Monday, February 27, 2012

Hire Women.


Let's talk about sexism in gaming again.

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:

Why Does No One Write About Their Day Job?
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)
Zak S:
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:

A-Quality: Is the thing good? Would people choose to play it instead of choosing other activities? Would you yourself the producer choose to consume it? Obviously this is subjective (and not a popularity contest). If not even the designer wants it to be the way it is, it can only be good accidentally.

B-Justice: Does the thing promote social justice? Will the world be a more fair place due to the influence of the imagery and stories told in the product on children and whatever proportion of the adult audience takes its ethical direction from what's in a piece of fiction?

C-Money: Does the thing make money? (Also Known As: Does It Serve The Audience? Often dressed up in a million other guises. Common Alternate Guise: Does It Hurt The Brand? i.e. does the thing make money over a long period of time?)

D-Does it grow the hobby? This is distinct from making money. A product can make money by growing the hobby into a new audience and selling to that audience (like indie black-and-white comics where people cry grew the audience for comics into the uptight-assholes-in-sweaters demographic) but it can also just broaden the audience period but not necessarily make any more money because of it.

(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?

For example: You are producing a game, the game needs to be illustrated and out in the next week or else your company will fold.

Only 2 artists are willing to take on the job: Artist A who is good and you like his/her art and they render with skill and marvelous expressiveness and sublime color and Artist B who is bad and you do not like his/her art but who will depict the technologically not-advanced tribe described in the text with a high degree of sensitivity. Do you choose A or B? Or do you choose artist A or B depending on what you think your audience will like best, which would be prioritizing C? Or do you think if you choose artist B then more kinds of people will buy it (Priority D)? Or different kinds of people (also D)?

That's priorities.

My personal priorities when looking at a given game product go A, then B…… and I don't care about C or D.

I don't care if game companies make money and if I want new people to play a game I talk to them, I don't expect the product to talk to them for me.

I am ok with other peoples' priorities and will live and let live with them unless they don't start with A and then move on to B:

If your priorities go B...(and then anything else) then I think that is a condescending attitude toward the product you are looking at. That is: you see it as more of a vehicle of social change than a hobby you like to do.

This is true: social change is actually more important than whether a game is fun. However, in the scheme of things, an RPG game designer can do a lot  (via game anyway)more in the way of making a game fun than they can about injustice in the world so that is where the lion's share (most but not all) of their effort should be directed.

If yours start with C…(and then anything else) then, usually, fuck you. If you are a small game designer and will be unable to make any game stuff ever without pushing out some bullshit to make money, well, I suppose you get a pass. But if you are a big game designer? Fuck you. You don't need the money. Make something good instead. If you are not even a game designer, why do you even care?

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.

Like, they think: Batman comics will never be good, so why not turn them into effective tools for producing desirable citizens or broadening the comic book reading public so that there's a bigger audience for more black-and-white-indie comics where people cry?

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 Company
The Audience
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. These people will tell you it would never occur to a lesbian to draw a sexy lady in a game book unless the market demanded it.

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.

Ask anyone who has commissioned art for RPGs: artists will fuck your art order right up and put all kinds of stuff in there. And the better they are at producing intense, memorable imagery, the more often they do it. (Well-documented art-historical fact.) They do this because it is not fun to make art unless you are doing something you care about and the job does not pay well enough to be unfun.


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.

This isn't (as so many people would like you to believe) about who the audience is, it's about who the creator is. Jim Lee wants to look at this Wonder Woman because he is a heterosexual male and wants to make a team that Looks Good (so he can look at it) and his sense of Looks Good is tied tightly to his nervous system and his nervous system (like everyone else's) is concerned primarily with Food, Potential Danger, Does This Baby Need Help?, and People You Want To Fuck.

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. I would no more ask Adam Hughes to draw a man he didn't want to than to blow one. I would no more ask Tom of Finland to draw a sexy lady than eat one out.

(To see "Artists are best at drawing what they're excited about" translated with impeccable troll logic by some sexist homophobe into "straight male artists are incapable of drawing non-sexualised women because they are slaves to their boners " go here. It's at the bottom of that page courtesy of a monocle-dropping internet rando named "potatocubed" who apparently doesn't get that women can be artists and not all drawers of sexy ladies are dudes. If any friend of potatocubed is reading this--please please recognize you have a responsibility to both potatocubed and the wider RPG community to try to convince potatocubed to seek professional therapy of some kind. Or--if potatocubed is already in therapy--to recommend potatocubed indulge in therapy with greater verve. And, in general, if anyone needs me to patiently explain the difference between "people have creative instincts and some of them aren't psychotic prudes about them"  and the crazy straw man potatocubed typed, just ask in the comments, like a grown-up, rather than anonymously whining about it in a for-profit 'Chan.)

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.

And that might possibly mess with priority B.

The sexism is not that this comic exists or is popular, but that some art director somewhere did not also order hundreds of other comics that are different from it.

You cannot blame artists for expressing their own proclivities and desires in their art. They have to (in one way or another) or else they are going to suck. You can blame companies with a mass audience for hiring the same artists over and over and not others. (This is the subtle point potatocubed and his pearlclutching ilk are too stupid to grasp.)

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?

Hire women.

Hire lots of women. And hire gay dudes. And hire every kind of person because they make a talented version of every kind of person. They exist.

(Plus, big game companies, in addition to a handful of talented people, the fact is you're also going to hire some hacks--because you are cheap. So long as you are hiring hacks, why not hire female ones?)

That is the sole and only answer that is fair and that will get us good work while sacrificing neither of the real priorities here.

Hire women (50%!) and let them do whatever they want. Don't hire men and tell them to make work that does not appeal to them. Don't hire a writer and ask him to write a world he will not want to play in. Hire a woman and ask her to do whatever.

If you hire me to write a succubus, I will write you a nasty disturbing succubus that will chew off your neck and have teeth for nipples. By all means hire me. Just hire someone else, too. Have them write the dryad.

If we are trusting the Creatives to make worlds for us (and, frankly, begging them to do it and yelling at them when they don't) then we also have to trust that their artistic instincts are more than a set of tinkertoys that can be stuck together any old way. They know how to thread things together so the things are more than the sum of their parts. It's what they get paid to know. They are people who want and think things and their work reflects what they want and think and when it does not, it is dishonest and fucked and comes out bad and we just kinda turn past those pages.

(And, p.s., just because there is a connection, the connection between the artist and the art is not always--is in fact rarely--easy to psychoanalyze the way Naught tries to in the comments below. Does Jim Davis think all cats are fat and love lasagna? Does Giorgio Morandi hate all people because he never paints them? Move along littlebrain.)

Have you seen Wayne Reynolds' men? Meh. His monsters and babes? Excellent. Stop hiring him to draw dudes--he totally does not care about them. It makes the world worse and uglier every time Wayne has to draw a dude. I mean, if he wants to keep trying and maybe get better, let him, but if he doesn't: let the man draw what he wants to draw.

So: you want justice? Hire women.

Hire them and give them the same free hand men have had since the beginning and--rather than art directing them into a corner (the all-female creative teams on the Barbie comics complained because Mattel told them none of the characters in the cast were allowed to display any negative traits) let a specific fantastic world that is theirs aggregate around their creativity the way it has around the creativity of men for decades.


Do you know why nobody asks for this? It's the scariest option.

It's the one that demands the most work from the company (Find people, give them freedom).

It's the one where the audience gets the least certainty (Bbbbut what if we hire women and they don't give us what we want either? What if what women with talent want isn't exactly the same as what people who like to complain about art want?)

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.

Bizarre postscript:

The point I make above: "Artists are best at drawing what they're excited about" is translated with impeccable troll logic by a white, cishet sexist homophobe named Chris Longhurst (aka "potatocubed") (quote: " Until embarrassingly recently I used to reject the principles of feminism because I found them challenging") into "straight male artists are incapable of drawing non-sexualised women because they are slaves to their boners " here as part of that troll board's regulars' 3 years+ ongoing harassment campaign (which began, oddly enough, with attacking my group for playing the wrong edition of D&D then quickly moving on to attacking my girlfriend for having extension cords on her Amazon wishlist). 

If any friend of Chris Longhurst is reading this--please please recognize you have a responsibility to both potatocubed and the wider RPG community to try to convince Chris Longhurst to seek professional therapy of some kind.


Dungeon Smash said...

mmmm yeah but wouldn't hiring women/gay dudes based on the fact that they're women/gay dudes be putting Priority B over Priority A? i mean i understand its a hypothetical argument for justice in comic books but still

Zak Sabbath said...

@dungeon smash

Not at all. The art directors typically hire two decent guys and four hacks for every project. Just hire one decent not-straight guy artist and 2 not-straight guy hacks.

jmk jr said...

@Dungeon Smash, I don't think it would put Priority B over A, but actually put some much needed emphasis on B in a way that could work for all the reasons Zak noted. That is, what emphasis on B there has been doesn't seem to have been all that effective in diversifying comics or games, which incidentally could go a long way toward addressing Priority D (because I think a consequence of doing good work that encompasses more of the world and its people is more of all those sorts of people having a potential interest in these hobbies).

Excellent piece, Zak.

Delta said...

"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.


I thank you for digging up & highlighting this quote. It's the single most infuriating and baffling thing that the original TSR guys would say (like Gygax, who'd say the same thing about swaths of the DMG). Maybe I'm a big dummy, but when I (esp. as teenager) read something in a core rulebook not marked optional, my presumption is to follow it as a rule (not that it was detritus from some argument somebody had once). Actually insulting people who followed the "rules" that you wrote is beyond the pale.

Zak Sabbath said...


Like i've said before:
my guess (looking at Dragon's mailbag) is that this stuff was the backlash of Gary getting MILLIONS of metric tons of mail from idiot DMs so he just assumed the audience was full of morons who needed their hands held and just gave up, humanly, after a while

Rick Marshall said...

Zak, thank you for another lucid, insightful, and thought-provoking post.

What we see in every industry in America today is a flight from risk, a terror of being caught making the wrong decision, a panicky dash for metrics, processes, and methodologies people can hide behind, can use to protect themselves from the consequences of mistakes, a position from which they feel unassailable, safe, and completely free of any responsibility. After all, if the numbers/process/methods demanded they act as they did, then nothing that goes wrong can be their fault. This is the era of the buck stops anywhere but here, please God not here, let someone else take the blame when things go wrong.

Reviewing the history of our country, I've never seen such a fearful, quaking, defensive, immature corporate and governmental culture as the norm today. The terror of turning creative professionals loose to do the right things is so widespread that there are days I wonder whether there any corners left in America's big institutions where trust and boldness and doing the right thing are given priority over "safety."

The irony of it all, Zak, as you wrote, is that the terror of risk has led our quaking masters not to greater chances of success but to the certainty of failure, because without creative excellence all our plans turn to crap. There is no safe methodology by which excellence can be forced; all such color-by-numbers recipes yield only mediocrity in the long run, however much the occasional anomalies may manage to thrive for a short while before the suspicion and shackles grind down their spirit.

When I was a young idealist, I believed that social good was more important than quality, but no matter how fervently one clings to such artificial criteria, we can only subject ourselves to so much well-intentioned crap before we begin to realize that excellence has to be put first, that justice is not ultimately possible in a climate of mediocrity. When people try to serve justice by producing mediocre crap, they hurt the cause they care about.

At the altar of justice, only our very best is a worthy offering.

Mr. Blue said...

I used to work in the MMO video game industry and there were some amazing female artists on the teams. Most of them drew female characters that were sexier and showed more cleavage than the male artists - they just liked the way it looked and never had to worry about someone saying they were shallow for doing it.

That being said, their work did seem somehow more... real. Apparently, many women are better at examining the female form (in its entirety) than men, who tend to focus on a specific part or two.

Will Mistretta said...

"What if what women with talent want isn't exactly the same as what people who like to complain about art want?"


Great post, but this little gem jumped right out at me. Under the status quo, most of the complainers still buy . Bean-counters need one hell of a "good" (by their standards, not yours) reason to monkey around with a system like that.

John B said...

I'm not sure that a ranked priority model is the best way to model the interaction between these goals.

For example, I recently made a post about the lack of non-white demihuman art on my blog, and the reason for its absence doesn't really have to do with the artistic need to depict white elves to be true to their authentic self or whatever so much as that no one paying for the art says "We should have some dark-skinned elves", even when this would make sense (Dark Sun, for example).

The various problems with art in fantasy games are mostly the responsibility of art directors, not artists. Art directors don't have to prioritise social justice over quality - they can hire a good artist and provide a creative brief that simply says "The elves should be dark-skinned," or "The women should be dressed in armour that is similar to their male counterparts" or whatever. I don't even think you need to specifically hire a woman to do that (though it would be nice to, of course).

So far as I can tell though, art directors in fantasy are either buying premade pieces or writing shitty creative briefs or both.

Zak Sabbath said...

@john bell

-Failing to consider the issue at all is, of course, a thing--but it seemed so obvious that I didn't bother to point it out.

-Saying "The women should be dressed in armor that is similar to their male counterparts" IS a shitty creative brief if you give that brief to an artist who will not produce good work when doing that. Just as "The women should be fucking hot" is a shitty creative brief if the artist is Ted McKeever. If you do not understand that, you missed the entire point of the post.

-And, yes, I blame the administrators. But if the administrators are acting in a creative capacity, then half of them should be female.

Simon said...

I guess I don't want 'social justice', and I don't care who they hire - I just want product I like. I guess that means American comic book characters mostly created by a bunch of heterosexual white Jewish guys in New York (Marvel, DC) and British comic books characters mostly created by a bunch of Chaos Sorcerer socialist Scotsmen (2000 AD).

I would tend to think that hiring black lesbian comic book or RPG writers to appeal to the black lesbian comic/RPG market would not be a winning business strategy. If you want some commercial success, whoever you hire is going to need to appeal to the main buying demographic (white males, mostly heterosexual), anything else is a bonus. Within that there is a lot of space for variety though - there could certainly be a lot more variety in depiction of female characters than you see in comics, and I agree that may be more about what the artist likes drawing than any direction from on-high.

Mmm, this is making me want to go order a Red Sonja graphic novel... >:)

Zak Sabbath said...

Translation: You have priority A and nothing else.

You are offering advice about how to achieve priority C despite no-one here asking for it.

Zak Sabbath said...

Or is it D? At any rate, why people who do not work for an RPG company continue to worry what "a winning strategy " would be for some RPG company is beyond me.

JimLotFP said...

>>We have a rare opportunity here because Jim Lee not only drew them but designed the costumes. He is the responsible party.

Lee really can't be called "the responsible party"...

These are characters that have been around 50+ years. There's only so much redesign that you can do with them without destroying their "iconicness" which is the only real point of the JUSTICE LEAGUE in the first place, right?

You can have your "second string" (Atom, Black Canary, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Zatanna, Elongated Man, etc) but without the ICONS with them, it just isn't the real Justice League.

They've drastically changed Aquaman and Wonder Woman and Superman(!!) costumes before, and it never sticks.

(and that's Hal Jordan and Barry Allen and not Kyle and Wally in there for this reboot, right?)

Zak Sabbath said...


Meh, maybe--doesn't really change the point of the post.

Plus: they added Cyborg, they could've easily added Canary instead.

James Holloway said...

@Zak - I think (assuming you're really wondering) that it's for two reasons. First, because C and D are kind of a get-out-of-jail free card when called on doing something lame. "Yeah, I'm pandering," someone can say, "but that's what the market wants, my hands are tied" (leaving aside, of course, that if you wanted to make money, you'd open a dry cleaner instead of making RPGs). RPG and comic fans become very passionately attached to the companies that create the products they enjoy, so they deploy this argument on their behalf in order to protect them from this kind of criticism. Or, if I'm being less cynical, because they like them, they want them to succeed, so they try to think of ways they can do it.

I think it may also be because C is the only genuinely measurable metric there. You may think Jim Lee's art is great, I may think it's not great, and we can have a conversation about why we think these things, but whether lots of people read a comic, whether lots of people read comics without boobs ... these are things we can look up. And things you can look up form helpful rhetorical strategies.

Also, to reinforce your point about Black Canary: Black Canary has been in the Justice League in many of its incarnations (she got retconned into a founding member about 25 years ago, if I remember right), so it's not even that they didn't add her as that they removed her (presumably because they wanted to do something quite different with her in another book, but there you go).

Zak Sabbath said...

@James Holloway

Absolutely: i notice people (on all sides) sort of play 3-card monte with the priorities rather than just laying out what they care about and defending it.

They go "Oh if ____ wants to make money they should do what I want" then if you ask why they care if ___ makes money then they go "Well I don;t, it's just_____" and they move on to the next thing. Then when you ask them about that, they move back to "Well the market____" and then you have to ask them--again--why they are pretending to care whether the company makes money and around and around.

It's completely lame.

People who really think RPGs should encourage diversity should admit they care about it EVEN IF it is going to lose the company money--I certainly do. But the "Oh what I want is clearly the commercially best option" is such a common arguing strategy in the libertarian paradise that is the Internet that nobody just comes out and admits that hey maybe that isn't true. Maybe their interest is niche. Maybe that isn't a crime.

James Holloway said...

I agree that niche interests are a good thing, and should be celebrated. But I think people like to feel that the world in general agrees with them. It seems like a pretty common position. And with big-ticket things like D&D or Superman, it's even more so because people feel a very strong identification with them.

I do think that sometimes people conflate their opinions of what game and comic companies are doing with their views of what the defenders of those comics are posting on the internet, which is a big mistake. I think a lot of the anger stems from that.

James Holloway said...

Hmmm. I guess I didn't make an important linkage there. I think a lot of the time people say 'the market blah blah blah' because if they say 'what *I* want is X' the creator's response could be 'well, Y is what *I* want and if you don't like it, may I suggest some alternative products' which is unanswerable. But if I can argue about what *everyone* wants instead of what *I* want, that's much better -- and a lot of the time people really do think that everyone wants what they want. I have an image in my head of what D&D is like (or Spider-Man or whatever) and that image is so important to me that I believe it's the image everyone shares, even if it's highly idiosyncratic.

I don't necessarily think it's dishonest; I think people often don't know they're doing it. But I may be an optimist.

huth said...

Of course, in the RPG industry the answer isn't "Hire more women," it's "Women, make more RPGs."

richard said...

first, yes. I'm not really sure about the essentialism of 'women won't make sexist art' but given the current dearth of women in RPG design (so I've heard anecdotally) it can only help.

Me, myself and I said...

I'm a girl and I'm 38 years old. I play MMORPGs, read comic books, play D&D and am preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse. I'm married and we have 3 teeanagers, I work at a bank. :)

I like they way the woman are depicted. I adore Wonder Woman, I have since I was 4 years old and got my first pair of under-roos. People prefer to look at attractiveness, it's just the way life is and it's not going to change, it's who we are as people. The men look manly and the women look good.

And as far as the priorities? I care about whether the game is fun to play and does it have a hook different from all the others. I couldn't give a tiniest little care about social justice, I'm not a feminist and I just don't care about any of that in a game. I play the game to have fun and kill stuff and beat up the 'bad' guys. And to be a superhero. :)

noisms said...

I think I'm congenitably incapable of wrapping my head around the notion that "straight men like pictures of women's boobs" = "sexism". I mean, I've heard the argument about objectification, I understand what the point is. But I still don't see it. In almost no other sphere of human life does anybody reject somebody looking at something they find aesthetically pleasing because it "objectifies" it. And to spin it round: I know I'm a good looking guy (there's no way of saying that without sounding arrogant) and I have absolutely no objection whatsoever to straight women or gay men looking at me and finding me aesthetically pleasing - it has no negative impact on my life and quite a large positive impact.

Admittedly I'm a straight male, so I guess if you were Catherine MacKinnon you would come along and say that I think what I think because I have a perspective rooted in "male culture". That's why I say that maybe I'm congenitally predisposed to think the whole issue is complete and utter stuff-and-nonsense.

Anyway, something I wanted to add is that there's this whole discourse among libertarian/classical liberal economists to the effect that sexually (or racially) discriminatory hiring practices ultimately die off with or without legal or policy measures, simply because (and I think this is what your post is really getting at) if you restrict your hiring to one "class" of person you miss out on all the talent available in the other "classes" of person. This puts you at a huge disadvantage compared to other people who just hire whoever has the most talent. And through the natural selection of the market you will crash and burn.

It strikes me that real life is more complex than that, but nevertheless, food for thought.

Unknown said...

Great post Zak. Lots to reflect on.

More than worrying about getting BigCorp to "Hire Women" (or Gay Men, or Immigrants, or whatever) I think that creatives should focus on just doing it -- webcomics, deviantart, drivethrurpg... there's no reason to wait for BigCorp to hire you. Everyone should be more focused on "A" and be making the stuff they want. Everything else will follow from that - including BigCorp hiring you if that's what you want.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John B said...


No need to get hostile.

1) It's not "failing to consider the issue" to disagree that they are rank-exclusive priorities. I work in the nonprofit sector where "social justice" and "quality" in the art we use overlap and interpenetrate all the time. We want well-composed, emotional photographs of clients that don't demean them in the process. We get them by writing creative briefs that provide clear guidelines about what we're looking for, and using ADs who select artists that can take photos that fulfill our criteria.

2) Where you and I see to be disagreeing seems to be about how important the art director is vs. the artist themselves in the end result?

An art director who hired an artist who couldn't deliver the work we want is incompetent. An AD who didn't help shape the creative brief before giving it to the artists is incompetent. An AD who can't clearly communicate the various goals of the piece to the artist is incompetent.

The artist's job is just to draw what's in the creative brief as best they can.

That's why I'm placing the challenge of balancing "social justice" and "quality" on the art director and not the artists. Art directors decide what kinds of art they want and who is to create that art, which means that if they merely choose well, they can dissolve the need to prioritise between "quality" and "social justice".

As I said, we do this all the time in the nonprofit sector (we also toss in "make money" if you count fundraising). A priority model doesn't work as effectively, even in a creative brief, as clearly written guidelines that simply include mandatories for the AD's acceptance of the piece like "No chainmail bikinis" or "Must be in colour".

3) They certainly should be. We're not disagreeing on this point.

Adam Strong-Morse said...

@noisms: Re: economics: While there is some evidence to support the eventual withering of discriminatory hiring practice, there's also tons of evidence that suggests that that process is very, very slow. Sure, Friedman (who lost a job because he was Jewish) was willing to rely on the market to eventually fix that, and today there's vastly less anti-Semitism in the labor market than there was 50 years ago, but it took a long time, it isn't completely gone, and that's only for some, not particularly visible, minorities. Tons of evidence shows that people tend to hire people like themselves. That means that market pressures take a long time to work. And when rules require people to look more broadly, even if they don't restrict ultimate choices, the decisions change--see the Rooney rule in the NFL.

In the short and medium run, firms can both do better economically and promote equality by being part of the solution. If they seek to hire only on the basis of merit, they are very likely to actually hire less competent people while being part of the problem because of the inherent biases and subjectiveness in hiring processes.

Kiltedyaksman said...

How many socially responsible game companies are there out there? How do you define that? How successful are they vis a vis companies that depict their games toward their target audience? I think companies can be profitable and socially conscious but it isn't their mantle to provoke social change (a rather nebulous phrase meaning different things to different people).

Necropraxis said...

The artist's job is just to draw what's in the creative brief as best they can.

An artist that "just" does that might be a good employee, but is not a very good artist. Artists might be technically gifted, but if they are not expressing something that is inside them, they will fail at A (except, occasionally, by accident).

A two way collaboration between director and artist can be different (think about how a good director and cinematographer can work together), but that is not what you described.

Good art directors communicate a vision. Great art directors find an artist whose work embodies what they want and then sets that artist free. (Example: Lady Gaga hires Stephen Klein to make the Alejandro video.)

Necropraxis said...

Yes, a good example of the classical liberal position is contained in Alan Greenspan's autobiography. He said that he preferred to hire female executives and board members because he could get equal quality for less money (don't have the book here so no cite).

Now, I don't think most people actually make decisions so rationally most of the time, but it's still an interesting argument.

Mr. Blue said...


"straight men like pictures of women's boobs"

Sounds like basic biology to me.

I guess in modern society it seems to come down to how much we self-discipline away our natural instincts?

Also the line of thought regarding appreciation of sexuality being offensive is much more prevalent in American society and fundamentalist abrahamic-religious societies than it is in the rest of the civilized world...

Zak Sabbath said...

I am with Brendan here.

If you perceive that
The artist's job is just to draw what's in the creative brief as best they can."

then you are saying that "making the thing look like the brief" is more important than making it look beautiful. And I am saying the opposite.

Zak Sabbath said...

" think I'm congenitably incapable of wrapping my head around the notion that "straight men like pictures of women's boobs" = "sexism"."

Totally agree.

Making a mass-media (MASS media, not homebrew) product and basically deciding you only care about one demographic--this can get into sexism

Zak Sabbath said...

You are wrong and you are a bad person.

I mean, some artists only want to draw grids or telephones or fat orange cats who love lasagna.

As for your last 4 paragraphs, they make no sense. Art is subjective--who is deeming here?

Zak Sabbath said...


1. Don't know

2. Only large companies are "social" enough to have to be "responsible" about it.

3. That is priority C, and again, who cares?

4. Good for you.

Zak Sabbath said...

Almost no-one makes sexist art.

I don't know what article you read.

NakiaPope said...

Can you talk a bit more about option A, especially what you mean by "good"?

I get what you are saying good is NOT. Good is not selling a bunch of units. That's not a measure of quality.

And I thought that you were saying good is NOT just an equivalent expression of "like". But maybe that's part of it. I just got a little confused with your example, when option A was "good", and "I like it" and "expressive, sublime, skillful".

Is good something more like "flowing from the artists vision and skill"?

I am asking because I want to know AND I think, for some people, art can't be good unless it works for social justice in some way. I don't agree with that, but I think that's part of the issue.

Zak Sabbath said...


Good is (or can be) ""I like it" and "expressive, sublime, skillful"."

But the question is, How do we GET good?

We do not get good by forcing artists to draw artistic briefs that are inimical to what they handle with expressiveness and skill.

Like: If I'm a great pastry chef, don't send me burgers to cook unless I have an ambition to also cook burgers.

"for some people, art can't be good unless it works for social justice in some way."

These people are anhedonic assholes.

Simon said...

@noisms -I agree that men enjoying looking at boobs =/= sexism, albeit a bit of variety in depiction of female characters is nice, not all female PCs and NPCs should look like porn stars.

I think the Libertarians are wrong, inasmuch as the Capitalists will only avoid discriminating if that is the economically optimal thing to do. If women can be hired more cheaply than men, they will be - anything else is leaving money on the table. It may be economically optimal to have an (eg) clothes factory where all the workers are low-paid women, all the managers are men, better paid but working long hours.

Simon said...

Cool, you go girl! :)

Alex J. said...

I think that the owners of football teams are by far the most likely group of people to have the best ideas about who would make the best football coaches. They have the motive and the means to make the best decisions. In your second paragraph you are (implicitly) claiming that you know better than NFL owners about how to hire coaches, which seems implausible. To say the same thing in another way, if NFL owners could do better at hiring coaches by interviewing more minority candidates, why do they need to be compelled to do so? (And I'm aware of the difficulties that Billy Beane had in getting his advice taken.)

There's a perfectly good explanation for the Rooney rule that doesn't depend upon the poor judgement of the owners: signaling. And that's a good reason to doubt that the rule is pragmatically effective: it's likely that its creation was not closely related to coaching effectiveness.

Zak Sabbath said...

"How else would you explain that "Female Fighters in Unreasonable Armor" is quality, and "Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor" is not-quality?"

Who ever said that?

Simon said...

I have lots of priorities, such as wanting some pics of fully clothed female characters for the PCs and NPCs in my games; especially properly armoured ones. Paizo are pretty good that way, so I just ordered a bunch of their new minis.

My priorities don't include Marxist notions of Social Justice or Diversity, though.

Zak Sabbath said...

Mine do. I wrote a blog entry about it. You commented on it.

Just making sure we're all on the same page here.

Necropraxis said...

Social justice and diversity are not Marxist notions. Marxism (politics) is about not having the means of production controlled by a capitalist elite and Marxism (historical theory) is about economics being the driving force of history (this is what is often called dialectical materialism).

By the way, I'm not a Marxist by either of those meanings, though I do believe that economics is an important historical force (just not the only one).

Alex J. said...


If the depiction would be varied out enough to include Stoya and Justine, even that would be an improvement.

@Zak S

If I understand you correctly, small producers should be concerned with A and just enough C to get by, but as the shop gets bigger, they need to start taking B and D (and more C) into account? I can see larger implying D with something like beginners boxes. Is it largeness itself which implies concern for C or is it a with-more-power-comes-more-responsibility thing?


It's rude to stare. Rudeness is not much of an accusation, so let's pump it up to sexism. I condemn you which lowers you and raises me. Ergo, I get tenure and you don't. Now I get speaking engagements and other people try the same thing.

(I don't claim that this is the whole of the matter, I'm just giving you a plausible don't-need-to-wrack-your-brain line of reasoning.)

Necropraxis said...

It's actually flattering to stare. A compliment. I don't understand this idea that it is rude to stare (though I realize that many people feel that way; gets me into trouble sometimes).

Zak Sabbath said...



Once you have become so large you need tens of thousands of customers to satisfy your overhead and payroll you begin to become so large that you are actually having social impact:

...coincidentally, you also have enough money to shape that social impact

Zak Sabbath said...


Many women will point out that unwanted staring can be viewed as an implied threat.

And although the risk of rape or harassment is small, the danger once it occurs is so large that the risk/reward calculation is not as simple as it may seem to be if you are a guy and don't habitually interpret sexual interest as possibly a _problem_ that could inconvenience you.

Adam Strong-Morse said...

I'm actually making a methodological point about hiring. I'm not saying that I could pick football coaches well--I fairly clearly couldn't. If I watch two football games a year, that's a lot. However, I think that owners of football teams looking only at coaches that look like the other coaches they've employed before is likely to result in bad hiring decisions--and is likely to be how they behave if they are not particularly careful or required by rule to behave differently.

People make lots of poor decisions. I know I do. And when I do recruitment for my job, which I do a lot of, I recruit from people who mainly are like me in lots of way, not because I want to, but because those are the people I know and have easy access to. I would love to have more people of color submitting pitches to my company. I do pretty well on recruiting pitches from both men and women, but we could do better. I bet there are lots of talented African-American writers that I don't have easy access to who write as well or better than the people I do. That's all to say: I know I could do better in my recruiting job, even though I try to do a good job. I think it's entirely likely that structures that are designed to systematically correct failings in process can cause improvement in results.

And, indeed, in recent years pro football teams have hired more African-American coaches, and the African-American coaches have outperformed the average. That doesn't necessarily mean that the African-American coaches are stronger than average--it could be happenstance, or have more to do with roster issues unrelated to the coach, or whatever. But it is consistent with a situation where the NFL owners have been (perhaps unwittingly and unintentionally) been passing over strong African-American candidates to hire weaker white candidates, and where forcing the owners to interview (but not necessarily to hire) minority candidates may result in the overall quality of the coaching pool improving.

People make mistakes, sometimes in systematic ways. When we have reasons to believe systematic mistakes are being made, systematic corrections can result in better outcomes.

Necropraxis said...

Okay, that makes sense. I hadn't thought of that. Guys seem to also think it's rude sometimes. Maybe a fear of being objectified or feminized?

Zak Sabbath said...

For guys?
As someone who is stared at a LOT, I think sometimes it's just because it is actually the staring person is actually hostile and is trying to express their hostility by treating you like you are so inexplicable you warrant being stared at.

David Pretty said...

I love this idea. At the very least it would certainly result in some badly needed new perspectives.

Instead of saying "Well, pity it'll never happen" I'd rather ask: "What can we collectively do to MAKE this happens?"


Greg G said...

To be honest, I really don't understand the over-emphasis specifically on sexism. D&D has long been guilty of rank imperialism, colonialism, capitialism, governmentality. Hell, one could make the argument that these are the basic tenets of the game. Where are the discussions of these other equally important social concerns and issues? They certainly have found their way into the artistic representation of the game over its history.

Zak Sabbath said...

Most games are based on "This world sucks and has problems".

In this particular case the issue is: in a game that can be for children that features heroes, it is helpful to have all different colors and genders of heroes because that affects the way those children think about themselves.

Because children are stupid.

Alex J. said...

There's a difference between eye contact which says "I think you're attractive, let's chat." and staring which says "I'm going to be thinking about you twenty minutes from now when I'm masturbating."

With animals, parents stare at their children, and mates stare at each other. The only other form of staring is predators staring at their prey. Flirty eye contact plays with these boundaries, but it's inherently dicey, because, after all, you're on the boundary.

Alex J. said...

Yes, I think you have a good point.

noisms said...

Alex J: It's rude to stare. Rudeness is not much of an accusation, so let's pump it up to sexism. I condemn you which lowers you and raises me. Ergo, I get tenure and you don't. Now I get speaking engagements and other people try the same thing.

I don't really get what you mean. Sure, it's rude to stare, but that's not the same thing as finding pictures of women's boobs aesthetically pleasing. And nor is it the same thing as recognising a member of the opposite sex is attractive. You can do either of those two things and in a sense it objectifies women, but I don't buy it being "sexist".

The rest of your comment seems to amount to "sexism is bad", which you won't find any disagreement on.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zak Sabbath said...

You just lied.

Lying is bad and makes you a bad person.

I did not say there was anything wrong with WFIRA. I said:

"There is a lesson in the fact that Women Fighters In Reasonable Armor is run by a guy and Female Fighters In Unreasonable Armor is run by a girl. And that lesson is? All the fun girls like good grammar."

As for whether the actual art on those pages is good or bad--I said nothing about it

Some of the pics on WFIRA are good and some are bad, same goes for FFIUA. I just like that FFIUA fights a stereotype. The fact that it does so (and thereby contributes to social justice) does not mean any of the pictures on it are necessarily better or worse than those on WFIRA.

The proprietor of WFIRA and I are internet friends.

Zak Sabbath said...

And, incidentally, you are not a bad person for "disagreeing with me" you are a bad person because you arrogantly assume you can read someone's thoughts and intentions by the art they choose to make.

That is presumptuous and terrible and means you are awful and is the kind of thing that makes the human race stupider.

Then you compounded your badness by lying.

As for Mr Strange Magic--I am not responsible for his behavior.

Unknown said...

Busy fighting with my scanner tonight! :-P

I said I, personally, wasn't going to worry and stress about making the art that I produce conservative enough to satisfy the conservative people who (mostly) like Kirin's blog.*

I don't have a problem with WFIRA at all. Kirin was visting town a couple of months ago and we got a chance to chat, hang out and game a bit. He was also one of the people I asked to be in my [redacted] playtest group.

My post wasn't saying Kirin is bad/wrong/dumb/tasteless for his choice in artwork at WFIRA it was basically me saying that as an artist I was going to focus more on "A" than "B" (see original topic).

* Kirin has a lot of interesting stories about the email he gets at WFIRA... :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zak Sabbath said...

Your apology would seem much more sincere if you attempted to actually talk about the issues you raised and my responses to them rather than merely repeating yourself.

Again: none of the evidence you cited as evidence (merunning down WFIRA) actually occurred and you claim to know what people think because of the art they make:

"If an artist only and always depicts women being as primarily being _for looking sexy_ "

(a biased and judgmental version of "depicting primarily sexy women")

'..., I would say that this artist has a very limited view of women"

(arrogantly insinuating you can judge an artist's mind by their art)

Address the issue or stop talking.

scrap princess said...

in regards to the post Naught read as attacking WFIRA, I can understand how they read it that way, like I found it hard to gauge if the passing reference to WFIRA was a friendly jib or a contemptuous snark, more with the context of
"Now that Go Make Me Repetitive And Intolerant is over, there's no go-to aggregator for sexy female D&D pix. Anyone want to start a tumblr called Female Fighters In Unreasonable Armor?"

As in I was like "waaah? is WFIRA being referred to as repetitive and intolerant?"
But then you know benefit of the doubt and all that and me not having a fucking clue exactly what was being referred to so I should not go jumping down someones throat based on scant conjecture etc etc.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

Sexism is, obviously, a bad thing. Sadly it is rife in the entertainment industries whether it be comics, rpgs, music, films, tv or whatever. The only way that will change - in my humble opinion - is if the people in charge actively promote people based on talent rather than looks and if society itself becomes less shallow. But companies know sex sells and they will continue to do so for quick profit as long as they can. They don't care about social justice, they care about money. They could help change/mould society's views in regard to sexism if they wanted, but they go for the cash instead. That is the world we live in and - due to my cynical ature - I can't see it changing anytime soon. In fact I think it will get worse.

Unknown said...

2nd Try...
I support this idea and have put forth a challenge, on a related issue, that at least 10% of the human depicted in 5E D&D need to be black.
However, how could any company go about deliberately making an effort to hire gays, lesbians and woman without opening itself to many, many lawsuits and wide spread criticism until it gave up the effort?

Unknown said...

Sadly it is rife in the entertainment industries whether it be comics, rpgs, music, films, tv or whatever.

I guess it depends on what you consider sexism. Some people consider anything going against their conservative victorian sensibilities to be "sexism" when it's not.

Edmund Ward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edmund Ward said...

Isn't the true goal of D to make hiring women (and fostering diversity in general) more achievable? The whole point of D is to make the audience broader so that the pool of potential creative talent is wider so that: B, and quite possibly more A as well.

Necropraxis said...

Google "workplace diversity." Many (most?) large corporations have policies in place to make an effort to hire women and "visible minorities" (the status of sexuality is still up in the air legally; in many places in the US one can be fired for being gay).

noisms said...

Why is it game companies' business to change/mould society's views?

If there's one thing this world needs less of, it's "creative types" who have absolutely no qualifications to distinguish them Joe Bloggs on the street, except that they happen to be good at drawing pictures/designing games/writing books/directing movies/acting, trying to mould society into something resembling their own private vision about how it ought to be.

Mr. Blue said...

Why do we need to curb sexuality? To be clear, sexuality is not the same as sexism. People enjoying sexuality is normal. In case anyone has forgotten, that's where we all came from.

Sexism, on the other hand, is a form of bigotry. If someone is going to attack game companies, they have to prove the companies are bigots towards women, which I seriously doubt since they'd all love nothing more than to sell to all genders.

Looking at pictures of hot black guys doesn't make you racist anymore than looking at pictures of hot women makes you sexist. Refusing to hire a qualified woman for the sole reason that she is a woman is sexist.

AbusePuppy said...

>arrogantly insinuating you can judge an artist's mind by their art

I don't think anyone is saying you can make an absolute judgement of who a person is from the art they create alone, but making judgements from incomplete information is something we all have to live with. If the only thing I know about Bob is "he once punched my gay friend Steve," I may be inclined to think that Bob could harbor some degree of homophobic sentiment. I don't KNOW that's why it happened, but I might (not unreasonably) suspect it if I don't have any other information.

Art is, by most understandings, intended to portray some kind of message. That message might be purely emotional, moral, or something else, but it exists for a reason; it exists because the artist chose to create it that way. It represents some part of the artist's mind given form, and we as the viewer of the art will give it an interpretation, and from that draw a conclusion about what the artist (consciously or unconsciously) was saying.

Are these conclusions necessarily right? Of course not. Should we draw them hastily and seeing it exclusively from our own viewpoint? No, certainly not. But when themes and images show up again and again in a particular artist's works, it is not unfair to think that they hold some particular meaning and try to decode that meaning.

I can reasonably say that I think H.P. Lovecraft's stories have strong racist themes in them even without having read about the man's personal life and opinions. Similarly, if the only way an artist ever depicts women is as scantily clad and sexualized, I don't think it's unfair to try and draw conclusions from that as well.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to draw or see attractive people- it's why every actor in Hollywood is pretty, because we like seeing pretty people. But there's a difference between "draw attractive people" and "why don't any of the women in this world wear pants?" You can make people attractive and even sexually appealing without just taking off all their clothes.

Unknown said...

Art is, by most understandings, intended to portray some kind of message.

I just posted some artwork this morning of spooky skeletons and haunted houses. I think the message was "here is the art that I made from the things I imagined". I don't think there's a hidden message there that you'll find if you hold them up backward in a mirror. :)

there's a difference between "draw attractive people" and "why don't any of the women in this world wear pants?"

Make your own art then. You can draw all the attractive people wearing pants, burkhas, utilikilts or whatever else your cultural upbringing makes you feel comfortable with and/or desire.

Why should other artists feel beholden to draw pretty fantasy women in medieval pantsuits for your enjoyment if that's not something they want to do?

noisms said...

Let's be clear about this (because I agree with you): For some people in the world, regulation of other people's sexuality is incredibly important. The impulse behind "You shouldn't look at sexy pictures of women because it objectifies them, you awful sexist" is exactly the same as the one behind "You shouldn't look at sexy pictures of women because it offends God and is sinful, you awful heathen". It's just that the people who think the former have managed to rebrand themselves as being somehow "progressive" and the others as "conservative".

noisms said...

That last comment of mine was addressed to Mr Blue, by the way. Why does Blogger only let you "nest" one set of additional comments?

Unknown said...

is exactly the same as the one behind "You shouldn't look at sexy pictures of women because it offends God and is sinful, you awful heathen".

...and is *exactly* the same as the impulse behind "Women must cover their bodies and faces in public lest men see them, think impure thoughts, which offends God and is sinful, blah blah blah".

Alex J. said...

I'm not justifying the process, I'm exposing it.

Some people (radical feminists), in certain circumstances (the most PC universities), can profit by making charges which most people in most circumstances would find excessive. I guess the individuals do this just because in the normal scope of human variation they don't find it excessive. The interesting part is that they prosper at it because of the peculiarities of their institutions.

Joeksy Tax: Kobolds of Cu Chi
1) All of the pictured tunnels have been expanded for tourists. The real things were narrower and much shorter. Kobolds are much smaller than the Vietnamese.

2) Kobolds keep giant weasels.

3) The tunnels had tiny ventilation ducts to let some fresh air and a bit of light. Clever kobolds might have some fakes down which they could pour burning oil, which would at least eat up all of the oxygen in the cramped space.

4) None of the pictures I could find include the water trap: There’s a water trap, a pool of water about two feet square, in front of me. I know it’ll be about three feet deep and then’ll travel underground for maybe another two feet and open up on the other side. These traps are used to seal off the rest of the tunnel from gas.

Also, a person waiting on the other side could see the rise caused by a person entering the water, and be ready to bayonet him in the face.

I don't know that this was ever done, but you could have dead-end no-air water traps. Or ones with underwater pungi stakes. Or, you know, giant weasels.

Zak Sabbath said...


You are wrong.

It is unfair and it is evil.

Evil: arrogant, terrible and wrong.

Lovecraft's papers prove he was racist. His stories back it up after the fact (unnecessarily).

You MUST answer the questions: does Morandi hate people because he never paints them clothed or otherwise? No.

Artists choose subjects. Often these subjects have less to do with their personalities than with what their talent allows them to make visually powerful.

I have written whole books featuring male characters--but men rarely appear in y pictures except as grotesque caricatures. Does this tell you something about how I regard men? No: it tells you something about what I find intrguing to draw.

Answer that.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

It seems to me that this description of Priority B has things in reverse order. If someone rejects a game product on the grounds that it's offensive in some political way (regressive, misogynist, whatever), it's not because they have chosen a political stance, and the product reflects a different stance, and therefore it is offensive. I would reframe Priority B so it read something like this:

B' - Justice prime: Does this product degrade, belittle or otherwise insult or threaten me, someone I care about, or someone I think does not deserve to be insulted, either personally or by implication?

Something insults me by implication when it insults a class of people which includes me. It threatens me by implication when it depicts a class of people which includes me as deserving of having violence inflicted on them.

My idea of justice is informed by my idea of what is insulting or threatening, not the other way around. If I subscribe to a political belief like feminism, racial equality, or what not, it's because I think people should not be insulted or threatened for being women, for being non-white, etc. Justice is not a high-falutin' ideal; in this case, it means not being insulted and threatened casually, or having my loved ones insulted or threatened, by the mass media I pick up.

I hope you'll agree that it's totally fair to reject a product because it's insulting or threatening. I think it's not condescending to have that as my FIRST barrier of entry: if you can't pass this test, quality etc. is not going to hook me.

Zak Sabbath said...

You interpreted wrong. You need to stop doing that. Assume that what I say is exactly what I mean and no more and no less, not some persecutoriall thing you made up.

"I do judge artists who, when I look at their work I feel bad or get reminded of things I don't like to think about."

So if some artist accidentally triggers _your_ insecurities, you judge _them_?

And your "judgment" apparently includes you deciding what they think about women?


In order for this situation you describe to be at all fair (and not evil) you need to very clearly define:

1. which insecurities an artist has to avoid triggering

2. how they trigger those insecurities

3. what percentage of the population needs to share these same insecurities before you get your free pass to psychoanalyze the artist on the grounds that they've ignored a popular insecurity

and then, after that, you need to explain how you are going to arrange for great art to continue to be made in a situation where you are asking artists to worry all about the sensitivities of people (other than themselves) who are apparently sensitive to the expression of the very things that are the most private and, therefore, the primary province of adult conversation.


Or, alternately, you could just realize that just because something triggers you it doesn't tell you anything about the person who made it and you have to restrain your natural-but-unfair urge to judge them.

Zak Sabbath said...


If you redefine B then you are asking me to rewrite the whole thing. A situation where a product I might actually buy "degrades, belittles or otherwise insults or threatens" anyone I know has never come up.
(nobody's on the fence about FATAL, f'rinstance).

The fact that Black Canary is not in the JL does not degrade, threaten or insult anyone. It simply does not do as much for social justice as it could.

If you see a lot of degrading belittling or insulting products in mainstream gaming or comics then you have a different definition of those words than I do, or are assuming a priori that something is degrading insulting or belittling based on assumptions you do not share with the producers of the thing.

Like whoever wrote Der Sturmer didn't like Jews--he knew it, they knew it. I see very little intentional attack in products on the shelves. Merely missed opportunities to send better signals.

Anonymous said...

So, to be clear, you're saying that, in your view, there aren't very many eg. degrading depictions of women in mainstream gaming?

Zak Sabbath said...


I mean, if you're with Greg "Furries Undermine Legitimate Cosplay" Christopher or in the "Every Gratuitously Underdressed Woman Somehow Degrades All Women" brigade then maybe you see degrading depictions everywhere.

I don't.

I see pictures by people who like looking at pictures they themselves consider sexy and art directors with a hidebound, sexist view about the variety of artists they should be hiring.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't disagree with you on the latter point. And I agree with your solution. I only wanted to dispute your claim that having justice as dealbreaking priority #1 was "condescending". But it looks like we aren't likely to agree on premises, so I will bow out. Thanks for responding.

Zak Sabbath said...

well if you are bowing out you are bowing out.

but i'd like to know which premise you disagree with.

otherwise there isn't much point to having comments under the blog.

Anonymous said...

Well, we seem not to agree on whether there's much in mainstream comics or gaming art that's insulting. Insults are kind of a "you see it or you don't" sort of thing, so I'm not sure there's much to argue here.

If someone's idea of what is sexy is informed by the implicit idea that women are stupid, window dressing, that women have no value unless they put out, or unless they have big boobs, or unless they make men feel macho, that it's fun to use slurs and sexy when women fawn over a guy who treats them poorly, or that they need to be tortured so that the good guys have a bad guy to kill, etc., that is not a just a matter of personal taste and not morally neutral. This is just to use misogyny as an example; I could do the same thing with representations of race, among other things. And I don't think it's uncommon in popular mass media. A lot of dudes have serious Issues and they splatter 'em all over everything.

Not all pop art is equally bad in this regard. But it's not just about balance. The problem is not *just* that other views aren't represented; part of the problem is that hateful views are represented as normal and cool, and they shouldn't be.

So, for me, that's a dealbreaker. I don't think I'm condescending, or being unfair to an artist or to a product, if I reject it on these grounds. I just don't want to subject myself to that kind of thing, and I don't want to support it. It's bad enough to be insulted, or have my loved ones insulted, when I can't do anything about it. I don't then have to swallow it voluntarily in the name of fairness to the product. Fairness doesn't require me to forgive someone for insulting people needlessly; it requires that person not to insult people needlessly in the first place.

Zak Sabbath said...

"implicit idea"

That's the problem.

If you see depicting something as endorsing it then that seems to me a recipe for deciding nearly all culture as bad.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that depicting something always means the artist endorses it. But something can be clearly (or subtly) endorsed by being depicted in a certain way, in a given piece or in relation to other things in a larger composition.

When I say "implicit ideas", I mean answers to the question, "What views, positions, and value judgments do I have to buy into to make sense of why the artist is depicting this thing in this way? What would have to be true for this depiction to have value?"

A lot of insults work that way. "What does this person have to believe about me, that would make what they just said meaningful and relevant?"

I do think a lot of (what passes for) popular culture has really insulting implications and entailments. I wish people would do better. I don't think that's a problem with my view. I think it's a problem with our culture.

Zak Sabbath said...

Pop culture does not concern me here today right now.

In a recent mainstream RPG product--can you give an example of a product where you would HAVE TO buy into an insulting view of women for that product to make sense of why the artist depicted the thing in a way?

Please choose the most well-known and popular example you can think of, to increase the chance I know what you're talking about.

richard said...

My comment made no sense, probably because I wrote it before thinking about what you had written. Sorry about that.

Take 2: yes, what you say makes all sorts of sense. Priority A should benefit. I don't know about any of the other priorities, really, except that if current hiring practices are unjust toward women then they should be changed. So I wound up basically writing +1 in too many words.

Anonymous said...

With a caveat: I'm hesitant to start talking about examples, because what I want to argue for is the principle, not any particular case. But I will if it helps illustrate the point.

I never got into Exalted, and the cover of "Savant and Sorcerer" sure didn't make me want to. This is from 2004, I hope that is recent enough to support my point.
As far as I can tell, the message being conveyed by that picture is palpably not, "Here is a sexy, bad ass character of the sort you might want to play in this game." The message is, "Pay the cover price and you can ogle this woman's improbable anatomy while you play the game. In this game, women are sometimes just T&A."

So, you know, this is just a product that I'm not going to pick up. I judge this book by its cover because they decided to put an insult on the cover. They had their chance to entice me and that's not the way to do it. It also discourages me from taking the rest of the Exalted line seriously, because it doesn't exactly inspire faith in their good judgment.

Of course, you can have sexy art that's not insulting in this way. I think a good example is Tony Di Terlizzi's Planescape art, because the representations of female characters were typically sexy AND they looked like people who would make really awesome PCs or NPCs. The sexiness of a female character in a TDT painting is only part of what makes her interesting, and the overall effect is one of total badassery.

(I wish I could cite more recent positive examples. I find most of the art for 4e D&D, for example, isn't objectionable in the way I'm talking about here, but it's just plain boring.)

Anyway, hopefully that clarifies where I'm coming from.

Zak Sabbath said...


I showed that picture to Mandy, with no prompting:

Mandy: "Wow, I like it, it reminds me of the art in my Korean illustration book"

Zak: "Would you play that character?"

Mandy: "Yeah--and I like the costume too"


My point Is NOT:

One girl likes this so you should too.

It is NOT:

Most girls would react this way.

My point is:

Your gigantic assumption--

"As far as I can tell, the message being conveyed by that picture is palpably not, "Here is a sexy, bad ass character of the sort you might want to play in this game." The message is, "Pay the cover price and you can ogle this woman's improbable anatomy while you play the game. In this game, women are sometimes just T&A." subjective.

The picture communicates different things to different people. It may remind you of unpleasant things, but it does not "degrade" or "insult" people. It presents a sexualized woman and you react to it as you yourself personally react to sexualized women.

As Gervais said: it does not GIVE offense. you TAKE offense.

Anonymous said...

I don't grant what Gervais said, because it entails that no one is ever responsible for insulting other people. And I'm not prepared to grant that it's subjective, just because opinions vary.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that it is. Then what? I'm not entitled to reject a product on the grounds that I find it insulting? That I've done something wrong if I find it insulting?

Zak Sabbath said...

You are allowed to reject it.

You are NOT allowed to judge or assume anything about the mind of the artist.

anarchist said...

Men would probably dislike being stared at if they were in prison, because of the threat of rape. Women are, arguably, 'in prison' in the sense that the threat is there at least subjectively.

Zak Sabbath said...

Anarchist has it right.

My friends who have been in lock-up (can't wait for the troll backlash on that one) all are hypersensitive to which way you are looking and who you are looking at.

Like if you look at a peach they instantly are like--"You want one of those peaches don't you"

Simon said...

@Brendan - do I have to put 'Neo-' in front of Marxist, then?

@Zak - we're on the same page. If you had put "Positive comment only please!" on your initial entry, I wouldn't have commented. Your initial entry just seemed to assume everyone shares your views.

Zak Sabbath said...


" Your initial entry just seemed to assume everyone shares your views."

No, my entry states very clearly:

"I am ok with other peoples' priorities and will live and let live with them unless they don't start with A and then move on to B:"

Unless you're talking about something else in which case I don't exactly follow where this conversation is going and if you want to keep it up I humbly request you explain from the beginning what you're trying to say because I'm confused.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying anything about the mind of the artist. The meaning of a work doesn't depend on the mind of the artist, any more than it depends on the mind of the viewer.

That's why I'm not talking about whether the artist holds sexist views. And it's why I resist talking about whether the audience is "offended". I'm talking about whether the work they create has an insulting meaning. That doesn't depend on anyone's feelings or private thoughts. It's something that's communicated in a public way.

It depends on judgment calls, which is why I say it's a "you see it or you don't" kind of thing. But that doesn't make it subjective. Something is either insulting or it's not. Different people can have differing opinions on whether something is insulting. But it's not "insulting for me, but not for you". If I think something is insulting, that's an opinion about the objective meaning of the thing.

My point is that, if a product contains content that, in my judgment, is insulting to a class of people, I'm not being condescending if I reject the product on those grounds. I'm acting on my best judgment. Of course I shouldn't put up with being insulted or seeing other people insulted. You might have a different opinion on whether the same work really is insulting or not, and we could talk about whether my judgment was hasty, or whether a different presentation of the product would be more amenable. You might think I'm over-sensitive, I might think you're under-sensitive, etc. But we act on our best considered judgments, and if my best considered judgment is that a work is insulting, that's a good reason not to buy it.

Speaking to the broader point of your original post, a product designer can certainly reflect on whether a product is insulting, or likely to be construed as insulting. They can hear differing opinions about it, and they can set a goal for themselves to not insult people. That serves an interest in justice, because it makes a bit more of popular mass media a bit less hostile. It doesn't require designers to be superheroes or prophets, and it doesn't require them to sacrifice anything significant in the pursuit of a profitable quality product.

Zak Sabbath said...


"I'm not saying anything about the mind of the artist. "

Oh, but wait...

"If someone's idea of what is sexy is informed by the implicit idea that women are stupid, window dressing, that women have no value unless they put out, or unless they have big boobs...that is not a just a matter of personal taste and not morally neutral. "

So you are totally assuming the artists you are complaining about have certain views.

Or else why did you say all that?

"That's why I'm not talking about whether the artist holds sexist views. "

oh, but wait:

"A lot of dudes have serious Issues and they splatter 'em all over everything."

Which artists are these, exactly? The guy who did the Exalted cover?

Anonymous said...

Because I also said this:

When I say "implicit ideas", I mean answers to the question, "What views, positions, and value judgments do I have to buy into to make sense of why the artist is depicting this thing in this way? What would have to be true for this depiction to have value?"

The question is not, what is in this or that person's head? The question is, what is the message being conveyed? What are the premises and entailments that confer a meaning to this work? That's not subjective.

I say someone has issues when they spend a lot of time and effort to convey a bad message, especially if they do it over and over again. It's a secondary imputation, based on a judgment call about the messages being conveyed in a body of work. I don't decide whether a piece is insulting according to whether I think the artist is working out issues. Other way around.

I don't know if the Exalted cover is issues-motivated or just a piece of (in my opinion) bad judgment. I don't think issues-motivated art is as common a problem in RPG art these days. It's easier to find obvious examples in comics (eg. Frank Miller), TV, etc.

Anyway I'm not saying any of this for the sake of stirring up negative feelings. I enjoy your blog generally and I think we agree on a lot. I am happy to clarify my views, but I didn't mean to start something that was unwelcome.

Unknown said...

I don't think you have a good grasp on the difference between subjective and objective.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, I had hoped my original comments would be interesting and constructive. Maybe we don't share enough common ground for you to find them useful. If that's so, then I really would rather bow out than debate. But thank you for taking the time to respond.

Necropraxis said...

creases wrote:

any more than it depends on the mind of the viewer

It does actually depend on the mind of the viewer.'est+pas+une+pipe

It also depends on the mind of the artist, but that is not something one can know (not even the actual artist completely, because there are unconscious influences, though they are often overstated in my opinion). This is the difference between endorsing and depicting.

Example: the meaning Anthony Burgess wished to convey with A Clockwork Orange and the meaning many people have taken away from it (two very different things).

Zak Sabbath said...


This is welcome, this is what we do here. We find out why people think what they think.

I find this significant:

"What views, positions, and value judgments do I _have to_ buy into to make sense of why the artist is depicting this thing in this way? What would have to be true for this depiction to have value?"

You gave an example.

Mandy herself pointed out that none of the ideas YOU associate with the image does one HAVE to buy into for the thing to have value.

The perception that one would HAVE to buy into a given set of ideas to see value in that Exalted picture is proven thereby inaccurate.

Unless the idea is "What views, positions, and value judgments do I (meaning only you, Creases) _have to_ buy into to make sense of why the artist is depicting this thing in this way" in which case: that is totally subjective.

So either: you are inaccurately assuming the image requires (for any viewer) belief in a set of ideas that is the same for all viewers, or

you are assuming the viewer has to worry about only what _you(Creases)_ would have to think about to find value in an image-- which is totally subjective.

I am just trying to grasp your logic here

Necropraxis said...


I realize I'm being pedantic here. So totally feel free to ignore this. I associate Neomarxism with the Frankfurt school, Herbert Mercuse, and others around that time. You can use the term more generally, but it's probably not a good idea if you are talking about the history of ideas. According to a quick web search, it does seem like some people use Neomarxism now to refer to the New Left, which is probably closer to what you want to convey (though it may also come with other baggage such as antiglobalization dogma). That seems unfortunate to me because Marx was a person that had very distinct ideas that he wrote thousands of pages about. Attributing other unrelated ideas to him by association seems silly and adds to the (common) misunderstanding of his philosophy.

So I would say just use the term "New Left" or be more specific and avoid buzzwords or jargon.

Peter Darley said...

Creases said: "The meaning of a work doesn't depend on the mind of the artist, any more than it depends on the mind of the viewer."

Whoah! That is a bizarre and troubling statement. As far as I know, meaning ONLY exists in peoples minds. Is it your position that there is a platonic ideal of Sexist Art out there that people are tapping into?

Zak Sabbath said...

Don't overreach. This isn't Derrida here. We are talking about a real ethical problem.

Peter Darley said...

I’m not sure what part you think is overreaching.

There is a real ethical problem, and I believe that the solution to ethical problems lie in understanding of how the mind works, as I don’t see any other way to approach them. Saying that there is meaning independent of minds is to invoke mysticism, which I don’t see as useful for two reasons: 1) It removes it from the realm of things that we can actually manipulate, and says that it’s Just The Way It Is, and 2) is almost certainly wrong.

I assume you weren’t objecting to my question clarifying whether creases thinks that ideas are real things that exist outside of peoples minds…

Peter Darley said...

If the question on the table is “how do you make/chose/whatever art that doesn’t tend to make humans think certain things that are likely to decrease human wellbeing (such as Women are Dumb)”, which I think it should be (and ultimately, is), then the only way we can get a handle on it is to accept that these things are entirely in the human mind.

I understand your point that it’s not relevant to this conversation whether ideas are objectively separate from minds, but don’t agree.

But this is your party, as they say, and I don’t have any interest in muddying your dialog with creases, so I’ll bow out.

Anonymous said...


The kind of "having to" involved here is a "should", not a "necessarily will". If I find something insulting, well, that's my opinion, but it's an opinion I think other people should join me in holding.

So, Mandy disagrees. She doesn't find it insulting. Okay, maybe I'm doing it wrong. Maybe I'm seeing something that isn't there, like, I'm overly sensitive, made a hasty judgment, or something like that. That's possible.

On the other hand, just because she doesn't see it as insulting, doesn't mean it isn't. Maybe she's not seeing something that is there. It's a judgment call; we can come down on one side or the other, and we take responsibility for our views, we each stake a little part of our reputation as someone who is good at judging the meanings of things. If I'm right, she should be more critical. If she's right, I should be more open minded. Everyone can decide for themselves which side they're on, whose judgment they think is good or bad in this case, etc.

Sometimes there's room for reasonable disagreement, and that's fine, hopefully nobody thinks less of the other just because they come down on different sides of this one judgment call. If I think she is wrong about this one, it doesn't mean I think she is catastrophically or systematically unreasonable or unreliable. Hopefully likewise.

Sometimes a view is outside the bounds of what another person can count as reasonable or conscionable.

So, there are several layers to the problem. The first is that we have to answer the question, "Is this product insulting?" I say yes, she says no.

The second layer is that we have to answer the question, "Could someone reasonably construe this product as insulting?" You might think not, in which case, I am being unreasonable if I reject the product on the grounds that I find it insulting. Or, you might think that it's a reasonable view to hold, even if you don't personally hold that view. In that case, it's reasonable for me to reject the product, even though you don't agree with my reason for doing so.

In my first comment, I was trying to angle for this distinction. If I reject a product on the grounds that it's misogynist, that's not necessarily unfair to the product. I'm not necessarily doing something unreasonable --- even if you don't happen to agree that a given product is really misogynist. For my part, when I choose or reject media for "justice"-motivated reasons, it has to do with whether I think it's insulting to people I don't think should be insulted. That's the point I wanted to make in my first comment.

The third layer is the one I raised above, when I said I wanted to speak to the broader point of your original post. A game illustrator, product manager, etc. can ask, "Is a reasonable person likely to construe this as insulting?" Other things being equal, given the choice between publishing a product that reasonable people are not likely to find insulting, and publishing one they are, the creator should go with the non-insulting one --- even if the creator doesn't find it insulting, in his personal opinion. Having a more diverse staff can help creators figure out what reasonable people likely will or won't find insulting.

Unknown said...

There are people who would consider a drawing or photograph of a woman standing in a neutral position wearing knee-length shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt to be insulting, sexist and misogynistic. In some countries these people make up the majority of the population. In other countries (US, Canada, UK, Australia, etc) they don't. However there will still be communities and individuals within all countries who have alternate views from the majority.

I think at its heart these are disagreements about cultural values about what makes an image "insulting, sexist and misogynistic" etc. When you talk about a reasonable person, which culture (or sub-culture) should get to have their values represent that "reasonable person" and take priority over the values of the people making the creative work?

Zak Sabbath said...


Ok, you are admitting it's subjective and ( I think) saying you can't judge the artist unless you admit that's subjective too, which was my point all along.

As for the rest:

I put pentagrams and upside-down crosses on things. This offends some people. These are people I am ok with offending.

Anonymous said...

@Peter Darley, et al. who are contradicting me on this point.

Honestly, I don't mind getting into the metaphysics of it, but I don't think it has to get crazy Wittgenstein-level abstract. Let me use an example that has nothing to do with emotionally charged political issues.

I know this guy who is basically an okay guy, but he is a bit of an oaf. He often says things that are insulting to people, without really thinking about it. Let's call him Doug.

So we have, as mutual friends, this married couple. Let's call them Elias and Jane.

One day, Doug says to Elias, "Man, you are really lucky. Jane could do a lot better than you!" He honestly meant this as a compliment, to both of them. Anyway, Elias and Jane took it as having an upshot that was insulting to both of them. The remark suggests that Jane is settling, and doesn't love Elias for good reasons. It also suggests that Elias isn't worthy of being loved, on his own merits, by someone as awesome as Jane.

Doug's comment wasn't intended to be malicious. It didn't occur to him that someone might draw those entailments from what he said. Nevertheless, there they were. His crime was negligence --- he didn't pay due attention to the meaning of what he was saying, to be sure that what he said was an appropriate, coherent, defensible thing to say.

In this case, Doug didn't even disagree with them. When they pointed out the implications they drew from what he said, Doug acknowledged that they really did follow. So he apologized, because he was persuaded, in light of what they said, that his comment was essentially untrue and unfair, and not a view he really wanted to stand behind. He might try to say something different instead, something that was actually a compliment.

The insulting implication wasn't a thought he held in his head. It didn't occur to him; it wasn't in his head at all, when he said the insulting thing. But Elias and Jane weren't being unreasonable when they held him responsible for the implications of what he said. They weren't imputing things unfairly to him, or spinning something out of their own heads.

It wasn't that Elias and Jane got mad, and therefore concluded that they'd been insulted. They got mad *because*, in their considered judgment, what Doug said had, in fact, been an insult. Another couple might not have noticed the insult, but that doesn't mean it would have been any less of an insult if Doug had said it to them. Also, Elias and Jane might not have felt the emotion of anger, but still counted what Doug said as an insult and acted on that (ie., by not inviting him over anymore).

That's what I mean when I say the meaning of a statement (or a piece of art) doesn't depend on what's in the speaker's (or artist's) head when he makes it, nor on what's in the audience's head when they hear it or view it. Obviously it all depends on negotiable norms of reasoning, expectations of respect, social conventions and all that, so I'm not holding a Platonic view. Meaning is something we make in the world, so that the world can convey something from mind and mind; it isn't something that happens in one or the other party's mind. A philosopher might say "objective" is a little misleading, and I should use the word "intersubjective" instead. My point is that it's not subjective; it doesn't depend on anyone's personal feelings or thoughts, or idiosyncratic features of the speaker's or the hearer's personality. Elias and Jane's position was a reasonable one to take, and it was a position on a matter of fact in the world.

Zak Sabbath said...

In that case, the guy made his meaning clear, just didn't realize enunciating that admitting it was bad:

" The remark suggests that Jane is settling, and doesn't love Elias for good reasons. It also suggests that Elias isn't worthy of being loved, on his own merits, by someone as awesome as Jane."

It also MEANS he thinks that. (saying it is a sideshow)

A picture of a sexy chick doesn't MEAN an artist thinks any specific thing.

Peter Darley said...

Creases, I'm not sure that I follow you here. You say that if someone says something that they don’t intend to be insulting, and everyone who hears it doesn’t find it insulting, that it can still be insulting. What does that mean?

Does it mean that Someone Somewhere would find it insulting if someone said it to them? Who cares? This doesn’t impact anyone in the whole world in any way.

If that’s not what you mean, can you clarify what you do mean?

I suspect that you ultimately mean that creases would find it insulting, and again, who cares? If anyone is going to be the universal judge of what is good and right, it should certainly be me.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to say it's subjective. I mean, to my ear, that sounds like saying, whether or not an insult is really an insult depends on how I feel about it, or thoughts that were going through my head when I heard it. I don't think that's true.

It's not like I see something that upsets me and then decide, on that basis, that I've been insulted. I might *get* upset if I think I'm being insulted, but that still requires me to make a judgment about an objective matter of fact: "Was this, in fact, an insult?" I might think something is insulting and not even be mad, but still count it as an insult.

I don't mind offending privileged, sanctimonious, oppressive jackasses. I object to casually insulting women as women, people of other races as members of their race, etc. I believe in respecting reasonable people; I don't mind having fun at the expense of people who put themselves totally outside anything resembling reason. I'm not opposed to scandal or shock, but not all shocking things are created equal. It matters to me at whose expense the shock comes. Some folks deserve it, some don't.

Anonymous said...

When absolutely no one finds a given statement insulting, then you're right, it doesn't impact the world in any way.

The issue is when someone DOES find a statement insulting. Is that just their personal problem, for being insulted? No, of course not.

If Elias and Jane didn't count Doug's remark as an insult, *I* was there, and I counted it as an insult to them.

More to the point of the original post, when someone publishes a work for an anonymous audience, they should exercise some discretion and not insult all or part of that audience, right?

Zak Sabbath said...


It sounds to me like you're arguing:

"I am fairly certain that this guy drew this sexy, sexualized picture of women on this Exalted book because he either--consciously or unconsciously--thinks bad things about women or because he doesn't but knows it will hurt women and doesn't care"

Is that right? What am I missing?

Because any other read I see is: it's subjective and the problem with this guy because he didn't read my mind and know that.

Peter Darley said...

Why is it an of course not when considering if an insult is just someone’s personal problem? I would come down on the other side of that. The cost of ensuring that nobody takes offense at something is insurmountably high, and the cost of the insult is very low. People may feel that they’re fragile butterflies who can’t handle something that offends or insults them, but I think they’re wrong.

On your other point, when People do Things, including publishing art, they Should do what maximizes human wellbeing, because it’s the moral thing to do.

When publishing something, some people who see it will enjoy it, and some will not. The benefit to the people who enjoy it will usually be greater than the cost to people who don’t enjoy it, because the people who enjoy it will seek it out and the people who don’t will avoid it.

When publishing something, it will often (I suspect usually) be hard to predict what will and will not offend people. The idea that of course, I know what is going to be insulting, strikes me as hubris.

Therefore, if you mitigate the quality of what you make in order to avoid offence, it’s going to be removing the value of the work more than it is reducing the offence given, AND they are just as likely to offend people anyway because they misjudge what is going to cause offence. So the answer to your question about whether people should use discretion to not insult people is no, it doesn’t maximize wellbeing.

There is a different consideration, which is what I think Zak was talking about in his post and which you have conflated with insult and offence, which is, does the work promote ideas that are harmful to people, either when they hold them, or when others hold them. This should be mitigates wherever possible.

Unknown said...

Mandy was correct - the Exalted book cover was done by Hyung-tae Kim who lives in Seoul, South Korea.

Anonymous said...


"Is that right? What am I missing?"

It's possible the artist consciously or unconsciously thinks something bad. It's possible he consciously knows he's insulting women but doesn't care.

What's missing is, first of all, even if it doesn't occur to him at all that his artwork is insulting, I think it *should* have. Hence my remark, upthread, about negligence. We're responsible for our omissions. My expectations as a consumer are not arcane or obscure, and even if they're not shared by everyone, they're not hard to anticipate and I don't think they set an unreasonably high barrier. It doesn't take a mind reader to say, "Someone might reasonably construe this as insulting. If that's not what I want, I should rethink this piece." If he can't do that for himself, it's probably a good idea for his art director to hire a diverse staff, so they can figure out what a broader cross section of people considers to be a reasonable expectation.

I am all about negotiable standards, reasonable expectations, and taking responsibility for the implications of your actions.

The second thing that's missing is, his intentions, and whatever personal attitude might have given rise to them, are not my problem. My problem is (what I construe to be) his insulting actions. I don't have to put up with being insulted, whether the artist "meant" for the work to be insulting or not. (Also, I don't have to put up with insults, whether I or anyone else is "hurt" by the insult or not.) So, if a product has something I construe as an insult in it, I don't buy it. Why would I?

A creator who says, "I'm going to say whatever I want about whatever class of people I want, and if you take that personally, it's your own subjective feeling and solely your responsibility", is as far as I'm concerned, in the same category as the kid who says, "I'm just going to punch the air and walk in your direction, and if you get hit, it's your own fault for being in the way."

I don't think I can make my view any clearer, so if you don't agree, then I guess we are probably done.

Zak Sabbath said...


I think you have made yourself clear:

If you are an artist and draw gratuitously sexy women, this is an insulting action--like walking around punching the air.

I think that's incredibly disturbing that you think that and I think it's sturprising I have someone that conservative in my audience, but ok.

Anonymous said...

Sexy isn't my problem with the picture. Sexy stuff is awesome, when it isn't *also* insulting. Even stuff that is sexy when it doesn't need to be.

But we clearly don't have enough common ground to talk about it directly. So now I am bowing out.

Zak Sabbath said...


You seem to be having an excruciatingly hard time describing exactly what constitutes the line between sexualized and "insulting" with regard to imagery of women.

If you figure out a way to describe it, let me know.

Richard Balmer said...

Wayne Reynolds doesn't care about drawing men? I dunno, some of his battle sequences for the various Osprey books about Samurai and naked Celts he's done over the years have been positively exuberant...

Zak Sabbath said...

The osprey stuff seems to me like his worst work (and like he'e suppressing his own style) but I might be missing something.

At any rate: I hope we can take it as a given that certain artists just are good at-/interested in- drawing certain things and we get good results when they are allowed to work their own magic.

Anonymous said...


Nah, like I said, I think it's fundamentally a "see it or not" kind of thing. There are no rules or criteria, just judgment calls all the way down. And I'm just some random internet person; you have people whose judgment you trust more than mine, of course.

Hope you didn't find this conversation boring, at least, even if it didn't wind up going anywhere. See you around.

Zak Sabbath said...


You are a person with a different opinion who is willing to articulate that opinion at least a little which makes you far more interesting than a "random internet person".

A "random internet person" is inarticulate and angry and dumb.

At this point, it's simply frustrating, as there seem to be contradictions that I assume for you are not contradictions that I do not understand in enough detail to know why they aren't.

Simon said...

The New Left took a lot from the Frankfurt School cultural Marxists, though - especially Marcuse & Adorno. I take your point though that by now their views don't necessarily have all that much basis in classical Marxism. They all (New Left and classical Marxists) seem to get on well enough at my UK University, though!

I find it hard talking with Americans especially, because many seem to adhere closely to New Left ideology while denying they are Marxist, or that their views have any relation to Marxism, or even Socialism. Many intelligent ones genuinely seem to believe this. I haven't seen it anywhere else in the world, although the Labour government here (1997-2010) did somewhat downplay the source of its ideology while engaging in its societal transformation program. Terms like Diversity and Social Justice seem to be useful for that.

Zak Sabbath said...

Well I'm pretty fucking Marxy, no doubt. I am using the terms "social justice" and "diversity" because when talking on the internet about these topics those are words the antiboob brigade recognizes.

huth said...

His Osprey work is from the 80s or early 90s, isn't it?

Pulp Herb said...

What if what women with talent want isn't exactly the same as what people who like to complain about art want?

Best line in the entire thing but the subtext reveals what I think is going on in 9 out of 10 of the "sexist" complaints (rising to 99 out of 10, no that's not a typo, when it is a "SEXIST!" complaint).

There are a few games, btw, where we can see this at work. Tunnels and Trolls fifth edition, edited by Liz Danforth has a very different art feel not only from the 7th edition (and a much superior one at that) but to pretty much every other fantasy game I've owned. While there weren't a lot of naked or mostly naked women there were some down right sexy ones.

As for the risks in doing this there is one I find interesting which I'll call prioritizing B'. It isn't so much prioritizing justice as wish fulfillment. This is what killed Blue Rose for me. It wasn't that the game had a gay, transgendered, poly, and lots of other sexualities friendly setting. It was that the main setting area was so relentlessness nice and perfect that I thought gaming there would be boring.

If there is an offense in gaming (or other creative work) worse than being insensitive/injustice/racist/sexist/etc it is being boring, especially if the cause of boredom is a relentless refusal to risk the above list.

Pulp Herb said...

Just to clarify after I re-read this, substitute "anti-Catholic/ANTI-CATHOLIC!", "homophobic/HOMOPHOBIC!", "greedy/GREEDY!", and so on above. I was less commenting on people who complain about sexism than about people who seem to always find their particular ox being gored regardless of what's going on.

Anonymous said...


I've been catching up on this blog and find this an interesting claim.

I agree that we can stipulate that all we can conclude about an artist who draws attractive women without many clothes is that the artist finds that content aesthetically pleasing. For that matter, artists have been portraying nudes for millenia, to (usually) relatively little controversy about their overall attitudes.

You seem to feel strongly that this is a general case about drawing inference about an artist from their art, however. I'm going to pick an intentionally inflammatory example: can we draw any conclusions about an artist and/or writer whose core subject matter is the beating, rape, and murder of women, told/shown from the point of view of the murderer? Clearly we can't conclude that this artist is an actual rapist or murderer just because the depict these things in their work, but can't we conclude ... something?

Zak Sabbath said...


Can we conclude something?
Of course we cannot.
Why would we?

Not that I expect you to read or respond to this.

Anonymous said...

>"for some people, art can't be good unless it works for social justice in some way."

> These people are anhedonic assholes.

Here's an alternate interpretation of a similar phenomenon: I have a visceral negative reaction to depictions of trans women as grotesque. I'm perfectly capable of assessing the quality of the linework or the use of color, but I am simply incapable of enjoying it. If they crop up as part of a larger work that contains a diverse array of other sorts of depictions, my reaction to those depictions of trans women still may prevent me from enjoying the larger work. It's not exactly a "trigger" in the sense that a trigger warning is necessary, it's just something I find fundamentally unpleasant and thus something I can't enjoy.

Based on what I've seen people post on the internet, there seem to be people who have similar reactions to certain types of depictions of women, or of black people, gay people, etc.

The leap from "I am a trans woman and I do not like these depictions of trans women" to "these depictions are bad and should be stopped" is a pretty easy (which is not to say correct) one in the social justice world, especially for people who subscribe to the common view that the opinions of people in a particular oppressed class have more value on that subject than the opinions of people who are not members of that class -- i.e. "I find this art objectionable, and it's my view that counts, therefore this art is objectionable."

It's possible that there are people who have such reactions to all art that features representations they consider inconsistent with social justice, though I'm sure there are people who simply feel that they *shouldn't* like such art, and respond accordingly.

As I've tried to make clear, this alternative explanation doesn't make the objectors *correct* in their objections, but I think it's a better *explanation* for them than anhedonism.

Anonymous said...

I read it, and I'm responding to it.

And thanks for clarifying -- I wasn't sure whether you were claiming that we shouldn't ascribe any particular authorial intent in common cases, or whether it was an absolute disavowal of ascribing authorial intent in general.

I understand your position, and I'm sympathetic to it, but I have to say that I can't entirely agree with it. It is always possible to make mistakes in inferring authorial intent (as with inference of any sort), but in cases where it at least appears to me to be clear, I tend to apply Occam's Razor judiciously, then revise my opinion if new information appears.

Personally, I'm willing to agree to disagree on the topic, though you may not be.

Zak Sabbath said...

I was talking about ""for some people, art can't be good unless it works for social justice in some way."

those people are anhedonic assholes.

You are talking about a different but overlapping group:
"people who translate their personal distaste into ethical condemnation"

Those people are just regular assholes.

Zak Sabbath said...


"It is always possible to make mistakes in inferring authorial intent (as with inference of any sort), but in cases where it at least appears to me to be clear, I tend to apply Occam's Razor judiciously, then revise my opinion if new information appears."

That seems stupid in the case of art where, if you infer something bad consequences might ensue whereas if you infer nothing no consequences will ensue.

Many people feel absolutely no moral qualms about making an insulting assumption _that they know is a big assumption_ about an artist in public where people might read it and where it might affect that artist's career. Because the life of an artist they don't know is less important to them than their (knowingly) ill-informed opinion.

You don't attack people unless you can prove what you're saying.

I know the internet might lower peoples' IQ enough that they suddenly think it's right--but it isn't.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough.

Anonymous said...

I'm not particularly convinced that art is a special case. Consider, say, blog posts and comments. People are always misunderstanding what someone else was trying to say in a blog post or a comment -- indeed, sometimes it can seem like a pleasant surprise if someone *does* understand what you're trying to say. If this results in someone leaving a nasty response, little harm is done. On the other hand, if Bill O'Reilly somehow reads your post, completely misunderstands it, and goes on TV to accuse you of supporting, say, amnesty for child molesters -- well, you've got a pretty big problem, right?

In general, people are trying to understand other people all the time -- through their actions, their words, their fashion statements, their art, whatever. And we're virtually always operating with incomplete information, because who ever has complete information about another person? As a result, misunderstanding someone is incredibly common. Now we could withhold all attempts at understanding anyone in the world, but that's not how people work.

If I see someone in a police uniform, I am likely to jump to the conclusion that they are a police officer, even though it could turn out that the person is actually a CPA who is heading to a costume party. If I see someone behind the counter at a McDonald's wearing a McDonald's uniform, I am flatly going to assume that person to be an employee unless I get new information that contradicts that assumption.

If I see that someone has written 74 novels in which the protagonist enjoys raping and dismembering women, then yes, I'm going to have some strong suspicions about that author, even though those suspicions could be mistaken.

Some sorts of assumptions are highly prone to being wrong. Many stereotypes are pernicious. We should all try to battle these, and to correct erroneous judgments we have made. And yes, anyone who knowingly draws negative conclusions very publicly about someone -- while knowing that there is a good chance those conclusions are wrong -- is a bad person. Or at the very least, a person who has done a bad thing. Propagating damaging opinions about someone when you know those opinions are ill-informed is clearly wrong.

I just think that this problem is not so severe that it should prevent us from ever inferring anything about anyone ever at any time, even if that ban only applies to artwork.

Zak Sabbath said...


If you don't understand: ask.

Never talk about someone if you could've and didn't talk _to_ them first.

Any other action is, again, privileging your desire to talk smack over another person's life and livelihood. Only a jackass would do that.

Talk about the work-talk all you want. But the second you talk about the _person_ you have done something you probably didn't need to. What do you get by talking smack on an artist? Fuck all. Like it accomplishes very little. So if you're going to do that, make fucking sure you're sure.

Anonymous said...

All of that makes perfect sense. For me it comes down to what the audience for your talk is. To go back to the hypothetical guy with the 74 rape/dismemberment novels, I'm not going to do any fact checking before I think to myself, "Wow, this guy seems scary." If I make an offhand comment to a friend, I don't see anything all that perilous in remarking, "I bet this dude is seriously creepy in real life."

On the other hand, if I'm writing in Time magazine, I'd damn well better check my facts in any possible way before stating anything of the kind. In general, the larger the audience and/or the greater the chance that you could affect someone's life or livelihood, the more careful you have to be.

Personally, I don't even like to write negative reviews on Amazon without carefully bounding my criticism and suggesting people who still might like the product. I honestly don't like the idea of hurting someone's livelihood even if it's with criticism that is clearly valid.

Thus my personal experience with drawing inference from others' artwork is usually either with inferences that are not negative, or inferences that are drawn in venues that are not likely to have a financial impact on anyone.

Zak Sabbath said...

Well, as soon as its on the internet and someone can Google it, it's as public as anything else.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. My examples of low-risk situations were offline. Sending an email to a friend or publishing to a friends-only LiveJournal or Facebook are other venues where you have a reasonable expectation that the information will not spread in an uncontrolled manner, though even here there can be exceptions.

But a public blog post, tweet or Facebook post? You should never put anything in them that you wouldn't want to go viral.