Oppression Matters: Intersectionality, Feminism, and the Importance of Diversity as a Practice

On my way to a conference the other day, I was sitting on the plane reading Estelle Freedman’s No Turning Back, a history of feminism. The young woman in the seat next to me interrupted: “Excuse me, is that a book on feminism?” (There’s a cartoon superhero akin to Wonder Woman on the cover.)

“Yes,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said. “Not to be rude, but I took a couple classes last year on gender and women’s studies, and they changed my life. I think everyone should have to take classes like that. It really changes how you think about things, you know? I didn’t used to consider myself a feminist, but I really am. It’s important.”

That is not what I expected. As a (somewhat militant) feminist, I have had people ask me if it’s rude to ask if I’m feminist, I’ve had people tell me they can’t call themselves feminists because they like men, and been called a “feminazi” and a “social justice warrior” as pejorative terms. The young woman in the seat next to me (who, by the way, was a woman of color) gave me hope, not simply because she was proud of being a feminist, but because of the half-hour conversation that ensued in which we talked about popular culture, feminism, intersectionality (when identities–like gender, sexuality, race, religion, etc.–overlap), and misunderstandings of what all these things mean. And she got it. She understood the importance not only of feminism, but of understanding it in a larger context–cultural, social, and political.

In the book, Freedman defines feminism as follows:

Feminism is a belief that women and men are inherently of equal worth. Because most societies privilege men as a group, social movements are necessary to achieve equality between women and men, with the understanding that gender always intersects with other social hierarchies…I use “equal worth” rather than equality because the latter term often assumes that men’s historical experience—whether economic, political, or sexual—is the standard to which women should aspire. (p. 7)

What’s most important about this definition is that Freedman acknowledges the significance of politics of oppression–that feminism isn’t about making women equivalent to men, but of giving them equal value. It’s also important to recognize that there is agency in oppression; women have historically been oppressed by men, as well as by other women. Feminism–as opposed to “humanism” (already a thing, by the way, that has nothing to do with gender: “humanism” is a secular system of religious non-belief)–recognizes that the purpose of eliminating oppression is elevating the oppressed (here, women, hence, “feminism”).

This is as true of other forms of oppression: against homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, pansexuals, etc.; against people of color; against religious minorities; against national minorities. It is also true that we cannot focus on just one to the exclusion of all others; feminism cannot trump any other kind of anti-oppression movement. We are all strung together; equality is equality.

But that is not to say that we can simply erase the markers of difference which have caused this oppression. We can’t turn to #alllivesmatter because ALL lives have not been threatened; it must be #Blacklivesmatter because the lives which have not heretofore mattered are black. It can’t be humanism (not just because it’s already a term), because women have not been treated as full humans. It can’t be about straight pride, because straight people have always been able to stand in the open.

Oppression matters.

And, to turn it back to games (because, after all, that’s the point of this blog), it’s important to acknowledge the lack of women, LGBTQ, and people of color in the industry as fans, content creators, and in the content itself. And it’s important to deliberately include diversity in games because it has been so long absent. The status quo is no longer acceptable, it’s oppressive.

And now that we see it, it’s even more important to make a point of changing it.

Perspective Shift: Talking Games in the Midst of Violence

Today a friend asked a very good question, and one that I think is valuable to try to answer for cultural critics and academics the world over.

He teaches in Baltimore, where, as anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows, yet another protest has been sparked by police violence resulting in the death of a person of color. Given the context – not only Baltimore and Ferguson and North Carolina… but the earthquake in Nepal, the annexation of the Crimea, and so on – how can we keep talking about games? How can we ask our students to put aside everything they see going on outside their doors (sometimes literally) to talk about games? And, perhaps most importantly, given all this, should we keep talking about games?

My answer is yes – but also no. Yes, in the sense that talking about games is talking about culture and society and politics. Yes, because in talking about games we are (hopefully) talking about the issues that have led to the problems outside our doors. No, in the sense that we should absolutely not shut out what is happening outside. No, in the sense that it is vital that we talk literally about what is happening outside.

I believe that there are issues, concerns, and events that require us to put our planned classes and lives on hold because it is imperative that we stop to take a good, long look at what kind of society we have created, what acts we permit and what acts we condemn. I believe that what is happening now in Baltimore, what happened in Madison and North Carolina and Ferguson, is one of those events. Racism is a real, institutional problem that urgently demands our attention, and we need to not only allow, but encourage our students (friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues) to talk about.

And I also believe that these issues, concerns, and events appear in our popular culture media, including games. I believe that the problem of institutionalized racism appeared in Grand Theft Auto V and BioShock Infinite and Dragon Age and Fallout 3, and that each of those games attempted to address the problems of institutionalized racism through different lenses, to force their players to consider the ramifications of permitting the status quo to continue unchecked.

I also believe that institutionalized racism is a problem in many of these games, GTAV and Infinite in particular, because those games don’t fully understand or respect the ramifications of their privileged assumptions about race, class, and gender. And it is important for us to keep talking about them in order to make those problems visible, not only in the games industry, but in the world which these games reflect.

So yes, we need to keep talking about games. We need to talk about the good games can do if they seek to encourage social change. We need to talk about the harm games can do if they perpetuate social injustices without taking a critical stance. We also need to talk about the very real, very upsetting, very harmful things happening to real people in the real world, and remember that games matter because of the real world.

TIME 101

Last night, Anita Sarkeesian celebrated being named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year. The piece in TIME was written by Wil Wheaton, an advocate of equality and diversity in geekdom in general, and gaming in specific. He calls Sarkeesian “gaming’s feminist advocate,” and explains the general narrative of what has happened to her as a consequence of her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series.

She’s categorized by TIME as a “Pioneer,” someone on the forefront of a field. And – no disrespect to Sarkeesian, who I think has done a lot of good for equality and diversity in gaming – I’m just not buying it.

She’s been put alongside Scott Kelly, an astronaut who is right now aboard the ISS for six months risking his health and body in order to study the long-term effects of microgravity on the human body; Misty Copeland, an African American ballet superstar whose participation in the American Ballet breaks down presumed barriers of racial bias against black women in the fine arts, as well as showing that dance is an athletic form; Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, co-creators of a gene-modification technique that “gives scientists the power to remove or add genetic material at will”; among others, including Emma Watson, whose address to the UN on global issues of women’s oppression led to her nomination.

I want to make perfectly clear that I think what Sarkeesian is doing is important and contributes value to the games industry and to diversity in general. I’m just not certain that it’s worthy of being named one of the 100 most influential people. For one, no one outside of geekdom and gaming knows her name (even if they might find her picture similar to the actress from the Law & Order: SVU episode that I wish had never happened). For another, her selection minimizes a lot of work being done in games diversity – not because her work is bad (despite my criticisms of it, it isn’t bad), but because there is a lot of complex, nuanced, and, frankly, better work being done.

What it boils down to for me is that Sarkeesian’s work – unlike that of many of the other people listed – isn’t going to change the world. It isn’t even going to do real work in changing games, although it has done a lot of good in terms of raising awareness (how I hate that phrase) about the harassment of women in the gaming community and online more generally. And someone needs to do that awareness-raising work, and it’s important, I’m just not sure it warrants a top-100-people-of-the-year spot.

I guess my ultimate concern is that Sarkeesian’s work is done by and for people with privilege. Even though women are maligned in tech and gaming, even though games focus predominantly on the straight-white-male figure, gaming is fundamentally the purview of the privileged. People involved in games have homes, food, and disposable income. This doesn’t invalidate the work of gaming criticism (I do gaming criticism, after all), but I would feel just as awkward if it were me (ha!) being nominated.

Is Sarkeesian a leader? Yes. Is she doing good? Yes. But I bet there are a lot of people whose work makes a bigger difference in the lives of people who are starving, displaced, impoverished, or dying who deserve the accolades more than a cultural critic.

Fantastic Believability: Diversity and the Fallacy of “Historical Accuracy”

There have been a lot of discussions lately – in interviews with developers, online, and in my classroom – about the notion of “historical accuracy” or “believability” and issues of diversity and representation. Among them are Golden Glitch’s in-progress game Elsinore, featuring a dark-skinned Ophelia, and an interview of BioShock developer Ken Levine with GameInformer,which has occasioned both praise and condemnation for its discussion of religion and autism. I’m not going to talk about this article specifically, but, rather, I want to address more broadly some of the notions we seem to have about “historical accuracy” and “believability” regarding media (tv and movies, as well as games).

People often make the argument that certain films, tv shows, and games include sexist or racist images for the sake of “historical accuracy” or “believability.” Assassin’s Creed, for instance, excuses its lack of female characters (particularly in Unity) with the remark that it wouldn’t be accurate. GTA games have often been excused for their sexism on account of the “believability” of their stories – because clearly crime must also contain prostitution and sexual violence. Even fans of Game of Thrones excuse its sexual violence with the assertion that sexism was a part of medieval life (to be fair, GoT also has some of the most kick-ass women on television, Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark). My students accepted the racism and stereotypical dialects in BioShock Infinite as “historically accurate” to the game’s setting of 1912.

The argument is common. Sometimes it even makes sense. But more often, intentionally or not, it is simply an excuse for lazy storytelling that falls back on stereotypes and tired tropes that perpetuate racist and sexist ideologies.

More importantly, the suggestion that a game or show must contain racism and sexism because of “historical accuracy” or “believability” when it contains other obviously fantastical elements (flying cities, dragons, functionally immortal criminals, the Illuminati, aliens, superheroes, or any other number of imaginary things) is even more specious.

It’s vital that we remember that all of these depictions are choices, not facts. None of the stories I listed above are real. They all exist in fantasy worlds that never existed or have not yet come into being. In each case, someone – or more than one someone – decided that this prostitute would be beaten to death or that Circe would be raped or that Daisy Fitzroy would speak in uneducated dialect and threaten to kill a child or that the Vox Populi would wear demon horns. All those things were choices.

The danger of these choices comes in the fact that not all of them were made deliberately. What I mean is not that someone held a gun to the creator’s head, but, rather, that creators often don’t think about the ramifications or implications of their choices. They don’t think “Oh, hey, Daisy’s pigin English might be offensive or seem racist.” They think “Oh, Mark Twain did it,” or, worse, “This is how black people talked back then.” They don’t consider the implications that choice might have in terms of the present-day social acceptability of racism or sexism or the demonization of a religion or nation.

This becomes difficult to explain when we get to the idea of causality. Just one game with sexism or racism doesn’t make its players sexist or racist. Two games won’t. Three or four or even ten won’t. But when certain tropes and assumptions become commonplace across all media and in conversations had in the news, in classrooms, and around dinner tables, they do become harmful. But just one game, or two games, or ten games which explode those tropes, question the racist assumptions inherent in the American institutions of education, capitalism, and justice, then they can make a difference. Voices questioning the status quo stand out and have a greater impact than those which follow the well-worn path.

I am not arguing that all games should seek to become vehicles of social justice (although that would be pretty cool). I am arguing that creators of all media – print, television, film, games, etc. – should take it upon themselves to do research into other viewpoints and other ideologies. Creators should assume the responsibility for making educated decisions about each race and gender and religion and sexuality they depict. Creators, in short, should choose deliberately.

TLF: Feminist Frequency’s Positive Female Characters in Video Games, “The Scythian”

So yesterday, Anita Sarkeesian and Feminist Frequency released a new video in a new series on videogames focused on positive depictions of women in games. It seems that these will be much shorter than those found in Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, and will focus specifically on a single character, rather than a laundry-list format.

On the one hand, this suggests that Sarkeesian is listening to some of her (rational) critics, who dislike the laundry-list format. And I think this is a good move – it allows for more focus, more nuance, and avoids the problem of rapid-fire lists. My write-up for TLF is here (includes links to video and transcript).

Increased Tolerance: GenCon and the State of Indiana

Last week, Indiana passed a so-called Religious Freedom Bill that permits employers and business owners to discriminate against employees and customers on the basis of their religious beliefs. In essence, what this means is that a company can refuse to employ or serve someone whose lifestyle or identity conflicts with the proprietor’s religious beliefs. Put simply, this means that businesses can refuse to serve LGBTQ persons or persons of other religions citing “religious freedom.”

Putting aside – for the sake of this post alone – the horrific implications of such a law (and its highly questionable constitutionality), this has garnered extensive resistance from a variety of places, including the entire state of Connecticut and the gaming and fan con GenCon.

When the bill was still being debated, the organizers of GenCon encouraged lawmakers to consider that they would lose GenCon’s business if the bill went forward. They passed it anyway. GenCon now says that they are seriously reconsidering ending their relationship with the state when their current contract comes up.

And that’s the key – GenCon’s contract with Indiana doesn’t expire until 2020, by which time I’m certain that the law is likely to have been overturned or repealed. I don’t say this to criticize GenCon – they made the contract long before Indiana decided to turn back the clock on tolerance and diversity. The very fact that GenCon has gone out of its way to publicly condemn the bill-turned-law suggests that they are concerned with diversity in the geek community. And the fact that they are telling attendees not to attend if the law makes them uncomfortable suggests that GenCon means what it says: “I hope that you’ll join us at Gen Con, which will be inclusive and fun. Prospective attendees, if you don’t feel comfortable attending, based upon your principals, we invite you to make the decision that feels right for you, your business, or group. We support your decision, regardless of the outcome.”

GenCon’s response gives me hope for the future of the gaming community. In a group of people who have become almost infamous for sexism and harassment in the last few years, seeing GenCon take an open stance against intolerance is a good sign, at least for the gaming community, if not for Indiana or the US as a whole.

But it’s a silver lining in a storm of intolerance and willful ignorance in which we find racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bias and bigotry.

Feminist Illuminati: Academia, Feminism, and Gaming Mix Poorly

Today an article by Shira Chess and Adrienne Shaw – “A Conspiracy of Fishes, or How We Learned to Stop Worrying about #GamerGate and Embrace Hegemonic Masculinity,” published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 59.1 (2015) – came to my attention. Sadly, it lives behind a paywall at Taylor & Francis, so unless you’re an academic or willing to cough up some money, it will remain inaccessible. (If you do have access to an academic library, you can likely find a copy, however, and I would encourage you to do so.)

In some ways, the fact that Chess and Shaw’s article is locked within the Ivory Tower is deeply ironic, given that one of their points is that “The opacity of what we do, how we do it, and the language we use is often so far removed from the publics we are discussing that academia, itself, becomes part of the problem” (209). This is not a problem exclusive to games – any field into which academia dips its proverbial big toe encounters this barrier constructed of jargon, elitism, and paternalism which we call “academe.” Sadly, what this generally means is that normal, everyday people dismiss academics as being out of touch; we are, but not typically in the ways in which people think we are. Most academics are discussing subjects that are immediately relevant and significant to the sociopolitical world, just in terms and forms which are completely impenetrable to the uninitiated.

And this leads to an inherent distrust of the very people who are likely among the most equipped in the world to deal with the problems in those fields. It isn’t a good situation. When one combines this aversion to the academy with the typical response to “feminism,” as Chess and Shaw observe, things only get worse. And when this is compounded within game studies and, more frightening yet, games more broadly (fans and industry), it turns into the stuff of nightmares.

Some months ago, DiGRA (the Digital Games Research Association), an academic organization supporting the study of all aspects of games and gaming, became the subject of inquiry for a spin-off group of GamerGaters referring to themselves as #OperationDiggingDiGRA (more on them here and here). The Twitter hashtag, with a repeated group of individuals asking questions and making comments about the “feminist conspiracy” underpinning DiGRA, spawned, apparently, by a Fishbowl panel hosted by Chess and Shaw at DiGRA’s 2014 conference.

What happened, explain Chess and Shaw, is that their open symposium-style panel (“Fishbowl”) and its attendant public Google Document designed for the audience to take notes and make comments had somehow come to the attention of GamerGate, who began to doctor and comment upon said document:

On September 1, 2014 we began getting emails that indicated someone was commenting on our Google Doc. The one that caught our eye was a comment that read: ‘‘guys, use the comments thingy, leave the thing unedited please. It won’t look credible to anyone outside of 4chan if doctored around.’’ Reviewing the edits, it had apparently been edited and commented on since late at night on August 31. One edit simply replaced ‘‘identity and diversity in game culture’’ with the word ‘‘penis.’’ Another deleted the title entirely and replaced it with ‘‘I fuck kids- op.’’ That version also altered nearly every paraphrasing of participants’ comments to include something about ‘‘sucking cock.’’ Finally, someone reverted it back to the original added a note stating: ‘‘It’s impossible for us to mess with it too much, because it can always be restored to a later version, like what I just did.’’ Another comment encouraged everyone to make a copy of the document, just in case. Being busy and uninterested in following the sophomoric edits via the log we made a copy of the original version and deleted the shared doc. We wondered, however, how anyone came upon our notes from an academic conference in the first place—or, for that matter, why anyone would find them interesting. (211-212)

The very fact that GamerGaters felt entitled to change a document in order to present it as evidence is itself evidence of a very different kind. Obviously, many of the original “edits” were simply there as trollish pranks – one assumes no one would believe that the spontaneous appearance of the word “penis” in a document was evidence of a feminist conspiracy in the academic ranks.

Naturally, this document alone was not the basis for such a claim. Instead, the document – discussing identity politics and gender-related issues – was mixed with journalists’ reports of harassment against Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, blogs and thinkpieces about women in gaming, and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games and presented as “undeniable” evidence of a conspiracy within feminism (as though “feminists” are all members of a unified secret cabal) to destroy videogames.

When mixed with the fact that many academics – including those in game studies – receive federal grants for their research, this supposed feminist conspiracy took on a new level of nefariousness. After all, federal money funding a secret feminist cabal has to be insidious, right?

On September 9 ‘‘Sargon of Akkad’’ posted a YouTube video titled, ‘‘A Conspiracy Within Gaming.’’ The video promises that ‘‘The smoky-room Communist meetings in gaming actually exist, they’re just done in the brightly lit halls of academia’’ (Sargon of Akkad, September 9, 2014). (213)

Sorry. Secret Communist feminist cabal. But what is interesting – both to me and to Chess and Shaw – is that somehow the status of ‘academic,’ typically conflated with “egg-head” and “tweed-wearing” and often dismissed by our students as pedantic and arrogant (at best) or out-of-touch and meaningless (at worst) became, to GamerGate, a legitimate threat:

In part, what appears threatening about academia is an assumed social standing: ‘‘It’s going to be impossible to fight against, because academics are viewed as intelligent people with  authority in their particular disciplines’’ (Sargon of Akkad, September 9, 2014). Evident in the IRC chat log, comments on the video, and numerous sites where the information was circulated, is that academia simply does not make sense from the outside. More than that it is perceived as threatening. (214)

Chess and Shaw go on to say that the opacity of academic discourse (a phrase in-and-of-itself that illustrates the academic tendency toward unnecessary obfuscation) is inhibiting legitimate conversations between fans and academics, and I can’t say that I disagree. What I do think is more wishful thinking than truth, however, is the idea that by becoming more accessible in our language and criticism that we, as academics, will be any less subject to being blamed for participating in feminist conspiracies.

GamerGate, as a whole, is not a movement built on or persuaded by logic or fact. Attempts by dozens if not hundreds of academics (some of them on the DiGRA listserv) to explain game studies to #OperationDiggingDiGRA participants came to a messy and mutually frustrated end, with neither side convinced whatsoever by the other, and those of us with English degrees tearing out our hair at the plethora of grammatical errors on one half of that conversation.

That isn’t to say that conversations can’t or shouldn’t happen across the Ivory Fence; they can and should. My point is more that academic transparency isn’t going to solve or inhibit movements like GamerGate.

In-and-of-itself, academic transparency is a good thing, something for which more disciplines ought to strive. It enables the transmission of knowledge, something sadly lacking these days, as not only GamerGate, but climate change denial and utter ignorance about basic female anatomy proliferates among the more conservative portions of the political population.

One of the conclusions at which Shaw and Chess hint – and one with which I can’t disagree – is the idea that academia is trying to change the status quo, except that it isn’t so much a conspiracy as it is overtly and directly advocating for change. But we don’t all agree on the direction that change ought to take, or even whether change is what is necessary. That said, academics, as a whole, tend to be liberal-minded advocates of advancing knowledge, in any and all possible forms that knowledge might take.

And yes, some of us are feminists. Some of us are advocating for more diversity, more tolerance, less objectification of women and less oppression of minorities. We are the proverbial and hated “social justice warriors,” but it isn’t a conspiracy in the sense of being at all hidden. We may use difficult language that the untrained find hard to penetrate, but we aren’t doing it in order to hide anything; we just speak a different language.

Infinite Regression

At the moment, I’m replaying BioShock Infinite in order to teach it to my class (Games, Game Theory, and Leadership Studies). The first time I played through it, I had a lot of reactions, some of them positive, some negative. Often, when one plays through a game for the second time, one notices things that weren’t there before, things that either confirm or complicate one’s opinion about the game.

Well, for one thing, I completely forgot how to change vigors and must have missed the pop-up that told me how, so I went through for quite a while only using Possession and Shock Jockey, when I really wanted to use Murder of Crows. But then I figured it out and felt stupid, but that’s my deal, not the game’s.

Some of the differences I have noticed – in the last year and a half or so, I’ve gotten much better at shooters. I don’t really play all that many (and I’ve mostly played RPGs and strategy in the interim between when I first played Infinite and now), so that was a bit surprising, but okay. It’s made me die… not at all. So that’s helping in terms of gameplay.

As for the rest… this playthrough is confirming and compounding what I already thought. It’s gorgeous, the music is phenomenal, the gameplay is vintage BioShock, I hate Handymen, and the gender dynamics are stereotypically sexist despite trying not to be so. But the depictions of race in the game make me want to crawl out of my own skin, even more than they did a year and a half ago.

Maybe its watching news coverage of Ferguson and Madison and Southern fraternities, maybe its my increased awareness of violence against blacks and other minorities from an institutional standpoint, maybe its because I’ve spent more time researching intersectionality. Whatever it is, Infinite is even more horrific in its depiction of “diversity” than it was the last time I played it, and I was pretty horrified then:

But the late-game Vox turn on you, and their actions – especially Daisy’s, when she tries to murder a child (probably another throwback to Bioshock chiding the player for spending a game possibily [sic] killing children him/herself) – are the epitome of bigoted stereotypes. And yes, I do understand the logic that the Vox have only become violent and barbaric because they were treated by the citizens of Columbia as subhuman. However, the game never complicates this late-Vox image. It never returns us to humanity from barbarity.

But now I see even more than that. It isn’t just that the late-game Vox (world three version) are barbaric, it’s everything up to and including Daisy’s “dialect,” the black servants around Columbia, world one Mrs. Lin’s pigin English (replacing her with a white woman in worlds two/three also weirded me out a little), the dioramas of Wounded Knee and the Boxer Rebellion, the abject filthiness and poverty of the Shantytown in comparison to Columbia proper. Yes, I know that Columbia itself is supposed to be racist, but there’s a difference between depicting radical racism (Hall of Heroes) as bad and unintentionally reinforcing institutionalized racism by having a black woman smear blood on her face and then attempt to murder a child only to have her killed by the most innocent person in the game (Elizabeth, a young white woman) as an act of goodness. The color of the Vox is red – blood, violence, Communism – and they wear demonic horned masks.

While Columbia’s police are your enemies from the start, the Vox turn on you, go from being your allies to your enemies in one quick cutscene. They betray you – traitors whose actions are unpredictable. You – Booker – go from being their savior (white savior, anyone?) to being their victim… while still remaining the white savior. Talk about a martyr complex.

As I play through the game, I know its intention is to make me reconsider racism, but all it manages to do is make me be painfully aware of how racist the game itself actually is. The equation of minorities with poverty, theft, filth, a lack of education, and menial labor (even though the fact that Fink is obviously exploiting them is made evident) only serves to confirm the kind of institutionalized racism that causes people today to expect that black men are more likely to commit crimes and justify shooting them when they are unarmed.

I do not want to say that the developers who worked on Infinite are themselves racist. I have met many of them, and I think they are good people with good intentions. I also think they are unaware of the problematic way in which they created the universe of Columbia. I firmly believe that the message they wanted to convey was one of anti-American Exceptionalism, one of equality in matters of race and gender and sexuality. They meant well, they really did, and the game they created does have a lot of good things in it.

But.

In essence, and I do not say this lightly, Infinite succumbs to the worst sort of Uncle Tom’s Cabin-esque racism – the kind that is well-intentioned, paternalistic, and unintentionally reinforcing of the status quo. It’s the problem with #alllivesmatter, #notallmen (#notallwhites?), and #notyourshield. It wants to be equitable, wants to show that it cares about social justice, and only manages to offer up a bandaid and a balloon to ease a gunshot wound.

Women’s Day Post

Today is International Women’s Day, GDC (Game Developers’ Conference) and PAX (Penny Arcade eXpo) East are wrapping up, and GamerGate is still hanging on to its undead, stinky existence. In honor of all the women – of all stripes, shapes, colors, orientations, and identities – out there, I want to acknowledge the efforts, struggles, and battles you have fought and continue to fight every day.

I want to tell you that you’re awesome for getting up in the morning and walking out the door, for logging on to the internet, for raising your voice, for simply being each and every day. Every time you do any of these things, you make the world a little better, a little brighter, a little more equal.

Which isn’t to say that the war we call daily life is anywhere near over, particularly not for women of color, transwomen, queer women, women of size, women in third world countries, women in STEM and games, women in academia… you get the idea.

A lot of people have been posting in honor of International Women’s Day, most positively, with role models and inspirational encouragement. On the other side of things, some have been using this as an opportunity to point out how feminism is oppressing men, asking “When’s International Men’s Day?” (The answer, by the way, is November 19th.)

Yesterday (maybe in honor of International Women’s Day, maybe not) Cracked posted a piece about “Feminist Easter Eggs” in the Portal series. It’s a pretty good read, all things considered, but the five things they point to aren’t Easter Eggs (which are hidden surprises, usually fun or funny in nature) – they’re the whole point of the game. Having a game with all female characters (Portal) is not an Easter Egg. Having a female protagonist who doesn’t look at her own boobs is not an Easter Egg. Having an abused women triumph over adversity is not a bloody Easter Egg. These things are the central point of the games, but they’re termed “Easter Eggs” so as to… I don’t know… not offend male gamers who might be horrified to learn that a game they played and liked is feminist? I’m really not sure of the logic there.

But it points to one of the reasons why it’s so important to commemorate International Women’s Day – because we still consider “feminist” to be a dirty word, because women who aren’t white and affluent are erased from conversations of women’s rights, because women still make less than their male counterparts, because women have to work harder and produce more in order to receive the same promotions, because men and women both deserve equal parental leave and accommodations, because women who don’t resemble the media’s “perfect female image” are ostracized and insulted on a daily basis, because women have to fear walking home alone, because street harassment is normal, because women are “bossy” while men are “leaders,” because GamerGate exists, because #yesallwomen and #notyourshield and #1reasonwhy and #letgirlslearn, because we’re afraid to put women forward as role models and heroes… because of all these things and more.

Because there are girls growing up who believe that because of what is (or isn’t) between their legs, they are less suited for leadership positions, technological innovation, scientific research, academia, business, and pursuing their dreams.

Happy International Women’s Day.

TLF – Memory Lane: A Review of Gone Home

So I finally got around to playing Gone Home, mostly because I put it on my syllabus to force myself to play it (in that “I keep meaning to but just don’t” kind of way – not the “oh god don’t make me” kind of way). My review of it is up on TLF, and it’s mixed.

My students’ reaction was also a bit mixed. Some of them got very immersed in the atmosphere, so much so that I had a few afraid to finish it in the wee hours of the morning because it made them feel like something was going to jump out and get them. I had others who were just confused, since they didn’t really feel like they were actually playing anything. And others who were bored, wanting something interesting to happen or wanting some kind of specific choice to make that would matter in the long run.

But it keeps coming up in class. Today we started Portal, and they immediately compared the narrative and exploration mechanics in Gone Home to the (lack of obvious) narrative in the first 10 rooms of Portal – although we’ll see how that comparison continues as the game develops.