Commenting on the Conversation

It’s been a rough week.

As I started trying to compose this week’s post, I knew wanted to talk about comments. I wanted to use this story as a lead-in to my conversation: The Real Problem with Sex Workers in Video Games. I wanted to talk about women’s voices and how this article’s comments start with “Oh man, I’m getting out of here. I can’t deal with the inevitable comments here today.” and “This comment section is about to go to Hell in a handbasket.”

I should say, I read comments. A lot. I’m sort of ashamed of this because I feel I’m not “supposed” to read comments because they are harmful or whatever. But, I do read comments. I read them all the time because I want to see what the other side of the story is; I want to see the spectrum of the argument. I read the comments in the article referenced above. I read the ones that were short and snarky, and I read the ones that respectfully disagreed with the author, Yannick Lejacq, and those that respectfully disagreed with what the subject of the article, Anita Sarkeesian, had to say about tropes vs women in games (particularly, in this article, about “Sex Workers in Video Games”). I read comments all the time, and I wanted to talk about comments and what they mean to me, and how they illuminate our culture. I wanted to talk about how people should listen to women, really listen, before they comment on feminism, before they speak about what women should do or feel.

But, this week CNN turned their comments off for many articles, and I find it difficult/impossible to talk about comments without addressing why CNN made that decision.

CNN’s comment section got really ugly in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s passing. Like many, I find myself totally heartbroken by the situation in Ferguson. Like many white people, I find myself somewhat paralyzed. Articles, like “12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson” help me think about what I should be doing. But, I know I can’t do enough. I can’t do anything, really. All I can really do is listen. But, I don’t want to just listen to the media or to a biased source. I want to listen. CNN turned off the comments because, I assume, they were too inflammatory, too racist. They were too racist. I was appalled by many of the comments. But, as a confirmed comment junky, I sort of want them back. Not because I enjoy reading the horrible comments, but because I want to know. I need to know exactly what the other opinions I (we) are dealing with. I guess it says something about our culture that we can’t even talk about the situation without it turning ugly. But, what I saw, was similar to what I wrote about in a previous post: people who are so sure their worldview is the correct one that they can’t see past it.

This week, I wanted to talk about comments: the good, bad, and ugly side of comments. I wanted to talk about how quick people are to throw “other” opinions out the window. But, another teenager is dead, and the comments on one website (CNN) got so bad that they had to shut the comments down. I want comments because I want a reasoned debate where I can learn all sides of the situation. But, comments (on the internet) can get really, really ugly, as I’m sure we all know. And, this week, I’m stuck because the conversation about Ferguson is so important. And, I find myself wondering how bad comments really are. Was CNN right to turn them off? Probably, but how else to we have the conversation?


Aren’t we all “Always Sometimes Monsters”?

Always Sometimes Monsters is an interactive narrative-style game that attempts to tackle several very serious issues through its focus on player choice and the consequences of those choices. Indeed, the game carries a content warning on its Steam page that says “Always Sometimes Monsters has content dealing with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, mental health, sexual assault, child abuse, animal abuse, drug abuse, and suicide”. So, pretty heavy stuff. Read more »


Sexism and Hardware: It’s Not Just for Pink Screwdrivers Anymore

In the same way that medical research on breast cancer, uterine cancer, and heart disease (see Leslie Laurence’s book Outrageous Practice for some history of gender bias in medical research) have done a disservice to women as a whole by focusing medical studies solely on men and then attempting to apply those results wholesale to women suffering from these diseases, the games and technology industries also continue to fail women with their lack of inclusion of women in the design process. Do not misunderstand, I am not suggesting in any way that that the problems with the Kinect and the Oculus Rift are anywhere near as dangerous (or fatal) as the problems with the medical research that is mentioned before. I am more specifically suggesting that we look at a pattern of exclusion of women in the development of all kinds of technologies.

I think back to all of the jokes about the first version on Microsoft’s Kinect not recognizing Black folks and remember specifically having to seriously backlight my gaming space in order to have the Kinect recognize me, but that the damn thing saw my kid in near darkness. Design flaw or testing flaw? Having darker hued folks in on the design process from the beginning would have made this issue apparent and given the developers the chance to address the issue from the beginning. Luckily, this has not been as much of an issue with v.2 of the hardware. But this too has a history based in photography where technology has not advanced to the point of being able to adequately capture darker skin tones, leaving darker hued folks looking either like silhouettes or completely washed out by the light. (And people wonder why I hate having my picture taken.Read more »


What Depression Quest Has to Teach Us About Living with Mental Illness

*Trigger Warning: brief discussions of suicide follow as well as discussions of depression below.*

The news of actor and comedian Robin Williams’ death by suicide came to my attention from all sides this week. My family was talking about it in person as it buzzed across the daily news. Across my social media dashes pictures, quotes, and text memorials streamed rapidly by. Many were shocked by the news, surprised that a comedian of his caliber would struggle with something like depression, particularly given his humorous outward demeanor. Amidst the recognition of the accomplishments of a man who went through a lifelong battle has also arisen conversations about depression as an illness and the importance of awareness of it an all mental illness. Never before have I seen so many people sharing links to to support hotlines or depression awareness websites.

Of course, even among the support there were certainly misinformed and offensive comments. Some wondered why a wealthy man with a vibrant and successful career would have anything to be depressed about. Some blamed it exclusively on his drug use or unsuccessful marriages. Others (including one notoriously bigoted radio talk show host) decried it as a weakness and insisted it was due to a culture of negativity and hyper-sensitivity. These opinions popped up not only from random trolls on the internet but in my own personal circles as well. So when I learned that Zoe Quinn was putting her interactive fiction game Depression Quest on Steam for free starting the day of Robin Williams’ suicide, I couldn’t help but think how games – or game-like creations – can be used as a way to create awareness and sensitivity for things like mental illness and those perspectives that are difficult or are rarely assumed in fiction.

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LEGO IDEAS Research Institute: The Female Scientists

This month, LEGO introduced the LEGO Ideas Research Institute set. The set includes an all female cast: a paleontologist, chemist, and an astronomer. When I ordered the set last week, the site listed a 30-day wait, but now the set is completely out of stock on LEGO’s site. I’m encouraged by the popularity of the set, and I hope they plan to make more of this set. LEGO, I think, is long overdue for some serious sets depicting women doing things other than baking or making lemonade. Not that there’s anything wrong with baking or making lemonade, but the LEGO Friends sets do tend to put females in a stereotypical box. (Although, to be fair, the new Jungle Falls Rescue set looks interesting, with activities such as rescuing a cub). But, the LEGO Ideas Research Institute set reaches beyond LEGO Friends, and gives us a set that not only includes female scientists, but includes those scientists as minifigs, rather than the “dolls” of the LEGO Friends sets.

Why did LEGO move past the “dolls” of LEGO Friends to female scientists? Earlier this year, 7-year-old Charlotte wrote a letter to LEGO complaining about the divide between the “female” toys and “male” toys. The letter went viral, and many news outlets referred to her letter earlier this month when LEGO Ideas Research Institute was released. This article (used here as a typical example of what I saw), asks the question, ”Could the new female figures be a response to the scathing letter — which went viral over social media — written by a 7-year-old girl?. The article then notes, Lego responded that is developing new male and female figures. And, then the article (and many other articles I read) goes on to discuss the letter and it’s relation to the LEGO Ideas Research Institute set. It’s a cute story. I loved Charlotte’s letter and that it went viral. But, to end the story there leaves out the really cool story of how the set developed.

The LEGO Ideas Research Institute set was originally submitted as a LEGO Ideas (then LEGO Cuusoo) in 2012. LEGO Ideas is a program that allows users to submit their designs to be considered for official LEGO sets. The way LEGO Ideas works, in a nutshell, is a user submits his or her design and works to get support. Once, the design has 1000 supporters, the project gets an official mention from LEGO. Once, the project has 10,000 supporters it moves on to LEGO’s review board for consideration, where the project might possibly become an official set. But, moving to review doesn’t guarantee LEGO will manufacture the set. At this point, LEGO takes into account many other factors, such as set stability, copyright issues, whether or not they think the set will sell to a larger audience, etc. Ellen Kooijman submitted this set in 2012, and it received its 10,000 votes by Jun of 2013. LEGO announced the set, originally submitted as LEGO Female Minifigures, would become the official LEGO Ideas Research Institute on June 3, 2014. It’s possible Charlotte’s letter had an impact on this set (and, I like to think it did), but I hate to ignore the long process the set when through to pass review and become official. The sets designer, Ellen Kooijman and her many supporters show that this is the type of set many fans were hoping for. (Its quickly sold-out status certainly doesn’t hurt that argument either!)

I think it’s necessary to recognize that the designer, Ellen Kooijman, is a female geoscientist. However, I have also seen some criticism about the way she is listed on LEGO’s site. The product’s description notes the set was “Created by real-life geoscientist, Ellen Kooijman.” Some understandably object to the necessity of noting that she is a “real life” scientist. I agree that perhaps the wording could be better. But, I appreciate the nod to her profession, as it legitimizes playing with LEGOs and perhaps gives girls a role model. I think it’s badass that a geoscientist designed the set, and it makes me feel a bit better about the countless hours I spend playing with the bricks. I hope we can look forward to more sets in this series.


Yep, I’m hooked…

I’ve played World of Warcraft on and off since 2007. My total played time on my main alone is 162 days, 7 hours, 35 minutes, and 7 seconds (thanks for the seconds, Blizz!). And, though I’ve quit several times in the past, I’m back again. Of course, no one game hooks every gamer in the same way. Other gamers here at NYMG (I won’t name names…) are hooked by different games *coughFarmvillecough*, and I have several friends that live and die by Minecraft. So what makes games grab us and keep us coming back for more? Read more »

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Power Hour Review: Hearthstone: Curse of Naxxramas

Naxxaramas is the first expansion for Hearthstone, a free, online, digital collectable card game. Hearthstone is made by Blizzard, who is famous for games like World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. (For those who have been living under a rock.) Anywho, on July 22nd, Blizzard  released Curse of Naxxramas as the expansion. Like the game, the expansion is kind of free, but you only get a little taste of what the game has to offer if you aren’t willing to shell out some dough.

I spent the last 3 days playing through Naxx, which really is the only gaming I’ve been able to do in awhile because of the move and such. I was pleased to find that the expansion focuses on solo adventuring, which was essentially non-existent in the original version. To progress in the game in any way you needed to play against other people. Now you can take on bosses with completely unique cards and hero abilities. Now, why my character is limited to 2 of the same card per deck, while one of the new bosses can have 10+ Haunted Creepers, I’m not sure. However, you get to go through and play against these bosses alone, without the stress of timed turns or having to squelch another player, so it’s nice. (Side note: am I become a game agoraphobic?)

Read more »


Episode 83: Absent Mental Defect: HBO’s Love Child Documentary and the Games Addiction Defense

Episode 83: Absent Mental Defect: HBO’s Documentary, Love Child, and the Games Addiction Defense (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

In this episode HBO’s documentary, Love Child, and video game addiction scapegoating (again).

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Wanting to be Heard, Not Attacked

Earlier this week, I got into a Facebook “discussion” over this video. Great video, you should watch it, if you haven’t already. But, I knew as soon as I first saw it that sooner or later someone was going to make a comment about how the woman is dressed. When it happened, my inner “that” girl wanted out because it’s so frustrating to constantly hear that the woman is to blame for harassment and assault. Because, you see, men can’t help themselves when women dress like that, and anyway she was asking for it.

That argument “men can’t help themselves” is bullshit, and it’s offensive to both genders. I find it hard to believe that men want to be seen as weak beings unable to control themselves in the face of a little skin. I know plenty of men that can and do control themselves. So, what is it that makes the whole “she was asking for it” argument so attractive to a lot of people? Maybe it’s simply a defense mechanism. Maybe people feel like if they own up to the problem, and say, “you know what? She probably wasn’t asking for it, the harasser was way out of line,” then they have to admit that perhaps they are part of the problem also. Maybe the fear of individual responsibility keeps people from seeing the very real problems that women face everyday.

At least that’s the feeling I got during this particular Facebook exchange. I understand and acknowledge that Facebook is not really an efficient or effective medium to be having this conversation through. But, sometimes, I’m not sure what else to do. I’ve had the same conversation in person with people, often with the same disappointing results. In this particular case, the person I was discussing with eventually gave up; and with a quick, dismissive reply, he was finished with the conversation. I felt utterly depressed and somewhat defeated by that. If we can’t even talk about it, then how will we ever hope to address the casual acceptance of harassment and assault in our culture?

The “that” girl in me has a hard time letting offensive comments slide, whether online or in person because I hope that maybe this one time I will be able to reach someone. If not the person I’m talking to, then maybe I can reach someone who is reading or listening nearby. I also feel like maybe if I keep repeating myself, someone will listen. This has somewhat worked for me in the past; the repeated messages have gradually changed someone’s thinking. Gradually, but still I have seen a change.

It’s disheartening, though, when people just refuse to listen. They are right and you are wrong. Period. The end. I’m not perfect, but I do try to listen. By listening, I know I can get a different perspective and perhaps come to view an issue that is bothering someone else in a different way. But, this has also caused me to reflect on and confront my own listening habits. Am I a good listener? Do I “hear” what others are saying? I don’t know. Probably not as much as I want to, although, I think certainly more than I did a few years ago. I’m slowly learning to stop becoming defensive when I hear those stories that are different from mine. I get so frustrated when I am not given that same courtesy in return. If we can’t get people to even listen, then things will never improve, and might continue to degrade, as we see in recent stories about Alabama and Texas.

I don’t know the answers. I don’t even know how to get people to listen. To say, “hey, maybe I don’t know everything. Maybe this person is making a good point, even if it’s something I haven’t experienced for myself.” I so often read or hear that people are sick of hearing about this. I wish people would, in fact, stop “hearing” it and instead listen and actually consider what I say. In retrospect, I should have been happy with the quick, dismissive reply because later the commenter came back with an unbelievably vicious attack, calling someone an “ugly whore.” He quickly deleted it, but it was still out there for a minute. People scare me, but this is why we have to keep the conversation going.


On Being Bad

During the Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft I spent most of my time playing some decently hardcore PvP (player versus player content- battlegrounds and arenas) on my holy paladin. I wouldn’t say I was amazing, not by any means, but I certainly achieved a higher than average ranking, and I worked pretty hard to get there. Read more »