For male gamers and readers, something embarrassing

The backstory: Assassin’s Creed is one of the most anticipated games of the year. When Yahoo! is talking about your game on the front-page, you know the buzz is pretty significant. The producer for this game is Jade Raymond who, like the lead-producer of every other game created in the modern age, gives a good portion of the interviews with the press. That is, if you’re a producer of a game and you’re noticeably articulate, you’re the one talking about it, you don’t tell the advertising executive or the intern to do that. As the game is being released, a comic/drawing surfaces, most infamously on the Something Awful forums depicting Jade performing fellatio on male fanboys (not to be confused with the photoshopped nude photos of Jade that are floating around). This comic is seen and shared by members of the SA forums at which point Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka of SA receives a cease and desist/threat of lawsuit letter from the legal representation of Ubisoft telling them to shut it all down and to let them know everything about where they get the image, who drew it, etc. At this point, the story becomes popular outside of SA and other blogs start picking it up, forming their own opinions (yes, just like me and just like this one). The story appears on digg and with it a rash of the most sexist comments (and some countering the sexist comments) appear.

The fact that someone felt the need to draw a pornographic comic of Jade Raymond is in itself is pretty disturbing. But what’s also mind-numbing is the consequent backlash you read from the blogosphere because Ubisoft dropped the hammer on SA. Reading some of the comments on SA, on digg and you start to see a trend. Most notably, the criticisms of Jade and Ubisoft go something like this:

1. It’s just a drawing. You made it a bigger deal than it was. By you making the lawsuit you just drew more attention to it so now more people know about it.
-Actually, no, I think it was SA who posted it on Digg saying that they were being contacted the attorney from Ubisoft so in fact they brought it to the public. It seems like Ubisoft wanted to keep this matter under wraps but Kyanka wanted to appeal to the public and get sympathy from the digg community (which, sadly enough, he actually seems to be getting). But getting back to the larger point, if someone draws something unbelievably offensive about you, you’re supposed to just ignore it? Brush it under the rug? Isn’t this what we tell women who get sexually harassed at work? “You don’t want to cause a fuss, it’s just going to take forever to fix it anyways to better to just ignore it.” If you ignore it then it implies that they don’t think it’s offensive. Ubisoft is doing what any employer should do when one of their own gets attacked like this: you stick up for your staff. Ubisoft is doing the right thing.

2. She’s just a pretty face who Ubisoft is using to “pimp” the product. She deserves what she’s getting because she’s just a show model for the game.
-Now, I didn’t think anyone would really be this stupid to actually say this publicly but alas, I am proven wrong again.

Quick history lesson. In prehistoric times, pretty cavegirls with cleavage hanging out sold rocks and sticks to horny cavemen. Sex sells. It’s always been that way and will never change. Everyone knows that. So when Ubisoft started pimping Assassin’s Creed, released this week for Xbox360 and PS3, they made pretty girl/producer Jade Raymond the poster child for the game. Whether or not she’s qualified to represent the game, or really had any involvement with its development is besides the point. To the jaded videogame nerd, she’s a set of breasts saying “Buy my game!”

It’s “besides the point”? Really? How is that besides the point? I think it very much is the point. If Ubisoft hired Jade Raymond and sold her as the “producer” and she has no experience or education whatsoever, then of course she’s there as a spokesperson, but Jesus H. Christ, look up her biography, she actually studied this shit as some people have figured out already. How are you going to dismiss the fact that this is what she does for a living? Have you seen one single interview of her talking about the game? There’s an obvious difference between a producer talking about a game and a spokesperson talking about a game and she very obviously is the former.

3. “That a surprise..Jade will act slutty to sell her game but can’t deal with the consequences of that.”
-Now, I haven’t been following this game obsessively since conception to release but since the story of this comic broke out i’ve been watching clips, interviews, reading stories, etc and i’m really struggling to see where this person gets where Jade acts “slutty.” She doesn’t pose for Playboy or Maxim, she doesn’t take “sexy” photographs (I mention these things becase they’re usually seen as indicators of one being “slutty”). I honestly think that his perception of “slutty” is Jade merely being in a stereotypically male-dominated space and simply being a woman, being attractive and having pictures of herself online where she’s smiling and looking happy and actually being confident, intelligent and articulate.

I can’t begin to imagine how something like this has to make a person feel after all the hard work they’ve put into something like this. After all the crap that she’s probably already gotten on the daily as a woman in the video game industry, to have this incredible achievement in her career marked by a select few idiots who decided to try and reduce her to a sex-object. Let’s make no mistake here, the men who do this are uncomfortable at the idea of women in power and women being in spaces where they see it being male-dominated. The men who do shit like this draw comics of women professionals performing oral sex on their “male fanbase” because it’s their literal attempt at inverting the actual reality: a woman producer is at the helm of an innovative game that is getting a lot of buzz and people are buying up in hordes. I don’t think these men can accept the fact that Jade is a success, I really don’t. I don’t think they can accept the fact that she did this without posing in Playboy or pandering to their ideas of what those Game Expos say women should look like and do to sell a product: wear practically nothing, smile, pose for pictures and just look pretty.

3 steps on how to attempt on fixing this mess:
1. If the comic is still around somewhere, delete the image of the comic, delete links to it, delete posts to it.
2. Apologize. To Jade. Whether you created the comic or spread the image or posted it on a forum.
3. Shut up about the game being some advertising ploy with Jade as the sex-tool. You’re going to make judgements about someone’s credibility as a professional when you don’t even know them? You’re going to base everything on her being a woman and you believing that she doesn’t belong in what you see as a “man’s space”? Really?

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This entry was posted in Discrimination, Popular Culture, The Internet is Serious Business, Video Games. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to For male gamers and readers, something embarrassing

  1. Eudaimo says:

    While I follow your blog with some regularity, we’ve disagreed on several things in the past.

    We have no disagreement here.

    I’m a gamer, and have followed the difficulty that Jade Raymond (and other women in gaming) face for a while now. Everything I’ve seen and/or read about Jade suggest only that she is a qualified game producer. Every interview I’ve seen about her and Assassin’s creed show a person who led a team to create a marquis game.

    But she happens to be female, and more, she happens to be young and pretty.

    So I’ve never read a discussion of Jade that didn’t devolve into a fantasy session or accusations that she is just an eye candy advertisement. Such accusations are always based on speculation or worse, already-debunked rumors that she is “going to pose for playboy or Maxim” It’s ridiculous, and it angers me.

    In this particular incident, I’m irritated that every time the subject comes up, idiots try to turn the argument into an irrelevant debate about whether or not the first amendment protects the comic. Let me solve the debate now: It does. But that doesn’t make it any less sexist or contemptible.

    Notably, I don’t find it embarassing “for male gamers,” but for those involved. If I had to be embarassed every time someone on the internet did something stupid, I’d have little time for anything else. :)

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  3. Jason Barr says:

    SA tends to be a nice little cross-section internet representation of several things that are wrong with our society…

    I’m not sure I would necessarily explicitly and intentionally ascribe the motives you suggest to everyone involved, but I think it has to go beyond the simple notion that we live in a culture with certain dominant views on gender roles and so people are “passively influenced” by those dominant views. There’s too much vitriol in the comments for that to be the case… not that I want to turn into Mr. Amateur Psychologist here – it’s not my field, philosophy is.

    I’m astounded by the easy assertion that she “acts slutty” to sell the game. She does? Where? The only thing “slutty” I’ve seen about her are faked pics, and that has nothing to do with her actual actions.

    The whole thing is just ridiculous, and I hope Lowtax and the goons get the hammer dropped on them for this.

  4. you know me says:

    Gamers and games are not yet evolved very much, if we look at the whole group. Just looking at games, I have not been seeing a truly innovative game in ages. Gamers, both women and men, are just like the product they are consuming. Sure, things are improving but we are still far from the goal “games are art” (excluding some pieces of art, sure). I still can see a mass of morons drooling on the latest fps shooter with wonderful graphics and nothing more (yes, it`s fun for a while, but it`s a movie we already watched). I mean, what kind of person is so guillable to get convinced buying a game (but also a book, a comic, a movie etc. etc.) just because there is a pretty girl on the cover (well, if we aren`t aiming at plain porn, which is another story), sure not me, neither you . The digital-era caveman is the objective. It`s just marketing, capitalizing as usual on emotions and instincts. Is it bad? Yes! What can we do against it? Donno, really. I must confess that I would found funny the “bj scene”, but it would never convince me to buy the game.

  5. tekanji says:

    you know me: I approved your comment simply because I don’t think you realized how insulting you’re being. The disucssion rules clearly state that you aren’t supposed to state stereotypes as facts, nor be dismissive of people. Which is exactly what your tirade on gamers is. It would also behoove you to realize that I (you know, the person who founded and hosts this blog) identify as a gamer. This is your one, and final, warning: read the discussion rules again and don’t break them.

    Also, where you say:

    It`s just marketing, capitalizing as usual on emotions and instincts.

    I think you’re fundamentally misinterpreting what’s going on here. This was not a marketing stunt (if it was, Ms. Raymond would have a much better way to seek legal recourse), but rather a malicious targeting and belittling of a high profile woman in the industry simply because she was a woman, and not an unattractive one at that. The accusations of Ms. Raymond being a marketing tool are false, and it does no one any good to perpetuate them as if they were true.

  6. Phil says:

    I can see how the cartoon is beyond the pale, in terms of fairness, good taste, or ethics. It’s not clear how Ubisoft has a legal case, though. This seems not much unlike the Hustler cartoon featuring Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother that the Supreme Court ruled as protected speech.

  7. you know me says:

    If I misinterpreted what is going around I apologise, BUT, as a gamer myself I can see that my fellow gamers (well, THE MOST OF THEM, I am not talking about the blogger, I usually don`t waste time talking to people I think wouldn`t understand). Just the products that are coming out! It is pretty clear that the market went bigger but not the contents (well not as much as I hoped). It is clear that as lovers of games everybody should do its share… something is happening, but still not very much. About this guys drawing a porn-scene about this girl, I don`t know. First, as it can be defined certainly degrading, we don`t really know why they did that. It certainly can be just because they feel at loss with a woman that is above them (an act to condemn, sure!), but, even if is that so, I am not sure it was totally conscious. I fear (maybe I am wrong) that they are not even mature enough to understand their own real feelings and why they did that (go to point one… gamers, GENERALLY SPEAKING, are not yet mature enough. We must improve that situation, but it is still a long way to go). But it is not the only explaination. It could also be plain third-rate satire. Bad, not particularly funny, still satire. They have the right to do that, we have the right to say it is poor and childish. Will it change something? Maybe in the long run… maybe

  8. you know me says:

    OOPS, Deleted the end of the first sentence of previous post by mistake! Sorry! It reads as a gamer myself I can see that my fellow gamers (well, THE MOST OF THEM, I am not talking about the blogger, I usually don`t waste time talking to people I think wouldn`t understand) are still immature (I AM NOT SAYING EVERY GAMER IS IMMATURE OK?)

  9. Eudaimo says:

    Since you consider yourself a gamer, I think you should see how mistaken your comments are.

    You assert that gamers, as a group, haven’t developed much, but the gaming demographic has grown substantially in the past decade to include an unprecedented span of ages, demographics and both men and women. Are you suggesting that people in general have not advanced much?

    Second, you suggest that games themselves have not evolved much outside of graphics. Whether games have evolved has *nothing* to do with whether gamers tend to be sexist. Stamp and coin collecting have followed conventions for decades–do you suggest that coin collectors tend to be sexist?

    Also, the idea that games have not evolved is simply wrong. There are dozens of games today in genres that did not (or barely) existed just a decade ago. MMOs and Rhythm games are just 2 examples. What other medium has evolved so quickly? Your attack on FPS’s makes no sense to me either. You see no real difference between Doom and Bioshock? Quake and Portal?

    Your second comment is bewildering. Why do you think we can’t know why Chugworth drew the comic? He has explained it. Even if it was ambiguous, Luke is attacking explicit *responses.* They believe that JR was “being a slut to sell the game” and that putting her on Assassin’s Creed “must have been a marketing stunt.” I’ve seen lengthy discussion board threads picking apart her resume trying to figure out how a pretty girl could possibly have been qualified to make a game. That’s the wrong being committed here.

    Your discussion of satire is common, but misguided. The comic *IS* satire. So what? Saying something is satire is not the same as saying it is “morally ok.” The LAW grants broad brush to satire because it is “free speech,” but no one on this page has suggested that either Chugworth or Something Awful have violated THE LAW. The problem with this comic is its MESSAGE: What social problem is it trying to solve through satire? I won’t link to the comic as Luke hasn’t, but if you read it, it clearly suggests 1. JR couldn’t be smart and qualified, 2. JR is attractive and has used that quality to sell her game. You can identify it as satire and still recognize that it is both factually mistaken and morally repugnant.

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  11. you know me says:

    >You assert that gamers, as a group, haven’t developed much, but the gaming demographic has grown substantially in the >past decade to include an unprecedented span of ages, demographics and both men and women. Are you suggesting that >people in general have not advanced much?

    I can see a lot of glitter, but a lot of dust under it as well. Sure there are some new things, but still there’s something lacking. And I tell it with a broken voice. The whole game business doesn’t convince me yet. There is something missing under what I define “art aspect”. I don’t want to start a discussion about what’s art and what’s not (it is impossible to find a real solution), but I think that, even though new generation games brought a lot of new inventions (mainly under the graphic aspect) they also brought something negative (what I call the “my graphic board is bigger than yours” syndrome for example). There is still too few in terms of subtext (or, you can still play some games without understanding that subtext). Game industry does what it is born for… selling. And to sell to as many peopole possible you have to create something “average”. We haven’t reached yet a “critical mass” point in which there will be market for really indipendent labels. However there aren’t people so bold, or crazy (call em artists if you mind) to create innovative games just because they want to, or there aren`t people willing to sponsor them (the so called art patrons). I know there is plenty of exceptions (I.e. Crayon Physics), but they are just exceptions. About people not evolving, they really don; do that since the times of Socrates.. I am actually beholding a genaral involution. But I am not talking about gamens here.

    >Second, you suggest that games themselves have not evolved much outside of graphics. Whether games have evolved >has *nothing* to do with whether gamers tend to be sexist. Stamp and coin collecting have followed conventions for >decades–do you suggest that coin collectors tend to be sexist?

    Are we sure there? Are we sure that the obsessive pursual of “X poligons in motion per frame” has nothing to do with a manly approach to the “problem?”.

    >Also, the idea that games have not evolved is simply wrong. There are dozens of games today in genres that did not (or >barely) existed just a decade ago. MMOs and Rhythm games are just 2 examples. What other medium has evolved so >quickly? Your attack on FPS’s makes no sense to me either. You see no real difference between Doom and Bioshock? >Quake and Portal?

    I am not talking about evolution speed. Sure it is advancing quiclky, but is not yet enough (in my humble opinion). About differences… well, no really. Last real breackthrough I saw in FPS was in Half Life 1. After is just the same soup with better graphics.

    >Your second comment is bewildering. Why do you think we can’t know why Chugworth drew the comic? He has explained it. Even if it was ambiguous, Luke is attacking explicit *responses.* They believe that JR was “being a slut to sell the game” and that putting her on Assassin’s Creed “must have been a marketing stunt.” I’ve seen lengthy discussion board threads picking apart her resume trying to figure out how a pretty girl could possibly have been qualified to make a game. That’s the wrong being committed here.

    Well, if it`s so it is bad. I said that before, I am repeating it. It is still a maschilistic (underdeveloped) environment, and we everybody must do something to improve it (for what I saw AC is pretty cool, not innovative but cool)

    >Your discussion of satire is common, but misguided. The comic *IS* satire. So >what? Saying something is satire is not the same as saying it is “morally ok.” The >LAW grants broad brush to satire because it is “free speech,” but no one on this >page has suggested that either Chugworth or Something Awful have violated THE LAW. >The problem with this comic is its MESSAGE: What social problem is it trying to >solve through satire? I won’t link to the comic as Luke hasn’t, but if you read >it, it clearly suggests 1. JR couldn’t be smart and qualified, 2. JR is attractive >and has used that quality to sell her game. You can identify it as satire and >still recognize that it is both factually mistaken and morally repugnant.

    Exactly what I said above. I agree with your statings.

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  13. tekanji says:

    Okay, can we try to minimize the discussion that’s not directly related to the subject at hand? Or at least try to connect it more directly to the subject of the post?

    Also, you know me, it’s easier to read if you use blockquotes for your quoted text.

    For example, if you type:
    <blockquote>Quoted text.</blockquote>

    in the comment box, you will get:

    Quoted text.

    It makes it a lot easier to differentiate the text you’re replying to and your actual reply.

  14. you know me says:

    EER, sorry. I am really a moron when it takes to code. Blockquote… got to remember that!

  15. Ben says:

    I think this is just another pathetic case of a sexist marketing tactic where the people involved have no shame against it. The sad part about it is that it works, whether it’s right or wrong.

    Most male’s probably dont have a problem with this (because of sexual instinct), but I would love to see their reaction if a scantily-clad male was on the cover.

    The reality of it is that this happens a LOT. It’s never really been admitted blatantly out in the open for a particular case like this, but behind closed doors, it’s always been a marketing factor for everything: “sex sells”.

  16. Aaron Karp says:

    As a male gamer and a fan of SomethingAwful’s editorial content (rather than the forums), this entire incident (or string of incidents) is doubly embarrassing and troubling to me. Part of me seeks to defend Kyanka, or at least provide some excuse for his actions – the site has seen so many threats of legal action that they have an ingrained aggressive reaction to them. Thing is, that’s not really an excuse, since it absolves him of any guilt for seeing the image in question and failing to judge it as without any reasonable merit. He fueled the fire, whether he was doing so out of misguided free speech fervor or not, and the quality of much of the site’s “professionally” written content seems to come from people intelligent enough to know better.

    As a gamer and aspiring game producer, the incident is both profoundly disappointing and worrisome. The reasons it is disappointing are obvious on a personal level. On industry level and for those of us who love it, it reveals that the advancements we’ve made are constantly threatened by retrograde ideas held by people who fit so nicely into the negative stereotype of “gamer.” We play increasingly complex and beautiful games that knowingly tweak our understandings of morality, causality, and our place in the world, but we’re forever held back by the image of a basement-dwelling perpetual pre-adolescent afraid of social interaction. Even worse is the chilling effect this could have. I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed, but I’ve heard great things. Clearly, Ms. Raymond is a talented producer, and I’m certain this experience has soured her at least somewhat on the industry and its fans. There may be other women who have considered working on games who are now hesitant to do so. Driving out and scaring off new voices can only make games myopic and tired over time, and I would hate to see that happen.

    I don’t know if Ms. Raymond reads this blog, or if she has any desire to dive back into what has to have been a profoundly bothersome experience, but in the hope that these words might somehow reach her eyes, I will say that I apologize on behalf of male gamers and hope that we can look forward to many more of your contributions in the future, despite how undeserving we seem determined to prove ourselves.

  17. tekanji says:

    Aaron: While I don’t hold the editorial content of SA in the same regard (while I think that the editors are talented writers, too much of their “humour” is rooted in mean-spirited “us versus them” rhetoric imho), I’m in complete agreement with the sentiments you’ve expressed here.

    I’m also a gamer and aspiring game designer/producer and this sort of BS is one of the biggest fears I have going into the industry. If you haven’t already, you can check out my thoughts here: Game designing while female. I’m a stubborn feminist who won’t let a little (okay, a lot of) misogyny stand in the way of my dreams, but in that way I’m the exception, not the rule and it saddens me — both as a gamer and as a feminist — that in 2007 games, and gamer culture, appears to be regressing instead of progressing. Hopefully our generation of producers, designers, etc. will be able to turn the tide, but I guess only time will tell, eh?

  18. tekanji says:

    Ben: I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the best way to address your comment (and hoping that Luke would answer it, since it’s his post). Unfortunately, a truly effective answer would require time and research which is something I can’t do at the moment.

    I think this is just another pathetic case of a sexist marketing tactic where the people involved have no shame against it.

    You’re making a lot of assumptions here that aren’t supported by the facts.

    1) The controversy was caused by people not in the industry (most notably Dave Cheung, who drew the comic, and Richard Kyanka, whose forums the comic was primarily distributed in and who made a stink about the C&D), therefore it’s incorrect to call it a “marketing tactic”. Cyber bulling and cyber rape are more correct terms for what happened.

    2) By sending a C&D Ubisoft was taking legal recourse to protect its employee. If they, as you say, “have no shame against it” they wouldn’t have bothered to pursue it legally, but probably have done something like turn it into a joke or otherwise put out some sort of press release to capitalize on the interest.

    Most male’s probably dont have a problem with this (because of sexual instinct), but I would love to see their reaction if a scantily-clad male was on the cover.

    What you’re terming “sexual instinct” here is actually much more likely socially learned behaviour. While there is probably biological grounding for the use of sexual violence as a method of control, the attitude is more clearly connected to the attitudes fostered by society in regard to women.

    The problem with calling it “sexual instinct” is that it erases personal responsibility in the matter, effectively saying, “I know it’s sexist, but it’s a natural reaction and therefore I shouldn’t be subject to criticism from other people or myself.” We, both as society and individuals, need to stop letting men off the hook for sexism and that starts with acknowledging the role we play in fostering sexist attitudes, including a lot of the discourse on what men and women are “naturally” like.

    The reality of it is that this happens a LOT.

    I’m not entirely sure why this is relevant. Of course it happens a lot; it’s a natural product of a sexist society and especially an industry that is still operating heavily withing the “boy’s club” mentality. The disturbing frequency with which these incidents occur is exactly the reason why discussion is necessary; until this kind of harassment is recognized as a problem by the gamer community/industry nothing substantial can be done to fix it.

    It’s never really been admitted blatantly out in the open for a particular case like this, but behind closed doors, it’s always been a marketing factor for everything: “sex sells”.

    I disagree with you about it not being admitted blatantly and out in the open; a very similar thing happened to Kathy Sierra, and I’ve heard the “sex sells” adage since I was in grade school. But, anyway, yeah, it’s a problem that needs to be recognized and addressed. It can change (and I have hopes for the “casual” market being able to bring in some maturity to the overall culture, personally), but that change needs to start with gamers taking personal responsibility for their own participation in the sexist culture.

  19. Aaron Karp says:

    tekanji: You’re right in that a lot of SA’s material is mean-spirited – I tend to dig the more absurd stuff, but none of that excuses any of the meaner fare, and certainly not the behavior of the forum members.

    I’m glad you’re not deterred by this situation or any of the many others that you’ve doubtless encountered. Go forth and develop! Hopefully I’ll do the same.

    As an aside, I have no idea how I found my way to the Shrub blog, but I’m quite glad that I did. Keep up the great work (same to you, Luke).

  20. philly jay says:

    I’ve heard a lot about assassins creed, but next to nothing about this lady until I found the comic in question.How? while reading the webcomic artist deivant art page.The comic itself was in bad taste.And I honestly fail to see how ubisoft was using her sex appeal to sell the game.I guess I just don’t see why some mostly male game fans are making such a big deal about her and her looks.

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