Function

16 Dec

Some people don’t know this, but I used to work at a porn store during my early twenties.  There was a television mounted on the wall near the front of the store and we were required to have a movie playing at all times.  Most of the time we would choose your basic ‘Tab A/Slot B’ straight porn, but every once in a while we would throw in something with a particularly strange box cover, or even a gay porn, just to see people’s reactions to it.

It was during this time that I discovered trans* porn was a thing and more importantly, that people were into it.  Once I figured out that I was transgender, I became convinced that nobody would love me the way that I was.  I went through a really nasty period where I would fool around with guys and not tell them what I was.  I would consider it a victory of some kind when I was able to pull one over on them, which happened quite often.  In my mind, I was being accepted.  I was being shown love.  It wasn’t until much later, when I realized how dangerous this all was, and how like a lot of things in my life up to that point had been, it was an illusion.  Those guys weren’t loving me.  They were loving what I wanted them to see.

So, when I saw customers purchasing trans* porn, it made me feel like I wasn’t such a freak, after all.  That someone could be into what I was, and maybe even fall in love with someone like me.  I started watching trans* porn on the television at the store and fantasizing that I was the women in them.  After a while, I noticed a really disturbing trend in the movies I was watching.  There would always be at least one scene where a trans* woman would look right at the camera with this distant, almost dead look in her eyes.  Her partner in the scene never seemed to notice, but I couldn’t help but be aware of it.  To make matters worse, she didn’t seem to be physically enjoying herself, either.  She was completely limp and couldn’t bring herself to masturbate while she was being fucked.

I enjoy sex – a lot.  I could fuck morning, noon, and night, and never get tired of it.  Those images terrified me.  It seemed like transitioning came with some sort of twisted bargain.  You could be extremely passable or finally look the way you have always felt you should, but could never enjoy sex again.  Sort of like ‘The Little Mermaid.’  I knew that some of the drugs you could be prescribed could lead to erectile dysfunction, but that seemed to be the point.  I would read one blog post after another from trans* women who seemed incredibly willing to give up that part of themselves, in order to be the women they have always wanted to be.  I seemed to be the only one questioning this, the only one wondering if the price to pay was too high.

I recently reached the point in my transition where my doctor wanted to write me a prescription for Spironolactone, which is an androgen, or what is commonly referred to as a ‘blocker.’  Typically, just introducing female hormones into your system is enough to start flushing out any testosterone you might have.  But sometimes your body rebels against this and continues to make more, so they give you blockers to help stop that.  Immediately after telling me that he wanted to put me on Spiro, my doctor made sure to tell me that the side effects included loss of ‘spontaneous erections’ and possibly the inability to have or maintain an erection at all.

‘Oh my God,’ I thought to myself.  ‘I’m going to be that woman in the porn scene.’  It was my worst nightmare coming true.  My mouth got dry and my eyes started to dart around the room.  I was already on the highest dosage of hormones that my doctor could give me, without being on a pill, or moving on to injections.  The pill comes with a slight risk of cancer and I already decided there was no way I could ever inject myself with a needle.  I could take the blockers and possibly move things along or I could risk plateauing and take even longer to get where I want to be.  I took the prescription and began preparing myself for what life would be like, if I wasn’t ‘fully functional.’

After a week of being on Spiro, I’m pleased to say that any fears I had about not enjoying sex anymore were completely unfounded.  While I’m not able to go as many times as I used to, I’m still able to physically enjoy myself, and a couple of times a day, at that.  It feels great knowing that I don’t have to pay what I consider to be a steep price just to be myself.

Back

15 Dec

There once was a time where I would look at my stats page for this blog and repeatedly hit ‘refresh,’ just to watch the number of page views go up and up and up.  It’s part of the reason why I don’t know how many subscribers my current podcast, The Deck Tease has, or how many downloads I get each week.  The thrill that I would get from seeing how much attention my posts were getting would ultimately turn into feelings of jealousy or inadequacy, when I would see how well other blogs were doing.  ‘Why do they have more readers than me?’  ‘Why do they have more Followers than I do?’  ‘Why am I not on their blogroll anymore?’  I would ask myself these questions and a whole lot more, and then take out my feelings on others.  It wasn’t good.

I logged in to my dashboard earlier this year and was shocked at the number of consecutive months that had gone by with this blog not accumulating any traffic.  I mean, I knew that I didn’t play World of Warcraft anymore, and certainly hadn’t updated this blog in almost two years.  What did I expect?  I kept telling myself that I would do something with this space someday, but never did.  Having a weekly podcast and an active Twitter Following means you have far more convenient ways to put your thoughts out there than sitting down and writing blog posts.  The few times I would try and write something didn’t go so well.  I felt like writing had become a muscle that I let atrophy, in lieu of saying what was on my mind on a podcast or in a video on YouTube.

So, I guess it’s only fitting that the desire to write again has hit me hard, just as I have re-subscribed to World of Warcraft, and suddenly have lots to talk about.  Things that I’m pretty sure my current following of Magic the Gathering fans have little to no interest in.

I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy Warlords of Draenor as much as I have been.  I re-subscribed, mostly to see what all the fuss was about.  I still Follow a number of friends that I made through World of Warcraft on Twitter and seeing their excitement for the new expansion was infectious.  I figured I had no more vacation time from work for which to travel to Magic events and it was going to be getting too cold to do that, anyway.  Why not stay warm in my apartment and play World of Warcraft?  Plus, it’s a neat way to save money, when you’re trying to catch up on bills from when you were going out every night in summertime.

I knew that I didn’t want to play a priest anymore, given how much time I spent fighting with raid leaders over which spec I should be and why.  I realize now that it’s not unreasonable for people to ask a healing priest to be versatile and to be knowledgeable in both holy and discipline.  Some guilds don’t ask that of their priests, and that’s great.  If I didn’t want that expectation to be held over my head, I should just take that out of the equation, and play something else.

I also knew that I still wanted to primarily be a healer.  Healing as a monk or paladin never really interested me, nor the idea of leveling as a melee class.  I had been a druid for several years and felt like it was all old hat by now.  That left leveling a shaman.  I had a shaman alt that I got to max level in Cataclysm and enjoyed very much.  I putzed around with her in Mists and got her to max level, but did nothing of note.  I enjoyed my time spent on her enough where I knew that leveling wouldn’t be painful and that with enough time, I could be a good shaman healer.  Maybe even a great one.

So, I started leveling, and enjoyed one zone after another.  The quests felt like they were dripping with flavor and I even went out of my way to complete the bonus objectives in each zone.  I didn’t abandon a single quest and didn’t mind not having a flying mount to bypass mobs that were standing in my way.  I found myself perusing sites like MMO-Champion and Wowhead again.  Then I noticed that old friends on my Real ID list who had also quit had come back to the game and were enjoying it as much as I was.  There was talk of doing 5 mans together and possibly even flex raiding.  It felt like nothing had changed, like The Good Old Days.

I think that’s what brought me back to World of Warcraft, in the first place.  The feeling of being good at something again.  I have never gotten over the feeling, the fall from grace of going from a top-tier raider in a US 250 guild, to being not very good at Magic the Gathering.  There is a certain type of privilege that comes from being good at something and one that I have missed greatly.  I know that I’m good at podcasting and I’m good at being a personality, on Twitter, or otherwise.  But that’s different.  There’s a different level of respect that comes from being good at the game that you talk about or write about.  The feeling of people looking at you and wanting to BE you.  I’m sure that sounds terribly narcissistic or vain, but it’s hard to give that up once you have had a taste of it.

Magic the Gathering is very much a game of variance.  There is a lot of randomness and dare I say it, luck involved.  Large scale events often come down to who drew what card or who got paired against who.  Did you get paired up against all of your bad matchups?  Were you right in predicting the metagame for that event?  Some people really like that aspect of the game.  World of Warcraft certainly has some aspects of variance, too.  A tank might receive an unlucky crit from a boss or the same target might get debuffed again and again.  But those instances are rare and many things can be chalked up to human error.  For instance, standing in bad, or not using your cooldowns properly.  Not using crowd control or not following directions.  Things you can control.

I have always resented the fact that I feel like I put so much time into Magic the Gathering and have little to show for it, with regards to how my game has improved.  Whereas with World of Warcraft, I feel like I can spend a weekend, or even an afternoon trying to get better at something, and will most likely see results.  For example. I hit level 100 last weekend.  I immediately threw myself into the Dungeon Finder, and my Skyreach group barely made it through.  I didn’t have my addons installed.  I hadn’t read any boss strategies.  I was a mess.  I logged in this past weekend, with my bars customized just right, with Deadly Boss Mods installed.  I read up on the dungeons, knew what boss dropped which item I needed – and suddenly it wasn’t such a struggle to keep my group alive.  Each piece, each run through an instance made me feel better, more competent.  By the end of the weekend, I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t heal my way through.

You have no idea how amazing that feels, after spending two or three years grinding away at a game, and not being at the place you think you should be.  It’s a huge shot in the arm and the confidence boost from that has started to affect me in other areas of my life, too.  I actually feel happier, in general, because of it.  Isn’t that strange?

So, for now, the plan is to keep grinding away at dungeons, and get to an iLevel (about 620) where my group of old friends will take me on their flex raids with them.  I really like the idea of raiding with people that I have history with and seeing content at our own pace.  We are all in agreement that we want to raid again, but we don’t want to do it at the speed we used to.  Looking back on it, I’m amazed that I was able to keep it up for as long as I did.  I’m fine taking my time to get geared and fine not being in a cutting edge guild.  It took me seven or eight years to get here, but here I am.

I don’t know if I will continue to update this blog, but I like the idea of doing so.  It also feels really good to stretch those writing muscles again.

Thanks for reading!

Good Game

1 Oct

I had always imagined that the first time that I cried around my boyfriend would be because of a particularly sad scene in a movie that we were watching or maybe because of a truly heartwarming gift that he would buy me for my birthday or for Christmas.

I never dreamt that the first time that I cried around my boyfriend would be because of World of Warcraft.

It happened last night, after I called to rant about how much I was frustrated with the leveling process, how I felt like my guild had backpedaled on their initial expectations on when they wanted us to be raid ready, how I hated the prospect of having to do a seemingly overwhelming amount of dailies to get ahead, how I felt like leveling had turned into a competition to see who could hit level 90 in the most unhealthy way possible, and how I felt like Blizzard was being hypocritical by saying that they wanted to make raiding more accessible to people, while still creating even more hoops for people to jump through in order to prove just that.

Once I got all of that out of my system, I grew quiet and stared up at the ceiling.  He waited patiently on the other end of the phone, thinking that I still had more to say.  My eyes began to dart around the room, making sure that I didn’t focus on one spot for too long, because I knew what would happen if I did.  I could feel my chin quivering and the emotional dam inside my head starting to break.  Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

“I don’t love raiding anymore,” I said through tears.

I know it sounds silly to cry over a computer game and I told the boyfriend as much.  But raiding is something that I have truly loved to do for a long time.  I have compared my relationship to World of Warcraft and more specifically raiding to being in a relationship with an actual person and having to say that I no longer loved the one thing that keeps me going and the one thing that keeps me playing hurt about as much as realizing that the person you have spent years of your life with you no longer love anymore. 

If I loved raiding, I would gladly take time off of work to be raid ready.  If I loved to raid, I wouldn’t mind using my last vacation day of the year to spend it leveling and doing dailies.  I wouldn’t mind losing sleep, or temporarily putting off plans, because I would be doing those things for something that I love to do.  But I don’t love the idea of it anymore, so those things are turning into an imposition and they are turning into things that I’m starting to resent having to do.

I think another reason that I broke down at the fact that I didn’t enjoy raiding anymore is because for a long time I have felt like raiding was the one thing that I was good at.  Especially now, since I came back to Magic.  I’m not that good at Magic yet.  When I don’t do well at a Magic tournament, I can at least walk away from it knowing that I’m a Savior of Azeroth or that my guild finished in the top 300 of the United States, or that I am a competent priest that people turn to for advice.  If I didn’t have my raiding anymore, then I would have nothing to console myself with.  I would be just another player who performed poorly at a Magic event.  I would have nothing that I could turn to and say “Well, I’m not very good at this, but at least I am good at this.”

At least that’s what I thought, anyway.  As I dried my tears, the Boyfriend began reminding me about all the things that I am good at and that I could be good at anything I put my mind to.  I could turn all of the passion that I had for World of Warcraft and for raiding and put it towards something else and most likely see the same results.  He told me how smart I am and how I don’t need raiding to feel good about myself or to feel competent and that if he thought that I was that type of person, he never would have started dating me to begin with. 

That made me feel a little bit better.  I know he’s right, too.  So with that said, I think I’m going to tell my guild that I’m not going to raid anymore and take the demotion down to the social rank in the guild, provided they let me stick around at all.  And if they don’t, I am sure I can find someone on Twitter or in the community with a guild that will take me in as a casual member.  I can see myself doing some PVP in the future or maybe a fun raid with friends who just need a warm body to fill a spot.  But I think it is safe to say that my time as a serious, progression minded raider is over. 

It’s funny.  I had a conversation with a couple of people on Twitter yesterday about a custom in Magic the Gathering where your opponent tries to shake your hand after the round is over and says “Good game.”  I had mentioned how I felt that the practice was sort of condescending, mostly because it always seems like the winner is the person who puts out their hand first and that of course they are going to think it was a good game because they won. 

Then a friend pointed out to me that “Good game” is not to be taken literally and that often times the person feels that you genuinely put up a good fight or played well and that it deserves to be said and complimented on.   I didn’t even think of it that way. 

So in the future, when I think back on my time spent raiding and that I walked away from it all, I won’t be afraid to pat myself on the back and say “Good game.”

And it was.

Time’s Up

22 Aug

I had originally intended to make what I’m about to say in this post a topic for conversation on the next episode of my new podcast, but I felt like it might feel better to get these words and thoughts out of my head and on to paper – or the closest thing to paper that I have, which is my blog.  I feel like getting things off your chest feels differently, depending on the method in which you choose to do it. 

Lately I have been feeling very overwhelmed.  It started right around the time that the release date for Mists of Pandaria was confirmed.  The officers of my guild had decided that they would like us, the raiders to be 90 ideally within a week, but for sure within two weeks of release.  This coincides with the pre-release weekend for Return to Ravnica, a highly anticipated expansion of Magic the Gathering that I and many others are very excited about.  Since I have come back to the game, I have made it to the last two pre-release weekends without fail.  I had every intention of making this one, too, but with the race to hit level 90, I realized I may not be able to make it.  This really bothered me.

Then my boyfriend and I decided to reconcile and start down the path of giving our relationship another shot.  He lives in Chicago.  One of the issues that came up during our initial break up was the fact that we weren’t spending enough time together.  Back then we were seeing each other every other weekend, sometimes every third weekend, mostly due to his work schedule.  When we agreed to give things another try, it came up in conversation that we may have to try stepping things up to every weekend or three weekends out of the month.  This was something I was fine with at the time, but when combined with everything else that I have going on started to make me feel like I was suffocating. 

So, let’s see.  Three days a week raiding, plus Fridays for Friday Night Magic, plus my blog, plus my podcast, plus being a guest host on other people’s podcasts, plus finding time to socialize with my friends and to see my family, plus work 40+ hours a week, and have weekends to spend traveling for the occasional Magic tournament or other type of event, and manage to maintain a healthy relationship with my boyfriend.  How am I supposed to juggle all of this?

Even the first two weeks of Mists seem incredibly daunting to me.  The expansion comes out on September 25th, which is a Tuesday.  I’m not going to burn a vacation day on launch day, for various reasons.  I decided to take the one vacation day that I had available and use it on that Friday, instead.  So starting on Tuesday, I will be coming home from work around 4:30, eating dinner, leveling from about 6pm to 11pm, going to bed, and then doing the same thing on Wednesday and Thursday.  Friday through Sunday would be spent primarily leveling, most likely missing the Return to Ravnica pre-release, and then doing the same 6pm to 11pm grind every day the week after until I’m level 90.  Then comes the grind for gear and rep, so that I can be raid ready.  I’m exhausted just typing this.

Let’s say that I eliminate World of Warcraft from the equation.  Admittedly, this clears up a lot of my week.  Let’s say that I play only Magic and podcast, while blogging occasionally.  I’m already only playing Magic one day a week right now and that’s on Fridays.  Every weekend that I spend with the boyfriend rules Friday Night Magic completely out.  Typically I take the Amtrak to Chicago on Friday afternoons after work and I get down there around 7:30pm.  Most Friday Night Magic events start well before then.  I could start playing Magic Online and play during the week, but I’m leery about having to build an online card collection, in addition to an actual one.  I also worry that playing Magic Online will simply become a substitute for World of Warcraft and I’ll find myself tethered to the computer again during the week.  It would be like substituting one addiction or vice for another. 

Then there is the issue of traveling.  One of the things that excited me the most about getting back into Magic again was the opportunity to play in more large scale events across the country.  I had originally intended to stick to states that were nearby, like Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, etc.  But I have been very fortunate to meet people in states that are a bit farther away from me that I could go visit and even crash with, too.  I could visit Seattle if I wanted to, or Los Angeles, or even New York.  The possibilities are endless.  I can’t do those things if I have a boyfriend, or a boyfriend that my weekends are pretty much devoted to.  Most of the Magic events I’m interested in take place on the weekends.  How would I manage that?

I’m pretty sure this would be an issue, even if my boyfriend didn’t live an hour or so away from me.  Even if I met a guy locally, what guy is going to be okay with a girlfriend who is essentially booked a minimum of three days out of the week (for a computer game, no less) and possibly an additional day or even a weekend (for a card game), and who spends most of her free time working on a blog and a podcast about said games, even when she isn’t playing them?  Having all of this going on doesn’t necessarily make me serious girlfriend material.  It all leads back to the inevitable feeling that I have that something has to go.

I talked about this a little bit with the boyfriend last night and he didn’t have too much to say about it.  He is someone who was a hardcore gamer for a long time and made the switch to being extremely casual, to the point where he now only plays a handful of X-Box games and board games with friends from time to time.  That was something he was glad to do.  He was happy to give up the schedules and the responsibilities and to make other things in his life a priority.  I’m not so sure that I’m at that point yet.  I like my life the way that it is.  I also like being able to do things to the level of satisfaction that I want to do them.  I don’t want to do eight different things, just to say that I’m doing them.  I want to do them and feel like I’m doing them well.  I don’t feel like I can do that right now.  Something is going to suffer.  Something would have to suffer.

I really don’t know what to do.  I don’t know how I can pull all of this off.  I like where I’m at and I feel like I worked hard to get here.  It would be one thing if I weren’t enjoying something anymore and I chose to walk away from it because I hated it.  It would be one thing if something was being taken from me against my will, like Blizzard was no longer making expansions or Wizards stopped making Magic cards.  I have so many things that I love to do and so many people that I love spending time with and seemingly not enough time to spend on everything.  That doesn’t sit right with me.  It feels like a cop out to say that’s why I would be giving up something.

It’s just like Moroes says, “Time… Never enough time.”

Moving On

18 Jun

One of the things I have learned in all of my years of being single is that it is much easier for me to get over someone or to move on from them when I can hate them.

I remember when I broke up with my first serious boyfriend and we were living in Reno, NV together.  He broke up with me because of issues that were rooted in my being transgender and also because we had moved in together way too soon, which had caused us to feel like we were roommates instead of boyfriend and girlfriend.  He made it seem like breaking up was the best thing to do, because if we didn’t do it we would only grow to hate each other and he didn’t want to see that happen to us. 

I didn’t understand.  I was angry.  I was confused.  I felt like I had failed, not only as a girlfriend, but as a woman.  For someone like me that is a very hard pill to swallow.  During the first few weeks after the breakup we each tried coping with things in our own way.  I would go to a restaurant or a coffee house immediately after work and not come home unless I absolutely had to.  He would go out drinking and partying and wouldn’t come home on the weekends.  I would sit on Ventrilo and cry on my GMs shoulder because I had no other friends in the area that I knew well enough to dump all of this on.  Needless to say it was a pretty trying time for both of us.

Then one day, as I felt like I was finally on that journey towards moving on he started being really nice to me.  I would come home from work and find a three course meal waiting on the dinner table and the episode of “Lost” from the night before playing on the television.  He would farm up my consumables for me so that I would have them for raids.  We slept in the same bed because he knew that I didn’t sleep very well on the couch.  It killed me.  I felt like all of the hard work and the progress that I had made to try and get over him was being thrown out the window.  I couldn’t hate him when he was doing all of these seemingly nice things to me and for me and not being able to hate him meant it would take me that much longer to get over him – if I would be able to at all.

Subconsciously I had started trying to find ways to create conflict between us because I knew that I would never be able to let go of what we had or let go of him if he continued to be nice to me.  I started going through his cell phone and reading his text messages.  I stopped healing him during raids.  I would flaunt it in his face whenever I received male attention from anyone other than him.  I needed him to hate me, so I could hate him back, and then I could move on.  Eventually he got tired of the shenanigans that I was pulling and I decided to move back home because I couldn’t bear to sleep in the bed that I had made for myself anymore – literally and figuratively. 

Once I got back home and we didn’t speak anymore I seemed to move on much faster.  I seemed to move on, period.  After about 8 months of this, we finally came together and started reaching out to each other again.  We may not have handled things the way that other people do, but it was what we needed to get on with our lives and and to get on with them without each other.  From that moment on we became really good friends and we have had many painfully honest discussions about how we were when we were together and how we were immediately afterwards.  I can honestly say that he is one of my closest friends and I couldn’t be happier that he is a part of my life.

The reason why I felt compelled to tell this story and why it even came to mind is because I feel like I’m surrounded by people walking away from things that they once enjoyed or by things that are suddenly ending.  A number of posts that I have read lately have to do with people being particularly upset or disappointed in “World of Warcraft” and quitting as a result.  I see more posts talking about how Blizzard did them wrong than I do posts from people simply saying “It’s time.” 

People don’t want to hear that you grew up, or that you’re married now, or that you have a new job that keeps you from playing.  They want to hear how much your experience has been ruined by the casuals, or how this company has the worst customer service, or how that game had the worst ending you have ever seen.  It’s just like being in a relationship.  They don’t want to hear that you grew apart, or that you wanted different things, or that you broke up to try and salvage some form of a friendship.  People want to hear about the drama, the messiness, and the fighting.  They want someone to blame, someone they can be mad at.  And I think we, the people who are going through this potentially life altering change, want someone to point the finger at, too.

There are a number of parallels between the way that we game and the way that we love and I think that how we cope with the potential loss is just one of them.  I can’t help but wonder if the people who quit a game in a blaze of glory are really feeling some amount of hurt or sadness at what they are doing and so they try to cover it up by making it seem as if this was something that they had to do or that the company behind the game made them do it.  I tend to not second guess people who quit games quietly, with little fuss or fanfare, rather than those who feel the need to create laundry lists of reasons why it’s over. 

Who are they trying to convince – us or themselves?

That’s A Wrap

16 Jun

This afternoon I had a conversation with Ophelie that led to her admitting that she no is longer interested in recording our show, the Double O Podcast together.  It has nothing to do with me as a person.  It’s not that we do not get along or anything on a personal level.  There is no drama to be had or anything like that.  She has just lost a lot of interest in World of Warcraft and hasn’t been participating in the community like she used to (e.g. her blog, Twitter), so I kind of had a feeling that this was something that was going to start affecting the show and it has.

This leaves me with three options:

1)  I can try to find a new co-host – an honorary “O,” if you will, since it’s highly unlikely that I would meet someone whose name happens to start with “O” and that I mesh well with.  Preferably this person would have some knowledge or desire to learn how to handle the editing or the behind the scenes aspects of the podcast, whereas I would continue handling the more social aspects of the show (e.g. promotion, finding guests, coming up with topics).

2)  I can move on from the Double O Podcast and perhaps join another existing podcast that is looking for a guest host.  I really do enjoy podcasting and I admit that there are so many sides to it that I still have yet to see or to understand.  I think podcasting is a great way to get people talking and to expand your audience in a way that blogging can’t.

3)  I can stop podcasting altogether and focus on my blog and other community efforts (e.g. spend more time posting on forums like Elitist Jerks, MMO-Champion, or the official boards).

Without sounding too dramatic, I feel like my walls are caving in.  I have already been dealing with uncertainties regarding what I want to do in Mists of Pandaria, then this comes along, and now this.  I keep wondering who is next.  It seems like everyday someone else I know, someone I admire, or that I respect, or someone that I have some genuine history with decides to call it a day and stops playing World of Warcraft.  It’s like a demented game of Guess Who and I’m the one in front of the board just flipping faces down, one by one.  There aren’t many faces still standing anymore and that’s mighty depressing to me.

Am I next?

Babe

9 Jun

Last year, I was at Milwaukee’s annual Pridefest celebration with some friends of mine and we happened to spot a very large bunker of sorts, provided by the good people at the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company.  The bunker was large, metallic, and blue and had labels all over it that identified it as being “the Camel experience.”  There were two gentlemen outside that would ask you for your I.D before you went inside, so they could make sure that you were of age to buy cigarettes and then once inside you were immediately greeted by a bevy of scantily clad women and one smart dressed man.  I had seen several of these girls throughout Milwaukee in various places, so I knew this wasn’t their full time job.  This was just a temporary gig of sorts.  The women then proceeded to educate us on the various lines of Camel cigarettes that are out there and said that if we were willing to hear more and watch a brief interactive movie in the back that we would receive four free packs of cigarettes.

Needless to say the lesbians ate that shit up.

Whoever was behind the Camel experience knew their audience well.  They knew that if they strategically placed several scantily clad women in a tight, air conditioned space that people who are inclined to find these women attractive may just go along with whatever these women had to offer.  It didn’t matter if the lesbians knew they didn’t actually have a shot with these girls.  They were buying into the illusion.  They were taking the bait. And so streams of women were placing their I.D.s in this electronic reader, where they would answer several survey questions and would again verify their true age, and within minutes they were seated at a bar type area and choosing which packs of Camel cigarettes or tobacco they wanted to take home with them.

It all felt very wrong to me.  I wanted to walk up to them and shake them and say “Don’t you see what’s happening here?”  But I didn’t, mostly because I knew that they wouldn’t be able to see through this clever marketing tactic that was seemingly all around us and similar tactics that we see used everyday to get us to buy any number of products on the market.  The Camel Experience had went exactly as planned.

I was reminded of this story or this experience while reading an article over at the Border House Blog, in which the author talks about how it might be time for gaming conferences to give up the well known practice of hiring “booth babes” or scantily clad women to help them shill their products.  The author supports her case by including several comments or Tweets made by a female gaming industry veteran who admitted that she dreaded attending the recent E3 conference because she felt so intimidated or uncomfortable being around these types of women or this type of a marketing ploy.

Personally, I struggle with the idea of the “booth babe” for several reasons.

On the one hand, I think the practice of using sexuality or specifically women’s sexuality or their bodies to inspire men or women who enjoy other women to buy a product is really played out and almost too easy.  I think it’s almost insulting to those people that companies think  that’s all it will take for them to buy their product.  They know they don’t have to go out of their way to film a commercial in a really scenic location or that they won’t have to put too much thought into a billboard that you see on the street.  All a company has to do is throw a half dressed woman at them and call it a day.  I find it interesting when I see people who are so clearly taken in by this approach and they just can’t see it with their own eyes.  So just because this tactic works and just because it’s something that most people don’t catch on to doesn’t necessarily make it okay.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only route you need to take to get your point across.

On the other hand, it works.  It’s a proven fact that sex sells.  Where do we draw the line between corporate responsibility and personal responsibility?

Just as a multi-million dollar corporation has the right to throw attractive, oiled up bodies at you, you also have the right to say “No, thanks.”  You have the right to take your business elsewhere or to criticize them for how they do things.  But nobody is making you buy their product.  The pull of advertising can be strong and Lord knows I have fallen victim to that late night McDonald’s commercial that inspired me to swing through a drive through at two in the morning for a large order of fries and a Coke.  But McDonald’s didn’t *make* me do that.  Nobody crawled out of the television set, like the little girl from “The Ring” and forced me to go buy those items.  I did it myself.  I can shake my fist in the air and curse McDonald’s for making their fries look so tasty in that commercial or for airing that commercial just as I was about to go to bed.  But ultimately I did it.  It was my choice.

So you can’t blame a company for wanting to use a strategy that they know is going to work.  They know that nobody is going to recognize what’s really happening here.  They know it’s a sure fire way to get people’s attention and to bring in revenue.  If people continue to fall for, or to be engaged by what the companies put out there of course they are going to keep doing it.  It’s no different than considering leaving the job that you have been at for years, that you know you’re good at it, and that you know will earn you a decent living for a job in a field that you have little or no experience in and that *could* make you the same amount of money or more.  It’s a gamble and one that not everybody or every company is willing to take.  Again I ask, “Can you blame them?”

To steer things back to where Border House was coming from, there is also the issue of how the concept of the “booth babe” affects women.

It’s hard enough making yourself feel like you are truly welcome in the gaming world as a woman.  You have to deal with so many initial barriers right out of the gate.  If you do manage to overcome those things and convince yourself that you do belong, you then have to deal with seeing women who most likely do not represent you being thrust into your face as an ideal or as something that you need to aspire to be.  You see those same guys who crack jokes about women not playing video games or that women shouldn’t play video games fawning over these “booth babes” rather openly and unabashedly.  You seem them responding positively to this exaggerated image of what a woman should look like or how a woman should behave, all the while chastising other women for supposedly using their bodies or their wiles to get ahead in the same industry.  If you were to show up at a conference wearing the same outfit, ready to play your game of choice you would most likely be laughed or shamed out of the building.  But because they’re doing it it’s okay.  How does that work, exactly?

So the double standard bothers me.  Male gamers tend to want women to be good at the games they play.  They don’t want to see us flirting or being stereotypically feminine to get ahead.  They don’t want to see us lording our gender over them or having to constantly remind people that we are in fact women.  Isn’t that exactly what the “booth babes” do?  These are women who presumably have no interest in gaming and who I would bet have never even touched the products that they are trying to sell to you. They are using compliments, acting coy, and being overly flirtatious to get you in the mood to listen to what they have to say, so they can then launch into their product pitch and hopefully make a sale.  They are wearing clothing that they know will most certainly draw attention to their bodies or other feminine attributes so that they can not only get your attention, but keep it, too.  All of those things they shame their female peers for doing or for allegedly doing are suddenly okay when they are done by a “booth babe.”

Now here is where things get a little tangled for me.

I’m all about sexual expression and sexual freedom.  I think there is nothing wrong with a woman or a man being proud of their body and wanting to show it off.  I don’t have a problem with nudity or even pornography, for that matter.  Yet here I am, criticizing these women for what they are wearing and then using it against them.  How am I helping matters any?  If the shoe was on the other foot and the gaming companies who hired these women told them that they couldn’t wear anything remotely feminine and that they had to sort of stifle that I would probably be angry about that.  I would probably then be crusading for a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants to and that these companies should be ashamed of themselves for forcing women to hide their bodies or to cover them up.

I’m automatically assuming that these women don’t play the games they are advertising because of how they are dressed or how they are behaving.  But how *does* a female gamer look?  How is she *supposed* to behave?  Who is to say that you can’t be great at what you do and then party on the weekends?  Who says you can’t attend a Magic the Gathering event in a hoodie and jeans and then head to the club later in a short skirt and some stilettos?  Why does one necessarily have to lead to the other? Why do we assume that if a woman is flirtatious that she is doing it in a very empty fashion or that she is doing it solely to get something out of someone?  Maybe she just likes to flirt.  Maybe she truly enjoys wearing skimpy outfits.  Maybe that’s just *who she is.*

Who are we to tell her that it’s wrong, or that she has to dress or behave the way that *we* think she should?  There are a lot of assumptions that people tend to make when they see a “booth babe,” versus the assumptions that someone would make when they see your average female gamer on the street.  I’m not trying to say that the assumptions that one faces are necessarily worse than the other, but I would say that they are about equal.  They can be equally harmful.

I’m really glad that I stumbled upon that article at the Border House, because I really feel that it was well written and that it left the floor open for people to have a healthy discussion about this issue and the many angles that we could look at this from.  It really got me thinking and gave me that shot of inspiration that I have been lacking lately.  I’m fairly certain that not everybody is going to agree with the points and counterpoints that I have laid out here, but hopefully I have brought a new perspective to the table and maybe some great conversation can be had here about this topic.

Thanks for listening.

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