Just recently a reader of ours (props to Just Lyle!) asked me (Robin Ek, TGG) if I couldn’t do an interview with Liana Kerzner since she launched her Lady Bits Kickstarter campaign not so long ago. Well, done and made 😉 So I got a chance to talk to Kerzner about everything from games journalism, Gaming, Lady Bits, to sexism and censorship in games. So without further ado, please enjoy my interview with Kerzner =)
Would you be so kind and introduce yourself to our readers? =)
My name is Liana Kerzner, otherwise known as Liana K. It’s a Kafka reference. I’m an award-winning comedian, former games journalist, media analyst, and, of course, sex-positive, mosaic feminist. I used to do a TV show called Ed and Red’s Night Party that was pretty raunchy. That’s where I refined a lot of my theories. Now I’m looking at video games because they were my first love. I’ve been a gamer since I was three.
What can you tell us about your Lady Bits Kickstarter campaign? (goals and so on) And how did that project come about?
Lady Bits is a series where I ask some tough questions about women in video games. Stuff like “Where’s the line between sexist moments and a sexist game?” and “How important IS a female playable character?” The twist is that I provide multiple viewpoints on a subject and let the viewer decide for themselves what the answers are. Lady Bits came about because of the fighting that has been raging in the video game community since around 2012. The outside world thinks gamers are these terrible misogynists, but I believe, in most cases, that the strong reaction is just a resistance to being told what to think, or else.
Of course misogynists are a minority everywhere, just like racists and other sorts of bigots. We also still have work to do regarding systemic things holding women back from video games. I concur with the concern that the negative perception of games and gamers is discouraging some women from trying video games. But I do not believe that misogyny is the norm in gaming. I think there are other explanations for the explosions of late. I think that there is a lot of benevolent sexism in this industry however, and that’s holding women back from our full potential. You can’t see a woman as a leader and a victim at the same time, and the games press loves to cast women in the role of victim.
So I thought, “Why not make a show that takes the pressure off?” Try it a different way. If it doesn’t work, then fine, maybe the naysayers are right. But we’ll never know until someone tries, and I believe better of gamers. Of course, advertisers are terrified of this subject, so crowdfunding was the way to go.
I think it’s safe to say that you have a lot of goals, plans and ambitions for Lady Bits, but how are you going to avoid ending up like Feminist Frequency’s “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games”? (the slow production of episodes, broken Kickstarter promises, etc.).
Great question. First of all, I’m am experienced TV producer. I know how to manage budgets, set and meet deadlines, and meet expectations. I’ve also done a previous series, called A Gamer’s Guide to Feminism, which was fourteen episodes long, was done on a budget of $0, and was delivered consistently every 2-3 weeks. I did that series before asking for money precisely because I understood people’s trepidation regarding delivery. Gamers get burned a lot by people overpromising. I didn’t want to do that. I hope my track record speaks for itself. Yes, the project is ambitious, but if I didn’t know I could deliver, I wouldn’t be looking for funding.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but you seem to be the right opposite to Anita Sarkeesian (I’ve been told that you’ve debunked her videos in the past). Speaking of which, what’s your take on Anita’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series? And what did you think when it became publicly known that she would close down the series?
I was supportive of Tropes vs. Women when it was being crowdfunded. I didn’t agree with some of the approach, but I think that anyone who cares enough to attempt to tackle these topics should be encouraged. The initial outrage, before the series was even made, was absurd. People who believe in free speech should allow people to speak, not pre-judge something before it’s even made. Don’t like it? Don’t back it. Don’t call someone a bunch of awful names for having an opinion.
However, the series has been a disappointment to me. The examples were cherry-picked and misleading, and it made video games seem unfairly awful. Instead of starting a dialogue, it started a war. If you’re going to take such hard shots at video games, I really think you need to be open to feedback, even if it’s angry. Shutting down comments and not participating in discussions; sending mobs after dissenters… no matter what you’re tackling, that won’t get you a good result. I assume they meant well, but it really seems like they had no idea what they were getting into.
What did I think when it was announced she was closing down the series? I thought “Aw crap. What timing.” The Lady Bits Kickstarter was 99% done. I knew people would see it as a reaction, but this has been in the works since October of last year. I hope the FREQ show does well. No one can stay stuck in the role of victim for as long as Anita was with video games without getting damaged by the experience. She obviously wasn’t enjoying the experience. So I hope the new project is more fun for her.
What do you have to say to people who think that you’re a bit like Sarkeesian, but “nicer”? Furthermore, is it really true that Feminist Frequency almost made you quit writing? If so, why?
Yes to the second part of your question. I did a multi-part series on the despair that Feminist Frequency’s body shaming and Queen Bee tactics created in me. I felt like gaming didn’t want me, because the establishment didn’t even question the idea that women with large breasts were bad for other women. I’m a naturally well-endowed woman, and I take exception to the idea that a certain body type is fake or wrong. I was done with being bullied through the press. It was making gaming not fun.
The accusation that I’m just a nicer version of Sarkeesian is bizarre to me, because I don’t think of myself as terribly nice. I have strong opinions and swear like a sailor. I tell people off when I feel it’s warranted.
I’m concerned that this is a no-win topic for me since people are going to believe what they want to believe no matter what I say. Some people will never be convinced that I don’t have some secret agenda because their opinions are borne out of emotion instead of sense. I’ve never met two people who were near-identical. The entire accusation is illogical. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The burden is not on me to prove the claims false. The burden is on these accusers to provide any shred of evidence that they even have the beginning of a point.
But I’ll briefly try to outline some of the differences.
Feminist Frequency seems very interested in women as a class. I believe in treating everyone like an individual. In essence, feminism seems to mean two completely different things to us. They seem to believe that equality will come from homogenizing the female experience. I disagree. I think that the only way to create a world where there aren’t profound differences in the way the sexes are treated is to treat every single person like an individual, judged on their own merits.
I’m also pro-sex worker, which is a massive departure from the way Tropes vs. Women treats prostitutes. I think games should reflect the real world, and escorts, strippers, porn stars and prostitutes exist in the real world. They can be pretty nice people too. So why should they be diminished in games as “background decoration”? I am opposed to the bland female characters that have resulted from Feminist Frequency’s influence. I’m extremely body positive. And so I get treated like a slut by the Feminist Frequency types. I wasn’t deaf to the catty, snide things those circles said about me even before a bunch of chat logs were leaked.
I also use completely different sets of tools to look at video games. That’s evident from A Gamer’s Guide To Feminism. My comments on YouTube are still on. I respond on twitter. I do livestreams where anyone who wants to can come on and ask questions. Every Friday on my YouTube channel is Feedback Friday, where I address viewer comments. I don’t keep lists of the dumb threats I receive because I recognize that every single YouTuber, male and female alike, gets those threats. I’m not saying that I’m better than her for doing that, but that alone is a huge difference between us.
I think the whole “I’m just a nicer version of Anita” thing comes from the false belief that there’s some feminist handbook that we all follow. The truth is that we’re examples of how two women can identify as feminists and agree on absolutely nothing. Her underlings have said I harm other women, but I think we could probably learn something from each other if we sat down and talked. Provided they could see past my boobs. I don’t see that happening. We’re just too different.
It’s said that you identify yourself as a sex-positive feminist. I’m aware of its meaning, but what exactly does that mean to you?
I believe that the shaming of the human sex urge has been used to control people. Men are seen as default predators, women as default victims. The sexes can’t be truly equal while sex continues to be demonized. How can a woman thrive when her primary responsibility is to keep her legs closed? How can men see women as whole and human when they’re increasingly terrified of an accusation of sexual assault to which there is no real defense? And how do we truly accept and love our LGBTQ friends if their sexual practices are seen as fetishized and deviant? Sex positivity is essential to equality. We made waste too much damned time obsessing over sex.
I’ve heard that you used to work as a model in the past, if so, what was that experience like for you? And did that path of life help you when you got into cosplaying? On a personal level, I think that you’ve done some really cool cosplays in the past.
Thanks! I actually started cosplaying before I started modelling. I’m a very unlikely model, but I got fascinated with the history of pin-up art. Modelling has some wonderful elements. It has some terrible elements. I love the process, the skill, and the art. I hate the shallowness, the cruelty, and the rejection. I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot. But the body maintenance doesn’t give me enough time for video games!
A follow-up question to that one would be the following:
So, how do you mix sexy cosplays with feminism?
Feminism gave us the freedom to control and express our sexuality. The fact that women can be seen at all is huge progress from the days that we were publicly invisible. Men aren’t asked to separate sex appeal from their minds or talents. So I’ll be damned if I’m going to cut off that part of myself. Each cosplay is a different expression. I personally find Roslind Lutece a very sexy cosplay even though she doesn’t show much skin. The one I couldn’t handle was Harley Quinn. Did it once. Did not like the headspace.
Which games did you grew up playing? What are you playing now? And which games (upcoming) would you like to play the most during this year?
At first it was all about arcade games. Then Atari. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Missile Command, Centipede and Wizard of Wor. On PC it was King’s Quest and The Ancient Art of War. I loved M.U.L.E. on a friend’s Commodore 64 too. I was a Sega girl, loved Safari Hunt, Wonder Boy, Altered Beast, and Gangster Town, until Super Mario 3 brought me over to Nintendo. I loved Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. Games like SimCity and Civilization II pulled me back onto the PC. Then I got into the Baldur’s Gate games, Icewind Dale, and Planescape Torment. Once I got a PS2 the list of games I love exploded. The God of War Franchise, Heavenly Sword, Gears of War on Xbox, Dragon Age: Origins… it’s a long list. I’m an Assassin’s Creed fan, even though you’re not supposed to admit that. I also loved the new Doom. That’s as close as you get to a perfect shooter for me.
Right now I’m actually playing Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 Fortune! Made a Youtube video of it. Before that I tried out an indie game called Phoning Home that I really liked, an early access title called Echoplex, and of course, Horizon Zero Dawn. Loved that game! I picked up Dark Souls III on a Steam sale so I want to give that a try, and I want to try Nier: Automata. I’m looking forward to the Mario and Rabbids collab Nintendo and Ubisoft are doing, and, of course, the upcoming God of War game where Kratos kills Norse Gods instead of Greek ones. I’m hoping The Last of Us 2 will live up to the first game, though it’s Naughty Dog, so who knows when it will actually be out. Probably not until next year.
What’s your take on #GamerGate? Because I do recall that you talked about GG with David Pakman, Sargon of Akkad and TYT Nation some years ago.
I don’t want to reopen that wound, so I’ll just say that Gamergate has been the most poorly reported gaming story in recent memory. I think there were some legitimate complaints that didn’t get proper respect, because everything got bogged down in a more salacious harassment narrative. Like anything, Some GGers are good people, some aren’t. Some anti-GGers are good people. Some aren’t. I did an AMA on Kotaku in Action and it was a very pleasant experience. The haters on that board stayed away. They don’t have to like me for me to give them a hearing. I admit that I’m still hurt by the anti-GGers who ostracized me for even talking to pro-GG gamers. I was doing my damned job and talking to all sides.
Just recently you made a Youtube video called “I, Feminist, Play DOAX Xtreme 3 Fortune For The First Time”. So I’m curious to know your thoughts on lewd content in games, censorship, sexism and the SJW madness that’s been going on for years in the games industry.
I really need to correct that title. DOAX Xtreme is redundant. I’m fine with lewd content. It’s all about how it’s handled. I think self-censorship is the biggest concern in gaming right now, and benevolent sexism is a bigger issue than hostile sexism. I rarely use the term “SJW”, because I won’t give them any power regarding social justice. I call them outrage warriors. They just look for stuff to be mad at. They’ve poisoned the well and made it harder for us to have calm, mature discussions. People dismiss any dissenting opinion as “SJW”, and that isn’t right. But the bullying that’s passing as social justice isn’t right either.
Is it correct that you once worked for Polygon? If so, what was that like, and what’s your take on Polygon today? (Pewdiepie dissed them pretty hard just recently).
I only did one article for Polygon as a freelancer. I didn’t work there. I have no complaints about the experience. Most of the staff have me blocked now though, so I couldn’t tell you anything about them today.
I would love to hear your thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda’s rather ugly character designs (especially the female characters), because it seems like it’s now a thing in the industry to make characters as unattractive and unsexy as humanly possible.
It sounds like that was an attempt at cost cutting that failed. Which is dumb in its own right. Who cares how cool your spaceships look if your people are terrifying to look at? Andromeda had a lot more wrong with it than just that though. The writing was surprisingly bad for a Bioware game. In places the writing was actually bad for any game. But, yeah, it was a foolish idea to hire a model to play a girl-next-door protagonist. The thing that frustrated me even more, though, is the politically correct Krogans. That just didn’t work for me.
Speaking strictly as a gamer for a moment, I’m insulted that EA and Bioware released a game with character animations that were that awful. They had to know they were squarely in the uncanny valley. It felt like they were taking fans like me for granted in not properly polishing those animations. Bugs happen in big games like that, but those human characters were just a symptom of lazy management. I feel bad for the artists who had to wear that bad choice.
For the last couple of months, I have covered a handful of stories about game journalists, Gaming sites and game developers who have injected social activism and SJW nonsense into their content and even into game events. So I would like to know your thoughts on that matter?
Free speech is free speech, right? They can do what they want. But I think everyone needs to just relax and make gaming events politics free zones. The world will not end if someone’s woke-ness takes a nap for a couple of hours. I find any attempt to make things a “safe space” inevitably leads to oppressive attitudes toward the very groups they claim to be helping because the least powerful get their ideas shut down first.
Focus on what we have in common, not what divides us. And just take things on a case by case basis. If someone tells you something is bothering them, just stop doing it. Simple. No warnings or colouring books required. There’s still a lot of exceptionally poor behaviour going around on all sides.
Dear “games journalists”, keep your social activism and fascism bs out of our games!
Gamers! Don’t let fascism happen to you!
GDC 2017 made me feel like game development isn’t even about games anymore
Quite a few of our female readers and viewers have pointed out time after time again that they would like to see more male eye candy in the world of games (think the nude/half-nude scenes from “Game of Thrones”. So, is that something that you would like to see more of as well?
I joke about stuff a lot, but I’m not an eye candy person. Unless it’s something hilarious like the way it’s used in Saints Row. Overall I want better characters, and sometimes nudity is part of that. That being said, I’d rather there be more male eye candy instead of less female eye candy. It’s fun.
I think there’s a lot of overlooked male eye candy in games already though. A lot of guys in fighting games, and Kratos, are shirtless. Geralt in the Witcher is naked a lot. And of course Dorian’s butt is infamous in Dragon Age Inquisition. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t do with more. I just hope they’re not all muscled slabs of meat. Body diversity matters for guys too.
Why do you think that naked skin and sex are such a big deal in games? I mean, there is less outcry in movies, rap videos, TV-series and whatnot. So what is it that makes video games so special when it comes to adult themes like nude skin, love and sex?
It’s just gaming’s turn. The morality police tried on movies and TV, and were told, rightly, that first amendment protections apply. They’re trying to leverage the interactivity of video games to claim it’s somehow different, so they can fight the same old fight all over again. But TV is more heavily self-censored than it was ten years ago, at least here in Canada. We couldn’t do Ed and Red’s Night Party today.
Let’s face it, this isn’t about nudity. This is about women being seen. Unless you show penis, a guy’s naked butt, chest, or legs don’t create outrage. The demand that women cover up is tied to the idea that women should not be seen, heard, and acknowledged. We’re supposed to be this docile, invisible gender. It’s so artificial. That’s why I hate the gaming harassment narrative. This online crap is words. IT’S WORDS. I had to reprogram my own brain to stop being afraid of words, because society trains women to believe that “You should be killed. You should be raped” is a credible threat. It’s not. It’s someone being an asshole. They say it precisely to scare you into silence, but they have absolutely no intention of actually doing it. The fear is what cripples you. Not the comments. If I can do one thing, I want to set an example for other women online so they can stop being afraid.
So now that they’ve realized they can’t scare me, the trolls try to shame me. They call me a stripper. A whore. A slut. But those words can only hurt if you think being a stripper or a prostitute is a shameful thing. I don’t. But the anti-nudity types do. They are giving trolls ammunition to use against women by promoting body shaming. The best thing about being totally independent is that I no longer have to worry about an outlet thinking I’m too abrasive or immodest. The two things are linked. If you can’t handle cleavage, I suspect you also can’t handle a woman with strong opinions that don’t align with yours. I’d love to test that theory, quite frankly. At the very least, people would get to look at boobs.
I call the anti-nudity types the “Dworkside”, after anti-porn crusader Andrea Dworkin. And if you look at Dworkin, she’s everything that used expect to be tied to the viewpoint: she constantly spoke in a weepy whisper and lived in a state of perpetual self-made victimhood. Many women are threatened by traditionally beautiful women in media because they feel like they need to compete with that. But the diversity of what people find beautiful in the real world isn’t represented in media. I think that’s what we need to work on: making nudity less shameful, and understanding how it can be used to tell a story instead of just giving gamers a fap break. This is a discussion in and of itself, so I’ll cut myself off. But I just want to mention one more thing: the modern puritanism sweeping the West is actually pretty colonialist on top of being sexist. Not all cultures subscribe to the same modesty paradigms. Many cultures in the Afro-Caribbean diaspora are negatively affected by colonial modesty restrictions. You see a direct correlation between sexual stereotypes of various races, and the various pay gaps.
Black and Hispanic sexuality is especially demonized, and those races are subjected to the largest pay gaps. Asian people are branded with a more asexual, docile stereotype, and they have higher wages. I may get in trouble for even bringing this up, but I think that’s so wrong. bell hooks has written on gaze theory and black men, and that really sticks with me. It’s white privilege for these “male feminist allies” to look down their noses at looking at women in sexual, or even physically appreciative ways. Why? Because white men were never beaten, arrested, or lynched for looking at white women.
I know I’m not supposed to talk about this stuff because I’m white. But I have a platform and I want to begin the dialogue so that maybe, just MAYBE, the games press will start giving actual people of colour a chance to speak in public on these issues as well, even if they haven’t adopted the syntax of white, Bay area nerds. I feel a responsibility to my friends to talk about this stuff because they don’t get to. I was told all throughout high school that I had a chance to get out of the hood, because I was smart… and probably because I was white. The people who told me that were relying on me to take their stories with me and make them matter.
The powers that be in gaming “social justice” don’t let you talk unless you use words like “problematic” and “toxic masculinity”. The people who are hurting the most due to oppression don’t get to college to learn those fancy terms. We shouldn’t be dismissing someone’s opinion just because they may have said “Aw yeah! Dem tiddies, muthafucka!” while playing Grand Theft Auto. There’s a lot of crossover between hip hop and gaming. Both worlds communicate in the language of the streets, not the ivory towers. On the street, tiddies distract you from being scared. We see levels of trauma in inner city youth comparable to civilians in war zones.
So people can skip to the next question here if they don’t have an open mind. But I’m going to say what I think is important to say.
The goal is not to stop seeing female beauty. The goal is to be able to appreciate that beauty without feeling like you’re entitled to that woman’s body. If you can’t look at all, you never get better at those boundaries. Being able to look and be looked at, while staying in control of your bodily autonomy, is a major mark of racial and gender equality. We are not there yet based on the sheer amount of body shaming and slut shaming that still goes on. Body shaming hits Black and Hispanic women hardest because they have Black and Hispanic bodies. I know how much shit I take. I can’t imagine what women of colour go through.
There’s a reason you don’t see women who look like Nicki Minaj in video games. Dworksiders have cowed game developers into silencing and hiding that kind of aggressive female sexuality. The thing is, in hip hop, that kind of sexuality is tied to autonomy – making her own money, her own records, and her own hype. Nicki Minaj has power, wealth, and status, so she can throw modesty out the window. And when she wants to, she can cover up too. It’s her choice. That is what we’re aiming to achieve: total body autonomy for women. For that very reason, I would play the shit out of a game that had a Nicki Minaj type of character as a protagonist. She’s the Black Bayonetta! (Full disclosure, I have a huge girl crush on Nicki Minaj. Can you tell?)
The answer is not for people of colour to act “more white”. It is not up to them to make white Dworkside critics comfortable. It is up to us to bother to understand the cultural differences, and also be okay with admitting that a big bubble butt is pretty damned sexy. Full lips are sexy. Chocolate skin is sexy. That being said, we are not entitled to any part of that person because we find them sexy. They are people. Their bodies are their own.
It’s important to include people of colour of all genders in games for that reason. Currently, the best game I’ve played in that regard is Watch_Dogs 2. In general, that game was really underrated. But do you notice that gamers didn’t care that a prominent character was a black transwoman? Because Miranda was a good character who seemed human! In gaming right now it’s so rare to see true intersectionality. Lesbians tend to be white. Black women tend to be cis and straight. Because my god the outrage warriors can only care properly if you’re one Other at a time. This cramming people into boxes was what intersectional theory was supposed to stop. Instead, people are still pigeonholing the crap out of minorities in gaming and ignoring the complexities. The form of feminism that is now mainstream in gaming has no real commitment to inclusion beyond lip service. The Dworkside has set themselves up as gatekeepers that determine who is and is not allowed to play. Only the modest women need apply, because they’re no threat to the existing power structures. Women like me are a threat to the status quo, and I’m still white! I think if the Dworksiders were forced to listen to some of the Afro-Caribbean community facilitators I’m blessed to know, their heads would explode. Those ladies keep it real, and real tends to be raw.
Sorry. I’m ranting here. I’ll stop now. I’m not trying to dictate anyone’s experience here. I’m just sick of “social justice” tactics that actually perpetuate the stuff the outrage warriors claim that they’re fighting against.
There have been plenty of articles, media outlets and politicians who have blamed violence on video games as of lately (they have tried to connect violent games to violent crimes/acts). So I would love to hear your thoughts on that matter.
Germany´s minister of interior blames violent video games for the Munich attack?
Violence in video games? This tired old argument
Jonathan Blow and a handful of journalists blames the Orlando mass shooting on violent video games
That one’s easy. Replicated studies have shown that video games DO NOT CAUSE VIOLENCE. Simple. End of story. Violence and video games is the global warming of tech. No matter how much science comes out proving the facts, a vocal minority refuses to accept them.
What’s your plans, hopes and expectations for this year? And is there anything that you would like to add and say to our readers?
Well it looks like I’ll be making Lady Bits! I hope that we can start talking to each other and stop pre-judging based on identity politics. Just because someone identifies as something doesn’t mean that they agree with every element of a given movement or ideology. I think it’s more important to judge how a person’s beliefs inform their behavior than attack the beliefs themselves. We’re playing video games, for god’s sake, not drafting legislation. As long as someone is a good person, it doesn’t matter if they have some ideas one finds strange. My hope is that we can step away from the fear and the anger and see each other as people first, gamers second, then consider everything else. I think healing is possible as long as people have a little faith and trust.
I’m not looking to create feminists. I think, in fact, that the word is so loosely defined that it’s become weak in meaning. All I ask is that people keep an open mind and engage. Have a little fun. It’s exhausting to just hate stuff all the time. If someone gets a laugh out of my content, that’s enough for me. If I make them think on top of that, all the better. But I’m not going to tell them what to think. I hate it when people do that to me.
Robin “V-Act” Ek
Editor in chief
The Gaming Ground
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