Cultural Artifact – Crush Game Review

I’ve been absent for a while doing a whole bunch of things.  I started learning to program (I made a dice rolling game in Flash), starting a new job, ramping up my work out schedule, and writing this article for Gamers Against Bigotry.  As well, I’ve been working on my writing (even though I haven’t posted anything).  I wanted to start writing game reviews (something I’ve done a couple times in the past), but I didn’t want to write just some plain old review about graphics, sounds, or anything standard.

I came up with this idea: Cultural Artifact.  Cultural Artifact will be the header for all my game reviews where I look at not just gameplay, graphics, or music for their own sake, but looking at the whole of these things and how they work with culture, create culture, and/or are a byproduct of culture.  So here we go, the first Cultural Artifact Post: Crush Game Review.

SPOILER ALERT: Cultural Artifact focuses on games as a whole and their relation to culture (which culture depends on the game and its focus).  Cultural artifact will invariably contain spoilers for games.  I recommend playing through a game before reading Cultural Artifact if you worry about having a game spoiled for your.   Continue reading

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Role Playing and Fantasy Football

A lot of people talked about how I should have mentioned that sports fans are just as fanatical, if not more fanatical, than us geeks. However, Rather than just talk about that (because most people seem to realize this point) I wanted to talk about something that is deeply important to a lot of sports fans – fantasy football – and how it represents a shift in mentality where long term role playing games are becoming more and more acceptable.

The Miracle of Mindfulness and Conventions

This post is a journey of thought, talking about happiness in everyday life in relation to happiness at conventions – TeslaCon in particular as it was this weekend.  Today I want to talk to you about my own happiness, my own life, and how we can use conventions as a way to understand happiness in everyday life.

Over the weekend I was at TeslaCon – talking with people, socializing, having a great time all around – and after such an fantastic weekend I was worried that ConDepression would set in.  However, when yesterday came I worked from approximately 8:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night, with sporadic breaks in between, and found myself just as happy as when I was at TeslaCon despite being alienated from the great people that were there. Some might just say that I was still riding the wave of happiness from the convention but I think it’s something different.

I have this morning off, and when I woke up I was surrounded by all these memories from TeslaCon.  I’m always worried about ConDepression because it hurts my work performance and my motivation for the day (and can often spiral into motivation for the week).  In line with a new event I’ve added to my daily routine (reading for an hour every morning) I picked up The Miracle of Mindfulness to reread and bring my mind away from the fact that TeslaCon is over and I miss it dearly. I read for about an hour, this book which I haven’t picked up since high school, and realized something.  The happiness that I achieved yesterday was the same happiness that I achieved at TeslaCon.

In the Miracle of Mindfulness, Mindfulness is all about keeping one’s mind focused and in the present.  Rather than focusing on what will happen after we finish a task, what will come of the future, we must keep our mind focused on what we are doing and think of it as a great thing.  The example used by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book is washing dishes.  We should focus on washing dishes when we wash dishes, not the cup of tea which awaits us when we are done.

Now, how does this have anything to do with TeslaCon?  At conventions we are focused on the present.  We are entirely engaged and engrossed in the present.  We are no longer thinking about the e-mails which may be flooding our inbox or the deadlines our bosses have given us.  We are only thinking about the present moments which we are experiencing.  This is arguably a way to happiness – it has been heralded in the East for a very long time in many of their religious ideologies and Western studies are beginning to emerge which show the same.  The happiness that I achieved yesterday, despite the fact that my favorite convention of the year is over, was because I was focused on the present and focused on my daily tasks in the same way that I was focused on panels, events, people, and the immersion experiences at TeslaCon.

TeslaCon offers us a place, a time, a history, and people in which we can engross ourselves wholly and entirely.  We embrace the moment and we forget about the past and future by living in the present.

So this is one reason that Conventions are so great.  We become entirely consumed by the moment, by the present.  Rather than worrying about our social relationships, our work relationships, the things we have to do, the things we ought to do, and the normal everyday worries which plague our minds, we are consumed only by the joy presented to us by living within the moment.

Some may think this is all bull honky, and if you do then you are welcome to think that way.  But I urge you to think about your experience at conventions (if you have had one) and remember the worst time you had at the convention.  It was probably that moment in which you stopped thinking about the convention, stopped living in the moment, and allowed your mind to stray back to worrying about work, worrying about relationships, and worrying about the future or how past mistakes were going to hurt your future.

We should apply these living in the moment experiences that we all have at conventions to our everyday lives.  Rather than consuming our thoughts with the worries of past mistakes or possible failures of the future, we should be working hard and focusing on the present as we do when we are engaged at conventions.  We should bring Mindfulness into our lives, focusing on what we are doing now to create the future we want, rather than worrying about what might go wrong or turn that future on its head.

Your Resident (Not Really) Anthropologist

One thing to be noted – I am not saying that we should abandon all thoughts of our future or all thoughts of our past.  What we should do is make thinking of our future a task, something which we can focus on.  We should set time aside to think about our future, rather than allowing those thoughts to randomly set up shop in our mind.  As for thoughts about our past – we should be focusing on the moment and the only thoughts of our past should be when they apply to the present (this includes when we are dedicating time to thinking about our future).  We shouldn’t dwell on the past and, as Tim Sanders says, poor experiences and failures should be learning experiences where we shed the experience but keep the lesson.

Trolling as Social Conditioning

Trolling is something that we’re all familiar with, and something that I’ve discussed in the past.  But I’m not sure that I gave the idea of trolling as social conditioning the attention that it deserves.  Trolling is a form of social conditioning, in the same way that people become apathetic to the things in our world that negatively impact us (non-bullied teens who are apathetic about bullying, poor living conditions in certain parts of cities that don’t get any attention anymore, etc.).

To start with social conditioning is when we, as people, are conditioned by social forces to believe, think, or act a certain way.  I think an excellent way to see social conditioning is to start with something we are all familiar with – social conditioning by government.  Governments take actions everyday, often at a detriment to the their citizens, and usually under some guise that it is supposed to benefit its citizens.  An excellent example of this is when governments install cameras on street corners, traffic lights, and sides of buildings to monitor the population.  I think we all recognize that this is something that we don’t actually want to happen – but it does.  And as time goes on and it goes on long enough people become desensitized to it and are conditioned to think of the cameras that watch them on a daily basis as something that is normal and things are the way they are.

Trolling does the same thing.  Trolling has become so common place that people just come to expect it and often times people merely ignore it when it happens.  The viewpoints that are put forth in trolling – fat, ugly, slut, stupid, moron, you suck, suck my c*ck – are all expected in the current day of online media.  Trolling, in a sense, has become normalized.  Because it has become normalized the viewpoints expressed are normalized.  When a woman gets called fat online it’s merely trolling and we go on about our daily lives doing our normal tasks because it’s not out of the ordinary.

Through social conditioning, we as an online culture have been conditioned to expect and accept the trolling that happens on a daily basis.  The more the trolls do it, and get away with it, the more we tell them it’s okay.  Like a child who pushes another child and then doesn’t get chastised for it, they haven’t been punished and they didn’t face any serious ramifications for their actions.  They will continue to see how far they can go and what they can get away with.

This is why it is important for people to report trolling as abusive behavior.  We should make sure that gamers are creating a safe and healthy environment for each other – not calling each other a faggot, queer, slut, bitch, or asking others to perform lewd acts upon us.

As always,
Your Resident (Not Really) Anthropologist

Female Gamers: Doing More for our Community than Any Misogynist Could Ever Hope

[TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these links contain extreme material including references to rape and death threats]

My first post, Cultural Relativity vs. Feminism, made mention of Anita Sarkeesian (known for her blog and YouTube channel Feminist Frequency) and the brutal internet attack that was launched against her in reaction to the series she wants to make (note didn’t actually make yet) called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  The attack was brutal.  She was the victim of threats such as rape and death in addition to people wishing death upon her friends and family.  (I’d like to note that a very good thing happened: she raised over $150,000 for her Kickstarter.  I’m glad that the unyielding support for Sarkeesian showed all the misogynists that they are weak in their attempts to bring down Sarkeesian and her intellectual endeavor)

I, in my first post, noted some of my reaction and was reticent about putting down the full force of my thoughts on the subject not only because I wasn’t sure about what I truly thought anymore, but more that I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the conversation (and I should note that not taking sides, being in the middle, can be wrong).  However, over the past several days I have come to a full fledged opinion on the topic and it’s this: as a white male I am privileged, and those like me who try to describe the privilege as non-existent or describe not white males as having the same number of privileges are a product of tradition, ritual, and hold an inability to critically reflect upon their own views.  Or, in short, those who targeted Sarkeesian, and other women like her, are wrong.

This opinion wasn’t informed purely by the Sarkeesian incident, but also by some links and articles that I read from various friends and people I follow on Tumblr.  The first thing that really and truly opened my eyes to how pervasive the problem is was Fat, Ugly, or Slutty.  This website made my stomach churn.  More importantly, the power that men clearly wield in such instances is overwhelming and panoptic.*  Fat, Ugly, or Slutty truly embodies this panoptic power.  Men attempt to reinforce the power they wield by devaluing women based on their gender.  The build and maintain their own power by silencing women and making them feel like their gender is their identity, not the contents of their character or the skills they have.  The website demonstrates how women are subject to it every day and risk being subject to it by merely participating in the community, even more so if they are good at what they are playing.  Not only that, but the problem is now coming into the mainstream media with BBC doing an article about it which linked Fat, Ugly, or Slutty.  [LINK]

Then I read the article I linked the other day called Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is, by John Scalzi.  This article was such a great metaphor for what the men who attacked Sarkeesian clearly can’t understand.  The fact that one is male puts them in a position over females.  Even better if you’re a white male.

After this I started going through the comments of Felicia Day’s recent music video Gamer Girl, Country Boy.  I’m quite aware that many people dislike country music (I’m not one of them as my mother listened to nothing but it while I was growing up) and some even despise the genre.  Some people dislike the idea of gaming being joined with something other than gaming, or even just geek culture in general being joined with something like the culture associated with “country boys”.  But rather than judge the music video based on these things many went straight for the jugular and debased Day purely based on the fact that she was a women, many of the comments being similar to those that Sarkeesian faced.  Many also claimed that Day wasn’t a true “gamer” because she was a woman and women can’t be gamers.  It was not an attack on the video or the contents of the video, it was purely an attack on the fact that Day is a woman.

But what has motivated me to write this is not the fact that I now have a fully fledge opinion on the subject, because I think opinions in themselves can be boring.  What really motivates me to write this article is the reaction on Kickstarter to Sarkeesian.  The Kickstarter was called Misandry in Video Games.

I read a bit of the contents when I found the Kickstarter, but couldn’t get through them because the whole idea made me to angry and upset to continue reading.  I have since tried to find the Kickstarter again, but haven’t been able to find it (was it taken down?  If you know the link or know if it was taken down please comment or e-mail me. [The link has been sent to me via comment and can be found either in the comment section or at the bottom of the article.]).

This Kickstarter was set up in an attempt to reinforce the mindset of the men who attacked people like Sarkeesian, Day, and the men who send messages like those on Fat, Ugly, or Slutty.  But even more importantly it reinforces the idea that women can continue to be treated by men in this terrible way because men are supposedly subject to the same tropes as women via misandry with all the same ill-effects.

This behavior has to stop and many people are going to oppose to video game community if this behavior continues.  This behavior is going to kill the gaming community and more importantly it perpetuates a culture where women are fearful of even logging into the online community because of the messages they get, and the verbal abuse they receive over chat.  Moms and dads out there who are seeing this side of the video game community are going to start working even harder against the video game community.  This behavior only reinforces the stereotype of video game players as violent and morally unsound.  Video games will be seen as a morally and ethically detrimental to children and teenagers.  If BBC is picking up on it now who knows how long it is until the front page of large newspapers; headline reports of investigative journalism about harassment in the online gaming community.

So guys out there who are cognizant of their privilege, who are aware that women are subject to this kind of thing, who are playing video games when women are verbally abused online, and who recognize that women are people and not just the toys of men need to fight back with women.  We need to make sure that we are reporting the terrible behavior that is present in the online community.  We need to make sure that we are helping women in this struggle against the misogynistic mindset that is so pervasive in the gaming community.

And if you disagree with me and are a part of the gaming community then remember; Felicia Day, Anita Sarkeesian, and the women who you debase in the community have done more for the gaming community than you ever will.  By telling women to make you sandwiches, get back in the kitchen, and threatening them because they threaten the panoptic power that you wield in the community, you only hurt the community and more importantly you are hurting women everywhere by creating another place where women feel unsafe and are afraid to go because of the harassing and threatening messages that you send out.

Your Resident (not really) Anthropologist

Notes:

*Panoptic power is defined by Foucault in Discipline and Punish as power which is inescapable, pervasive everywhere in everyday life, and actively works to change the mindset and view that people hold of themselves, others, and the society that they live within.

EDIT: I had someone on Tumblr ask a question (although there were a few implied) so I’m going to add my response to further clarify the article.

To clarify the power is panoptic within the gaming community (probably should have made that clearer).  If someone wants to actively participate within the community they have to participate in the public space of the community (for gaming that could be commenting on gaming related media, creating gaming related media, or just playing online games).

As for the messages from strangers being panoptic, the messages are a way of reinforcing the role that women are supposed to play in the gaming community (aka, no role at all).  When enough people participate by sending messages to women which are disparaging and devaluing women based on their gender they are attempting to silence women and pushing women to believe that there is no place in the gaming world for them (whether it is successful or not).  There are ways to avoid these messages such as playing only with friends (on or offline), only playing single player games, using a gamertag/PSN ID/username which does not hint at the gender of the person, or playing without a headset (the last two of which would have to be used on conjunction with each other).  But I would argue that when women do these things it merely reinforces the misogynistic view of women in the gaming world and allows men to continue their behavior because women are actively silenced.  Women shouldn’t have participate in gaming covertly.

The re-appropriation of messages can be used as a way to try and shift or remove the power of men in the gaming community, but overwhelmingly they are not.  There is a very pervasive mentality that reporting does nothing (and often times when men are reported for their behavior and find that they have been reported they message the woman who they suspect of reporting them with that very message – that reporting abusive behavior does nothing).

I am actively working on an article that talks about the effect one of these women (Felicia Day) has had on the gaming community and what she is doing for the gaming community.  But in short, without giving too much about my next article away, these women are not only actively participating but helping to shape, create, and change the culture of the gaming community.  By doing what they have, such as Felicia Day making 3 dimensional female characters rather than relying on stereotypes and tropes of women that are pervasive in the gaming community/culture, they are helping to create a more realistic and friendly view of women in the gaming community.

EDIT 2: I have been sent the link to the misandry and video games kickstarter.  It’s here: http://www.indiegogo.com/misandryinvideogames Thanks to NUReviews for the link to the page.  (http://nureviewsnetwork.com/)

Cultural Relativism vs. Feminism

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past couple days, and it’s quite the doozy.

Does cultural relativism undermine the rights and freedoms of people in the world?

Cultural relativism has always been heralded by me as a student of anthropology.  When I find people who claim that the Middle East is backwards or evil I tell myself that they are misguided and misinformed.  When racist remarks are made in my hometown (Milwaukee), talking about how the poor in my city are poor because they don’t have a work ethic I engage in a unique understanding that I got from one of my professors.  (They didn’t say this exactly, but meditating on their words I came to this conclusion)

Those in the inner city grow up with a different mentality and live in a completely different world than myself or those who live in the suburbs.  I don’t see what their lives are like on a daily basis and I don’t know what it takes to live in the conditions that they live in.  As well just because they sag their pants, or they speak in African American English doesn’t mean they don’t have work ethic (which seems to be the understanding of those who spout the racist remarks that I come upon).  The inner city has it’s own culture and they survive through that culture.  I tell myself that those living in the impoverished, and highly segregated, parts of Milwaukee are just part of a different culture.  More importantly (and this is the heart of how my professor’s words affected me), if the African Americans that live in the impoverished parts of Milwaukee want to live a good life then what they have to do is conform to the white suburban culture. (This is obvious in some of the remarks made by politicians like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum).

I have always heralded cultural relativism above, almost, all things in studying anthropology and even philosophy.  But recently my thoughts were turned upside down.

[TRIGGER WARNING: The links below contain hate speech and direct threats of violence against women]

This link goes to an article I read about Anita Sarkeesian.  She is the creative and intellectual mind behind Feminist Frequency.  After reading through the article I went to her page, then I watched some of her videos, and I read some more on her page.  (I don’t plan to recount the entire story to you, for it isn’t necessary to my overall point, but here is a link to her page)

The most important part is that I watched through her videos on tropes of women in movies, comic books, and other popular media that are detrimental to women.  The series is called Tropes vs. Women.  I watched through all of them in a single sitting and fell straight into the trap of male thinking which is “I understand what you’re saying, but in telling stories characters are meant to further story lines, and if tropes are used it is because they are useful.”  So after meditating on this four a couple of days I realized that I was just contributing to the problem.  In understanding the writing community as a culture the tropes that they use are used to convey overall messages in their story, and if the tropes work than they work.   But I found myself in a dilemma which lead me to my question above:

Does cultural relativism undermine the rights and freedoms of people in the world?

If I used cultural relativism to try and justify the the tropes used by writers of comics, books, T.V. shows, and movies then couldn’t it be used by others to justify the abuse that runs rampant in certain cultures?  And the answer is indeed yes and it often is.  In the video game community, where the uproar against Sarkeesian came from, many people used the cultural relativism argument (although I doubt they were thinking of it as a culturally relative argument) saying things akin to “That’s just how it is and if you want to be a part of that community than you have to deal with how things are.”  Or in culturally relative terms: We are a culture that has been built up over time and this is how things have always been.  If you want to be a part of this community than you must be a part of everything within that community, even if you disagree with it.

My answer to the above question is thus, obviously: yes, yes it can.  (Those of your familiar with cultural relativism probably think it’s an obvious answer, but for me I heralded this ideal.  It was the sacred law for me in studying anthropology).  But this leads me to a more crucial question: At what point does cultural relativism cross the line from protecting culture, to accepting, and possibly protecting, those who spread hate and fear throughout communities.  Where do we draw the line between being culturally accepting and protecting those who abuse and instill fear?

I read an article called The Primacy of the Ethical by Nancy Scheper-Hughes in my anthropological theory class.  The article heralded, in the same way I herald cultural relativism, the ideas of Western Enlightenment Political Philosophy (my major area of study in Philosophy as an undergraduate).  I read the article and then wrote a paper on it.  The paper lambasted Nancy Scheper-Hughes for throwing away the idea of cultural relativism for the idea of fighting an “ethical” battle under the guise of anthropology.  She made the point that we must fight for the rights of people in all countries that anthropologists study in, and that to not work for the protection of rights of the populations that anthropologists study they are having a moral and ethical shortcoming.  But to me this is an imposition of Western Enlightenment ideals upon nations that aren’t necessarily built upon the same ideals of rights and liberties that we have taken as objectively true in the Western world.  It is not our job to tell them how to build their country, how to police it, or what ideals (if ideals at all) it should be founded on.

But now Anita Sarkeesian has turned my thinking on its head.  Sarkeesian’s videos series Women vs. Tropes, the fact that she has been the target of rape and death threats, and the fact that I fell straight into the thinking of men who’s ideas of the world are challenged have shown me that if I try and bring cultural relativism to everything, the only thing I am doing is protecting those who are threatening her and reinforcing the behavior which forces women to live in fear their entire lives.

At what point do we protect the rights of people to have their own culture?  There is definitely a culture that surrounds video games, and it might as well have a big, muscly lumberjack for its mascot because video games are for men, not women (just like Dr. Pepper Ten).

If I continue to herald cultural relativism all I do is reinforce the tyrannical behavior of men who are threatened by Sarkeesian.  But do I throw the baby out with the bath water then?  No, I do not.  But separating out these ideas is much harder than determining the difference between a baby and water.

A preliminary idea that I have come to is this: it all depends on where the change is coming from.  A group which works to create change within its own community/culture should be (usually) helped.  But when the change is imposed upon the community by external forces (such as the government forcing the Catholic Church to provide birth control to their employees*) then we see that there are issues that arise.  When an imposition of ideals happens we have to understand both sides, because the side that we are on CAN be wrong.

So I guess one could say that all that I have determined is that context is necessary for understanding a situation.  But isn’t science, even social science, about creating results that either reaffirm or help to prove wrong theories we have about the world?  Even with this possibly “Duh!” result, I think it’s extremely important to reflect and understand the things going on around us and how they fit into the ideas that we have and break them down.

Your Resident (not really) Anthropologist

*Note: I am not saying that the government is right or wrong in this case and am not taking a stance on this issue in this post, but am merely exemplifying my point.

**Cultural Relativism: The belief that culture should be understood in its own rights and in its own terms.  It is the opposite of ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s culture is superior or the best of all possible cultures.  Cultural relativism was in part an aim to understand cultures as products of the people who live within the culture.  The relationship between culture and people is dialogical, with people creating changes in the culture while simultaneously understanding their world through cultural definitions and symbols.