One couple, two perspectives, tons of geekery

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gaming by Gaslight: Misogyny in Geek Culture

I realize that this blog has been dead for quite some time, and both the Warlock and I apologize for that. With our hectic schedules, our posts are few and far between. I was not planning on writing an article any time soon, to be honest. However, after a recent discussion on a fan site got my hackles up, I have been inspired to write this article.
It started with a simple wish I verbalized. On a favorite fan site of mine, a video game preview was posted. It was a game I was looking forward. One which was based on one of my fandoms. After seeing that neither of the two PCs were female, I made a comment lamenting about this and how the video game industry often glazes over the female population of gamers. In the source material from which the video game is drawn from, there are an abundance of interesting, multi-faceted female leads that play huge roles in the story. As such I was surprised and saddened that they game designers choose to have their two male PCs both be male. What came next was an even greater shock.

My comment was responded to by another poster saying I was “very unreasonable” for having that reaction. That I “can’t demand that all games with more than [one] protagonist has an equal amount of male and female characters” and that surely I “must see how unreasonable this is”. This was perhaps one of the biggest and most overt sexist comments I have ever been targeted by in my geek community. I was caught completely off-guard by it. Here I am, a geek trying to reach out and bond with my fellow fans (in a community that surely has similarly felt bullied and ostracized from the rest of the population) only to be told that my opinion was irrelevant, invalid and “unreasonable”.  Talk about a slap in the face! I half expected to be told to go back to the kitchen.

At first, I felt stupid. I began to question myself - Was my opinion really that unreasonable? Then I paused and sat back, looking over my request in context to the game and the source material. No. I wasn’t being unreasonable. The fandom has a large portion of female fans and the canon has a large portion of lead female characters. My request was not without reason. It was rational and valid. And here someone was in my own community trying to make me invalidate my own opinion. My own perception. My own reality. I had just been gaslighted.

The term gaslighting was coined from the play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton in which the husband of the main character starts to subtly alter his wife’s environment in order to make her go crazy. Included in these tactics, he dims the gas lights in their home and when she mentions it, denies her perception to make her question herself and her reality. The term is now used as a psychological abuse tactic that the aggressor uses against another to make them question themselves. It makes the victim question themselves and their beliefs. To quote an article found here, “Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction—whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness—in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren’t rational or normal.” This tactic, while it can be found in any relationship, is frequently used by misogynists against women. It is something I never expected to encounter in my own community; a community that I had once thought to be liberal, forward thinking and embracing of people with all backgrounds.

This, of course, spurred an intense discussion among the online community and my friends about sexism in geek culture, specifically related to the video game and comic book industries. Something which was pointed out by a few people, was that females are much more willing to play male characters without complaint while it is not true of the flip side. As such, the industry choses to cater to male audience over female audiences and develops and markets games accordingly. The same can be found in literature. In a writer conference I attended, it was discussed that children’s writers tended to choose male protagonists because females are more willing to read stories with both male and female leads while males tend to read more stories with male protagonists. As a result, we frequently find fewer female characters represented.

In the video game and comic book industry, when we do see female characters we often see them portrayed as objectified and hyper-sexualized as love interests or trophies. Is it any wonder that a number of women don’t want to join in? Can you see how uncomfortable that makes ladies out there?

Granted we are seeing more and more examples of stronger and more developed female characters in the market. And that’s great, but I see potential for more.

A friend of mine countered me by asking if I felt that these industries are the cause of sexism in the population, and if so, isn’t that essentially the same as saying that violent video games cause violent behavior? No, it is not the industry’s responsibility. The industry is one that caters to fantasy, sure. However, I think we as individuals should strive to each act in a socially responsible manner. That starts with how we treat one another and continues with what we choose to support. For example, I do not buy video games which portray women in such ways. I vote with my wallet. I do not believe in censorship, but I will not support misogyny.

And so my fellow fanboys and fangirls, geeks and gamers, all I ask is to please be mindful. Please be aware of your behavior. Of what you say and do to others. Of what you are supporting. This goes both ways – males and females alike. Let’s not isolate one another by attempting to invalidate each other’s opinions and perceptions in such abusive an abusive manner. Many of us are considered outcasts and deviants enough already. Do we really need further segregation? Is sexism something we, as a community, want to continue to support?  I urge each of you out there to be aware and behave in a socially conscious manner.

As one poster followed up, the ESA reports that 42% of the gamer population is made up of females. While the majority of gamers are still male, 42% is a rather large chunk. We are almost half of the population! Shouldn’t we deserve equal representation? I think so and I fail to see how asking for it is unreasonable.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Princess's Garden: Cosplay vs. Lolita

Costume or Fashion - Some can't tell the difference

A friend recently sent me a flyer for a cosplay event featuring a lolita theme, because she knows of my interest in lolita fashion and also my previous history of cosplay. A month ago, another friend pointed out a group of maid cosplayers dancing on stage at a local event saying, “Oh hey look at the lolitas”. I’ve heard other stories about lolitas at events in which cosplayers swarmed them and tried to start discussing anime with them. It struck me how people outside of these two subcultures often lump these subcultures together. What’s more amazing to me is how people within these communities sometimes try to group them together when they are two totally different geekdoms.

For reference, cosplay stands for “costume play”. It is a subculture revolving around making and wearing costume replicas of various fandoms, popularly associated with anime and manga.  Lolita on the other hand is, to quote LolitaFashion.org, a Japanese street fashion inspired primarily by the clothing and general aesthetics of the Rococo and Victorian periods”.

The key words here are “costume” and “fashion”. While both subcultures revolve around clothing and originated in Japan, cosplay deals with costumes and lolita fashion about actual day-to-day wearable clothing. For cosplayers, the interest is focused on the fandom they are portraying and for lolitas, the interest is in a specific style of fashion. The dynamic divide which exists between these two groups has generated two emerging stereotypes – the annoying cosplayer and the bitchy lolita.

On the cosplayers side, they look to the lolitas and see girls (and boys, mind you) dressed in Japanese street fashion. They can relate to them – they both have a love of something originating from the same place and they aren’t afraid to go out in public dressed differently. And hey, even some of their favorite anime characters dress like that too!  It’s easy for the cosplayer to assume that they must share similar interests, hobbies, and fandoms (usually anime). However, sometimes the response is a rude rejection – a few terse words and a verbal slap to the face for daring to group the two together.

On the other side, here the lolita is dressing up day to day in her fashion of choice. Lolita fashion is her wardrobe. She endures society’s constant critical eye watching her with people taking her fashion as a joke. Society tries to tell her that what she is wearing is a costume and not a true fashion, a misconnection she continuously tries to clear up. And then she has to watch as all the hard work she’s done to get her fashion taken seriously be thrown out the window by a costume based subculture trying to bring them under the same banner.

For the cosplayer, she has only extended an olive branch of friendship as a way of banning together as fellow geeks and doesn’t understand the rejection. For the lolita, she is upset that assumptions are being made about her based solely on her clothes. And like the cosplayers who may make the assumptions that lolitas must like anime too, there are lolitas who make the assumption that cosplayers don’t understand the distinct differences between their two subcultures.  Obviously not all cosplayers and lolitas are the same. In fact, there are plenty who engage in both subcultures. But as a person who dresses in lolita fashion and who has once been involved in the cosplay community, I personally wish people would distinguish between the two subcultures. However, I think this can be done without getting flustered and rude about making the distinction. I think this needs to be something both subcultures work on – the cosplayers shouldn’t leap to assumptions that all lolitas share the same interests as them and the lolitas need not react in such a negative way if and when those assumptions are made.

Speaking from a lolitas point of view, I think it’s in the best interest of my fellow rufflebutts to keep calm and be polite when they are faced with this sort of assumption whether it’s from a cosplayer or someone outside of both subcultures. Yes, we do want our street style to be recognized as a legitimate fashion and not a costume. But snapping at others and making rude comments doesn’t help us look any better. We do not need our reputation to be one of elitism or rudeness. The best way to handle this situation is to calmly explain the differences between the two groups, educating them without chastising them for not being able to tell the difference. Because you know what? For many people not familiar with these groups, they look the same – they see a bunch of girls dressed in colorful and unusual clothing that looks reminiscent of something they might see in a cartoon. A girl dressed as Sakura Kinomoto might look the same as a girl wearing an Angelic Pretty dress. Don’t beret them for it. Simply educate them as politely as possible. And if a hyperactive cosplayer comes over and wants to discuss anime with you and anime isn’t your thing, again – be polite. It’s not hard just to smile and explain that you aren’t familiar with their interests. Either they will go away or you will find a common ground and maybe make a new friend. There’s no need to be condescending. We’re all geeks. We’re all different. No one hobby or interest is better than another. And at the end of the day, we all deserve to be accepted, by our fellow geeks more than anyone else.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guest Post on Stuffer Shack

The Princess had the great honor of guest writing an article for Stuffer Shack.
If you don't already subscribe to Stuffer Shack - you should! It's a wonderful blog full of a variety of articles covering many subjects in gaming. It's a great resource and a fun read.
Pop on over and check out The Princess's article "How to Handle Touchy Subject in Your Game".

New Poll

For our previous poll "What generalized class type do you prefer?", 52% of you sneaky folks went with rogues. Guess we need to watch our pockets around you guys, hm?

A new poll is now up. With all the comic book movies just around the corner, we want to know which one you are the most excited about seeing. Let us know!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Warlock's Tower: Betraying the Party

The poor stegosaurus learns the hard way - Guess he didn't watch The Land Before Time like we did

Sadly my reputation is such that I can no longer afford to use this tactic….but no matter - I have other ways of getting what I want.  However, that doesn’t mean it still can’t be of use to you.  In fact I recommend it as a great way of cutting your teeth on the road to becoming a master warlock!
Maybe it was your character concept, maybe the GM asked you to do it, maybe you were just following my footsteps….but however it happened you’re playing a traitor.  While this type of gaming can be a lot of fun, you also need to walk the fine line of not ruining the game for everyone else.  Always double check with the Game Master before making up a traitor character, and try to get a feel of what type of game you are playing, to make sure that a traitor is appropriate.  Once that is set, here are some quick and easy rules to get you to the top of your game, and help you get away with that perfect crime.
Rule 1:  Don’t tell anybody.  This may seem obvious, but it’s the main way things like this slip out.  When I say don’t tell anyone that means in game or out of game.  Remember loose lips sink ships.  Don’t brag about it to your friend, don’t tell that guy that isn’t even in the plot.  If they are in the game, or have a chance to be in the game or talk to other people in the game, don’t tell them.  All it takes is an innocent slip of the tongue and your secret is out, and you get jumped and that’s probably it.  It’s easy to get excited and want to brag about how good you are doing, but even I once told a group of people at a dinner I was a secretly a Black Spiral Dancer, cause we were telling war stories, and were all clearly out of character and next game….Bam, I get jumped by a Werewolf pack….who all heard “In character” from the people I was talking to that I was a BSD.  Sadly I was more than a little prepared, and the werewolves simply hastened the fall of their caern, BUT I was kicking myself the whole time and felt like such an idiot for making such an amateur mistake, and if the players had been thinking instead of just using brute force my plans could have easily all been ruined. 
Rule 2:  Play your character.  That is make sure you are playing all your quirks, and you know have your motivations down.  This is so important for the traitor.  Now we have talked before about being consistency as the key to being a great Villain (If you don’t remember see the previous Warlock Tower article) It’s just as true if not more so for the traitor.  First, it’s fair to the other players.  It’s always nice when they can pick up on something and feel good about themselves for.  Back to the Black Spiral Dancer example his first two infiltration attempts didn’t go so well.  The first one…well that wasn’t my fault… but the second one a player picked up on a phrase I had been using from the last disguise.  It was a great scene, and even though it blew my cover it was a lot of fun to see other people figure it out.  The next reason it’s important is because it can be scary.  When a player hears their friend singing the song the murderer always sings, or when they see that tattoo on you that the rest of the cultists have, it makes for a great and stunning reveal.  And the last reason is the Kaiser Soze reveal.  If you do manage to pull off everything and get away with it, and bring down the party/game/whatever, then you want the players so busy thinking back and being like “Oh Yeah….but wait….OHHH….what about when…it all makes sense now.”  Not only is it the crowning achievement for most master minds, but if done right the other players won’t be too mad t you!   
Rule 3: Leave yourself an out.  Both in and out of character.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and the Game Master changes his mind, sometimes things start to go south, and it’s apparent the other players would not like the plot.  And sometimes they figure things out way too fast.  For in character reasons to go back to the light side think of some things that would make sense and either allow you to keep playing the character or allow you not to betray them.  You could be planning on betraying them but then fell in love with one of the other PCs, you could be moved by their kindness during the adventures, or my personal favorite you could be a deep cover triple agent, and then tell the players some needed facts about the enemy to get into their good graces again.  Just make sure you have something plausible in case you or the Game Master changes their mind.  Also always have an escape plan in character because you never know what will tip another player off.  Smoke bombs/invisibility/teleport/the car keys/ a hostage anything you can use to make a good get away.  If you don’t have one (or the players can negate what you do have) it’s OK.  Just bluff that you have one.  You should know at least a little about the other characters by now so pretend you have a hostage, or that the folder you threw into the fire has all the answers, then use the distraction to get away.   Just have a good story already thought up if you think plan A won’t work.    

Monday, May 9, 2011

Princess's Garden: Etsy for the Gamer Girl

One of my favorite places to shop is Etsy.
It is my guilty pleasure for indulging in homemade, crafty goodness.
I can easily spend hours scouring through all the different shops.
I've had alot of luck at finding some very wonderful artisans who create fine products at very reasonable prices, especially for gamer type products. So I thought I would make a fun little treasury with a "gamer princess" theme, for all my fellow princesses out there. Enjoy!

I don't know about you, but I have my eyes on those hair sticks!

You can also view the full treasury listing here.
Of course, Etsy is not just for the ladies. There are plenty of awesome stuff for guys too.
It's definately worth checking out for unique gifts.

Etsy works through PayPal and they have great customer service.
If you plan on shopping though, make sure to look over the sellers feedback.
While the majority of the artisans are great and easy to work with, sometimes things happen and you want to make sure you are purchasing from a reputable seller, so always check before committing to buy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Jones Soda Spellcasting Soda

Mmm, tasty, tasty material components

If you don't already know about Jones Soda's line of D&D of sodapop, then you should definately check it out!

They come in a 6-pack variety pack for $10.99 and a 12-pack variety pack for $18.99.

The Warlock got the 6-pack for his birthday last year. The are pretty much standard sodas with fancy themed labels. They make for good gifts (bribes >.>) for GMs or for breaking out during special climactic games (what better way to celebrate the death of that dracolich than with an ice cold Dwarven Draught in your hand?).

And for you crafty gamers out there, you can always use the empty bottles to decorate... Perhaps as a vase to hold flowers for that special someone who puts up with you talking about all those epic adventures of your 14th level ranger... just sayin'.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Censorship in Gaming: Where do you draw the line?

Where do you draw the line?

With video games being such a prominent form of entertainment these days, games are delving into numerous genres and themes. Some of these more tame than others. Certainly, we are all aware of the multitude of outrage over games like Grand Theft Auto and Rule of Rose. Are there any merits to these complaints and where exactly do we draw the line in fantasy? The Princess and the Warlock discuss…

The Princess:
I completely understand where the concern comes from. Humanity is affected by their environment and vice versa. As a society, we are always changing and what was considered acceptable/unacceptable behavior likewise has changed throughout history. Over three hundred years ago, women had minimal rights. This was a societal norm. Now, women hold the same rights as men. Ideas and attitude changed over time. With exposure to ideas, opinions can change over time. It is therefore understandable that some people may be concerned about exposure to violent and graphic video games helping to contribute to a global desensitization to these destructive aspects. However, I think the important thing that these groups forget is that we have audience ratings for a reason. And these rating systems, I highly support. They provide buyers with instant information about the games content. We can get an idea of how mature and graphic the game will be based on these ratings. The problem is not with the media itself, but with buyers not paying attention to these ratings. In particular, parents. The majority of public outcries come from angry parents, but these parents fail to realize that it is not the media’s job to raise their children. That responsibility lies solely with the parents. Parents need to pay attention to what they are purchasing for their children. They need to be active in their children’s lives and be aware of what type of media their children are absorbing.  When it comes to exposure to extreme violence in fantasy settings such as video games, I disagree with restricting content via censorship. Game makers should have the freedom to tell whatever story they want to tell, just as authors should be allowed to write whatever they desire (though I am starting to think that children’s fiction is in need of a ratings system these days). It is fantasy. It is make believe. If you are upset by the content, then do not buy the game. Granted, many games are in bad taste when it comes to these themes and I may not play them, but I do not feel that they truly do any harm. Violence and violation conducted in a video game does not hurt real people. It only affects a fake, pixelated image. The bottom line is that we, as individuals, chose how we ultimately behave in real life. It is our job to distinguish between fantasy and reality. If we are unable to do so, then there are deeper issues going on that are not the direct result of a video game. 

The Warlock:
I think people need to get over it.  Video games are not just for children anymore.  They may have been for children when they came out, but they have grown up along with all the kids who played them.  (Although there were adult Atari games back then too). At this point video games have longer scripts and scenes than many movies and people are always looking for the next game or type of game.  It was inevitable that “more mature” games would come along, and honestly if they are being played by an adult it’s no different than watching an R rated movie.   If we are going to scrutinize sex and violence in society that is one thing, but focusing on video games while excluding movies, TV, books, and even the newspapers is just picking on the newest entertainment medium.
I’m totally against censorship in video games but fully support the rating system.  Clearly many games are inappropriate for certain age groups, but Gamestop has stopped my students from buying games they were too young for, and I’ve seen them stop other minors.  And honestly it was stuff I wouldn’t have even thought they needed to be carded for, like Halo, which is so common placed and omnipresent in video games I had glossed over the fact that it is violent.  But the point is, the rating system does catch it, and if they don’t then parents/caregivers should be at least checking all the games there kids play anyway.  My parents did, and I was kicking myself forever after showing initiative and inviting my dad to play Street Fighter II in the arcade, and then being told “Boy you really messed up you know? I was thinking of getting it for you for Christmas, but it’s way too violent”.  (I just had to use Blanka and bite his face….I couldn’t have stuck with Guile like I always did, anyway…)  Though I felt worse for my brother losing GTA: Vice City until he was older.  I think we both turned out fine, even given the stuff we were allowed.   

Thursday, April 28, 2011

BPAL Launches RPG Based Scent Series

Ah, I love the smell of critical hits in the morning!

A while back, we featured a Gamer's Grimoire article on incorporating scent into your gaming experience as an added sensory effect. In said article we also mentioned Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab's wonderful assortment of scents available on their site.

Well now, it appears that they have launched new series with an RPG theme!
The Princess is most certainly eyeing the "Elf" oil blend, while The Warlock's affection seems torn between "Mage" and "Evil". 

Which one do you fancy?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Romantic Misinterpretation in Gaming

Truer words were never spoken...

A while back, someone in our local gaming group mentioned that girls shouldn’t wear “sexy perfume” to a game if they do not want to be hit on, because it sends the “wrong” signals. Obviously, this stirred up a rather large debate among the players, male and female alike. Though this occurred some time ago, the Princess and the Warlock feel it is quite relevant to discuss.

In role playing games males and females of varied backgrounds, nationalities, races, religions, and sexual preferences come together to enjoy a single hobby. We take on different roles much like actors. We play a part. In many cases, we are playing with a group of our friends that we interact with on a regular basis, but other times we are interacting with people for the first time whether at a convention or getting involved in a new group. However, among friends or strangers misinterpretation can and will occur from time to time.

We can all intellectually distinguish the differences between OOC and IC, but sometimes the lines blur. Especially when you are throwing emotions into the mix. Sometimes we pause and question IC actions – “Why is Cordelia’s character constantly attacking mine? Is she made at me? What did I do?” or “OMG, Xander’s character is flirting with mine? Is he trying to hit on me?”.  As players in a game, it is our responsibility to keep OOC and IC separate. Again this doesn’t always happen though. Usually two types of responses in misinterpretation occur – transference and repulsion.

For an example of transference, if Willow decides to play a seductress, wear a short red dress and perfume and starts hitting on you, that is not an OOC invitation that she wants to date you IRL. It merely means she is playing a part. Don’t allow the IC emotions to transfer into OOC assumptions. Likewise if Angel’s character decides to hit on Willow ICly, it’s her responsibility not to freak out and worry if he’s being a creeper and trying to use the character to get close to her OOCly. Don’t have a knee jerk reaction of being repulsed by something that occurs IC.

One of the best ways to avoid misinterpretation of romantic intent is to be open and honest with the group. If you are playing a character who you intend to be a flirt, then it is best you let your gaming group know. Just take a moment to explain that you intend to play the character a certain way and that nothing you do is meant to be taken OOC, but that if you do something that makes another someone feel uncomfortable, then please let you know. That right there can eliminate any potential misinterpretation. But if you feel uncomfortable with something someone else does or says ICly, you need to speak to the person directly and be honest about how you're feeling. A clear line of communication is often the key to avoiding drama.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Poll: What generalized class type is your favorite to play in RPGs?

With a total of 18 responders to our poll asking readers which comic book publishing company is your favorite, DC came in first place with a total of 7 votes.

A new poll has been posted and is located to the right-hand side of the page:

What generalized class type is your favorite to play in RPGs?

Let us know!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Princess’s Garden: An Open Letter to Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times

I'll have my sword AND my tiara, thank you very much!

Dear Ms. Bellafante,
After reading your recent article, "A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms", which reviews the upcoming HBO series, A Game of Thrones, I felt compelled to comment.
I found this review to be offensive to fantasy lovers, particularly female fantasy lovers. Now, I will state for the record that yes, I am a fan of fantasy, I am a fan of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, and yes I regularly play D&D and LARP. However, the way you come off in your article you seem to attack the idea that females cannot enjoy these things and if they do that somehow makes them not feminine. Fantasy, this one or otherwise, is not gender specific. It is an interest just as RPGs are a hobby. It may not be something you are interested in, fine. But please do not presume all because you personally don't consort with women interested in the fantasy genre, that we aren't out there and those that are, are somehow flawed in some way. In fact, most of the fantasy lovers I happen to know (male and female alike) are very well-read, intelligent, creative and poised people. You may wish to consider having more of an open mind if you are to make judgment calls and critiques about things you are not familiar with. You are a writer. Do your research. It's part of your job.
Furthermore, from your jumbled piece I fail to understand exactly what it is that you do not enjoy or appreciate about the show. The message you sent with your review comes off as "I don't like fantasy, no woman out there could possibly like fantasy over any other genre, and this is just a fanboy service show to watch naked wenches." That is not a constructive nor professional review. What exactly didn't you like? What the quality of the writing poor? Were the performances stilted? Was the story too confusing and/or too contrived?
Now you may be under the impression that as a fan of the series, I am just giving you are hard time. But I assure you that is not the case. I am very interested in hearing about reviews (both positive and negative) from critics who are new to the story. I like hearing about what aspects of the production work or don't work for you and why they do or do not.
All I ask is that next time you write a review please refrain from making such sweeping generalities and attacks on a fan base and on my gender. That is not what you are supposed to be writing about - you are supposed to be reviewing the product and telling us specifically what merits and/or flaws the product has. End of story.

The Princess Comments:
Yes, I did send that email to Ms. Bellafante after reading her poorly written article in the New York Times. Here are a few quotes from the “review” (if you can even call it that based on what little journalistic merit it actual has):
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.”
Excuse me? So because I am female, I can’t like fantasy? And if I do, does that make me somehow strange, flawed or defective in some way? Or unfeminine? Articles like this and people like Ms. Bellafante are part of the reason why the Warlock and I have this blog. To show the perspectives of two fantasy lovers – one male, one female.  
Ms. Bellafante you have offended me as a geek and but what’s more, as a woman.
What is it to you that makes someone feminine? Do I have to watch “Sex in the City”, have only girlfriends, shop at the Gap, carry a Prada bag, only watch rom-coms, drink cosmopolitans and spend my free time reading Nicholas Spark novels? Because while that great for some women, that is not who I am. And while I will not make judgments on those ladies, I want the same respect and not have you judge me on my own merit as a woman.
Because some days this princess gets dolled up in lolita fashion, while other days she runs around in a Slytherin t-shirt, hoodie and jeans. She drinks both mint flavored bubble tea and beer (not together, mind you).  She has a collection of graphic novels, RPG manuals and children’s books. She gives to charity and does volunteer work. She spends her time running through forests pretending to be an Elven warrior, while sometimes she has tea with her friends. She is a fabulous, happy and intelligent and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If by your definition enjoying fantasy makes me less of a woman in your eyes, then maybe it is you who are flawed and not me and not all the other women out there like me.
(note: pic from weheartit)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Problematic Character Concepts

You're doing it wrong

Games, by their nature, are a social activity. When we come together, we are creating an interactive story. It’s a process of synergy wherein players and storytellers combine their creativity into a cohesive force. Well at least ideally anyway. Often we have plenty of issues along the way that spring up to prevent that synergetic process from occurring. Sometimes this occurs on the storyteller’s end and sometimes this occurs on the players end.

As players, it’s important to recognize that the game is not all about you. This realization and acceptance needs to start at character creation. When joining a game, it is your duty to understand what the setting and genre is so that you will be able to make your concept work. You also need to consider your fellow players and think how your character will benefit the game and how they will be able to contribute to the overall experience. So let us explore so common character archetypes and explain why they are problematic.

The Loner

This concept can range from the painfully shy misfit to the stone cold mercenary. For whatever the reason, your character just doesn’t play well with others. Are the warning signing flaring up? Because they should. Let’s take a look at the very first line of this post – “Games, by their nature, are a SOCIAL ACTIVITY”. Its fine to play an introverted character and it is fine to play someone with a dark and mysterious past, but when you take this to the extreme you are doing a disservice to yourself, your storyteller and your fellow players. You can play a loner, sure, but you need to create ways to hook your character into the plot and connect to other characters so that you are not forcing the game masters to jump through hoops to get you involved. And furthermore, its simply unfair to expect that the GMs should have to run you exclusive RP simply because you refuse to interact with others. They already have their hands full. Don’t wait on the GMs to throw you plot cookies. Flesh your character out and give him/her motivations that will help you connect them to the game and other players. If you are not interested in having a social experience, then you may wish to consider sticking to video games.

The Psychopath

From the cute little girl with a bloody knife to another Joker rip-off, mental illness is suddenly so very in because heck, it’s just so darn cool. Only… it isn’t. Mental illness is not cool. It is not silly. It is not awesome. It is a very serious debilitation and to properly role play a character with such problems takes a commitment to do some extensive research. Too many times people describe their characters as “crazy” or “a psychopath”. But what do they mean by that? What specific mental illness is the character suffering from? Most immediately say “schizophrenia”, which seems to be the fan favorite among gamers and yet so few are willing to put any effort into understanding the ailment, and we have yet to see it accurately played. If you do want to accurately portray a mental disorder, then you need to pick up a copy of the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (more commonly referred to as the DSM IV among psychologists) and do your research. Try volunteering at a psych ward or consult a local psychology professor.  Do your homework. It can be insulting and disrespectful to improperly portray these illnesses to people who actually have suffered from them or who have loves ones who have. Please treat these concepts with the level of respect and sincerity that they deserve.

The Nobody

The Nobody comes in a few different flavors. This can be a rushed character concept with just numbers on a sheet and no backstory or personality, the amnesiac character that the player just told the GM to come up with the character for him/her, or the character is a blatant rip off of a pre-existing character in pop media. For whatever the reason, you’ve put the minimal amount of effort to create an original, fleshed-out concept. You haven’t delved into who they are and are just drifting or else are trying to box your character in to a concept you didn’t create. In the first case, it’s an easy to solve problem - just take some time to actually think about your character before playing. If you don’t have a solid concept you run the risk of becoming inconsistent doing random things out of boredom because you don’t know what else to do since your character is lacking in motivation. The amnesiac is in a similar situation. It’s fine to play a character with amnesia, but have an idea of their baseline personality at the very least and work closely with the GM so you can have clearly defined goals to keep you involved in the plot. Lastly, we come to the blatant rip-off.  It’s fine to take inspiration from outside sources and piecemeal together a character from a patchwork of different characters, but when you create a character clone and just give it a different name you run the risk of confining your creativity. Your character is likely to be in situations that the base character was not in. Instead of struggling to figure out WWJSD (What Would Jack Sparrow Do), make your own character. You will know the in’s and out’s of their personality and have a clearer motivation which will allow you to react more naturally as the character. If you are struggling to connect to your character, then speak with your GM and ask for assistance. Don’t be a Nobody – be a Somebody!

The Badass

Ahhh… the Chuck Norris with a side of Samuel L. Jackson. It’s fine to play a toughie, but when you refuse to allow your character to lose, look foolish or give someone else the chance at a victory, then you are in danger of becoming a problem player. This is less a character problem and more a player problem, because it becomes a “sword”-waving contest which usually results in the player becoming irate if they don’t get their way. One way to avoid this from occurring is by giving your character flaws, faults and fears and being aware of them and allowing them to play out and be exploited. You need to be aware that your character is not infallible. Perfect is boring. Mary Sues and Gary Stus are annoying. Not one wants to play with a sore loser. This kind of behaviour and character concept should stay at your kindergarten sandbox. Much like the problematic Loner, the Badass player needs to realize that gaming is a social activity. A player who throws a fit anytime his/her character loses is not going to win any friends. And honestly, these concepts aren’t interesting. Flaws (and we’re not talking the “cool” my-character-has-an-eyepatch type flaws – we’re talking about my 16th level samurai has an intense and crippling fear of confined spaces) are interesting. Grow up and shake off the inner power gamer.

What this all boils down to is being prepared and not settling for a gimmick, stereotype and/or a cliché. Problem characters mostly just come down to players who have not thought about the consequences the character will have to the game. Consequences being both good and bad here. Players simply need to be encouraged to think about two things when developing a concept:  1) What will this character add to the game? and 2) Will this concept hurt the game or others enjoyment of it?  Before jumping into any game, take the time to fully develop your concept. In the long run it will make for a more enjoyable experience for you and everyone else involved.  
(We would like to thank the members of the NYC LARP Troupe for their insightful discussion which helped to contribute to this article. Thanks guys!)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Hook a Princess

The Warlock's notes on how he caught his Princess.

So you want a princess of your very own, huh? Well if kidnapping or coercion isn’t your style, here are a few tips on how to go about courting a scene girl especially if she’s in a subculture you are not very familiar with.

The Gamer

The Princess says:

Maybe you saw her at a convention, or maybe she’s a new girl in your gaming community. Whatever the case may be, her hobby makes her very accessible since gaming is a social hobbythat anyone can participate in.    If she’s in your local gaming scene, then you’ll probably have a good chance to get to know her. If she’s at a convention, try to get involved in a game she’s playing in.

Play it cool with a gamer girl. She’s likely just as much of a fan as you are and probably just as eager to discuss the pros and cons of 3.5 vs Pathfinder. Treat her like an equal. Just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean she doesn’t know what she’s doing. I’ve seen plenty of guys make the mistake of assuming I don’t know anything about a given game based purely on the fact of being female. It can be very frustrating. If you happen to be involved in a game with her, an easy opener is using the game or her character as a conversation opener. Try to avoid instantly going into your character and all your war stories. Give her the chance to speak. Get her going enough and you may score a phone number.

The Warlock says:

Ok, so you found the girl that does want to hear about your 20th level paladin, or at least will listen, so don’t over react!  The worst thing to do is overwhelm her, you want her to be able to open up .  Ask about her gamming experiences, ask about what games she likes, what her favorite characters are.  Give her plenty of time to tell you about what she likes.  Then once you have some footing  try to find ways to compare your experiences with hers.  You already have a lot of similarities if your both gamming, so try to find ways to cement that.  You want her to look at your similarities not differences.  Gamming can create some intense emotional experiences, find out what some of hers are, and then try to link it to one of your.  Now you have a linked strong emotional experience in both your minds, try to find a few more common grounds, and she’ll start to think you were made for each other.  Make sure she knows how to get into your other games, but don’t insist, just leave the comparison from her old game to this new one so entice her.  

The Lolita

The Princess says:

Tread carefully when pursuing a lolita. As someone who in actively involved in this scene, I can say to you with confidence that lolitas are very wary about being approached by strangers. And with good reason – we’re constantly the target of creepers and random people shouting insults at us on the streets because of our unique fashion sense. Please understand that this causes us to be more on the defensive when we’re out and about.

The first thing is not to assume that just because she is a scene girl does not necessarily also mean that she’s also into anime or gaming. Some are, yes. But not all. Lolitas appreciate sincerity and genuine displays of interest. Try starting off by complimenting her and follow up with a remark about how refreshing it is to meet someone who is willing to be themselves contrary to what popular media dictates. This will win you major brownie points. Saying something along those lines shows her that you are accepting her for who she is. Acceptance and validation are something many lolitas sadly lack in both society and their personal lives, so hearing this will certainly warm her up to you. From there feel to ask questions, just make sure to keep them respectful and be aware that she may be a bit guarded at first.

The Warlock says:

This one requires a bit of leg work, but if you put the time in at the beginning this one should a bit easier in execution.  Learn fashion.  Watch Project Runway, read a fashion magazine, or if you corner cutter (not a good plan here) at least watch The Devil Wears Prada.  Lolita’s know their fashion so faking it just won’t work.  Once you know a bit work on complementing the clothes.  Ask “Is that Innocent World?” or “Did you see Angelic Pretty’s last fashion show?  They had a dress very similar to that….”.  You don’t need to be an expert they’ll forgive you if you can’t tell Baby The Stars Shine Bright from Victorian Maiden, but the fact that you’re not ignorant of their life style is a great foot in the door (In fact if your clever enough to actually know the difference, you may want to make the mistake anyway, her correcting you should take longer than her just saying yes, giving you more face time to make yourself memorable)  Once you establish that you are 1) not making fun of them, and 2) know what they are about it should be easy to get them to talk to you.  For extra brownie points brush up on Victorian etiquette and use it whenever you can. 
The Cosplayer

The Princess says:

For the most part, you’re likely to meet a cosplay girl at a convention. Luckily, she’s displaying her fandom out in the open, so that gives you the opportunity to discuss a potential mutual interest right there. If she’s dressed out as a character from a video game series, you can ask her what she thinks of the newest game. It’s nice to be approached by someone who is interested in your thoughts and not the skin tight body suit you’re wearing.
Which brings me to the next point – her eyes are located on her head not her chest. Keep your sight above shoulder level. She’s likely been stalked around by shady characters with cameras all day. The last thing she wants is to have to deal with more lewd stares. Also remember that the more physically attractive and more revealing her attire is, the more frequently she has to deal with this behavior. 

The Warlock says:

Cosplayers are a bit eclectic so you’ll have to be a bit careful on your approach.  Fortunately if you around them, there is probably a group so you should have a few chances.  We’ll start with average/not revealing everything cosplayer.  Most of them are out going, expressive, and excitable.  Be very excited about their costume.  They did a GREAT job on it, IT’S AMAZING!!!!!  Working  in a little physical contact, such a feel of the sleeve, or closer look at a head piece is a great way to get in close and intimate fast.  Physical contact is a tricky situation but, they are usually used to being glomped so you should be good as long as you don’t just start caressing them or something.  After that try to find out what their other interests are besides the show.  Do they only like anime, do they love video games, are they any other category listed in this article.  Once you know what else they are like try to use that to build conversations on.  You want to stand out, and everyone is talking about their costume already so you need to talk about something else they like.  

Now onto the Poison Ivy/ Darth Talon/Is-that-just-a-pasty? cosplayer.  Boy are you not the first guy to hit on her, and yes she is sick of it by now.  So you have to make her come to you.  If she’s in the costume she knows who it is, and is probably as knowledgeable as you.  Use that.  Make a comment about the costume, but DON’T complement it.  “Really the costume from issue 18….bit overdone don’t you think?”  “Is that a wig?” (If it looks real NOT if it’s obviously a wig)  “Did you think about using liquid Latex for those scars?”  Make her defend the costume.  Make her interested in the fact that you’re not going out of your way please her like everyone else.  If you can open it to other critiques of the costume.  You don’t want to insult her but try to find neutral comments that make her fish for meaning, and therefore talk to you. 

The Rennie 

The Princess says:

Check out any local Renn Faire and you’re sure to find a flock of ladies with their bosoms half spilling from their tightened corsets. It’s an immediate allure for sure, and pair that with their fondness for bawdy songs and beer and you have yourself the chance for a potential vivacious and fun loving partner.

Like the Cosplayer, Rennie ladies (or wenches, as some refer to themselves as), are used to being gawked at by passersby. They’ve also probably heard every come on there is in the book. Futhermore, Rennies tend to keep to themselves when it goes to relationships. Faire workers and faire regulars are infamous for having a rather incestuous social scene. To get her attention you’ll need to stand out from the crowd without coming off as a total creeper. Rennies tend to appreciate witty humor, devilish charm and intelligence, so cleverness is the way to go for a first move. Try pulling aside a roaming rose seller and asking him/her to deliver a rose to her for you.

The Warlock says:

The fastest way to catch one is to be one, or at least seem to be one.  Like the Lolita this requires a bit of leg work.  You don’t have to have everything memorized, but learn a drinking song or two, review “medieval”  English vernacular (you don’t have to use it, but be able to follow it, and laugh at jokes) , and build up your tolerance for drinking.  You don’t necessarily need to be in costume or “garb” but it helps.  Don’t go half way though.  If it’s going to be a ruffled shirt with jeans and a Yankee cap don’t bother.  Just dress normal and be yourself.  If you’re going to wear garb then go and get a whole set and show your really invested.  The last thing you need is some gimmick, to help separate you from the rest of the pageantry.   If you can juggle, or ride a unicycle or do card tricks then great.  Lug that stuff around and make an impression.  If not try to find some obscure historical facts, memorize them and then drop them when you can.  This should be enough to get you started, but you’ll probably need to really learn stuff if you want things to continue.     

Closing thoughts

The Princess says:

There are a few universal tips when it comes to pursuing any lady. First, we can smell  desperation from a mile away. Women respond to confidence. That’s why you see so many of them with jerks. Don’t be a jerk, but do try to carry yourself with pride.

Second, give her space. Emotionally and physically. If you’ve made your move, chances are she’s picked up on it. If she’s interested, she will respond, if she doesn’t, let her go. Additionally, when approaching any girl, please don’t invade her personal space and do not make physical contact. Most women find that very invasive and may be freaked out. So please respect herpersonal space.

The Warlock says:

Be memorable.  Find ways to have a conversation, and make her think.  The more face time you can get the better.  Don’t be embarrassed by any of your likes and show interest in all of hers.  You need to be confident and show you are compatible.  Spend the extra money on good “garb” or clothes (at least 3 of the 4 Princess here are dressing up regularly) If you don’t look like you care about your clothes, then way would you care about theirs?  Don’t walk around in a ripped T-Shirt even if it does show how old school you are.  And last practice.  You don’t have to hit on every girl you see, and you don’t need to be hitting on someone to practice.  Just use the tips above to talk to girls about your hobby without wanting or needing it to go anywhere.  You’ll both get a fun conversation and you can get over any jitters you have about talking to girls.  Then when the time comes that you’re looking for that special someone’s number you can be more relaxed about it.  

(Or just make your own princess here!)
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