Thoughts on Gamer Culture, Rape Culture, and CNN

Melissa McEwan has generously given me space for another guest post at Shakesville.  Here’s the intro:

[Trigger warning for discussion of video games which simulate rape and violence.]

I’ve got video games on my mind lately — as some of you have probably seen me talking about in comments, I was at the Penny Arcade Expo in Boston this past weekend — and I just wrote a mostly-positive post with some criticism and a dubiously clever pun for the title over at my blog, about gamer culture in general and one panel at the Expo in particular.

This post is much less positive, and I’m also much less certain, ultimately, what should be done to try to fix the problems I’m talking about.

Many of y’all probably remember previous discussion, both here (Rape For Sale, Looking for Rape Products? Try Amazon., From the Mailbag for 2009-08-17) and at many other blogs over the past several years, of a Japanese computer game called RapeLay, the genre of hentai (lit. “pervert”/”perverted”) games, and the subgenre of rape-focused hentai games to which it belongs.

CNN’s Connect the World program has now run a story on the game, and its continuing availability through illicit channels despite its having been pulled from production and removed from retail…

The Century

Two years, four months, and five days from my first post: this here’s my hundredth.

(Update: also, a year and a few days from my previous arbitrary milestone.)

In that time, I’ve had a bit over 18,000 pageviews:

A snapshot of the WordPress stats for today.

That’s…an average of about 0.116 post per day, if I did my math right.

Huh.  Guess I’d better try to pick up the pace.

And through the magic of post-publish editing:

Portion of WordPress Dashboard showing a count of 100 posts and 100 comments

The trackback from this post to my first is the 100th "comment."

Thanks to all who’ve read, linked, and/or commented!  Onward to the next hundred!  Maybe in less than a year this time!

"Gender Junkies": The Post That Wasn’t (Yet?)

For a long time I’ve had a partly-finished post sitting in my draft queue.  It’s entitled (as you might have guessed by this point) “Gender Junkies,” and it’s an attempt to argue that, roughly,

  1. Gender is a social construct
  2. It’s a necessarily hierarchical and therefore unjust social construct
  3. True human liberation requires the end of our belief in this social construct
  4. But it’s so embedded in our thinking that we genuinely cannot conceive of what a society without it would look like
  5. So the best we can do is try to make gender matter less, bit-by-bit.

(But using nerdy analogies like Dune and The Matrix.)

But as I say, I started the post a long time ago, and have been having a hard time finishing it, and in the meantime I’ve been reading various blogs and interacting with various people, and various things have happened; part of the reason, then, that I’ve had difficulty finishing the post is that I’m no longer sure I’m arguing well.  I’ve learned much that I didn’t previously know, for example, about the problematic history of links to transphobia the idea of gender-as-social-construct has.  And I want to avoid, if possible, saying something hurtful because I haven’t thought things through enough or because I’m working from faulty ideas.

So, since I’ve been getting a lot more visitors in the past week or so, thanks to generous links from several other blogs, I thought maybe now would be a good time to try opening a discussion thread.

How do you define “gender”?  Do you see it as a social construct, or a function of biology (including brain biology, mind), or some mix of factors?  Do you think it’s inherently hierarchical, or is a system of gender classification which is also egalitarian conceivable to you?

(Note: I realize that this is a very fraught topic, and what seems like a relatively abstract philosophical opinion to one person may seem to another like an outright attack on their right to exist.  If you join the discussion, please be sensitive to the complexities of the subject, treat others kindly, and assume good faith in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary.)

The Nicest Thing Anyone's Ever Done For Me*

So, a little while ago there was this thread over at Shakesville, where standard mockery of a wingnut’s absurd hyperbole quickly devolved into a barrage of our own absurd hyperbole.  Note that “quickly” here means “by the second comment.”

In the course of the thread, Jen said,

No fair. Scott’s got his hyperbole shield on. It’s like he wants to destroy us all with snappy comebacks while remaining immune himself. SCOTT MADIN IS THE EBOLA VIRUS OF THE INTERNET.

To which I responded, as anyone would, “I want that on a plaque.”

Reader, I did not have to wait long!


Shakesville: Gone Shirky?

All right, first off, if you don’t know Clay Shirky’s seminal “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy”, go read it.

Now, what I’m going to talk about isn’t precisely the same as what Shirky’s talking about, but to use vague and general terms, the notion that the larger a group or community gets, the more likely it is to fracture or disintegrate or tear itself apart, is useful here.

Shakesville, one of the treasures of the progressive blagoweb, has been showing an increasingly worrisome number of stress fractures over the course of the campaign season.  If I were to try to characterize the problem broadly, I’d say that there are different groups of commenters, and they have slightly varying ideas about what the blog, as a community space, is about; and those ideas are not always totally compatible either with each other, or with what Melissa McEwan — the founder and central figure — thinks the blog is about.

This came to a head just recently, after McEwan, whose attitudes toward now-President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden have been gradually and publicly shifting from mistrust to cautious optimism (and I hope, on the off chance she or anyone else from Shakesville read this they’ll forgive my oversimplification there), and whose growing stress and frustration with the unrelenting negativity of some of the comment threads, wrote a moving post on the need to be optimistic and push hard, even when that means pushing our ostensible friends, for the change we want to see.  As has often happened, a lot of the comments were, or came across as, purely negative, offering anger, frustration and disillusionment — and not generally unfounded! — but little else.  It’s a commonplace, it seems, with many Shakesville commenters, that there’s no particular reason to be excited or hopeful about last Tuesday’s election results, that nothing in particular (or nothing important) is likely to get much better.  I think that’s absurd to the point of being an insult to the intelligence of anyone who reads it, but it’s not what I’m trying to address right now.  McEwan, understandably upset by the utter failure of a community which professes to value her greatly to pay attention to her wishes, hasn’t posted on Shakesville since.

There’s much soul-searching going on at Shakesville today; McEwan’s co-bloggers have penned impassioned pleas for the commenters to pay attention, and the commenters are by and large experiencing a collective “my god, what have we done?” moment.  I readily declare that I’m as guilty as anyone, when it comes to taking McEwan for granted.

I don’t know what the solution is.  But that this is happening breaks my heart.  What the hell is wrong with us?  When did we forget that we’re in this together, that we’re on the same side?

Shirky points out that the same group-dynamics phenomena have been happening over and over again in the realm of social software for about thirty years.  And yet, somehow, each time, the developers of the social software fail to anticipate those phenomena, and look at them and say (if they’re sufficiently detached), “Wow!  What an interesting development!  We should document this unexpected turn of events!” or (if they’re not), “Shit!  Our carefully planned online community is collapsing!  Whatdowedo??!?”

And, he also emphasizes, this is not just a software or just a social problem.  “A Group…” was written five yeras ago, and the software end has shaken out somewhat and gotten more standardized; but the social problems will, I expect, always be with us.  It’s troubling, however, that we don’t seem ever to get much smarter about dealing with them.  And more troubling yet that we — the Shakesville community — in the process of being our own worst enemy may have pushed Melissa McEwan away from her own blog, and deprived political discourse on the Internet of a much needed, careful, thoughtful voice.


I don’t mean that title as it might be interpreted, in the “Web Triumphalist” (thanks, H2otown!) sense; I don’t particularly believe in such nonsense — indeed, I’m opposed to nationalism in all its forms, with the possible exception of Red Sox Nation. It would probably be clearer to adopt that Munroe kid’s pronunciation: “blagnation” would better convey what I mean.

Point being, of course, that I have shamefully allowed F&A here to sit stagnant (though I might prefer to think of it as “lying fallow”).  I’ve got a longer post in the works, but I haven’t been having much free time to, well, work on it.  So there may be a bit of filler now and again, either dull ruminations of this sort or the dreaded link posts, before I get to it, but I hope to keep it not entirely devoid of interest.

Coming up, probably some more posts about beer; I really don’t intend for Matters Zymurgical to so predominate, but it’s often easier to write about, as I’m typically just describing stuff I do rather than attempting to marshal strong arguments for a position.

Current Brews Status

I checked on my two current brews last night. The barleywine — slightly modified from the “Big 10/20 Barley Wine” recipe at — has been proceeding very slowly since racking off the ale yeast and pitching champagne yeast, but from its original gravity of 1.132 it was down to 1.092 when I racked it, and it’s now at 1.077. It’s got a ways to go yet, so I think I’ll need to make up a small starter of the champagne yeast to try to get it going.

When I racked the barleywine, I decided it would be a shame to waste its yeast bed, so I brewed a coffee porter (which for lack of a better name I’m calling “Dark Roast”) and put it in the same carboy on top of the old yeast. It was down from 1.060 to 1.022, or about 5% ABV, when I checked it last night, which I’m willing to consider good enough, so I racked it, and I’ll probably bottle next weekend. It tastes very good — nicely roasty, with a coffee flavor that’s distinct but somewhat subtle — so I’m quite pleased with how it came out. I’ll post the recipe I used for it a bit later; I’m thinking I may start putting up recipes as pages under the main Matters Zymurgical tab up top, rather than as regular posts.