Wednesday, 27 May 2009

More Stuff About Sexism

The only article on this blog that has any actual comments is the one I wrote a while back about That Noblegarden Thing.

Part of the reason it has so many comments is that it, unfortunately, degenerated into a bit of an argument between me and a guy called James, in which I called him a sexist, he insisted that he wasn't, and I insisted that he was, and that all of the things he kept saying to prove he wasn't only showed exactly what a big sexist he was. To be honest I was a bit over-aggressive but the advantage of doing this kind of thing on your own blog is that you have that luxury.

The particular sticking point, I think, was his insistance that he wasn't a sexist but that he "appreciated the beauty of the female form".

What I didn't have the time or patience to explain to this guy, but which I think is worth a post in its own right, is precisely why "I appreciate the beauty of the female form" is in fact a totally sexist thing to say.

Issue the First: There are Exceptions to Every Rule

It's a common complaint amongst racist dickheads that black people are allowed to use the "n-word" and white people aren't.

In the same way, I'm going to start off by saying that it is, theoretically, possible to actually "appreciate the beauty of the female form" without it being an offensive, sexist, insulting thing to say. If you have made an extensive study of - say - the portrayal of women in the visual media, if you have read The Beauty Myth and know what the term "male gaze" actually means, if your idea of "beauty" isn't defined entirely as "things men traditionally find nice to look at" and if you understand that "the female form" is not a synonym for "boobs" then you might be the sort of person who can "appreciate the beauty of the female form" without being a creepy Nice Guy dickweed.

On the other hand, if you've got those sorts of credentials, you'll probably describe your interests in a less stupid way.

Treat Me Like a Woman

Just to reiterate for those who aren't sure, I'm not a woman (although I sometimes get mistaken for one online, because I can't find my way around Halls of Stone without a map). I'm a man.

One of the perks of being a man is that I have the de facto right to define what it means to be a woman. Just to be clear, by "right" I really mean "privilege" - I'm not claiming that it's a right in the moral sense of the word. It's one I'd be happy to give up (in theory, at least, I rather suspect that I'd miss it).

As a man, I enjoy the right to define what is and is not feminine, what body shape, style of dress, and even patterns of behaviour are "attractive" in a woman. Furthermore, the extent to which I consider a woman attractive is the only judgment I need make of her worth.

This is why men have to be very careful making generalisations about women. When you say "I appreciate the beauty of the female form" you are reinforcing your right to define what the female form is and should be.

I Think I'll Be Sexist Today!

Nobody wakes up in the morning and says "you know what, I think today is an excellent day for being a sexist asshole". Nobody *means* to be sexist. The whole problem with sexism is that you can be sexist *without meaning it*. I've made this point before, but the motto of segregation in 1950s America was "seperate but equal" - it was not, in fact, supposed to be racist at all. Similarly I've heard a great many racist comics insisting that "I don't make racist jokes, I make jokes about race".

Intent has no bearing on prejudice.

I am sure that when people say "I appreciate the beauty of the female form" they don't intend to be reinforcing harmful ideas about what women are "supposed" to look like, but the fact is they do. I'm sure they don't mean to be reinforcing the idea that women exist only to look nice for men, but the fact is they are.

There is nothing wrong with liking to look at conventionally attractive women. There is nothing wrong with liking to look at women who aren't necessarily conventionally attractive but who you personally find hot. What is very wrong is pretending that your personal predelictions benefit anybody except you. If you say "I appreciate the beauty of the female form" you are basically saying that women should feel flattered to have you perving at them.

But They Love It!

It's true that most people like to feel attractive. It's true that most women appreciate compliments. I've certainly never seen anybody get upset at being told their new haircut suits them.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure most women also like to hear things like "I read your last blog post and thought it was really interesting and insightful" or indeed (since this is ostensibly a WoW blog) "thanks for kicking the heals on that last boss".

I don't like JK Rowling, but there's an interesting post on her official website where she talks about how she once met a friend at a charity event, and the first thing that person said to her was "you look great, have you lost weight?". This she found infuriating and offensive, because she had, amongst other things, published two books since she last met this person.

It is a fact, and an undeniable fact, that a woman's physical appearance is given primacy over any and all qualities she may possess. Anne Widdecombe was more frequently attacked for being ugly than for having people give birth in handcuffs, Sarah Palin's "barbie-doll" looks are used as a direct attack on her politics. People do this all the time and they do it without thinking about it.

Women like to be complimented on their looks, but frequently compliments on their looks are all they get.

To take a recent, WoW-related example, consider this WoW insider article from their "fifteen minutes of fame" column. The *entire* focus of this article is that this girl who keeps a WoW blog (which isn't unusual) and acts as a playtester for Blizzard (which isn't unusual) *is hot*. Not only that, but the introduction goes to great lengths to express how surprising we are meant to find the fact that this woman is actually good at the game.

What I Look For in a Woman

Although James strongly denied being sexist, he did admit to perhaps being shallow except that he "values more than looks when it comes to a woman".

Such magnanimity.

Now let's be clear. I wouldn't go out with somebody I didn't find physically attractive. I don't watch a lot of porn but if I did, I wouldn't want it to include people who I didn't find physically attractive. Looks are extremely important to me in a prospective sexual partner.

The thing is "prospective sexual partner" and "woman" are very different things.

And I know it's just a linguistic shorthand, but it's a linguistic shorthand that reflects a real social trend. People genuinely act like wanting to have sex with a woman is the highest compliment you can pay her, while not finding a woman sexually attractive is the direst possible insult.

This whole thing sprang out of the Noblegarden achievement which required you to turn female characters into playboy bunnies. This led to a whole bunch of people saying "zomg! why are you so hung up about sex!" - I'm not hung up about sex. What I'm hung up about is the fact that "sex" and "women" are treated as synonyms. It's not just about bunny ears, it's about the fact that female characters in WoW - as in most fantasy and indeed in most works of fiction - are designed to appeal to male gamers who want to look at hot women, not to appeal to female gamers who want to identify with powerful women.

It is perfectly okay to fancy women. It is perfectly okay to like to look at women. It is not okay to pretend that women somehow benefit from this.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Instance Like a Dick!

In response to Tamarind's recent instancing woes, I thought I'd post a helpful guide to Instancing Like a Dick. Just in case there were any of you guys out there who wanted to, but weren't sure how best to go about wasting my time.

Tanks

Remember you are the most important player in the instance. Without you, the other guys could not run. This means that you should (a) focus on keeping yourself alive at all costs and (b) make very certain that everybody else does exactly what you tell them.

Remember that healers are voice activated. They only heal you when you tell them to. Remember also that if your health bar never drops below 90% this has nothing to do with the guy in the robe, and everything to do with your *awesome tanking skills*.

Make sure you have recount installed. After all damage == threat, so you have to make certain that you're doing as much DPS as possible. It's also important to encourage your DPS to do their best by telling them that their DPS is shit compared to yours.

Remember that if somebody else gets attacked, that's a good thing. Your primary job is to stay alive, and if the mobs are attacking other people, it means you're doing your job better.

DPS

Don't install Recount. Somebody else will have it, so make sure you ask them to link it at every opportunity.

Remember that your job is to do as much damage as possible, as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is to AoE as much of the room as you can.

Remember that you are competing with the tank. It's up to them to hold aggro, it's up to you to try to take it off them. This will show how truly imba your DPS is. If you have taunts, use them.

If you're wearing plate or mail, you can survive being attacked, so off-tank (again, remember to Taunt!). It's a proven fact that having two targets to heal makes healing much more efficient.

Remember what gear is good for your class. To my fellow Death Knights, remember that we can wear any kind of armour - sure we don't need the Mp5, but Spellpower boosts a number of our most important abilities, so don't be afraid to Need on cloth.

If you use a pet, make sure they're on aggressive, otherwise they might stop attacking, causing you to lose DPS.

Remember, if you wipe, it's because the healer sucks.

Healers

Remember, healing is easy. You don't need to break for mana. You certainly don't need to shift out of Shadowform. Your job is to heal "when needed".

Remember that Death Knights and Paladins have the ability to heal themselves. This means they need even less healing than Warriors.

Don't forget to install Recount (you'll need it when the DPS ask you to link it). Remember the key to good healing is to pump out as much damage as possible while having as few deaths as you can reasonably manage.

If you pull aggro, run AWAY from the tank as fast as possible.

If things are going well, shift to DPSing full time. They don't need the heals anwyay.

If things are going badly, shift to DPSing full time. They need the extra damage.

Follow these simple rules, and you'll soon be Instancing Like a Dick with the best of them!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Self Unbalancing Gameplay

Ages ago, blogger and one-hit-webcomic-wonder Shamus Young wrote about an idea he called "Self-Balancing Gameplay". The idea of this was that in any "RPG" style game, the fact that your character gained experience and equipment, allowing you to become more powerful and better at killing things effectively allowed players to choose their own difficulty setting. A hardcore powergamer will blitz through the start of the game until they get to the area where the monsters are tough enough to challenge them, while a meandering casual will dither around grinding rabbits until they're tough enough to take on the big bad world.

It's a decent enough theory, but it falls down in practice because gamers don't actually think that way. In practice the hardcore powergamers will squeeze every last drop of loot and experience out of the starting area, before going on to do the same for the next area, and the next, and the next. The power-gamer will, at every stage, make things easier on himself by optimising his use of resources. The casual gamer, on the other hand, will get bored of killing goblins after five minutes and see what's over the next hill, at which point they will get their face chewed off by Enraged Goblins and Goblin Savages.

It leads to a peculiar paradox: hardcore players do things the easy way, casual players do things the hard way.

Never is this more evident than in WoW.

Read any WoW levelling guide and it will say the same things: avoid instances unless you've got a regular group, do the green quests because they'll go much faster and net you nearly as much XP.

This was not how I levelled any of my characters (which might explain why my DK - my highest level toon by a long way - is only level 78). By the time the quests I have left in a location have gone green, I am *bored* with that location. I want to go and see the next bit. So I'll always be doing yellow or orange quests, for which I will be low level and undergeared, while the serious players blitz through the content having a much, much easier time of it. My first PC (on a now-deleted account) was a Forsaken rogue who spent *forever* getting slaughtered in the Tirisfal pumpkin patch at level four, because I couldn't be arsed to scour Deathknell for leftover supplies, and wanted to take the filthy living down a peg or two.

This is also the reason that balancing endgame is so impossible. A common complaint amongst serious raiders is that you can stumble into Naxx in quest greens, and still have a chance of beating the place.

The perception of endgame is that there are two camps of players: the "hardcore" players, who want a serious challenge that takes time and effort (0r "have no lives" according to the casuals) and the "casual" players who just want to see cool content (or "get free epics" according to the hardcores).

I can't speak for the Hardcores. I'm not one by any stretch of the imagination. I can't speak for casuals either, because we're a varied bunch. I can talk for myself, and this is what I'll say:

I want a challenge. I want a dungeon that requires everybody involved to pay attention, use their abilities sensibly, and have a strategy. I want to use CC and interrupts and kill the healers first, instead of just AoEing everything into the ground.

On the other hand, I don't want to have to run the same dungeon ten times just so I can get the right gear to do the next bit of content. I want to be able to go into Naxx in quest greens, because I want my ability to succeed at the game to be based on how well I play the game, not on whether the RNG gave me the right loot on my last dungeon run.

But of course, if a dungeon or raid is tuned so it's a challenge for me, it's going to be trivial for "hardcore" players, who will have optimised at every stage, and wouldn't dream of going into a new area with anything less than the best gear available from the old one.

The problem is exascerbated by the fact that the standard reward model in RPGs is loot which makes your character more powerful which, in turn, makes the game easier. This pretty much inverts Young's idea of "Self-Balancing Gameplay" and turns it into Self-Unbalancing Gameplay. More "serious" players will not only tend to play with greater skill but they will *also* have better stuff - meaning that the "Self-Balancing" mechanism of gearing actually starts to work the other way.

Blizzard's response to this is to add "hard modes" to their instances, but this isn't a solution either, because hardcore players won't just do the hard modes, they'll do the easy modes, then the heroics, then the normal hard modes then the heroic hard modes, moving step by step up the gear ladder so they never face a proper challenge because doing it any other way to a "hardcore" player would be completely illogical (unless you were racing for a world first, which some people did, only to find their achievements were removed because they did it "wrong").

If it was just a question of "people who want it easy" versus "people who want a challenge" the whole thing would be straightforward - you have two dungeon settings, one noticably more difficult than the other. The problem is that what you actually have is two sets of people, both of whom want a challenge, but who are willing to do vastly different levels of preparation before facing that challenge.

Anyway, I need to finish the last couple of levels to 80, so I can blunder into Naxx in my quest greens...

Saturday, 2 May 2009

That Noblegarden Thing

So I've just come out of wow-blog retirement to post a couple of comments elsewhere about the whole "Shake your bunny-maker" issue. This post, if you're interested.

To be honest, there's a lot about WoW that makes me uncomfortable. Savage cannibalistic trolls that talk like stereotypical black men, for example, sit right on the borderline of "not okay" for me. "Shake Your Bunny-Maker" was another one of those elements - the fact that the achievement specifically singled out female characters made me a bit uncomfortable. WoW is usually quite good at not gender-restricting things (you can get the "Blushing Bride" achievement by kissing anybody in a dress, male or female) and this seemed like an unfortunate decision.

What really upsets me, though, is the community reaction.

Some samples:

This sort of hippie feminist crap just isn't taken seriously anymore and certainly shouldn't be.


Of course I imagine if it was male characters 18+ no one would care (despite the existence of the Playgirl magazine) and no one would get to cry Sexism! Yay for the double standard.


As a male player I think it is sexist because it is not focusing on male characters. Come on, seriously this sexist/racist crap is being taken way to far.


Anyone who dwells in the sociological implication of two lines of text and five minutes searching around Dalaran is an idiot, pure and simple.


True equality is the day when anyone can make any joke towards anybody and nobody will care or take it seriously


You know what, short of violence and affecting choices, I don't understand what makes people get up in arms so much over racism/sexism etc ... If someone attacks someone as an act of discriminatory violence, I'll be the first to act, but short of that, suck it up.


Instead of trying to change the world for your daughter.. u should quit this game and get a job and take care of her.


Now a days people take things too serious and sap the fun out of harmless things for the population as a whole


I don't mean to diminish the cause of equality for women, but debates like this one do that all on their own.


And so on ad nauseam.

Ironically, the author of the post from which all of these comments were taken makes the comment on her own blog that "gamer guys don't tend to be mysogonistic". I wonder if she said that before or after a bunch of gamer guys jumped all over her for raising the *possibility* that something in a video game might be sexist. She gets a lot of support on her personal blog, but it's mostly from people praising her for having the "good sense" not to be personally offended by something. For example:

I would just like to say that this blog post is, perhaps, one of the most intelligent and rational things I have ever had the pleasure of reading. At the risk of sounding sexist (oh noes!), I have met only a handful of women who possess the requisite intelligence and (and this is an important 'and') rational character to agree with your reasoning


Dear Internet:

Sexism is a fantastically complicated issue. So is racism for that matter. Just because you don't think you're sexist, that doesn't mean you are not, in fact, sexist. The fact that you are married, or have a girlfriend, or a mother does not mean you are not sexist. Not even being a woman makes you immune to sexism - sexist ideas and attitudes are universal. That's. Why. They. Are. Bad.

A lot of people genuinely don't understand why other people were offended by the achievement. A WoW blog is a slightly weird place to be talking about the ideas of privilege but that's what we're dealing with here. The reason Mr "This racist crap has gone too far" and Mr "At the risk of sounding sexist" don't understand why people were offended by the SYBM achievement is because the issues that led to people finding them offensive are outside their experience.

As a man, I have spent my entire life having people tell me and - more importantly - show me that I can do anything I want. I could be a doctor or a lawyer or a bestselling fantasy novelist, I could be a game developer or if I really wanted to be, the pope. As a geek, I can also live a rich fantasy life in which I am a knight or a sorcerer, or the warcheif of the Horde.

Women don't get this. Yes little girls get the same "be all you can be" speeches at school, but there isn't the same follow through. Girls are still taught that their primary function is decorative, that while they *can* grow up to be doctors and lawyers and writers, it's important that they do it while looking sexy. Girls of the geeky persuasion find their fantasy lives similarly curtailed - in fantasy as in reality a woman's function is to look hot, not to be powerful or influential or effective. Geek girls are stuck playing the sidekicks in men's fantasies, not living their own.

Look at WoW Lore. Arthas Menethil, Thrall, Varian Wrynn, Tirion Fordring, Kaelthas Sunstrider, King Ymiron, Kel'Thuzad, Gul'dan, Illidian Stormrage, Edwin - blooming - Van'Cleef. Pick an archetype: the noble hero, the wise leader, the batshit-insane leader, the cunning rogue, or the arrogant, duplicitous bastard, there's a male character doing it. When it comes to women - well there's Jaina Proudmoore, Sylvanas Windrunner and ... that's it really unless you count Princess Theradras. And Jaina's main defining feature is being romantically linked to a bunch of male characters, while Sylvanas was recently shown to be incapable of realising that demons are not always trustworthy.

In WoW, like in most fantasy, like in life, the default assumption is that anything useful that needs doing, anything pro-active is done by men, and that the job of women is to stand on the sidelines cheering them on, preferably while wearing as little as possible. The reason that some people were so upset by Shake Your Bunny Maker was not because it was grossly offensive by itself, but because it was yet another symptom of a world where women are just expected to stand there and look pretty.

(this post is a response to:)

Cosmic Geek: My actual opinion on Shake your Bunny-Maker