2016/11/23

Fisking Kotaku's Anti-Conan Hit Piece

Belit

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:
Belit
Yep. I posted it above, and I'm posting it again!
The word for how she looks is beautiful, another concept that I'm not surprised eludes these Morlocks. Whether this image should be in the game is a ) not Hornbeck's call to make and b) something she really can't discuss with any credibility now that she's lined her pockets from selling it.
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.


Belit

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.

@BrianNiemeier

26 comments:

  1. "Fuck off" is, indeed, the best answer sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You know, I've been watching some old cartoons recently, and I've been amazed.

    They couldn't be made today.

    Now, I'm not talking about Daffy Duck style "Eat it, Krauts!" style humor. That's been out of bounds for as long as Song of the South.

    Dexter's Laboratory features a functional and happy family unit. The mom and dad are silly in mom and dad ways but are not looked down upon in either of their roles. The sister is the dumb one who is an unabashed girl who likes girly things. Dexter likes science, but also partakes in other boy stuff like action movies and comics. All of this is treated as normal and isn't questioned at all.

    This is a show made in the 1990s*, and it could never be made now.

    At this point, SJWs simply want everything made before Current Year whitewashed to where every character is a formless grey blob and every plot consists of the same formulaic drek week after week. It only stands to reason that all games should follow this template.

    But to think they can take on Robert E. Howard? That is as foolhardy as their current attempts to break into the Metal world. Pushing rules on people who don't like rules never ends well.

    *At least the original Genndy "Samurai Jack" Tartakovksy run. The reboot without him was trash.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You may have just put your finger on the reason I stopped watching contemporary cartoons circa 2000 and never looked back.

      Delete
    2. Hey I'm just going to throw this out there

      Steven Universe

      Delete
    3. Never saw it. Sounds like I saved myself some grief.

      Delete
    4. No I mean, it's a non-nuclear family, and the characters are definitely not formless grey blobs, and I'm pretty sure it's even been praised for its plots being the almost exact opposite of formulaic

      I mean, it's up to you, but it's definitely an example of a non-nuclear family show not being bad

      Delete
    5. "Stephen Universe" is a show specifically designed to give their male lead as feminine a role as possible and their female lead as masculine a role as possible. The entire point of "Stephen Universe" is to call the concept of the traditional family into question.

      And, of course, the infamous "Lesbian Gem" episode. Two main female characters all but humping each other right in the middle of a children's cartoon.

      The best modern cartoon - which recently ended, but within the year - is "Gravity Falls", which doesn't feature full families but is all about sibling relationships.

      Delete
    6. @malcolmthecynic

      That's closer to the secondhand impression I've gotten of the show. A while back some folks were trolling SJWs on Tumblr by posting images of Stephen Universe characters redrawn as slim and with white complexions.

      Delete
    7. The SU fanbase also drove one of the staff to attempt suicide. Thankfully she lived through it.

      I concur with malcolmthecynic about Gravity Falls. Very funny, good family and friend relationships, and solid horror vibe. Only two seasons long, too.

      Delete
    8. I'll have to check out Gravity Fails sometime.

      Delete
    9. Just googled that. It was a fan artist, not one of the staff, who tried to kill themselves. Apparently her fan drawings triggered people, and they harassed her.

      Her being a Stephen Universe superfan she was probably an SJW herself, and - and I hope people also recognize the many things I am NOT saying in this comment* - thus not entirely mentally well. It's never surprising when they turn on each other.

      *I am both NOT saying that all SJW's are mentally unwell or that one must be an SJW to have mental health issues. I'm merely going off of my experiences, which tend to point to a higher rate of mental problems, including depression and suicidal tendencies, in SJWs as opposed to other folks. This is very far from saying that all people with mental issues are SJWs, something I certainly would understand, having some experience in this area myself.

      Delete
  3. Sorry I'm late to comment, but I just want to congratulate you again on this fisk.

    ReplyDelete
  4. What the frack would these people do if someone created a board game based on those John Norman Gor books?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. James Desborough is working on a Gor RPG

      Delete
    2. What the frack would these people do if someone created a board game based on those John Norman Gor books?

      SocJus will scream so loud you'll be able to hear them on the peak of Mt. Everest.

      Delete
  5. Beautiful article. SJW feminists completely lost their way when they decided 100% of all artwork must be policed, rather than the more sensible idea that a VARIETY of roles/characters should be represented across any particular artistic medium. And even then it should be up to the CREATOR how they want to express what.

    This kotaku horseshit is simply the latest attempt to duct tape [insert entertainment media guys enjoy] together with real world violence, sexism, and misogyny. The problem is that entire tower of cards was founded on a lie.

    Entertainment is for entertaining, and how you treat your fellow humans reflects on who YOU ARE. Not the victimless hobbies you enjoy.

    This sort of bullcrap has helped democrats (of which i am one) lose a tidal wave of elections in the US at the local, state, and now national level. There is no political or economic future for wrongthink policing social justice.

    We've tried it, tested it, and found it has virtually no merit whatsoever. The silent majority has voted with their wallets, their votes, and their attention. It's time for diaper tantrum SJWs to crawl back in their holes and mutter to each other.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comment points toward the fundamental psychosis at the heart of Hornbeck's witch hunt. She's confused treating women like objects, which Monolith isn't doing, with treating objects like objects, which is how games work.

      Delete
    2. Speaking of psychosis, here's the censorship crusade from a psychological perspective.

      Delete
  6. That is so close to become rule 34

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am so sick and tired of being told what I should and shouldn't like or what shouldn't be proper for today's straight male. I grew up on Howard's stories and I love John Buscema's version of Conan. Her objections are absurd. "Fuck off," indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here's the crowning absurdity: she and her fellow travelers know they're alienating fans like you. They also know that you make up 90% of their customers. Like Sarah Hoyt and Nick Cole have pointed out, these people are zealots who will gladly burn whole industries to the ground in the name of their pet delusions.

      Delete
  8. And that's why we ignore them and why we revisit the old stories or write new ones. Anyone who objects to how Conan was written or how people are portrayed in that world ain't a true Howard fan, anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It's been a while since I read one, but aren't the women in those stories as bad ass as the men?

    ReplyDelete