First things first: I’m not going to discuss what people should feel is misogyny or not misogyny. I realize this is dancing around one of the very factors I think causes this kind of disconnect between writers and readers. In the end if someone feels a game, or a book, or a statement is demeaning or otherwise offensive is up to that person – not the subject of their feeling. It is certainly more black and white than that, but I’m leaving that whole aspect alone.
There are very few game products, FATAL and “The Slayer’s Guide to Female Gamers” aside, that are openly misogynistic. Instead the potentially demeaning content is often more subtle, and authors find it easy to say, “Well, that’s not what we meant” or “That was in character”. Even James Desborough – the author of “The Slayer’s Guide” – defended his blog post In Defense of Rape as satire, or comedy, or to prove a point. He may have had a real point, too, if it hadn’t been buried in defensiveness and the desire to make a point for the sake of it.
Dark Phoenix Publishing’s preview of their Lilliana sourcebook doesn’t so much have a point as it completely lacks one, which is what makes the statements I highlighted in my last post stand out. This is mostly because the book falls back on “women as sex objects” without adding anything at all to the trope of Vampires as Sex Gods. Being sex objects are the only way they can hold sway over males. To make matters worse, the discussion of the sex is two-dimensional and lacks any meaningful discussion of S&M, bondage, homosexuality, or any other non-vanilla sexual behaviors. Of course the book is prefaced with a warning of “adult content and material” – in this case, “adult” means “14-year-old-boy.” The defense of the preview was it is just a preview (I’m going to start calling this tactic The Rallying Cry of The Perpetual Alpha) and assertions the full product has more depth. To make matters worse, objections to the depiction of the females in the book have been met with more dodging the question, quoting unsubstantiated shadow playtesters about how everything is great, and the odd assertion that everything will be okay if the players aren’t doing it wrong (to quote Raquel Looker, the ersatz editor pressed into making a Facebook account just to comment: “Basically, the Liliana can only be as smart as the player. All of the material is there. All the player has to do is use it correctly [emphasis mine]”).
My intention wasn’t to spend the entire post ragging on Dark Phoenix Publishing, though. I wanted to discuss RPGs that have handled women in a more nuanced, mature manner. Granted, discussing men and women is very likely to turn to sex at some point, especially when the subject is how they interact with each other. Still, maturity isn’t turning a roleplaying supplement into softcore porn. Concentrating only on sex misses a whole lot of other story opportunities, and there are a number of games that recognize this and don’t pin down the more “sensual” character types as simple gold-diggers or whores.
Tribe 8, from Dream Pod 9, is an excellent example. In general, all of DP9’s game lines have dodged the most egregious stereotypes and pitfalls (it might have something to do with their being Canadian). When Tribe 8 was released, it got a little bit of criticism for being a “man-hater” game, most likely due to confusion with the punk band of the same name. To be sure, there are a lot of strong, female characters in the game – the society is, after all, a matriarchy. What it really boils down to, I think, is there are more strong female characters than most gamers are used to, and not an over abundance of strong female characters in general. Gender roles aren’t “reversed” so much as different, and men are neither inferior nor weak.
Tribe 8 even includes a “sexy” Tribe – the Magdalites. From my perspective, Magdalites are handled very well. They are a lot more than sex kittens and bimbos. Sure, sexuality is a large component but they have many more facets. Anything pleasurable is fair game: art, music, conversation, food, emotions, drugs, and even pain. They understand lust is just an empty urge without the accompanying emotions. There has to be some mix of love, hate, jealousy, desire, anger, happiness, sadness, excitement, disappointment. Sometimes those other emotions are far superior to lust, and Magdalites excel in manipulating all of them. Because of this Magdalites have a lot of power within the Tribes. Not because everyone wants to bump uglies with them, but because they serve so many functions: dancers, diplomats, spies, concubines, drug dealers and even assassins. Of course, there is a very dark side to the Magdalites – addictions of all kinds, the willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of new sensations, and emotional fallout of their power plays. Magdalites can break bonds as easily as they make them, driving friends and lovers apart for nothing more than their darkest secrets. These darkest urges align somewhat with the Z’bri (the big demonic evil in Tribe 8), who are completely grounded in the physical form and its sensations. In fact, the Magdalites are the diplomats who get sent to secretly trade with the Z’bri.
In the end, any RPG material claiming to be “mature”, yet only concentrating on sex (particularly that the only real power women have is through sex), fails to actually be mature. Taking the stance that somehow men are powerless against vaginas doesn’t make it any better. It just fulfills the same kind of male sex fantasy as going to a strip club and then going home and masturbating – there’s no substance and no real emotion there (for the record, I’m not saying that going to strip clubs is automatically immature – my thoughts on that sort of thing are beyond the scope of this post). It’s also very poor material for role playing (or any kind of story telling) because it misses out on a whole spectrum of possibilities.