Monday, April 30, 2007


The Heroine Next Door is discussing realism in roleplaying games:
Meanwhile, in Gaming Group Two, we're playing a game set in South America in the 1970s. Again, not the most egalitarian society in terms of women's rights. Needless to say I'm the only female player (and character). Am I surprised that the non-player characters harrass and try to flirt with my character, no, not really. Does it have to be mentioned all the time? No. Does it have to happen every scene? No. Would it kill the GM to just lay off? Okay, we get it, the NPCs ignore what I say because I'm female, and only pay attention to me when they want to flirt. Listen, we're playing a game, folks, make believe: can't we make believe that I'm being treated with a bit of respect, can't we stop dwelling on all the sexist crap and treat me like a human, here?

Really, that's what it is about, respect and being treated like a human. In either group, these guys show up to a session and they sit down and have fun gaming. When they leave, they never feel like they've been belitted or lessened because of who they are. They never get made uncomfortable for being male, they never sit there feeling like a hunk of meat, and they never have to even worry about being put in a situation that would make them feel sexually harrassed (I mean, except for Deliverance-type situations, I suppose. But, funny enough, those never seem to arrive). Meanwhile, because I'm female, situations arise all the time that make me uncomfortable.
Its easy to see where this applies to video games and anything set in a fantasy or historical setting.

Of course, she gets me thinking about comic books (lint gets me thinking about comic books). People tend to pull out the "realism" defense when discussing violence, especially rape, in comic book stories. "We want to deal with realistic issues," they say.

My response to that is if they really wish to draw attention to the problem of sexual assault and do some good about it, try volunteering, fundraising, or writing a check to RAINN or Men Can Stop Rape. Stick to these rules when it comes to your writing. Because thus far the major comic book companies have managed to flummox at least 99% of the depictions, and those flummoxed depictions are becoming more common nowadays than radiation was in the Silver Age.

They're talking about bringing realism to worlds where characters fly, throw cars across the street, travel to other planets. We're obviously up for a little escape from the most hellish aspects of human existence here. Realism is no good reason to put any part of the plot in.

Funny though, how the weirdness of superpowers is often brought up to support the persistence of dreadful sexist art in superhero comics, at the same time realism is cited to defend the use of rape as a plot point. Now, the same people aren't always using both arguments, but its a fascinating tendency of comics companies to use both in their own defense.

Looks like realism is okay, so long as it alienates women. And it looks like fantasy is okay, so long as it alienates women. I can see the ground rules are being adhered to.

Time to change them.


  1. Hot women doing cool shit: that's really all I look for in comic books. A pity so few meet my definition of "cool."

    Being victims is not cool; ergo, rape, murder, abuse, etc. are not cool. Being the token girlfriend or female team member is not cool. Porn faces and exaggerated poses are not cool, though sometimes they're hysterical. Sexy outfits can be cool, but only if they make sense for the character. [Just once I want to see someone ask Power Girl why she wears that costume and have her say, "Because I'm nigh-invulnerable and I look fantastic in it."]

    Whereas punching gorillas off waterfalls? Pretty much the definition of "cool."

    [Oh, lighten up, PETA people: you just know that gorilla was up to no good.]

    I get enough "realism" from the newspaper; I don't need it in my comic books, too.


  2. Nice analysis of the manipulation of "realism." It's pretty telling when the selective use of realism results in lots of women being exposed or made vulnerable, and lots of men being portrayed as powerful.

  3. Women's anatomy can be drawn however you want: this is comics, no one wants realism! However, violent sexual assaults are not just okay, they're required, because otherwise you'd be sacrificing realism. And that's when the terrorists win.

  4. Thanks for linking my article. :)
    I'm glad I'm not the only one mind-boggled by the obession with realism-as-it-serves-sexism.

    (And, as a tangent, it's interesting how much media out there actually isn't realistic, even sitcoms and reality shows. We're a much more escapist culture than we like to admit.)