And lest I sound like I’m harping on games, let me be clear: this problem is everywhere. I have had to rescue women from creepy-ass men at professional scifi/fantasy literature conventions (professional conventions), only to have them turn around and say “There’s no sexism in SFF.” This shit happens errywhere. It’s simply easier to deny the problem than face it.

The point was raised that things are so much better now than they were ten or twenty years ago. And I agree. They are. Totally better. Loads better. Alls I’m saying is, let’s not rest on our laurels. Let’s keep pushing this.

WotC to Women, Minorities: “It’s Just Business”

So we’ve been having some good discussions on the Internets about DnDNext and fixing the crap that we see in the art. You know what I’m talking about. The sexist, racist crap, the stuff that caters to the male gaze, male power fantasies, all that noise. The stuff that shows the genre hasn’t really grown since its original publication in 1974. People have been talking about that, and how much it sucks, and how we should totally fix it, and why we should fix it, and sunshine and puppies and rainbows.

If you are a reader of the D&D Comics, you should be familiar with one of the Fell’s Five, Tisha. She’s a strong and capable character with lots of spunk. The majority of the folks that I’ve talked to love her character, but a few have commented to me about her depiction. They acknowledge that my main audience is older males. They acknowledge that her “role” doesn’t require armor. They even acknowledge that her look is in line with the general depictions within 4th edition. Despite all that, they still have some concerns about her depiction. Too much skin, too sexy, too large breasted, and so on.

Got it.

For every email I get along these lines, I get ten from folk who love her. Does that make me right in my decision to “approve” this depiction? I’m sure there will be folks on both sides of that argument. I made a decision based upon the business goals, the sales channel, the audience as it was defined, and what was acceptable in the market at the time. Times change. Audiences change. Business goals change. And fan acceptance changes. When that happens, I change my decision-making process as well. Remember, I mentioned earlier that I am a professional creative. I make decisions that help keep me employed. If the world changes, the way I do business changes.

So. Joe Schindehette. Your blog post. Where do I begin.

Well for one thing, this blog post is just a long-winded, meandering, pseudo-philosophical way of trying to justify your desire to draw tits all day. I mean, let’s just sweep that one right off the table there. Be honest with all of us, and more importantly, be honest with yourself.

Mainly, though, you’re trying to hide behind this thin veneer of “business, people!” and is a mediocre excuse at best.

“It’s just business.” It’s just business that white folk don’t want to share a restaurant with black folk. It’s just business that “men work harder than women”, and women are “just going to get pregnant and leave your company anyway”, so don’t pay them as much, don’t offer them the same benefits, don’t fully cover their medical needs, don’t invest in them as employees. It’s just business that the gay guy kind of weirds out your customers so you should maybe find a reason to let him go. It’s just business.

It’s not just business. It’s hurtful. It’s part of a larger system where women are cast as sex objects, and treated as less valued in the workplace. It’s part of a system where black actors can’t get a leading role of value in a mainstream film, where Idris Elba can never be Batman (and come on, guys, how amazing would that be?). Where despite that Megan in Bridesmaids was the character who actually had her shit together, she was still the butt of the joke. When 99.999% of the positive rolemodels are also white, thin, able-bodied persons, typically male, and it’s impossible to find a character who looks like you and is celebrated, there’s a problem. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything has context.

It may be business, but there’s nothing just about it.

And if you’re still unmoved, folks at WotC, then you could stand to read what the fiction editor at Paizo has to say about objectification and the bottom line:

If you haven’t already determined that there are some major problems around gender in the SF&F publishing world, a quick Google search should yield a hundred authors better equipped to discuss the problem than I am. But even if you aren’t interested in such issues, you should know they’re out there, and that they’re both important and worth discussing.

Got it? Good. Because I’m going to ignore all that and talk economics instead. All too often in these discussions, I see people jump straight to the philosophical side of things and miss a key point:

Cheesecake covers can hurt sales.

Come on, folks. Paizo is calling you out on excessive T&A. And stomping all over your bullshit financial arguments.

“It’s just business”? Please.

The worst part about all of this, if you ask me, is that we’re just looking for parity. We’re just looking for companies and creators to create things for a broader audience. Don’t stop making chainmail-bikini clad women. Just add some women in proper armor. Have your hero be black. Draw a female barbarian who looks like a body builder. Draw a fat female cleric. Something for someone on every page.

But no, they won’t, because it’s easier and safer to make every page cater to one audience. It’s lazy, and they’re comfortable with being lazy.

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Many Links for a Friday


Static Shock: Blackout (Short Film)

STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math)

Banned from Kickstarter for being a Stalking Victim — Wow, Kickstarter. Good. Fucking. Game.

Internet Entrepreneurship is Getting Arab Women into the Business World

‘Sandwich Makers’ Finally Described as ‘Female’ in Facebook’s Leet Speak Option — “In the interest of hearing all sides of the situation—it’s only fair—I fired off an e-mail to our contacts at Facebook PR asking for comment on the “54ndw1ch m4k3r” description. Not long after the e-mail was sent, I checked the settings again and “54ndw1ch m4k3r” had quietly been changed to “Female” under the Leet Speak option. But why did Facebook wait until now to do so?”

Hackerspace for Moms in Berkeley — Holy cow, this is so cool.


Female Science Fiction Author Reading List

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story — I may have linked this before and I’m likely to someday link it again, but every time this comes back on my radar, I just want to share its awesomeness.

Amy Boggs on Diversity in Books and Why She Wants to See More


Before you ask, I’m not linking to the stupid Oatmeal bullshit because no.

The Type of Women I Want to See at PAX — A personal essay on being trans at a gaming convention.

Colonialism and Games — A game specifically designed to bring up discussion about colonialism.

Ten Year Old Makes Audio-Only Game for his Blind Grandmother — HANG ON I HAVE SOMETHING IN MY EYE


Tosh.O Suggests Dudes Should Grope Women For Laughs — So can we arrest him yet? I discovered that making mediocre television isn’t a crime (unfortunately), but surely this must be?


How to Spot a Male Fauxminist — Male Fauxminist, better known as The Nice Guy

Why the ‘Girl’ Matters: Yet Another Post About Geek Girls and Gamer Girls — While I don’t agree with using the word “girl” to self-describe, I respect opinions and think that, of the opinions that disagree with mine, this is well-stated.

Hot Girl + Nerd Culture = Poser

Hey Everyone: Stop Taking This Picture. No, I Mean It — The tits/ass/glance over the shoulder shot. You know the one.

Help Tracy Hurley’s Kickstarter To Get More Fantasy Art Starring People of Color and Women!

Tracy Hurley has a Kickstarter up that wants to get more fantasy art out into the world. The best part is that she wants it to be filled with people of all colors and genders!

From Tracy:

Prismatic Art Collection is a free library of art representing heroes of all backgrounds. In geek culture, there are plenty of Lukes, but not enough Landos or Leias. We want to change that.

That’s so awesome everyone, like really awesome. It’s the kind of awesome that makes me overlook that we live in a world where that kind of thing needs to be deemed awesome and not just a standard practice.

So far they have roughly half the money they need for their intended goal and they still have a little over a month to reach it. If they reach it they’ll have art work available for any enterprising role-playing game maker to use for their game. This can happen folks, we can have cool, diverse fantasy art work and have it appear in games or just anywhere we want it to be.

The project doesn’t just stop there, if they can get even more cash they can add more pieces with different classes and fantasy races as well. If you are a fan of fantasy art, then why not go over and give a dollar?

Tracy is starting something cool and I hope others are inspired to do the same and we get more artwork that looks like it has characters from all over the world and not just Europe. This is a great idea to help show that the fans of fantasy art aren’t just white males, but are all over the map and go beyond men. I want to see some awesome magic people, help me out. Thanks Tracy.

Many Links for a Friday


Whitewashing, Racebending, and Why “We’re All Human” is Bullshit — I am putting this first for a reason. READ IT.

John Carter is from Mars, and Women are Nowhere in Sight — So apparently the female character in John Carter… does stuff? Is active? You wouldn’t know she even existed going by the trailers. Marketing fail.

STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math)

Cookie of the Week: Chad Whitacre — Came up with a name for something that was dumb; got called out on dumbness; apologised and changed the name. Win.

Female Students Wary of Engineering Workplace — “Women who have internships or jobs find they are too often relegated to ‘female’ roles of note-taker, organizer or manager…” and “a fair amount of the older men in my working environment treat me like I know nothing and I’m only working there because my dad works there.”

Etsy Hacker Grants: Supporting Women in Technology — in conjunction with Hacker School, Etsy is announcing a new scholarship and sponsorship program for women in technology

Visualizing What it Takes to be a Woman in the Tech Industry: An Infographic

Internet Entrepreneurship is getting Arab Women into the Business World — “Adbullah Alghadouni is CEO of the, a Saudi-Arabian site aimed at helping women find jobs in a nation where they are not legally allowed to drive.”

In a letter from a little girl to Albert Einstein:

I forgot to tell you, in my last letter, that I was a girl. I mean I am a girl. I have always regretted this a great deal, but by now I have become more or less resigned to the fact.

Anyway, I hate dresses and dances and all the kind of rot girls usually like. I much prefer horses and riding. Long ago, before I wanted to become a scientist, I wanted to be a jockey and ride horses in races. But that was ages ago, now. I hope you will not think any the less of me for being a girl!

And Einstein responded:

I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it.



Women at Gaming Events — A positive note on women at gaming events: Seems there are more! And not just women, but families! Kind of awesome.

Titular Characters and Gendered Titles — “… when I hear the term ‘Lady Captain’, I hear an unnecessary gendering of my character whose gender was never in question anyway.”

MTG Tournament Participants Not Immune to Sexism — Excuse me while I recover from the shock.

Network of Video Game Creators Tries to Equal the Playing Field — “They just assume the woman at one of these events isn’t a game developer in her own right but just there as somebody’s girlfriend… We need to get reality to catch up.”

Bastion and Men as Automatic Protagonists — Why all the characters with stories and motivations gots to be mens, and the one lady character is just a prop? Spoilers for Bastion within.


Sharing my Own Privileged Dumbassery — I feel like it’s been a little while since we’ve talked about how awesome Jim Hines is. Let’s talk about that! He’s awesome!

The Problem is Not the Books — Oldie but a goodie. When people cry about how there are no books for boys to read, maybe let us ask ourselves why we think boys can’t read books about girls (but girls can read books about boys).

Cover Trends and the Female Body — “In thinking about these covers and thinking a lot more about the notion of gendering books, I’ve really found myself finding fault with a lot of ya covers. More specifically, the ones marketed to teen girls.”

The BSFA Awards — So, that happened, and Meaney happened, and it’s worth reading and chasing the links, just to know. It’s also a happy-making to know that apparently many people simply walked out of the award ceremony in protest. That pleases me.


Newcastle Ad: Brewer’s Hands — So, I think what they wanted to say, if I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here, is that they don’t need to use scantily clad women to sell their beer? Maybe? Eh, who am I kidding, they’re sexist assholes too. Great going, beer!

The New Aesthetics of the Male Gaze — An interesting take on New Aesthetic, surveillance, and male gaze.

ok lets see if that thing with glasses chicks suddenly becoming super weird feminine when they whip off their glasses works — hilarity ensues

Why Rape Jokes Are Never Okay — They’re just not, mkay?

How Not to Encourage Women to Play Games: Prime World Edition

Prime World offers discounts to women, encourages mixed-gender play

What. The. Hell.

The developer says that it wants to introduce the League of Legends-style game and the MOBA genre (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) “not only to hardcore players who already love it, but to their friends who might be more casual, and of course to their sisters and girlfriends who may not be as hardcore.”

Oh, of course.

Some details from the PA report:

  • Female players playing male avatars don’t get these bonuses. Female players must play female avatars. Because while they want lady players playing, they also want those lady players to be identifiable because otherwise what’s the point? Dudes want to know if they’re playing with ladies.
  • Oh, and when you’re in mixed-gender play, you apparently get this awesome defense buff. For, I guess, protecting women. Because women need protecting, yanno.
  • “When boys gather around to play games just with each other, it’s not really social. When girls gather around just to chat, it’s not very social.” Yes. People interacting isn’t social. Also gender stereotypes. Wow.
  • And of course, let us not forget that this is some heteronormative, gender-binary, stereotypical crap going on right hurr.

You want more women playing your games? It’s pretty easy, actually: cut this pandering bullshit, check your product for sexism (if you cannot identify any sexism in your product, I recommend hiring a feminist, just to be sure), and monitor your community with an iron fist. When someone pulls any vile, sexist nonsense, boot them from your community. Women will feel welcome, and will feel all right dragging their friends into the game, knowing they’re in a safe environment. You may think booting someone is bad for your sales in the short-term, but if your goal is building a mixed-gender community, you’ll be better off in the long run.

But I guess it’s easier to just call it ladies nite up in your game and kick back, amirite?

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Many Links for a Friday

Couple of book-keepy things:

  • If you are on the Facebook, and you like Team Valkyrie, perhaps you could like it on Facebook?
  • If you are on tumblr, you should know, we are on tumblr too.
  • If you tweet, and want to tweet at us, we’re on twitter.
  • Note that we actually do respond to tweets and questions and stuff on the Facebook, and comments make us happy and make us post more.
  • Also, since we’re about to start a new month, that means we’re about to start a new series of cute animal pictures. April is for Sloths. So say we all.

Okay, now onto linkspam.

STEM – Science Technology Engineering Math

What’s the Big Deal? — “Over the course of this internet argument, I had several well-meaning and curious guys reach out to me to try and understand what all the fuss was about. They seemed like good people, but they were missing something about what it means to be sexist. … So I’m going to take a shot at explaining.”

On Women in Tech — My favorite quote from this is the header “Frats Preserve Tradition, Startups Disrupt it”

Rachel Graham, The Jane Goodall of Sharks — Awesome!

Women in physics: A Tale of Limits — Really long, lots of data, kind of depressing, but good knowledge, because knowledge and understanding can lead to action.

Some Things to Think About Before You Exhort Everyone to Code — Why telling minorities “just learn to code!” doesn’t really work.

Amalie Noether, The Most Significant Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of


Show, don’t tell: why they need to be there — On the importance of diversity of main characters in fiction, and what it means to readers

You Don’t Read Women Authors, Do You?

Should science fiction and fantasy do more than entertain? — Opens with the image caption of “Poor representations … The 2012 film John Carter continues to rely on racial sterotypes to establish the ‘otherness’ of its alien characters.” and goes from there. Comments are mixed.


On being the “face of the community” while female


Geeks Respond to Their Friend Coming Out — Kind of awesome, read the whole thing.

Surprise! I’m Not a Booth Babe


I’m introducing a new linkspam category because I think we need it. Reality is ugly, folks.

NOM Strategy: Divide ‘Blacks’ and ‘Latinos’ Against ‘Gays’ to Get Critical Votes — So, this happened. Excuse me while I deal with this surprise.

Women’s Media Center’s Media Guide for Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates and Politicians — Because we really need this, as pathetic as that is.

The Escapist Talks Racism in Video Games, Not Once but Twice

So the Escapist has recently posted two articles about racism in gaming. The first, by Bob Chapman, talks about the racist origins of a popular setting in some adventure games: The Lost City. This trope comes from a time when people viewed ancient civilizations from places such as Africa as mysterious, because the white people at the time couldn’t believe that the black people of the past could ever be so advanced. So obviously many of these were civilizations were built by magical white people of the past. Like Atlantis.

I’m glad Chapman brings this up because if there’s one thing that sets me off is the idea of how aliens or magic creatures had to be the cause of ancient technology we didn’t think was available because we think that the people (mostly from non-white places) were too primitive.

Then we get the second article by Shamus Young, who brings up the lack of non-white male video game protagonists. I like his set up for it because he says while these things annoy him, it’s not what the article was about. The thing that bothered him was the video games industry’s response when people say their should be more diverse: “Gamers need to have a character they can relate to.” This is what gets him, and I agree.

This sort of statement is dumb as hell, and racist. Young says this pushes the blame of racism on the gaming audience, and that the blame still belongs to the industry. The part that gets me most is the “relate to” line. It’s dismissive of every non-white-male human out there, telling them to buck up and play a straight white man. Because everyone can relate to being a white man, right?