Tag Archives: geekgirlcon2011

GeekGirlCon: No, I am not a Booth Babe

The ladies of Crabcat Industries: Elizabeth, Hilary, and Jessica.

All right, kids! After a fall quarter from hell and surviving an over-booked-but-fun holiday adventure I am finally writing up my thoughts on the GeekGirlCon panel titled, “No, I am not a Booth Babe: Sexism in the Video Game Industry” featuring the ladies of CrabCat Industries–Elizabeth Heckmaier, Jessica Merizan, and Hilary Shapiro. The original plan for this post was to rave about how awesome Jessica Merizan is, but frankly, with over three months between now and the con, I can’t remember exactly why I wrote “I love this woman” in my notes from the panel. So, instead of a straight up review, I will liberally interpret what my notes say to weave my own narrative on the topics discussed during the panel.

Representations of Females in Games
It is apparent to anyone who has been exposed to gaming culture that ladies in games are often only eye candy or objects to be rescued and, even if they are plot-relevant characters, they tend to be overly-sexualized and scantily clad. As Merizan pointed out during the panel, the door does swing both ways in some respects.

“How often to the guys look like the characters they are playing?” she asked. While I agree with her on that point, I would add that just because both sexes are subjected to this sort of idealized representation in games it does not follow that it is therefore acceptable. Indeed, I would argue that females have it worse in many respects (the second result on google for “female video game characters” lists 25 of the hottest ones). The most obvious example is how females are clothed or, perhaps more accurately, how often they simply aren’t clothed.

I’m sure we are all familiar with the tendency for female characters to wear “armor” which often fails to cover fairly large portions of vital bits–particularly around the abdomen. In fact, in games such as World of Warcraft it is often joked that the less skin the armor covers the more protective it is–this is due to the plate and mail armor sets in the game often more closely resembling a chainmail bikini whereas the cloth armor tends take the form of more conservative robes (with some famous exceptions, of course). This isn’t to say that there is an objection to ladies wearing revealing outfits in general, but rather that women routinely going into battle wearing a chainmail bikini is insulting. Why is it that females simply aren’t dressed for the job?

The original is forgivable for sake of the "big reveal" with awful graphics, but come on.

Samus Aran pictures from the end of the Metroid games.

As Shapiro pointed out during the panel, we are thankfully seeing a trend of more appropriately dressed ladies in video games. Of note are Aveline from Dragon Age II and, my personal favorite, Shepard (or “FemShep”) from the Mass Effect series. I am hoping this trend continues and that other appropriately dressed characters such as Samus Aran from Metroid (who originally was considered a breakthrough with respect to women in games) will no longer be reduced to posing in pin-up style pictures of increasing states of undress offered as a reward to the player for higher percentage of game completion.

That being said, I have no problem with ladies posing as pin ups or with ladies wearing chainmail bikinis–it just shouldn’t be women’s only accepted role in the community.

Authenticity: There ARE Girls on the Internet, Assholes
“Authenticity shouldn’t be an issue anymore,” said Heckmaier. I believe she was referring to how women are often seen as somehow being posers or not “real” gamers unless proven otherwise. I believe this goes hand-in-hand with other stereotypes of girl gamers–they’re not good at games, if you admit to being a girl it is because you want free stuff from guys, you’re probably 800 pounds and ugly (attractive girls don’t play video games, of course), and the list goes on and on. I remember being very cautious and even ashamed about admitting my gender on MMORPGs because of encountering these exact stereotypes myself. While in a group, if I simply corrected someone for using the wrong pronoun I would either be accused of being an attention whore or I would be hit on. I once had a PVP group of mostly males and people made statements that the only reason I was allowed in the group was because I must have been sleeping with the person running it.

I’ve even been on receiving end of well-meaning sexist comments too–two friends of mine once commented on how girls were not any good at PVP. One of the friends countered with the fact that they knew ONE girl who was good at it–me. How flattering.

Rule 30: There are no girls on the internet. Recently, a friend joked that I put his manliness to shame while playing Guitar Hero because I can play guitar on expert and he can only play on medium. While more subtle, these comments are still troubling because they reflect the pervasive underlying assumption that girls are bad at games.

Hey, guess what? Girls are good at video games. In fact, there are girls who are better at video games than guys are. I used to be flattered every time someone reacted with, “Wow! You’re beating me at this game and you’re a GIRL!” Not anymore. I just find it insulting. I am not some sort of god damn anomaly just because I have a vagina.

This trend goes both ways, though. For every sexist comment from a male I’ve gotten (“I didn’t want to talk to you at first because you are pretty and therefore I assumed you were stupid”) I’ve gotten something just as awful from a female perpetuating the same nonsense. For example, I once went shopping for a hair dryer. I was then berated by a friend of mine because she “know[s] the types of girls who own hair dryers” and I clearly was wrong to venture into the “pretty girl” camp from her “smart girl” camp. As Merizan also pointed out, girls commonly get disapproving comments for wearing make-up as well–it seems to me that no matter what you do to your appearance, there is always something wrong with it.

This pretty girl vs. smart girl dichotomy has got to stop. We are human beings. We can be and often are both of these (and many more) things. We fall within a bell curve like most of the rest of the population. We shouldn’t be shunned by our nerd peers for wanting to wear make up, dresses, or do our hair. Women do not do these things for the attention of men. We do them because we want to do them. Also, just because a girl doesn’t somehow meet your standards of attractiveness doesn’t mean you can dismiss her, either.

It seems to me that the current state of gender issues in the video game industry, much like the current state of feminism in general, is a matter of personhood and a battle against pervasive, destructive stereotypes–for both genders. For goodness sake, do an image search for “girl gamers” and look at what comes up. I dare you to tell me this isn’t a huge problem.


Geek Girl Con: General Con Report

I can’t say enough good things about the first annual Geek Girl Con that was held earlier this month in Seattle. We’ll be continuing our panel coverage as Autumn and I find time to do write ups, but I wanted to do a general con report too.

I found this convention while searching for nerdy things happening in the Seattle area, where I live. I got super excited and ordered a ticket immediately. It’s a decision I don’t regret. Getting to the con was super easy since all I had to do walk down the hill from my apartment. They’ll probably change locations next year and get a larger space (I overheard this so don’t take it as fact) but as long as it remains a hometown con, I will go every year and offer my couch to other geek girls who want to travel and crash and attend the con. (Rachael from Glass of Win has first dibs.)

Overall, I’d say Geek Girl Con was a smashing success.

The Con Was Organized by Meticulous OCD Ninjas

Or at least it felt that way, given how smoothly and cleanly everything went. Panels rarely went over (volunteers stepped in, gave a 5 minute warning, and then kicked the panel out). When the line for the Steampunk panel grew so long it circled around the hall, the Con Ninjas quickly stepped in to smoothly move it to the larger room and switch it with the smaller panel. It was awesome and painless and the panel still started on time.

I’ve been to cons that were 10 years old and less organized (hello, Anime Expo). How they managed this for a first year, first time thing is nothing less than miraculous. I applaud the Geek Girl Con staff and volunteers for doing such a tremendous job.

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Geek Girl Con Panels: Batgirls! (Or, Women in Comics)

Batgirl, in person

If you haven’t heard of Kyrax2, aka San Diego’s Batgirl, here’s the deal: She’s a fan of comics. This year at San Diego Comic Con, Kyrax2 went to many of the DC panels and asked questions about the lack of women both in the comics and on the panels themselves. This got various responses although she was booed at least once. Thus, at Geek Girl Con, she hosted a panel, along with DC Comics Writer Gail Simone, to address these issues and discuss the state of women in comics.

Kyrax opened by talking a little about Comic Con and her questions to DC. She was told DC wants to hire female writers, but none are applying, and no one would say how to get into it. She asked Gail Simone how to get started in writing comics.

Simone’s answer was the standard (but true) axiom: if you want to be a writer, you need to write. Start a blog or a web comic. Give it a schedule and update it regularly. This shows you can keep a schedule. And it gives you something to point to if people ask to see your work. If you want more female characters, create them.

Kyrax expanded her thought and added, “I don’t think all female characters need to be strong.”

Simone agreed, adding that there are different types of strong. Strong doesn’t mean “bad ass.” She stated that “we don’t need all female characters to be Wonder Woman. Feminisim is about choice.” What the comic book industry needs is a variety of realistic lady characters.

Kyrax thinks that “a strong woman is a lady in control of her circumstances.” Simone added that even if she isn’t, it’s the ability or desire of a character to take control of her circumstances.

An audience member asked Simone how, with a serial story that comes out in small parts, does a writer portray someone in control when the story opens with things wildly out of it? Simone answered it’s about trusting the writer to take it somewhere good. Her objection to many females in comics is that they fall into the common trope of existing solely to be the victim, so the man can go and avenge her. As a community, especially people who want to write or draw comics, Simone said we need to create more stories with different types of strength, so the woman isn’t constantly forced into the damsel role.

Simone has always been a big fan of Lois Lane. She’s not physically strong, but she’s a kick ass no-nonsense reporter who’s great at her job. Around the office, people tell Clark Kent to “be more like Lois.”

Kyrax mentions her entry point into fandom was Sailor Moon, which features not one but ten different female sailor senshi, all of whom have different personalities and strengths and weaknesses, so everyone can find someone to relate to. And that’s what a lot of geek girls want: a variety of women characters. Simone agrees, adding that the industry still needs to learn that just because you’re female, doesn’t mean you’re part of a hive mind.

Simone’s advice to help that happen (and it is happening; she cites the existence of Geek Girl Con as a prime example) is to get your voice out there. Comment on things you like as well as things you don’t, rather than just the negative. Vote with your dollars for comics you enjoy. Start blogs, visit forums, go to conventions, and join the conversation.

Geek Girl Con Panels: Steampunk!

This panel was so popular, they actually had to switch rooms and put it in the larger space. The line wrapped all the way around the hallway. Steampunk is gaining popularity.

Our lovely panelists: Clarie Hummel, Belle Holder, Ericka Johnson, and Cherie Priest

Claire Hummel is a concept artist for Xbox and works for SteamCon. Belle Holder is a Steampunk enthusiast and buys lots of clothes. Ericka Johnson is steampunk – she works with the Seattle SteamRats and does work for SteamCon as well. Cherie Priest says that “whenever someone tells me they read my book, they mean Boneshaker,” which of course is the first in her steampunk Clockwork Century series.

So what is Steampunk? Priest has a standard definition that she uses because it’s something her grandparents can understand: Steampunk is a style that draws its inspiration from the 19th Century technology and is a form of retroactive futurism. Holder says it’s as if DaVinci and Jules Verne had gotten to know each other. It’s an alternative history that relies on crafted technology.

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Geek Girl Con Panels: Young Adult Authors

Geek Girl Con is a brand new annual convention (it will return next year!) that was created to celebrate the lady geek in all its forms. They had panels for everyone who’s even a little bit geeky. I’m a book geek so I flocked to the author panels. Young adult books are increasingly taking up space in bookstore, libraries, and bookshelves. It’s a category of book that didn’t really exist in the same way it does now, in a post-Harry Potter post-Twilight world, and it’s exploded.

Our Panel Experts: Hope Larson, Nancy Holder

Scott Westerfeld, Pheobe Kitanidis

Hope Larson writes and illustrates graphic novels for young adults. Nancy Holder cowrites the Wicked series of young adult novels, and has worked on Buffy and Angel books. Scott Westerfeld is the author of the Uglies series and the recent Leviathan series. Phoebe Kitanidis has authored two YA novels, Whisper and Glimmer.

The panel opened with a discussion about how YA has changed since Holder entered the business. She says it’s inverted now. Young adults used to read adult novels, and now adults read YA. When she first starting writing for the Buffy line, the YA sales were so bad that line was dropped, which would never happen today.

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