The Crushing Banality of Everyday Life

I should probably be reading a book or spending time with my kid.

When Women Stopped Coding

There was an interesting story on NPR’s Planet Money this week exploring why women’s participation in computer science dropped dramatically in 1984.  The story argues that it had to do with the way that personal computers were marketed as toys for boys. Thus girls didn’t buy them and didn’t have the background in programming that the boys in CS classes did. And thus programming was seen as a male industry, and those few women who dared enter it were either made to feel unwelcome or got tired of being the only female, and tended to drop out.

I liked the article because it suggests that it is socialization vs. genetics that is to explain for the dearth of female programmers. It’s not that women’s brains just don’t work that way, it’s that they are actively discouraged from participating. Second, it points to how problematic highly gendered marketing to children can be. I went to Target recently to buy a farm playset for my daughter, and I was disgusted by how totally gendered the toy section was. The girls section was all pink and purple, and mostly centered around dolls, kitchen sets, and ponies. The boys section was all greens and blues and based on trucks, cars, and action figures. It was crazy. I mean, I get that in general little girls tend to be more into dolls and little boys tend to be more into trucks and action figures. I’ve seen this preference start with my daughter and her friends as early as a year old. My daughter has been playing with dolls since she was a year old, and her friend (who is a boy) has been obsessed with trucks and cars for as long. Neither my wife and I or our friends are encouraging our children to be interested in a certain thing, and none of us are either the most manly men or girly girls. I try to give my daughter non-gendered toys to play with along with her dolls, and she is pretty into Hot Wheels. But not nearly as much as she likes dolls.

The comments predictably included several men saying that NPR should spend as much time worrying about the dearth of men in the teaching and nursing professions.  I hate this line of reasoning. It’s like complaining to the Rotarians who were trying (and succeeded in) eradicating Polio that they should also eradicate measles at the same time, or that groups working on fighting malaria in sub-saharan Africa should also be working to cure hunger. Just because a group is focusing attention on one issue doesn’t mean that no other issues are important, or that they are also responsible for solving other issues before they can tackle the issue they are interested in. It’s not either/or. There’s also some that good old “you are selfish because you aren’t talking about ME” logic that you see in MRA’s.

I was thinking about the heat you see in articles about women’s rights, and here’s the analogy I came up with. The MRAs and their ilk are assuming that by advocating for healthier eating and getting more exercise, you a)hate fat people and b) are advocating anorexia. They assume that the extremes represent the movement as a whole, and that the fringe making nutty statements in blogs with a readership of four are indicative of all feminists. You can be concerned about how unhealthy the American diet is without hating America, hating fat people, being pro-anorexia, or trying to ban doughnuts.

 

The Shitshow that is #GamerGate

I’ve been a gamer for thirty-five years, since I first played Space Invaders at a convenience store in Kauai. I’ve been a feminist for twenty-five years, since I first became aware of how unequally women were treated in our society. That’s why the whole GamerGate debacle is particularly disheartening and depressing to me.

For those who don’t know, #GamerGate bills itself as a reaction against corruption in video games journalism. What people mean by that is generally that they are tired of reviewers bringing treatment of women into reviews of games like Grand Theft Auto V, they are tired of critics like Anita Sarkeesian complaining about sexism in games when she isn’t even a gamer, they are tired of women like indie dev Zoe Quinn getting rave reviews of her game Depression Quest after sleeping around with people in the industry (none of whom reviewed her game, but why let actual facts interfere with your rage?), and they are tired of writers like Leigh Alexander saying “gamers are over” and saying that women now make up the majority of gamers. And not just women, women like your mom. You know, hella old.

In the GamerGate opinion, feminists, progressives, and other so-called “social justice warriors” are ruining everything, and if you dare disagree with them you are labeled a misogynist and shunned by polite society. Men and male spaces are ridiculed, and you can’t even have a game with women in bikinis in it without some dumb SJW labelling you a sexist pig. In other words, it’s hard out there for a pimp.

The whole shitshow started when an ex of developer Zoe Quinn published several blog posts outlining her sex life and how she cheated on him. Which, really, is a punk-ass thing to do. This is one of the big ironies about men who get really angry at feminists: they complain that feminists are all whiney victims while acting like the whiniest, victimiest people on earth. Their entire argument is basically BUT WHAT ABOUT ME!?!?!?!?!?!?

Around the same time, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian released the fourth installment of her Tropes vs. Women series on her Feminist Frequency blog, pointing out some of the misogyny in games. Her previous installments had received a fair amount of hate, but this one earned her genuine death threats with her IRL address and shit. In other words, she said there was violent misogyny in some games, and to refute her some guys said they’d kill her. Which proves her point. Then Leigh Alexander writes her infamous “Gamers are Dead” article in Gamasutra, which was a bit unskillful and inflammatory, as a Buddhist might say.

And then the conservative screaming heads got in on the action. The #Gamergate tag was created by admitted non-gamer Stephen Baldwin, and Brietbart.com picked up the story as well.

Let’s pause for a second to examine the irony. The beef GamerGate has is that non-gaming social justice warriors are putting their political bullshit on videogames. And the movement was started by a non-gaming conservative putting his political bullshit on videogames. The only sites covering GamerGate sympathetically were non-gaming sites to whom the movement fit in with their “progressives and feminists are ruining everything” narrative. They didn’t and don’t give a shit about games. Unlike the writers at Kotaku and Polygon and Feminist Frequency and Gamasutra, who do give a shit about games, which is why they want more diversity in the games they play. Then shit got ugly. It was mostly played out in twitter and on various forums and comment boards. Anti-GamerGaters claim that the majority of pro-gamergate posters are actually sock puppets (ie fake accounts created by activists). I don’t know if that is true but the movement definitely gained a “slobs vs. snobs” vibe to it, with a lot of young people feeling like the tag was a way to fight back against a system that no longer represented them. In that way, it is a little like the Tea Party. Society no longer represents them, so it is up to them to make themselves heard and represented. To the GamerGaters, there is a vast conspiracy to silence or misrepresent their viewpoint. The fact that most rational, educated people find the GamerGate viewpoint to be wrong just fuels the populist fervor of the movement.

GamerGaters will swear up and down that this is not about misogyny and it is solely about ethics in games, but they are frankly full of shit. The main targets of GamerGate ire have been women or writers sympathetic to women. Keep in mind that Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu are not journalists, and no one that Zoe Quinn had a personal relationship with reviewed her game. Hell, her game only got a handful of reviews, so her conspiracy to sleep her way to the top evidently failed miserably. In the meantime, several women in the industry have gotten serious threats since GamerGate started – Game Designer Brianna Wu got death threats, and Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech at a university in Utah after someone threatened the worst school shooting in history (Fox News headline? “Feminist Critic Won’t Speak at Utah School Until Guns Prohibited.” I am not making this shit up.)

What GamerGate has exposed is how deeply threatening feminism is to a lot of people, especially young men. The GamerGaters feel that there are no more safe spaces for them. Their last refuge, videogames, is being invaded by SJWs who want to label them as bigots and make all video games about enthusiastic consent or something.

Here’s the thing: I understand some of the concerns that the anti-feminist crowd has. I think groupthink is dangerous and should be avoided. I would agree that the feminist viewpoint is often one-sided, and I that sometimes feminists minimize, trivialize, and/or misunderstand the male perspective. I think young men are sometimes demonized in our culture as being just the worst (and especially if you are black or brown). I think all men get lumped together just because we share genitals even though we have a wealth of different experiences and perspectives and attitudes. And I think that there is no clear answer for how a man is supposed to behave in the new millenium. Feminism has given the women the right to expect that they can pretty much be whatever they want to be, whether that means being president or being a stay-at-home mom. That is admirable and great and as it should be, but at the same time it is less clear for men what they are supposed to be, and we have not adapted as gracefully to the changing times. There is an emphasis on women the media. Women in tech, women in sciences, sexual assault against women in universities, leaning in at your company. Thor is now a woman, for Chrissakes. Women, women, women. It’s all anyone seems to talk about. In the meantime, men get made to feel like they are all abusive rapists and liking to look at boobs is basically equal to murder.

Here’s the thing, though. The reason why there is so much talk about women these days is because they still, in aggregate, have it way worse than most men. They get paid less. They get raped and abused more. They get listened to less. They have less career options, and the careers dominated by women tend not to pay very well. They get called sluts if they like sex, they get called prudes if they don’t sleep around. Most religions tell them they are subservient to men. This shit goes on every day, and it is twenty-fucking-fourteen. That’s some crazy bullshit. Women are being loud because if they aren’t they will continue to be stepped on.

So what can or should men do? We can stop stepping on them. We can listen to their concerns, even if they make us uncomfortable. If we disagree with them, we can decide if we need to voice that disagreement at all, and if so voice it in a constructive versus silencing way. We can treat women like human beings. We can redefine what being a man means, so that it is true to our experience and doesn’t involve putting anyone down. And we can try really hard not to be such whiny little babies anytime anyone calls us out on our shit.

My biggest issue with GamerGate, besides the fact that it is founded on bullshit, is that even in the face of women getting death threats for expressing their opinion, the GamerGaters won’t back down. They won’t say, you know what, this has gotten out of hand because corruption in games journalism < actual, IRL death threats. And if they can’t do that, I have no fucking time for them.

The Problem with Video Game Journalism

I wrote this over a year ago but never published it. In the wake of Gamer Gate and questions about ethics in games journalism, I think it makes sense to publish it now.

 

I read a lot of video game blogs and news/review sites. I regularly read Kotaku, Gamesradar, the Gameological Society, Joystiq, and the Escapist, and I have a “video games” category on my Flipboard account that collects articles from a bunch of other sites as well. I think there is some great video game journalism and commentary out there. I like what Jeremy Parish did with 1up during it’s dying days, and I like his stuff at Usgamer.net. I like Tom Chick’s writing, and I’m happy that the Gameological Society exists as an antidote to much of contemporary games journalism. Because frankly, a lot of games journalism is terrible. It’s suffering from the same challenges that plague journalism as a whole: trying to actually make money with writing online. What follows is a list of things that drives me nuts about video games journalism.

1. It’s all about what’s coming next and building hype. Last year was all about Assassins Creed III. Preview articles, trailers, endless articles detailing the few new gameplay details that Ubisoft fed to the press. Then the game comes out, a few reviews get written, and…zOMG! Assassins Creed IV!!!!!!!!! So much of it is focused on what is coming out versus actually appreciating what is out. There’s very little time to reflect on current games or look back at recently reviewed titles. The same issue is present in movies and music, but games is also very prone to it, which leads me to point #2

2. So much of “games journalism” is just publishing press releases. In an effort to ramp up posts, websites have taken to basically just posting press releases. Most website’s “news” is basically taken whole cloth from emails they get from PR people.

3. The need to fill the air leads to a whole lot of jibber jabber about nothing. Much in the way that Fox and CNN will grind a story into a fine pulp in an effort to fill air time, websites will run endless articles and opinion pieces about a story even when they have little new information or anything to say. You end up with 7,000 posts about what it means that SimCity had a rough launch, or lots of pontificating and punditry about the XBox One without anything to back it up.

4. Fanboy Culture. I love sci-fi movies and comic books and video games. I am much less into the fanboy culture that surrounds these things. At its best, fanboyism is full of juvenile over-enthusiasm and a tendency to overuse the word “awesome,” both of which make for shitty journalism. The darker side of fanboyism is a sense of extreme entitlement about the properties that the fans love.

5. Geek Snark. I’m a music geek, so I know how fun it is to dismiss things people love as lame or trite, and about championing the obscure over the popular. I also know how easy it is to get jaded when you spend a lot of time reviewing things. So I sympathize with the tendency towards snark, but it is still an ugly tendency. Games journalism has a fair amount of snark. “Broken” is a favorite adjective of game critics, as if an underpolished or tricky game mechanic is a sign of failure.

 

 

A Letter To Larry Correia

Author Larry Correia has a lengthy post on his site responding to a post in Tor by Alex Dally MacFarlane about  non-binary gendered characters in scifi. MacFarlane is pro, Correia not so much. The article is old, but I felt the need to stick my big foot into the conversation. Here’s my comment:

I know this is nine months old, but I just stumbled upon it and wanted to add my two cents.

Larry, I get the feeling that, as a conservative, you sometimes feel like a minority in the SF community whose voice is either ignored or silenced. You had a campaign to try to get more right-leaning authors to win Hugos. You think yours is a voice that is not well-represented in mainstream SF and you want to correct that. Fair enough. I don’t have a huge interest in reading political rants masquerading as scifi, but I read plenty of fiction from conservative writers and so long as they are good writers and their political bent doesn’t ruin their writing, I’m fine with it. i plan on reading your grim noire series, and am probably going to continue avoiding John Ringo’s output. He’ll live.

Alex MacFarlane is someone who, as interex, feels like a minority. She wants her voice to be better represented in scifi. I think her demand that most sicfi include non-gender binary characters is a pipe dream and I think that many writers will ignore her demand and keep doing what they are doing. From the comments to her article though, it seems like there are a lot of people who are interested in what she is talking about. If the result is a niche of non-binary scifi that I can ignore, fine. If the result is non-binary scifi that is really good and I can enjoy, great. I’m pretty sure either way your fan base won’t be affected, and you won’t feel the need to shoehorn in characters who are interest or trans or whatever. You’ll be just fine. Don’t worry about it. Everyone has their issue. Scifi will survive. Bad writing will kill scifi. Distribution monopolies might kill scifi. But including non-traditional character types in stories will not kill scifi. Even if tomorrow half of all scifi books published were about or by gays, women, people of color, and transfolk, there’d still be a healthy market share for stories about straight, cis-gendered, red-blooded white dudes. Our market share in general might be shrinking a bit, but it isn’t a zero sum game. We’ll be fine. And i think you have more in common with MacFarlane than you realize. You both are tired of having your voice silenced. You are both tired of the mainstream community ignoring you and your fans. And you both want to write and read about people who share your viewpoint.

Skyrim’d

I’ve been playing Skyrim regularly for about a month straight. It’s the only game I play, and it’s what I’ve been doing with the little bit of free time I have. I had reservations about getting into Skyrim because of how time-consuming and immersive it is, but it is actually a good game to play for my particular situation. I mostly play video games either at night before going to bed, or while I’m rocking my daughter to sleep in her Ergo carrier. This means that I need a game that a), I can play without sound since I often have a sleeping baby on me, b), that isn’t overly stressful or twitchy, since I need to be ramping down for the night, and c) that can be stopped and started at will and saved at any time. Despite the fact that Skyrim is a huge world where you can get lost for hours, its quest system is very conducive to short playing times. In the evenings I know I have about 45 minutes to play, so I’ll choose a quest or series of quests that fit into that time frame. It takes a certain amount of discipline to not fall into the “just one more quest” mindset, but I’ve made it work. I usually put on an album that is roughly 45 minutes, so that when it ends I know it is time to wrap it up.

A month in, I’m still really enjoying the game. I haven’t progressed too much on the main story, but I have completed many side quests and done a lot of exploring. I’ve started looking at new skills I can develop to keep leveling up, which will change my gameplay, forcing me to rely less on arrows and swords and more on magic. The one negative is that I have this stressfull long and unmanageable list of open quests, and sometimes it feels like work to cross them off. I’ll boot up the game thinking, “tonight I really have to get that amulet for so-and-so and explore that cave for that guy.” it can almost feel like work. And the longer I put off quests, the more underwhelming the results are. I end up with some underpowered weapons and a meager amount of money.

But I’m loving it, and I’m happy I’ve found a way to include it in my life without having it take over.

Skyrim

I finally started playing Skyrim. I put off buying until this winter because I knew it would hook me. Even after I bought it I put off playing it for months. I finally loaded it up over the holidays, and I have been steadily playing it ever since. Skyrim gets so many things right. For one thing, the leveling system is amazing. You level not by getting experience points for killing bad guys, but for using your various skills. This encourages you to explore the different skill trees in the game, and rewards you for playing the game. The exploration element is also amazing. When I load up the game I can sometimes just wander around a new area to see what’s there. It’s like playing a George R.R. Martin book. The quest system also insures that there is a ton for you to do so you never get bored or stuck on a single mission. And if you don’t feel like questing, you can collect things to use to make new armor or potions. I’ve spent a playing session just making armor to level up my smithing skill. It is a game you can totally fall into. 

All of these strengths come at some cost. For one thing, the story and characters aren’t great. With Dragon Age, I cared about finding out what was going on and getting to know the different characters. I don’t care in Skyrim. Like Dragon Age, there are frequent long loading times – usually between 15 to 20 seconds when entering a new room, and longer when entering a new area or fast traveling. It makes the game drag. The game is also glitchy. I played for about an hour before I realized I couldn’t save, and had to restart. I’ve gotten stuck in places, and there are numerous graphical glitches – characters appearing or disappearing, etc. Combat is a little clunky but still fun. 

I’m loving it, but I’m scared at how much time I’ll need to put into it. Considering that I play for 30-60 minutes 4-5 times a week, that means that a hundred hour came will take me half a year to finish at least. And that’s if I don’t get bored of it before then.

Favorite Rap Albums of the Year

My yearly list of favorite rap albums is up at RapReviews.  The albums are:

 

Danny Brown, “Old.” 

Chance the Rapper, “Acid Rap.” 

Juicy J, “Stay Trippy.” 

Ka, “Night’s Gambit.” 

Run the Jewels, “Run the Jewels.” 

Special Request, “Soul Music.” 

Earl Sweatshirt, “Doris.” 

TeeFlii “Annie RUO’Tay 2.” 

Tree, “Sunday School 2.” 

Zomby, “With Love.”

My Favorite Albums of the Year

Having a kid changed my listening habits this year. Most of the time I was listening to music with my daughter, often early in the morning. As a result, I listened to a lot of mellow music, old jazz, old Sabbath, and old soul. The other stuff was limited to my hour-long commute on Bart, which is incredibly noisy, with shitty headphones. Not a lot of room for subtlety or nuance. Here’s what I liked the most out of what came out this year. If I had to pick my favorite it would be the Colleen record. It is such a delicate, beautiful album and it made my 5 A.M. wake up times much more bearable. I would put it on, get a cup of coffee, and watch my daughter interact with the world in our living room while we waited for the sun to come up.

 

Cate Le Bon, Mug Museum.

Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap.

Colleen, The Weighing of the Heart.

The Field, Cupid’s Head

The Hunters S/T.

James Blake, Overgrown. J

Joanna Gruesome, Weird Sister

Ka, Night’s Gambit.

Low, The Invisible Way

Rhye, Woman

Run the Jewels

Savages, Silence Yourself

Special Request, Soul Music.

Superchunk, I Hate Music

Tee Flii Annie RUO’Tay 2

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, We the Common

Tree, Sunday School 2

Zomby, With Love.

Favorite Songs of 2013

Favorite songs of 2013

Savages, “Husbands”

Wavves, “Demon to Lean On.”

Danny Brown, “Dope Song”

Tree, “Devotion.”

Chance the Rapper, “Everybody’s Something”

The Hunters, “Nosebleed”

Superchunk, “Staying Home”

Run the Jewels, “36 Inch Chain”

Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”

Laura Mvula, “That’s Alright”

Rhye, “Open”

Low, “Plastic Cup”

 

TeeFlii with Nipsy Hustle, “F*n in the Function”

Earl Sweatshirt, “Chum”

Colleen, “Geometria del Universo”

Cate Le Bon, “No God”

Juicy J, “Stop It”

Joanna Gruesome “Wussy Void”

Special Request, “Ride VIP”

Zomby, “Soliloquy”

L.A. Noire

I finally beat L.A. Noire, two years after I bought it and after getting 2/3 through it and losing my save game. It’s an amazing game and there was a lot I loved about it. I loved how it recreated 1940s Los Angeles, particularly in the interiors. I loved the story, which combined elements of Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. I loved how central returning G.I.s were to the story, and how the different characters were all woven together to form a larger story. I loved looking through homes for clues, not so much because it was super fun but because it gave me a chance to explore the carefully constructed world the designers had built.

I was less excited about the interrogation gameplay. I had a hard time figuring out the right answer, and often resorted to a walkthrough to guide me. The characters often had different tells, and it wasn’t always obvious who was lying and who wasn’t. Also, anytime you accused a character of lying they would say “you have no proof!” even though you had found proof in the room they were in minutes earlier. If you know you have damning evidence against you, why would you deny it or challenge the detective to prove it? 

I also disliked the fact that you never really got a chance to explore the world they built. You can theoretically go anywhere in the world, but in practice you are always going from one case to the next. The only side missions require you to be in a cop car, which makes the hidden cars sort of useless. What’s the point of finding cool old cars if driving them penalizes you with missed chances at side quests? 

I’m surprised that Rockstar never made an expansion on the L.A. Noire engine that was more GTA 1940s – one that took more advantage of the world they had already built for L.A. Noire. I would love a game where you got to find hidden jumps, help civilians, do wanted missions, and basically have a similar experience to Red Dead Redemption. 

 

The bottom line is that it is a great game, but one that misses some opportunities to be better. It is one of the few games I’ve actually finished, and that was just because I needed to see how the story ended.

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