Let's start with a less controversial subject first. One seemingly unrelated, maybe. This is an exchange from a lit blog I sometimes write for:
by Seth Fisher
In a manifesto (er, “ideas piece”) about the importance of the workplace in writing, Alain de Botton calls on contemporary writers to write about work. “If a proverbial alien landed on earth,” he says, “and tried to figure out what human beings did with their time simply on the evidence of the literature sections of a typical bookstore, he or she would come away thinking that we devote ourselves almost exclusively to leading complex relationships, squabbling with our parents, and occasionally murdering people.” Yet work, according to de Botton, is at the core of who we are. So why don’t we write about it?...
(in the comments)
Two points, at odds with each other:
-It would be to everyone’s benefit if good books kept coming out that, collectively, covered every single aspect of human existence.
-Getting writers to write about things they don’t want to write about is no way to get good books.
It’s all up to luck. We’re just going to have to hope that, for every situation, there’s some good writer somewhere who’s interested in that situation.
I think the following list pretty much covers it as far as the priorities people refer to when the possible sexism in gaming art and the themes in games comes up:
(Caveat that will probably go unread: There are, quite obviously, other priorities one could have, but we are only talking here of ones that come up in the context of sexism in games.)
Priorities mean a very specific thing. If a situation arose where you had to choose between A and B, which would you choose?
My personal priorities when looking at a given game product go A, then B…… and I don't care about C or D.
If yours go D…(and then anything else) then I think this is a long-term losing strategy for you: you will be disappointed because the best you can do is attract a large variety of people to a hobby which no longer has anything good left in it and so why bother attracting them? And who wants to broaden a hobby's appeal if it ceases to have anything good in it? While I respect but do not share your desire to grow the hobby, I don't think prioritizing that over actually making good stuff is going to help you get what you want.
A lot of the discussion of comic books I like--it seems to be from people whose priorities about the comic in question start with B or D. Like Concerned Parents' groups, it never even occurs to them that the comic could be, in any real sense, good: so sacrificing any element of its goodness for some larger pedagogical goal seems fine to them.
So that's that part: Games and the things in them should be good. In evaluating games, the rest needs to be secondary. Secondary does not mean 'nonexistent'. It just means second. Just ask Will Riker.
These are the stakeholders in these debates:
The Creative People
Another thing that seems to come up a lot in sexism-in-RPG debates is this idea that the game Company is obsessed with money and the Audience is the Audience and is interested in being either expanded or pandered to or catered to and the actual people making the product (the Creative People) are performing monkeys in the middle who simply enact whatever the company tells them.
This is wrong. In terms of who is responsible for what, the creative employees need to be thought of as real artists in the following sense: they get paid so little compared to other jobs they could perform with the same skills that we have to assume they would not be in the field at all unless it was because they hoped to (and occasionally did) produce things that they liked and wanted to see.
In other words: if there are boobs in a picture, the main reason is not necessarily because the Audience wants boobs or the Company assumes the Audience wants boobs but because the artist wanted the boobs there.
Why do artists put in the boobs?
The ordinary idiot answer is They are sexist They are unconsciously sexist or They exist in a sexist context etc and all this is lies.
Let us consider an example that has been attacked: Jim Lee's new Justice League comics.
We have a rare opportunity here because Jim Lee not only drew them but designed the costumes. He is the responsible party.
I think we have a legitimate case of maybe-sexism here in terms of the composition of the group: Black Canary and Hawkgirl could easily have been added without messing with the Iconicness of the JL and were not. John Stewart, the black Green Lantern, maybe, too, and Jim Lee himself might have wondered why we still don't have an iconic Asian superhero. But this isn't what I have seen jumped on...
This has been attacked as sexist on account of the costumes. That is: Wonder Woman's costume is way more revealing than the rest of the team.
Now some people, citing the ineluctable and uncategorizable variety (from a straight guy POV) of What Women and Gay Dudes Consider Sexy, might say the men here are as sexualized as the women. I am not one of them. I am going to go ahead and say, for my money, absofuckinglutely the men here are not as sexualized as Wonder Woman.
However, I think saying this makes it sexist is as much of a mistake as saying the imagery in an Enya video is sexist, and for the same reason.
It is widely acknowledged that the creative process is mysterious. You can't just say "Hey, take out this and put in that and make it work exactly the same". Alien would not be Alien if Ripley were suddenly male. It would be a different movie and making it good all over again would require responding to whatever psychoemotionalaesthetic imperatives were suddenly imposed on it by having an actor where an actress once was. You change something, you have to re-jigger things to work with them changed.
All artists work well with some limitations, none work well with limitations that keep them from thinking about what they want to think about. We don't have any choice about the fact that a great many artists are male and the majority of them want to think about and describe women they think are beautiful in their work and we don't have any choice about what about them they consider beautiful. If we ask them to be democratic and draw something else then sometimes this is a challenge they'll take, but if they don't, well, that's probably because they realize they are not going to be able to do anything with it.
Watch what happens when we ask someone to design a game they wouldn't want to play...
"How much money do you have? Well, there’s no absurdly simplistic "3d6x10gp" here. *snerk* Oh no. Starting characters have Net Worth, and Bank Accounts, and Cash on Hand, and Disposable Monthly Income, all determined by random rolls derived from their social class, sorry, SEC. On top of this they also have their Basic Possessions: Dwellings, Clothes and Furnishing, Misc. Gear, and GM's Option. We're also told to refer to the Advanced Mythus rules for even more(!) detail."
--Vaults of Nagoh on Gygax and Newton's "Mythus"
Hey there! This is Dave Newton - I co-wrote Mythus with Gary. So sorry to hear that you felt the game wasn't to your liking. One of the first things I did when I started playing was to throw out half of the rules we wrote. Most of the filler was intended for the anal-retentive GMs and min-maxing players that couldn't solve a roleplaying issue without consulting a rulebook.
An art magazine asked me to draw the women on The View once. I said Look, I am not going to parody people just because I can't think of anything else interesting to me as a draftsman about the way they look and I cannot sit and think about the women on The View for as long as I can sit and think about the women I actually paint in my pictures and I do not feel bad enough about sex to feel bad about that: get somebody else.
If Jim Lee made the team look like this because he was worried about selling comics: fuck him, he's already rich and is prioritizing money over social justice. But if he did it because that was what he thought looked best? That's him doing his job. His only job.
Jim Lee can't be called sexist and neither can his cover. He's Jim Lee being Jim Lee which is what he is getting paid to do because no matter how hard the industry tries (and it has tried very hard for a shockingly long time) you can't get anyone else who isn't actually Jim Lee to draw like Jim Lee. However...
So it's not sexist? Ok, it is actually...
Now wait, other than composition of the team, there is a real problem with this Justice League cover: this team looks like a million other teams. As people so often point out, sexism is about context.
In a world where comics are read by very young people (and games are played by young people) and some female people (not many I know, but I suppose either they are out there or there's only one but she has a lot of screen names) do not like the relative revealingness of Wonder Woman's costume, there should be a variety of kinds of costumes for female characters. There kinda isn't. I mean: an infinite number of comic book costumes exist, but most women in comics that show up a lot show up in the sexy and revealing kind.
Yet if we ask artists to make art they do not want to make, we are messing with priority A. Which is the most important one.
So what do you do?
So: you want justice? Hire women.
Do you know why nobody asks for this? It's the scariest option.
It's the one that demands that the product actually be creative, which means the artists don't get to rely on "Oh I was just giving the client what they asked for" and have to actually think and be responsible for the awesomeness or lack thereof of what they produce.
In other words, nobody's ass gets covered in this solution. There are no guarantees.
There are already a million RPGs on the market. The only reason to buy a new one is if it brings something new to the table. If we aren't willing to let artists be Artists then we might as well admit we are just buying shit to see ideas we already have reified in print rather than to experience new ones and admit we came to this show hoping for Comfort rather than ROCK.