What happens when you engage - Act 3

First a recap. For weeks I talked to RPGPundit on G+. I debated with him. Disagreed with him. During one of those disagreements I posted something that he is convinced was a dig at him but, in reality, is nothing of the sort, but that was enough to send him on a tirade. I wrote about it, someone else called his behavior out publicly, and then there was an entire thread on his forums that were basically attacks on me. Now enter act 3, the infiltrator.

Since some of the people in the forum thread seemed to think that the two people in the comic page that I shared were male and trying to argue that I was making an insinuation about Pundit's sexual orientation by sharing it, I decided to clear that up by posting on G+.

A person came by who kept making pro-Zak and pro-Pundit posts but in a really vague way. His bias was clearly evident, but in case he was actually being earnest, we chatted for a while. When I woke up the next morning, a friend pointed me to this post by RPGPundit.

I acknowledge that Hurley played a masterful, albeit unbelievably slimy and back-stabbing, strategic trick, and that I fell for it, and let down the team. She's scum, but she's obviously very clever at just how she crafts her lies in order to try to destroy people she considers dangerous, without having to actually beat them in debate.

But, and I know here wishing is pointless, I just wish there weren't so many people out there so fucking stupid as to buy it without questioning; because two seconds of looking into it would immediately reveal just what she did.

The worst thing you can say about me in this scenario is that I lost my temper, because I was disgusted by such a cheap trick and at being deceived by someone who, on the face of it, seemed to be willing to actually (finally) stand up and engage in a meaningful face-to-face debate with me on fair ground (only to turn out to be the worst kind of lying slimeball of all).

The worst thing you can say about her in this scenario is that she's a lying, smarmy hypocritical piece of shit who is willing to stoop to absolutely anything in order to win.

So, here's one problem with dealing with RPGPundit, he thinks everything is about winning and destroying people. But this is the least interesting part of that post.

Person A: I warned you...

Person B: It absolutely was a cheap trick that reminded me of those petty little kids in school who push your button until you react and then try to play the victim.

RPGPundit: +Person A yes, you did. And I fell for her "I'm willing to talk on a fair and level ground"-bit like a complete chump. 

RPGPundit: I am willing to stand and argue with anyone, and it was really very clever of her because it's so so rare that anyone from the Outrage Brigade would ever dare to come and argue on fair and even ground with anyone (what with knowing they've Got Nothing in terms of their fake claims). In retrospect, it's an ideal trap for someone like me.

Person C: Ah. I have heard of this person. She struck me as dangerous imho in that kind of way Glen Close does so well.

Zak Smith: she's fucking with you since fucking with me's got her nowhere.
You gotta relax, man

RPGPundit: It just stuns me that some people can't see through this.

Zak Smith: They're friends.
Think of how boring and dumb you'd have to be to be friends with Tracy Hurley in the first place
Ok? That's the level of dumb you're dealing with.
At this point, all the information is out there. Interested parties are going to just be looking at what you do all day and decide who they trust more.
So be better and more interesting than her. And less obsessive

Infiltrator: Anyone who turns comments off in an incendiary thread is a dick head.
Apparently I am in her circles for some reason. Time to act oblivious

Person D: I hate that fat cunt. I blocked her, mutually, long ago.

Infiltrator: +Person D Woah buddy. Hate her for her brain, not her body

Person D: To be clear, I do not hate fat people and certainly not vaginas.
This individual, however, solely consists of both A) A vagina and B) copious fat with no other apparent qualities.
My logic stands firm.

Zak Smith: Nah. Tracy just says stupid things all the time and is a bad person. If we're gonna talk smack about people for their appearance then we gotta be all fuck Dave Arneson and Stephen Hawking too

Person D: +Zak Smith damn right

Infiltrator: Goddamnit, +RPG Pundit! I can't keep up this pretence if you +1 my posts!

RPGPundit: It's got nothing to do with her gender or physical appearance. It has everything to do with the petit-fascist mentality that obsesses with control, with manipulation, and with getting to control other people's lives.

If Hurley had been born a straight white male she would probably be acting exactly the same way; or maybe would have felt more comfortable being an evangelical campaigner in favor of "reparation therapy" for gays. If she'd been born 30 years earlier she'd likely have campaigned against the toxicity of rock and roll music, or 100 years earlier, she'd have been trying to shut down 'smutty theatre'.
The cause isn't what matters to these people (nor does sex, race, gender or orientation), it's ALL getting their rocks off on the idea that they can stop someone else from doing something they don't personally like.

Infiltrator - Part 4Infiltrator - Part 4

Infiltrator:
This fucking chick.
You've spoiled me for rhetoric, Zak. Here's me trying to think three moves ahead and she's shitting on the board.

Person E: I just spent ten minutes looking for that thread on her feed and uggggghhhhh.

It's all euphemism, vague claims and drama.

Person F: The best revenge is to live well. The haters are always going to hate, because it drives out every other emotion, and then that is all they have left: empty hate

Also, in the theRPGSite thread I linked to yesterday, the disagreement with me went from disagreement to a more organized campaign.

First, a hint that there is a no-hire petition out that is attempting to black-list me.

The context here is that there was some question about why I'm doing this.

Attention is my guess.

VALIDATION.

She's desperate for it.

She is, ironically, insuring that she'll never get anywhere in this industry, however, given the no-hire petition that I've seen going around with her name on it.

Self-blacklisting is just the ironic cherry on this particular shit-cake.

Second, Zak Smith deciding that employers must know about what I say and do, as he links to a post from December 2011.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ****
I'm fine with people (SarahDarkmagic, Pundit, etc.) getting to work on and publish any RPG they want. Other people will then buy it or not. More games, being published, even games I don't like or think are extremely lame, stupid, offesive, or juvenile*, doesn't harm me or anyone else in any way.

True, but if Tracy Hurley makes money in any way for any reason, that's unjust and a bad outcome since she's a bad person and there are a lot of women in RPGs who can do any of the things she does (including analyzing stuff from a feminist perspective) without lying or attacking people unfairly--hire them instead.

Any potential employer of Tracy Hurley/ Sarah Darkmagic should know about her comments here:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/10961606...ts/FAEZkJmVFTc

…and that she has never publicly apologized for them and that Tracy Hurley / Sarah Darkmagic also passed on the known-to-be-fake article ripped apart here:

http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com...tally-not.html

…and never apologized for it to any of the women whose lives she's affected (including the one in the hospital right now), to this day.

Her name needs to be publicly linked to her actions.

Of course, Zak leaves out that I also shared the article written by Mandy Morbid (who by the way is the woman in the hospital now, I hope she gets well soon), but that's neither here nor there. I have no idea if Smith is Zak's real last name or not but a bunch of what he does is not linked to his name. The same thing goes with RPGPundit, who gets mad whenever someone uses his real name. I have been writing for years now under my real name.

Then Pundit decides it's time that people tell Mearls what the "regular gamers" think.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ****************

Problem is there is no evidence of harassment as far as I can see unless you redefine what harassment is. If this thread is evidence of harassment, then close down theRPGsite close down RPG.net close them all down

You make this sound like it's insane; but that is in fact their endgame goal: a hobby where only they get to control any and all speech.

Good analysis, by the way, and thank you for your support. But if you really want to support me in this, make sure Mike Mearls hears about this. Because part of the problem here is that the Outrage Brigade, besides being very good at flamebait as Tracy has shown, are very, very good at making their numbers seem artificially inflated and bombarding people with emails and expressions of their fake-outrage. The other side is usually not so good, because the other side are (with the exception of a couple of us loudmouths), just regular gamers who think that these guys are crazy but can't imagine they'd actually need to go and tell the suits at WoTC as much.

But you do. If you don't want the Tracy Hurleys of the world getting to be the only ones who decide what D&D should look like, then you NEED to go and make clear where you stand on this.

Notice how he accuses me of trying to control everyone else's speech while at the same time trying to marginalize me from the gaming community. The framing that I'm not a regular gamer, I'm part of the Outrage Brigade. There are also accusations in here that are unsubstantiated. I've apparently artificially inflated my numbers and bombarded people with email! I'm apparently not even really outraged, it's all fake and an attempt to exert control. Do you know why that's an accusation? Because that's how he thinks. Everything is about some epic war and contest of wills.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Again, this is why people don't want to come forward.

What happens when you engage - Continued

So on Twitter a few days ago, someone pointed Mearls to my prior article, What happens when you engage. He didn’t have nice things to say about the behavior referenced in that post. Eventually, someone decided to post the Twitter exchange to TheRPGSite in The RPGPundit's Own Forum in the thread “Mike Mearls Just Called RPGPundit Disgusting and Infuriating.” Leaving aside the obvious issue that calling behavior something isn’t the same as calling the person that thing, there’s a few things I’d like to call out here about the thread.

This should, in theory, be a thread about Mike Mearls. Instead, many of the posts are about me. Let’s look at some of these comments.

Comment 3:

Just so I am clear. is this the Sarahdarkmagic here, that is tracing back people through Google analytics and writing about them, the same Sarahdarkmagic that is outraged over people being "outed" for publicly giving a +1 on G+?

Comment 4:

Jesus, this is just the shit storm that won't die isn't it? I find it hilarious that right up front she says she isn't interested in proof and basically takes the "what is proof anyway?" cop out. So basically we got fucking nothing but we aren't going to let a good cluster fuck go to waste.

Edit: a thought occurs, I am too lazy to read everything involved in this so I probably should not venture much in the way of opinions. However I still feel this whole thing is an asinine cluster fuck.

Comment 8:

I'll get the pitch-forks then.

This is why i avoid social media. It's generally anything but social.

I'd also be careful about following links that are being posted just for 'informational' purposes. Who knows what the scamps are up to.

Comment 13:

I also want to point out that it's not just the targets of people like RPGPundit who get attacks. Someone I respect got such hate directed at him too and I'm glad he was willing to post it. We can make our points without doing this. If you threaten someone in the way he was threatened, you are not my ally.

This is the last it from Hurley's blog post that was linked. And seeing as the person she is referring to is someone who has stood up against the BS coming at Zak and Pundit, which she's fully endorsed, I really don't think he's her ally.

Comment 14:

Tracy Hurley is intellectually dishonest to the core, and probably more than intellectually. That is also one person with a forked tongue if I ever saw one-- loves to twist language and perception in ways that frames reality like a twisted mirror (see calling someone a violent person because they "argue violently").

That is some perverse shit. Beware of wolves in social justice clothes.

Comment 15:

Let's be clear:

We all know Pundit is infuriating. That isn't even debatable. He will cop to that.

As for disgusting: a lot of what Pundit says and does disgusts me.

That having been said: Tracy Hurley is, if nothing else, a thousand times either dumber or more dishonest.

Someone sent me the torpedo in the Tracy boat. Here's the headshot:

"Zak tells people to go and directly engage those he disagrees with and [this] is itself a form of harassment"

So, like, debate is harassment. That's Tracy's ideology.

Once you realize that, all the attacks without providing evidence and refusals to engage on the issues raised make sense, all the refusal to contact people accused, all the unquestioned aggression and, of course it explains why they think they could accuse us of harassment in the first place.

On the other hand I'm left wondering: if directly engaging people who disagree with you is harassment. i.e. if debate is harassment (or at least calling for debate) then what the hell is even the point of talking about Issues In Gaming on the internet?

Does Tracy honestly believe the only point of what she does is to notify ignorant people of the latest threat she's discovered, like some living Congestion Ahead sign?

Is that what explains all of this? Do Tracy and Fred Hicks and the rest basically just think communication is supposed to be one-way?

Comment 17:

It seems to me that Tracy, Fred, and those of their ilk think that their subjective points of view are objectively true but unprovable. So "debate" is just a trick that people who deny the truth of their objectively true but unprovable things they believe use to cloud and disguise the objective truth. Since this 'debate' might prevent other people who have not yet been presented with the objective but unprovable truth from being indoctrinated with the objective but unprovable truth, debate is a bad thing. Very bad.

Comment 20:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ephemerer
Just so I am clear. is this the Sarahdarkmagic here, that is tracing back people through Google analytics and writing about them, the same Sarahdarkmagic that is outraged over people being "outed" for publicly giving a +1 on G+?
Yep that's her.

The Sarah DarkMagic that is one of the core people behind the re-transmission of the attacks against Zak and Pundit wants us to believe...
1. She doesn't know Pundit is in Uruguay
2. She didn't post implying that he looked at one of her comics about sex twice in an attempt to get exactly the kind of response she did.

How do we know the whole thing was manufactured? The title. It shows the intent.

What happens when you engage.

What is that title supposed to mean? The current momentum of the witch-hunt against Zak and Pundit was stalled by lots of people, many of whom in the detractors' own circles asking for a single shred of proof and finding none. They demanded Donjion got taken down, it got taken down. People were supporting Mandy even if they didn't like Zak. Zeea got made a RPG.net mod after saying there was no proof of homo or trans-phobia. No one sent Mearls a single shred of evidence.

In short, things were not going well at all in the lie manufacturing game.

So...the digging up of ten years of quotes didn't show anything, so lets get some new stuff going, by stirring the shit and letting Pundit be Pundit.

Thus having one post in hand, of him being mean and dicklike, she goes into G+ explanations about how a veritable mountain of toxicity lies unsearchable, thus once again, implying that everything said about Zak and Pundit is true, yet unprovable.

The real title was "This is how you can engage in social networking propaganda when an earlier attempt failed."

Mandy is not doing well (really sorry to hear that, Zak, you two have my thoughts, wishes, prayers, don't think I can give you any buckets of SJW tears though) so expect some carefully worded passive-aggressive attacks to surface in teh googlez in order to do the same thing to Zak, get him to go Full.Aggro and not be thinking when he posts, and get Zak supporters to go Full.Aggro as well, thus provoking the type of behavior he's accused of.

Mearls isn't responding the way they like, the next step will be to get evidence they can forward up the corporate foodchain in order to get Mike put on the December bye-bye list.

Comment 21:

If I'm getting this right...

Tracy Hurley insinuated that Pundit visited her site, to look at a bad cartoon of a dude blowing a minotaur-esque dude. Not once, but twice.

Pundit went on, and told her to fuck off, and she's a horrible human being.

Tracy then took a screen shot, to say "See? SEE!!! He does harass us! Totes!"

The High School Melodrama continues.

At the time I last visited this thread, there were only 23 posts. At least 8 of them clearly reference me and my supposed intentions, behavior, and misdeeds. Many of them are purely personal attacks. All because someone else read something that happened to me and commented on it. You know how many of them talk about Mearls? Four. Two of those are just quotes of his tweets, one is someone trying to recap the situation, and the fourth is someone alleging that I’m trying to get Mearls, someone I respect and admire, fired.

Still wondering why people didn’t want to talk about their experiences with Zak and Pundit with their names attached?

Update: 7:04 AM August 4, 2014
Total number of comments: 32
New comments: 9
Number mentioning me: 5
Number mentioning Mearls: 3

Comment 24:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Novastar
Tracy Hurley insinuated that Pundit visited her site, to look at a bad cartoon of a dude blowing a minotaur-esque dude.

Thank you Novastar.

So the newest kerfluffle is about Minotaur Blow Jobs?

Who is Tracy Hurley? RPG author? Random blogger? One of RPGPundit's arch enemies he's always warning us about?

Is Mike Mearls pro-MBJs or anti-MBJs in this episode?

Comment 27:

Even the analytics pic she posted could have been easily photo-shopped. I'm kind of seeing it as her: ha ha! Look at me troll Pundit! Then he flames her, and the she is like Oh Noes! /giggle As if she didn't know it was going to happen. Oh course then nothing can happen without a thousand coattail riders on this or the various blogs, trying to drive traffic to their sites.

Comment 28:

Quote:
Originally Posted by CRKrueger
Yep that's her.

The Sarah DarkMagic that is one of the core people behind the re-transmission of the attacks against Zak and Pundit wants us to believe...
1. She doesn't know Pundit is in Uruguay
2. She didn't post implying that he looked at one of her comics about sex twice in an attempt to get exactly the kind of response she did.

Yeah, that wasn't a particularly subtle dogwhistle.

That said. I'm not certain that Mearls' "If you don't agree there are issues bring me your magic wardrobe" is entirely related to the sarahdarkmagic tweet. For one, it's not like Pundit denies there are any issues in his tirade. It's just a tirade about her trolling him. It would not surprise me if, in response to his tweet people sent him private messages or links that led to the later statements.

I mean, it's Twitter. Fantastic for sharing with the world the design the barista put in your banana latte. Absolutely shit for any kind of reasoned discussion.

Also: I'd like to point out that Mearls' called Pundit's response "disgusting and infuriating", not Pundit. Conflating criticism of actions with criticism of the actors is what got this whole shitfest started.

Comment 29:

It's unclear where Mearl's disgust is directed, Hurley or Pundit. However, since Hurley is part of the idiot brigade, I'm assuming Mearls is aware enough to aim it whete jt belongs.

Comment 31:

Quote:
Originally Posted by JamesV
The important thing to remember is that the evidence exists, but if it's shared the sources will be set upon by ravening hordes at the command of Zak or Pundit.

Yeah, it's not like Tom Hatfield or Tracy Hurley could show an email with, like, identifying details redacted or anything.

The only screencaps produced as evidence are Wundergeek presenting the James Des list--which doesn't say "harass people" so that's not evidence and tons of screencaps of me being mean to trolls for being trolls.

And Tracy Hurley and Der Waffle Mous seems to think hearsay and secondary sources _are_ evidence, especially and even when it's from people with long-documented grudges and histories of lying.

But, y'know #NotAllLiars

Examples of Change: Gail Simone's Red Sonja

I find that people often try to reduce things to a binary view of the world. For instance, if I bring up the negative feelings many women feel towards sexualized images, the argument gets reduced to banning all such images or keeping the status quo. In reality, this oversimplification of solutions often leads to silencing and censorship of its own and it leads us to false dilemmas. What we often need to do is find another way, one that doesn’t result in an either/or situation.

One person who has found that other way is Gail Simone, especially in regards to Red Sonja. Last year, Dynamite relaunched the Red Sonja storyline with Simone as the writer and Walter Geovani as the interior artist. What the two have done is taken a character that is widely known for her scale/chain mail bikini, and updated her for today's audience. Just two notes. There will be some spoilers in this article. Also, keep in mind that this is written from the point of view of having read just the first 6 issues of the reboot, so there could be things that happen in other issues that contradict what’s written here.

The Metal Bikini

First, a bit of history. Originally, Red Sonja wore a scale mail shirt and red shorts.

According to Wikipedia, Esteban Maroto first drew Red Sonja in her now signature metal bikini, an outfit that other female characters drawn by the artist also wore. This drawing was an uncommissioned submission, meaning it was not in the original artistic vision for the character. However, it quickly became popular.

Due to that popularity, the bikini became iconic for Red Sonja. There are often mixed reactions to it. For some, it doesn’t seem that much different from what others, like Conan, wear for clothing. She lives in a hot place where lots of people wear little clothing. For others, she often feels objectified, like she’s being drawn for the reader more than as an accurate representation of her character. I think there’s a middle ground here that Simone captures in this quote.

Let's face it, for a period of decades, most female characters in comics were not designed to attract female readers. They were designed to attract male readers. That left us females who loved comics to sort of appropriate these characters for ourselves. And we did.

But out of that pool, some characters refused to just be pin-ups and sex objects. Some captured the imaginations of young girls, and they survived when the others fell into disinterest and disuse.

For me, there's something incredibly appealing of a weary, terrifying Red Sonja under a blood red sun, holding a bloody sword over the bodies of her enemies. That isn't about bikinis, and it's the soul of the character.

Source

One of the ways Simone changes the focus from the bikini to the soul of the character is by having a wide array of female artists create the covers for Red Sonja. The first issue had 6 covers alone, created by Fiona Staples, Amanda Conner, Colleen Doran, Nicola Scott, Stephanie Buscema, and Jenny Frison.

I love this for a number of reasons. For one, it illustrates that women are not a monolith since one character is presented in so many different ways. Looking at these and other covers, I find that they show Red Sonja has multiple facets to her personality and that individual women (as well as people of all genders) may embrace different facets more than others. In addition, contrary to the thoughts of some, in shows that female artists do not need to be relegated to creating only stereotypical “female friendly” content lacking in references to sexuality and sexiness and dealing with what society tends to consider feminine topics.

Alternate Outfits

While Red Sonja wears her scale mail bikini on all of the covers I’ve seen, she has a bit more to her wardrobe than that. When she’s in the mountains in the north, she wears furs to help keep her warm, similar to the outfit she wears when we see her hunting with her father and brothers.

When she’s a prisoner in the slave pits and is forced to fight in the gladiatorial ring, her outfit is made of coarse material.

We also see how uncomfortable she is in formal dress.

In addition, during her big end battle with her sister from the the Zamoran slave pit, Dark Annisia, she’s wearing armor with more coverage. I saw this change of armor as an indication of the skill of Annisia. Most of the time, Red Sonja’s skill versus that of her opponent is great enough that she can wear the bikini and not worry. However, against Dark Annisia, she needs more protection, they are just too closely matched. Likewise, Dark Annisia is in heavier armor. I’m not sure if that was the intent, but it is how I interpretted it.

A World Full of Women

The world of Red Sonja is full of women. For me, it seems silly to have to point this out, but too often when it comes to fantasy literature, women are only included when their gender is needed to make a particular statement and are often excluded even when I know that they should be there. That’s simply not the case here.

One of our first indications of this is that the king sends two women to find Red Sonja and request her presence. We also quickly learn that many of the men are gone. Wars have been going on and the soldiers keep dying. There are very few men in town but many women. When she arrives, she remarks that there are no guards. In fact we see just one woman at the gate, holding a sword that, to my eye, seems to heavy for her. At the party, the background seems to have many women. The same is true when we see her conscripts.

Red Sonja - TrainingRed Sonja - Training

Before they are gathered, they are called mostly farmers and craftsmen, not women, not mothers, wives, and daughters. King Dimath also wishes for his people that they die fighting instead of being burned. I really like that they are not presented as weak and incapable but rather that there simply isn’t enough time to train them properly and there isn’t enough equipment.

Additionally, the “terrifying general” of the Zamorans is a woman, the previously mentioned Dark Annisia. She has a kick ass outfit that I love. She’s also one of Red Sonja’s first teachers of the art of battle (her father focused primarily on the hunt). Before their first day in the gladiatorial arena, Annisia gives Red Sonja advice about how to fight and what weapon to pick.

Modifications to the Back Story

Older versions of Red Sonja’s origin story focused on elements that may not sit as well with today’s audience.

During the Hyborian Age, a red-haired girl named Sonja lived with her family in a humble home in the western Hyrkanian steppes. When Sonja had just turned seventeen years old, a gang of cruel mercenaries killed her father Ivor, her mother and two younger brothers, and burned their house and all their possessions. She survived, but at the cost of her own virginity after she was brutally raped by the leader of the group, leaving her in shame.

Answering Sonja's cry for revenge, the red goddess Scathach appeared to her, and offered to bestow upon her unparalleled skill in battle on the condition that she would never lie with a man unless he defeated her in fair combat. Sonja gladly accepted the offer. She grew to womanhood as a wandering adventurer, and as she journeyed her legend grew as well. She became known as Red Sonja, due to her flame-red hair, fiery personality, and uncanny ability to spill the blood of her enemies wherever she went.

Source

While the new version makes clear what could have happened, at least in the first six issues, I don’t think she’s ever raped. Instead she fights off the person who tries to kidnap her and, over the course of several hours, hunts down the people who destroyed her village and killed her family.

Her own cunning and skill, not the gift of a goddess, is what gets her through. This has the added benefit that, as far as I know, Red Sonja will not lose her abilities if she sleeps with a man who hasn’t bested her (potentially also meaning that if she takes male lovers, they won’t have to be warriors).

Overall, I think Gail Simone’s Red Sonja illustrates that with skill, forethought, and attention to detail, it’s possible to take a long-standing character like Red Sonja and tell her story in a way that is, in my opinion, more inclusive, a character that many people, especially women, are less likely to feel that they have to make compromises to love. I thank her for that.

All images are copyrighted under their respective owners.

What happens when you engage

Much digital ink has been spilled over the D&D consultants controversy. There have been a lot of demands for proof, but what proof would actually entail seems to be rather vague and mostly defined by the fans of the two people involved. I don't care about that, what I do want to explain is what happens if you engage one of these two people in an ongoing discussion in which there is a fundamental disagreement.

The Fail Forward blog had a post about the controversy, How Dungeons and Dragons is endorsing the darkest parts of the RPG community. I shared it on G+, stating explicitly that I wasn't sure how I felt about the title. Personally, I don't think hiring someone endorses everything about them, just as I don't think adding a +1 to a G+ post is an endorsement of everything said in the post, but I know that there are people who disagree. There was a long, heated conversation.

During the conversation, I found another post, by someone who wrote the following: "What the heck? Someone found my blog by googling for pregnant rpg porn games?! O_o" In between games of Hearthstone with Jared, I decided to check out my own analytics to see what search terms people used to find my blog. I posted a tweet about it.

Analytics information is always interesting and I looked at where in the world hits were coming from. I looked at a few and then noticed something that I thought was pretty funny. Some person decided to check out a particular page on my site, not once, but twice, and it seems like the person hadn't visited any other pages. The page only has the image on it, no text, no commentary.

I thought this was funny so I posted on G+ a link to my blog along with the context of why I found it funny. The individual in Uruguay hit the page not once, but twice. What happened next is a good illustration of what happens if you engage with one of the two people and then do something that they assume is an attack.

The text:

Seriously, fuck +Tracy Hurley and her lying shitsack Character Assassination. This is utterly fucking pathetic, even by Swine standards. How low, how desperate, can you get?

Also, Tracy, your porn sucks ass. But what should we expect from a fucking prude? The very proof of you being a fucking prude is that you think a sad pathetic lie like this is what will somehow work, because you know, looking at porn is supposed to be shameful, so one way to discredit enemies is to claim they're looking at your porn... how fucked up is that?

I never visited your fucking site once, and certainly wouldn't waste my time on sub-par shit like this. I'd go to Suicide Girls... which is what really pisses you off, isn't it? That things done by people you envy are more successful than anything you've ever had a crack at? How sad.

Go fuck yourself.

The guy making the post is RPGPundit. He makes a number of key assumptions:

  • That I know and/or remember that he lives in Uruguay.
  • That any reference to Uruguay must therefore be a reference to him.
  • That this is porn.
  • That, even if it was porn, that I would use the fact that someone likes porn to shame or discredit "my enemies."

This is nothing but vile and filled with the same old sad personal attacks. This is the response people get when they dare to share their experiences with others. Everything you do, write, or say is analyzed to see if it's really just a veiled attack against one of them. If they find something that can be twisted into an attack, a post like the above goes up, and you get comments like this.

[+Someone else in conversation] So the best option is to act like a passive-aggressive little shit, like +Tracy Hurley ?

She pointed it out she had a webpage visitor from said country for a reason. Considering the history between her and Pundit it's ringing fucking alarm bells. Why would she do that? Seems pretty loaded.

And the "holier than thou" attitude of the other commenters is the most pathetic sight I have seen is many years. 

But I want to point you to something else as well. See the part at the top, where he shares it just with his extended circles? So what does that mean?

When you click on the "extended circles" label, a dialog box appears informing you that the post is "visible to everyone in [the original sharer's] circles, plus all the people in their circles." Meaning that it's shared with those up to 2 degrees away from the original sharer.

Source

So this means that only those who are in his circles and the people in their circles will be able to see it. Now, it's possible he did this because he was trying to let loose on me without bringing down the wrath of the internet, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. But this is also an example of why it's so hard to provide screenshots and other proof of this sort of behavior. Much of this is not said in public. It's not easily searchable. This is a big reason why so many people never see it and why calls to link to this are seen as onerous.

Compared to some of the things on the internet I've been through and my friends have been through, this is relatively mild. I'm (sadly) used to people raging at me. I laughed at Pundit's post. Mistaking an Eisner winning comic for porn was a bit interesting (although I can see it). Once he assumed it was that, I can almost see his argument although it's not one I would ever make. Seeing that he was really arguing with the image of me that he's concocted in his head made it much easier to deal with his anger.

It's easy, though, to laugh off this one incident. However, it comes after weeks of having him, on my posts, call a coward anyone who refuses to argue in his proscribed way. Weeks of him asking me to defend arguments I've never made because apparently my side (whatever that means) made them. Of him decrying certain behaviors in one part of his post, only to engage in those same behaviors himself.

It's tiring. It's toxic. It's made people afraid to share their concerns and their experiences in public. It's why the people who are anonymous in the Fail Forward blog don't want to be named. I'm not asking you to agree with them. I am asking you to understand their point of view.

Addendum:
I had also shared on G+ Mandy Morbid's version of the controversy.

I also want to point out that it's not just the targets of people like RPGPundit who get attacks. Someone I respect got such hate directed at him too and I'm glad he was willing to post it. We can make our points without doing this. If you threaten someone in the way he was threatened, you are not my ally.

Kickstarter: Hero Chest

Some of you may know about my recent foray into reading and enjoying comics. It wasn't easy at first to figure out where to start and I was led down some dead ends. Recently one of my friends from college contacted me about an idea she had for a business venture and I fell in love with it because of my experiences. What if someone sent me every month a box of new comics for me to explore, perfect for someone new to a particular title or character? I recently received a Hero Chest beta box in the mail and I think the box delivers on this promise.

Hero Chest lootHero Chest loot

Here's what I got in the box:

  • Superman He'l on Earth (trade paperback)
  • Outcast 1
  • Legendary Starlord 1
  • Grayson 1
  • Avengers Silicone Tray
  • Marvel Vinyl Bobble Head mystery mini
  • Original Sin bouncy ball
  • Comic Shop News 1409-1412 and summer preview 2014
  • All-New Young Guns
  • Some small posters and other promotional material
  • Write ups of each of the included comics including any backstory you might need to jump right in and why the curators thought it was awesome.

In the past, I've talked about some of my experiences with comic book shops, some good, some bad. The way I view this box is like a comic shop in a box. I get the great recommendations from people who love and care about comics, comic shop news which can help point me in new directions, and the ability to dip my toes in a variety of comics to see what else I might like whether it be a character, story line, writer, or artist.

For me, the star of the group was Outcast, the first issue of a new project by Robert Kirkman, of The Walking Dead fame. This issue came bagged and boarded because the book sold out nationwide. It's a dark book, with a fair bit of blood, but an interesting story line. The other two issues, Grayson and Legendary Starlord, are both interesting though veer on being a bit too similar to me since both involve rather young men who are off seeking adventure, the former as a spy and the latter as a vagabond hero. I haven't had a chance to delve into the Superman trade paperback yet, but I'm interested that Supergirl is included and that the writing and art is supposed to be strong. The All-New Young Guns is fun and I think it is an neat way for people newer to comics to find artists they like.

In addition to the comics, there were a few fun items. The bouncy ball feels really nice to me as a foot massager. I keep rolling it around under my foot. The silicone tray is awesome and I can't wait to make a bunch of little Mjolnir ice cubes for a party (although I better get started now). The timing was particularly fun because I received it not long before the announcement that a woman will be Thor (again) soon. I got the Green Goblin as the mystery Marvel Vinyl Bobble Head.

If getting a curated collection of comics and geeky accessories appeals to you, check out their kickstarter.

A More Inclusive D&D?

Contains spoilers for the D&D Starter Set adventure, Lost Mines of Phandelver

For those who haven't heard, Basic D&D 5e is out as a free pdf download and some friendly local gaming stores already have the Starter Set (everyone else can get it starting July 15th). I was fortunate enough to get a press-preview copy of the Starter Set for review. There's a lot I want to talk about but since Mike Mearls was kind enough to give us some hints about inclusivity in the new edition when we interviewed him on the Tome Show, I want to talk about that today, focussing on gender.

There are two obvious big things in the Basic D&D pdf rules that I'd like to mention upfront. The first is the inclusion of a comparatively progressive discussion of sex, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, in the game. Found on page 33, here is the full text:

You can play a male or female character without gaining any special benefits or hindrances. Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior. For example, a male drow cleric defies the traditional gender divisions of drow society, which could be a reason for your character to leave that society and come to the surface.

You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.

Some Opinions on the Wording

First things first. The intent here is nice. I mentioned the existence of this passage to one of my nonbinary friends over dinner and her eyes lit up. The fact that a game company the size of Wizard of the Coast was willing to start the discussion of these topics is important to me. That said, there is definitely room for improvement. Many people who don't feel quite comfortable with the way it was presented have been saying great things. I implore you to go out and listen to them. For instance, one person I admire, Avery Mcdaldno, wrote this:

First off: if that "X trapped in an X body" narrative works for your friend, that's great. We all find different narratives helpful.

The trouble isn't that the narrative exists, but that it has been used for decades as a single story. If the phrase single story doesn't mean anything in particular to you, this is a really good video: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

So, there are a couple reasons why this narrative is a harmful one to perpetuate as the single story about trans bodies.

The first is that it implies that total medical transition is necessary in order to belong to your body. In my case, that would mean: collarbone restructuring, jawline shaving (the face is opened up and the bones are scraped down), tracheal shaving, full-body electrolysis, vaginoplasty, breast augmentation, hormone replacement therapy, and more. At the end of it I'd still be trapped in a testosterone-sculpted bone structure. The "trapped" narrative suggests that every trans person needs to commit $10,000-$120,000 toward rehabilitating their body... and that until they do, it's still a wo/man's body.

The thing is: if you identify as a woman, your body is a woman's body.

To say that trans people are "trapped" in the "wrong body" implies a limited range of solutions for finding happiness: pay endless dollars or kill yourself.

Again, if it's a narrative that individuals adopt to make sense of themselves / their lives, that's awesome. I 100% support them. But it's different when others push it on you as a monolothic trans narrative, and lots of people see it as exclusionary / reductive / regressive.

"X trapped in an X body" puts the burden of change upon individual trans people, who are presumed to be broken and then instructed to fix themselves. We need a new narrative. One that says, "Navigate gender on your own terms, ask for the support you want, demand the resources you need, break the binary where you ought to."

There's a really important piece of writing by Little Light, Elena Sims - http://takingsteps.blogspot.ca/2007/01/seam-of-skin-and-scales.html

Another person, Caoimhe Snow, said this:

I will add that as far as I know, this is the first time that Corellon has been called "hermaphroditic" -- previous descriptions of the god referred to something like (from memory) "he, she, both, or neither" which is an example of genderfluidity (and/or divine shapechanging powers), and not of intersex genitals.

There's a lot of other problems with it, ranging from possible confusion of the "female character who presents herself as a man" with a trans man to the fact that most trans people aren't themselves outside of the gender binary.

They had good intentions, but it's clearly written from a cis perspective to a cis audience in way that casts trans people as outsiders -- even explicitly so by referring to intersex magic elves.

Some people pointed out that they would love to see a rewording of the text instead. neongrey posted this new wording:

Gender Roles

You can play a character of any gender without any mechanical effect, but you can consider how that might affect your roleplay. You might think about how your character's gender and personality relate to their culture's expectations of them. Do people think it's unusual that your fighter is a woman? Did your drow cleric leave for the surface because his temple wouldn't accept him?

Neither do you need to conform to binary notions of gender. Elves and dwarves are often perceived as androgynous in two very different ways, for example. You could also play a character who feels no gender applies to them, or a woman unhappy with the body she was born with. Don't forget the prevalence of magic lets you explore these possibilities in ways you couldn't in real life, no matter what your own gender is. Your character's identity is entirely up to you!

I hope Wizards of the Coast listens to these various perspectives on the language and updates it in future versions to be even more inclusive and welcoming. I loved that it was pointed out that this is not the first time D&D attempted to address these issues, for instance I believe it was 3e who said you can play a male or female character. Unfortunately, that inclusive left out others because it reinforced the gender binary.

Does the product meet its stated goal?

So, leaving aside where the wording definitely can be improved, let's look at whether or not the promise of the section is matched with the reality of these two products. I've read over both the Starter Set and the basic rules a few times. I think the hints Mike gave about the inclusivity in the art hold true, at least when it comes to gender. There's only one piece of art in the basic rules. While I think there could still be some critiques regarding it, it can be read as having parity between male and female genders and the female characters aren't the only ones not on the front line.

This trend also carries through to the art in the Starter Set. (Sorry about the quality, as far as I can tell they didn't release the art online and I'm not near my scanner.)

Lots of women who are by and large similarly posed and dressed to the male characters. There's another image where I'm not even sure if one of the characters is of a particular gender. At least two of the female characters in the Player's Handbook continues this trend according to previews sent out by Wizards of the Coast.

I'm happy so far with the way the art has been done and I think it meets the promise of the sex and gender section of the Basic Rules. So what about the writing?

First, let's look at how gender is portrayed in the races section of the Basic Rules.

[Elves] Males and females are about the same height, and males are only marginally heavier than females.

Halfling men often sport long sideburns, but beards are rare among them and mustaches even more so.

Male dwarves value their beards highly and groom them carefully.

Human skin shades range from nearly black to very pale, and hair colors from black to blond (curly, kinky, or straight); males might sport facial hair that is sparse or thick.

So, first, let's acknowledge that they had very little space to talk about these races and that none of the descriptions are sexist. However, they do start to reinforce the gender-binary and cisgender norms, no? Also, the inclusivity text asks us to think about how our characters act in accordance with or in contrast with the gender expectations of where they are from yet the only gender expectations set here are for the male characters. It doesn't intend to, but it can give the impression of the male character traits being more important. I've discussed this in more depth in a previous post.

Also in the Basic Rules, they talk a bit about two fighters from D&D novels and how they can both be the same class and yet very different. It's great that they give a male and a female example. However, both examples have elements that are stereotypical when it comes to gender:

Tika Waylan is innocent, almost childlike, believing in the value of life and the importance of appreciating everyone. Neutral good in alignment, she cleaves to ideals of life and respect. Artemis Entreri never allows his emotions to master him, and he constantly challenges himself to improve his skills. His lawful evil alignment gives him ideals of impartiality and a lust for power.

Tika Waylan is naive and emotionally vulnerable, younger than her companions and annoyed that they still think of her as the kid they knew years ago.

Artemis Entreri is completely walled off from any personal relationships and just wants to be left alone.

I think it's important to say here that part of the issue is dealing with the history of D&D is that it has a checkered past when it comes to gender. As with the inclusivity statement, I believe Tika was likely added in an attempt to counteract gender stereotypes but, also like the statement, there may have been some blindspots during her creation and development and in the way that the examples were picked and presented in the Basic Rules.

While the Starter Set rules are also pretty neutral when it comes to sex and gender, the adventure, in my opinion is a mixed bag. Let's start with named characters where the gender is known from the text.

Female characters
Sister Gareale
Elsa
Trilena
Qeline Alderleaf
Linene
Halia Thornton
Agatha
Grista
Mirna Dendar

Male characters
Nezznar/Black Spider
Gundren Rockseeker
Klarg
King Grol
Sildar Hallwinter
Yeemik
Toblen Stonehill
Thel Dendar
Pip
Carp
Elmar Barthen
Nundro Rockseeker
Tharden Rockseeker
Daran Edermath
Harbin Wester
Iarno Albrek/Glasstaff
Sir Aldith Tresendar
Mosk
Droop
Hamun Kost
Reidoth
Venomfang
Favric
Yegg
Lhupo
Mormesk
Dumathoin

There are a few other characters that I wasn't quite sure how to categorize: Tsernoth, Palien, Ander, Thistle, the dopplegangers Vyerith and Vhalak, and Tergon. Now, not all characters need to have a clear gender designation, but the gender ambiguity on some of these characters leads to further issues. Let's look at some of the +1 weapons one can obtain through the adventure:

The chest also holds a +1 longsword in a silver-chased scabbard. The sword is inscribed with the name “Talon,” and its hilt is worked in the shape of a bird of prey with outspread wings. It once belonged to a great knight named Aldith Tresendar, known as the Black Hawk. A character who succeeds on a DC 15 Intelligence (History) check recognizes the sword and recalls this lore.

Beneath the coins is a rusty old battleaxe of dwarven manufacture. Runes in Dwarvish on the axe head read, “Hew,” and the rust is misleading. Hew is a +1 battleaxe that deals maximum damage when the wielder hits a plant creature or an object made of wood. The axe’s creator was a dwarf smith who feuded with the dryads of the forest where he cut firewood.

This +1 mace was made for a cleric of Lathander, the god of dawn. The head of the mace is shaped like a sunburst and made of solid brass.

This +1 breastplate has a gold dragon motif worked into its design. Created for a human hero of Neverwinter named Tergon, it grants its wearer advantage of saving throws against the breath weapons of creatures that have the dragon type.

None of these items are directly connected to an obviously female character (I'm holding out slight hope that Tergon turns out to be a female character). In fact, one of the +1 weapons appears to be connected to killing dryads, a race that is specifically tied to the female.

There's also an uncomfortable plot line in Phandalin. One of the male characters, Thel Dendar, was killed for standing up to the Redbrands after some of them leered at his wife.

Thel Dendar, a local woodcarver, stood up to the Redbrands a tenday ago when they came by his shop and leered at his wife. The ruffians murdered him. Several townsfolk saw it happen. The Redbrands grabbed his body, and now his wife, daughter, and son have gone missing too.

It's not their shop. They didn't stand up against the Redbrands together. He wasn't killed during a fight after she stood up to them. Only he counteracted the leering. She and their two children are then kidnapped by the Redbrands, who also turn out to be slavers. Mirna, the wife, and their daughter are in one cell and the son in another.

A pair of disheveled human women are held in a cell to the south, while a human boy is confined the north. All are dressed in plain gray tunics and have iron collars fitted around their necks.

I'm willing to bet no one thought about it, but this feels uncomfortable to me. Redbrands leered at her, she is kidnapped by them, they are slavers, the two women are in their own cell, and only they are described as disheveled.

Let's also look at how some of the female characters are described:

Elsa, a gossipy barmaid
Trilena, the innkeeper’s wife
Linene Graywind, sharp-tongued
Halia Thornton, ambitious and calculating
Qeline Alderleaf, wise
Agatha (a banshee), vanity

None of these are necessarily a problem on their own and in a diverse world with lots of examples of women, they wouldn't raise an eyebrow. But to me, they don't really push gender stereotypes much. Why is Trilena a wife of an innkeeper and not an innkeeper herself? Why have the banshee be vain, a trait commonly associated with women? Also, where are the women who are described like Sildar?

Sildar Hallwinter is a kindhearted human male of nearly fifty years who holds a place of honor in the famous griffon cavalry of the great city of Waterdeep. He is an agent of the Lords’ Alliance, a group of allied political powers concerned with mutual security and prosperity. Members of the order ensure the safety of cities and other settlements by proactively eliminating threats by any means, while bringing honor and glory to their leaders and homelands.

or Daran?

Daran Edermath is a retired adventurer who lives in a tidy little cottage beside an apple orchard. A fit, silver-haired half-elf well over a hundred years old, Daran is a fighter who served as a marshal and herald for many years…

It's also important to note that none of the women are/were adventurers. While a few serve as liaisons for larger groups in the Realms, many of them exist to do nothing more than point the PCs in the right direction to get more information or help with many of those destinations being male characters. Now sure, some of the male characters are presented in stereotypical or negative ways, such as the townmaster.

The current townmaster is a male human banker named Harbin Wester--a fat, pompous fool. Completely intimidated by the Redbrands, he claims that they’re “just a mercenary guild, and not all that much trouble, really.”

But we also have men in the town who are actively standing up to the Redbrands, something that the women aren't doing.

I want to acknowledge that they are trying. There are parts where we can tell that. For instance, the list of important NPCs has parity. But there are still quite a few blind spots. No one of the items I brought up above are necessarily an issue on their own, but the overall trend is. I have faith that they will continue to work on it.

As for the question asked in the title: Yes, I feel like it is a more inclusive D&D, but that doesn't mean that there isn't still work to do. We need to iterate and improve.

Me Time

It's a bit strange to be writing again. My online presence had dwindled for about 2 years, I know, but the past 4 months in particular have been a bit of time for and about me and have been a good capstone for my multi-year transformation.

For those who don't know, I suffer from both anxiety (pretty much all the time) and depression (more cyclical). It's pretty much always been that way. I was always shy as a kid and afraid that people wouldn't like me and I remember periods of my childhood when I didn't want to eat food because its taste didn't seem worth the effort of chewing. When I started playing D&D a few years ago, it helped me get out of a depression I was in then. But, unfortunately, it also triggered the sort of attention that often causes me to sink back in, namely sexism and negativity for negativity's sake (versus constructive criticism which some people seem to conflate).

In addition to dealing with that stuff in the gaming sphere, there were a number of real life things that made me require a space where sexism couldn't flourish. One of my friends who had been a big support of my work (in part because she too didn't like the sexism in our culture, especially the latent, unquestioned type) was suicidal and eventually killed herself. Fred was rather close to her and was someone who was trying to get her to get help. Someone else who was very close to me was also suicidal and went to the hospital. Then Jared got cancer. Playing support for so many people led to an ever deepening depression of my own that I tried to put on hold as I helped others. There should be a mechanic for that with paladins, I swear. To top everything off, I found out last October that my job was going away at the end of the year and also that for much of my career I was paid significantly less than market.

So, starting January 1st, I put my mind towards becoming a phoenix and reemerging from the ashes. While I still felt fragile, my depression had stabilized and my mood improved thanks to therapy and medication. I decided that it was a good time to check out the rest of me and it's good I did, my insulin resistance had gotten worse and my blood sugar was no longer steady. This of course can impact one's mood and mental health, so we found at least two things that were probably negatively reinforcing each other. In the past I've suffered from anemia and the doctors always told me to eat more iron to help. Well, it turns out that I actually had non-iron-deficiency anemia, a condition that's common among some mediterranean people that is caused by genetics, similar in concept to sickle cell. Mine isn't that bad, so I probably carry the recessive gene, but it could explain some of my fatigue. In brighter news, my stress test and cardiologist visit went pretty well considering that I was born with a heart defect, so small victories. Oh, and I've lost about 20 pounds.

In addition to dealing with the mind and body, I worked on our house! We put up bookshelves in the dining room, turning it into a book and game library. We finally put up curtains and our landlord bought us a new fridge when the old one died. My parents got to visit me for an extended weekend and we worked on some of the house projects together.
Dining RoomDining Room

Then I got a new job which is absolutely awesome. I love the people I work with and I have a bunch of support now that I didn't quite have before (larger companies are good for some things). To celebrate, we got a new couch and chair for our living room and made our guest room into a lounge which is much more useful for us. I'm also going to be able to go to more tech conferences with a goal of speaking at some in the next few years. I've already presented here at work during our big group lunch.

I presented at PAX East! On a panel about anxiety and depression in gamers. It was one of the hardest panels I ever did because, like this post, it was the real me and sometimes a bit close and personal. It was also hard because of some of the questions. For instance, one person asked what video game characters did we escape into as kids when we had issues. The hard part for me was that video games at that time didn't have that sort of escape for me. Instead I found hope in books like Little Women. I felt bad because the question brought up that divide that exists for some in gaming. I wanted to be able to name a character because it would make him feel better but at the same time, I could tell my honesty resonated with a number of the women in the audience because they were nodding their heads.

I also took up gardening. We have a bunch of herbs and some small number of fruits and vegetables. We don't have a yard to grow them in so I found some great containers for our deck area. I also got a bunch of indoor citrus trees for the living room and a big split leaf philodendron.
GardenGarden

Last week we took a vacation to Seattle, in part for the wedding of two of our college friends. I got to meet up with a bunch of my gaming friends that I hadn't seen in a while (in part because I had to miss GenCon last year) and we also had a mini college/fraternity reunion. It was during that week that I felt my old self resurface a bit. As an added bonus, I came back to find that Jared had spent a fair bit of time fixing up our "house" in Starbound.

So why am I writing this? Well, partly because I want to thank of you who have stood by me in the past and been the rays of sunshine that I needed. I also hope it explains a bit why issues of representation in games are important to me. Also, my experience at PAX East reaffirmed my belief that there can be healing in sharing our stories.

The Gender Paradox

When I talk about my experiences and the experiences of others who have shared their thoughts with me, I am often presented with a paradox by some commenters. They present two ideas, often within the same comment.

1. When will you acknowledge that there are just differences between men and women?
2. I though this was a gaming blog. When will you get back to writing about gaming and not women and politics?

Sometimes I think people have become so desensitized to those arguments that they can't see how confining and paradoxical they are. For instance, if it's true that there are differences between male and female genders (we can leave aside which are due to nature versus nurture for now), then why wouldn't what I write be influenced by my gender? Why call it political rather than just another perspective on gaming? Why aren't the posts that focus on things traditionally coded as masculine called political as well? Why don't we ask men why they can't seem to write about more than men?

The people who say these things often have the best of intentions. What they often see is me banging my head against the wall and complaining about the headache. Much like the joke, "Patient: Doctor it hurts when I do this, what should I do? ::pause:: Doctor: Don't move it!" it's easy to treat the symptom and not explore its cause.

That's why I can't help but to write about gender and biological sex and gaming. My culture raised me differently than it raised its sons. Having a uterus means my body does things that others don't. All of those things affect me and my approach to games and stories in the same way that others are affected by their own backgrounds. Not talking about those things would be like I was role playing in real life, taking on a personality and character that is not my own.

At the same time, there is so much we all hold in common regardless of our background. Intra-group differences tend to be much more pronounced than inter-group ones. When you have the time, take a look at your favorite "gender" study and notice the spread within a gender versus the difference in average between the genders. It might surprise you. For instance, while men outnumber women when it comes to being an NFL fan, the spread is actually along the lines of 56-44 with 55% of women watching the sport.

For some, it's hard to deal with the reality that we are all different, that gaming isn't about a monolithic world view with "us" versus "them." That saddens me. These are often the same people who constantly confront me with this gender paradox. At the end of the day, they want me to either conform to their standards or shut up. They misrepresent my arguments, trying to say that I won't be satisfied until everything is done 100% my way, but those libels and slanders are false. The real issue is that they cannot and will not see a pluralistic world. They only see things in terms of hierarchy. There can be only one....

If you wonder where my anger comes from sometimes, that is where. The harm being done is often hidden away under academic pretext or polite phrasing. It comes in the form of seemingly reasonable and rational arguments that never get more than superficial scrutiny. "Men notice breasts. Breasts are a secondary sex characteristic. Therefore all women who show their cleavage do it to attract mates." Sigh.

And it's difficult because others in the discussion, often because they are in over their heads themselves, think all sides are equal, that all theories are valid, even though we know academically it's not the case. In addition, we are so terrible as a species at actually being objective, even when we think we are. But often we don't actually judge people on an objective measurement of concepts like niceness, but on what we expect from the individual. So, when we live in a society that tells us that women should be quiet, demure, nice, and then men should be aggressive, loud, steadfast, we will call women vitriolic for saying the same thing that we considered to be a symbol of restraint from a man.

It's strange to me sometimes that gamers don't notice this. Games, in many ways, are meant to deal with those exact issues. That's why people can be so picky about dungeon masters who fudge dice rolls. They don't want their success (or failure) to come down to how the DM was feeling at that moment in time. That's why many games that allow for narrative control often have a system for bargaining and a lot of advice about talking about things up front.

So, what I ask in the end is that people start questioning some of these assumptions they've made about all manners of things: gender, biological sex, race, ethnicity, sexuality, sexual orientation, the color of the sky, etc. Try to find ways to talk about these things that don't create a paradox. And let's see where it can take us.

War Witch

War Witch (also called Rebelle) follows the life of 12 year old Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a child soldier from a rural village in Africa. The movie starts with her being kidnapped from her village and forced into service. The invaders give her a horrible choice, kill her parents with a gun or watch them butchered with machetes. The movie doesn't pull many punches. There is kidnapping, war, rape and attempted rape, and murder. However, under all of that is also a tale of love and survival. It keeps the protagonists human despite the inhumane acts around them.

The rebels drink "magic milk," a hallucinogen created from tree sap that is believed to give magic powers. When Komona is the sole survivor of an ambush due to warnings from ghosts, her group believes she is a witch and it falls onto her to be able to determine when and where government soldiers might attack next. She befriends a fellow soldier, an albino boy named Magicien who is protective of her and practices a form of magic of his own.

The movie was written and directed by Kim Nguyen, a Canadian of Vietnamese and French ancestry. He was inspired by a Burmese story of child soldiers. It was filmed primarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo, using local actors. While it is written and directed by a foreigner, this story stays local. Unlike many movies set in Africa, it is not told through the eyes of a white person and no one is saved (or directly harmed) by whites.

I love this movie. Komona and Magicien aren't portrayed as helpless victims. The complicated feelings that can result from these experiences comes through. The struggle Komona has between the traditions of her family and the world she finds herself in grounds her character and help the audience to connect with the story. Nguyen did a wonderful job of changing the story beats to help the audience along. There are moments of levity and hope mixed in at just the right time amid the despair and loss.

War Witch - GhostsWar Witch - Ghosts

I also think the movie did a good job at showing how gender would influence a child soldier's experience. At the age most of these children were taken, there isn't a ton of difference between the sexes, especially when you factor in that most of the "work" is being done by guns. While not directly addressed in the movie, it's important to note that about 40% of the world's child soldiers are girls and that their role is much more complex than the typical "sex slave" narrative often propagated.

As for using the movies as inspiration for tabletop roleplaying games, the use of children in war is nothing new. Many fantasy and science fiction stories explore similar themes. For some groups who want to roleplay a similar scenario, this movie would provide an insight that perhaps isn't always seen or discussed. Given the use of magic in the story, I could see a number of the scenes translated into many fantasy world setting. I could see it working best in a system with narrative currency, since part of the movie is about people who lack power trying to carve out a life for themselves. It also provides some examples of how someone can try to come to terms with the horrors of what they've had to do during war. How do you work past being forced to kill your own parents?

I found the movie through Netflix and it was available in the US for instant streaming. It appears to also be available through Google Play and Amazon Instant Video. It is primarily in French with English subtitles. The movie won a number of awards and was a nominee in the Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards.

More Like This: Broken Age

Jared and I watch a lot of video game play throughs together. There are more video games out there than we have the time (or money) to play but knowing about them is a great idea given what we love to do. Additionally, some of the commentators are just awesome. Recently we watched one that just blew us both away, Jesse Cox playing the first act of Broken Age by Double Fine Productions.

Two years ago, Tim Schafer and his company Double Fine Productions asked fans to fund his idea for an point-and-click adventure game through Kickstarter. Originally asking $400,000 to create both the game and a movie about creating the game, they raised $3.3 million. Promising to put the extra money into the game, the result is just beautiful. Not only does the game use great voice actors such as Masasa Moyo, Wil Wheaton, Jennifer Hale, Jack Black, Ginny Westcott, and Nicki Rapp, the art is amazing under the lead of Nathan Stapley and the music ties the whole game together.

Vella - © Double Fine ProductionsVella - © Double Fine Productions

Over the course of the game, you play two different characters, both question authority and tradition in their attempt to be heroes. Vella, a maiden from the village of Sugar Bunting is expected to dress up in a fancy costume and sacrifice herself for the greater good. In this case, it's to appease Mog Chothra, an ancient creature from far away who visits the villages every 14 years. Out of fear of having their villages destroyed, they hold maidens feasts where the girls are on the menu. Vella, encouraged by her grandfather, thinks there has to be a better way and sets off to find a way to kill Mog Chothra.

Shay - © Double Fine ProductionsShay - © Double Fine Productions

The second character is Shay, a boy in spaaaccceee...er, sorry about that...a boy in space. He is watched over by the ship, largely through a computer interface that represents his mother. After a hearty breakfast of cereal (I particularly liked the one named Soylent Dreams), he's given a choice of missions to undertake such as saving people from an ice cream avalanche. We quickly learn that he is in a protective bubble in the form of a ship. He feels like there has to be something more out there.

I can't quite give a proper review of the game as I had watched the entire play through by Jesse Cox before playing it myself. I grew up playing point-and-click adventure games like Kings Quest and I love the genre even if I didn't always love the finickiness of some of the older games. For instance, Jared and I have been watching "I have no mouth, and I must scream" and I don't think I'd ever play that one. The people playing it are often frustrated with the difficulty in clicking just the right pixel and figuring which of the commands are the right one to use.

Broken Age is different. Gone are the multiple commands and limited vocabulary. With very few exceptions, the pixel areas are rather forgiving. You interact with the environment by clicking and/or dragging items from your inventory to the environment element you want to interact with. While watching the play through, I never felt stuck although there were times when the commentator wasn't quite sure what to do although I imagine it's hard to give commentary while playing. The simplicity of the game play isn't for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed the game.

The humor throughout was refreshing and often made me laugh. While I think gender definitely influences the adventure each is on and what is expected of them, no element of the game feels gendered. I also love that Vella is definitely a self-rescuing heroine while Shay is someone who likes to rescue others and that the creatures he rescues don't have a gender. Overall, I found the game delightfully subversive.

The main difficulty I see with the game is the price. On Steam it is currently $24.99 for the base game and $29.99 for the game with soundtrack. I played it in about 3 hours but I had already seen a play through. In one of the reviews I read, the writer said he played it in about 5 hours of casual play. I was worth it for me and I'm glad to support the game but I could see it an issue for wider adoption. The other difficulty I see is that the second act isn't out yet and there doesn't seem to be a firm release date for act 2. Act 1 leaves on a cliff hanger, so I could see some fans wanting to wait so that they can play the whole thing through at once.

All that said, please check this game out. Not only does it have a female protagonist, but she is a person of color. Both main characters question the world around them in important ways. The story, art, and music are all superb. It's a great example of innovation in gaming. Now I must find some way to be patient until Act 2 comes out.

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