media

Twenty/Ten

Twenty years ago today, Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, was released.

Twenty years.

Ten in particular (and to a similar extent a lot of its contemporary albums, including of course Nevermind, which will turn 20 just under a month from now) defined my transition into the teenage years in ways that aren’t really easy to capture in writing.

I grew up sheltered and nerdy, surrounded by scientists, on the East coast. The frenetic energy of “Even Flow” was something I was completely unprepared for when I first heard it. To this day I’m absolutely incapable of evaluating the record* — just hearing the opening to any of its songs switches off the critical part of my brain, and plays back all my memories of being twelve years old, beginning to be capable of understanding the world, and not knowing what to do with my energy.

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Really, Gearbox? Really?

[Cross-posted at Shakesville.]

I had really expected that nearly two years ago would be the last time I’d write about Duke Nukem. I’d happily put the character, the franchise, and its gleeful participation in the worst traits of gamer culture, out of my mind. Until Gearbox Software announced they had acquired the rights and that the vapor-for-fourteen-years Duke Nukem Forever would be seeing release after all. So, thanks for that, guys. That’s just swell.

Since that miserable announcement, almost like clockwork, predictably awful globs of congealed misogyny have been flung forth from Gearbox HQ, splattering all over the gaming press. They held a press event at a strip club; they flagrantly violated PAX’s longstanding “no booth babe” policy (a policy which, it seems, contrary to how it was presented, was basically voluntary all along); and most recently they announced that the multiplayer capture-the-flag mode (a de rigueur component, of course, of any multiplayer shooter) would be entitled “Capture the Babe,” and that when a player had “captured the babe,” slinging the presumably-otherwise-passive female character over his shoulder, she would occasionally “freak out,” and need to be slapped (on the ass, Gearbox hastened to clarify, not the face! So that’s OK then) to “calm her down.”

…yeah. The aim of the game mode is to 1) abduct sexually objectified “babes” who have no agency of their own, but 2) who hysterically “freak out” at being bodily lifted up and hauled around, 3) who you then physically abuse to ensure their compliance, and 4) collect them as trophies.

I was going to write at more length about this, but Gunthera1’s excellent post at The Border House pretty much covers it, so I recommend reading her if you need more background or detail.

I’ll add a couple of other notes, however. As a bit of background, Randy Pitchford from Gearbox was on the “Irrational Interviews” podcast produced by Boston-based Bioshock developers Irrational, back in February, and when asked about the challenges of marketing games, he (I’m afraid I’m paraphrasing from memory, but I don’t believe I’m misrepresenting him) explained that seeing marketing materials for a game is like “when you meet a girl (sic), and you decide in 5 seconds ‘would I do her, or not?'” It’s obviously a total shock that a fellow like that might be insensitive to concerns about sexist content in the game he’s making.

And finally, Penny Arcade — having, perhaps, after the Dickwolves debacle, decided to prove everyone wrong who ever praised them for attempting to take a thoughtful approach to game-related controversies — have joined in.* In an echo of their earlier misrepresentation of criticism of the “Sixth Slave” comic, here they misconstrue the DNF criticisms as being solely about the slap rather than about using women as trophies — literally objects — ignoring that at least within the conceptual framework of the game enemy soldiers in the Call of Duty games have agency and contend directly with the player, and slandering hundreds of thousands of soldiers as “murderers” into the bargain.

It seems like for every lovely moment like David Gaider’s eloquent rebuttal to an aggrieved “Straight Male Gamer” there’s still a half-dozen episodes which (to borrow Mr. Walker’s phrase) make my spine hurt. This is why we can’t have nice things, game industry.

Addendum: Denis Farr pointed out to me on Twitter something I’d missed: evidently the game also includes cigarette vending machines labeled “fags”. So, uh, yeah.


*For those who may not want to click through, the comic shows Tycho, in an exaggerated “moral scold” posture, wagging his finger at Gabe and declaiming, “Did you know there’s a mode in Duke Nukem where you slap a woman’s bottom?” In the second panel, Gabe, looking bored, responds, “Did you know there’s a mode in Call of Duty where you murder, like, a million people?” as Tycho appears taken aback. In the third panel, Gabe continues, “It’s called Call of Duty.”

Gamer Culture, Rape Culture, CNN and Japanese Culture: Followup

Kyung Lah at CNN has written a followup article to the story I wrote about on Wednesday.

However, the video segment — from CNN’s Prime News program on their HLN (formerly Headline News) channel — has very little to do with Lah’s article itself, and is sensationalist and overblown, particularly on the part of the anchor, Mike Galanos.  His guest, Dr. Cheryl Olson, seemed to be trying to put the brakes on his (not to put too fine a point on it) scaremongering.  In short, I don’t recommend watching the video (though since I’ve already transcribed it, I’ll still include the text below the fold; WordPress doesn’t appear to let me embed the video).

Lah’s article, on the other hand, is much more thoughtful.  I think it does a pretty good job of presenting the complexity of the cultural issues involved, given its limited space and an audience that can’t be presumed to be very familiar with video games, feminist theory, Japanese culture in general or otaku culture in particular.

It’s not without some faults — for example, this paragraph

It is terribly easy to condemn Japan as a sexist and repressed culture with a government that chooses to look the other way. Part of that would be true, but the reason hentai continues to thrive in a country as progressive as Japan is a complex cultural issue.

seems either self-contradictory, or reliant on some oddly contorted sense of the word “progressive,” and the quotations from the sociology professor, Kyle Cleveland, seem troublingly close to suggesting that this is “just how it is” in Japan, and outsiders ought not judge such things.  That can, admittedly, be a fine line to walk: Cleveland is entirely correct when he says

What provokes people about Japan is the cultural distance which inclines people to see Japan as exceptionally lurid or perverse simply because it expresses sexuality in ways outside of Western norms. Japan is in some ways not that different than other cultures, including the United States, which has its own gender problems that are quite apparent.

but the implication that the very real structural misogyny in US culture invalidates American critiques of misogynist elements of other cultures is quite wrong.  Yes, we have to look to the beam in our own eye.  But provided we are willing to do so, and work to extract it, it is not hypocrisy to also mention the mote — or, as in this case, beam of comparable size — in our sibling’s.
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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…

Quick Hit: And Here I Thought…

…that dumping Lou Dobbs indicated CNN was starting to take their middle initial seriously.  As it turns out: Nope!  They were just looking for someone even more objectionable. (One wonders why they didn’t just keep Glenn Beck, really.)

I don’t really see what further comment I could add.  Erickson is vile.  He’s certainly as vile as Limbaugh or Beck.  He makes much of the rest of the conservative blagoweb look measured and reasonable, and that’s no mean feat.

Yet, somehow, the fact that people say “fuck” on Daily Kos is constantly held up as evidence that liberal bloggers are hateful and meanspirited and unserious — and I have no doubt that we’ll also continue to see right-wing bloggers and Fox News blasting CNN for being an exemplar of the “liberal media.”

(Previously, previously. Via.)

Quick Hit: I've Got My Story and I'm Sticking To It!

Yesterday on my way to work I was listening, as is often the case, to the BBC World Service NewsHour program on my local NPR station, and one segment in particular caught my ear.  They were discussing the aftermath of the Chile earthquake, including President Bachelet sending thousands of troops into Concepción to “restore order.”  Starting at minute 39, presenter Robin Lustig talks with Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology, about “the morality of looting.”

What struck me about this was Lustig’s dogged insistence on established narrative — people who take food and supplies from stores in the aftermath of a disaster are “looters,” selfish criminals out for their own benefit who don’t care about anyone else; post-disaster urban areas (especially those populated by non-white people) devolve into Hobbesian nightmares; it’s correct for governments’ primary response to be “restoring order” by sending in police or troops — in the face of Furedi’s patient explanation that the evidence doesn’t support that narrative.  People act more altruistically after a disaster, crime rates are lower, and those who “loot” food and supplies tend to then distribute them among the population.  But Lustig would be damned if he’d let silly little things like facts interfere with the preferred story.

On Not Getting Fooled Again

(Update: apparently I forgot to linkify things that were supposed to be links!  I was sure I had done.  That’s what I get for posting on only one cup of coffee.  Fixed now.)

As most people probably know by now, on Friday President Obama accepted an invitation to speak to and answer questions from the Republican caucus at their annual retreat — on the condition that the news media be allowed and the speech and Q&A session be broadcast live.

And as most people probably know by now, the Republicans are almost certainly thinking to themselves, “how could we have been so stupid?”  (The answer, I think, is that they got so used to the lies they use to keep the rubes voting for them that they kind of forgot they were lies, and they honestly believed their sad little talking-points recital would leave Obama transfixed and tongue-tied, and he’d eventually have to break down and admit they were right about everything.)

If you haven’t seen the video, you should try to find time to do so — it’s a bit over an hour, but it’s pretty remarkable.  Each time someone asks a question, it’s clear they think they’re scoring a major point, and that there’s just no way the President can refute their argument.  And each time, he calmly, reasonably, cuts their head off.  You can see the whole thing at Shakesville (with links to more discussion), and TNC provides the soundtrack, but I’ve provided some highlights below the fold.

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