How I Vanished for a Summer, Discovered My Life’s Ambition, and Dyed My Hair Purple (Also: Guild Wars 2)

To those of you who were readers from before June: It’s good to be back! I have missed the blog and all of the kind words of support from our readers.

To those of you who started reading after Joanna’s epic takeover: Hello! My name is BatCat. Joanna’s BFFL and co-founder of geekalitarian. I hope that you continue to reading our blog and help us by shamelessly promoting it to your friends (/shameless plea for promotion)

This summer I worked at a Girl Scout Camp as the Program Coordinator, Art Specialist, and Unit Leader. I have already extensively written about how awesome Girl Scouts is and how influential it can be on girl’s lives. The majority of those articles were for the newspaper The Laurel Mountain Post, but my pro-girl leanings have snuck their way into geekalitarian as well. Going into this experience I thought that working for Girl Scouts and running programing was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. My prospects of becoming an art teacher are few, so this was another way to apply the skills I have learned and still make a difference. By the end of this experience, I was really ready for it to end. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but working 6 days a week (or 7 days on the off-week) from 6 am- 12am with children? Not for me.

But something happened at the beginning of the summer that I didn’t know would lead to one of those course-of-life-altering-decisions. I took my boyfriend to the Carnegie Museums. He had never been to a museum before, and I was practically raised in one. We went to the Natural History Museum first- for those of you who have never been, it’s amazing. There are lots of activities to keep you engaged in the information or the artifacts. There are documentaries, authentic music, a hall of ‘stuffed animals’, and a lightshow explaining the Navajo creation legend.  Then we went to the Carnegie Museum of Art (which is in the same building), and it was a much different experience. As a student of art, I could walk around at a leisurely pace and actually appreciate what I was seeing on a different level. What I have noticed in other people is that they walk really quickly, don’t stand in one place too long, glance at a work, remain completely silent or shush their children, or walk away saying “I don’t understand why that’s art.” Later in the summer on one of my breaks I was thinking about this again and decided that that is it. That’s my life’s goal. Infiltrate the ‘institution’, tear it down, and bring art to the people! I want to make art museums just as engaging and interactive as science and history museums (and I am not talking about making a ‘children’s’ art museum) . Think about it: What is the difference between art museums as we know them and galleries? That you can buy the work. What is the difference between a history museum and an auction house? That you can buy the antiques and the museum provides the public with interactive and informative information. Why can’t art museums be like that?

Of course infiltrating the ‘institution’ will require me to go to graduate school. So I was looking into things and realized that I only have one semester left before student teaching. One more semester to be unprofessional. This was my last chance to do anything crazy to my hair. Thus, I dyed the underneath of my supa-blonde hair purple. End of that story.

This summer I also purchased a HP desktop pretty much exclusively for gaming. Guild Wars 2 comes out Saturday, so in celebration I want to share the infographic below with you. It is about the economy of Guild Wars 2 and has me pretty much convinced that we should elected game developers to Congress and budget committees:

-BatCat

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An RPG For the Rest of Us

Are you tired of medieval RPGs reflecting a Eurocentric view of everything? Of how uncreative developers can be with their universe’s cultural mythos? Of having only one humanoid race of non-white people to choose? Of the fact that everyone in the game is presumably heterosexual and cisgendered?

Introducing The Arkh Project. The Arkh Project is a video game whose developers seek “to make a game that focuses on queer people and people of color as main characters, and beyond that, allow people who are tired of mainstream gaming to have something completely off the wall and step into a new role.” The developers also intend to work with queer and/or PoC artists and programmers.

Basically, this is the RPG of my dreams. The concept sounds pretty cool, too:

“Follow the story of a deity bored with life amongst the gods, who leaves to find a purpose in life and seek out a lost love. Reincarnate your deity onto numerous worlds, live through the lives of others and gain life experience…but watch your God Energy, you need a lot of it to continue your astral journey.

Fight monsters only you can see, sometimes around very particular civilians who refuse to get the heck out of your way. Collect world-specific plants to enhance your healing items, and acquire numerous different kinds of weapons and scrolls from all different cultures.

The game draws inspiration from real mythos, from all sorts of different cultures, and each world reflects the culture it draws from.”

The character concept art looks pretty amazing. My favorite is Queen Zahira:

See that fancy dress? It’s made “from ethereal components that she reconstructed to exist in more planes.” She made the cloth herself, meaning she manages to be intelligent, badass-looking, and super pretty all at once. I’m on board.

In case you’re wondering what armor might look like:

The game is still in the development stage, but expect it to be released for the PC at some point.

Though there is more information which I could post, I’m stopping here because frankly I’m tired of navigating the hell that is tumblr. I’ll leave that to you, intrepid reader. In any case, I look forward to following the project’s progress (via their Facebook group), and hopefully playing the finished product.

In other race/fandom news, Racialicious has broken down Comic-Con for us in The Racialicious Guide to San Diego Comic-Con. I’m sure that one day, when I finally get to go to Comic-Con, there won’t be amazing panels that year, like How to Better Understand the Sociology Behind Cosplay or Subaltern Counterculture and the Strengths of the Underdog (which talks about Storm!). Sigh. Or I can be hopeful that talking about these issues at places like Comic-Con will become normal by the time I could go. But that would be optimistic.

-Joanna

Ladies’ D&D Night In

I’m re-posting a great article by Aminah Mae Safi over at Geek Feminism. It’s called All My Nerd Ladies, Put Your Hands Up, and suggests that women get together and play D&D, an idea that I’ll honestly admit never actually occurred to me. It’s obviously not rocket science to suggest that a bunch of women start their own D&D group. I’ve probably never thought about it because I’m used to not having a large enough group of girlfriends to do that. But it also might be because, somewhere in the deep, dark dungeons of my mind, I never actually thought you could do things like D&D without men. Obviously, if you were to ask me, “Is it possible to play D&D without men?” I’d say, “Well, duh.” But the thought has never really consciously crossed my mind. That fact makes me deeply uncomfortable.

One thing Safi discusses in her article is that she and her fellow players didn’t have to worry about being insultingly called “girly”  and felt “free enough to admit excitement over planning our characters’ costumes and buying pretty dice.” Women, myself included, often feel like they have to prove to their male nerd friends that they’re nerdy enough to be nerds.  About this Safi aptly says, “I didn’t have to prove myself by quoting an entire Monty Python sketch or discussing my favorite extended universe character.” Just today, I was discussing Skyrim with a male acquaintance, and I felt I had to know all the right terms, all the right evil gods, couldn’t confess my much-lower level. Even though he is a very nice, non-judgmental guy, I found myself nodding at names of people from quests I hadn’t gotten to yet, because I didn’t want him to think, oh it’s another girl who thinks she’s a gamer. This need to prove myself is embarrassing, and yet I can’t really blame myself. My whole life I’ve had to prove that I belong amongst geeks. I had to outdo a kid in seventh grade in a discussion about the Return of the King, because I knew he didn’t respect my knowledge of Tolkien, because he was male and I was female. I even think about what clothes I wear when I go into a gaming or comic store, wondering if the employees will think I really belong, if I’m wearing a lacy skirt or a fashionable waist-cinching belt. And unfortunately, the habit isn’t going to die just because I know it’s unfair.

So, while I’ve never experienced outright hostility in my own D&D group, which is mixed gender and generally welcoming, I think about the idea of playing D&D exclusively with women, and I have to say I like it. When one player decides, “hey I just got some Crackle nail polish, can I paint your nails, it’s so cool,” and another player says, “sure,” and the nail-painting happens between turns, without interrupting gameplay, you don’t have to watch as the male players cringe and shake their heads, just tolerant enough not to actually say anything. There’s nothing to prove. (That really happened one night. I was the one who said, “Sure.”)

As Safi says, she isn’t trying to suggest women permanently segregate themselves into a cutesy little ivory tower of ladies playing D&D. But it is a good temporary suggestion for those of us who want to break free of the habit of having to outdo other nerds with obscure knowledge, just to earn our seat at the gaming table.

-Joanna

D&D: Girl on the Inside

This is the first in a (possible) series in which I discuss the highs and lows of being a woman in the D&D/tabletop gaming universe.

IN THE BEGINNING…

I started playing D&D about two months ago. It was something I’ve wanted to do for many years, not some hipster joke or because I once watched an episode of Community. I’d never played because it seemed so daunting, with endless books to read and DM kits and minis to buy. High school me was broke and, really, two people (myself and my BFFL) were hardly enough for a full party anyway. (People joke about nerds playing D&D and not having friends, but really the two ideas are incongruous. A nerd needs at least four friends if they want to play D&D in real life.) I finally got my chance to start playing when the group my boyfriend’s brother-in-law played with had a schism, and a new group was formed.

I was excited to begin. I selected a bard, because I liked the idea of fighting monsters with my “rock.”  When it came time to choose my character’s race, I thought being either elven or human was lame, so I settled on the telepathic Kalashtar instead. Feeling damn pleased with myself and my character (and her ability to viciously mock people to death), I played contentedly for over a month.

Then some of us thought it would be nice to get our own minis. We had been using the more economical tokens that come with the DM kit and from a monster’s set. These are ok, perfectly acceptable for gameplay, but they have neither the flash nor the majesty of minis.

I knew it would be a challenge for me from the beginning. I wanted a female mini who was neither an elf, nor a sorceress, nor opposed to wearing clothes (let alone armor!). I figured there would be some official Kalashtar minis, and looked online. A single blonde, pale-skinned Kalashtar bodyguard answered my search. Apparently, the Kalashtar come in a variety as wide as humans, so I suppose that despite all the brown skin and black hair in the character builder’s Kalashtar pictures, the Aryan look of this bodyguard is acceptable. I also know the Kalashtar are a somewhat obscure race, so I’m not complaining about having only one option. In fact, this lone bodyguard is a blade-brandishing, well-covered woman who, despite the size of her breasts (the universal C-cup of all women), does not look simply like the sexual fantasy of a man-child. So kudos there. Unfortunately this figurine is no longer being made, and doesn’t at all fit my character, anyway. The fact that this is the only Kalashtar figure that has ever been made does bother me. If a Kalashtar could be any color or combination thereof, just like humans, why only produce a white, blonde Kalashtar? It is the same question that makes fantasy in general unappealing to many: Why, if you could create absolutely anything you wanted, would you simply re-create the inequities in race and gender you see in real life? Why are the good guys always white?

I digress only slightly. The challenges that women can face in the geek world are similar to the challenges that people of color can rub up against. (Not that one cannot simultaneously be a woman and a person of color.)

To return to my search for a figurine: I am fortunate enough to live down the street from a RPG/tabletop gaming store. The store is little and packed with wonderful things, from card games to paint for your mini. They do regular tournaments of every game you could want. It definitely has a feeling of a bunch of guys hanging out in a basement, with all the good things and bad things that entails. It’s a place I don’t know that I feel entirely comfortable in, a place where I don’t want to spend too much time in case women ever do come up, and I learn things about the proprietors I don’t want to know. (The “Skanks in Space” (fake?) movie poster prominently displayed behind the counter doesn’t make me feel more secure, even if I don’t really know what it’s referring to.) Don’t get me wrong: the two guys working there have never condescended to me or treated me like I don’t belong there. There isn’t anything actively hostile about the environment. But there isn’t much to convince me they’re welcoming me either.

A quick look at their minis, D&D and otherwise, proved my suspicions about the kind of female minis this shop would sell. It isn’t just that the women aren’t sensibly dressed; it’s the fact their nipples are more prominent than their weapons. It’s the fact that I can even see their nipples. It’s the fact that some guy seriously sat down and designed this woman and thought to himself, I need to make her nipples show. For every female mini that looks like this, there are 10 more that look like this. So I left that shop empty-handed, and with a little emptiness in my heart, too.

I realize I could paint a figurine myself. I could choose a woman figurine who is wearing clothes and wielding a weapon (or a musical instrument, because I can’t forget I’m a bard) and paint her so that she is brown-skinned like my character. I’m not doing that because I know that would end sadly, leaving poor Darshana a bleeding mess of paint. But the real point is that I shouldn’t have to. There should be figurines I can choose from that don’t make me feel like less of a person, figurines that wouldn’t get me laughed at or leered at if they went on a campaign. There should be figurines of brown-skinned women, if brown-skinned women exist in this universe.

And a barbarian woman, like any class of woman, shouldn’t be wilting like a porn star, posing for the men she pretends to fight, but rather, ferociously cutting her way through a  sea of foes. I look forward to the day when barbarian women like those are in the majority, and I can go to my local RPG shop without seeing bare breasts.

-Joanna M.

NEXT WEEK: Matriarchal vs. patriarchal societies in D&D and why it matters