Some time ago, I made the enormous mistake of downloading F.A.T.A.L. as a PDF. To be honest I was curious about this, according to many, abominable role-playing game. A role-playing game that the creators themselves call the most difficult, detailed, realistic and historically/ mythically accurate role-playing game available.
F.A.T.A.L. has been named the worst role-playing game ever, and it is pretty bad. It’s not the worst I’ve ever read (there’s a shocker!) but it is by far the most racist and misogynistic role-playing game out there that I know of. Or perhaps I should rephrase that. It’s the most openly racist and misogynistic role-playing game out there that I know of.
It has one thing in common with many other RPGs of a fantasy-persuasion though. It strives for some kind of historical accuracy as a defense for the unabashedly misogynistic view it represents. I think the one redeeming feature of F.A.T.A.L. is that it is so very open (intentionally or unintentionally, I don’t know) with the views of the authors. It is very easy to understand their views and the cultural norms that they’ve been brought up with, because they are right there, smack dab down on the pages.
It is much harder to clearly see the same underlying misogyny in other games, because they are not as obvious with it. That, however, does not mean it’s not there, it just means it’s much harder to spot. Now you might find my comparing other role-playing games to F.A.T.A.L. unfair, because hey, they don’t have texts proclaiming that if a woman gets stabbed in the stomach she might become sterile and yay! that means that you won’t risk impregnating her, but the texts accompanying some Swedish role-playing games express the same view of women as rapeable objects. They’re just not as obvious as F.A.T.A.L. about it.
So what I’m trying to say, is that it is easy to despise F.A.T.A.L. because it’s basically spewing every ugly underlying thought onto the page. Women are slaves, whores, concubines, worthy only of raping, owning and conquering. In the beginning of the RPG, in the chapter Gender and Race, the words of Aristotle regarding men and women are taken as “gospel” for the game.
According to a prominent philosopher, males tend to be more spirited, savage ,simple, and less cunning. Females, on the other hand tend to be more compassionate than males, more easily moved to tears, at the same time are more jealous, more querulous, and are more apt to scold and to strike. Females are, furthermore, more prone to despondency and less hopeful than males, more void of shame and self-respect, more false of speech, and more deceptive. Females are also more wakeful, shrinking and difficult to rouse to action. The philosopher goes on to note that males are more courageous, and sympathetic in the way of standing by to help.
The authors go on to state that individual differences exist but that those are unusual. F.A.T.A.L. also have modifyers for the different sexes. In any normal game, I’d expect that the game designers would balance the sexes against each other, to make sure that the player selecting can make a tactically valid choice, but in F.A.T.A.L. there is no such balance. First off the female character will suffer a -14 stat change after rolling the character and adjusting to being female, with no perks to balance out the reduction in stats while a male will gain +14 in stats. In addition on almost all professions (apart from wenches, concubines and whores) a note is made that females are rare in this profession. So basically it’s bad to be a woman. Unless you want a career as a whore.
So men are openly glorified. At the same time I can’t help but draw parallels to other RPGs where it may not be clearly stated that this is a man’s world, but all the illustrations of archetypes are male. In fact, almost all illustrations are of men, except for the sexually alluring woman hanging around in the background or – suprise – as the wench sitting on a mans knee, brandishing a low cut dress. F.A.T.A.L. with it’s open fascination for a very male gender-role centric sexuality and contempt for the female sexuality, menstrual blood and women in general is easy to refute, but what about that nice role-playing game that seems pretty good on the surface? The same mechanics may lurk beneath the surface, lending the role-playing game affordances that are similar to what F.A.T.A.L. struts around so proudly, namely the right to dismiss women as second rate and not important.
I think the point I’m trying to make here is that F.A.T.A.L. is by no means a sole example, or a deviation from the “historically correct RPG” norm. The difference between F.A.T.A.L. and other role-playing games, apart from the fact that the rules are too detailed and not very functional, is that the authors of F.A.T.A.L. didn’t employ any filters when writing. They weren’t very careful of how they expressed themselves. This is also why it’s so easy to analyze the game. A game where the misogyny is more subtle is much more difficult to analyze and debate, so in a way I should be grateful. This is a knockout.
Anyway. I’ve read the game. I feel like scrubbing my brain with steel wire and lye soap to get rid of the rules of rape while wrestling or the many, many love and lust spells only applicable to women, or for that matter the detailed description of what happens when a blade pierces the uterus.