Help Me I Have Probably Done Hugo Nominations Wrong 2015

So, the big news for the day is that Hugo Award nominations closed early this morning, and for the first time, I was able to submit my own ballot.  The background goes like this: Rachael has had a very good year with her writing, and WorldCon, which is the annual convention where the Hugos take place every year, is happening in Spokane, Washington this year, and because we have several friends on the West Coast who are planning on attending, we thought we’d try to go and see them.  We bought our memberships late last year when they went on sale, and one of the benefits is being allowed to cast a nomination ballot for the Hugo Awards.

All of that is to say that being a first time nominator, I have probably done everything totally wrong (the most obvious thing being that I waited until the last minute to do some research on what was eligible and fill out my ballot so that this post is going up after the nomination window has closed), but I am okay with that.  In thinking over what I cared enough about to put on my ballot, I realized that much of what I’m nominating is stuff that I’ve written about in the last year.  So, even if I’ve done this all wrong and nothing I nominated actually gets on the final ballot, I figured it’s at least worth letting folks know this stuff is out there and I think it’s, objectively, the best things.  For 2014.

Best Short Story

  • “Makeisha in Time” by Rachael K. Jones – Yes, I’m more than a little biased because Rachael wrote this story, but that’s irrelevant here, because it’s a wonderful intersectional piece on historical erasure of women and people of color in the vein of Kameron Hurley’s essay “We Have Always Fought.”  I’ve read all of Rachael’s writing, and this is one of her best to come out in the last year.

Best Related Work

  • Tropes Vs. Women’s “Women As Background Decoration” by Anita Sarkeesian – I have been a fan of Sarkeesian’s work from the start of Tropes Vs. Women in Games, and this entry felt pretty groundbreaking to me, if for no other reason than the way it hammered home the very important point that depiction is not equivalent to critique.  The two part episode is also notable as the last major publication in Tropes Vs. Women in Games before the eruption of GamerGate.  That cesspool had been festering for a while, and its fallout has undoubtedly been a difficult experience for Sarkeesian, but I’m pleased that her work is getting more mainstream attention in light of that.
  • The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games – I am a huge fan of Telltale Games’s style of choice-based narrative games, and of the two that launched last year, this one was probably my favorite.  The art style and noir tone are really groovy, and dilemmas that Bigby faces are some very interesting moral conundrums.  I also loved The Walking Dead Season 2, but that series delves so much more into purely awful choices over actual ethical questions that I prefer Wolf.
  • Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men by Rachel Edidin and Miles Stokes – I just got into this podcast a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been burning through episodes at a ridiculous rate.  It’s a wonderful casual introduction to the X-Men franchise, and Rachel and Miles’s enthusiasm for their subject really bleeds over where I always finish an episode wanting to re-read the material they’re discussing, whether it’s objectively good or just absurdly awesome.

Best Graphic Story

  • Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona – I have been in love with this series ever since I picked up my second edition #1 last May, and that love has only grown as I’ve read more and more of the series.  I love that this book features a Pakistani-American girl who’s trying to navigate her life in New Jersey, and I love that its creative team involves two Muslim women.  It does great things for diversity in comics, both for characters and creators, and it’s also just wonderful storytelling.
  • Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch – As a D&D nerd, I love this book for its hilariously skewed take on typical high fantasy tropes, and as a feminist I love the independent, unique main characters who are all so well written and drawn.  Even disregarding all that, I’d probably want to nominate this simply because Betty never stops making me laugh.
  • Saga Volume Three by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples – There’s probably so much more that I could say about this series than what I’ve already said, and maybe someday I will.  For now, it’s probably enough to say that the core theme of Saga really resonates for me, especially since I’m coming out of an evangelical background where ideas about sexuality and warfare are all kinds of messed up.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

  • Snowpiercer – It’s a Marxist/Gnostic allegory set on a bullet train that involves a scene where a bunch of guys gut a fish then have an axe fight.  This movie’s insane, and if you try to watch it on a literal level you’ll likely get really frustrated with the absurdity of the worldbuilding, but it’s a really wonderful ride if you take it for the metaphor that it is.  Of what I’ve seen this past year, I think this was probably the best science fiction movie to come out in 2014.
  • Big Hero 6 – I just saw this a couple weeks ago with my students, and I was thoroughly impressed with it.  It’s fun, funny, actiony, and heartwarming with a really well-realized world.  Perhaps I’m remembering it more fondly than it deserves, but I can’t knock a movie that has my entire class of cynical high schoolers (several of whom were loudly whining that they hate kid movies) watching and laughing in delight less than twenty minutes in.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

  • Dark Dungeons – Tabletop gaming and tongue-in-cheek criticism of fundamentalist Christianity.  What’s not to love?
  • PodCastle Episode 339 “Help Summon the Most Holy Folded One!” by Harry Connolly – I’m really sad that Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind are stepping down as editors at PodCastle at the end of this month, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that we’ll always have wonderful episodes like this one, which is a full cast reading of a short story framed as the Kickstarter page of a project meant to summon Tacthulhu.  It’s every bit as awesome and silly as you think.
  • PodCastle Episode 324 “Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy” by Saladin Ahmed – I was never an Edmund Spenser fan when I was in school, though I do recall taking a couple classes with some hardcore Spenserians.  After listening to this reading of Ahmed’s story, I doubt I could ever go back and really enjoy Spenser, because he does such a great job of critiquing Spenser’s dehumanization of Muslim soldiers as adversaries for his hero in Faerie Queene.  I rarely get really emotionally invested in short stories, but this reading honestly had me in tears by the time it ended.  I can’t recommend it enough.

And that’s about it.  I made some nominations in other categories, but they’re pretty minor in comparison to what I’ve covered here.  I don’t know if any of it will actually get nominated, but that’s probably beside the point here.  These things are great, and they’re worth checking out, Hugo Award or no.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

Okay, so I have to vent some writerly envy.

Over a year ago (I don’t remember exactly when anymore), I conceived a story idea about a guy who’s obsessed with theme parks who sets out to create an infinitely novel ride, and in the course of building this contraption, traps himself in a semi-stable time loop.  Quantum mechanics played the part of my very vague phlebotinum.

It became an overwrought short story that I tried to make work for quite a while before finally trunking it and moving on to other things.

Flash forward to a few weekends ago, when I decided to celebrate my birthday by buying BioShock Infinite while it was on sale for $10.  As is my want when I have a shiny new game, I tore through it in a week (and spent one very long Saturday powering through the majority of the game).

Spoilers for BioShock Infinite follow.

So as I was playing through this game, already tragically aware of the ending twist (because you just can’t live on the internet and successfully avoid all spoilers), and I had an epiphany.  BioShock Infinite was a variation on my story idea, and it was better executed.  Of course, in my version there’s no lighthouse, but the same basic premise of a man caught in an unending loop of his own self destructive decisions (at the hands of quantum mechanics, no less!) was still there.

This made me kind of mopey.

But all that’s not terribly important, because I trunked my story many months ago, and really it’s just a funny coincidence (except, y’know, the entire ending of the game plays on the theme of endless variations on a story, and now my brain wants to jump down a wormhole of possibility that I actually wrote a BioShock Infinite fanfiction before I knew the premise of the game, which now that it occurs to me is just the best thing ever).

Official cover art for Bioshock Infinite.jpg

To best emphasize the paradoxical nature of this game, its standard cover art makes it look like a generic FPS about a generic guy with generic bad trigger discipline, demonstrating just how much this title got caught up in the standard dudebro video game marketing machine. Fans of the series know to expect more than that. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

What is important is that I have finished BioShock Infinite, and now I have lots of thoughts about it, which means that my blogging public can rejoice.

Foremost, it needs to be said that this game is perhaps the epitome of paradoxical games.  BioShock is a well-respected, AAA first person shooter series that gets tons of marketing and press, and at the same time it’s also a series that has the audacity to wrestle with complex philosophical questions while encouraging you to run around and slaughter people in spectacularly grotesque ways.  I mean, the first BioShock offered a critique of Randian Objectivism while considering questions of the nature of free will, and let you torture enemies with swarms of killer bees shot from your innards.  BioShock Infinite does something similar with a fusion of American exceptionalism and Christian fundamentalism (which the series’ creative lead Ken Levine has said was intended only as a backdrop given the time period in which the game’s set) and an exploration of the concept of the multiverse while letting you harass enemies with murders of crows that fly fully formed from your fingertips.

This series wants you to think about deep things in the spaces between ultraviolence without ever really inviting you to consider the nature of the violence itself (I think this is best illustrated after a mid-game sequence where you’re forced to fight off a group of would-be kidnappers trying to recapture Elizabeth; she’s not yet been introduced to Booker’s violent nature, and the sudden carnage startles her enough that she runs from you for a little while; once you catch up and explain that this is just what she needs to expect while the two of your are trying to escape Columbia, you receive no further complaints regardless of how sadistically you behave in fighting off enemies).  At most the game explains that the violence is necessary by nature of the conflict (and by extension, the type of game you’re playing), but that never really satisfactorily explains why the developers designed it to be so spectacular.

At any rate, this was perhaps the first time I played a game where I felt myself honestly bothered by the amount of violence (I suspect this was partially carryover from having viewed Anita Sarkeesian’s videos on women as background decorations, which explores the problem of reproducing various forms of violence uncritically), and it influenced my playstyle.  I found myself gravitating towards low powered weapons that didn’t mutilate enemy corpses, and I made more and more heavy use of the possession power to turn enemies against each other so that I could duck away from the fights while they were going on (I should also note that I played the majority of the game in a single sitting, and by the end I was definitely suffering from game fatigue where I was pushing on to get more of the story, but the gameplay was beginning to feel like a drag).  For a story about a man who is unable to escape violence, I was doing everything I could to minimize it.

Maybe BioShock Infinite did succeed in making me think a little more deeply about the violence, in that case (with the help of some very insightful critique).

I’ll share more thoughts in part 2.

Sexism in Gamer Culture, Take Two

Alright, let’s deal with this.

Last time I wrote about sexism amongst gamers, it was largely targeted towards the casual harassment that women receive in convention spaces.  That’s still not cool, by the way.

This time, I’ve been thinking about the casual harassment of women in online spaces.  The big story of the gamer community for the last couple weeks has been the harassment of Zoe Quinn by various internet people who disapprove of her personal choices regarding her sex life.  Quinn, who is an independent game developer, has become the target of abuse since an ex-boyfriend of hers publicized a rant where he accused her of cheating on him with multiple men in gaming journalism in exchange for positive reviews of her game Depression Quest.  Because of Quinn’s perceived promiscuity, she has become the victim of relentless online harassment.

Mixed up in this scandal of misogynists behaving like misogynists is a legitimate conversation about the ethics of gaming journalism and how reporters who cover video games can avoid bias when they are embroiled in a relatively close knit community with developers and publishers.  This is an important conversation to be having, but it doesn’t require the villainization of Quinn, especially considering that the source of the accusation is a disgruntled ex.  How Quinn chooses to exercise her sexual agency is no one’s business but hers and her partners’.  The discussion of whether the journalists who did review her game compromised their integrity is still a valid one, but it doesn’t require further personal attacks on her.

Even accusations of Quinn being unscrupulous in her game’s promotion strike me as absurd, because the game is freely available online.  No money is asked of people who wish to play Depression Quest, and people who do donate can judge for themselves based on the merits of the game (I played through it once, and I found it to be a fairly well-crafted interactive fiction; I suspect that some of the negative opinions surrounding the game stem from its text-based design).

Following on the hooplah surrounding Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian also released the latest video in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series.  Sarkeesian has been producing these videos for about a year now, and I think she’s done some truly excellent criticism of how video games mistreat female characters.  Nonetheless, a very vocal group of detractors have continued to harass Sarkeesian simply for having the temerity to discuss problematic elements in popular video games (following this most recent video, Sarkeesian received death threats that were deemed serious enough that she involved authorities and evacuated her home for a few days).

This kind of treatment of women bears all the same markers of the harassment that we see at conventions.  It’s a case of men assuming that they have a right to ignore the autonomy of women, either by trespassing against women’s bodies or, if they’re not physically present, against their reputations and personal spheres.  It’s been said elsewhere, and I’ll say it here: this kind of behavior is a form of terrorism.

Beyond that, I honestly don’t know what else I can say.  I’ve been following this issue as it’s continued to blow up, and there doesn’t seem to be anything else to say other than this vitriol that’s getting directed at women in the community just for being women is not an aberration.  It just happens that in this case two relatively high-profile personalities in gaming got particularly bad doses of abuse, and everyone’s paying attention because of it.

Given all that, I’d just recommend looking at what other people have been writing about these events.  I’ve compiled a short list of articles that I’ve seen below.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 8/11/13

Finished the first week of school, and we’re off to a good start to the year!  Here’s what I’ve seen happening this week:

Fiction

Schrodinger's Cat

Schrodinger’s Cat (Photo credit: jieq)

1. From 300 Stories, a super short piece that toys with quantum superposition.  If you understand the thought experiment Schrodinger’s Cat, then you’ll enjoy the joke.

2. A cinematic short about a girl who controls everything and her boyfriend, whom she makes come rescue her.  I don’t quite get the point of it, but the filming is beautiful.

3. I’ve been really short on time this week (that’s probably going to be normal for the time being), so I have not read this story yet and can’t speak to its quality, but it’s advertised as an unusual superhero story.  Once I get a free half hour, I’m going to look at it.

4. I’ve forgotten about this in the past, but once a month i09 features a short story from the latest issue of Lightspeed magazine for free.  This month’s entry is “The Knight of Chains, The Deuce of Stars” by Yoon Ha Lee.

Religion

1. At Experimental Theology, Richard Beck links to the commencement speech given by George Saunders at Syracuse University this year.  If you haven’t read it yet, then be prepared.  It will make your eyes sweat.

2. From Slacktivist a link round-up that had so many good articles I wasted an entire evening going through them.  I couldn’t pick just one to pass on, so just go there and click on pretty much anything in the list; you’ll come across something cool.

3. From Theoblogy Tony Jones talks about why it’s important to encourage children to ask hard questions when we educate them about faith.

4. ForgedImagination writes at Defeating the Dragons about her experience with absurd fundamentalist rules growing up, and how it was the motivation behind the rules that was the truly damaging part of the culture.

5. Morgan Guyton’s finished up his series on 5 verses God’s tattooed on his heart.  I thought the last one was outstanding, but the entire series is good, and you should give it a read.

Gaming

1. Ash (Not from Pallet Town) at i09‘s Observation Deck came across a demo reel for a pitch that the same studio who made the animated TMNT movie made for a Legend of Zelda film.  It looks very pretty, so give it a watch.

2. The Artificial Selection Project has started up a conversation about Anita Sarkeesian’s recent videos on Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  Unlike a lot of conversations I’ve seen (I’m looking at you, Kotaku comment section!), this one’s trying to take a look at the issues Sarkeesian’s raising without dismissing her out of hand.  Also, as someone pointed out in the comments there, remember that a trope is not the same thing as a cliche; tropes can be good, but cliches are always bad.

3. This game’s not done yet, but it looks really good.  The Novelist is about a ghost who’s trying to help a writer balance his work and his family.  The underlying idea is that it’s not possible to finish the game and have the writer succeeding with his work, his wife, and his son, so the player has to make value judgments on what they think is most important.

Science

1. The Atlantic published an interview with psychiatrist Christine Montross this week, that has some very interesting insights into the world of intensive therapy.  Some of her stories remind me of situations I’ve encountered at my job working with children who suffer from psychological illnesses.  It’s a good read.

2. Another piece from The Atlantic, this one about the struggles that people on the autism spectrum have with pursuing romantic relationships.  It raises a good point that in doing behavioral therapy with people on the spectrum who want to better fit in socially, romantic interactions are usually overlooked.

3. It’s probably not actually possible to see impossible colors (otherwise they wouldn’t be impossible), but it’s a fun thought.  Also, definitely play around with the blue and yellow squares embedded in the article; when I crossed my eyes and stared in between them, I saw this weird effect where the illusion square shifted from blue to yellow and back again as my cones got fatigued (or something; I’m not really sure what the actual explanation would be).

4. So there’s quantum mechanics and there’s relativity in physics, and we haven’t figured out yet how to harmonize the two theoretical frameworks.  This is a pretty good primer on why we might be interested in doing that in the first place.

5. Unfortunately, I’m back at work so I can’t stay up all night to watch meteor showers.  However, if you can, here’s some info on how to get the best view of the Perseids, which are supposed to be peaking from early Monday through Tuesday this coming week (8/12-8/13).  Meteor showers are amazing, and I would go do some stargazing if I didn’t have to be at work.  Go see it if you can!

6. I love dystopias.  They’re so much fun for exploring how we can make our world suck more.  I also found this list of seven technologies that will probably never be implemented the way they are in their respective stories to be fun.  Enjoy.

7. Not all grapes are spherical.

8. A polar bear wandered over 200 miles out of its normal territory looking for food because the ice flows it relied on to catch seals were not there this year.  It starved to death.

Comics

1. From i09‘s Observation Deck, MyDearPeaBody delivers an excellent rant against male comic book writers who recently made comments to the effect that comics are not for girls–especially not superhero comics.

Movies

1. Real-world Wall-E robot.

TV

1. Rachael and I are really looking forward to Breaking Bad starting back up.  It’s such good television.  If you’re all caught up, then feel free to check out this summary of the first four and a half seasons in middle school musical form (it’s even kid friendly!).

To Do With Friends

1. Dr. Frood shared a fun game to play with your friends when you’re hanging out but have run out of things to say.  I would probably ban cars with their standard mufflers removed so that they sound louder, and I would require everyone to spend fifteen minutes reading something every day (internet videos do not count).

2. This is kind of a lopsided water balloon fight.  I’d want to be on the winning side.

Cool Pictures

1. Photographer Fong Qi Wei has put together a series of photos that show the passage of time in a very unique way.  It’s hard to describe in words, so just follow the link to see what I’m talking about.

2. Children wearing watermelons.

3. Researchers caught a shark that was promptly eaten by another shark.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet!

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 8/4/13

Well, I’m back to work now, so we’ll see how I manage keeping up with my steady stream of content.  In the meantime, while we all twiddle our thumbs worriedly, enjoy some links.

Comics

1. Over at Me: A Wannabe-Superhero, Elizabeth Sharrod posts some thoughts on why she enjoys wearing shades.  They provide a level of protection out in public that I know I don’t get to participate in because I always have to wear my glasses (can you imagine how much it would suck for Cyclops if he needed corrective lenses?  That would be one nerve-wracking visit to the optometrist.

2. If you’re interested in comics, but you don’t know where you might start to read some of the better classic stories, here’s a good thread on i09 where readers suggest their favorite crossovers.  Anything you see that involves the X-Men, I’ve read, and generally I agree about their quality.

Fiction

1. 300 Stories has another flash fiction piece that tickled me this week.  Since I started following there’s been something new every day, so check it out if you enjoy quick bursts of story to spur you on.

2. This is not fiction per se, but it is some handy advice on making a setting from scratch.

3. If you like fiction, and you like it free, then hurry up and go download Tor’s collection of five years’ worth of short stories.

Religion

1. John Scalzi is a fiction writer, but this week he posted a meditation on Matthew 6 that captures a little bit of the motivation that I think most Christians strive for when they serve others.  I can’t say that I always succeed in acting selflessly, but it’s a good reminder.

2. From Defeating the Dragons, a post discussing the difficulties of separating the acts of reading and interpreting the Bible.  We all bring our own interpretations to what we read, and the Bible is no different in that respect.  I think conversations between parts of the Church would probably go much more smoothly if we could all remember how difficult it is to set aside our biases when reading the Bible.

3. Morgan Guyton at Mercy Not Sacrifice gives us the first in a series he’s doing on verses that have profoundly affected him.  The first is a meditation on 1 Corinthians 1:28: “God chose the base things, the despised ones and those who are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.”  The fact that God chooses the despised ones is reason enough for me to choose them too.

4. From Rachel Held Evans this week, an interview with Nicole Baker Fulgham, a Christian activist for improved public education.  Fulgham’s agenda does not deal with homeschooling or creationism, only with trying to address real deficits in the public school environment through faith-based outreach.  I’d love to hear more from her.

5. In the wake of Rachel Held Evans’s CNN article last week about Millenials, everyone and their clone has put forward an opinion about the issue.  Here’s Richard Beck’s take, which is remarkably generous and, I think, astute.

Movies

1. I know The Wolverine is out and doing about as well as I expected it would, but I’m much more looking forward to this version directed by Woody Allen.

2. I’m sure everyone knows this, but The Simpsons do a lot of movie parodies.  For anyone who might want a chronological catalog of all of them for the first ten seasons, here’s a couple of videos.

The first issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Ret...

I reiterate: the next Superman movie will be based on this. Cover art by Frank Miller. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. The more I hear that Man of Steel 2 is going to be based on The Dark Knight Returns, the less hope I have that it’ll be a good follow-up.  I don’t want an old Batman versus a young Superman, I just want Batman and Superman being awesome together as the perfect complementarian couple (he’s justice and he’s mercy!).  Aside from that, it strikes me as a huge mistake to base a Superman film on a Batman story.  Actually, just give me 90 minutes of Superman and Batman doing this.  Thanks, DC.

4. James Cameron, what are you thinking?  Really, what more plot could you possibly have to fit into three more movies in the Avatar franchise?

5. The most fun part of this discussion thread on i09 is that I scrolled down through it, and realized that thanks to this summer, I’ve now seen a lot of the movies that people mentioned.  Also, if you’re looking for sci-fi and fantasy movie recs, these threads pop up pretty regularly over at i09, and they’ve not disappointed me yet.

TV

1. Rachael and I just finished marathoning Season 5 of Breaking Bad this weekend.  It was wonderful.  Here’s an alternate universe take on the series’s premise wherein Mr. Black quits his job as a meth cook when he finds out he has cancer and dedicates his life to teaching.

Gaming

1. Because extra violence is always the way to update a classic game, check out this rendering of Super Mario Bros. Level 1-2 with added blood, bombs, and a dragon.  Seriously though, I don’t see how the extra violence really improves this.  It’s a beautiful render otherwise.

2. I was originally just going to link to this funny short about Atlas and P-Body from Portal 2, but I followed a link rabbit trail and ended up coming across a bunch of other videos made by Zachariah Scott.  The one about Chell is quite poignant, and the series on turret mishaps is quite precious.  Check them all out when you have some time.

3. Hi, my name’s Jason… and I’ve used walkthroughs.  They’re kind of an integral part of gamer life, even if no one wants to admit it.  So I’m happy that someone did.  Also, back in their heyday before wikis became the de facto source of game tips, strategy guides were a great source of high quality game art.

4. This is a strange one, and I’m really not sure how I feel about it myself.  So, this guy at a conference gave a talk on gaming as a religion.  I think he was trying to draw a comparison between the sacred space that a lot of folks enter when they go to worship and the gamer trance.  I’m not buying that though, because generally after I finish a gaming session, if it’s gone on for too long, then I feel drained and listless.  After a worship service, I generally don’t feel drained and listless (unless the pastor went way over time and there’s a line for the bathroom, then I’d really like to feel a little more drained and listless).  Saying that gaming is a religion is, I think, taking the idea of subculture too far.  I love playing video games, and I love the possibility of religion intersecting with my preferred subcultures, but I never mistake my gaming hobby for my Christian faith.  Also, jeans tucked into galoshes?

Feminism

1. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s video series Tropes vs. Women in Games.  She just posted her third installment this week, so I thought I’d pass it along.

Current Events

1. I’m very poor.  Does that make me contrarian?

Science

1. Unfortunately, instantaneous teleportation does not seem to be a feasible technology to pursue at this time.  Unless, y’know, we just want to use up a much ambient energy in the universe as possible and accelerate the heat death by a few billion years.

2. I’m always skeptical of any headline that goes “[Blank phenomenon happens] says science.”  Science is not some monolithic czar passing down judgments about the nature of physical reality; it’s just the collected knowledge that’s been sifted out through countless hours of research and study by people for centuries.  So yes, this article’s headline is “Money turns People Into Jerks, Says Science,” but don’t think of it as science making the claim.  Think of it as the proposal of the researchers at UC Berkeley based on their own observations.  It probably needs to be corroborated by other researchers, but it’s still a fascinating look at how advantage inclines us toward selfishness.

3. I love stories like this.

4. To add to everyone’s weight neurosis: the universe is expanding, and that might mean we’re all getting bigger and don’t even realize it.

5. Apparently Pinocchio got it all wrong.

Miscellaneous Nerdiness

1. I teach English, so I have a little internal chalkboard that screeches whenever someone makes a linguistic error.  Fortunately for me, I don’t let this on most of the time, although now that I’ve written this on my blog everyone will silently judge me for silently judging them.  Otherwise, here’s a fun video about a bunch of words that people commonly mispronounce.

2. Every teacher has fantasies of pranking their students in ridiculous and humorous ways–especially if it involves taking away their cell phones.  I’m kind of appalled that a teacher actually did this to his student, but I think the internet is a better place for it.

Links that Turn You into a Gibbering Idiot

1. I bet insanity inducing blueberry pie is the best insanity inducing pie.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.

Sexism in Gamer Culture

Misogyny happens everywhere.

It’s not something that can be predicted based on a particular group’s ideological make up.  Social conservatives may be the group that first comes to mind, especially when you have public figures like Todd Akin and Trent Franks making comments that indicate they don’t care enough about women to get their biological facts straight.  They’re not the only ones though.  You also see examples of sexism in nerd circles, who typically like to think of themselves as progressives.  Here‘s an article detailing some incidents that occurred at a few various nerd-centric conventions last year.  Among the conventions discussed there is The Amazing Meeting, a convention for skeptics and people who value scientific thought.  Richard Dawkins, a prominent figure in skeptic and atheist circles, put his foot in his mouth in that case.

I’m only pulling up these specific examples to point out that sexism is a pervasive issue within our culture, and not something that anyone along the conceivable ideological spectrum can claim immunity from.

But I’m not concerned about sexism in the political arena today; instead, I’m far more interested in the ongoing problem of sexism within gamer culture.

E3 2013

E3 2013 (Photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin)

This past week everyone who cares a lick about what’s on the horizon for the game industry was checking out the E3 coverage.  E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is an industry convention that game and console developers attend to show off what shiny thing they’re going to try to sell us next.  It’s something of a big deal, though the convention’s prestige has been declining in recent years since they made it a press-only event, and the developers have leaned towards more flash with less bang in their presentations.

Chris Kirk at Slate has a pretty informative article about some of the controversies from this year’s conference.  He suggests that gaming is a sexist industry because it was originally established by a bunch of men, and the industry has been catering to male tastes for years because most gamers are men.  Amanda Hess counters the assumption about male gamers making up the vast majority of the game industry’s audience with some recent research that finds the split is much closer to 50/50 than previously thought.  Here’s a link to the report released by the Entertainment Software Association if you want a further breakdown.  I’m not going to comment on it, other than to say that it looks to be a broad report of game consumers of all kinds, including the mobile market.  As a lifelong console gamer, I can say that I view mobile games with a little bit of skepticism, but I recognize it’s a viable market, and definitely should be considered within gamer culture.

The point of Hess’s article is that women, given their significant share of the gamer population, are underrepresented as protagonists in games.  She makes a valid point that any group of underrepresented consumers of any kind of media don’t stop consuming the media that’s available just because it doesn’t fairly represent them.  Conversely, the conventional wisdom is that the industry would suffer if it tried to move away from a homogenized character model, because male gamers who don’t want to play characters they don’t identify with won’t buy the games.  It’s like the gamers are terrorists holding the developers’ bottom lines hostage.  Except, y’know, terrorism examples are bad, and developers are not free of culpability.

I think that the reality of the situation is that gaming, like any other subculture, has a streak of bad characters in it, and everyone else, who really wouldn’t mind a more inclusionary approach, just doesn’t take the time to say, “That behavior’s not right,” to the people who are engaging in practices that are exclusionary.  Anita Sarkeesian, who produces a blog and Youtube series discussing issues with how women are portrayed in various media and who has recently gained a great deal of attention from the gaming community for her series focusing on video games in particular, gets a lot of negative feedback from gamers because they don’t like her pointing out this poor behavior (Full disclosure: I like her work).  On the other hand, it is true that in the videos she has produced for her Tropes vs. Women in Games series she tends to explain the issues in a simplified manner; critics call oversimplification on this tendency, which is a fair point.  Gender dynamics are complicated.

Nonetheless, certain things about gamer culture are clearly wrong and sexist.  Maintaining a culture where rape metaphors are the dominant method for describing competition is wrong.  Refusing to acknowledge that women do play video games, and not just taking their word for it when they say they enjoy games is sexist.  If someone raises a valid point about what’s going on creatively within the community, then it is both wrong and sexist to try to shout that person down with derogatory remarks that target women specifically.

I wish we could agree on those basic ground rules.

What do you guys think?  Like I said before, gender dynamics are complicated, and there are a lot of factors that need to be considered.  What could the gaming community do to become more welcoming to all people who are interested in playing video games?