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Today at PAX East, Blizzard revealed two new playable characters for its upcoming FPS game Overwatch, announced last November at BlizzCon. You can see a video of the entire presentation  here.

The two heroes announced are a futuristic outlaw gunslinger called McCree, and a Russian “tank” soldier called Zarya. Game director for Overwatch Jeff Kaplan introduced them, speaking with obvious enthusiasm and affection.

“There’s a hero out there for everyone, and we all have different fantasies,” said Kaplan as he
introduced the new characters. “Our goal with Overwatch heroes is that there’s fantasy fulfillment for as many players as possible, to really deliver on that promise of a very diverse heroic experience.”

With that, he announced the game’s first female tank character, Aleksansdra Zaryanova, AKA Zarya:

She is a dedicated and loyal hero. Her goal in life was to become a championship weightlifter, and she was right on the cusp of fulfilling that fantasy . . . then strife broke out in her village, and she put all of that aside to defend her homeland. . . She’s lawful good; she’s who you wanna be when you grow up. But there’s some other stuff to talk about, too. We’ve been hearing a lot of discussion amongst players about the need for more diversity in video games. And that means a lot of things. They want to see gender diversity. They want to see racial diversity. They want to see diversity along the lines of what country people are from. But there’s also talk about diversity in different body types, and not everybody wants to have the exact same body type always represented. And we just want you to know that we’re listening, and we’re trying hard, and we hope Zarya is a step in the right direction to show you that we’re paying attention. 

Kaplan obviously had some notes to which he was referring in this presentation, but it didn’t appear to be scripted.

I’m honestly shocked to see such a frank acknowledgment that the desire for greater diversity in playable characters has made an impact on design decisions for this game– and not just “diversity,” but body diversity. In a game about futuristic heroes which features robots, a genetically manipulated gorilla, and more cyborg-esque augmentation than you could shake a stick at.

I think most character designers for video games might take pause at the idea of constructing
characters with special consideration to cosplay, but here are a couple of basic facts about cosplay:

  • It’s an integral element of geek public life, omnipresent at cons, the foundation of many a livelihood, and the basis in which some practitioners find their best creative outlet, and also
  • There is a relentless and entirely understandable urge for cosplayers to have characters which look somewhat like themselves to use as inspiration. 

Zarya would make for some really fun cosplay. It’s kind of funny how she’s no less an example of physical perfection and beauty than any of the other female characters, but yet she’s sexy and powerful and not bizarrely dressed for her role– she looks like a futuristic soldier.

See? It’s absolutely possible.

Props to you, Blizzard. We’re watching, and appreciate it.

Oversexualize? Overnope.

Last November during BlizzCon, I wrote a post critiquing the design of some of the female playable characters as compared to the male characters in the newly revealed but not yet released FPS game Overwatch. In it, I addressed the following comment made by Blizzard senior vice president Chris Metzen:

Specifically for Overwatch over the past year we’ve been really cognizant of that, trying not to oversexualize the female characters. I don’t know if we oversexualize the male characters. But it’s something we’re very sensitive to.

I boggled at the idea of not knowing whether you oversexualize the male characters in your games, and concluded: No, you definitely are not.

Yesterday on that post, a commenter named “blank” asked:

My question to you is, how would YOU oversexualize a male character?

Here’s my answer to that question: I can’t. It is impossible for me to oversexualize a male character in a video game.

Here’s why:

Obviously I am not any sort of game designer, specifically not a character concept artist for any video game, but let’s pretend that I am.

Let’s pretend that I have both unlimited funding with which to produce a video game, and unlimited creative control over its content. Let’s imagine that having all of these resources and control, I decided to make the most sexual game possible involving male characters.

In order to maximize the sexualization of the male characters in this game, I would leave out female characters altogether. I would, effectively, make a gay porn movie in video game form.

In this gay porn game, because we’re talking about the design of fictional characters here, I would exaggerate all of the sexual characteristics of these male characters far beyond what is possible in real life. I would exaggerate their secondary sexual characteristics as well, so that not only would these be the most well-endowed male characters ever, but they would also be the most unquestionably male. And they would be doing…well, what you’d expect to find in a gay porn movie turned video game.  That is the greatest extent to which it’s possible for me, personally, to sexualize male characters.

(Would I then want to play this video game? Eh….no thanks.)

But that doesn’t answer the question. The question was regarding what I would do to oversexualize male characters, and, as already stated, I can’t do that.

That’s because in this case, the “over” in “oversexualized” refers to frequency.

A trope is a device in story-telling which appears frequently. In today’s usage in pop culture, it typically refers to such a device being used so frequently that it becomes hackneyed, cliché. That’s the sense in which Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes v. Women in Video Games series is named, something which I’ve noticed seems to be all too often lost on its detractors. “She totally misrepresented the game mechanics in Hitman!” they will complain, as if such a gripe is devastating to the point of a video series dedicated to pointing out repeated use of depictions of female characters over time and throughout the industry, and discussing how the near-ubiquity of such depictions is bothersome and even harmful.

When Tropes v. Women says that women in video games are oversexualized, that’s the kind of “over” it’s talking about. Compared to that, my exaggerated gay porn video game would be a drop in the proverbial bucket. Maybe the non-proverbial pond, lake, or sea.

To ask how I would oversexualize male characters in video games is akin to asking how I would make America heterophobic. How I would make the country overly concerned about ending poverty. How I’d render the world’s hungry overly fed.

It’s funny to imagine, isn’t it? But yeah, that kind of “over” is not gonna happen.

Things you should read

The NYPD’s ‘Work Stoppage’ Is Surreal. Matt Taibbi describes the strange twist of New York’s Police Benevolent Association (which becomes a more and more ironic title by the minute) deciding to start making arrests “only when they have to” in order to try and stick it to Mayor Bill de Blasio by depriving the city of needed revenue.

Is this considered abuse? Leelah Alcorn (the chosen name of a transgendered teen formerly called Josh who committed suicide at age 17 on December 30th by stepping in front of a truck) started a Reddit thread asking for help two months ago. Some good advice and comfort was offered, but it obviously wasn’t enough.

On Nerd Entitlement. Laurie Penny’s patient, compassionate, but also poignant and pointed explanation to Scott Aarsonson of what it’s like to be a bookish, awkward, nerdy girl in response to his depiction of being a bookish, awkward, nerdy boy, and how the latter does in fact have privilege in comparison to the former.

Dollree Mapp, 1923-2014: “The Rosa Parks of the Fourth Amendment.” It’s interesting that when we consider the hallmark cases in which the rights outlined in the Constitution were asserted and argued in front of the Supreme Court, it isn’t always an immediate realization that for any violation of rights you can name, members of minority underclasses have experienced it more. That when it comes to civil rights, overt racism (for example) isn’t the only indignity people of color in America have to face. Institutionalized bigotry means that every violation of rights felt by the privileged classes is felt more by the non-privileged. But Dollree Mapp fought hard for her right to be secured in her person, house, papers, and effects– and for all of our right to the same– and should be remembered for this.

When doxing is okay

Doxing (from dox, abbreviation of documents), alternatively spelled doxxing, is the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual. — Wikipedia

In some cases, this “research” involves simply looking at the email address from which a message came, and including it rather than expunging it when you publish (“broadcast”) the content of that email. Many bloggers have a stated policy of doing this– if you email them, you accept that the content of your message and the email address might be made public on their blog.

Alanah Pearce, an Australian video gamer reviewer (via video blog), recently gained international attention by tracking down and contacting the mothers of the frequently underage boys who were sending her rape and death threats via email, Facebook messages, Twitter, etc.

I’m okay with these things.

I think what Pearce is doing is awesome, actually. Frequently when I see someone saying horrible things on the internet, I wish there was a way to find out if their loved ones could see it. Whether they know that their family member is, in their spare time, using that time to harass people, espouse bigotry, and in general be a despicable human being. I feel simultaneously a sympathetic horror for what this woman is going through, and a desire that couples generally would hang out in the same sorts of internet spaces as their spouses, and parents as their children.

But I would never try to enforce such a thing, because sometimes privacy and anonymity are very important and must not be violated. If you’ve been following Gamergate, you know that quite well. You might know that Felicia Day’s personal information was published on the internet shortly after she wrote an essay expressing concern about that exact thing. You might know that Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian have both fled their homes after internet harassers published their home addresses and expressed an interest in paying a visit.

Some people refrain from even sharing their names online, because they are whistleblowers or fear other kinds of recrimination from their employers, because they are trans or gay but not openly so, because they are atheists but not only so…..there are all kinds of reasons why a person might not be doing anything wrong, but not want every aspect of his or her identity made known.

That’s why doxing such individuals is wrong.

Rebecca Watson, noted skeptic and feminist who has been experiencing harassment and threats online for years because of these things, published an essay on Friday entitled Why I’m Okay with Doxing. That’s not the type of doxing she was talking about.

The type of doxing she was talking about is the kind I mentioned earlier– publishing the name and/or email address of people who made this information available themselves in the process of insulting, harassing, and threatening others.

The distinction seems quite clear to me, but perhaps that’s because I actually read her essay. Several other people seem to have not made it past the headline.

Ken White of Popehat had an amusing exchange on Twitter with such a detractor, also on Friday, which I summed up thusly:

Accuse someone of breaking the law. When questioned, scramble frantically to find the law you accuse someone of breaking, which you didn’t know existed when you made the original accusation. When questioned further, admit that it’s not against the law. When asked for a moral basis for condemnation, scramble frantically to find one of *those*. Fail completely. Take ball. Go home.

The detractor charmingly and repeatedly referred to Rebecca as a cunt, which prompted the following tweet from Ken:

Which really addresses the crux of the issue.

Rebecca is talking about publishing the names and/or email addresses of people who are sending insulting and threatening material to her. Threatening people, whether over the phone, via email, in blog comments, via Twitter, etc., is not only immoral but also illegal. In spite of this illegality, going to the police about these threats is frequently a worthless and even counter-productive pursuit, which means that publishing the information of these people is, effectively, the only thing she can do.

Let me repeat: making the identities of people who harass and threaten her public, in the hopes that the public will become more aware of these threats and people making them, is really the best tactic at the disposal of people like Rebecca Watson. It is, arguably, the only tactic at their disposal.

I wouldn’t have thought that “disclose your identity to someone in the process of threatening them, and you cannot morally or legally expect them to keep this information private” was such a hard line to take. It seems stupidly obvious to me. But apparently it isn’t, and that’s why I’m writing this post.

Doxing is sometimes okay. Such as when someone is harassing you, actively reaching out and sending messages to and about you which are libeling and/or threatening you, and you respond to them by publishing their name and/or email address, contacting their family (especially if they’re underage), etc.

Doxing is sometimes not okay. Such as tracking down personal information of someone who is not harassing you and publishing it in detail, including contact information such as a home address which give the impression that you either intend or wish to encourage others to take physical action against this person.

Context, for chrissakes.

How to be more attractive to John Smith

A man who is sexist against women is also sexist against men, because he assumes, falsely, that all or most men are likewise sexist against women.

Is this a rule? I feel like this should be a rule. At least, I have not yet seen a counter-example.

This essay on Thought Catalog, non-encouragingly titled 13 Things a Woman Can Do to be More Attractive to Men, certainly isn’t one. In fact, it should probably also be a rule that every such list should drop the “n” from “Men” and change it to “Me.”

It’s not worth bothering to take apart in its entirety, but I just want to examine one item to illustrate the sexist projection of the author, the not-at-all-pseudonymously-named-I’m-sure John Smith.

13. Stop Hoarding Guy Friends 9 out of 10 of your guy friends just want to sleep with you anyway. Men know how other men think. The first guy that comes to comfort you after a big fight will also be the first one to say “he’s not good enough for you” in order to sabotage the relationship, and then he’ll be the first one to try to get into your pants after he convinces you that your man is a creep. It’s not about having trust issues. It’s about knowing how people act. Trust is earned, not immediately granted.

He says that 9 out of 10 guy friends just want to sleep with you, which would mean that they’re not actually friends at all — just one-night-stands-in-waiting.

Which tells you two things:

  1. John Smith is extremely unlikely to be an actual friend to a woman, but is simply a one-night-stand-in-waiting himself, and 
  2. John Smith assumes that every other heterosexual man on the planet is like him in this regard (statistically speaking, the 1/10 male friend could be gay). 

Now, sure, plenty of male friends of women want to sleep with them. But wanting to sleep someone doesn’t disqualify most people from being able to be that person’s friend in addition to the sexual interest. Women do it all the time, gay men do it all the time, and I’m sure straight men do it all the time as well. John Smith, apparently, does not.

John Smith is probably also insanely jealous (like hell it’s “not a trust issue”), because of the aforementioned projection of his own “sex-only” motivation onto every other guy on the planet.

It’s really interesting how the same people who are most likely to apply rigid generalizations to entire other groups of people are so often just as willing to apply those same generalizations to their own group. Generalizations applied rigidly are called prejudices, and ingrained prejudices are called bigotry. John Smith’s bigotry against women, ironically, makes him bigoted against men as well.

Though he assuredly doesn’t see it that way– he thinks his belief that other guys see women in exactly the same way he does is just the Truth. His entire list would be more appropriately called 13 Things A Woman Can Do To Be More Attractive To John Smith. But then nobody would read it, because nobody gives a shit about what would make them more attractive to John Smith. And he probably knows that.

Dawkins leads charge, is startled by army

We Hunted the Mammoth is a good site to read if you don’t know what the men’s rights movement is. If you’ve ever heard the acronym “MRA” and not understood what it means, that’s where I’d suggest you go (hint: the “A” stands for “activist”).

So I guess it’s only fitting that Dave Futrelle, author of WHtM, be the one to chronicle the fact that Richard Dawkins has never heard of the men’s rights movement. And that Paul Elam, founder of MRA web site A Voice for Men and commonly recognized unofficial leader of the men’s rights movement, was shocked to hear this.

Frankly I’m a little shocked, myself. See, it’s not really that unusual to not know about the men’s rights movement, or especially about Paul Elam, if you’re the average person. But Richard Dawkins is very far from the average person in this regard. He has a dog in this fight, you see, and it’s a little jarring to realize that he doesn’t seem to know which dog is his.

Not only is Dawkins a self-proclaimed feminist who issues proclamations about what “true feminism” is, but he’s a self-proclaimed feminist who has angered feminists again and again by making comments which are tone-deaf at best, and unquestionably anti-feminist at worst, on Twitter and in other places. He’s a self-proclaimed feminist who is apparently a big fan of another self-proclaimed feminist who seems to specialize in anti-feminism these days, Christina Hoff Sommers.

Now, it seems to me that the difference between anti-feminism and MRA is a very small one, indeed. It’s as if Dawkins found himself a hole in the side of a mountain and moved into it, making friends with the bats and the blind fish and what-not, only to emerge one day and be utterly astonished when somebody asks “So Richard, what’s it like to live in a cave?”

I’m not angry about Matt Taylor’s shirt

Nope, I’m not.

Matt Taylor apologized– apparently sincerely. Nobody I actually know is angry at him now, if they were before.

 I’m angry at the horde of people who are:

  • Shrieking on Twitter and any other social media site that he shouldn’t have apologized, because he did nothing wrong and they need him to be leader of their Fuck the Feminists Who Hate Sex and Freedom parade
  • Demanding that Rose Eveleth be fired for criticizing Taylor’s sartorial choices
  • Apparently totally unaware that sexual imagery in the workplace constitutes evidence— not conclusive, case-making evidence, but evidence– of a hostile workplace in sexual harrassment cases
  • Drawing a sharp line between people who care about scientific achievements and people who care about not sending the message that the only thing that matters about women is how they look naked, and pretending that these are two separate and mutually exclusive groups. To the contrary, most of the complaining I’ve seen about Taylor’s shirt is that it that it marred what otherwise should’ve been a celebratory occasion for everyone.
  • In general, reacting, whenever feminists speak up about anything whatsoever to say “Hey, that’s not cool,” as if they actually said “BAN THIS IMMEDIATELY AND SEND ALL RELATED PARTIES TO THE GULAG WITH THE POWER WE OBVIOUSLY WIELD BECAUSE WE RUN THE COUNTRY OR SOMETHING”

That’s what I’m angry about.

Rat Queen Dee

Dee in conversation with her mother

I’m in the market for new comics– but let’s note that to me, all comics are basically new. I have read and loved Maus 1 and 2 by Art Spiegelman and Alan Moore’s Top 10 series, but that’s pretty much it. In thinking about what to start reading I came across some review or another for Rat Queens, maybe this one on The Mary Sue. It sounded like what I was looking for– a good story, amazing art, plenty of humor, and female main characters.

Then I read that one of the characters is an atheist cleric, and I was sold.

An atheist cleric? Yep. Dee is the daughter of two adherents of the blood-drinking squid god N’rygoth. She rejected the faith of her parents and set out on her own to join an all-female band of adventurers called the Rat Queens (all of whom seem to be rejects of some form or another), in which she functions as a magic-user, primarily a healer, apparently drawing on divine magic even though she doesn’t believe in any gods. When Betty, the smidgen (think halfling) thief asks how this is possible, Dee explains “I’m goddess enough.” No, I don’t know exactly what that means either.

That’s in the first volume of Rat Queens, which is the only one currently– the next one should be out in December. And let me stress that the entire thing so far is awesome. Everybody has a backstory, and of course the first volume contains a lot of exposition about those stories. Dee is but one member of a group of talented, badass, sarcastic women of various races who exist in a D&D style fantasy world and spend a good amount of their time making fun of it. But there are some very serious moments too, and they are sharpened by the levity with which they’re contrasted.

The story is by Kurtis J. Wiebe and art by Roc Upchurch. They’ve done an amazing job, and I want everyone to see it. Definitely recommended.

Sex without fear

“Consequence” is one of those words that has taken on a connotation of the negative, even though the denotation does not require it. Strictly speaking, a consequence is an effect, an outcome, a result. That’s all. Consequences are the reasons we do things– if our actions had no outcomes, there would be no point in performing them. Everything we do, we do for the consequences.

The consequences of Colorado recently making some forms of birth control, IUDs and implants, free or nearly free to low-income women through the Colorado Family Planning Initiative have been very good indeed:

The teen abortion rate dropped by 35 percent from 2009 to 2012 in counties served by the program, according to the state’s estimates. Young women served by the family planning clinics also accounted for about three-fourths of the overall decline in Colorado’s teen birth rate during the same time period. And the infant caseload for Colorado WIC, a nutrition program for low-income women and their babies, fell by 23 percent from 2008 to 2013. “This initiative has saved Colorado millions of dollars,” Governor John Hickenlooper said in a statement. “But more importantly, it has helped thousands of young Colorado women continue their education, pursue their professional goals and postpone pregnancy until they are ready to start a family.”

If you’re taking issue with my use of the words “free or nearly free” right now…stop. Yes, I know full well that “provided by the government” does not mean “free.” Nothing is free. However, please read that first statement by Governor Hickenlooper– providing birth control to low-income women has saved the state money. Quite a lot of money, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. Nobody, that is, who is familiar with the notion that when women can’t afford babies, they often can’t afford abortions either, and so become stuck with those babies they can’t afford to have. And then who becomes responsible for paying for those babies? The state– which means all of us, via welfare.

So between the cost of contraception, the cost of birth, and the cost of welfare, contraception is chronologically the first cost, which also happens to be the lowest cost, and also prevents the following two costs. That, in a nutshell, is how the state saves money by spending money. Spend a small amount now, save a large amount later. You could call that an “entitlement” if the notion of chronology is tricky for you, but for someone with no such difficulty, it just makes common fiscal sense.

You’d think.

But no, the same people who trumpet fiscal responsibility for the government most reliably are, astonishingly, not in favor of measures like this. That is, of course, because their dedication to ending abortion in America does not lead to the ardent support of contraception that one might logically conclude they should have. And that is, unfortunately, because the goals of ending abortion and encouraging fiscally responsible government are both ultimately supplanted by yet another goal: to prevent “consequence free sex.”

Now, let’s ponder this notion for a moment. “Consequence free”?

Sex using effective contraception such as an IUD (the objectionable form of birth control cited by Hobby Lobby in its Supreme Court case, which Erickson is addressing in the above tweet, and which Colorado made attainable for women on low incomes) is anything but consequence free. The consequences of sex using effective contraception potentially include:

  • Intimacy between partners without fear
  • Pleasure between partners without fear
  • Bonding between partners without fear
  • Enjoyment and creation of memories between partners without fear

The fear in question, of course, taking two possible forms:

  1. Unwanted pregnancy
  2. STDs
So since it’s clear that sexual intercourse using contraception doesn’t prevent consequences, and that there are certain consequences which are in fact the point of having sex using contraception, desirable, good consequences, it appears that actually Erickson’s tweet should have referred not to consequence free sex, but to fear free sex. As in, nobody should be able to have sex without fear of creating an unwanted pregnancy or contracting an STDs. 
Why should nobody be able to have sex without this fear? 

Because they don’t think people—young people, poor people, unmarried people, gay people—should be able to enjoy “consequence-free sex.” Because it’s sex that they hate—it’s sex for pleasure that they hate—and they hate that kind of sex more than they hate abortion, teen moms, and welfare spending combined. Knowing that some people are having sex for pleasure without having their futures disrupted by an unplanned pregnancy or having their health compromised by a sexually transmitted infection or having to run a traumatizing gauntlet of shrieking “sidewalk counselors” to get to an abortion clinic keeps them up at night.

Yeah, I’m inclined to think so.

So hey, conservatives? At least, social conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Erick Erickson? Try just saying what you mean, okay?

You don’t think people– especially women and gays– should be able to have sex without fear. And it’s easier to makes sure poor women and gays can’t have sex without fear, because it’s easier to make sure that poor people don’t do anything that costs money. And contraceptives? They cost money.

Just say it. Sexuality should be controlled, and it’s best controlled by fear, so you want to preserve the fear.

It won’t happen, in the end…but hey, at least you can say you were honest.

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