Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Discrimination In Fantastic Settings

This applies to both RP worldbuilding and story-writing, and has already been done (probably better) here.

So incredibly often I see settings that are clearly not historical, but set in some romanticize, fantasticized past, a "here there be dragons" sort of a place, with corrupted, vaguely rose-tinted versions of the sexism, racism, ablism, homophobia, and other discrimination that ruled in the corresponding time period of world history. "It's historical," creators too often shrug when asked why. "To omit those aspects would be unrealistic." Or sometimes, slightly more justified but wait no not really, "Utopian societies are unrealistic." News flash: If we do ever get rid of discrimination, there will still be societal strife from different sources.

"Unrealistic." Your main character's dating an elf, he has a magic sword and a hyper-intelligent flying horse that doesn't need to eat and you're saying you can't cut the discrimination of the time period you're supposedly emulating-- because it would be unrealistic.

Bullshit. Is it really that hard to imagine a society without those issues?

Now, plenty of good writers do include discrimination in their societies, but they treat it realistically, as the complex problem that it is, and show its effects. They show how it gets into all facets of society, not just as a few jokes made by less savory characters, or a few incidents of ill-treatment. They don't just treat it as an excuse to have characters be horrible to whatever group. They show that no group is perfect, depict everyone (not just the good guys) as people, and don't use the tired, rotten trope of the hero high on the societal privilege ladder saving his poor simple minority friends who can't help themselves. They don't apply the rosy filter of "but it was the good old days" to it. And of course if the setting is actually historical and properly researched-- medieval Europe or imperial China, for example-- historical accuracy is a legitimate answer. "Alternate timeline" settings may also pass, depending on what ways they are alternate in. But if it's not portrayed as a complex problem, and hasn't got any real basis in history to be true to, I really don't see why it's necessary. 

This is probably not the last you'll hear from me on the subject; future posts may go more in-depth.

Writing rant disclaimer:
Some of you may have read some of my fiction or participate in an RP I am part of. If you notice that something in my writing has something I have labeled as a problem in my rant, go ahead and tell me so! I may not have noticed that I'm doing whatever it is, so that can help me! However, I do want to keep this place polite, so please no unnecessary bashing of my characters, or, for that matter, anyone else's, be it a fellow commenter or a fellow RP'er.

Blog note: You might notice the "Frustrations" label. "Frustrations" posts are usually going to involve a fair helping of my opinion and social commentary. Keep this in mind, and feel free to disagree in comments, but do so civilly, please.


Okay, so I didn't know the school computers ran a bunch of Steam games. That's pretty cool. Thanks for that knowledge, dude next to me. Can you tell me how to access them? Thanks man.

Wait. Why are you still hovering? There's a controls tutorial and I'd already worked out that it was WASD. No seriously, I know how to play a game. Dude, you've worked with me, you know I'm going into game design for crying out loud. No! Seriously! I can do this myself! No! I don't want to do easy mode! Didn't you have homework to do?!

Granted, I have not had the experience of being (assumed physically) male in a setting where software or games were in use, but from observation, the "hovering helper" behavior is most often targeted at females. It's not restricted to gaming; I've seen it with software, and math homework, and the like.

I could write it off as politeness, but really... no. It's not politeness, but a failure to take me-- to take women-- seriously at work here. The "helping" behavior is founded, as near as I can tell, upon the assumption that the help-ee doesn't/couldn't possibly know what she's doing (or, apparently, how to ask for help...). Again, I'm not talking about, say, a beginner's class where everyone is getting hovered over, or helping a known beginner who has already asked for a walkthrough; this is just what I've observed from using computers in labs and classrooms, with girls and women of both unknown experience and known competence. Especially in the latter case, it's insulting. I've played games before, but clearly I'll need help to play another one? Er...

So... especially if you know that I've used a computer, played games, learned software, done math, worked physics problems, or done whatever before, please acknowledge that. Please acknowledge that I have the agency to ask for help if I need it, and don't start hovering unsummoned. Please don't insult me like that.

(Think I'm misinterpreting? Tell me so in comments, but show me reasoning and keep it civil, please.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

On Weather and Terrain: Pitting Characters Against Their Environment

The Female Characters series of articles is still in progress, but now for a break: let's talk about the weather! (No, really...)

Conflict, when handled properly, is interesting. I've said it before, I'll probably say it a million more times. A story doesn't run without a primary conflict, which usually presents itself in RPs as a main enemy. There's also usually a healthy (or even poisonous) dose of inter-party conflict. Other character-driven conflict often puts in an appearance as well, with NPCs interacting with the player characters. There's no shortage, in other words, of character-driven conflict. What doesn't always get enough of an impact, I think, is the conflict that the environment itself causes by way of weather and terrain.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Female Characters: Not So Different, Really

"What do they think their mothers do, when the lords are at war and a raiding party strikes? Stay in their solars and tat lace?"
--Salma, from First Test in Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series

All right, this is here by popular demand; I was going to get around to it eventually after some unrelated rants, but people convinced me to do it now.

Too often I read female characters that have me frantically backing away. Sometimes it's because they're written solely as props to male characters; sometimes it's because they're written with personalities that draw heavily on stereotypes and just plain don't make sense. These two major problems have slightly different root causes; the former tends to be more overtly sexist, while the latter, I think, stems from the idea that Man Minds And Woman Minds Are Inherently Different-- and that each cannot truly comprehend the way the other works. This is laughably untrue. I don't dispute that there are different genders (not the same as sexes, by the way), but the lines are a lot blurrier than society drives us to believe, and they certainly aren't incomprehensible to each other.


This is fairly old, but I just stumbled across it. The main attention-grabber:

"Early in development, the main character in The Last Guardian was female, but the team ended up going with a boy. The reason: they thought it would be more realistic that he would have enough grip strength to be able to climb around, and because they wouldn't have to worry about camera angles with a girl who wears a skirt."

...What the hell, guys. First of all, the culture in your games clearly is not analogous to any historical culture, so why the hell would a skirt be culturally necessary on a female, or even a skirt without pants under it? Second-- main character is a kid. Before puberty, size and therefore strength differences are a lot smaller. Both justifications fall flat on their face. Maybe there are justifications that don't; I'd love to hear them. But right now, I see no reason why this game should not have had a female protagonist.

I absolutely loved Shadow of the Colossus. I was looking forward to playing Ico (despite it having a rescue-the-princess dynamic, it looked pretty good to me). The Last Guardian was on my definite to-play list in the unlikely event that I got or borrowed a PS3... but now, I'm not sure I'll want to hand over the sixty bucks that says, among other things, that I'll buy those justifications.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Female Characters: Obeying the Laws of Physics (also some biology)

Disclaimer: This is mainly written for the dudes, because I'm assuming most females have a pretty good idea of how females work physically.
Okay, so you want to write a female character. Shying away from personality differences for a moment (that's a whole other rant), you're probably going to be including some of the physical differences. If you're into females, you may be thinking about going for fanservice. So for this rant, I'm going to cover the biological and clothing-related aspects of being female. Physical stuff comes first; clothing is after.