I recently had the opportunity to speak with creators of the Pathfinder RPG at Paizo Publishing, James Jacobs (Creative Director) and F. Wesley Schneider (Editor-in-Chief). The subjects at hand were: the inclusion of the “forced-sex” origins of Half-Orcs in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook (discussed here), and some of the art in the Pathfinder Advanced Race Guide.
This is the second installment of the discussions and will focus on the art in the Advanced Race Guide. Some of the e-mails will be trimmed down for length. The end of the post will have some comments from me on the good and bad from the discussion.
As I said in the first post:
In the e-mails, Jacobs and Schneider also discuss a lot of other things about the Pathfinder setting – feel free to comment on these, because picking apart the good and bad of the game is important. I’m hoping that these posts will open up even more discussion of what we expect from Paizo, what they are doing right, and what they need to do better – not just with these things, but with everything.
As a small disclaimer, I am a Pathfinder system fan and play regularly. Due to my objections to the Half-Orc background and some of the other material, I have rarely played in the standard Pathfinder setting. I have a positive leaning towards the Pathfinder creators because of their efforts to improve the content from what Dungeons & Dragons had, but in spite of this, I still don’t think they are perfect, so I hope that’s clear.
Check out the conversation below the cut!
All emphasis is mine.
Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Schneider,
I also would like to comment on some of the recent art in the Advanced Races book. I actually liked a lot of the art in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and Players Companions. There was realistic armor for most of the females represented, and that was really great. However, in the Advanced Races book, there were a few pieces in particular that I was bothered by (for overly “sexy” portrayals or unrealistic armor), the biggest offender being the female Sylph*. Sylphs in general are really cool, but the artwork had odd proportions and also seemed to have the character’s torso turned completely around (both her chest and backside were facing the same direction). It was a very strange, and pretty off-kilter from the art I am used to seeing in Pathfinder. I just wanted to pass along comments that maybe in the future, this kind of thing could be looked out for, to provide the most realistic and empowering character representations (for both men and women).
(from James Jacobs)
And second, regarding artwork, we actually DO try to ensure that women depicted in our art are not always over-sexualized. Now and then, portraying female characters in sexy, revealing outfits is appropriate (same with men), but all the time does indeed get tiresome. In fact, we’ve sent back MANY covers and illustrations for female characters to our artists with directions like “Give her more clothes” or “get rid of her cleavage.” This is probably the number one reason we send art back for revision before publication, in fact. Some (and at times it feels like MOST) artists just prefer painting women in sexy outfits or poses. For the sylph in particular… well, these creatures have a long history in the game of being portrayed as beautiful women with little to no clothing, so this is certainly a race that would be justified in having less clothing than, say, a changeling or a dwarf or an aasimar. As for her “strange proportions,” that’s something that not all artists were born equal to illustrate. We commission a HUGE amount of artwork each year for our products, and now and then you’ll get artwork that isn’t as “accurate” or as fun to look at as other art. We DO try to make sure that what we publish is up to our standards, but whether or not that means it’s up to everyone’s standards is hardly a guarantee.
Anyway, again, thanks for the feedback. Both of these topics are ones that we know about and present knowing the possible conflicts that they can create, which is why we pick and choose when to pull those triggers for the good of the story rather than “spamming” them. Sometimes mature content is appropriate, sometimes not. We don’t want to sanitize Pathfinder, but nor do we want to make it feel totally exploitative. Walking that line between the two extremes does mean we’ll sometimes stray too far in one direction (sanitization or exploitation) for some folks, but in the long run, we try to keep it balanced. Feedback from customers is one of the most important tools we have to ensure that balance remains.
Paizo Publishing, LLC
(From F. Wesley Schneider)
The sylph topic is much easier to address, as it’s a logistical concern. Sometimes timing, resources, and price conspire to put book makers in the unenviable positions of making the choice between a piece of art that’s not so great or no piece of art at all. While we always strive for A grade art, sometimes a B (or sadly even a C) is better than a person-sized blank spot on a page. I think our track record shows that we strive to avoid the chain mail bikinis of many fantasy experiences–we’re more likely to tell an artist to add clothes then ever subtract them (artists are notorious perverts you know :P)–but every now and then a piece falls to an extreme side of the road we try to walk with our art. I’m sorry that particular illo didn’t do it for you, but rest assured that our vigilance on this matter remains a firm commitment, and know that we’re doing all we can to make sure that Ultimate Equipment and the NPC Codex after it has scads of even more awesome art.
F. Wesley Schneider
As far as the art, knowing how much you have to pull from and that there is a lot of difficulty in finding the perfect piece makes a lot of sense. I would personally hope that in future books, like you have with many other stereotypes, that there could be images of sylphs or other typically-sexualized races that differ from the norm, but I know it could be hard to find. With the recent surge of internet groups trying to encourage artists to draw for realism instead of for T&A, I hope that you’ll receive more submissions of that type.
So, all in all, a pretty great response from the creators. As I said, I really was happy that the guys got back to me. My response to them was a little more brief than I would have preferred, as I didn’t want to take up too much of their time and didn’t have a lot of time myself when I responded. A failing on my part. Rest assured, though, my commentary is below! (I have also included from G+ some of the discussion I had recently on this very topic.)
well, these creatures have a long history in the game of being portrayed as beautiful women with little to no clothing, so this is certainly a race that would be justified in having less clothing than, say, a changeling or a dwarf or an aasimar.
I get Jacobs’ point here, I really do. I’ve read about sylphs in mythology for ages. I’ve read about them in RPG books. I understand how people typically perceive them. However, I still think the excuse of “it has always been done that way” is kind of a bummer. As far as clothing goes – I’d rather not stereotype by race, at most would do by class, and it would be refreshing to see the sylph represented in a stronger way – as they’re supposed to be air elementals, there’s no reason they couldn’t be portrayed in an androgynous form, or even as a male figure – that’s the cool thing about magical creatures. You can do whatever you really want to do with them.
As for her “strange proportions,” that’s something that not all artists were born equal to illustrate.
I guess I have the same thoughts here as I do with comic books: If someone is drawing a thing that is supposed to have proper anatomy, in a style that typically uses proper anatomy, then have them do it right or not do it at all. If it’s something with more fluid anatomy, then learn ways to do it that don’t involve too-long, revolving waists or t-rex arms (although if you drew a monstrous race with vestigial t-rex arms… yes!).
I think our track record shows that we strive to avoid the chain mail bikinis of many fantasy experiences–we’re more likely to tell an artist to add clothes then ever subtract them (artists are notorious perverts you know :P)–but every now and then a piece falls to an extreme side of the road we try to walk with our art.
I do agree that Paizo has done a pretty good job. Below are some images that they sent back for corrections (courtesy of Wes Schneider)!
I think in this post, it’s more a plea from me to artists. I do put a LOT of responsibility on the creators like Jacobs and Schneider – if I didn’t I wouldn’t have e-mailed them. However, the content of books comes in part from the artists who contribute – or don’t contribute.
Now comes the final piece from a discussion I had on sexist art in RPG books, which turns some responsibility onto the readers and consumers, as well – some things were edited for clarity:
They say they need to fill the space in the book and they accept what is sent in after a few times through a filter (basically, they filter it and filter it, but sometimes there’s still chaff left over, because ya gotta fill them pages). My thoughts are, go beyond what people send in. There are plenty of artists who do great work who just haven’t submitted to Paizo either because they don’t think they can, or because no one has told them they should. It is not that hard to have a person to spend a little time online searching for artists who might be willing to sell a piece for them. I’m sorry if that seems unreasonable to expect of a business, but damn it, quality is important and no one should ever settle for “filling pages”.
The big thing about the sales numbers model (artists make, companies sell because people buy) is looking at it in a vacuum. People buy them, but they probably don’t like everything in them. Paizo does accept criticism well, and I do think it shows in most of their books that they consider more than just what people spend money on – or, well, let me put that a different way: they consider more than what the stereotypical majority/expected consumer will spend money on. However, sometimes people buy books with shitty or sexist art because of the rules but still don’t like the art – and the problem is you cannot evaluate why people buy something without asking. Many people buy books or movies that have sexist content, but not because they want the sexist content – because they want everything else in it.
I bought the Advanced Races book because I liked the rules inside, and then I e-mailed Paizo to tell them what I didn’t like. It’s also a matter of what is available: If there is no RPG book without sexist art, then our options are to make our own, not buy RPG books, or demand something better of retailers and highlight what is wrong with it – or do all of the above, or a selection of them. Shrinking it down to that simple sentence of “artists make, companies sell” takes out the responsibility of companies to know their audiences (their REAL audiences, not the stereotypes of them), and enforces the idea that all people who buy things like everything about that thing – and that’s just not true.
I guess what it comes down to, for me, is being aware of what art you look at (and the reasons why you look at it), what art you make (and your motivations for the art), and what art you promote (and if you’re promoting it honestly), and then taking the time to recognize when you settle for something less in one area but more in another – like in my case with the Advanced Races book that I didn’t like some of the art but did like the rules – and then tell the creator why you did it, and then creators should be responsible for first, feeding that back to their pool of artists, and second, considering who is talking to them to reevaluate their audience. It’s hard work! I think it’s worth it, though.
Is this something that’s achievable? I think so. From a personal perspective, I think that the 3e Shadowrun art is beautiful and representative and some of it is sexy and a lot of it is really hardcore, but I can’t remember running into much that made me cringe because of the porntasticity. The Pathfinder CRB doesn’t give me cringes. I think it’s totally possible, and I think it pays off in the end.
Thanks for reading! Please comment below if you have something you’d like to share.
Note: I am not demanding anything of any gaming company or any artist. Artists and creators have every right to draw or sell whatever they want, and I respect that. What I am saying is that they should be aware of what they are creating, and how potential consumers will respond. I’m asking for cognizance and explaining what I want and expect from gaming companies, and what I would like to see from artists and consumers.