A while back I was introduced to the web comic Looking For Group (LFG), published by Blind Ferret (the name of which is highly problematic, and is quite telling of later attitudes). While it has a concrete and unique story line, the comic is heavily based on WoW – the classes, the races, the environment, and mobs (worms and dragons, for ex). As such, it’s closely tied with the gaming community, of which my relationship to has always been strained. Nevertheless, the comic was one of my guilty pleasures, despite its many cringe-worthy moments, as I closely identify with one of the main characters (Richard, our beloved destruction-obsessed warlock).
Eventually though, enough was enough. For those who do not keep up with LFG’s story line, the people led and defended by the protagonists are currently threatened with the force of a mass army, while trapped within the confines of their establishment’s small walls. The leader, seeing opportunity and ‘the best defense is an offense’, decided that he was going to gather a force to strike at the antagonist’s city heart through the very portals their army was coming through.
Which is all well and good, until a throwaway joke was made regarding, in essence, who is capable and valuable enough to be on the attacking front and who is to be left behind for the onslaught of the antagonist’s massive army. Who was singled out? People with physical disabilities and speech disorders.
Having a low tolerance this morning, I opted to shoot an email to Sohmer, the author of LFG’s comics. Typically I would have left comments, as I did with the Nix Buxom fiasco, but short of forums there is no public comments option that I could readily find before work. With a cup of tea and having put myself into “customer service mode” for work already, I did my best to carefully word my criticism of the comic and attempt to articulate why exactly it posed a problem.
I’m a long time reader of the comic you write, Looking For Group. I identify closely with some of the characters, including Richard as I mained a highly eccentric warlock over the years.
However, the most recently posted comic hit a very sore note for me. See, I’m a gamer with disabilities, and overall my value as a player within the gaming community is already diminished by other people’s perspectives of disabilities and thus one’s abilities to play – regardless of one’s actual abilities. Gamers with disabilities often have their individual capabilities ignored in favor of preconceived notions through things like stereotypes.
The most recent comic the LFG team has posted makes a joke at the expense of people with disabilities, both physical and verbal. It uses archaic terminology (crippled) that is regarded as a slur by the disabled community, one that is frequently used to attack us, our integrity and our value in society simply for our differences. Especially when being disabled or having speech impediments may have no bearing on one’s ability to do various things, such as contributing to society as a citizen.
So the comic hurt quite deeply, hitting a spot very close to home due to my experiences as both a person with disabilities and a gamer. And I am not the only one who is affected by jokes and attitudes such as this. There are countless others.
I sincerely hope that you will understand where I’m coming from, and thus understand why throwaway jokes and comics such as this one are so hurtful and problematic.
Static Nonsense (Quentel)
However, it appeared that my best efforts were in vain, as the response I received was not one of understanding and acknowledgment, but dismissal as political correctness, offense and language of the era.
I do apreciate the feedback and can understand your feelings.
Still, I stand by my work. Not to make offense in any way, but that the world of LFG is set in it’s own one, not ours, where we constantly strive to be politically correct. This is the language they would use in the middle ages, and I try to keep it in that time frame.
I hope that made some sense.
As I noted above, my initial take on his response was one of dismissal through the power of privilege. Because part of the reason why throwaway jokes are so powerful and people cling to them so tightly is because one, they assert that they do not actually believe what they are joking about, and two, deep down our societies actually do have people that believe it, but they’re separated as the ‘actual’ problem while everything else is sanitized without noting the deep levels of intersectionality regarding power, privilege and perspective.
The thing is though, the language that consists of the joke is only part of the problem. Though I’m a bit confused as to why you would want to stick with older language for part of the joke, but include more recent terminology for speech disorders. Jokes are more than just the language that constructs it, but also the meaning and context behind it. The context you’ve given in the comic suggests that their efforts (for example, the child that was depicted) are less valuable and thus not deserving to be on the ‘attacking’ front – instead leaving them for the defense, that has already been suggested as a dying effort, quite literally even.
There are eras of difference, yes, but in this difference we are also able to choose what to depict, what it means when doing so, and how to respond to situations that arise as a result of such depictions in the current era. While depicting an earlier era, the depiction of questionable taste affects people now, people who are still affected by such attitudes daily. And the fact that when we try to bring up these issues with others, it gets dismissed as offense and political correctness instead of an legitimate issue regarding power, oppression and human decency.
I will also quickly note that stating that you don’t intend to offend does not actually soften the blow. If anything, it makes the situation worse as it reads like you don’t actually care about what you are hearing.
I was hoping that this was going to be one of those few instances where my concerns would be legitimately heard instead of passed off and derailed. It appears that my hopes were too high. Optimism for possibility, realism for, well, reality.
May your journey be well. You will have lost readers, but hopefully you’ll also have gained perspective in the meanwhile.
I kid not when I mention the loss of readers, as I’ve already removed the comic from my RSS reader. And it appears rightfully so, as the final, one-line response given noted how I’ve “already made up [my] mind” and feel “happier with [my] righteous anger”.
Though I don’t think he quite understood what he said himself – words thrown in passive attempts to insult, but actually giving power and integrity to those of a minority.
So let us rejoice that, the powers in our hands
To shape us and make us keepers of fellow man
So let us rejoice that the powers in our hands
Your words continue to fuel the very movement you’re dismissing, Sohmer. But while I’m moving on to the rest of my life and advocacy as a person with disabilities and stuttering, I’ll be tossing Looking For Group and the rest of your work into the pile with the rest of the WoW community I’ve already shed. Thank you for reminding me of why I left the community in the first place. It’s been grand.