When we talk about women fighters in medieval-inspired fantasy games, people will often go on about how we're really trying to reinvent history. In some ways, they are right. Few women fought in organized armies at the time and most of history was written about those armies. However, in many ways they are missing the point.
Most Men Didn't Fight
A combination of ancient and modern warfare clouds our understanding of much of Medieval Western European combat and armies. We're used to large standing armies and large drafts to create larger and larger armies, especially in the two World Wars. We're used to large percentages of young men and smaller percentages of young women shipping off to war.
This view of war would have lost many Medieval wars. The simple reason: food. We have much higher crop yields today, coupled with machines to make harvesting easier, and this frees up more hands for the war effort. I read on one site that we're talking about something like 1 in 30 seeds would mature to feed us in Medieval Europe versus 1 in 2 to 1 in 7 today.
Lower crop yields required much more land and labor than today. To send significant numbers of men, especially young men, off to war would have put the fields and harvest in jeopardy. The exception to this would be the sons of nobility. Since one of the defining characteristics of the nobility is that they didn't work with their hands, they often didn't work the fields. And since titles couldn't be shared or split and a titled family often needed as many resources as possible, spares didn't always have much of a future to look forward to.
Since the overwhelming percentage of men were commoners tied to land and were needed to farm it, the vast majority of men simply wouldn't have been involved in the formal military campaigns of the period, the very same campaigns we often rely on for our information about medieval warfare. We ignore this for games like D&D because it's just not exciting. If it's not exciting for male characters to keep to historical realism, I might suggest it's not exciting for female characters either.
Overlooked Combat Opportunities
With the focus on formal military campaigns, other sources of combat experience often are overlooked. For instance, we know of a number of peasant uprisings during the period. Rebellions have long recruited whomever they could get and have been a source of opportunity for women who yearned for something more. Likewise, when under attack, women could be employed in a variety of defensive positions. They could pour boiling water from above.
In addition, women have long provided combat support roles throughout history. Wives, daughters, and other women might accompany a military campaign. Some would have been noble women, often attempting to get pregnant since that was their and their husband's duty.
Why Do I Find This Important?
There isn't as much documentations on women in these positions in part because it just wasn't that important to the people at the time. Portraying women as independent and strong went against the typical narrative of the day. But when we look at the vast amount of data from the past 300 years, we see plenty of evidence that the formal narratives of the time often differed from women's lived experiences. We should keep that in mind as well as remind ourselves of the limits of history:
- Someone had to find the information important enough to record.
- Future generations had to find the information important enough to save.
- Our generation has to find the information important enough to seek out.
With all of that said, I'm not arguing for historical realism in the majority of games, such as D&D. Instead, I'm suggesting that we cease using inaccurate "historical realism" as an excuse to perpetuate the gender bias and stereotypes we have today.
I recently found a profile of Samantha Swords from the Fight Like a Girl blog (part of Combatant Magazine). For those who are unfamiliar with Samantha Swords, she is a Western Martial Arts (WMA) fighter, actor, prop maker, stuntwoman, and more. Earlier this year she won the long sword competition at the World Jousting Invitational in New Zealand.
I particularly enjoyed her insights into fighting and I think it could be useful to gamers and other creators of fantasy stories. Too often I hear that women are just smaller and, thus, have no chance in combat. She talks about this a bit but points it out as an advantage.
We ladies have a unique advantage over our sword brothers. As well as having a lower centre of gravity, we’re predisposed to be physically inferior, which means that we have to work harder, be accurate and quite cunning to maintain the edge against most of our competition.
It may sound like an illogical advantage, but developing these attributes should happen anyway as a fighter; it’s just necessary for women to get a headstart because we have less to offer in the brawn department. Due to WMA being in the infancy of its revival and having no solid divisions of weight or gender, we’re allowed to be outmatched in competitions. This is good, it teaches humility for learning proper defence. We need to apply tireless dedication to getting things right, because the result is much more obvious when we don’t.
While I know a number of women who are physically bigger and stronger than the vast majority of men out there, I agree with the overall point that not being to fall back on brawn means that women fighters often have to dedicate themselves to their craft. While I don't always find it important to replicate our sexism based on differences in physical size in fantasy literature and games, I do think the concentration on training and practice would be important to anyone of a smaller size regardless of gender and especially among women.
Additionally, Swords points out a number of martial arts that work well for people who aren't as large or physically strong.
I’d advise any female fighters to look at aikido, kumi uchi, goju ryu, and all the fighting guides you can find that use biomechanics to take a pressure or force, and redirect it to compromise your opponent. This will enrich your understanding of historical European combat, because they all point to the same concept: that effective martial arts don’t rely on speed, strength or agility, but an artful understanding of physics and how to apply it to the human body. If your technique doesn’t work because “you’re not fast or strong enough”, you’re doing it wrong!
Often in fantasy stories, we often think that only the strongest or best capable served in combat. The reality was far more complex. We have many different combat styles in part because we were at the mercy of who happened to be available at the time and their capabilities. The challenge put before those responsible for martial maneuvers was how to use what they had to get the result they needed or wanted. We know women have always fought, we just don't always have records of who they were and how they fought.
In a world that didn't tie leadership to combat and/or didn't believe in the natural inferiority of women could easily be set up to teach people of all genders how to fight in a way that used their natural attributes and skills to the best possible advantage. This often didn't happen in the middle ages, at least in the rhetoric, because women's supposed inferiority was an important part of the governance structure, which relied on divine right to rule combined with patrilineal and patriarchal customs. If your fantasy world doesn't have those same strictures, it's harder to argue for the continued lack of women warriors in a society.
I'd like to ask you to consider one further reason why you should include at least athletic girls and women if not women warriors in your stories. Earlier pulp novels could assume an audience that reflected the sexism of the time. This is becoming less and less true. For instance, since the introduction of Title IX in the US, women's athletics has increased dramatically with a 560% increase at the college level and 990% in high schools. Additionally, around that time self-defense courses grew in popularity as a rape counter-measure. Few girls and women my age and younger want to hear that they are physically incapable of defending themselves or others and fewer people, regardless of gender, are used to a world in which girls and women are kept from physical exertion. It does not reflect our reality and will break suspension of disbelief for many, disregarding the fact that many of us want to be strong when we use literature as escapism.
So, if you want to include more women fighters but also want it to make it feel "real" enough given our society's current views of women, this might be a good start. In fantasy literature, Arya from Game of Thrones is a good example of this. If you want more examples of warrior women, especially those who study WMA, the Fight Like a Girl blog highlights more. I also know quite a few women who fight in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) such as Jeanie Davan.
Also, while I'm on the subject of women fighters, I must point out these awesome sketches by Tess Fowler. Here's an example and you can find more here.
Looking for some inspiration for your bard? I recently watched the movie The Sapphires and loved it. It follows the adventure of four singers who happen to be aboriginal women, showing the racism they face in Australia and their dreams of catching their big break by playing for the troops in Vietnam. Three of them are sisters: Gail - the headstrong lead singer, Cynthia - a jilted bride-to-be recently left at the altar, and Julie - a young mother who wants a better life for her and her son. They are joined by their cousin Kay, a woman who had been stolen from her family because her skin was pale enough to pass as white in Australian society. Along the way they are helped by a down-on-his-luck Irishman, Dave Lovelace.
The Bechdel Test
The movie passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Not only are there four main characters who are also women, but they rarely talk about men or relationships with each other. Most of the conversations are about their lives and their goals. All of the female characters have their own personalities with relatively complex motivations and backstory. I also love how they handle the women's sexuality. They have sex, fall in love, and everything but those elements to ordinary life are not presented in a negative light. They also are allowed to be sexy and sexual without being sexualized.
Race and Racism
In addition to being featuring four aboriginal women, the film weaves race and racism into its narrative in interesting and compelling ways. The sisters enter a talent contest but are denied the prize due to their background. The relationship between Gail and Kay is strained as result of Kay's upbringing away from the family, a reference to Australia's Stolen Generations. Martin Luther King Jr's assassination is referenced and provides an impetus for them to perform for the troops. Many of the US soldiers are African-American.
While these elements are all presented, they are not the driving force of the story. The primary story is about the adventure of the four women. However, the issues of race are woven in nicely and something that could help game masters and game designers alike.
Based on Real Life
The movie is inspired by the real lives of the original Sapphires: Laurel Robinson, Beverly Briggs and Naomi Mayers. They were a band of three aboriginal women who played at clubs, parties, universities, and more in the Melbourne area. They were asked to perform for the troops in Vietnam, but two of the original members refused to go as a protest against the war. The remaining member, Robinson, went with her sister, Lois Peeler. Robinson's son, Tony Briggs, used their story as inspiration for a play based on their experiences. This play was the basis of the movie. The role of Lovelace was created for the film.
This past weekend I was honored to attend CarnageCon as a special guest. It's a wonderful con held this year in Killington, VT and previously at Lake Morey. I ran 12 hours of a D&D Next version of Reclaim Riverbend. Now, because it was a con, we didn't run with any crunchy rules for the exploration section, but we played with the premise of rebuilding after a war, playing in a sandbox, and having player driven stories.
I think it was a great success. A couple of the players played the whole 12 hours, and a number more played 8 hours worth. As a DM, I was really happy. Here's a picture from the second 4-hour slot.
So the first thing about the game is that the set up really helped ease play. I started by giving each player character one NPC character they could bring with them. As an example, the cleric chose an underling acolyte and the rogue chose to know the military commander in the town. This helped in a number of ways. First, I think it helped the players feel like they had a bit of the world that they knew and could interact with. Additionally, as they played, they had someone else that they could also make up stories about. The cleric, for instance, named his acolyte Ned and would add flavor by talking about the types of sermons Ned was making and the reactions of the townspeople to them. He also set up Ned in the church after they cleared it of the undead and a dark priest. He even decided to create his own sect, the Order of the Radiant Heart.
In addition to the one NPC to start, each PC had 10 commoners each who came with them. These would be the people who did the basic chores of the town. They also served another purpose. As the PCs cleared out areas, one of the commoners would often step forward and take over a job. So, after they had cleared one of the small forests, one of the commoners stepped forward to become a forester. Likewise, when they cleared out the brewery, one of the townspeople had skills as a brewer and stepped forward.
Also, having a map helped them figure out where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. I used the map from Village of Hommlet, and just described how every place except the Inn of the Welcome Wench was more or less rendered uninhabitable. They were concerned about where the villagers and decided to check out the old cottages first, which turned out to be a good thing because one of them was haunted by the ghost of any angry former inhabitant who had been killed in the great raid. Likewise, they often would balance where they went with the needs of the town. They cleared out the cottages and the docks (so people could be come fishermen) but also decided they needed better ale and cleared out the brewery. Then it was the mill so the town could grind flour.
Obviously I have a bunch more to do before I can make it a thing and I need to develop my own town map if I want to publish it, but being able to run 12 hours of gaming on this premise was a great confidence boost.
As a note, we played mostly theater of the mind style. I used the Noteboard product to draw rough maps to help the players visualize areas. This worked well with D&D Next but obviously might not work well for every game.
The main thing I'd love to work on before I did it again would be interactive environments. The setup worked well in showing the players that what their PCs did had an effect on the town, but I wish I had more traps, rituals, other interactive elements (like a complex arcane machine), and maybe some friendly NPCs in various areas that the PCs could interact with. More food for thought.
Finally, a tweet from one of the players after the game:
— Geoff Duke (@gcd) November 10, 2013
Also, I had the honor of being the first DM for a young boy and we had three other teenagers join in. That felt good too.
I wanted to give some more concrete examples of where my thoughts around Reclaim Riverbend are currently. Since it's a well known module and fits pretty well, I'm going to use The Village of Hommlet as an example.
Village of Hommlet is great because it lays out an entire village complete with a village map as well as maps of a few of the buildings. My thought is that much of the town would have been destroyed by a combination of neglect by the evil forces that inhabited it (they did not agree that cleanliness is next to godliness) and the battles for control of the town. I think I would set everything except either the walled manor house (27) or the Inn of the Welcome Wench (7) as being in some state of being too broken to be immediately useful. I haven't figured out the mechanics of repair, but it would be something like filthy, cosmetic damage, structural damage, and beyond repair. Filthy buildings could be repaired without access to resources beyond labor. Cosmetic damage would require access to wood, either from other homes or a forest. Structural damage might require a carpenter. Beyond repair would require labor to remove the rubble before it could be built on again.
A nice thing about using something like Village of Hommlet as the underpinning is that we can tell the story of that village through this game even if we don't use everything from it. The people still existed and we can tell their story in the background elements and in the items left behind.
Let's ignore the ability to harvest wood from the forest for now and only rely on reusing materials found in the town. Let's say each destroyed house provides 10 wood. Cosmetic damage requires 1 wood, structural damage requires 3, and new construction of a modest cottage requires 5. (I'm not sure how fine-grained I'll be when I get further along, so take this all with a grain of salt.) Repairing buildings with cosmetic damage doesn't require specialization and takes less wood. The issue is that the building the group really wants might not be one of the ones that are the cheapest to fix. Do the players focus on fixing the easiest to fix buildings first? Do they try to adapt the building to a different use than intended, costing them perhaps a few more resources and more time? Or do they focus their resources on the buildings they think would best serve them?
These are decisions constantly being made after a catastrophe. What do we have? What can we save? What is the cost of saving it?
One of the issues after war is that many of the trade routes are disrupted. A village like Riverbend couldn't expect regular deliveries of resources from other places. First, the area is still far too dangerous for all but the least risk averse merchants. Second, many towns and cities need goods after a war and Riverbend isn't exactly a thriving place full of coin. It needs to make itself better known for that. So currently, the town can except a visiting merchant only about every month or three. I might increase the frequency if I specialize the merchants though. Additionally, costs might be higher for even basic goods that have to be imported from elsewhere. For now, let's say that there is a 50% rise in prices.
The Village of Hommlet module works well for this because it faces trade issues. In the case of the module, a bunch of bandits have been attacking trade caravans. They are holed up in the ruins of the moathouse, a complete adventure already written for DMs. Since Reclaim Riverbend is a post war game, I might change some of the bandit characters to fit into that theme better. Maybe they deserted during the war or they grew cynical from their experiences and decided to live for themselves after the war. They also could be left over enemies who didn't want to go home.
Defeating the bandits would improve trade through Riverbend in addition to potentially giving real items as treasure. So after they are dealt with, let's say the additional cost of goods gets reduced to 25%.
An additional benefit to The Village of Hommlet is that it's tied to the Temple of Elemental Evil. I might have in one of the buildings some writings from one of the evil clerics or wizards that mentioned ruins in the area of the town. By this point, between the overturn in inhabitants and the amount of time that has passed, it's quite possible that none of the current inhabitants remembers the temple. This diary could talk about how the cleric or wizard wants to find the legendary ruin and increase their reputation. The PCs might decide to see if the other side was unable to uncover the ruin or decide that they don't care, they want to see it for themselves.
You could even run Temple of Elemental Evil as a flashback before they discover it in the present. You could then modify the ruins to take into account the decisions of your group and, who knows, maybe the past adventurers left something behind that could be used by those in the present.
So that's my thought on how the concept of Reclaim Riverbend can be used to tie together published adventures in a way that reinforces the core story being told and organically changes the world around the characters. I fully acknowledge it might not be for everyone. Obviously, if I were to create my own Reclaim Riverbend for publishing, I couldn't use Village of Hommlet as a base but it's a perfect fit as an example of what could be done. Additionally, the framework doesn't need to be limited to D&D as a resolution mechanism. Other games, such as Fiasco, could be used for certain types of adventures or scenes and still have an impact on the world. For instance, perhaps the players want to convince a wizard to take up residence in the tower but he wants the PCs to prove that they are worth his presence. A Fiasco-style playset could be a fun way of determining if they succeed at the task of wooing him.
Now that a big writing project is done, I have more time to focus on this again. As a refresher, Reclaim Riverbend is my idea for a sandbox adventure that concentrates on the PCs building their community. In this particular case, a long 25 year war has ended and Commander Blackwell seeks to reclaim her ancestral home. Players build the town as a result of their adventures. Collect enough objets d'art and the town creates an art gallery or museum. Uncover enough gems and gain a jeweler. These NPCs in turn, provide benefits back to the PCs.
A reason I started with Reclaim Riverbend is because I want to explore concepts of colony building and exploration while minimizing the issues of othering. This was their land. Absent the past 25 years, it had been in their families for generations. I haven't figured out what to do about the invaders yet, if they are going to be some concept of true evil or if they might seem that way at first but overtime become more understandable. I think for the first version, they are just going to be evil.
I've also been thinking a lot about how to do the community building. Some people pointed out the Pathfinder downtime system. I like the system and will draw inspiration from parts of it but, to me, it still seems a bit too distanced. It's also focuses a bit on the individual's influence where I'm not sure that fits with what I would like.
The other inspiration point I know about is Flatpack. This game features a lot of what I want, it's about overcoming obstacles and fixing the future. PCs go out, find flatpacks, and bring them home. These flatpacks provide resources to the town. They are buildings that you can put together and give the PCs access to specialists. In some ways, that's part of what's going on in Reclaim Riverbend but there's a bit more that I'd like to accomplish. I know sometimes DMs sometimes struggle with players who keep killing their hirelings or assume an unlimited supply of things. My thought is that this setup can address those issues. You can gain unlimited supplies of some things, but it requires building the town up enough to gain them. Likewise, you can kill as many hirelings as you want, but you might not then have enough people come harvest time. There are choices and those choices have consequences.
My thought is that players would start off with their initial expedition party. This will include the PCs, a number of unskilled laborers, and I'm thinking one or two skilled laborers per PC. I contemplated making these families instead of individuals but that might work better as an optional rule. Since the entire kingdom is in a rebuilding phase, it will be a while before they get reinforcements or more supplies. So they are pretty much on their own for at least 3 months.
In looking at the D&D Next rules, many of the backgrounds fit in naturally with this. Commoners form the lowest level and most plentiful type of human resource. They provide most of the raw resources for the town such as food, lumber, animal skins, and the like. The Artisans form the next level. They transform the raw materials into products and they require a certain number of Commoners to support them. So, we might not get a carpenter until we have 10 foresters because otherwise there wouldn't be enough lumber.
I might make one change though. You can't gain access to certain types of Commoners until you have the natural resources to support them. One way to unlock natural resources will be to explore the hex map. So, explore enough forest squares and you can unlock a forester. Your exploration gives the forester confidence that the woods will be safe for him and his crew. Likewise, want fishers? Explore the waterways and determine their level of safety.
Gaining these more experienced laborers can happen in a few different ways. They can be part of the adventures. For instance, maybe you uncover a humanoid trafficking ring run by orcs that passes through the territory. As a result of raiding it, the PCs might gain a skilled laborer from the captives. Another way is inspired by Terraria. If you have an available storefront and uncover enough gems, either through treasure or as a result of uncovering a mine that has a vein of them, a jeweler might be enticed to live in your town. Or, if you uncover enough forest land, a laborer might decide to become a forester. Finally, as the town grows, the PCs might be able to pick particular types of skilled laborer that they would like to see more of and gain benefits from.
Another thing I'd like to focus on in this is that everyone has a role and is necessary for the functioning of the town. Food production is just as important as being a silversmith, even if it doesn't pay the same. Additionally, when the town suffers a catastrophe such as a natural disaster or a siege, each of these people are your resources for defense and recovery. My hope is that this would be closer to the reality of life in the middle ages. Adventuring brings great rewards but at a cost. You can decide to not teach the women basic defense skills but when you are attacked, you might find yourself at a disadvantage.
To summarize, here are some basic details and principles that I'm confident about.
- Hex exploration uncovers resources to use, both general ones like wood and adventuring areas where more specialized goods and advanced technology can be found.
- Simulate in a general way the hierarchy of resources and the people who refine them.
- Resource limitations are tied to the town and its inhabitants, making people the most important resource.
More info soon!
Back in August, I asked people to complete a non-scientific survey on their experiences with harassment at conventions and conferences. Since I go to both gaming conventions and tech conferences and personally feel there are a lot of overlaps with the issues, I didn't restrict this to one community or the other. I also knew that given my history and the people likely to hear of it, there was a good chance of there being a polarizing response. But I thought it still might be useful nonetheless.
By the time I pulled the answers on August 8th, I had 319 people respond to the 10 questions. I put seven of those questions into an infographic. All of the questions along with the responses can be found in this spreadsheet.
I had expected this to be at least slightly polarizing however I actually didn't get more than a few responses that seemed more intent at attacking me than discussing the issue. I also think the data shows some interesting information for the group who responded. For the respondents, anti-harassment policies were important or very important (228 out of 319 responded this way) and since 229 of the respondents identify "male/man" as their primary gender, this isn't just a gender issue. Of the respondents, 64 out of 210 experienced something that made them wish there was an anti-harassment policy in place. That's 20% of the respondents. Fifteen percent felt something happened to them personally, either harassment or assault. Finally, fewer than half of the people responded that they have never witnessed or been the target of unacceptable behavior to the question about reporting unacceptable behavior to con staff. Of those who did report, 72 percent found the response from the convention acceptable at least some of the time, although 56% also reported it was unacceptable at times and 18 percent didn't have the data to respond one way or another.
Now clearly this isn't a scientific study. I didn't do a random sample of all con goers, I advertised this using my social networks which means that it's likely to be polarized. Many of the people who read what I write care about this issue in an affirmative manner, they would like to see more anti-harassment policies at conventions, and a few will be very against them. This mixing of groups is evident in the freeform responses to the question, "Do you have any questions about anti-harassment policies at cons?" Here are some of the responses:
- Is there any evidence, other than ancecdotal, of draconian anti-harassment policies actually ever existing?
- Has there ever been a problem with having one that not having one would have prevented/stopped?
- Only "Why would any con choose to not have an anti-harassment policy?"
- Why don't all cons have anti-harassment policies?
- I find objections to anti-harassment policies on "free speech" grounds to be dishonest and loathesome. This is not a question, but I wanted to say it anyway.
- I want to know why cons are hesitant to implement them
- Are they really required? http://sushee.no-ip.org/opensourceisnotawarzone.txt
- Shouldn't you start suing these conventions until they shut down?
- Why won't organizers protect fans? I can't think of a good reason
- How do you ensure the accused is treated fairly? They're expecting to enjoy their time at the Con too
- Jesus, stop trying to make a story where there ISN'T one.
- Why are they not as plentiful as the "soap is your friend" snarks in con policies?
- Why doesn't evey con already have one?
- No. Why are you creating a new class of victims? That's so American....
- I think harassment should be handled by law-enforcement, not con staff .
So what does this mean to me? Well, I think it says that in some groups, a significant number of people have personally witnessed or experienced harassing and/or assaulting behavior and that a significant number of people would like to see cons do something about those who are perpetrating these offenses. I think there's also a small, but vocal community of people who are dead set against anything that might address these problems. In the end, I hope this points to the need for better and more widely distributed surveys, perhaps with the backing of some conventions.
Recently Rat Queens #1 came out. I had seen a lot of ads for this one, especially in the back of Saga. It's what happens when you create a comic around four tabletop RPG characters, all of whom happen to be women. Our cast of characters are Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Hobbit Thief. The quartet are known for causing trouble around town and find themselves thrown in the dungeon yet again. They might be able to secure their release...if they complete a quest. Fail, and they are banned from Palisade forever.
Of course, they aren't the only group. In addition to the Rat Queens, we have Peaches, Four Daves, Brother Ponies, and Obsidian Darkness. Of course, we soon find out that there's more going on here but I don't want to spoil that for you. Besides, if you don't mind spoilers, Weird Girls did a great review of the issue in this video.
There's also a free preview issue that introduces the characters and gives a sneak peak into their world. There are two pages from that preview that I particularly love.
As some of the sample images show, this is not a prim and proper comic. The world is dark as is the comedy. There will be swearing, drinking, drugs, and sex. They are adventurers after all! Oh and lots of bad ass women. I also love that the characters, in my opinion, aren't drawn for our viewing pleasure and yet still obviously have sexual desires and sexy fun times. The comic is often self-aware about this at times.
So, if any of this sounds appealing to you, I urge you to check it out. You can find the free preview on the Image Comics website or through Comixology. Kurt Wiebe has previews and other information on his site. Issue #2 comes out on October 23rd.
In the most recent Prismatic Art update, we mentioned that Cheeky Mountain Parrot Games and Kaitlynn Peavler donated the art created for Conquering Corsairs to the Prismatic Art Collection. Today I've uploaded the last batch of the 48 images. Here's a gallery with them all.
"Master Gunner" © 2013 Kaitlynn Peavler and Cheeky Mountain Parrot Games, created for Conquering Corsairs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
Talking about PAX and Penny Arcade is never easy for me. The D&D podcasts with the Penny Arcade/PvP crew are what convinced me to finally play D&D after watching it be played and supporting others playing it for nearly 2 decades. While I'm not ok with every joke they make, I'm actually a big fan of irreverent humor amongst friends, as long as that humor isn't used to punch down. As someone who wasn't always great with understanding how to deal with racism, transphobia, homophobia, and the like, I have some amount of sympathy for those struggling through it and not being sure what to do. I was going to sit this out in part because everyone else is doing such a great job covering it.
However, after Mike's clarification, I've noticed a few things that I'd like to address and, yeah, I'm going to take advantage of my platform to say them. First, for those of you who don't know about the Dickwolves situation, here's a very short explanation. Penny Arcade released a comic that intended to demonstrate how messed up MMO morality is if you really think it through. Most quests rely on you doing something x number of times and forget about anyone hurt by the x+1 thing you didn't have to do. They decided to make this point by using rape through a made-up monster called the dickwolf.
This upset and hurt some people. I get that not everyone understands how this can happen. To some, in a perfect world, people would read a comic like this and not do the internet equivalent of scream obscenities at the creator. I'd argue that in a perfect world we wouldn't live in a world that constantly trivialized rape and creators wouldn't use it as a punchline in a joke that doesn't address the very real issues surrounding rape that many people face, especially without warning them first, but the main thing to remember is, we don't live in a perfect world and when people are hurt, they are allowed to express that anger, at least to a point. I'm not trying to defend all expressions of anger here; I know that some people said some rather nasty things about Mike, Jerry, and their families.
So, we had this wide range of response to the comic. Some brought up points in a calm manner, some brought up the same points in a more impassioned tone, others threw feces. In response, Mike and Jerry went after those they felt were throwing feces but in a way that included everyone speaking up. They went pretty nuclear. They weaponized the dickwolves concept. It now became not a symbol of how utterly fucked up MMO morality is and became a battle standard in...something. I still haven't quite figured out what. To add to this, t-shirts were created and there was a movement in the message boards for the Penny Arcade supporters to wear those shirts to PAX East to show those...those...PEOPLE that they weren't welcome. Because, in the end, that's what it was about. It was a statement to even people like me, who merely wrote about why the topic of rape is such a sensitive matter, that we weren't really welcome there.
When people pointed this out to Penny Arcade, it appeared that they decided to pull the merchandise. I thought that it was because they could see that it would mean that PAX would no longer be the inclusive space they claimed they wanted (and the apology supports this). I felt comfortable attending because even though I knew that there was this group who would hate me on sight if they knew who I was, I wouldn't be surrounded with messages. I wouldn't be forced to run games for people wearing the shirts. I wouldn't see them in my panels as I was trying to speak. It was a big deal.
Fast forward to just a couple of days ago. There have been other issues with Mike, but people have always been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt by and large. And now he says on stage that pulling those shirts was a mistake. And the crowd cheers. Not only does the crowd cheer, but someone feels confident enough to then ask for the shirts to be brought back. (Yes, both Mike and Khoo said no to that on stage). I get that Mike wishes he had said more. I even believe that he didn't mean to make it sound like that was the only thing he regretted. These things happen although I'd like to think that he has grown enough as a professional to have a full response to the dickwolves thing rehearsed. But it is what it is.
But I'm also tired of apologies and token efforts to make amends without real change and what our community needs is change. So Mike, I'm asking you as a person, as a fellow gamer, as someone who loved your work enough to name her first character after one of yours, please, please learn to be a better person. Not because people expect you to be a role model and not because you were thrust into a leadership role that you don't necessarily want. Change because right now, you are attracting to you the exact people you claim to dislike, the type of people who cheer like that over your misspoken comment because they assumed you meant that the only mistake was in removing the merchandise. You are attracting to you the types of people you lampooned in your League of Legends comic. You didn't ask to be their mascot but your actions have made you it nonetheless.
For everyone else, if you want to support Mike's clarification and apology and spread its good will, I might suggest this. Those people who heard Mike's initial comment, felt hurt by it, and spoke up are being hounded by some of the worst elements of the internet. They are getting all sorts of threats. Instead of defending Mike to everyone and anyone who might say even the slightest negative thing, how about standing up for those members of our family and giving them support? How about allowing them their pain and not trying to police them for once? If Mike actually made a mistake and he claims he did, we need people to be able to express their pain at it. But right now, Penny Arcade surrounds itself with a community that makes that impossible.