Monolith has a Conan board game coming out, and it looks totally sweet. Their customers agree, because the Kickstarter to fund the game has raised over three million dollars. Robert E. Howard fans will soon be mowing down miniature plastic Picts like wheat.
Or they would if it weren't Current Year, when perennial scapegoat groups are roundly threatened with having their toys taken away as punishment for causing all of society's ills.
SF aficionado extraordinaire Rawle Nyanzi alerted me to the human cliche on a self-appointed crusade to purge wrongthink from within the game's distributor. Then Kotaku rushed to the puritanical schoolmarm's banner like a dog returning to its vomit. Since neither the SJW instigator nor her corrupt media accomplices learned anything from #GamerGate or being sued into oblivion by Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel, another lesson is in order.
Kotaku's agitprop appears in italics. My comments appear in bold.
A woman who helped market a wildly popular upcoming Conan board game, which raised over $3 million on Kickstarter in 2015, is speaking out against its portrayal of women.Worst marketer ever.
In a November 12 essay titled “Grab ‘Em By The Board Game,” Cynthia Hornbeck, who marketed the game for Asmodee, the company that is distributing the game, says women in Conan are treated as “objects.” The game was made by Monolith Edition. Conan’s art and gameplay, in her view, reflect toxic stereotypes about damsels in distress and sexualized, submissive female characters in the fantasy genre.By her own admission, Hornbeck marketed a game that features "toxic" art and gameplay. One can reasonably assume she was paid for it. This is what ethicists call proximate material and formal cooperation.
Protip: the time to raise objections against practices you find morally repugnant isn't after you've rendered willing material aid and taken your share of the proceeds. If you do go along and only raise objections after you've pocketed the money, don't be shocked if people see you as less than credible.
“The designers and the kickstarter team were appealing to obviously a [sic] male demographic that wanted to feel empowered by objectifying women,” Hornbeck told me.Later in the same article, Hornbeck admits that the game's audience is like 80-90% straight men. Let me give you a little inside baseball. In publishing, giving your core audience what they want is called "good business". But given how hard Hornbeck is SocJusing, I'm not surprised that the concept is beyond her.
In an e-mail, a Monolith representative told me that the game is just derivative of “U.S. pop culture.” Its tropes about women, he said, come from “the “sword & sorcery” style,” Robert E. Howard’s books (“as true as possible from the books”), and John Buscema’s Conan comics. Hornbeck’s beef is that those tropes shouldn’t be glorified in a modern blockbuster board game.A blockbuster board game that Hornbeck helped promote. She's free to pull a heel turn after the fact, but good luck getting anyone to listen after abdicating any shred of moral authority.
Nuts and bolts details about the game follow. Omitted for space. On to more SJW scolding.
Named for the eponymous novel series, Conan is rooted in writer Robert E. Howard’s pulp fiction sword-and-sorcery world. And along with its 1932 publishing date comes 1932 ideas about women. Pliant servant girls dot his fantasy landscapes. Conan is a grizzly, muscled warrior who famously conquers what he pursues, be it an enemy, a hot young lady, or a hot young enemy lady. In “The Frost Giant’s Daughter,” Conan pursues a near-naked woman—an enemy—who runs from him, screaming for help. He grabs her and attempts to kiss her before she calls on her father, the Frost Giant, to attack Conan. Howard writes, “With a scream and a desperate wrench she slipped from his arms, leaving her single gossamer garment in his grasp.” The final twist is that she’s a “lure,” meant to draw in men whom her father and brothers would slay.
Howard has difficulty introducing female characters without referencing their breasts, often “ivory,” within the first sentence or two. An introduction of the character Belit begins, for example, like this:
“Belit turned toward Conan, her bosom heaving, her eyes flashing. Fierce fingers of wonder caught at his heart. She was slender, yet formed like a goddess: at once lithe and voluptuous. Her only garment was a broad silken girdle. Her white ivory limbs and the ivory globes of her breasts drove a beat of fierce passion through the Cimmerian’s pulse, even in the panting fury of battle.”Penalty! Chronological Snobbery. If Kotaku didn't confuse telling time with telling the truth, they might not have been sold to Ziff Davis in a fire sale.
And yes, Kotaku, we noticed how you started criticizing the game; then substituted pearl-clutching over a separate short story instead of citing evidence from the subject matter at hand.
However, this oversight is soon corrected thusly:
This is the kind of thing you might expect from a Conan book in 1932, but it’s not what Hornbeck believed needed to be in a 2016 Conan game. Take the presentation of Belit in the game. She is the queen of the Black Coast and Conan’s lover. Also, she’s the only playable female character in the board game. Of your heroes, three are male, and one is Belit. Here’s how she looks:
|Yep. I posted it above, and I'm posting it again!|
In the game, Hornbeck writes, Belit’s “mechanical function is to make the men better.” Conan’s developers clarified that, in addition to her “Leadership” skill, which lets her give orders to her guards, she also has a “Support” skill that provides buffs to her friends. In Hornbeck’s view, that means her job is essentially to “follow Conan around and boost his abilities. Because that’s what women are good for in this world: being fucked by men and making those men feel good.” As the only female playable character, her focus on supporting men’s role in combat, paired with her barely-there clothes, comes off very 1932 here in 2016.And makes me yearn, more than ever for a time machine.
Because heaven forfend anyone should ever make men feel good. [Spotting a pattern yet?]
When asked to comment on Belit’s role in a Conan party, a Monolith representative told me that, while she’s less powerful than Conan, she’s as strong as two other playable characters.The answer we were looking for is, "Fuck off."
More urgent to Hornbeck is the cover of Conan’s heroes’ rulebook. Conan stands imposingly over what Hornbeck describes as a “prone damsel in jeweled panties.” She appears to be passed out.
Hornbeck objected to the cover and said that male and female co-workers agreed with her. “Why is she naked?” she wrote. “Why is she on some sort of rock bed/ altar and glowing, so that we the gamer focus on her physical beauty? To me, she looks like his prize, a reward for his violence with which he can do whatever he wishes- including grab her by the crotch and rape her before she’s regained consciousness.” She described the scene as “the scene of or before a rape. And you, my friend, are going to take on the role of the rapist.”This may sound like a wild idea at first, but hear me out. What if we stopped entertaining the paranoid delusions of shrill thought police and just enjoyed stuff that normal human beings like--such as physical beauty?
The makers of the game disagree. A representative from Monolith forwarded a picture of its inspiration, a Frank Frazetta painting.They maintained that it depicts Conan as a good guy. “The bad guy is now missing from the cover but everyone knows that Conan is a hero and is here to save the women and not to attack the women.” Asmodee declined to comment.Monolith could stand to learn from Asmodee's example.
Of the Heroes’ Rulebook cover, Hornbeck says, ‘This cover actually represents a scene from one of the game’s scenarios, in which Conan and his friends must rescue a princess who is about to be sacrificed by the Picts. In that scenario, the princess token/figure is treated exactly as if she were an object. She has no abilities. You can even toss her across the board.”Do I really have to explain to this nutcase that plastic tokens are, in fact, objects?
Oh, and lest you start to think that Hornbeck views actual women as anything more than abstract tokens to advance her morally bankrupt ideology, in her original essay on the game she writes:
That same fantasy is promoted by the campaign of now President-Elect Donald Trump. He will make America great again by expelling and/or imprisoning its dark-skinned enemies and grabbing its women by the crotch.Reality to Hornbeck: we have zero documented incidences of Trump grabbing women against their will. The same cannot be said for certain individuals from the terror problem regions that he's called for an immigration moratorium on pending our ability to properly vet them.
The score going into the final round--Trump: taking steps to make real women safer. Hornbeck: posting her concerns about violations of fake plastic women's rights on the internet. Advantage: Trump.
Hornbeck argues that depictions of women like this are the result of an industry that advertises to a mostly straight, male audience. According to Hornbeck, 81% of Asmodee’s social media following is male. For other board game companies she’s familiar with, that percentage has never gotten below 90%. She says that 95% of the board game reviewers she’s worked with have been male.These figures, which I mentioned before, paint a different picture than the Escher-like logic loop in Hornbeck's mind. In a sane world, a marketer who complains that her client's product is being marketed to a demographic that makes up 81-90% of its customers would get a reply to the effect of, "You're fired."
Then again, Hornbeck doesn't work for Asmodee anymore, so perhaps the healing has begun.
A recent Shut Up & Sit Down review draws attention to Conan’s grab for straight men’s sexual interest, noting that there are 1.25 boobs per game scenario:See? A more effective marketer would've raised that boobs per scenario ratio to 12:1.
There have been several Conan board games in the past, with similar male/female power relations, marketed to similarly male demographics. I asked Monolith whether the game may alienate potential female customers, and they responded that the game’s depiction of women “are parts from U.S. pop culture.” But Hornbeck says that it’s time to start speaking out about it. Just because the game’s using Robert E. Howard’s world and characters and is being marketed to men, she told me, doesn’t mean that it needs to cater to a power fantasy:Monolith, someone you paid to promote your game is now trashing it on the flimsiest of invented pretexts, and these clowns are boosting the signal. Once again, you are perfectly within your rights to tell them, "Fuck off."
“Part of this comes from a deep tradition in which board games are designed to let men live out these fantastic roles they can’t live out in real life,” Hornbeck told me. “Part of that is living in a male world in which women are objectified and/or secondary. This is a historic thing.” She asks designers and buyers who agree with her to be more deliberate architects and consumers of their games.The derp is strong with this one.
Consider: if men can't live out these fantasies in real life, then a game based on those fantasies poses no threat to anyone, and both Hornbeck and Kotaku are railing against nothing.
This doesn't even rise to the level of "Video games cause real-life violence" or "Playing D&D will turn your kids into satanists".
By the way, Monolith were being pretty deliberate when they raised over three mil with a Kickstarter campaign targeted at straight males. I wouldn't bet on Hornbeck's fellow travelers achieving anything close to that level of success. Translating from the Alinsky, what Hornbeck really demands is for designers and buyers to agree with her censorious, misandrist ideology.
In conclusion, I encourage gamers and SFF fans who are looking for fun instead of dubious morality lectures to read some Robert E. Howard stories over the holiday weekend.
And if you want more stories that ignore the demands of Marxist neo-puritans in favor of fun, check out the books in my Pulp Revival-approved Soul Cycle.