questioning kuma war

Well, here we are -- the last official blog post of the semester (at least until I post those two old ones that I missed). It's a little sad -- I don't like change -- but also a bit of a relief. Vacation is coming soon! Huzzah!

So let's get on with it. I just want to start off with some thoughts on Kuma War, and we'll see where things go from there. Anyhoo... so Kuma War was that interesting little video game reenactment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe. The preview that we watched in class advertised how the player could be "right there" in the heat of battle; how the player could take on the role of an actual soldier and carry out actual orders. Now, it's definitely a neat little concept for a video game but I couldn't help but feel a little discomforted while I watched the advertisement.

The game seemed like a prime example of identity tourism, something that we discussed at length after having read the cybertyping article a while back. And while Kuma War doesn't seem to push any examples of overt racism or anything, the whole idea behind the game feels like a case of false advertising. I mean, the game offers the player the opportunity to engage in something "real" -- but what is "real", exactly? Does a virtual simulation -- a replica, you could call it -- of some real-life event count as real?

KW reminded me of NBA Street, which we looked at a few weeks ago. As Lisa Nakamura argues in her article: just because the player takes on the stereotypical role of the black basketball on the streets of the ghetto, does that mean the player has some idea of what it actually feels like to be a black basketball player on the streets of the ghetto? Or is there some kind of illusionistic identification going on here? Nakamura argues (and I agree) that playing this sort of video game might lend itself to some false beliefs -- not just because the roles are stereotypical (and hence often caricatured and untrue), but also because the game touts itself as realistic and capable of actually offering the player this particular form of the "black experience." Virtual blackface, as Nakamura might say. The player is donning the virtual "skin" of this black character, but that doesn't mean that they are actually assuming the identity of the character. And especially when it comes to a game that promotes itself on the grounds of its supposed realism, this discrepancy between what the game says it can offer and what it can actually offer is a case of false advertising.



That's the sense that I got from Kuma War. Though the game goads players into believing that they're somehow experiencing this mediated form of the "real", the gritty, the raw, the players are assuming identities that a) they aren't "really" assuming in the first place, and b) they probably shouldn't be assuming at all.

That second point is a slippery slope, though. Tying this post back into our discussion on news media: does this "interactive" form of the news have its drawbacks? I'd say that it does, even though these drawbacks are my personal opinion.

First of all, are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan something that should be turned into a game? Is this disrespectful? (But here is where our discussion of the schism between "work" and "play" comes in: video games are associated with play and frivolity, but does that mean that just because something is in video game form it can't be an object of emotional gravity and serious consideration? Am I being ignorant by assuming that turning the wars -- and all of the tragedies that come with them -- into a "game" is inherently flippant and irreverant? Maybe I totally am.)

But then what about all of the other war games out there? Are they disrespectful, too, for turning the World Wars and other such conflicts into video games? Where does one draw the line? Does the gameification of the current wars seem disrespectful just because they're, well, current? It reminds me of something that Stephen Colbert once said on his wonderful show: that comedy = tragedy + time, and after a certain amount of time has passed, it's okay to approach whatever disaster in whatever potentially distasteful way you choose:

Colbert: Knock, Knock.
Audience: Who’s there?
Colbert: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906
Audience: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 who?
Colbert: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 killed 3,000 people. [pause] Maybe too soon.

Also, I had a question about how the video game goes about being informational. I mean, the creators of Kuma War tout the game as something like a legitimate news source, but how does that mesh with the inherent interactivity of the game? In order to be truly informational, doesn't the game have to stick by the absolute, linear historicity of real world events? So isn't there only one possible "route" the player can take? What happens if the player character does something that didn't actually happen? What if the character dies? Wouldn't the game be bending history in order to cater to its very video-game-ness and all of the non-linear possibilities that come with it? Where does one draw the line between the video game's portrayal of history and the actual history? Might this negatively affect those who expect the game to be some kind of legitimate news source?



Anyhoo, I'm starting to ramble to I'm gonna stop here. But it's been really fun, guys, and (for the most part) I've really liked writing in my blog and reading all of yours. 'Til next time!

sweat shops go digital

These articles were great -- really. The readings have gotten consecutively better as the weeks went on, perhaps because we were transitioning from a more technological/literal perspective to a humanitarian/metaphorical perspective. The overarching theme for this week seemed to be how one defines the boundary between "work" and "play"; or, arguably, whether there's a boundary at all. As Yee states provocatively at the end of his article: "What does fun really mean?"

Some questions/thoughts for this week's reading:

As I mentioned before, I found the two articles fascinating; and while I admit that I understood them, trying to actually identify -- on some sort of an emotional level, if you will -- with the presented worldviews was actually pretty difficult. I was reminded of how I felt when we started playing Second Life a few weeks ago: how do people get so involved in these things? It just seems sort of ridiculous to me -- to use a bad simile, it's like trying to understand what an objectophile feels for an object (a crazy documentary I just watched recently). While you can sort of understand, on a purely intellectual level, how these people function, it's really really hard to truly grasp and emphathize with the mindset. And we've talked about it briefly before, but why is that video game afficianados are so stigmatized? -- I mean, moreso than film buffs or bookworms, who both indulge in "imaginary worlds" albeit in different forms?

And sort of running with that idea, where is the line between people who play for "fun" (whatever that now means) and those are actually "obsessed"? Considering that people are increasingly considering video games a srs-bsns medium, might video game addiction become a legitimate psychopathology (or has it already?).

When exactly did this transition from "fun" video games to "a-lot-of-work-involved" video games occur? I mean, the first "real" commercial video game was Pong, right? And then the arcade games became popular, and then... (I should probably consult the Computer History Museum website). But was it when the online multiplayer games (MMORPGs) came on the scene that video game companies (like Blizzard) started making their games labor-intensive? I don't know enough about video game history to even begin to answer. At what point did the execs realize that a unique business could be made from shifting gameplay from a form of escapism to a form of labor? After all, more people playing for more time equals more money.

a tale of two video games

 In light of the Galloway and Murphy articles that we read, I decided to compare Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in terms of diegesis and whatnot.

Okay, let’s start off with Need For Speed. The game was published by EA (Electronic Arts) Games in 2002. It’s a racing game, obviously. Anyhoo, after showing the obligatory Playstation 2 title, the game starts off with a “cinema”, or a computer-generated montage of cars racing and such. In that respect, we get what Galloway would call a “machine act” right off the bat. The player isn’t actually doing anything or offering any input; rather, the machine is carrying out its own processes unless the player chooses to stop them. After the cinema is over, a menu appears. At that point, you can choose what “mode” you want – Hot Pursuit, Multiplayer, etc. At first, the class chose multiplayer mode, and as a result the game then lead us to a screen where the players could choose and customize their cars (what kind of paint job they wanted, automatic/manual, etc). Then, you could choose the track, the number of laps, and even the weather (Sunny or Cloudy?). After the players confirmed their choices, gameplay actually began.

(image url: http://i.d.com.com/i/dl/media/dlimage/68/63/8/68638_large.jpeg)

Everything up until that point was nondiegetic. And aside from that opening cinema, everything was a nondiegetic operator act – that is, none of the game elements (the various menus, in particular) were actually part of the imaginative world of the game. Unless what we saw on the projector was supposed to be some kind of computer screen that the high-tech racer was somehow utilizing in order to prepare for his race… but I doubt that! Once the actual race began, the diegetic elements came into play (no pun intended?). The player actually controls the car, which is part of the game’s “world.” There are still nondiegetic elements, though, such as the map, the player’s ranking, and the speedometer (which could go be either diegetic or nondiegetic, but…). I’ll go into more depth when I actually compare the two games.

In the meantime…

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a “sandbox” action game, was published by Rockstar North Games in 2002. (It’s called sandbox, I’m pretty sure, because – like a child actually playing in a sandbox – the player’s character can freely explore the world/area without having to strictly adhere to any sort of restrictive linearity.) The game begins with a credit reel of sorts, wherein the names of the programmers et al are shown over a highly stylized montage of the game characters. There’s a brief menu (nowhere near as extensive as the one in Need for Speed), and then the player is immediately made to experience the game’s diegetic elements. Like a movie, the game establishes a setting (San Andreas in the ‘90s) and then begins playing a cinema (a diegetic machine act). This part is incredibly movie-like: the protagonist (I assume) provides a “badass” voice-over narration while we watch him arrive at the airport, get arrested, etc. Films like Scarface, Carlito’s Way (and shows like Miami Vice) immediately come to mind – purposefully. No doubt the game creators want the player to recall these earlier lauded works in order to enhance the gamic experience (and place GTA in a long line of similar, successful genre pieces). Once the player takes control of the character after the cinema, he can explore most of the city at his leisure (the “sandbox” element). There are some nondiegetic elements onscreen, such as the health bar, weaponry, and other parts of the HUD.

Okay, so let’s begin to compare some major elements:

Realism. Both games are definitely stylized to some degree – San Andreas arguably more so – but in different ways. Need for Speed aims for realism in order to draw the player into its world (and make the person feel like he or she is really “racing”) but then adds fantastical touches in order to maintain or enhance the visceral experience. For example, the car itself and the environments are pretty naturalistic (at least as much as they could be, considering the graphic capabilities) but then the soundtrack kicks in, which is arguably nondiegetic (unless the racer is playing the radio). Additionally, the car is virtually indestructible (those guys were going over 100mph when they crashed into the mountainside – and yet no one flew through the windshield!). If the game actually maintained total realism here, the player would get a Game Over almost every time he drove off the road and into some obstacle because, well, the character would be dead. Really dead.

Alternatively, San Andreas flaunts its fantasticality. It’s basically a comic book translated (transmediated?) into a video game; and by nature, comic books don’t shoot for realism. Rather, they take advantage of their stylized, contrived nature in order to play up caricatures and aim for the “ideal” rather than just the “mundane.” I’ve yet to encounter a comic book that merely catalogues the routine day-to-day of a certain character. In this spirit, GTA is totally unrealistic and totally fantastical. The weather changes, yes (machine ambience act), but more often than not the game seems fixated on dusk, engulfing everything in San Andreas in a moody, orange tint. The cops are all gruff, pudgy guys who seem to enjoy asserting their masculine authority (and who seem to use racial profiling on a frequent basis). The streetwalkers are all either gang members or hookers. Danger seems to lurk around every corner. Additionally, the protagonist can get shot around twenty times, point blank, and yet still run away fast enough to steal someone’s car and make a quick getaway.

(image source: http://ui12.gamespot.com/1771/pimpincj_2.jpg)

Next major element: characters/narrative. Need for Speed, for the most part, lacks both. It has the “Hot Pursuit” mode, which seems as close to any sort linearity that the game will offer. In this mode, the player can play as either the flighty fugitive or the determined cop in a cops-and-robbers/cat-and-mouse game of chase. That’s about the extent of the narrative – there’s really no story to speak of. You don’t even see the characters until the brief cutscenes when the cop busts/arrests the guy (ultimately, the player seems to control a car rather than a person who is driving a car). Ludologists would enjoy this game. Need for Speed doesn’t concern itself with seemingly unnecessary plot – the game exists almost solely for the gameplay itself, period.

GTA, on the other hand, offers a distinct narrative that often walks the line between video game and film. And while the player can choose to ignore the plot and explore his own tangential whims, there’s an overarching story that encompasses everything. Though we didn’t have a chance to really delve into the game, GTA fleshes out its characters and, as such, offers a character-based narrative. The game actually seems to have an agenda as well – from what we saw in class (and what vague knowledge I have), GTA is really a satire of the many earlier films and shows that it draws artistic inspiration from. It caricaturizes the people and situations within San Andreas, and actually offers politically-charged commentary on urban life (“This is drug money,” the cop says to the black protagonist after finding some of his cash). It’s an interesting case of a medium utilizing nonrealistic elements in order to inform many of the gamic elements that we recognize from our reality.

diegesis/extradiegesis

Thoughts/questions for this week:

1. I wonder how Galloway would classify some of the more "complex" gaming systems -- the Wii, for example -- in his four-part method of defining "play". As you know, the Wii remote makes gameplay a more active experience: rather than just pressing buttons or tilting joysticks, the Wii remote often makes the player mimic physically the actions that he or she is performing in the game (swing your arm to hit a tennis ball; pull your arm back to fire an arrow). Sometimes, supplemental elements are used, like the Wii Wheel in Mario Kart, which (more or less) offer a more immersive experience. Would these actions (the player mimicking such and such) be considered diegetic or extradiegetic operater acts? You could argue that the Wii remote is just a glorified form of a regular control, but there's a lot more emphasis on what's going on outside the game rather than just in it. In my opinion, sometimes the Wii remote heightens awareness of "play" -- instead of just sitting inertly and getting yourself mentally lost in a video game, the Wii remote brings attention to itself by making the physical act of gameplay just as much of an experience as the virtual act of gameplay. In my mind it sort of blurs the line between the diegetic and the extradiegetic, and I'm not sure where exactly something like the Wii would fit into Galloway's model.

2. I thought it was interesting when Galloway brought up the metaleptic element in certain video games -- like Pyscho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid and Max Payne in his eponymous game. When metalepsis occurs, the diegetic and extradiegetic machine acts are correlated, such as when Psycho Mantis tells the player to move the controller from one socket to another in order to keep playing. It reminded me of the psychological horror game Eternal Darkness (which I wrote about for the midterm!). In that game, a character's sanity is denoted by a green meter; when the meter runs low, weird things start to happen, and some of them break the "fourth wall." For example, bugs will crawl across the television screen; the hardware will crash (resulting in the Blue Screen of Death); the game will reset itself back to the very beginning -- and there are a whole lot more. Those are some of the most effective psychological moments in the game, especially since ED hinges on toying with the player's mind (and boy does it, at 3 in the morning). And this whole metalepsis thing harks back to McLuhan's assertions about "the medium is the message", since the game incorporates the physical media (the screen itself, the game hardware) in its diegetic machine acts.

let's get intimate

Again, really liked the articles this week. The readings were so applicable to our everyday lives and that only made them more interesting. Looking into media/processes that are so engrained in our daily lives (and that we often take for granted) is why I took this class. Anyway, thoughts for this week...

In the "Brave New World" article, Thompson quotes Zuckerburg as saying that "Facebook has always tried to push the envelope. . . And at times that means stretching people and getting them to be comfortable with things they aren't yet comfortable with. A lot of this is just social norms catching up with what technology is capable of." This quote struck me as a little bit unnerving. In a certain sense, I understand where Zuckerburg is coming from, but where do you draw the line between what can be done and what should be done? We've discussed in class that people are usually reluctant to change and suspicious of new media technologies, but sometimes they are rightfully so. As the article stated, Facebook was once sort of similar to peering into someone else's room and rifing through their things. After the News Feed change, Facebook brought other people's rooms to your own and basically dumped all of their personal belongings on your lap. Similar things happened with Twitter, etc. What are the consequences of this lack of privacy, or "ambient intimacy", in becoming the social norm and how will they affect us?

In the "Peer Production" article, which is pretty much the crux of the weekly "theme", we learn that the emergence new media (namely, the Internet) has invoked a mass shift in authorship and consumerism. There has been a "radical decentralization" of information, goods and services -- and as such, a lot more is available for public use. Take Wikipedia, for example, which I think is as close to a virtual living organism ("cybernetic"?) that we've created so far. Or maybe it's closer to virulent than anything. Because while it obviously isn't "alive", in many ways it seems that way: not only is it constantly adapting to new situations and information, but it also keeps growing larger and spreading its influence every day. It's incredibly useful but also a little intimidating as well; but I suppose as long as there are "experts" around to keep it in check, Wikipedia will ultimately prove its usefulness.


Works cited:
Thompson, Clive. "The Brave New World of Digital Intimacy." The New York Times, 7 Sept. 2008. Web.
Benkler, Yochai. "Peer Production and Sharing." The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. 2006. Web.

overly tangential analysis of griefers, etc.

There's an interesting sort of schism on the Internet, and it seems like being a "good" techno-subject requires a delicate balancing act of skill and participation. If you're too technologically inept, then you're automatically a bad techno-subject (see: McCain) -- the effect is even worse if you're inept AND still an enthusiastic participant (see: John Edwards). But if you're too participatory, regardless of your skill level, you're still in the firing range: you're taking the Internet "too seriously" and deserve to be knocked down a peg. So where's the sweet spot? What does it take to be a good techno-subject and to not get attacked by the cybervigiliantes, the trolls? Do the trolls go by the George Bushism that "if you're not with us, you're against us"?

 

In Professor Anable's article, she summarizes that "Dibbel describes griefing as a 'full-fledged culture' that organizes attacks against the wealthy and powerful online. . . [Griefers] take issue with the ways the powerful use and control SL, but, according to the group, 'it's all for the lulz.' This disavowal of political relevance by the PN and claims for relevance by others if central to how griefing functions for cybertarianism." So it looks like some trolls/griefers see themselves as the virtual bourgeoisie rising up against the cyberproletariat -- something that rings "delusions of grandeur" a little too well. (Trolls are not a uniform group with all the same motivations so it might be considered a generalization to analyze them all under a particular assumption -- stereotyping?) But what does what they're doing mean?

 

Not to start digressing, but... I thought that the latest issue of the Duel Observer had a neat subtle little point about current "political" attitudes, especially those relating to the Internet. Instead of the usual "for" and "against" in the opinion section, they used the titles "Oversensitive" and "Disrespectful", implying that neither side is in the clear since each is perhaps a little too extreme in its measures. No one can win -- either you're politically correct or you're a tactless scumbag. So how do we all get along? (The musical Avenue Q would say that we should all just admit that "everyone's a little bit racist" and move on.)

 

I went to a topical lecture last week titled (I think, don't quote me on the exact words) "Race, Gender, and Jokes". Perfect for our class discussion! It was pretty interesting – the lecturer was a young woman who graduated from here in ’06 and specialized in race and gender studies. She had also worked as a stand-up comedienne (though not any more). Her lecture centered on how offensive jokes (like those sometimes used by griefers) work in their various contexts. She explained that there are three components to a joke: the first is expression, the second is understanding/acknowledgment, and the third is pleasure. The insidious things about jokes, she explained, are that people are able to completely shed responsibility for the joke’s offensiveness and blame the (for lack of a better word) victim for simply being too sensitive. And though the jokester might say “It’s just a joke”, the fact is that the hurtful assumptions have already been aired and cannot be taken back or neutralized.

 

(image url: http://www.culture-buzz.fr/IMG/jpg/why-so-serious-2.jpg)

 

This is starting to get really tangential… but isn’t that sort of what this blog is for?  While we’re on this train of logic, I just thought of that recent South Park episode about taking back the word “fag.” Now I love South Park, but this episode really made me think about what it was trying to do – and I came to the conclusion that the episode ultimately failed. All of this comes into mind because it questions what should be considered offensive and whether (as many griefers believe) people are simply taking things too seriously and should just, well, get over it. South Park’s philosophy, which could be extended to that of many griefers, is that everything should be open to ridicule. Either everything is okay, or nothing is. In any case, the episode was all about how the definition of the word “fag” is changing and, as such, it’s now perfectly acceptable to use as a synonym for “obnoxious douche” or whatever.

 

I'm still iffy on the whole "well 'fag' is changing so it doesn't necessarily correlate with being gay" argument. Likewise, I don't agree with the "they're only words" and the “it’s just a joke” arguments. We basically think and feel through language... so I think words are intrinsically meaningful and they certainly have power and emotional leverage. The degree of their importance differs with each person, obviously, but I don't think it's a good idea to write them off.

 

Anyway, I can't help but be a little bothered by "fag", etc. I understand that meanings change over time and that people can also lessen their impact by reclaiming them, but homophobia is still institutionalized and always will be, frankly. (Not to mention it’s not up to Trey Parker and Matt Stone to announce the reclamation of a word that doesn’t apply to them.) So guys calling each other fag or saying that something is gay is just supporting a latent problem. I doubt that most kids are thinking, "I know there's absolutely nothing wrong with being gay but I'm still gonna call you a fag because you're just doing something wrong/inappropriate." In an ideal world, people would be able to completely disassociate the two meanings but right now they're intertwined. (But in an ideal world there wouldn't be homophobia, so...)

 

ANYWAY……. My really long-winded point is that some things ARE sacred, and on the other side of the coin, some things are sacrilegious. Attempting to strip something of its importance -- or attempting to mock something's legitimate capacity to offend -- isn't progressive, it's cowardly. The griefers are, in my opinion, seriously mistaken in treating the Internet as a giant inside joke. The Internet: srs bzns? In a word – yeah.

mean memes

These were, by far, the best readings so far (and I'm not just saying that to suck up!). I'm far more interested in the psychological/social science/humanities etc. aspects of new media than the technical jargony elements -- and so these articles were right up my alley.

Thoughts for this week:

In her article, Professor Anable states that "the Interent relies on the myth that it is not serious business to give the medium its appeal as a vast, free and lawless frontier", which I think is sort of the overarching theme to the week's readings -- how does our perception of the Internet (and its relation to our lives) affect our interactions with it?



In the Malwebolence article, that creepster Fortuny explains that he's just "a normal guy who does insane things on the Internet." His mindset is seriously disturbing, as if the Internet is completely detached from "real life" and, since it supposedly exists as its own self-sustaining universe, Fortuny is able to be your run-of-the-mill everyman offline and a crazed vigilante online. (Anyone else reminded of that archetype of the church-going family man who actually kills hookers in the dead of night?) In my opinion, Fortuny relies way too heavily on this separation between the Internet and the real world. The Internet is an unprecedented medium, for sure, which allows its users to experience freedom (or lawlessness) and anonymity like never before. But we haven't -- to use a lousy metaphor -- discovered a brand new planet whose ecosystems clearly function differently than our own. The Internet is firmly entrenched in the Real and Now.

To be honest, the whole thing sounds like the Milgram experiment gone totally awry. The Milgram experiment was a series of lab tests conducted by a Yale social psychological researcher in the early '60s. Milgram, the researcher, was testing the limits of obedience in his human subjects. In the experiment, he basically commanded the unwitting subjects to painfully electroshock another person, starting with about a dozen volts (a small shock) and gradually increasing to hundreds of volts (agonizing electrocution). Though the electroshock machine was fake and no one was actually being hurt, the subjects didn't know that -- they actually thought that they were inflicting serious pain on someone else. And surprisingly, most of the participants actually went "all the way" (meaning that they administered the highest voltage), even if they experienced total emotional distress. Because they were intimidated by the experimenter and (most importantly) told that the experimenter would take responsibility for everything, they followed his distressing orders obediently. Milgram conducted the experiment under different conditions, finding that the subjects were more likely to administer the more painful shocks if they were removed from the vicinity of the victim (a.k.a. couldn't hear the screams, etc.)

The Internet sounds like a really big test of that last condition. You can not only be anonymous and supposedly shed all responsibility for your actions, but also terrorize some "dehumanized" person (someone who doesn't "exist" in your real life). The scary thing, though, is that the griefers are not being provoked into action by some intimidating experimenter -- they're just griefing for the "lulz" and taking advantage of the Internet's ability to mask one's identity. It's all of the sadism without any of the personal responsibility. What a great deal!

second life

To start off, I have to admit that I went into the Second Life lab exercise with a bias. Maybe it's just me or maybe my feelings are part of a larger cultural assumption, but I couldn't help but feel that those who play Second Life extensively need to, well, get a First Life. There's something about relegating the "real world" to the sidelines and devoting all of your time to a virtual reconstruction of that world that seems "off" to me... but more on that later, I guess.

Professor Anable mentioned something last week that struck me -- that to be too "invested" in something is considered really uncool. And it's totally true. I'm not above that attitude either (see: my feelings on Second Life), but it still concerns me. For example, there's a phenomenon called the "Hamilton cool" that we discussed in my 1960s America history class. (My professor, Isserman, is writing the Hamilton bicentennial history, and so he's really knowledgeable about Hamilton's past, especially the last 50 or so years.) Back during the times of the Civil Rights Movement, about forty Hamilton students went to a Woolworth's to protest segregation. The local media was taken aback that the students would even protest, mostly because their actions were in stark contrast to the "Hamilton cool" that heavily characterized the school at the time. Basically, the "cool" was -- and still is -- the marked apathy of the college's students. Whether it's because they just didn't think it relevant to their lives or they didn't have enough time or whatever, the students just didn't get involved in attempting to resolve large cultural issues. That's not limited to just Hamilton, though, now was it limited to the '60s -- it's also indicative of our current generation as a whole. Just by talking to people over the last year or so, the general consensus is that one of Hamilton's bigger problems is that people "just don't really care." I don't know how to begin to analyze that but I'm just putting it out there.

In any case, back to Second Life... One of the first things I noticed during the workshop was that the character "templates" (the eight or so people you could choose from at the very beginning) were all pretty "other" in some way. They all deviated from the standard white straight male mold and were characterized by some other type of minority. Since we were supposed to choose someone that looked remotely like us, I chose the only white guy available. However, he still seemed somewhat "other", and somewhat disconcerting. Frankly, he looked like a gay stereotype. I don't know whether it was mainly a problem with the graphics capabilities or with the character design itself, but my Second Lifer seemed to embody a lot of the popular assumptions about gay men -- the feminine features (eyebrows, eyes, lips), the primped/highlighted hair, the trashy clubbing/partying outfit, etc.



When we were supposed to find a new skin (which totally has creepy Silence of the Lambs affiliations that I won't even get into), I couldn't find anything that wasn't a hypersexualized female outfit. Lab time was running out so I didn't have a long time to explore the different malls, but I didn't even find male outfits. The only ones I saw were women wearing skimpy bikinis, or women wearing tiny chains, or women wearing Princess-Leia-attached-to-Jaba-the-Hut clothes, or women wearing basically nothing. It was saddening, in a way. There were no other options for women than to exploit their bodies -- and if there were, they were pretty well hidden. Ultimately, Second Life held, for me, that disturbing quality that this was the strangely degenerated, dehumanized form of society -- corporate interests and porn (which, in turn, is dominated by corporate interests). Again, it might just be my preconceived bias, but Second Life was like First Life turned inside out... it heralded (and was characterized by) all of the "dirtier" elements that our society tries to hide. Good thing or bad thing? I'm not really sure.

racism, sexism, and pornification

I'm liking where the class is starting to go. While our previous readings were all pretty interesting in their own right, last week's and this week's articles are more social science-y and easier to digest and relate to. Good stuff.

My questions/thoughts for this week are...

1) In social psychology last year, we learned about "benevolent sexism" as opposed to "overt" or "hostile" sexism. In examples of hostile sexism, women are clearly and blatantly considered inferior to men (think of statements like "women aren't as smart" or "women are too emotional" or whatever). Hostile sexism is thought to be the "old" form of sexism. The new benevolent sexism, on the other hand, is "oppression through affection", wherein men think they should put women on a pedestal and protect them. Though it seems "nicer" (always provide for her, always care for her), it's really just as bad as hostile sexism, since women are still considered unequal and in need of a man to validate them.

Anyway, I couldn't help but think of this because as I read through Leonard's "Blackface" article, it seems like there's such thing as "benevolent racism" as well. Leonard states that "video games reflect this cultural reality, bespeaking black coolness through its ubiquitous articulations of white supremacist ideologies, grounded in a belief of black savagery and animalism (athleticism). These powerful ideologies emanate through these games, and reflect their connection to minstrelsy." So while we've thankfully come a long way since Jim Crow, a significant deal of racism still exists, if only more cleverly "hidden" and disguised as one culture's "admiration" of another culture. Leonard's statements about black athletes being correlated to animal savagery also reminded me of that controversial magazine cover (with LeBron) a while back. "Benevolent" racism? What do you think?

(image source: http://shanebertou.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/lebron.jpg)

2. In the Lara Croft article, we encounter another video game minority -- women. As we discussed in the very beginning of the semester, computing was originally a very female-oriented profession; currently (look at our class) it's become much more masculinized. As such, female lead characters like Lara Croft are few and far in between (not to mention that their feminist qualities are questionable at best).

I'm reminded of an article that I read a while back about the "pornification of a generation". I'll try to explain the article in the most class-appropriate way possible, but basically the author asserted that the increasing prominence of the internet and pornography is messing with our generation's images of the self and of others. For example, nowadays most boys encounter internet porn long before they actually have real sexual contact, and thus their images of women might become skewed: "Experts say that exposure can make real-life sex a letdown for men driven by porn-style fantasies. In porn culture, women are overwhelmingly viewed as sexually rapacious or as victims of verbal, physical or sexual violence. And young girls, not knowing any different, may play straight into the watered-down mainstream versions of those roles. . . And whether it's porn or a combination of influences, anonymous, no-strings-attached-style casual sex, now commonly called "hookup" culture, has come to be one of the defining characteristics of a whole generation of teens."

So is Lara Croft a possible symptom of this culture? Is she the product of the male gaze or is she (for better or worse) an icon for female gamers?

The evolution of Lara Croft. Well, at least her chest is getting a little less ridiculous.

(image source: http://www.gamergirlsunite.com/images/gamergirlstribute/laracroft_evolution_big.jpg)

 

Works cited:

Leonard, David J. "High Tech Blackface -- Race, Sports Video Games and Becoming the Other"

Kennedy, Helen W. "Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo?"

"The Pornification of A Generation", Newsweek. http://www.newsweek.com/id/162792/page/1

fans, stans and bears oh my

I thought these weeks readings were particularly interesting and easy to read and understand. The research study/conclusion structure of the Dawson's Creek article was also pretty refreshing and made it easier to digest the material.

So my thoughts/questions for the week are:

1) What, exactly, does Brooker's research about the Dawson's Creek fan interactivity say about American culture? He doesn't come to any pointed conclusions but he does mention the following: "Although the group viewings and discussions do seem to draw on the show as part of a specifically-female bonding, and may provide a way into conversation about relationships, identity, family, and romance, in general these viewers seem to be content to engage with the show through consumerism rather than creativity." I thought this was pretty a telling statement -- especially about our significant consumer culture. It reminded me of some of the things that Christopher Lasch wrote about in his book The Culture of Narcissism, a book that basically decries the current state of American brand-washed culture (and that I really recommend). Lasch says at one point: "The mass media, with their cult of celebrity and their attempt to surround it with glamour and excitement, have made Americans a nation of fans, moviegoers. The media give substance to and thus intensify narcissistic dreams of fame and glory, encouraging the common man to identify himself with the stars and to hate the 'herd', and make it more and more difficult for him to accept the banality of everyday existence." This sounds really applicable to the ever-increasing fan interactivity with TV shows (like Dawson's Creek), in which fans begin to totally immerse themselves in the world of the show. They become active participants rather than passive viewers. What does this say about current cultural trends?

2) Speaking of this media convergence, I couldn't help but think about reality television. Now don't get me wrong, there are some pretty fun reality TV shows but for the most part I can't stand the genre. In any case, the very name -- "reality" -- implies that there's some breaking-down of the boundaries between the TV world and the "real" world. Are they one and the same? Additionally, there are shows like American Idol, in which the viewers actually become necessary components of the show. The entire premise of American Idol is based on audience interaction (a.k.a. viewers vote people off and directly affect the outcome of the show). And yeah, while shows like Dawson's Creek wouldn't be on the air without an audience, their "world" is independent and self-sustaining. The audience's role is to merely watch and explore; unlike its relationship with shows like American Idol, the audience is not Atlas -- they don't act as the very foundation of the show's existence. American Idol is dependent on its audience, and that acknowledged dependence is its appeal.

Works cited:

Will Brooker, "Living On Dawson's Creek."
Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism, W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York. 1978.

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