I get angry, too

Helen Keller

Recently, online, I picked a battle that isn’t mine to pick. Relief finally came in the form of an email. “My wife and I are Quaker,” the letter-writer explained; I was immediately overwhelmed.

My mother never identified Quaker as such, but when she was new to Christianity she was mentored by a Quaker, by a man called John Steiner. She spoke of this person a lot. She took certain ideals to heart and, although she would certainly tell you that her message, as transmitted to me, got all mixed up, some ideals really did glom onto me. I am anti-war; I am terribly conflict-averse; I believe in compassion and inclusion. I still identify as Christian—and make no mistake, I have several crises of faith in a single day—but none of those crises has anything to do with whether God, as I interpret Him, composed human beings lovingly in His own image. (Mostly my crises are about me being a shitty person. I am trying to learn to become more patient with myself.)

Principally, though, I am terrified of my own anger. Very few people have witnessed it, but they can tell you it’s an ugly, remarkable thing, a thing that gets away from me before I can grab back onto it and rein it to shore again. Like most people, I figure, my anger usually has something to do with an issue of “justice.” When I have been at my very angriest, my mother used to sigh—oh, my mother!—and warn me, “Jenny, don’t talk to people that way.” Now, here in her shadow, I am beginning to think she is right.

I understand the argument against “tone arguments.” I also hate tone arguments. It’s usually an unfair thing, this gambit is, demanding the other person sacrifice all emotion—indeed, all humanity—for the sake of being “calm,” “reasonable,” “rational.” These are loaded terms, denying a speaker all the emotion—which is, absolutely, another type of data, what we call “experiential data”—he or she is feeling. Women especially are socialized to couch their assertions of opinion with words like “I am beginning to think” or “sometimes I get the feeling,” which are all ways of preemptively apologizing for holding any opinion or valueset at all. Even now I’m using a type of passive speech, as a defense mechanism, certainly, so you will not feel like hitting me.

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This week’s quicknotes: Feminist Frequency, horror movies, and toys for tots

Violence Sexism Fun!!!

What horror movies and video games share in common

Late last night I tried my hand at posting to Medium for the first time. It was something I was originally going to post here but, you know, it ended up over there instead, so whatever. The blarticle at Medium is called “On Consuming Media Responsibly,” and it’s all about my love of violent, misogynistic horror movies. I’m a student of the form, I get overexcited when a movie tries anything new, and I also enjoy movies that suck and do everything wrong. (The greatest insult, I always warn, is just being boring, and even then I don’t mind being bored when a movie is otherwise doing good work.)

I bring up my horror movie fetish because Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian is currently in the throes of the usual gamer backlash, which is really alarming, because she isn’t asking anyone to give anything up. No one is saying “video games are bad, burn them”; Sarkeesian is simply focusing a critical or analytical lens on video games, in a way that is surprisingly nonconfrontational and not even particularly judgemental. Well. All my thoughts are actually already in the Medium link, so check it out.

Medium as a medium

I really like what Medium and Zeen are both trying to do—but I have to wonder whether content creators and distributors are on the cusp of getting all pinboarded and Tumblr’d out. These are platforms that kind of get their content for free, to which I’m opposed, but they also “curate” what becomes visible, so a newcomer has a much better shot at being read. This isn’t a new publishing model, no, but it does work.

What’s most interesting about Medium, though, is you can invite other collaborators to make edits before publishing, and then once it’s published readers can comment in the margins. A lot of this ends up being minor recommendations and tweaks, so the work kind of turns into this living document. Which is weird—an article might look completely different if you decide to read it a day later—but as a result people have been really responsive even in other channels, especially on Twitter.

Toys for tots

When I read articles like “How Video Game Developers Are Abandoning the Traditional Controller to Create Immersive Experiences,” I just picture Elijah Wood in a colander:

“You mean you have to use your hands??” “That’s like a baby’s toy!!!”

Ugh, kids these days.

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I get tired of talking about it, too

rambo thoughts

Man. Man. I don’t think I’d ever used the word “gender” in a piece of writing until 2010. Wow! What a strange time for me, too. I was three months’ out of my six-year on-and-off romance/cohabitation thing, very freshly single and really bumbling around, extremely “over” writing about video games, and meanwhile I’d begun reading a lot about learned helplessness. You know, just for funsies. Er.

Yep, before 2010, I’d never used the word “gender.” What a dumb word.

Actually, that might be a lie. In school I did write a paper about women who join subcultures: it focused on Flora Belle Jan, the self-identified “flapper” journalist, and also, of all people, Mimi Thi Nguyen, who was a punk zinester and music journalist in the ‘90s. I likened both women to the not-very-fictional Mardou Fox in The Subterraneans, a woman who meticulously works to desex herself (Kerouac tells us she has short hair like a man’s, and that she wears dress slacks), all to be taken seriously as a Beat writer. So I bet the word “gender” must’ve snuck into that college essay somehow.

In Subterraneans Mardou is driven to the brink of her own wits, suddenly all too aware that she is, now and forever, ostracized by her chosen “subculture,” some niche group with which she had once so identified. Jan and Nguyen experienced similar psychological breaking points and very willfully severed themselves from their own established writing careers. In fact, I’m sure in my paper I accused them of “fleeing.”

It was kind of a weird paper to write for Asian-American history class. It was kind of weird that I took the class at all—but I needed a history credit to graduate! Oh, well. I think I got a B.

It would also be weird if, six years after having been suddenly hot-dropped into video games journalism, I were to—very abruptly, and with a personal sense of finality and closure—acknowledge some of my own patterns of experience.

Aha, but that’s just what I did with my current column at Unwinnable, “I Was a Teenage Sexist.”

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Failures in Edutainment: the mid-’90s “girl game” fad

Paprika the Fortune Teller from 'Chop Suey'

Brandon Boyer, via Twitter, inadvertently (advertently? well, whatever) directed me toward this post at Jezebel about girl games.

Its writer, Anna Breslaw, opens her piece with a quick hat-tip to a 1995 computer game called Chop Suey, which I’ve mentioned on Infinite Lives thrice before and am about to mention again. That’s because it is a great game that isn’t mentioned often enough. I’m trying to change the world, here, people.

But yes, our coincident timing is totally awkward, ha ha. Earlier in the week I’d snuck a bunch of Chop Suey playthrough videos onto YouTube, hoping to jog memories. (For a long time the only footage of the game available online was Bruno’s.)

But also, I was already laboring over this Chop Suey retrospective. Please do read it! It is a tragedy Chop Suey isn’t better remembered: it was celebrated in its day, and with reason. But most people did not use the Internet in 1995, which is to say, Chop Suey and all its accolades have not been very well preserved. (Duncan’s extraordinarily bizarre death doesn’t help anything; it’s almost impossible to discuss Chop Suey without mentioning that part, too, and the game is thusly difficult to google.)

The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were such a great time for edutainment, and while the medium isn’t entirely dead (your child’s school computer lab may yet have Storybook Weaver!), I do think the middle-’90s’ “girl game” craze went a long way in murdering it. Worse, the “girl game” genre probably scared a generation of woulda-been PC gamers away.

Most girls did not actually play girl games in the ‘90s, of course, because most “girl games” were stupid. Girls are not idiots. Girls are not boy-crazy strumpets. Girls are 8. Girls are 9. Girls play Oregon Trail and You Don’t Know Jack. Can people not picture 9-year olds?

This is what girls really want: girls want horse training simulations; they like fortune-telling; girls read spy stories and tales of adventure and daring; girls enjoy the Super Nintendo version of Mario Kart and computer games about being in outer space. Girls would like chemistry lab sets for Christmas, or planetariums and cheap telescopes, or periscopes and walkie-talkies. Girls like crafts. Girls like Minecraft! Girls like dolls, toy theaters, replicas, scale miniatures, and “character editors.” Girls like She-Ra. Girls like Labyrinth. Girls like sci-fi, unless it’s just a bunch of dweeby dudes standing around talking into their own lapels. Girls like pirates and especially stowaways, and especially stowaways who look like boys but are secretly girls. Girls like scrappy heroines—resourceful, freckle-nosed troublemakers—heroines with scraped knees and scuffed shoes. Girls are impatient to learn something new, and if you don’t give them brain-food they eventually wander off. There! There is your blueprint for a “girl game.”

So, yes, Breslaw’s and my Chop Suey -themed posts both went up on May 12, both incorporating that same playthrough footage. Oops! How embarrassing. It’s a little like arriving at a dance in matching dresses.

Fortunately, the dresses aren’t identical! (Ha, ha, ha!) Breslaw’s piece isn’t about Chop Suey at all, thank goodness. It’s actually about a new project called FEMICOM, an online museum that aspires to catalogue and archive every manner of game-for-girls. This is noble work—it’s why I’ve made Chop Suey evangelism one of my pet hobbies, actually—exactly because the project illustrates the enormity of the gulf between “this game or toy is edifying” and “why would you ever give your child that.”

The nicest thing about seeing this article about “girl games” on Jezebel, though? It’s elicited all these comments, where the readers themselves are essentially sorting the lady-treasures from the lady-tripe. One reader mentions Heavenly Sword for PS3. Oh, boy, do girls love that game. (Because we love third-person beat-em-ups starring She-Ra! It’s pretty much the only game you should give an adult woman. There, I said it.)

Other notable “girl-friendly” game mentions: Sim City. The Sims. Little Big Planet. Metroid. Zelda. Carmen Sandiego. Ecco. Pokemon. No One Lives Forever. Nancy Drew games. Street Fighter, Soul Calibur. Doom, Marathon, BioShock. Killer7 (most girls do really well with first-person rail-shooters; this has something to do with spatial attention). Final Fantasy. Fallout. Diablo. Starcraft. Mass Effect. Star Wars KOTOR. Guild Wars. Skyrim. Braid. Age of Empires. Civilization. Portal and its sequel. (“I loved that about Portal…really the only way you knew the character was female was from the brief glimpses you got of yourself if you lined Portals up right. Her female-ness wasn’t a factor one way or the other in the game.” Thank you, Susan Fry! I agree.)

And a thread, four comments long, about Woodruff and the Schnibble.

And also from the Jez comments,

See, this is why I get so frustrated with the whole conversation about games for girls. If you’d tried to design an ideal non-people based game for little girl me, it would have featured dinosaurs fighting each other, not dolphins swimming around being pretty.

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On death, motherhood, and ‘Creatures’

Kotaku - Playing God: On Death, Motherhood and Creating (Artificial) Life

I picked a pretty opportune moment to start writing for Unwinnable: it was the site’s “Death Week,” and if there is one thing I love to think about, it’s death.

One night I finally settled on an idea for “Death Week,” drank some beers, and wrote an article. It’s like a much shorter version of some of the longest articles I’ve done, so it was an interesting experiment. I really enjoyed writing it! I was comparatively concise!

You can read it at its real home, Unwinnable, or you might read it at Kotaku, where the heroic Kirk Hamilton has republished it. I recommend reading it at Unwinnable if only because I wrote it specifically for Unwinnable, but at Kotaku there is the benefit of the influx of comments. I love this. I already know what my article sounds like, so the real interest, for me, will be in what others say. When there are all these simultaneities in experience, I get really happy. So far the comments are really inspiring.

Finally—and I mentioned his article before, but—Mark Serrels’ piece for Kotaku Australia went a long way in influencing the piece I wrote, too. When I described his article last week, I started talking about my fear of kids, and this has probably continued to haunt me till now.

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Watch for the changes and try to keep up

Photo: Robert Downey, Jr.

Put your pants back on and take that seat over there. Good, thanks. Let’s hash some things out.

Let me start by reminding you that I’m a girl. Not only that, I’m an angry girl.

Joel Johnson, Kotaku’s fairly-recently-appointed Editorial Director, posted a little article titled “The Equal Opportunity Perversion of Kotaku.” (Evidently, Johnson has been taking a lot of flack for Kotaku’s new editorial direction[s], which is increasingly fluid and interesting.)

And I enjoyed the post on its own terms because, let’s face it, it is filed under a blog category titled “Fan Service.” So the post was very conspicuously directed at Kotaku’s “old guard”: here, of course, I mean the Internet’s loathsomely entitled commenters, who are mostly white and heterosexual, and male, who might fulfill almost every possible permutation of “ordinary” and “normal,” and who tend to shriek for the smelling salts anytime a lady or queer struggles into their line-of-sight. (This is a terrible stereotype to perpetuate, yes, yes, and Gawker’s own comments sections do a bang-up job of perpetuating it, not for any fault of its editors.) But let’s be coolheaded. When you deal with that type of readership, you have to be very caring and compassionate and patient, even when you don’t want to be, and so you assert things in a debilitatingly accessible way.

“What’s happening to my precious Kotaku?” the old guard must have screamed through the tips of its nervous little fingers, illuminated as one in the glow of the laptop’s screen.

So Johnson defended all of Kotaku’s editorial decisions, and his argument was compelling, and if you aren’t going to just look at the post I’d better do my best to recount it:

Johnson did anticipate that some readers would have difficulty reconciling Kotaku’s overt legacy of, say, cosplay galleries, with Kotaku’s now-implicit stance on genderjamming. So naturally, he combined both arguments into a single blog entry. Maybe he shouldn’t have tried. Listen boys, he might as well have said, you can screech about “what’s with the scary minorities on my video game blog all of a sudden” as much as you like, but it’s about as ‘normal’ to love tits wrapped in cosplay as it is to be ‘into’ anything else. That was his argument to these folks in a nutshell.

And Johnson posited this assertion in a way that heteronormative fellows who have never had their realities rocked might understand, and he pursued his argument to its logical conclusion, which is that we all fetishize something—like it or not, I’ve seen Dan Savage make this exact same argument in his columns about sex and love—and maybe you fetishize cars, computers, video games, politics, girls dressed up as Soul Calibur characters, chubby people, Japanese things, French things, your own sex, whips and chains, quoting Jesus when you do it, whatever. And if you’re fetishizing—as opposed to exoticizing, right—what’s ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ is kind of beside the point. You’re into what you’re into, and that is in some way neurologically hardwired.

Besides! Johnson sagely added, the site is actually called Kotaku, which riffs on the word otaku, which lends the notion that it’s, uh, cool to be into whatever you’re into. So let’s all be good people; let’s not fracture in dissent. Thanks!

Johnson posted all of this, not as an editor, but as a moderator. He explained all the sides of everything that has ever been, ever, just as well as he could. Maybe it got a little mangled in translation. Sure.

He probably posted all this and then ducked for cover, and with plenty of reason: every pocket of enthusiast readership he could have humanly offended was sure to let him know.

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Daily Linksplosion: Sunday, February 06, 2011

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Daily Linksplosion: The Really Angry One

I get angry, but not that often. Or maybe I am angry a lot. But in my adult life I have always stepped lightly around my own opinions. That timorousness has helped maintain a lot of friendships that might otherwise not have lasted. My best childhood friend and I, for instance, have completely opposite, rabidly passionate beliefs. We have carefully cultivated a friendly and loving political distance. She and I understand the stakes. We know that, if we begin those conversations, we won’t stop, our feelings will be hurt, and no one will win. That is why she is my best friend. I have the same relationship with, you know, my mother.

Maybe nobody needs to know everything I’m thinking at any given moment, or how I feel about health reform or gun laws or Larry Elder (it’s complicated). Maybe there are some fiercely held opinions I’d do just as well to keep under my hat, just as I’d do well not to march up to a friendly acquaintance and scream “I hate you and everything you stand for.” No, I tiptoe, genuinely working hard to not alienate my fellow humankind. There’s no reason, ordinarily, for me to take up arms and get in your face and go THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS.

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Hi, I’m a huge asshole

I bet I’ll come to regret this, but I’m going to tell you a secret I’ve never been comfortable with sharing before this moment: I’m a huge asshole.

I mean, I’m the biggest asshole I know. That’s because I barely give a shit about hurt feelings, because I’m a narcissistic fuck who is the center of her own universe. Until now I’ve tried to keep my being an asshole under wraps, but the sheer effort takes a lot out of me. If I troll the Internet, I’m careful to use an anonymous name that won’t get traced back to me. I fight myself to not use slurs: for instance, I don’t call things “gay” anymore, because my gay friends all convinced me to stop. I’m really careful to not call anything “retarded” if I’m talking to someone who knows someone who is retarded, but sometimes it slips out anyway. I’m doing my very best to hide my interior asshole from the lot of you nice people.

But it’s time for me, finally, to trudge out of my flamboyantly asshole closet and come clean with you.

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How to design your video game character

(I have a weakness for Russian villains.)

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Daily Linksplosion: Tuesday, December 14, 2010


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Daily Linksplosion: Wednesday, September 08, 2010

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Daily Linksplosion: Wednesday, August 04, 2010

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Daily Linksplosion: Wednesday, June 23, 2010

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Daily Linksplosion: Saturday, June 05, 2010

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