Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Good Folk at DiGRA

So Gamergate is two months old or so now. If that term doesn't mean anything to you, you're probably better off; if you're really curious, The last I checked, Rational Wiki had a version of events that I endorse, and the site I'm a part of, First Person Scholar, has run some pieces on it that I endorse 100%. Personally, I haven't been directly involved with many self-identified Gamergaters like some of my friends and colleagues because--go figure--they aren't really that interested in seeking out male academics, for the most part.

One of the branches of Gamergate that has struck closer to home, however, is one that's decided to take on DiGRA--that's the Digital Games Research Association, whose mission statement is almost ridiculous innocuous: "It encourages high-quality research on games, and promotes collaboration and dissemination of work by its members."  What DiGRA did to get into the crossfires is immensely frustrating--at a roundtable panel during the last annual meeting, its members advocated encouraging developers to devote more attention to gender and diversity. That's it. That's the smoking gun. The transcript for the talk was published, and you can probably find it online, albeit perhaps not in its original form. For that, everyone at the talk was accused of being part of a radical feminist, communist(!) agenda to taint game development, and thus could be subject to any sort of accusation a gamergater could muster.

To the gamergaters who claim this is still about ethics in videogame journalism--well, maybe it is for you. But don't believe that it is that way for everyone else in your group. There are some who believe that the purpose of gamergate is to strike back at a feminism they find frightening, and as long as you permit them in your group, they're going to keep pursuing that goal in your name.

That, though, isn't what I want to talk about. Instead, let's talk about rhetoric. One of the rhetorical strategies of the gamergaters who are attacking DiGRA--calling, alternatively, for all the members of its board associated with the talk to be forced down, or for DiGRA itself to be "razed to the ground"--is to declare that these female academics(and yes, as far I can tell, anyone attacking DiGRA is attacking just women in DiGRA) as outsiders, forcing feminism on videogames they know nothing about. What I want to talk about, frankly, is what a load of shit that is. I don't know most of the people on DiGRA personally. But I do know they are excellent scholars, and I'm proud to work in a discipline that has them in it. So here's some of my favorite scholarship by female academics who are, or have been, a part of DiGRA.

If anyone wants to be taken off this list, let me know. I'm not listing anything that's not available online, but I absolutely understand if, under current conditions, some would prefer not to have a spotlight on them. Most of the links will require either a credit card or a university account to access, which admittedly, isn't ideal, given the price of academic journals. If only someone was advocating for a reconsideration of how academic publishing works...

Mia Consalvo. I don't think I can overstate the influence Consalvo has had on me as a game scholar. Her work in her book Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames introduced me to the concept of paratext, and gaming capital, both of which have been paramount in my own research. I don't think it's hyperbole to say that dissertation chapter on the paratext of the instruction manual wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for the inspiration of her example. Now, that book alone is enough to make her a game scholar MVP as far as I'm concerned, But I also want to highlight her work in co-editing the book Sports Videogames (with Mitgutssch and Stein), which is the first collection of essays on a genre of videogames that typically get very short shrift from scholars despite their popularity; her study of game culture via the walkthroughs written for Zelda 64 (a paper from 2003--not many game scholars can claim such a wide set of activity)' and yes, her work on gender in game culture ("Dwarf acts like a lady: The importance of gender roles in understanding gender switching and player behavior" = best paper title ever?).

Now, Consalvo is the one whose work I'm most familiar with. If there's any comparative brevity in the descriptions of the others, it's because of my failings, not theirs.

Shira Chess. Chess, too, has done some work on gender in games--for another candidate for best title, there's "Youthful White Male Industry Seeks ' Fun'-Loving Middle-Aged Women for Video Games," in Steiner, Carter, and McLaughlin's The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender.  Her piece "Playing the bad guy: Grand Theft Auto in the Panopoticon" in Garrelts' Digital Gameplay: essays on the Nexus of Game of Game and Gamer is an older piece (2005), but all the more noteable for that--it's the earliest piece I can think of for academic articles that consider "playing bad" (like breaking bad, but with more reloading) in videogames. And for my personal interests, I'm looking forward to checking out her piece on the subject position of women players in the Ravenhearst trilogy of gothic videogames when I get a chance.

T. L. Taylor. Taylor's best known--and rightfully so--for her work on e-sports. Raising The Stakes is a must-read for any scholar who wants to become familiar with the field. She also co-wrote Ethnography and Virtual Worlds with Boellstorff, Nardi and Pearce (and, hopefully, a review of it will be up on FPS some time soon). I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of sociological approaches to games in general, but I think if there's a right way to do it, it's the ethnographic approach that emphasizes working with an existing community. And this is a great introductory volume on how to do it right. They're both excellent works on player culture.

Florence Chee.  A large subset of Chee's work is on South Korean game culture; my knowledge of this field is absolutely minimal, but given South Korea's significance  in global gaming cultures, it's worth knowing. One example of her work in this area is, with Jin and Kim, "Transformative mobile game culture: Sociocultural analysis of Korean mobile gaming in the era of smartphones." As someone who has spent entirely too much time on Marvel Puzzle Quest--I swear, the alliances in this so-called "casual" game have taken their notes straight from WoW raiding parties--I  can attest how gaming culture can go mobile.

Ashley Brown. I've had the privilege of working with Brown personally. Well, personally via the digital; she wrote a piece for FPS on her research into erotic role play in games. Videogames have a tendency to be, well, a tease--a lot of them exaggerate physical sexuality, but any further desires need to be negotiated by the players. Brown's doing good work to consider how that unfolds. She's also got a chapter in the upcoming Game Love: Essays on Play and Affection by Enevold and MacCallum-Stewart, and you can bet that's on my pre-order list.

Tanya Kryzwinska. Kzyzwinksa is another scholar who's been extremely influential on my own work. Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders: Video Games in the 21st Century, written with Geoff King, was one of the first full-length books of game studies I ever read, and a lot of it--especially the chapter on realism, spectacle, and sensation--has sunk in deep. Likewise, the anthology she edited with Barry Atkins, Videogame/Player/Text, was extremely important to me just by virtue of it being a collection of people studying videogames and players from a background that reminded me, as an English major, of my own--Atkins' essay on Prince of Persia and Bittanti's on SimCity I remember as being particular stand-outs. More recently, and speaking again of sex, her essay "The Strange Case of the Misappearance of Sex in Videogames" is my go-to on the subject. And just two weeks ago, I was editing my own essay on the gothic in videogames that referred to her recent "Digital Games and the American Gothic: Investigating Gothic Game Grammar," in which she looks at Alan Wake and the Secret World MMO.

I could go on for ages, but I'll limit myself to one more:
Esther MacCallum-Stewart. MacCullum-Stewart (in retrospect, I should have limited my last to someone whose name was faster to type) is, as mentioned earlier, the editor for the upcoming essay on play and affection in games. She also (alongside Krywinska and Justin Parsler) co-edited a book of essays on the Lord of the Rings Online called Ringbearers, which, thanks to the existence of a grad course offered at UW I've never actually taken, I've read cover to cover. (I'm particularly fond of Frans Mäyrä's essay on art-evil in the collection). And while I sadly can only find the slides for the talk online, judging purely by title and visual aid, I can only imagine how great it would have been to hear her talk "Sex, Love, Dwarves, Bacon" (best title candidate the third? The Best titles probably have "dwarf" in them, is what we're learning.).

This is work that has made game studies better. And I'm glad to be part of a group that includes these people as members.

Cheating. Gothic Games. E-sports. The Panopticon. South Korea. Virtual Ethnography. Sex. Gender. The research here spans a very wide gamut. This is NOT the output of narrow-minded people blindly pursuing a single agenda without any heed to facts or argument. For that, I think, you'd have to look for a different group entirely.

Later Days.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Movie Buff: A Spoileriffic Review of Happy Go Lucky

Happy Go Lucky. Years from now, when I've forgotten everything else about Happy Go Lucky, I'm still going to remember That Scene. The rest of the show--the flamenco lessons, the sister, the boy from the abusive home, even  Poppy herself--might fade, but That Scene's going to stick with me. The plot, such as it is, is that Polly (Sally Hawkins) is thirty year old school teacher who is, basically, impossibly cheerful. She rarely does anything for more than a few seconds without bursting into a mild guffaw. It's initially very irritating and that irritation never quite goes away, but I found myself developing some affection for her as well. (Although my eyes rolled pretty heavily at the scene where she hurts her back jumping on a trampoline, which she did weekly, because she is just that damn whimsical. If she wasn't the lead of the film, she'd be the lead's manic pixie girl.) It's a good thing she's a primary school teacher, because her temperament is ideally suited for sugar-infested six year olds.

The most accurate description of the film is probably a slice of life thing; it's not a plot moving to a conclusion, but a series of vaguely related vignettes that take place at this point in Poppy's life. But while there isn't a conclusion that's built to, there's certainly a climax. And that comes courtesy of Scott (Eddie Marsan), Poppy's driver instructor. Where Poppy is a free spirit almost incapable of paying attention for more than three seconds--she defends her choice to take her eyes off the road to look at a passing squirrel--Scott is rigid, insisting on a rule for every occasion. In a different movie, they'd be the romantic odd couple who slowly come to appreciate each other. Here, she's not interested, and when Scott makes an inquiry to her living arrangement, she laughingly tells him she's a lesbian. Gradually, it becomes evident that Scott's rules are there for a reason--Scott needs them to keep himself under control, because underneath them, he is a very angry man. He's angry that his pupils don't give him the respect he deserves. He's angry that US government is enacting a conspiracy to draw out Satan. He's angry that the immigrants are ruining Britain. Mostly, he's just angry.

That anger bubbles to a froth when he arrives at Poppy's, and sees her saying goodbye to her new boyfriend. His instructions become increasingly angry, and when Poppy insists he's in no state to drive, he explodes at her, swears at her, grabs her, insists that it's her fault, that she's lead him on, that she acts all friendly and nice and all the time, she's laughing at him with her boyfriend and her girlfriend and her other friends and she's just a stupid fucking--Poppy calms him down only by threatening to call the police. Even then, he doesn't seem to understand how far he's gone and asks if they'll meet the same time next week. "No, Scott," says Poppy.

It's a masterful performance from Marsan. The sheer bile that spews from his mouth is one of the most powerful things I've seen in a while. And maybe it's hit me so hard because... and this isn't an easy thing to cop to... I've been in Scott's shoes. Not the hateful, vitriolic attack, but the part that comes before, the moment when you realize that someone you're attracted to doesn't feel the same way, that they've actually turned you down in multiple ways that you've fooled yourself into ignoring. And then there's the other moment--that moment when you're plunged into a deep sense of embarrassment, where that embarrassment threatens to turn into resentment. I feel bad; it's your fault I feel this way. It's lashing out, it's ugly, it's unfair--it's misogynist. And it's a pretty damn small step from look at how you make me feel to look at what you made me do. If you can blame someone for your negative feelings, you can rationalize blaming them for your negative actions too. The trick is to take that embarrassment, learn from it, own up to it, and pull yourself away from bad patterns. Life's disappointing sometimes, and it's unfair sometimes; don't heap your disappointments on someone else.

And of course, it's most unfair for women. This is what misogyny culture is--the entitled lashing out, the expectation that your feelings are the woman's faults. Poppy had to lie about her sexual orientation to get Scott to back off, initially--and yes, she treats it as a joke, because she treats everything as a joke, but she still had to do it."I have a boyfriend." "I'm gay." These are the lies women have to tell to ward off unwanted attention.And I don't think they can be blamed for not just saying "I'm not interested"; Scott's hate-filled speech is what comes out AFTER learning she has a boyfriend--imagine how he  could have responded if he thought she just didn't like him. If a film has a lesson, it's that Poppy, in response to her friends and to Scott, does question her happy go lucky nature, and makes happiness her deliberate choice instead of just her unconscious one--especially if Scott's example is the alternative. It ends the film on a positive note, but it's not that ending that's going to linger with me.

I was pointed to this movie from an online persona who goes by the handle of Movie Hulk; he recommended it after a long post (it's here--although I really wasn't kidding about the length) about the problems with the Gamergate movement. If you've been following, the parallels are obvious enough (and, in retrospect, clarifies his argument a bit for me). "The feminists are making us feel bad." "The journalists are colluding against us." "We'll never stop fighting you." Even if, magically, any trace of misogyny could be removed from the argument, it would be a movement characterized by anger. And for a long time now, any time I see something that involves responding with anger against a villainized Other--especially if that Other is a woman--what's going to come to mind is Scott, spewing hatred at Poppy for just trying to be.

Later Days.