Tag Archives: penny arcade

Linkspam outside alone after dark (5th February, 2010)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Quick Hit: Dickwolves shirt removed from store

In our linkspam, you may have seen the post “Why I’m Not Speaking at PAX East 2011.” If you haven’t, here’s an excerpt:

A couple of months ago, I got asked to be on a panel at PAX East 2011. I’d attended the IGDA Leadership Forum in October and been kind of a bitch (aka myself) on Twitter throughout the conference, mocking the verbal fuck-ups of men speaking about an industry that’s supposedly trying to be less of a sausage fest. [...] This got the attention of someone who was (and maybe still is, for all I know) working with the PAX East team to put together some less sausage-fest-ish content for the convention, and I got offered a spot on a panel about women and video games in some way or another.

I said no, which given the circumstances probably doesn’t surprise you. Leaving aside the fact that I think it’s a little wrong-headed for people in the industry to get too tied into a fan convention in general, what I want to say is that as someone working in the game industry, I think the recent merchandising decisions of Penny Arcade have made PAX and PAX East into spaces that I don’t want my industry to align itself with, and I’m not going to give Penny Arcade content as long as they keep selling that merchandise.

Penny Arcade’s continued use of rape as a punch line on their merchandise, and their sale of that merchandise on their site and at their events, is poisoning video game culture and video game fan events. If their charity work and structuring their cons to be less creepy to women were in the name of positively changing the perception of video games and gamers, then I do not understand their decision to pander to a puerile, sexist portion of their fan base, especially when it is so starkly prohibiting the participation of the people whose lives are being used as a punch line. In short: Why have they stopped following Wheaton’s Law?

It seems that this post and other well-reasoned emails have made a real impression:

We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen. From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent all our attendees. When I heard from a few people that the shirt would make them uncomfortable at PAX, that gave me pause. Now whether I think that’s a fair or warranted reaction doesn’t really matter. These were not rants on blogs but personal mails to me from people being very reasonable. It’s how they feel and according to them at least, removing the shirt would make them feel better about attending the show. For me that’s an easy fix to the problem. I really don’t want to have this fight and if not having it is as simple as not selling a shirt then I’ll do it.

They have also offered to refund anyone who bought tickets to PAX but still feels uncomfortable attending.

Despite talking about why the offending comic itself was effective for me (and this does not mean I think it should be effective for anyone else), I did think the t-shirts were an incredibly inappropriate and tacky response, and I’m glad I won’t be seeing them for sale.

Linkspamming in a bubble (16th October, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Heroism vs multiplayer game mechanics and Rape as a fantasy trope

[Trigger warning: as you probably realized from the title, this post discusses the (overuse) of rape in fantasy settings]

I’m going to start with saying that I thought the Penny Arcade comic was actually pretty well done. But explaining why it resonated with me takes some work. Thankfully, our excellent commenters have already got the ball rolling:

Kaonashi says,

I don’t understand why this PA strip is so wrong. To me, it’s not funny because the guy gets raped. It’s funny because the action is so obviously wrong in real life, but so absurdly motivated by limited game logic. I didn’t get an endorphin-strengthened appreciation of rape from that strip, quite the opposite.

And that’s where the comic hits me: the rape isn’t supposed to be funny, it’s supposed to be horrible (if perhaps abstracted to ridiculousness) and make you suddenly more aware of how supposedly heroic actions in games sort of fall apart when they run into game mechanics.

ptp says,

This is a parody of the way that MMO questing works because the people still need saving even though you’re only told to save a limited number of them, and with any understanding of the quest dynamic involved I think it’s fairly clear what they’re trying to poke fun at.

If you don’t play massively multiplayer online games, you may never have encountered this problem: in a single player game, you always can try to save all the hostages. But in a massively multiplayer game, you want all players to have a chance at the quest, so you have the hostages reappear (often before the hero has left the area), or you limit it so that each hero can only save 5. That way, there’s always plenty of people crying for help from the next hero. In many cases actually impossible to continue saving people in an area due to the developers’ attempt to balance game mechanics. And frankly, that’s pretty unpleasant. There’s usually no explanation given as to why as a hero you would deem this acceptable. If this were a movie, the hero would be making a hard choice of who to save and there’d be a reason only 2 people could fit on the boat/spaceship/whatever. But in the average MMOG, the entire world continues along as if it’s perfectly normal for you to leave people to unspeakable horrors.

I’ve been squicked out by this on numerous occasions while playing games. The comic doesn’t exactly make me laugh so much as think, but it’s pointing out a real absurdity using some dark and twisted sense of humour and it’s more effective for me due to the contrast of humour and horror here.

But the question remains, “why did it have to be rape?” Surely, there are plenty of other horrible things that could have been happening to these prisoners that would have gotten the point across just as well? And maybe if you tried hard enough, you’d think of something. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and sometimes you have to use the tropes the genre and culture hands you to make your point most effectively.

Carla Schroder says,

Guess I’m part of the minority here, because I think the PA strip makes it point brilliantly. It mocks this absurd morality of games, homophobia, demonstrates that rape culture is deeply ingrained and the root of many evils, and they do it in three panels. Aren’t dickwolves the absolutely perfect symbols of much of the BS we struggle with everyday? Isn’t the “hero” a perfect representation of the narcissism, lack of empathy, and apathy we beat our heads against?

Not only do we deal with rape culture in the real world, but also in our fantasy ones. Rape is a disturbingly over-used trope, especially in fantasy, as a placeholder for “something horrible happened.” Even in modern urban fantasy reading I’ve gotten hit with a storyline like, “a prophecy says so-and-so’s son will overthrow the king (or whatever), so everyone in fairyland tries to rape her to be father to that son.” How many heros have back stories where their mom was a raped tavern wench? How many would-be queens are subject to assault? Heroines? The hero’s tragic back story might be that his family was killed in a raid, but in the heroine version there’s a good chance she or maybe her sisters were raped in said raid. Can’t we come up with better reasons for adventuring? Maybe not — virginity is often highly prized in these worlds where sometimes it has magical properties. Can’t we come up with worlds that don’t turn rape into a plot device?

There was one month where I compared notes with my sister, and we realized that every fantasy book we’d read in the past few months had included rape. It’s disturbing, it’s pervasive, and fantasy novels don’t come with trigger warnings.

I imagine there’s a much lengthier discussion to be had about rape as a fantasy trope. But the point I want to make here is that part of what made the comic effective for me was the absurdity and the evocation of that trope in an overdone way really made it resonate as “yeah, this sounds like a quest I might encounter” rather than “that’s horrible; it’d never be written that way.”

And that’s why the comic worked for me. It was effective because it hurt and reflected a reality that I don’t like to see but get shoved in my face regularly as a genre fan and a game player. That doesn’t mean it will work for you, or even that it should. There’s plenty of people for whom this is simply triggering and horrible and cannot be effective because of that, and that needs to be recognized. But a comic that’s horrible for some may still be effective for others. There are often many legitimate feminist readings of a subject, and dark humour and satire are hard to handle because it feels a lot like the same old stuff getting thrown in your faces again.

But I think shielding us from the overuse of rape as “some horrid thing” would only lessen the effectiveness of the comic within the context of the genre and culture. Darker humour sometimes is most effective when it embraces the dark.

Dear Penny Arcade: WTF?

[Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault in games and comedy and sexual slavery]

Wednesday’s Penny Arcade told this joke where a hero insisted on leaving a rape victim in his own personal hell. Why? Because there was no reward! Har har! Ho ho! See what they did there? They made someone continue to suffer because the hero wasn’t going to get paid for it! Cue the Benny Hill music already!

Not. Funny.

When the aims of the games we play award merit for actions such as murdering and raping, etc, it rewards us with positive reinforcement for the concepts of these actions.

When we’re consistantly in environments where the illusion of equating a certain deed with a certain kind of repercussion isn’t challenged, or indeed mocked; things get fuzzy.

When we’re consistantly in environments where doing the right thing such as helping survivors is the butt of a joke; things get scary.

Over a century ago Ivan Pavlov coined, documented and received a Nobel prize for the concept of Classical Conditioning. For those who are unfamiliar with Pavlov’s theory but unable to fully access the previous link (full of flash and javascript), the following exerpt from Wikipedia may be of assistance:

The typical paradigm for classical conditioning involves repeatedly pairing an unconditioned stimulus (which unfailingly evokes a reflexive response) with another previously neutral stimulus (which does not normally evoke the response). Following conditioning, the response occurs both to the unconditioned stimulus and to the other, unrelated stimulus (now referred to as the “conditioned stimulus”). The response to the conditioned stimulus is termed a conditioned response. The classic example is Pavlov and his dogs. Meat powder naturally will make a dog salivate when it is put into a dog’s mouth; salivating is a reflexive response to the meat powder. Meat powder is the unconditioned stimulus (US) and the salivation is the unconditioned response (UR). Then Pavlov rang a bell before presenting the meat powder. The first time Pavlov rang the bell, the neutral stimulus, the dogs did not salivate, but once he put the meat powder in their mouths they began to salivate. After numerous pairings of the bell, and then food the dogs learned that the bell was a signal that the food was about to come and began to salivate just when the bell was rang. Once this occurs the bell becomes the conditioned stimulus (CS) and the salivation to the bell is the conditioned response (CR).

When we play, we are under the spell of this form of associative learning. We press a button and it does stuff! We will either like or not like what it does. If we liked it, we’ll probably do it again. Because it was fun! Or alternatively we’ll not like it and shun it in the future. We get rewarded with praise or something that makes us feel good when we do something we’re supposed to; we’re rewarded with adreneline for solving challenges.

Laughter releases endorphins. When we share in a joke we’re rewarded with endorphins via the laughter mechanism, a concept used in negotiation in many parts of life; from Clown Doctors to get patient cooperation in treatment, mediation to clear tension and marketing departments world over to lower consumer defensiveness.

There doesn’t have to be intent behind this triggering of a reflexive dropping of boundaries. Mere sexist jokes have been documented to “favour the mental mechanisms which urge to violence and battering against women”, in other words, make people more accepting of such behaviour. The release of endorphins gets linked to the sexist ideal, and suddenly it seems a good idea.

I personally resent having someone attempting to trigger the release of endorphins in to my brain while I’m being exposed to the concept of abandoning a victim to continue being raped.

Also, it’s not like it wasn’t already hard enough to get it across to some people that expecting cookies for basic decency is wrong.

It’s ok though, they apologised.

Oh, wait.

[TW reminder] Imaginary person raped imaginarily? By a myth0logical creature?!

Zombie fuck, guys.

Quick hit: PAX’s Girls and Games fail

Our dedicated linkspam spies have dug up a lot of critical takes on the “Girls and Games” panel at PAX East 2010, which sounds like it was a how-not-to for discussions of women in geek communities. Here’s the blurb from their own schedule:

According to the ESA, more than 43% of video gamers are female, making women the single largest untapped market segment in the gaming industry. Look at the milestones crossed and the hurdles to come as developers and publishers reach out to this previously overlooked demographic. Are current strategies effective? What does this mean for the game industry as a whole?

Panelists Include: Brittany Vincent [Editor-in-Chief, Spawn Kill], Julie Furman [Founder, SFX360], Jeff Kalles [Penny Arcade], Alexis Hebert [Community Relations Manager, Terminal Reality], Padma Fuller [Product Marketing Manager, Sanrio Digital], Kate Paiz [Senior Producer, Turbine]

Critics include:

  • The Border House and While !Finished: “Putting up with sexism and not rocking the boat may be the best thing to do as an individual to get ahead, but frankly it does fuck all for other women in the industry.”
  • Fineness & Accuracy: “Virtually no mention was made at any point of institutionalized sexism, or of the ways that banter and trash-talking with imagery of rape and sexual violence… functions as a signifier to the demographic that is overwhelmingly more likely to be targeted by perpetrators of real rape and sexual assault that they are not welcome.”
  • Laser Orgy: “Obviously those present in the room were already feminist allies, but the confusing part for me was that the questioners (both male and female) seemed much more open-minded than the panelists. The five ladies wrote off GameCrush.Com as something we should ‘expect’ of gamer culture and ignore — and most of the other problems facing women got the same treatment.”
  • gaygamer.net: “Thankfully the audience asked many intelligent and both general and more focused questions. Unfortunately, the panel seemed at a loss to answer them in any satisfying manner (for the most part, a few exceptions applied).”

The volume of criticism has attracted a response from Brittany Vincent: “First off, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I let you all down, as a female gamer, and as a panelist. It brings me to tears to think that you all were so disheartened by this missed opportunity.”

Link roundup

Links? We got ‘em. If you see something out there that we should link to in the next go-round, drop us a comment.

Lilac PSP ad - photo by alist on Flickr

Lilac PSP ad - photo by alist on Flickr

On why I’m going to PAX… and why I don’t go anywhere else

Cross-posted from my personal blog.

My sister and I are currently working on our costumes for PAX 2009. I’m really looking forwards to going again this year because I had so much fun last year.

But PAX is the first fan event I’ve ever attended where I can say I unilaterally had fun. It’s the first event where I’ve immediately said, “hey, I should bring my sister!” It’s the first fan event where I’ve felt comfortable enough to dress up. I’ll dress up in places where I feel safe (the university, the NAC) but I’ve never felt safe enough to do it at a con.

I don’t even attend cons anymore. I used to go out to local events, and frankly, I was stared at, hassled, and generally made to feel uncomfortable. (Don’t get me started on creepy otaku, the reason I don’t use my middle name in public any more.) I think I even snuck out of one or two events, trying to keep someone from seeing me leave so they wouldn’t follow me home. Think that’s just me? Read the geekfeminism post on worst con experiences or take a look through other people’s bad con experiences and you’ll realise I’ve gotten off light. The local 501st joke about how many times someone grabs their butts when they’re out doing their thing… they think it’s funny, but most of them are wearing body armour, so it’s hard to be really offended. Small wonder I wasn’t jumping at the opportunity to put on a metal bikini and join them.

And let’s just say that stories like “EA puts sexual bounty on the heads of its own booth babes” haven’t inspired confidence that things are changing.

But I was trying to be positive here. So let’s talk about PAX.

PAX is the Penny Arcade Expo. Now, I admit I’m not a huge fan of Penny Arcade, but some friends convinced me to go (with the aid of a time-travelling robot, but that’s a longer story). So I did.

You most definitely don’t have to be a Penny Arcade fan to enjoy PAX. It’s a huge gaming convention — tabletop rpgs, computer games, board games, card games, video games, rock paper scissors in the hallway… if you like playing games at all, you’d find something to enjoy here.

But that’s not what surprised me. What surprised me is that PAX feels like a huge community of people who you’d actually like to have as friends. There were people about exchanging cookies for donations to child’s play. People brought their families. You could turn to any stranger next to you in line and say, “Hey, want to play a game?” and you’d quickly find something to try out, and possibly a new friend. People didn’t get that cranky in lines, because they found ways to have fun. There were so many women about that I never felt out of place. On the second day, I even dressed up in a low-cut tank top and skirt I usually wear for dancing, just to see what happened, and nothing did. I felt as safe and comfy as if I were hanging out with my local friends, even though I was on a show floor with thousands of other people. If someone had told me this before I went, I would have said they were crazy, that they just weren’t noticing the bad stuff, but the fact is, I wasn’t noticing it either. And I’m pretty attuned after years of bad experiences.

At PAX, I didn’t even have to think about being a girl. I was just a gamer, a geek. And that was more than enough.