If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky and I’ll give you a quick rundown after the page break.
A female gamer contacted Mongoose to ‘alert’ them to the works of one of their freelancers, James Desborough. Her complaint was that his work is misogynistic and advocates rape. To say that the exchange between the company rep and the complainant was ‘tense and unprofessional’ is a little like saying that ‘lava is kind of sticky and warm’.
The drama ratcheted up a notch when the gamer in question started an online petition (with selectively edited and misleading information that she later amended after the initial damage was done) to get Desborough fired and Mongoose’s rep responded by posting a drama-laden thread on their message boards with a ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ style survey about their support support of the books in question.
From there things escalated to threats of raping the woman who originally complained and Mongoose disavowing and dismissing Desborough. Which has the unfortunate consequence of making the original complainant’s cries for justice a little more legitimate than they should be.
Nobody came out of this one covered in glory. Including all of us who discussed it on various fora and social networking sites.
Not that it is likely to matter to anybody, but this whole Moongoose/Desborough kerfuffle has highlighted something for me that I try to live by. Which is to say that I don’t trust anybody to tell me what my opinion on a given topic should be.
Having read and really, really enjoyed Agents of S.W.I.N.G., I found it hard to reconcile the author of that game with the guy who was being portrayed in the petition and such. With that in mind, I called around to friends and hit the Half-Price Books in my area to find copies of the stuff he is taking heat for.
Below are my opinions (for what they are worth, which isn’t much) of the works in question, written as I read them. But don’t take my impressions for gospel either. Go read this stuff and decide for yourself if you like or dislike them or if they are worth outrage.
Ouch. Alien. Unknowable. etc. Women as ‘other’ hit pretty hard from the first page and remains a theme throughout the entire book.
Disclaimer: None of this should be taken as offensive, though it probably will be. If you cannot see we are also taking the Mickey out of male gamers as much, if not more, than gamers of the female persausion then you need a humour transplant and a kick up you pert, well-rounded, tightly chain-mail-clad arse. Please accept that most gamers do not have issues with women, they have a subscription, a complete collection from issue one and fancy binders to keep them in.
Long, long, long and minute dissection of the supposed short-comings of female gamer’s bodies, minds and personalities. Plenty of digs at guys as well, but not as intense, even creepy as the ones leveled at and upon women.
The art ranges from bad and slightly tacky to really bad and insulting for the most part.
I can see the humor as intended but it’s actually not that good, subjectively. And the whole ‘woman as alien’ thing gets ugly fast. Really unpleasant tone.
Also, the web-enhancement print out was … wow. ‘Warrior Dyke’. Wow. When you get that from a guy who (presumably) isn’t LGBT, the knee-jerk reaction is ‘Fuck you!’ But the problem is that ‘reclaiming’ and ‘use within community’ are really complex. But still … wow.
Aaaand the book seems to be largely about magical ways to date rape or sexually assault and/or harass somebody, right down to changing their orientation. (On the other hand, points for using ‘orientation’.) Most spells are unisex, by the way.
More obvious as parody and actually better-written than ‘Female Gamers’ or ‘Temptress’. The art is mostly bare-breasted. Meh. Also several pieces seem to be almost direct copies of Marvel characters into a fantasy universe.
‘Mystic Pimp’ and ‘Peeping Scryer’ as prestige classes. Actually just about as bad as it sounds.
Magic items and monsters are boringly puerile.
The Quintessential Temptress – 2004
Disclaimer: The Quintessential Temptress is, of course, a slight exception being, as it is, after all, a bit of a piss-take. There is, however, a great deal of genuinely useful information contained within this book in spite of the humour and mirth, things that can be used practically.
Some people lacking in the essential brain cells required to tell humour from seriousness, or who excuse their lack of understanding of the joke by accusing humour of perpetuating stereotype and persecution may find something within this book to offend them. Jolly good;enjoy being upset, you know you do. The rest of us will get on with having a jolly good – not to mention harmless – chuckle.
I know he’s preaching to the choir here, but the tone is pretty much exactly what he decries when it cuts in his direction. Not ironic, but darkly amusing.
The tone the book itself can be summed up as ‘Kidding … but not really kidding’.
Detailed subsystems that are obviously designed to be usable, rather than just a parody, involving how to create and run a brothel and various female prostitutes and roles thereof. Interestingly enough, the concept of male prostitution never comes up at all.
The art is more sexual towards the back of the book, but the front stuff is actually less cheesecake than a lot of mainstream products.
The ‘Orgy’ art piece is actually a bit disturbing. It looks like an artistic commentary on promiscuity and AIDS or something, with emaciated, grossly sensual figures who look to be having sex while terminally ill. Straight guys have weird taste in porn.
We have an eight year gap here, in which Desborough was apparently writing on other topics, for the most part, perhaps having mined his wit and wisdom on gender for all it was worth. (Which is significantly less than a bag of recyclable cans.)
It is worth noting that the time gap between these works and today’s gamer culture has seen a significant change in the awareness and representation of women at the table. However, the next one is current.
In Defence of Rape - 2012 [link]
Wow. The title is pretty much designed to shut down conversation before the merits of the article are even discussed. The ‘Leda and the Swan’ graphic is a nice touch, though.
But … getting to those points, well, there aren’t many. The basic idea is that rape culture arguments are wrong (with the suggestion that the author has been intellectually bullied) and ‘Rape or attempted rape is a fucking awesome plot element, one of many.’
You know, I can’t really have all that much on an opinion on the opinion piece because it was so vague and nebulous that the only point seems to be ‘in the right hands, at the right time, with the right audience’, etc. And it’s hard to argue that isn’t true. What the article doesn’t examine is when, where, who and how. And without those, it’s as bland and useless a topic as ‘Sunshine: Threat or Menace?’
Obviously this is just my perception (as is everything above) but I highly, highly suspect this was link-bait gone horribly wrong.
So there we go.
My conclusion? Mr. Desborough really does think he’s writing satire. And that’s pretty much a judgement call. Of course, there are issues with how it is handled and whether satire is a useful tool when applied to people who are already disenfranchised (like, say, women gamers).
Is it to my tastes? No. It really isn’t.
Is it something that should cost somebody his job? Well, that’s also complex.
If Mongoose is saying ‘we should have never commissioned these works (or accepted them if they were slush pile submissions), that’s one thing. If they are suddenly claiming, ‘Hey, we didn’t know who this guy is and what he’s written about (in part)! Really!’ then that’s a disingenuous bit of nonsense.
There are three things that really stand out about this whole mess for me.
The first is that gamers, tabletop gamers included, have a long, long way to go before we’re as enlightened as the average gamer likes to think he already is. And that works like the ones above actually raise the bar in terms of making it hard to get women interested in the hobby. I can’t imagine they would have been published if they were The Slayer’s Guide to Black Gamers. Or Jewish Gamers. Because racism, unlike sexism, is already widely perceived to be less funny and more pathetic.
The second is that mob rule and flash reactions to protest are bad. Are Desborough’s above listed works puerile and stupid? Yes. Are his opinions distasteful? Yes. Should those books have been published by a company that wants to keep a professional reputation? No. But should the original, fraudulent petition been ignored? Yes. Facts were enough in this case. Should Desborough’s ouster become an Internet ’cause’? No.
Boycotting Mongoose was and is still appropriate, in my mind. But they are offering up the writer THEY published like a sacrificial lamb and pretending they didn’t know what his work was about. That’s pretty scummy in my opinion. They are basically trying to skate by and pretend to be the ‘good guys’ in a situation that frankly doesn’t have anybody who fits that description.
At the end of the day, the publisher, not the writer, bears the burden when it comes to works like this. Because in a civilized society, anyone can write anything they want. But in that civilized society, a publisher should and would refuse to publish material that promotes the values of Desborough’s work. But then again, that’s what self-publishing is for.
The last and most important thing is this: DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK. Before you blindly support or condemn a creator based on your own (very high-minded, I’m sure) principles, make sure you know who and want you are supporting or condemning. Because there are real people involved. People who don’t deserve death and rape threats. People who don’t deserve to be vilified for disagreeing with you or me. Or agreeing for that matter. Make up your own mind. And then act on it. And tell others why and how you’re doing so. That’s how things get done. But first and foremost, know what you are talking about before the torches and pitchforks come out.