One of the greatest teachers I ever had was Mr Kettle, he was an English teacher of fierce determination who managed, through sheer force of enthusiasm and his classroom antics, to engage even the brutish dunces with the joy of the English language. He used to let us play RPGs in his classroom at lunchtime and acknowledged that they were great for our English skills - amongst others.
Mr Kettle died of an aneurism a few years after I left school, just as the internet was starting to come into its own and sometimes I wonder if I'm headed for the same fate when I read the latest bout of nerd-rage, especially when it comes to gaming nerd-rage and particularly when it comes to some of the idiocy around the English language and gamer insecurity around women.
This latest argument - and its spin-offs - is one such aneurism-inducing event.
This one's about GenCon's non-gamer havens, or Spousal Activities (SPA) which is a nice idea to give non-gamers who have been dragged along to the conventions by their better half, something to do while their significant other is killing things and taking their stuff and having multiple nerdgasms.
So far so good, right? Providing a useful service, helping the convention-goers maintain marital harmony and broadening the appeal and inclusiveness of the con. But wait, what's the icon that they use to advertise SPA in the guidebook?:
Oh, a ball and chain, a traditional term for the other half of a relationship and thematically appropriate for a hobby that invokes dungeons a lot. So where's the problem? Oh... apparently it's sexist? It's a horrible thing to do? It insults and marginalises women and makes the hobby look more male-oriented and discriminatory than it is?
Unfortunately, in comments HERE
It emerged that this programme and its icon has been used for some 5 years, without incident, was chosen by women for an event primarily run by women and the SPA events are for anyone and include both gamer widows and gamer widowers. So why such a fuss? Why is gender such a massive issue for gamers? It's not like this nerd-rage over nothing is the first incident and this brings me back to my English teacher.
You may or may not have noticed but a lot of gaming books deal very clumsily indeed with pronouns. You'll find books that only refer to 'she'. You'll find books that alternate between 'he' and 'she' and you'll find other sorts of peculiarities that I'm unaware of having any real purchase in publications beyond the more extreme end of feminist literature (examples such as hirstory for history and other ridiculousness).
Now, I'm not attacking political correctness, the intent there is good, but the idea of deliberately changing language in order to promote a particular agenda is rather Orwellian rather than PC. That's not political correctness - seeking to minimise offence -that's attempting to control.
The irony is particularly thick when it comes to the linguistic issue and I've banged on about this before. Defaulting to 'he' does not indicate a presumption of maleness on the part of the person being described, 'he', like the term 'mankind' refers to humanity as a whole, regardless of gender. This is because we've actually LOST the particular terms that referred to males. 'Man' - for example - used to be prefixed by 'wer' or 'wyf' to indicate gender. When you use the term 'he', unqualified by context, you're being linguistically inclusive compared to when you use the term 'she' when you are, specifically, referring to female. Then you're being exclusionary.
1. 'A first time author can expect to have his manuscript repeatedly rejected.'
2. 'A first time author can expect to have her manuscript repeatedly rejected.'
3. 'As a first time author, Alex found that his manuscript was repeatedly rejected.'
In number 1 there's no hint as to the gender being talked about, it's speaking generally.
In number 2 it's specifically talking about a woman.
In number 3, despite the gender neutral name, we can gather from context and phrasing that it's talking about a specific man. Changing he to she would swap this around.
So, why do we do this to ourselves? Is the sight of a 'she' improperly placed throughout an RPG book suddenly going to make a neophyte gamer out of Jane Doe? Is it fuck, it's linguistically incorrect and, frankly, patronising I even find it a little sinister, which I'll go into in a minute. This kind of linguistic mangling is our equivalent of the pink Nintendo DS.
Why is gaming so neurotic and insecure about women? Face it, huge parts of the hobby are not and never will be appealing to women. It is a classically obsessional, largely male-appealing blend of adolescent power fantasy, fun with maths and borderline aspergers. You're not going to turn the appeal of the game around by fucking up the language in some misguided and erroneous attempt to be inclusive. If you're genuinely serious about reaching out to female gamers you need to pull a game-changer like the Wii or the DS (minus the patronising pink). There's plenty in RPGs that can appeal to women and has in the past. White Wolf pulled it off with V:tm and their LARP organisation, but the heyday of that is behind us. If you want to appeal to women more play to those strengths, the storylines, the romance, the characterisation, the whimsy. Yes these are stereotypes but they do exist for a reason and if past experience is anything to go by, it's what works.
What this makes me think of is a sort of hive-mind gamer version of the rather creepy geek dating fallacies, I can't find the exact link I'm thinking of, but THIS
Yes, we want more women to be into gaming partly because we think gaming is awesome but, let's be honest here, a lot more of it is in wanting to increase the dating pool for dysfunctional nerds. If only we can get more women gaming they'll UNDERSTAND and then they might let me touch their boobies! All this linguistic abuse and special treatment isn't treating women equally or appealing to them, it's being patronising and stupid and it's as creepy as being the 'nice guy', lingering around being a 'good friend' in the hopes that you'll eventually get into a girl's pants.
In getting involved in some of these arguments the accusations have come thick and fast that, in defending proper English or pointing out the fallacies in these arguments, that you're somehow coming from a position of 'privilege' as though that somehow invalidates a truthful argument or a fact even if it were true.
I had a similar spat over a tweet I made to promote Boobquake
(no such outrage about that) because I INCLUDED post-op transexuals 'Girls, ladies, women, post-op transexuals, lend me your boobs!'. Somehow, I'm not entirely sure how, someone took that as being exclusionary and insisted that post-op transsexuals ARE women. Sorry, but no, you might be legally women and you deserve to be treated as such, but the tweet was inclusive, by including them and no matter how much plastic surgery and hormone therapy you get, your chromosomes - the things which actually determine gender - aren't going to change. You're genetically male. Facts are SO inconvenient...
It seems people everywhere are looking for reasons to get upset and insulted and are getting thinner and thinner skinned, which is quite peculiar given the rough-and-tumble of the internet.
So, let's wrap up...
- If you think 'he' is excluding people, you don't understand the English language. If you must pick something neutral it's not going to be crowbarring 'she' in there. The consensus appears to be that the plural is the gender neutral way to go about writing, so you use 'they' instead of either.
- Just because you're offended, particularly by something genuinely innocuous, doesn't mean that everyone else is, or that they should be. You might only be offended because you're ignorant or hypersensitive. Getting offended on other, imaginary, people's behalf is also a bit strange.
- The ball and chain thing is meaningless and it's pure White Knight Syndrome to go charging in half-cocked on this. 'Look at me! See how sensitive, caring and progressive I am! Please fuck me!'. That it's run, approved and chosen by women blows away your argument. Ironically a little investigation has turned up that 'Ball and chain' these days can be used for either partner. It's lighthearted joshing and secure people with a sense of humour can deal with that.
- Just because you're offended doesn't mean other people are and doesn't mean something is offensive. A TV programme can attracts millions of viewers but 10 complaints is often enough to get it apologised for and withdrawn. I'm sure we can all agree that this is ridiculous and this is NO DIFFERENT.
- You're not going to get more 'chicks in gaming' by being creepy or treating women as some special, strange, alien creature that must be appeased with symbolic, self-deriding changes.