Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Opening Statements Part II: Louisa

For fantasy art freelancers or anyone even slightly interested in the practice (or for anyone who wants to listen to a group of very funny artists with assorted interesting accents chat about their jobs), you want to subscribe to the Ninja Mountain podcasts. They've done seven so far and they've announced on Twitter that the eighth ( to be released later this week) - will feature the first female voice on the show - Anne Stokes! She's a UK based gothic and fantasy freelance artist, whose dragon artwork is a constant source of envy for me.

I'm not a freelancer like Anne or Melissa. I've been working in the games industry for about a year and a half now, after four years on a Computer Arts course in Scotland. When I chose my degree, I confess that I was totally ignorant of what the games industry was like. I was fifteen years old, addicted to digital painting but with no idea what I could actually use it for as a career...and then while tending my other addiction (that would be Final Fantasy), a lightbulb came on. "Hey!" I realised. "Somebody has to do the art for these games!" On an unrelated note, too much time with computers and Final Fantasy games absolutely does not kill brain cells.

I hunted down courses, accepted an offer from my first choice, and turned up on the first day of class, eager as can be, and cast an eye around at my fellow students.

Every single female who has ever been in a computer related course knows where this is going.

There were roughly sixty students in the first year. Including myself, five were female. And one of them dropped out later that week. It did get better as the years went by.

By fourth year, we were up to five again.

(There may have been a sixth, but she was one of those elusive creatures for whom turning up to class was not only optional, it was apparently not recommended at all.)

In my final honours year, I did my dissertation and final project on female characters in games. I'm fairly certain I don't need to tell you what the results of that study was, but during the pitch and critique sessions we went through that year, I got some interesting feedback on my chosen topic and research. Two arguments were raised that reappear again and again in this arena.

1) "But you are working in the fantasy genre. You have to expect that the representation of women in games is going to be a fantasy."

Apparently they missed the part of my pitch where I pointed out that over 40% of gamers are women. Big breasted, scantily clad women are certainly ONE fantasy, but they aren't the fantasy of most women - hell, they aren't even the fantasy of every man. Why shouldn't we have our fantasies catered to as well? Perhaps it's assumed that the male group want that particular fantasy, and the female group want to be that particular fantasy. I'm sure some women do, but a lot of us just want to kick ass and take names and LOOK like we can as well. Most of us want a female option, period (there are a whole lot of games that don't have one). And dammit, don't tell me we don't still want OUR share of eye candy too!

2) "Be careful - a lot of people will read your title and think 'rabid feminist'."

Let's not get me going on the idea that women should watch out for being thought of as feminists, as if it's such an ugly thing. I can assure you that while there may be some academic institutions that let you write papers containing the kind of language that could be described as rabid, my uni wasn't one of them. My title, subject, and the thirty pages of introductions they make you write before you get to the actual paper were about as inflammatory as a dry, stale cracker. But when you study and work in a male dominated environment, suggesting that just a hint of bias may have crept in and and maybe it's time to address that, you get a knee jerk reaction like this. Even when both you and the knee-jerkee are intelligent, reasonable adults (which both the men who posed the above two questions were - they were professionals who really knew their stuff. And yet...)

The funny thing is, this kind of defensive reaction is entirely unnecessary. Are Melissa and I plotting to purge all bikini clad characters from the art world and replace them all with half naked Johnny Depp lookalikes? No.

Our mad scientists are still working on that last part.

We are going to carve out this little corner for ourselves, and others who share our tastes and opinions. Melissa mentioned some of our plans and I'm all aboard for reviews, features and interviews, and we have a lot of great ideas for the future too. What you may see more of from my side is a slant towards concept art and video games, which is my area of interest just as Melissa's is cover art illustration and freelancing.

And now if you'll excuse me, we have some half-naked men to paint!


  1. I, for one, prefer the slightly-nerdy look or the cute look with realistic proportions in a game, and while I don't pick female characters in games that only give you one character (i.e. I'll put females in a party in an RPG but had all-male WoW characters), I want the option to always be there.

    I didn't read your project but the art for it was fantastic. Hopefully the male bias in academia (is there one among the faculty?) didn't affect your grading, and ideally, some opinions were changed because of your work.

  2. Are Melissa and I plotting to purge all bikini clad characters from the art world and replace them all with half naked Johnny Depp lookalikes?

    I think you should.

    And a heated I know! for the absence of females in computer related courses. There was always only me in all the courses I took, and one of them turned out to be a bloodbath, quite frankly.

    And, when I think back to the years when I used to watch my brother and his friends play RPG games, I think a lot of them had teams comprising mostly of women. Scantily dressed, big-breasted women, mind you. Although now I can remember a guy from high school who only chose female characters, because "others give me stuff and are nice to me when I'm a girl". Then again, this was also a guy who phoned me up, completely surprised, when he saw a girl playing CS... or in other words, he was a shallow jerk.

  3. I think what you look to do is really great.
    One thing I think is silly, is how is being a feminist is a bad thing? They pretty much got the bad rap from bra burning hippies and, like any other theory that's been brought forward- fanatics.
    But I digress. I notice the bias in many fantasy or sci-fi novels too. Automatically, the girl can kick ass- until a guy shows up, or she's the self-sacrificing virginal maiden. I mean, come on.
    Equality in all media is needed and I for one commend you. Bring on the babes, I'm ready to objectify away.

  4. I am so happy to come across this! Did you announce it on LJ and I just missed it?

    It's a brilliant concept, and I hope you don't mind that I pimp the site at other places? I've favorited Artemisia and will check back diligently to see what you two have to say.

    Yours - whitemunin